Escape through Poland: Soviet Jewish Emigration in the 1950s
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The emigration movement among Soviet Jews is usually dated to the 1960s–1990s. This essay focuses on the premovement emigration in the 1950s, which prepared the ground for the massive departure of Jews and non-Jewish members of their families, primarily to Israel and the United States. The parameters for leaving the Soviet Union in the 1950s were in many ways similar to the parameters for returning to Poland in the immediate post–World War II years. On paper, the basic pools of emigrants were the same: Jews who at the outbreak of World War II were Polish nationals. In reality, many repatriates of the 1950s were more Soviet than Polish, leaving the country where they had lived for up to twenty years, which often was a lion’s share of their lives. Those—that is, the majority—who ultimately reached Israel went through two repatriation processes: first, as returnees to their pre–World War II homeland and, second, as Jews going back to their historical homeland. As this essay shows, the contemporaneous political and social climates in the Soviet Union and Poland, the nature of those countries’ mutual relations and of their relations with Israel, not present on the map until 1948, framed a unique context for emigration in the early post-Stalinist period.
KeywordsPolish Jews Soviet Jews Repatriation Emigration De-Stalinization Anti-Zionism
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