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RUSSIA, former empire in Eastern Europe; from 1918 the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.), from 1923 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.); from 1990 the Russian Federation.

Until 1772


The penetration of Jews into the territories now incorporated within the Union began in the border regions beyond the Caucasus Mountains and the shores of the Black Sea. Traditions and legends connect the arrival of the Jews in *Armenia and *Georgia with the *Ten Lost Tribes (c. 721 B.C.E.) or with the Babylonian *Exile (586 B.C.E.). Clearer information on the settlement of the Jews in these regions has come down from the Hellenistic period. Ruins, recordings, and inscriptions on tombstones testify to the existence of important Jewish communities in the Greek colonies on the Black Sea shores, Chersonesus near *Sevastopol, *Kerch, and other places. Religious persecutions in the *Byzantine Empire caused many Jews to emigrate to these communities. At the time of the wars between the Muslims and Persians during the seventh century many Jews emigrated to the Caucasus and beyond, where they established communities which during subsequent generations maintained relations with the centers of Jewish learning in Babylonia and Persia. From the early Middle Ages, Jewish merchants, referred to in Hebrew as holkhei Rusyah, regularly traveled through the Slavonic and Khazar lands on their way to India and China. They traded in slaves, textiles, hides, spices and arms. It was during this period that the accepted term in Hebrew literature for those lands – Ereẓ Kena'an ("Land of Canaan") – appeared (originating in the etymological interpretation of the name "Slavs"), and the merchants were said to be familiar with the "language of Canaan" (Slavonic). It is clear that the conversion to Judaism of the kingdom of the *Khazars during the first half of the eighth century was to a certain degree due to the existence of the many Jewish communities in this region. Jews from the Christian and Muslim countries which bordered upon the Khazar realm were later attracted to the Jewish kingdom. Possibly refugees who escaped from this kingdom formed one of the elements of Russian Jewry in later generations, though their proportion in the composition of this Jewry is still under discussion.

The kingdom of the Jewish Khazars is referred to in ancient Russian literature as the "Land of the Jews," and warriors of the Russian epic poetry wage war against the Jewish warrior, the "zhidovin." According to one tradition, Prince Vladimir of Kiev conversed with Jews on religion before accepting Orthodox Christianity. At the same time, there were Jews living in Kiev. Ancient Russian sources mention the "Gate of the Jews" in Kiev. The Jews lived in the town under the protection of the prince, and when the inhabitants of the town rebelled against Prince Vladimir II Monomachus (1117) they also attacked the houses of the Jews. Extracts of religious *disputations held in Kiev between monks and clergy and Jews have been preserved in the early Russian religious literature. There were also Jewish settlements in *Chernigov and Vladimir-Volynski. The Jews of Kiev also communicated with their coreligionists in Babylonia and Western Europe on religious questions. During the 12th century, there is mention of R. *Moses of Kiev who corresponded with Rabbenu Jacob b. Meir *Tam and with the Gaon *Samuel b. Ali of Baghdad.

The invasion of the Mongols (1237) and their rule brought much suffering to the Jews of Russia. An important community – *Rabbanites as well as *Karaites – subsequently developed in Theodosia (*Feodosiya, Crimea) and its surroundings, first under Genoese rule (1260–1475) and later under the Tatar khans of Crimea.


From the beginning of the 14th century, the Lithuanians gained control over western Russia. Under Lithuania the first extensive privileges were granted to Jewish communities in the region at the end of the 14th century. Under Poland-Lithuania the wave of Jewish emigration and large-scale settlement from Poland to the *Ukraine, *Volhynia, and *Podolia from the middle of the 16th century laid the foundations at the close of this century for most of the Jewish communities of the Ukraine and Belorussia, and their Polish-Jewish culture and autonomy (see *Great Poland; *Councils of the Lands). In 1648–49 the *Chmielnicki massacres devastated the Jews of the Ukraine, and some years later the Muscovite armies annihilated the Jews in the cities of Belorussia and Lithuania that they had captured. During the 18th century, the Jews suffered severely during the revolts of the *Haidamacks. With the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, most of the Jews of Lithuania and the Ukraine, and at the beginning of the 19th century also those of Poland, found themselves under Russian rule. During the 19th and 20th centuries Russian Jewry was, however, essentially an organic continuity of the Jewry of Poland and Lithuania in the ethnic as well as cultural respects.


In the principality of Moscow, the nucleus of the future Russian Empire, Jews were not tolerated. This negative attitude toward Jews was connected with the negative attitude to foreigners in general, who were considered heretics and agents of the enemies of the state. During the 15th century, Jews arrived within the borders of the principality of Moscow in the wake of their trade from both the Tatar kingdom of Crimea and Poland-Lithuania. During the 1470s, the religious sect known in Russian history as the "*Judaizers" (Zhidovstvuyushchiye) was discovered in the large commercial city of *Novgorod and at the court in Moscow. The Jews were accused of having influenced and initiated the establishment of the sect. When Czar Ivan IV Vasilievich ("the Terrible"; 1530–84) temporarily annexed the town of Pskov to his territory, he ordered that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity should be drowned in the river. During the following two centuries, Jews entered Russia either illegally or with authorization from Poland and Lithuania on trade, and they occasionally settled in border towns. Repeated decrees issued by the Russian rulers prohibiting the entry of Jewish merchants within their territories, and explicit articles included in the treaties between Poland and Russia emphasizing these prohibitions, testify that this penetration was a regular occurrence. Small Jewish communities existed during the early 19th century in the region of *Smolensk. In 1738 the Jew, Baruch b. Leib, was arrested and accused of having converted the officer Alexander *Voznitsyn to Judaism. Both were burned at the stake in St. Petersburg. In 1742 Czarina Elizabeth Petrovna ordered the expulsion of the few Jews living in her kingdom. When the senate attempted to obtain cancellation of the expulsion order by pointing out the economic loss which would be suffered by the Russian merchants and the state, the czarina retorted: "I do not want any benefit from the enemies of Christ."

At the beginning of the reign of Catherine II, the question of authorizing the entry of Jews for trading purposes again arose. The czarina, who was inclined toward authorizing their admission, was compelled to reverse her decision in the face of hostile public opinion. Some Jews nevertheless penetrated into Russia during this period, while the authorities did not disturb those living in the territories conquered from Turkey in 1768 (Crimea and the Black Sea shore) and even unofficially encouraged the settlement of additional Jews in these territories. The question of the presence of Jews within the borders of the empire was however decided by historical circumstances, when at the close of the 18th century hundreds of thousands of Jews were placed under the dominion of the czars as a result of the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793 and 1795).

Within the Russian Empire: First Phase (1772–1881)

The Jews who lived in the regions annexed by Russia (the "Western Region" and the "Vistula Region" in the terms of the Russian administration) formed a distinct social class. In continuation of their economic functions in Poland-Lithuania, they essentially formed the middle class between the aristocracy and the landowners on the one hand, and the masses of enslaved peasants on the other. Many of them earned their livelihood from the lease of villages, flour mills, forests, inns and taverns. Others were merchants, shopkeepers or hawkers. The remainder were craftsmen who worked for both landowner and peasant. Some of them lived in townlets which had mostly been founded on the initiative of the landowners and served as centers for the merchants and the craftsmen, while others lived in villages or at junctions of routes. It is estimated that the occupational structure of the Jews at the beginning of the 19th century was as shown in Table: 19th-Century Jewish Occupations, Russia.

19th-Century Jewish Occupations, Russia 19th-Century Jewish Occupations, Russia

Occupation %
Innkeeping and leases 30
Trade and brokerage 30
Crafts 15
Agriculture 1
No fixed occupation 21
Religious officials 3

The economic position of the Jews steadily deteriorated with their confinement to the *Pale of Settlement (see below), their rapid growth in numbers, and consequent gradual proletarianization and increasing pauperization. The autonomy of the Jewish community was at first recognized. The Jews maintained their traditional educational network.

When they came under Russian rule, many of the communities had become heavily indebted. Economic difficulties, the burden of taxes – in particular the meat tax (see *korobka) – and social tensions drove many Jews to abandon the townlets and settle in villages or on the estates of noblemen. During the period of their transfer to Russian domination, the Jews of the "Western Region" were involved in a grave conflict between the *Ḥasidim and the *Mitnaggedim. Once the Russian government gained control of this region, it became involved in this conflict. Complaints and slander even resulted in the arrest of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady in 1798 and his transfer to St. Petersburg for interrogation. The various ḥasidic "courts" (the most important of which were those of *Lubavichi-Lyady, *Stolin, Talnoye, *Gora-Kalwaria, *Aleksandrow), as well as the yeshivot of the mitnaggedic type in Lithuania (the most important in the townlets of *Volozhin, founded in 1803, *Mir, *Telz (Telsiai), Eishishki (Eisiskes), and *Slobodka; see also *Maggid; *Musar movement) combined to form a flourishing and variegated Jewish culture.


From the beginning of its annexation of the Polish territories, the Russian government adopted the attitude of viewing the Jews there as the "Jewish Problem," to be solved ultimately by their *assimilation or expulsion. During the first 50 years after incorporation within the borders of the empire, the general tendency of the government was to maintain the status of the Jews as it had been under Polish rule, while adapting it to the Russian requirements. A decree of 1791 confirmed the right of residence of the Jews in the territories annexed from Poland and permitted their settlement in the uninhabited steppes of the Black Sea shore, conquered from Turkey at the close of the 18th century, and in the provinces to the east of the R. Dnieper (*Chernigov and *Poltava) only. Thus crystallized the Pale of Settlement, which took its final form with the annexation of Bessarabia in 1812, and the "Kingdom of Poland" in 1815, extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and including 25 provinces with an area of nearly 1,000,000 sq. km. (286,000 sq. mi.). The Jews formed one ninth of the total population of the area. Jewish residence was also authorized in *Courland and, at a later date, in the Caucasus and Russian Central Asia to Jews who had lived in these regions before the Russian conquest.

In the regions annexed from Poland, the Jews were caught up in the dilemma facing czarist rule there. The regime, whose power rested on the nobility, refrained from throwing the responsibility for the miserable plight of the mainly Orthodox peasants onto the Christian landowners, mainly of the Polish Catholic nobility, preferring to blame the Jews in the villages; it accepted the claim of the local nobility and officials allied to it that the Jews were causing the exploitation of the peasants (see G.R. *Derzhavin). The Jewish autonomy and independent culture added to this antagonism, as being alien to the Russian centralist regime and Christian-feudal culture.

These concerns animated the first "Jewish Statute" promulgated in 1804. Its first article authorized the admission of the Jews to all the elementary, secondary and higher schools in Russia. Jews were also authorized to establish their own schools, provided that the language of instruction was Russian, Polish or German. The most important of the economic articles of the statute was the prohibition of the residence of Jews in the villages, of all leasing activity in the villages, and of the sale of alcoholic beverages (see *Wine and Liquor Trade) to the peasants. This struck at the source of livelihood of thousands of Jewish families. The legislation therefore declared that Jews would be allowed to settle as peasants on their lands or on the lands which would be allocated to them by the government. Government support was also promised to factories which would employ Jewish workers and to craftsmen.

In 1817 Alexander I outlawed the *blood libel which had caused terror and suffering to the Jewish communities in the 18th century.

A short while after the publication of the "Jewish Statute," the expulsion of the Jews from the villages began, as did their settlement in southern Russia. It was, however, soon evident that agricultural settlement (see *agriculture) could not rapidly absorb the thousands of Jewish families who had been removed from their livelihoods. The expulsion order was therefore delayed, this being also due to the political and military situation in Russia during the war against Napoleon. Only in 1822 was the systematic expulsion of the Jews from the villages, especially in the provinces of Belorussia, resumed. An unsuccessful attempt was also made to induce the Jews to convert to Christianity by promises of *emancipation and government support for their settlement on the land.


The reign of *Nicholas I (1825–55) forms a somber chapter in the history of Russian Jewry. This czar, notorious in Russian history for his cruelty, sought to solve the "Jewish Problem" by suppression and coercion. In 1827 he ordered the conscription of Jewish youths into the army under the iniquitous *Cantonists system which conscripted youths aged from 12 to 25 years into military service; those aged under 18 were sent to special military schools also attended by the children of soldiers. This law caused profound demoralization within the communities of Lithuania and the Ukraine (it did not apply to the Jews of the "Polish" provinces). Nobody wished to serve in the army in the prevailing inhuman conditions and the "trustees" responsible on behalf of the communities for filling the quotas of conscripts were compelled to employ "snatchers" ("khapers") to seize the youngsters. The military obligations of the Jews in Russia brought no alleviation of their condition in other spheres, and the expulsions of Jews from the villages continued with regularity. The Jews were also expelled from Kiev, and any new settlement of Jews in the towns and townlets within a distance of 50 versts of the country's borders was prohibited in 1843. On the other hand, the government encouraged agricultural settlement among Jews. The settlers were exempted from military service. Many Jewish settlements were established on government and privately owned lands in southern Russia and other regions of the Pale of Settlement.

During the 1840s, the government began to concern itself with the education of the Jews. Since the Jews had not made use of the opportunity which had been given to them in 1804 to study in the general schools, the government decided to establish a network of special schools for them. The maintenance of these schools would be provided for by a special tax (the "*candle tax") which would be imposed on them. In order to pave the way for this activity, the government sent Max *Lilienthal, a German Jew employed as teacher in the school established in Riga by the local maskilim, on a reconnaissance trip through the Pale of Settlement. During 1841–42 Lilienthal visited the large communities of the Pale of Settlement – Vilna, Minsk, Berdichev, Odessa, and Kiev. He was received with suspicion by the Jewish masses, who regarded the project to establish government schools for Jews as a medium for the estrangement of their children from their religion. In 1844 a decree was issued ordering the establishment of these schools, whose teachers would be both Christians and Jews. In secret instructions which accompanied the decree, it was declared that "the purpose of the education of the Jews is to bring them nearer to the Christians and to uproot their harmful beliefs which are influenced by the Talmud." Lilienthal became aware of the government's intentions and fled from Russia. The government established this network of schools which depended for instruction upon a handful of maskilim and at the head of which were the seminaries for rabbis and teachers of Vilna and *Zhitomir. These institutions, to which the Jewish masses shrank from sending their children, served as the cradle for a class of Russian-speaking maskilim which was to play an important role in the lives of the Jews during the following generations.

In 1844 the government abolished the Polish-style communities but was nevertheless compelled to recognize a limited communal organization whose function it was to watch over the conscription into the army and the collection of the special taxes – the korobka and "candle tax." The community was also responsible for the election of the *kazyonny ravvin ("government-appointed rabbi"), whose function it was to register births, marriages, and deaths and to deliver sermons on official holidays extolling the government. A law was also issued prohibiting Jews from growing pe'ot ("sidelocks") and wearing their traditional clothes.

The next stage of the program of Nicholas I was the division of the Jews of his country into two groups: "useful" and "non-useful." Among the "useful" ranked the wealthy merchants, craftsmen, and agriculturalists. All the other Jews, the small tradesmen and the poorer classes, constituted the "non-useful" and were threatened with general conscription into the army, where they would be trained in crafts or agriculture. This project encountered the opposition of Russian statesmen and aroused the intervention of the Jews of Western Europe on behalf of their coreligionists. In 1846 Sir Moses *Montefiore traveled from England to Russia for this purpose. The order to classify the Jews according to these categories was nevertheless issued in 1851. The Crimean War delayed its application but amplified the tragedy of military conscription. The quota was increased threefold and the "snatchers" were given a free hand to seize children and travelers who did not possess documents, and hand them over to the army. The reign of Nicholas I came to an end with the memory of those days of intensified kidnapping.


The reign of *Alexander II (1855–81) is connected with great reforms in the Russian regime, the most important of which was the emancipation of the peasants in 1861 from their servitude to the landowners. Toward the Jews, Alexander II adopted a milder policy with the same objective as that of his predecessor of achieving the assimilation of the Jews to Russian society. He repealed the severest of his father's decrees (including the Cantonists system) and gave a different interpretation to the classification system by granting various rights – in the first place the right of residence throughout Russia – to selected groups of "useful" Jews, which included wealthy merchants (1859), university graduates (1861), certified craftsmen (1865), as well as medical staff of every category (medical orderlies and midwives). The Jewish communities outside the Pale of Settlement rapidly expanded, especially those of St. Petersburg and Moscow whose influence on the way of life of Russian Jewry became important.

In 1874 a general draft into the army was introduced in Russia. Thousands of young Jews were now called upon to serve in the army of the czar for four years. Important alleviations were granted to those having a Russian secondary-school education. This encouraged the stream of Jews toward the Russian schools. At the same time, Jews were not admitted to officers' ranks.

The general atmosphere the new laws engendered was of no less importance than the laws themselves. The administration relaxed its pressure on the Jews and there was a feeling among them that the government was slowly but surely proceeding toward the emancipation of the Jews. Jews began to take part in the intellectual and cultural life of Russia in journalism, literature, law, the theater and the arts; the number of professionals was then very small in Russia, and Jews soon became prominent among their ranks in quantity and quality. Some Jews distinguished themselves, such as the composer Anton *Rubinstein (baptized in childhood), the sculptor Mark *Antokolski and the painter Isaac *Levitan.

This appearance of Jews in economic, political and cultural life immediately aroused a sharp reaction in Russian society. The leading opponents of the Jews included several of the country's most prominent intellectuals, such as the authors Ivan Aksakov and Fyodor Dostoyevski. The attitude of the liberal and revolutionary elements in Russia toward the Jews was also lukewarm. The Jews were accused of maintaining "a state within a state" (the enemies of the Jews found support for this opinion in the work of the apostate J. *Brafman, The Book of the Kahal, published in 1869), and of "exploiting" the Russian masses; even the blood libel was renewed by agitators (as that of Kutais in 1878). However, the principal argument of the hate-mongers was that the Jews were an alien element invading the areas of Russian life, gaining control of economic and cultural positions, and a most destructive influence. Many newspapers, led by the influential Novoye Vremya, engaged in anti-Jewish agitation. The anti-Jewish movement gained in strength especially after the Balkan War (1877–78), when a wave of Slavophile nationalism swept through Russian society.


One of the factors which influenced the position of the Jews was their high natural increase, due to the high birthrate and the relatively low mortality among children – the result of the devoted care of Jewish mothers as well as of medical progress. The number of Jews in Russia, which in 1850 had been estimated at 2,350,000, rose to over 5,000,000 at the close of the 19th century, notwithstanding a considerable emigration abroad. Governmental commissions appointed to deal with the "Jewish Problem" received instructions to seek methods for the reduction of the number of Jews in the country.


The natural growth resulted in increased competition in the traditionally Jewish occupations. The numbers of small shopkeepers, peddlers and brokers rose steadily. Many joined the craftsmen's class, a step which in those days was considered a fall in social status. A Jewish proletariat began to develop; it included workshop and factory workers, daily workers, male and female domestics, and porters. At the same time there also emerged a small but influential class of wealthy Jews who succeeded in adapting to the requirements of the Russian Empire and established contacts with government circles. The first members of this class were contractors engaged by the government in the building of roads and fortresses, or purveyors to army offices and units. During the reign of Nicholas I, many Jews engaged in leasing the sale of alcoholic beverages which had become a government monopoly. From the 1860s, Jews played an important role in the construction of railroads and the development of mines, industry (especially the foodstuff and textile industries), and export trade (timber; grain). They were among the leading founders of the banking network of Russia. This class of Jews was prominent in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and Warsaw. This upper bourgeoisie, headed by the *Guenzburg and *Polyakov families, considered themselves the leaders of Russian Jewry. They were closely connected with Jews who had acquired a higher education and had penetrated the Russian intelligentsia and the liberal professions (lawyers, physicians, architects, newspaper editors, scientists and writers). The wealth and the status of this small class was however unable to alleviate the suffering of the destitute masses. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the serious lack of land for the Russian peasants themselves became evident and the government ceased to encourage Jewish settlement on the land. Emigration became the only outlet. Until the 1870s, the migration was mainly an internal one, from Lithuania and Belorussia in the direction of southern Russia. While in 1847, only 2.5 percent of Russian Jews lived in the southern provinces, the proportion had increased to 13.8 percent in 1897. Important new communities appeared in this region: Odessa (about 140,000 Jews), Yekaterinoslav (*Dnepropetrovsk), Yelizavetgrad (*Kirovograd), *Kremenchug, etc. The famine in Lithuania at the end of the 1870s encouraged emigration toward Western Europe and the United States.


From the middle of the 19th century, *Haskalah became influential among Russian Jewry. Its first manifestations, combined with signs of assimilation, appeared in the large commercial cities (Warsaw, Odessa, Riga). Among the Russian adherents of Haskalah, there was a trend to preserve Judaism and its values; hence they tended to seek changes based mainly on a thread of continuity. Although there were also circles which stood for complete assimilation and absorption in Eastern Europe (the "Poles of the Mosaic Faith" of Poland, nihilist and socialist circles in Russia), the majority of the maskilim sought a path which would preserve the national or national-religious identity of the Jews, while some of them even developed an indubitable nationalist ideology (Pereẓ *Smolenskin). The herald of the Haskalah in Russia was the author Isaac Dov (Baer) *Levinsohn. In his Te'udah be-Yisrael (Vilna, 1828), he formulated an educational and productivization program. The most distinguished pioneers of Haskalah in Russia were the author Abraham *Mapu, the father of the Hebrew novel, and the poet Judah Leib *Gordon. Even though the maskilim were at first opposed to Yiddish, which they sought to replace by the language of the country, some of them later created a secular Yiddish literature (I.M. *Dick; Shalom Yankev *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim); and others). At the initiative of the maskilim, there also emerged a Jewish press in Hebrew (*Ha -Maggid, founded in 1856; *Ha-Meliẓ); in Yiddish (*Kol Mevasser); and in Russian (*Razsvet, founded in 1860; Den). The Ḥevrat Mefiẓei Haskalah ("*Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia"), founded in 1863 by a group of wealthy Jews and intellectuals of St. Petersburg, was an important factor in spreading Haskalah and the Russian language among Jews.

These books and newspapers infiltrated into the batteimidrash and the yeshivot, influencing students to leave them. Severe ideological disputes broke out in many communities, often between father and son, rabbi and disciples. The government assisted the spread of Haskalah as long as its adherents supported loyalty to the czarist regime (as expressed by J.L. Gordon – "to your king a serf") and cooperated in promoting educational and productivization programs, as well as in its opposition to the traditional leadership. By the 1870s, the activity of the maskilim began to bear fruit. The mass of Jewish youth streamed to the Russian-Jewish and general Russian schools. The general conscription law of 1874 encouraged this process, and thus began the estrangement of the intellectual youth from its people and Jewish affairs – to the despair of the nationalist wing of the Haskalah which resigned itself to this situation. However, the rise of the antisemitic movement within Russian society during the late 1870s (see above) resulted in a nationalist awakening among this youth. This was expressed in the development of a Jewish-Russian press and literature dealing with the problems of the Jews and Judaism (Razsvet; Russki Yevrey; *Voskhod).

Within the Russian Empire: Second Phase (1881–1917)

The year 1881 was a turning point in the history of the Jews of Russia. In March 1881 revolutionaries assassinated Alexander II. Confusion reigned throughout the country. The revolutionaries called on the people to rebel. The regime was compelled to protect itself, and the Russian government found a scapegoat: the notion was encouraged that the Jews were responsible for the misfortunes of the nation. Anti-Jewish riots (*pogroms) broke out in a number of towns and townlets of southern Russia including Yelizavetgrad (Kirovograd) and Kiev. These disorders consisted of looting, while there were few acts of murder or rape. Similar pogroms were repeated in 1882 (*Balta, etc.); in 1883 (Yekaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk, *Krivoi Rog, Novo-Moskovsk, etc.); and in 1884 (Nizhni-Novgorod, now *Gorki). The indifference to – and at times even sympathy for – the rioters on the part of the Russian intellectuals shocked many Jews, especially the maskilim among them. Revolutionary circles which hoped to transform these disorders into a revolt against the landowners and government also supported the rioters. The new czar, *Alexander III (1881–94), and his cabinet underlined these trends in their policy toward the Jews. Provincial commissions were appointed in the wake of the pogroms to investigate their causes. In the main, these commissions stated that "Jewish exploitation" had caused the pogroms. Based on this finding, the "Temporary Laws" were published in May 1882 (see *May Laws). These prohibited the Jews from living in villages and restricted the limits of their residence to the towns and townlets. In an attempt to halt the flood of Jews now seeking entry to secondary schools and universities, and their competition with the non-Jewish element, the number of Jewish students in the secondary and higher schools was limited by law in 1886 to 10 percent in the Pale of Settlement and to 3–5 percent outside it. This *numerus clausus did much to accomplish the radicalization of Jewish youth in Russia. Many went to study abroad; others were able to enter Russian schools only if showing outstanding ability. All became embittered and disillusioned with the existing Russian society. In 1891 the systematic expulsion of most of the Jews from Moscow began. The pogroms were indeed halted in 1884 but instead administrative harassment of Jews became worse. The police strictly applied the discriminatory laws, and the expulsion of Jews from towns and villages where they had lived peacefully during the reign of Alexander II was effected, either under the law or with the help of bribery, to become a daily occurrence. The press (which was subjected to severe censorship) conducted a campaign of unbridled antisemitic propaganda. K. *Pobedonostsev, the head of the "Holy Synod" (the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church), formulated the objectives of the government when he expressed the hope that "one third of the Jews will convert, one third will die, and one third will flee the country."

This policy was also continued under *Nicholas II (1894–1918). In reaction to the growth of the revolutionary movement, in which the radicalized Jewish youth took an increasing part, the government gave free rein to the antisemitic press and agitation. During Passover in 1903, a pogrom broke out in *Kishinev in which many Jews lost their lives. From then on pogroms became a part of government policy. They gained in violence in 1904 (in Zhitomir) and reached their climax in October 1905, immediately after the czar had been compelled to proclaim the granting of a constitution to his people. In these pogroms, the police and the army openly supported the rioters and protected them against the Jewish self-defense organizations (see below). Pogroms accompanied by bloodshed in which the army actively participated occurred in *Bialystok (June 1906) and *Siedlce (September 1906). The establishment of the Imperial Duma brought no change to the situation of the Jews. There was indeed a limited Jewish representation in the Duma (12 delegates in the first Duma of 1906 and two to four delegates in the second, third and fourth Dumas), but this representation was faced by a powerful Rightist party – the *Union of the Russian People – and related parties, whose principal weapon in the political struggle against the liberal and radical elements was a savage antisemitism which overtly called for the elimination of the Jews from Russia.

It was these circles which produced the "Protocols of the *Elders of Zion" which served, and still serve, as fuel for antisemitism throughout the world. In this atmosphere, a proposal for a debate in the Duma on the abolition of the Pale of Settlement was shelved, while a suggestion to exclude the Jews from military service was not accepted for the sole reason that the government could not dispense with the service of about 40,000 Jewish soldiers. Characteristic of this period was the law issued in 1912 which prohibited the appointment as officers not only of apostates from Judaism, but also of their children and grandchildren. In 1913 the government held a blood libel trial in Kiev involving Mendel *Beilis: the antisemitic propaganda was intensified and the government mobilized its police and judicial cadres to obtain his conviction. A strong defense was mustered, including the Jews O. *Grusenberg and Rabbi J. *Mazeh, which succeeded in disproving the libel: the jury, consisting of 12 Russian peasants, acquitted the accused.

The pogroms, restrictive decrees and administrative pressure caused a mass emigration of Jews from Russia, especially to the United States. During 1881 to 1914 about 2,000,000 Jews left Russia. This emigration did not result in a decrease in the Jewish population of the country as the high birthrate recompensed the losses through emigration. The economic situation improved, however, because the pressure on the sources of livelihood did not grow at its former pace and also because the emigrants rapidly began to send financial assistance to their relatives in Russia. Several attempts were made to organize and regulate this continual emigration, the most important by the Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de *Hirsch who reached an agreement in 1891 with the Russian government on the transfer of 3,000,000 Jews within 25 years to Argentina. For this purpose, the *Jewish Colonization Association (ICA) was established. Even though the project was not realized, ICA was very active in promoting Jewish agricultural settlement both in the lands of emigration and in Russia itself.


The comprehensive population census of 1897 provides a general picture of the demographic and economic condition of Russian Jewry at the close of the 19th century. In the census 5,189,400 Jews were counted; they constituted 4.13 percent of the total Russian population and about one-half of world Jewry. Their distribution over the Russian Empire appears in Table: Russian Jewish Population, 1897.

Russian Jewish Population, 1897 Census Russian Jewish Population, 1897 Census

Region Number of Jews % of total population
1 93.9% of the Jews of Russia.
2 Excluding the Jews of Bukhara.
Ukraine, Bessarabia 2,148,059 9.3
Lithuania, Belorussia 1,410,001 14.1
Russian Poland 1,316,576 14.1
Total in Pale of Settlement 4,874,636 11.51
Interior of Russia, Finland 208,353 0.34
Caucasus 58,471 0.63
Siberia, Russian Central Asia 47,941 0.352
Total Russian Jewish Population 5,189,401 4.13

In certain provinces of the Pale of Settlement, the percentage of Jews rose above their general proportion (18.12 percent in the province of Warsaw; 17.28 percent in the province of Grodno). The overwhelming majority of the Jews in the Pale lived in towns (48.84 percent) and townlets (33.05 percent). Only 18.11 percent lived in villages. The Jews of the villages nevertheless numbered about 890,000. A decisive factor in the social pattern of Russian Jewry was its concentration in the towns and townlets. The townlet (see *shtetl) – a legacy of the social structure of ancient Poland – was a center of commerce and crafts for the neighboring villagers and its population was mostly Jewish. There Jewish tradition, cohesion, and folkways were well preserved, serving as the basis and starting point for both the conservative and innovative forces in Jewish culture. In the larger cities, the majority of the Jews also resided in the same locality and led their own social life.

The largest Jewish communities in Russia in 1897 appear in Table: Jewish Communities in Russia, 1897.

Largest Jewish Communities in Russia, 1897 Largest Jewish Communities in Russia, 1897

City Number of Jews % of total population
Warsaw 219,128 32.5
Odessa 138,935 34.4
Lodz 98,676 31.8
Vilna 63,831 41.5
Kishinev 50,237 46.5
Minsk 47,617 52.3
Bialystok 41,903 63.4
Berdichev 41,617 78.0
Yekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk) 40,937 36.3
Vitebsk 34,420 52.4

There were also many medium-sized towns in which the majority of the population was Jewish.


This concentration of the Jews, and their intensive and variegated cultural life, made them a clearly distinct nation living in the Pale of Settlement. Their occupations and professional structure also gave a specific character to their society. In 1897 the Jews of Russia could be divided according to their sources of livelihood as shown in Table: Jews' Sources of Livelihood, Russia, 1897.

Jews Sources of Livelihood, Russia, 1897 Jews' Sources of Livelihood, Russia, 1897

Occupation %
Commerce 38.65
Crafts and industry 35.43
Domestics and daily workers 6.61
Liberal professions and administration 5.22
Transport 3.98
Agriculture 3.55
Army 1.07
Without regular source of livelihood 5.49
Total 100.00

In the Pale of Settlement Jews formed 72.8 percent of those engaged in commerce, 31.4 percent of those engaged in crafts and industry, and 20.9 percent of those engaged in transportation. At the close of the 19th century, the Jewish proletariat increased and numbered some 600,000. Approximately half of them were apprentices and workers employed by craftsmen, about 100,000 were salesmen, about 70,000 were factory workers, and the remainder daily workers, porters, and domestics. The desire of this proletariat to improve its material and social status, and its contacts with the revolutionary Jewish intelligentsia during the generation which preceded the 1917 Revolution, became an important factor in the lives of the Jews of Russia.


The last 20 years of the czarist regime were a time of tension and renaissance for the Jews, especially within the younger circles. This awakening essentially stemmed from conscious resistance to, and rejection of, the oppressive regime, the degraded status of the Jew in the country, and the search for methods for change. One response to the oppressive policy of the czarist government was to join one of the trends of the Russian revolutionary movement. The radical Jewish youth joined clandestine organizations in the towns of Russia and abroad. Many Jews ranked among the leaders of the revolutionaries. The leaders of the Social Democrats included J. *Martov and L. *Trotsky, while Ch. *Zhitlowski and G.A. *Gershuni figured among the founders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party of Russia. With the growth of national consciousness in revolutionary circles at the close of the 19th century, a Jewish workers' revolutionary movement was formed. Workers' unions which had been founded through the initiative of Jewish intellectuals united and established the *Bund in 1897. The Bund played an important role in the Russian revolutionary movement in the Pale of Settlement. It regarded itself as part of the all-Russian Social Democratic Party but gradually came to insist upon certain national demands such as: the right to cultural autonomy for the Jewish masses, recognition of Yiddish as the national language of the Jews, the establishment of schools in this language, and the development of the press and literature. The Bund was particularly successful in Lithuania and Poland, where after a short time it raised the social status of the worker and the apprentice, and implanted in them the courage to stand up to their employers and the authorities.

Another response of the Jews to their oppression in Russia found expression in the Zionist movement. Zionism originated in the *Ḥibbat Zion movement which came into being after the pogroms of 1881–83 (see also Leon *Pinsker). A few of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who left for overseas turned toward Ereẓ Israel and established the first settlements there. Ḥovevei Zion societies in Russia propagated the idea of this settlement and raised funds for its maintenance. The movement gained great impetus with the appearance of Theodor *Herzl, the convention of the First Zionist Congress in Basle, and the founding of the World Zionist Organization (1897). Because of the political regime of Russia, the central institutions of the Zionist Organization were established in Western Europe, even though the mass of its members and influence came from Russian Jewry. Zionism won adherence among all Jewish groups: the Orthodox and maskilim, the middle class and proletariat, the youth and intelligentsia. It encouraged national thought and culture among the masses. The Zionist press (*Haolam; Razsvet, etc.) and Zionist literature in three languages – Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian – gained wide popularity. The movement was illegal and the attitude of the government ranged from one of reserve, seeing that the movement could divert the Jewish youth from active participation in the revolutionary movement, to one of hostility. Zionist congresses and meetings were held openly (Minsk, 1902) and clandestinely. The failure of Herzl to obtain a charter from the Turkish sultan and the debate over the Uganda *project resulted in a grave crisis within the Zionist movement in Russia. Herzl largely based his case for accepting the Uganda project on the urgent need for a "Nachtasyl" for the suffering Russian Jews, but it was the majority of the Russian Zionists, led by M. *Ussishkin and J. *Tschlenow, who on principle opposed the Uganda proposal. Some of the proposal's supporters later resigned from the Zionist movement and founded territorialist organizations (see *Territorialism), the most important of which was the *Zionist Socialist Workers' Party (SS). Immigrants and pioneers from Russia formed the greater part of the Second Aliyah and it was from their ranks that the founders of the labor movement in Ereẓ Israel emerged.

Within a relatively short period, the revolutionary movement and the Zionist movement brought a tremendous change among Jewish youth. The battei-midrash and yeshivot were abandoned, and dynamism of Jewish society now became concentrated within the new political trends.

When the new wave of pogroms broke out in Russia in 1903, Jewish youth reacted by a widespread organization of self-defense. Defense societies of the Bund, the Zionists, and the Zionist-Socialists were formed in every town and townlet. The attackers encountered armed resistance. The authorities, who secretly supported the pogroms, were compelled to appear openly as the protectors of the rioters. The principal motives for the self-defense movement were not only the will to protect life and property but also the desire to assert the honor of the Jewish nation.


The nationalist awakening was also expressed by an astonishing development of Jewish literature in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. A continuation of the Haskalah literature, it reached its peak during the generation which preceded the 1917 Revolution. The most outstanding authors of that period were: *Aḥad Ha-Am, M.J. *Berdyczewski, M.Z. *Feuerberg, the Hebrew poets Ḥ.N. *Bialik, Saul *Tchernichowsky, Z. *Shneour, and others, as well as the Jewish Russian poet S.S. *Frug, and the Yiddish writers *Shalom Aleichem, I.L. *Peretz, and Sholem *Asch. There also arose a generation of researchers and historians, the most important of whom was S. *Dubnow, who wrote his History of the Jews and based his historical and world view on *Autonomism. Systematic research into Jewish folklore was started upon (S. *An-Ski). A Jewish encyclopedia in Russian was published (Yevreyskaya Entsiklopediya; 1906–13). The existing and new societies – Ḥevrat Mefiẓei Haskalah, *ORT, *OZE, ICA – became frameworks for the activity of members of the Jewish intelligentsia who sought to extend the scope of these societies as far as possible. Jewish newspapers circulated in hundreds of thousands of copies. The mass of Jews read the daily press in Yiddish (Der Fraynd; *Haynt; Der *Moment; etc.); Hebrew readers turned to the Hebrew press (*Ha-Ẓefirah; *Ha-Ẓofeh; Ha-Zeman); others read the Russian-Jewish press. In St. Petersburg the foundations were laid for a Higher School of Jewish Studies by Baron D. *Guenzburg, and in Grodno a teachers' seminary, which trained teachers for the Jewish national schools, was opened under the patronage of the Ḥevrat Mefiẓei Haskalah.

An important point at issue that developed between the Zionists and their opponents was the character of Jewish culture. The Bund and Autonomist circles considered that the future of the Jews lay as a nation among the other nations of Russia; they sought to liberate it from religious tradition and to develop a secular culture and national schools in the language of the masses – Yiddish. The Zionists and their supporters stressed the continuity and the unity of the Jewish nation throughout the world and regarded Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people. They considered the deepening of Jewish national consciousness and attachment to the historical past and homeland – Ereẓ Israel – to be the primary aim and mainstay of Jewish culture. This controversy grew acute after the Yiddishists had proclaimed Yiddish to be a national language of the Jewish people at the *Czernowitz

Map 1. Main Jewish communities in Russia outside the Pale of Settlement. Population figures according to official census of 1897. Map 1. Main Jewish communities in Russia outside the Pale of Settlement. Population figures according to official census of 1897.

Yiddish Language Conference in 1908. The "language dispute" was fought with bitter animosity and caused a split within the Jewish intelligentsia of Eastern Europe.


Russian Jewry, while regarding World War I with some fear, felt that their participation in the defense of Russia would bring about the abolition of their second-class status. The course of events did not, however, justify this anticipation. The mobilization affected about 400,000 Jews of whom approximately 80,000 served at the front. The battle lines passed through the Pale of Settlement in which millions of Russian Jews lived. In the region of the Russian front and its nearby hinterland, there was a military regime under the control of a group of antisemitic generals (Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich; Januszkiewicz). With the first defeats of the Russian army, the supreme command found it expedient to impute responsibility for their reversals to the Jews, who were accused of treason and spying for the Germans. Espionage trials were held and hostages were taken and sent to the interior of Russia. This was followed by mass expulsions of Jews from towns and townlets near the front line. These reached their height with the general expulsion of the Jews from northern Lithuania and Courland in June 1915.

In July 1915 the use of Hebrew characters in printing and writing was prohibited. The Hebrew and Yiddish press and literature were thus silenced. The attacks on the Jews aroused public opinion in Europe and America against the Russian government whose serious military and financial situation compelled it to take Western opinion into account, as this was hindering Russia from obtaining loans in the Western countries. In the summer of 1915, most of the restrictions on Jewish residence were abolished de facto, though not de jure, and thousands of Jewish refugees from Poland and Lithuania streamed toward the interior of Russia. From the outset of the war, Jewish communal workers established a relief organization for Jewish war victims known as *YEKOPO. In conjunction with the existing Jewish societies, it assisted the refugees by providing shelter, food, and employment for them and by the establishment of schools for their children. Communal workers of every class participated in this activity, which awakened the feeling of national unity within the masses. The suffering and persecutions led Jews to attempt to evade military service and desert from the hostile army, and in the difficult conditions caused by the mass of refugees and defeat, speculation in food and other commodities became rife among Jews. The non-Jewish population and the army reacted by intensified hatred toward them.

The extensive conquests of Germany and Austria in 1915 brought approximately 2,260,000 Jews (40% of Russian Jewry) under the military rule of the advancing armies, thus freeing them from czarist oppression while separating them from the Jews who remained under the czar. In 1917 there were 3,440,000 Jews in the region which remained under Russian control; of these, about 700,000 lived outside the former Pale of Settlement. These upheavals brought about cultural and social changes. The conscription of great numbers of Jewish youths into the Russian army and the suppression of the Jewish press and the literature accelerated the process of Russification among the Jews there. In contrast, the Jewish masses of Poland, Lithuania, the eastern Ukraine, and Belorussia, which formed the most deep-rooted element, as well as the great Jewish cultural centers of Warsaw and Vilna, were torn from Russian Jewry. This also affected the greater part of the Ḥasidim.


The nine months following the February Revolution of 1917 constituted a brief springtime in the history of Russian Jewry. The Provisional Government abolished all the restrictions affecting the Jews on March 16, 1917, as one of its first measures. Jews were immediately given the chance to hold office in the government administration, to practice at the bar, and rise in the army ranks. All at once opportunity opened up to them for free development in every sphere of life, both as citizens of the state and as a national group. The hatred of the Jews, which had served as a political weapon in the hands of the ancient regime, became incompatible with the Revolution and was forced underground.

Naturally the Jews supported the Revolution and participated in the active political life which began to flourish in the country. There were Jews in all the democratic and socialist parties at all levels, from the leadership to the rank and file. The leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets) included the jurist M. *Vinawer; among the Socialist Revolutionaries there was O. *Minor, who was elected mayor of Moscow, and I.N. *Steinberg, who later became commissar for justice in the first Soviet government headed by *Lenin. Other leaders included, among the Mensheviks, J. *Martov, and F.I. *Dan; and among the Bolsheviks, L. Trotsky, Y.M. Sverdlov, L.B. *Kamenev, and G. *Zinoviev. Many Jews led the revolutionaries in the provinces, which were poor in intellectual forces. Despite their numbers in the general revolutionary movement, these revolutionaries were only a minute section of the vast numbers of Russian Jews who remained attached to their national and religious culture and society. This adhesion was expressed by the tremendous progress made by the Zionist movement in 1917. In May 1917 the seventh conference of the Zionists of Russia, representing 140,000 members, was held in Petrograd. Youth groups under the name of *He-Ḥalutz, who prepared themselves to settle in Ereẓ Israel, were formed in many towns and townlets. The Zionists also promoted an intensive cultural activity. The Ḥovevei Sefat Ever ("Lovers of the Hebrew Language") society founded under the czarist regime, became the *Tarbut society. In Moscow a Hebrew daily, Ha-Am, was published and Hebrew publishing houses financed by the wealthy arts patrons Stybel (Stybel Publishing) and Zlatopolsky-Persitz (Omanut Publishing) were established. Training colleges for teachers and kindergarten teachers were founded, as well as elementary and secondary schools. The first steps were taken for the establishment of a Hebrew theater, *Habimah. In all the elections which were held during that year by the general and Jewish institutions, the Zionists and related groups headed the Jewish lists, leaving the Bund and other Jewish parties far behind.

In November 1917 information on the *Balfour Declaration reached Russia and it was acclaimed with immense enthusiasm by the Jews throughout the country. Large-scale Zionist demonstrations and meetings were held in Odessa, Kiev, Moscow, and other communities. All the Jewish parties united in joint activity to prepare the All-Russian Jewish Convention, which was to establish a political-cultural autonomous organization and central representation of all the Jews in Russia. A powerful national awakening was manifested among the hundreds of thousands of Jewish soldiers who served in the Russian army. Thousands of them enrolled in the military colleges and obtained officers' rank. At meetings and conventions of soldiers, debates were held on the establishment of a Union of Jewish Soldiers, one of whose principal objectives would be the organization of self-defense on a military basis, to prevent and suppress pogroms. This union was headed by Joseph *Trumpeldor. Indeed, as the Provisional Government weakened and anarchy became widespread, antisemitism lifted up its head, and here and there pogroms characterized by looting and assaults on Jews were perpetrated by undisciplined soldiers and mobs. The necessity for an organization which could stand in the breach was felt.

The Jews of the Ukraine, where in 1917 about 60 percent of all the Jews living under Russian rule were to be found, faced in the summer of this year the tendency toward separatism that began to manifest itself there. A Central Ukrainian Council (Rada) was formed which at first demanded autonomy for the Ukraine and later (in January 1918) complete independence. The Jewish masses in the Ukraine did not regard Ukrainian separatism with favor. They felt no affinity with Ukrainian culture and retained in mind the tradition of hatred toward the Jews and the massacres of the 17th century (Chmielnicki) and the 18th (the Uman massacre) by Ukrainians. The Jews there regarded themselves as an integral part of Russian Jewry. The Jewish parties, Zionist and socialist, were, however, inclined to collaborate with the Ukrainians, both because of the doctrinal principle of supporting non-Russian nationalism and out of political considerations. The Ukrainians on their side were most anxious to acquire the support of the large Jewish minority which lived with them. Extensive internal national autonomy was promised to the Jews. A National Jewish Council was established, and at the end of 1917 an undersecretary for Jewish affairs (M. *Silberfarb) was appointed in the Provisional Government of the Ukraine. He became minister after the proclamation of Ukrainian independence.


After the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the whole of Russia was plunged into a civil war which lasted until the beginning of 1921. The Jews of the Ukraine were especially affected by this war. Various armies were clashing in the area: the Ukrainian army under the command of S. *Petlyura and the bands of peasants connected with him; the Red Army, which came from the north but which organized and incorporated within its ranks many Ukrainian units; the counterrevolutionary "volunteers' army" (the "White Army") under the command of A. *Denikin; and independent units headed by local leaders (Grigoryev; Makhno; and others). These armies were composed mostly of soldiers who had fought on the battlefields of World War I and in general formed a wild mob mainly seeking after loot and bloodshed. As they passed through the towns and settlements, they abused and assaulted defenseless Jews. At times they contented themselves with the imposition of a "contribution" of money, clothes, and food, or with looting and murder on a limited scale. On other occasions, however, especially when in retreat, these armies and bands perpetrated general pillage and massacre among the Jews.

The first acts of bloodshed against the Jews were carried out by units of the Red Army during their retreat before the Germans in the northern Ukraine during the spring of 1918. However, the Red Army command had already adopted a clear policy of suppression of antisemitism within the army ranks. Systematic propaganda against antisemitism was conducted and the rare army units or individual soldiers who attacked the Jews were severely punished. Even though units of the Soviet army also later erupted into violence against the Jews (especially at the time of the retreat of the Red Army before the Poles in 1920), the Jews nevertheless came to regard the Soviet regime and the Red Army as their protectors. On the other hand, manifest antisemitism reigned within the units of the Ukrainian army and the peasant bands affiliated to it. At the beginning of 1919, during the retreat of the Ukrainian army before the Red Army, the regular army units systematically massacred the Jews with bestial savagery in Berdichev, Zhitomir, *Proskurov (leaving about 1,700 dead within a few hours), and other places. The Jewish autonomous organs in the Ukraine and the Jewish minister in the Ukrainian government could not obtain the punishment of the army commanders responsible for these pogroms. This convincingly proved to all the regular and irregular units of the Ukrainian army that lawlessness was licensed in regard to Jews. The policy of grain confiscation from the peasants adopted by the Soviets in those years encouraged anti-Soviet movements among the peasants. The Jews, inhabitants of the towns and townlets, were identified with Soviet rule, and the bands of peasants occasionally perpetrated systematic massacres of Jews when they gained control, often for a very short while, of the localities where Jews were living (Trostyanets, Tetiyev, etc.). During the summer of 1919, the White Army began to advance from the Don region toward Moscow. This army, which was composed of battalions of officers and Cossacks, was saturated with antisemitism and one of its slogans was the old slogan of czarist antisemites: "Strike at the Jews and save Russia!" Its way northward became a succession of pillage, rape, brutality, and slaughter which reached its climax in the massacre of the Jews at Fastov (with 1,500 dead). Their attacks on the Jews were even more severe at the time of their disorderly retreat southward at the end of 1919. It is difficult to assess the losses suffered by Ukrainian Jewry in these pogroms. S. Dubnow estimated that 530 communities had been attacked. More than 1,000 pogroms were perpetrated in these communities. There were more than 60,000 dead and several times this number of wounded. In the western Ukraine and Belorussia, the suffering of the Jews was caused mainly by the Polish army. Although pogroms did not take place, the Jews were terrorized and hundreds were executed without trial as "suspects" of Communist affiliation (Pinsk 1919, etc.). The Ukrainian and Russian "volunteer" units (under General Balachowicz-Bulak) which fought with the Poles also attacked the Jews.

During those years, Jewish self-defense units were formed in many places in the Ukraine. These efforts were, however, local. They were successful in several large towns and in a few townlets only. At the beginning of the civil war, a "Jewish Fighting Battalion" led by a nucleus of demobilized soldiers and officers was formed in Odessa. This battalion obtained many arms and saved the Jews of Odessa from pogroms. The defense units of the small towns managed to protect the Jews from small local bands, but were powerless when confronted by army units or large bands of peasants. Occasionally the attackers took cruel vengeance against the inhabitants for the resistance offered by their youth when they entered the locality (the *Pogrebishche massacre). During the last two years of the civil war, as Soviet rule strengthened, these self-defense organizations at first received political and military support. However, since nationalist and Zionist elements prevailed in them, they were disbanded later during the suppression of non-Bolshevik elements in 1921–22.

Under the Soviet Regime

By 1920 the borders of Soviet Russia took shape. A considerable number of Jews who had formerly been included within the borders of the Russian Empire remained in the states which had broken away from it (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Bessarabia, incorporated into Romania). Only about 2,500,000 Jews remained within the limits of Soviet Russia. The fate of the Jews within the borders of Soviet Russia was to a large extent determined by the theory and practice of the Communist Party. Its outlook was defined and crystallized during the 20 years which preceded the Revolution. Like all the other socialist and liberal parties, the Bolshevik Party repudiated antisemitism, while the civic emancipation of the Jews, as that of the other Russian peoples, formed part of its program. It took some time until the party recognized Jews as a nationality. Under the influence of assimilated Jews, who carried weight in the circles of the socialist leadership of Europe and Russia, the Bolsheviks were inclined to regard integration and assimilation as the only "progressive" solution of the Jewish problem. This outlook was sharpened during the bitter discussion at the beginning of the century between the Bolsheviks and the Bund. Leaning upon Marx, K. Kautsky, and O. *Bauer, Lenin declared that "there is no basis for a separate Jewish nation," and in regard to a "national Jewish culture – the slogan of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie – this is the slogan of our enemies."

Stalin declared in his pamphlet, Marksizm i natsionalny vopros (Marxism and the National Question, 1913), that a nation is a "stable community of men, which came into being by historic process and has developed on a basis of common language, territory, and economic life"; since the Jews lack this common basis they are only a "nation on paper," and the evolution of human society must necessarily lead toward their assimilation within the surrounding nations. These theories of the fathers of Communism increasingly influenced Soviet policy toward the Jews, though in the beginning the Soviets were compelled by the actual conditions to deviate from their theories and to allow the existence of Jewish political and cultural institutions (the *Yevsektsiya (see below); Yiddish schools and publications, etc.). These deviations, however, proved in the long run to be of a temporary character, after which the line – of imposed assimilation of the Jews – was implemented with even more energy and firmness.

By its war on antisemitism and pogroms, the new regime gained the sympathy of the Jewish masses whose lives depended on its victory. Jewish youth enthusiastically joined the Red Army and took part in its organization. Many Jews reached the higher military ranks and played an important role in the formation of the Red Army. Leon Trotsky, who organized the military coup of the October Revolution of 1917, was the creator of the Red Army, which included among its prominent commanders a number of Jews (of whom the most celebrated were General Jonah *Yakir and Jan Gamarnik). In the Soviet air force there was General Y. *Shmushkevich. In 1926, 4.4 percent of the officers of the Red Army were Jews (two and a half times higher than their ratio to the general population). Jews took an important part in the restoration of the country's administration, which had collapsed after a large section of the Russian intelligentsia and former officialdom emigrated from Soviet Russia or refused to serve in it.

However, the new regime brought complete economic ruin to the Jewish masses, most of whom belonged to the "petty bourgeoisie" of the towns and townlets. The abrogation of private commerce, confiscation of property and goods, and liquidation of the status of the townlet as the intermediary between the peasants and the large towns–all these deprived hundreds of thousands of Jewish families of their livelihoods. About 300,000 Jews succeeded in leaving the Soviet-controlled territories for Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania. The declaration of Lenin on the failure of the economic policy of the period of "war Communism," the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP), together with the conclusion of the civil war and the restoration of order in the country, brought some relief to the Jews, but their economic situation was broken and hopeless.

With economic ruin, the new regime also brought spiritual ruin to the Jews. When the Bolsheviks seized power, they were compelled to recognize the fact, even if as a temporary phenomenon, of the existence of millions of Jews who were attached to their language and their national tradition. A Jewish commissariat headed by the veteran Bolshevik S. *Dimanstein was established between 1918 and 1923 to deal with Jewish affairs. "Jewish Sections" (Yevsektsiya) were also set up in the branches of the Communist Party. Jewish members of the party who were prepared to work among their fellow Jews were organized in these sections. The function of the Yevsektsiya was to "impose the proletarian dictatorship among the Jewish masses." The older Jewish members of the Communist Party were mostly assimilationists who did not want any contact with their people. However, as the success of the Bolsheviks and the efficiency of their terror measures became increasingly evident, they were joined by sections of Jewish socialist parties (the Bund, the *United Jewish Socialist Workers' Party, the *Po'alei Zion) as well as by individual Jews. These brought with them ideas on the fostering of a secular Jewish culture in Yiddish and envenomed hatred toward the Jewish religion, the Hebrew language, the Bible, and the Zionist movement. The Communist Party put them in control of the Jewish population centers, at the same time stressing that their activity was only a temporary measure for as long as it would be required.

The first activity of the Yevsektsiya was the liquidation of the religious and national organizations of the Jews of Russia. In August 1919 the Jewish communities were dissolved and their properties confiscated. The general antireligious policy took the form, in relation to the Jews, of persecution of traditional Jewish culture and education, of prohibiting the religious instruction of children, the closure of ḥadarim and yeshivot, and the seizure of synagogues which were converted into clubs, workshops, or warehouses. A violent campaign against the Jewish religion and its leaders was conducted and heavy taxes were imposed on the rabbis and other religious officials in order to compel them to resign from their positions. In these activities the Yevsektsiya encountered the opposition of the religious masses, who based themselves on the promise of freedom of religious worship, which was officially proclaimed and later included in the Soviet constitution, and struggled for their right to pursue their way of life by legal or illegal methods (through "underground" ḥadarim, yeshivot, etc.). The imprisonment and expulsion from the Soviet Union of Rabbi J. *Schneersohn, the leader of Chabad Ḥasidism, in 1927 marked one phase in the suppression of Jewish religion. Even after this, "underground" religious activity continued, and its influence was manifested when hundreds of ḥasidic families left the Soviet Union and went to Ereẓ Israel after World War II.

War was also proclaimed against Hebrew; its study was prohibited, and the publication of books in Hebrew was suspended (though until 1928 it was still possible to print religious books and Jewish calendars). In June 1921 a group of Hebrew authors led by Ḥ.N. Bialik and S. Tchernichowsky left Russia. Several years later, the Hebrew theater Habimah left the Soviet Union. It had attained a high artistic standard and for several years had been protected from the Yevsektsiya by several of the greatest Russian cultural personalities, led by M. Gorki. The remaining Hebrew authors (Abraham Friman, Ḥayyim *Lenski, Elisha *Rodin, and others) were cruelly persecuted and many of them sent to forced labor camps.

The Zionist movement revealed great vitality. The Soviets viewed Zionism as a threefold danger. It strengthened the vitality of Jewish nationalism. It diverted the Jewish intelligentsia, whose talents the regime required, toward activities beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. It maintained relations with the World Zionist Organization, then an ally of Britain, which ranked among the countries hostile to the Soviet Union. The Zionist movement went underground. Most of its members were youths and boys who were active in the Zionist parties (Ẓe'irei Zion; ZS), youth movements (*Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir; Kadimah; and others) and within the framework of He-Ḥalutz which trained its members for aliyah. Many Zionists were imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or exiled to outlying places in Soviet Asia. For several years, the Soviets authorized the existence of He-Ḥalutz in certain regions of the country, but this authorization was abrogated in 1928. Thus organized Zionism was silenced by the end of the 1920s.

The independent societies and publishing houses (Ḥevrat Mefiẓei Haskalah, the Historical and Ethnographic Society, and others) continued to exist until the late 1920s. Some of their activists succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union (S. *Dubnow; S. *Ginsburg). Individuals remained in the Soviet Union (I. *Zinberg). In 1930 the Yevsektsiya was also disbanded. The first stage in the liquidation of the national life of the Jews in the Soviet Union had been completed.


To replace the Jewish culture which had been destroyed, the Jewish Communists attempted to develop a "Jewish proletarian culture," which was to be, according to Stalin's slogan, "national in form and socialist in content." This culture was based on the promotion of the Yiddish language and its literature, while the writing of Hebrew words in Yiddish was changed to phonetic transcription, so as to cut the link with Hebrew (examples: כאוויירים instead of עמעס ;חברים instead of אמת). A Yiddish press was established, with three leading newspapers; Der Emes (1920–38) in Moscow, Shtern (1925–41) in the Ukraine, and Oktiabar (1925–41) in Belorussia. Numerous literary and philological periodicals, youth newspapers, and a trades unions press were published every year. A Yiddish theater network was established. It was headed by the Jewish State Theater under the direction of A. *Granovski (until 1929) and afterward the actor S. *Mikhoels. These presented adaptations of Jewish classics, by authors such as Mendele Mokher Seforim, Shalom Aleichem, and I.L. Peretz, as well as Yiddish translations of Soviet propaganda pieces and plays. In Minsk and Kiev, "Faculties of Jewish Culture" were established in the universities. They essentially promoted research into the Yiddish language and its literature, Jewish folklore, and Marxist historiography of the history of the Jews in Russia and of the Jewish labor movements. The works of these institutes, as well as the whole of Jewish literature, were subject to the supervision of the Yevsektsiya, headed by M. *Litvakov, who kept watch to prevent "nationalist and rightist deviations." During the short period from the middle 1920s to the middle 1930s when this Soviet Yiddish culture flourished, it appeared to many adherents of Yiddish in the world that with the assistance of a great power a new Yiddish literature would emerge in the Soviet Union. Jewish authors and scholars who had left the country during the first years after the Revolution, as well as Jews from other countries, began to arrive in Moscow, Kiev, and Minsk (among them the authors: D. *Bergelson, P. *Markish, M. *Kulbak, and the scholars: N. *Shtif, M. *Erik, and Meir *Wiener).

Yiddish was also given an official status by the establishment of governmental tribunals in which proceedings were held in Yiddish. The greatest efforts were, however, invested in the development of a network of Yiddish schools. Many such schools were opened in the towns and townlets of the Ukraine and Belorussia. During the first years, an attempt was even made to compel Jewish parents to send their children to these schools. Secondary schools and training colleges for teachers were also established. At the height of this period, in 1932, 160,000 Jewish children (over one third of the Jewish children of elementary school age) attended these institutions. From this year, however, a decline set in. Jewish parents refused to send their children to schools whose Jewish character, apart from the language of instruction (which was the de-Hebraized Soviet Yiddish), was limited to the study of a few chapters of Yiddish literature, with even these interpreted in a manner that offended the religious and national values of the Jewish people. A further cause for the decline of this network of schools was the small number of Yiddish secondary schools and the lack of Yiddish higher educational institutions. By the late 1930s, these schools began to disappear until they were liquidated, largely of their own accord, in almost every corner of the Soviet Union.

Cultural assimilation gradually gained in momentum among the Jews as they became integrated within the life of the new Soviet society. The majority of the Jewish children attended Russian schools. Jewish youth was attracted to the larger cities where the Yiddish language was nonexistent. Even the Jewish-Russian press, which served as an obstacle to assimilation, and the Jewish societies and organizations were absent there. Mixed marriages became a frequent occurrence. In 1935 over 60,000 Jews studied at the higher schools (over 10 percent of the country's students). An expression of the assimilation of the Jews and their activity in Soviet literature could be seen from their large participation in the first conference of Soviet writers in 1934, at which there were 124 delegates of Jewish nationality (about 20 percent of the delegates). Only 24 of them wrote in Yiddish; the others mainly in Russian. These included some of the most prominent authors of Soviet Russian literature, such as: I. *Ehrenburg, B.L. *Pasternak, I. *Babel, and S. *Marshak. The Jews also played a central role in the development of other spheres of Soviet culture, especially the cinema (S. *Eisenstein; M. Romm).


The most decisive factor in the history of the Jews of the Soviet Union was the economic reshuffle which took place in their midst during the 1920s and 1930s. The brief NEP period (1921–27) aroused vain hopes among the Jews, who occupied a place of considerable importance in the urban economic class of shopkeepers and independent craftsmen ("nepmen"). However, when the success of the NEP period was at its height, severe supervision was imposed on this class, and the burden of taxation brought its impoverishment and destruction. The situation was especially difficult in Jewish townlets whose former economic basis had been destroyed. A widespread class of the destitute and unemployed was created; its members were also deprived of civic rights (lishentsy in Soviet terminology), such as the right to employment, public medical care, and the right of their children to study in secondary and higher schools. With the liquidation of the NEP and the introduction of the first Five-Year Plan (1927–32), the situation of these masses deteriorated even further. Thousands of families subsisted on the meager assistance which they received from Western Jewry, through public organizations (the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), ORT, ICA), through organizations of emigrants from towns or townlets (*Landsmannschaften), or individual relatives. Notorious in this period was the "Extortion of Dollars" campaign of the Soviet secret police, with the use of coercion and torture against Jews suspected of "hoarding dollars." During the late 1920s, according to official statistics, about one third of the Jews belonged to the economic classes which were destined to disappear and were deprived of the above-mentioned rights. The authorities sought to solve this problem in three ways: by agricultural settlement; by migration to the interior regions of Russia, which had been closed to the Jews under the czarist regime; and by concentration in the large towns and industrial regions of the Ukraine and Belorussia, where new classes of government officialdom and industrial enterprises had developed.


During the 1920s, many of the leaders of the Soviet government came to regard agricultural settlement as the high road to the solution of the Jewish problem. A steady movement toward agricultural settlement of Jews had already started near the Jewish townlets during the period of war Communism in the years of the civil war, when occupation in agriculture at least promised a piece of dry bread. In 1924 the government created the Commission for Jewish Settlement (Komzet) and a year later a Society for the Promotion of Jewish Settlement (Ozet) was founded. Several Soviet leaders, led by M. Kalinin and Y. *Larin, viewed this settlement not only as an economic solution for the Jews but also as a means of assuring their national existence. Some members of the Yevsektsiya accepted these projects with enthusiasm and devoted themselves to their realization. These circles aimed to establish Jewish settlement in successive blocs which would form autonomous national areas and would eventually find their place among the national units of which the Soviet Union was composed. As a basis for such a concentration, the regions of prerevolutionary Jewish settlement in southern Russia were chosen, where 40,000 Jewish farmers already lived, as well as the Crimean peninsula, in the northern parts of which there were still areas available for settlement. Over a number of years five autonomous Jewish agricultural regions were established: *Kalinindorf (Kalininskoye) in 1927, Nay Zlatopol in 1929, Stalindorf (Stalinskoye) in 1930, in the Ukraine; Fraydorf in 1931, and Larindorf in 1935, in the Crimea. Jewish settlement organizations of the West, especially ICA and the JDC, were associated in these activities. Ozet became the legal focus for Jewish activities, and in its newspaper Tribuna (Russian, 1927–37) the problems of the "productivization" of the Jews and their agricultural settlement were discussed. Communists of Russia and abroad considered this activity to be, among others, the Soviet alternative to Zionism.

It soon became evident that there was not sufficient space in the Ukraine and Crimea for Jewish settlement on a large scale. In 1928 the government decided to direct this settlement to a distant and sparsely populated region in the Far East–the region of *Birobidzhan, on the banks of the Amur River on the Chinese border. In order to encourage settlement in Birobidzhan, a political as well as an international Jewish character was given to this enterprise. Jews throughout the world were called upon to lend a hand in the establishment of a Jewish territorial unit within the framework of the Soviet Union. On May 7, 1934, the district of Birobidzhan was proclaimed a Jewish Autonomous Region which was to cover an area of 36,000 sq. km., whose official language would be Yiddish. Settlement in Birobidzhan took place in difficult pioneering conditions. In August 1936, the government announced that "the Jewish Autonomous Region was from now on to become the cultural center of Soviet Jewry for all the working Jewish population." This proclamation aroused opposition within the circles of Jewish activists in the European part of the Soviet Union. It appears that misgivings were also felt in government circles toward the outspoken national character which the settlement of Birobidzhan received. In August 1936, a drastic change occurred in the attitude of the government toward Birobidzhan. The leadership of the region, which was in the hands of former members of the Jewish socialist parties, was liquidated. From then, the Jewish aspect of the region began to wane. Officially Birobidzhan retained its name and status of a Jewish autonomous region, and the only newspaper still published in Yiddish in the Soviet Union is the Birobidzhaner Shtern. At present, however, Birobidzhan has only symbolic importance in the lives of the Jews of Russia. Its number of Jewish inhabitants, which in 1936 rose to 18,000 (about 24 percent of the total population of the region), declined to 14,169 in the census of 1959, forming 8.8 percent of the region's population and about 0.66 percent of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. Less than 40 percent of them declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue.

By the late 1930s, the hopes which many Jews in Russia and abroad had pinned on agricultural settlement evaporated. The collectivization of farming during the early 1930s, which was frequently bound up with a policy of "internationalization" (i.e., the inclusion of non-Jewish peasants in Jewish kolkhozes), resulted in the departure of many Jewish settlers. The industrialization and development of the towns attracted many members of the settlements to the large towns. With the German invasion, all the Jewish settlements of the Ukraine and Crimea were destroyed and they did not recover after the war.

The Jewish Population of Birobidzhan, 19281959 The Jewish Population of Birobidzhan, 1928–1959

Numbers Immigration into the region
1928 400 900
1929 1,200 1,000
1930 2,600 1,500
1931 3,500 3,250
1932 7,000 9,000
1933 6,000 3,000
1934 8,000 5,250
1935 14,000 8,350
1936 18,000 8,000
1937 19,000 3,000
1945 20,000 1,750
1948 30,000 10,000
1959 14,269


In practice, the problem of Jewish integration within the economic structure of the Soviet Union was solved by many Jews moving to the interior of Russia and their absorption in Soviet officialdom and industry. Migration toward the interior of Russia, which had already begun as a result of the expulsions from the war zones in 1915 and with the outbreak of the Revolution of 1917, continued uninterruptedly, as indicated by the general censuses which were held in the Soviet Union in 1926 and 1939 (see Table: Migration toward the Interior of Russia, 1926 and 1939).

Migration toward the Interior of Russia, 1926 and 1939 Migration toward the Interior of Russia, 1926 and 1939

1926 1939
Region Number of Jews (thousands) % of total population Number of Jews (thousands) % of total population
Russian S.F.S.R. 599.0 22.4 948 31.4
Ukraine 1,574.5 59.0 1,533 50.8
Belorussia 407.0 15.2 375 12.4
Caucasus 51.5 1.9 84 2.8
Soviet Central Asia 40.0 1.5 80 2.6
Total 2,672 100.0 3,020 100.0

The movement of Jews to Moscow and Leningrad was most evident (see Table: Movement of Jews to Moscow and Leningrad).

Movement of Jews to Moscow and Leningrad Movement of Jews to Moscow and Leningrad

Number of Jews
Town 1897 1926 1940 (approx.)
Moscow 8,473 131,000 400,000
Leningrad 17,251 84,412 175,000

Hundreds of thousands of Jews took up employment as factory workers or were absorbed in administrative occupations (especially as clerks in consumers' cooperatives and in accountancy). The division of the Jews' social status in 1939, according to official sources, appears in Table: Jews According to Social Status, Russia, 1939.

Jews According to Social Status, Russia, 1939 Jews According to Social Status, Russia, 1939

Occupation %
Clerks 40.6
Workers 30.6
Cooperative craftsmen 16.1
Individual craftsmen 4.0
Peasants in kolkhozes 5.8
Others 2.9
Total 100.0

Jews were heavily represented in the Soviet intellectual class. At the close of the 1930s, 364,000 Jews (of whom 125,000 were accountants) belonged to this class. Thus, in Soviet society, the Jews also remained an exceptional element in their social composition. Commerce, which had held the central place in the lives of the Jews before the Revolution, was replaced by administrative occupations and professions in technology and sciences. In Stalin's purges of the late 1930s, which were directed against the members of the old Communist guard, many members of the Yevsektsiya were liquidated and the main Jewish newspaper and the Ozet society were closed down. Apart from this, however, these purges did not bear an anti-Jewish character and were a part of the general policy of the party. At the end of the 1930s, Jews still played an important role in administration, science, and Soviet art. However, no Jewish national or communal organization existed whatsoever. Assimilation took giant strides. Mixed marriages became commonplace. Yiddish-Communist culture was gradually disappearing, but there was still a class of Jewish activists, authors and teachers who held their ground in this atmosphere of extinction, and proclaimed, in accordance with the optimistic official line in the Soviet Union, the great "success" achieved by Marxist-Leninist policy in the solution of the Jewish problem and the "renovated Jewish people" (dos banayte folk) which had emerged in the Soviet Union.

During World War II (1939–1945)

On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded Soviet territory. The 22 months preceding the invasion witnessed a steady decline of the remnants of national Jewish life: Jewish institutions and newspapers which had survived the purge of the late 1930s functioned in an atmosphere of fear and oppression, and Jewish educational institutions closed down, often at their own initiative. Among the younger generation the process of assimilation was accelerated. (In June 1942 the Jewish commander of the Soviet air force, Lieutenant General Yaacov Shmushkevich, twice a Hero of the Soviet Union, was arrested and eventually executed, but this must be regarded as part of Stalin's general purges rather than an attack upon the Jews.)


The most significant event of this period, in Jewish terms, was the addition of over two million Jews, residents of the territories that had been annexed by or incorporated into the Soviet Union (see Table: Distribution of Jewish Population in the Soviet-Annexed Territories).

Distribution of Jewish Population in the Soviet-Annexed Territories Distribution of Jewish Population in the Soviet-Annexed Territories

Area Date of Annexation Number of Jews Location of Large Communities
Eastern Galicia and western Belorussia Sept. 1939 1,220,000 Bialystok, Pinsk, Grodno, Rovno, Lvov
Refugees from western Poland Sept. 1939 300,000
Lithuania and the Vilna area June 1940 250,000 Vilna, Kovno
Latvia and Estonia June 1940 100,000 Riga
Bessarabia, northern July 1940 300,000 Kishinev, Chernovtsy
Total 2,170,000

As a result of the annexations, the Jewish population of the Soviet Union totaled approximately 5,250,000. There were areas in the new territories which had a dense Jewish population – especially the cities – and Jews accounted for 5–10 percent of the total population. Most of these Jews spoke Yiddish and they were imbued with a high degree of national Jewish consciousness. The Zionist movement was strong and well entrenched, and a large part of the youth actively prepared itself to settle in Palestine; the socialist Bund also wielded considerable influence. The Jews had their own educational systems – traditional and secular schools, and also the great yeshivot – which taught Hebrew and Yiddish to many thousands of students. A multilingual Jewish press and literature existed whose ranks of Jewish writers and men of letters were augmented by refugees from Warsaw and the towns in western Poland.

Deeply shocked by the swift capitulation of Poland and the fall of its Jews into Nazi hands, most Jews of the newly-annexed territories welcomed the new Soviet regime, regarding it above all as providing assurance of their physical survival. They accepted the new economic and social order in spite of the great hardship that it caused them – confiscation of factories and businesses and the imposition of heavy taxes on shopkeepers and artisans. Jews were now able to enter government service, and found it possible to function in the Soviet economic system in cooperative and state-run workshops and commercial enterprises. The Jewish communities themselves were disbanded and the status of religion and religious institutions – synagogues, yeshivot and religious schools – underwent a sharp decline. The Hebrew-language schools had to adopt Yiddish as the medium of instruction and introduce the Soviet curriculum, with teachers from the old part of the U.S.S.R. put on their staff. Jewish youth organizations were either disbanded or went underground and many of the young people joined the Communist youth movement (Komsomol). The young Zionists and yeshivah students, for the most part, moved to Vilna, which was a Polish city and then became the capital of Lithuania, but was not occupied by the Soviets until June 1940, and from there many succeeded in reaching either Palestine or the United States. There was also a minor revival of Yiddish cultural life. The old Soviet Yiddish writers, who had almost given up all hope of saving Yiddish culture from obliteration, now saw a new sphere of activities opening up. They established contact with writers in such Jewish centers as Vilna, Kaunas, Riga, Lvov, Bialystok, and Chernovtsy, founded newspapers and theaters, and began to publish their books. A chair for Yiddish language and literature, headed by Noah *Prylucki, was created at Vilna University. This development soon met with the disapproval of the Soviet authorities, and by the end of 1940 there was no doubt that Jewish institutions in the new territories were also being systematically liquidated. This was especially true of Jewish schools, where teachers and parents were "persuaded" to replace Yiddish by Russian. A few attempts at protesting this policy were firmly suppressed, as, for example, the arrest and later execution of the Soviet Yiddish writer Selik *Axelrod in Minsk. Many of the refugees from western Poland were arrested in the early months of the Soviet occupation and deported to camps in the Soviet interior. In the spring of 1941, mass arrests took place among Jews and non-Jews alike, primarily former businessmen, industrialists, and religious functionaries, as well as socialists, Zionists and Bundists. They were sent into exile or labor camps in northern Russia, where many of them died; for others, deportation turned out to be the means of survival, while the families they had left behind soon became the victims of the Nazi slaughter. It was clear that Soviet policy was designed to equate the social and cultural standard of the new areas, as quickly as possible, with that of the rest of the country. Any remaining contact between Soviet Jewry and the Jewish world beyond the borders was broken off. The Soviet press reported very little of the atrocities committed by its Nazi treaty partner, and made no mention at all of the persecution of the Jews. As a result, the Jews of the Soviet Union knew practically nothing of the fate of their brethren in the countries occupied by the Germans, and when the Soviet Union was invaded, they were mostly unprepared for what was to happen.


In the first few weeks following June 22, 1941, the German invaders occupied most of the areas annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 and 1940, including all of Belorussia and the greater part of the western Ukraine (as eastern Galicia had become). Vilna was taken on June 25, Minsk on June 28, Riga on July 1, Vitebsk and Zhitomir on July 9, and Kishinev on July 16. From most of the towns, the Jews attempted to flee to the Soviet interior, but were prevented from doing so either by the advancing German troops or by Soviet security forces who did not permit the crossing of the pre-1939 borders of the U.S.S.R. The Jews in the areas that were occupied by the Germans at a later date, such as Kiev (September 19) and Odessa (October 16), did in large measure succeed in escaping in time, either individually or within the organized evacuation of government employees, of functionaries of institutions, and of workers in factories. In the more remote areas occupied by the Germans, the majority of the Jewish inhabitants also managed to get away in time. The total Jewish population in the areas occupied by the Germans had been four million (spring 1941). Of these, about three million were murdered. The rest were saved in a variety of ways including prior deportation and evacuation together with non-Jews; drafting into the Red Army; and flight to the forests and joining the partisan units. Almost none of the Jews who remained in the cities and towns of the German-occupied territory survived the war. By the time of the German invasion of the U.S.S.R., the Nazi plan for the "*Final Solution" had been worked out. Here the Nazis felt none of the restraint which they had imposed upon themselves in Western Europe, since they were unconcerned by local reaction. The annihilation of the Jews proceeded at a rapid pace. The ghettos that were established proved to be only temporary collection points for the utilization of Jewish labor prior to destruction.


The task of the systematic murder of the Jews was put in the hands of four specially created units called Einsatzgruppen, made up of 3,000 killers recruited from the *SS, the SD and the Gestapo. These units were assigned the job of following the German troops as they advanced into the Soviet Union, and ridding the occupied areas of all undesirable elements – political commissars, active Communists, and, above all, the Jews. Their task was explained to them in special training courses: to destroy the Ostjuden (Jews of Eastern Europe) who represented the "biological base" of the Jewish people all over the world and constituted the breeding ground of world Communism. Each unit was allotted a certain area of activity, and on completion of its task in one area, it was transferred to another. The units were commanded by high-ranking officers of the Gestapo, many of them well-educated men who had chosen the assignment because of its absence of personal danger and its high reward – a better salary, plus the valuables taken from the victims. Among these officers, there were some of the "finest" products of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, they could not have carried out their task without assistance from various sources, foremost among them the German army, which supplied the Einsatzgruppen with personnel, transport and weapons. An order issued by Field Marshal Reichenau on Oct. 10, 1941, on the "Conduct of the Armed Forces in the Eastern Theater of Operations," explicitly called upon German troops to assist in the murder of Jews. Hitler described it as an "excellent" (ausgezeichnet) order and instructed all army commanders on the Soviet front to follow Reichenau's example.

Local antisemitic elements, too, participated in the slaughter of Jews, first by means of pogroms initiated of their own accord, especially in the Baltic states and later as members of special police units made up of Ukrainians, Belorussians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Tatars, who collaborated in the extermination campaign. The Germans had a special interest in gaining the cooperation of the local populations, so that they became accomplices in the crimes being committed. One means by which they achieved this end was the distribution of Jewish houses and portions of Jewish property among gentile neighbors. The attitude of the local population to the Jews differed from one place to another. In the Baltic states and the Crimea, home of the Tatars, there were local elements who participated in the annihilation of Jews as effectively as the Nazis. In the Ukraine the number of Nazi collaborators, led by Ukrainian nationalists, was particularly large. On the other hand, the Belorussian and Russian population in the Nazi-occupied areas hated the Germans and were on the whole opposed to the mass murder of Jews. In a very few instances attempts were made to save Jews. One such effort was the work of the Metropolitan Sheptitski, head of the Uniate Church in the western Ukraine, who, with the help of monks belonging to his church, organized a network for saving Jews by hiding them in monasteries. A similar network of Polish and Lithuanian intellectuals and clerics operated in Vilna. However, prevailing conditions severely limited the scope of these efforts. The method by which the annihilation of the Jews was carried out by the Nazis differed from one place to another. In many instances the murders took place in the very beginning of the occupation. This was true of many cities and towns in the Baltic states, where local nationalists accused the Jews of having welcomed and supported the Soviet annexation. Often the Nazis used the murder of Jews to set an example for the local population and to intimidate them, or in revenge for operations carried out by the partisans. In Kiev 33,779 Jewish men, women, and children were murdered within two days (Sept. 29–30, 1941) in the *Babi Yar Valley, near the local Jewish cemetery, in response to the blowing up of German headquarters in the city. In Odessa, German and Romanian forces reacted similarly to the destruction of Romanian headquarters in the city, and 26,000 Jews were put to death during Oct. 23–26, 1941, many by hanging or burning. The killing in Odessa continued until the middle of the winter. In the Ukraine and Belorussia, the Nazis celebrated the anniversary of the Russian Revolution on Nov. 7, 1941, by mass killings of Jews. In the Soviet Union, the Nazis tried out new ways of murdering Jews. One such method was the use of closed vans, in which Jews were ostensibly being transported from one place to another, while in fact poison gas was forced into the vans, causing the immediate death of all the passengers. The most common method was to drive the Jews to the outskirts of the city and fire on them by rifles or machine guns in front of previously prepared ditches, pushing the victims into the ditches and covering the ditches with earth. Sometimes some of the victims were not dead, and were thus buried alive. In many instances, they had to remove their clothes before going to their deaths. Nazi leaders, among them A. *Eichmann, were frequent witnesses of these spectacles. Where the slaughter was not completed in the early days of the occupation, the Nazis established ghettos for the survivors, situated, as a rule, in the slum quarters of the town, where the Jews were concentrated in the worst conditions possible. A *Judenrat and a ghetto police force were appointed by the Nazis to run the ghetto. Some of those appointed showed courage and fortitude in carrying out the task that a bitter fate had decreed for them. In the majority of cases, however, working under the Nazis resulted in moral degeneration.

The Jews were forced to wear the yellow *badge and were not permitted to leave the confines of the ghetto, unless they were working for the Nazis outside. From time to time, the Nazis staged Aktionen designed to weed out the "useless" elements – invalids, old people and children. Those whose turn for death had not yet come were forced to work in German army workshops, road building and fortifications. Surviving Jews in places that were declared *judenrein were transferred to central ghettos, which also contained large numbers of Jews from Western Europe. The largest of these ghettos existed in Vilna, Bialystok, Kaunas, Riga, and Minsk (only the last belonging to the pre-1939 Soviet territory), and they remained in existence for almost the entire period of German occupation.

Most of the Jews from Bessarabia and northern Bukovina were deported to *Transnistria, the area beyond the Dniester that had been occupied by the Romanian army, where they suffered from starvation and disease and were put into forced labor. The enormity of the Nazi crimes was revealed while the war was still going on, as soon as the Soviet army began its westward advance, liberating occupied territories. Several of the Nazi murderers who fell into Soviet hands, and their collaborators among the local population, were put on trial. While at the start no attempt was made to conceal the Jewish identity of the victims, after a while the Soviet authorities and information media refrained from mentioning the anti-Jewish character of the crimes and described the victims as "Soviet citizens."


Jewish resistance to the Nazi regime was manifested in two ways: the revolt in the ghettos, and participation in the partisan movement (see *Partisans).

There was a decided difference between the behavior of the Jews in the pre-1939 territory of the Soviet Union and the Jews in the recently incorporated areas. The former had been deprived by the Soviet regime of any form of Jewish organization and lacked any semblance of coherence as a national group. In their case the process of annihilation was swift and thorough and, with few exceptions (Minsk, Kopyls), these ghettos existed only for a few months or even weeks. In the newly annexed areas, such as the Baltic states, former eastern Poland, northern Bukovina, etc., the tradition of Jewish organization and self-contained Jewish life was still strong, and it took the Nazis much longer to wipe out the ghettos. The Jews maintained clandestine institutions for mutual help, and rendered assistance not only to the local Jewish population but also to the deportees who had been brought in from other places. In these ghettos, there were underground libraries, choirs, orchestras, and theater companies, as well as schools and synagogues. An underground press informed the ghetto population of developments on the front and events concerning Jews, and served to keep up morale. These activities were organized largely by the youth and by the few surviving intellectuals. A leading role was played by Zionist youth groups, who hoped for a future life in Ereẓ Israel, and by the Communists, who hoped for the victory of the Soviet army. In many of the ghettos, fighting organizations were created which collected arms in preparation for a ghetto revolt or for escape to join the partisans. The underground fighting groups in the large ghettos managed to maintain communications with each other and send messengers to the ghetto resistance movement headquarters in Warsaw. A major dilemma confronting the fighting ghetto youth was the choice between remaining in the ghetto to carry on the hopeless struggle there, or escaping to the woods to join the partisans. Generally, the policy of the ghetto leadership was to stay in the ghetto and carry on their miserable existence there, in the hope of "surviving them" (iberlebn zay); an open revolt would lead to drastic punishment and the immediate murder of large numbers of ghetto inmates. However, the resistance movements arrived at the conclusion that the Nazis aimed at the total extermination of all Jews. In their leaflets (in Vilna, Bialystok, and elsewhere) the resistance called on the Jews not to go "like sheep to the slaughter" but to defend themselves and take up weapons. The only recourse for the underground resistance movement was to stage a revolt of the ghetto as a whole just as it was about to be liquidated. An earlier flight to the woods meant abandoning the ghetto, and the families of the escapees, to their bitter fate.

Usually, however, the problem was resolved by the conditions created by the Nazis. In the summer of 1942, the Germans began the systematic liquidation of the ghettos in the provincial towns. In some of them revolts broke out, the ghetto inmates resisting their deportation, setting the ghetto houses on fire and making mass attempts to escape to the forests. *Nesvizh, *Mir, *Lachva, *Kletsk and *Kremenets were some of the places where ghetto revolts occurred. In August 1943, when the Nazis embarked upon the final liquidation of the *Bialystok ghetto, a revolt broke out there. There were no revolts in *Vilna and *Kaunas, but the Jewish underground encouraged the young people to flee to the forests and join the partisans. In Minsk the ghetto underground maintained close contact with the partisan units in the vicinity.


Jewish participation in the partisan movement, which encompassed large areas under German occupation, especially in Belorussia, Lithuania and Ukraine, was relatively small. The partisan movement was based in the forests and the villages in the forest area, consisting primarily of local people, such as peasants and shepherds. There was widespread antisemitism among the partisans, with many instances of partisans attacking Jews, robbing them of their goods, and even murdering them. The time factor was also against wide Jewish participation. The Soviet partisan movement gained its strength after June 1942 (date of the establishment of the central partisan headquarters), a period when most of Soviet Jews in the German-occupied territories had already been murdered. The non-Jewish partisan, as a rule, was an able-bodied person who had chosen to fight the Germans. Most of the Jews, however, who had fled to the forests, had no other choice, and brought with them a large number of old people, women, and children who were incapable of joining the fighting and whose security and sustenance were a heavy burden which the non-Jewish partisans were unwilling to bear. In general, Jews were received coolly by the partisans and frequently had to prove their ability and readiness to fight, as well as obtain their own weapons, before they were permitted to join the partisan ranks. Many Jews, especially in the Soviet interior, assumed non-Jewish names and posed as gentiles in order to join the partisans. The presence of antisemitic elements both in the partisan command and in the rank and file manifested itself in frequent executions of Jewish partisans for minor misdemeanors, for which their non-Jewish comrades were given a light punishment only. A change for the better occurred in the fall of 1942, when a partisan supreme headquarters was created in Moscow and political instructors sent to the partisan units to form them into a regular organized movement.

Groups of Jews, members of resistance movements or others who fled to the woods, tried to establish Jewish partisan units. Often they did not find any other partisans in the area when they arrived. Some of them formed "family camps" which housed complete families, as well as fighting units whose task it was to defend the camps against both the Germans and the non-Jewish partisan units. Examples of such family camps were the one headed by Tuvyah Belski, in the vicinity of *Novogrudok, where over 1,000 persons found refuge, most of whom were able to survive the war; a camp in the forests near Minsk, created by Shimon Zorin, which sheltered families and also served as a base for several fighting units; and various camps in the forests of western Belorussia, Lithuania, and Volhynia, among them the fighting unit headed by Jechezkiel *Atlas in the Slonim area, the "Jewish Unit" headed by M. Gildenman in the Volhynian forests, and the 51st Company of the Shchors Battalion in Polesie. When the Soviet command took over the partisan movement, it pressed for the disbandment of the Jewish units and the distribution of its members among the various other national partisan units. This policy was based on the territorial principle which called for the partisan units to symbolize the organic connection between the population of the district in which the partisan units were active and the Soviet Union. Jewish commanders were replaced and non-Jewish partisans were incorporated into the Jewish units, so that the units soon lost their Jewish character. Thus, there were units termed Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Lithuanian, even in cases when a substantial part of the unit strength was made up of Russians or, sometimes, of Jews (e.g., in Lithuania). Estimates of the number of Jews who were active in the partisan movement range from 10,000 to 20,000. About one third fell in the fighting with the Germans. When the areas in which they were active were liberated by the Soviet army, most of the Jewish partisans were drafted and joined the Soviet forces in their drive to Berlin. A substantial number of these erstwhile partisans made their way to Palestine when the war was over.


Jewish soldiers played a leading role in the fighting units in those areas of the Soviet Union which were not occupied by the Germans. There was no question of where their loyalty lay: they were fighting for their lives, and for them, unlike Russians such as Vlasov and Ukrainians such as Bandera, treason was out of the question. It was known that Jewish soldiers in the Soviet army who were taken prisoner were executed at once by the Germans. About 500,000 Jews served in the Soviet army during the war, and approximately 200,000 fell in battle. In the Brest-Litovsk fortress, one of the organizers of the heroic resistance was a Jewish officer, Chaim Fomin. A similar role was played by another Jew, Arseni Arkin, who was the commissar of the Hango garrison, the advance position in the Gulf of Finland. The first Soviet squadron to bomb Berlin (August 1941) was commanded by Michael Plotkin, a Jew. In the battle for Moscow at the end of 1941, a Jewish brigadier (later general), Jacob *Kreiser, took a leading role. Many Jews were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union during that battle. Many Jews took part in the battle for Stalingrad, among them Kreiser; Lieutenant General Israel Baskin, an artillery commander; and the commander of the 62nd Armored Corps, M. Weinrub. At the fall of Stalingrad, Field Marshal von Paulus surrendered his pistol to a Jewish brigadier, Leonid Vinokur. A large proportion of Jews were also among the troops that spearheaded the Soviet drive into Germany. Among the 900 soldiers who were decorated Heroes of the Soviet Union for their part in the crossing of the Dnieper, 27 were Jews. Similarly, in the battle for Berlin many Jews took part in the fighting, among them Major General Hirsh Plaskov, artillery commander, and Lieutenant General Shimon Krivoshein, commander of the armored corps. Jews were heavily represented in the artillery units, armored corps, army engineers, and the air force. Their numbers were also particularly great in the medical corps, among them the surgeon general of the Soviet army, Major General M. Vofsi, later to be among the accused in the antisemitic "*Doctor's Plot" eight years after the war (see also below). Among many Jews serving in the navy were Rear Admiral Paul Trainin, who commanded the Kerch naval base, and submarine captains Israel Fisanovich and Shimon Bograd. A Jewish major general of the cavalry, Dovator, was among those who fell in the defense of Moscow. A total of 160,000 Jewish soldiers in the Soviet forces were decorated during the war, with the Jews thus taking fifth place among Soviet nationalities. The highest award, Hero of the Soviet Union, was granted to 145 Jews, among them David Dragunski, who was awarded it twice. Jewish women distinguished themselves as nurses, medical orderlies, radio operators, and even as snipers and pilots. Among the latter were Polina Gelman and Raisa Aronova, who became Heroes of the Soviet Union. A considerable number of Jewish writers took part in the fighting, and among those who fell in battle were S.N. *Godiner, A. *Gurshtein and Meir Wiener. Jews who were taken prisoner could save their lives only if they succeeded in hiding their Jewish identity. A Soviet prisoner-of-war underground movement in Germany, organized in 1943, was discovered by the Nazis and its members were executed. At the head of the movement was an officer named George Pasenko, whose real name, it later transpired, had been Joseph Feldman. The tendency among Jewish soldiers to hide their true identity also existed in the Soviet army itself, because of antisemitic elements. This situation facilitated the work of the antisemitic propagandists, especially in the rear, who argued that the Jews were not taking part in the war effort, and in the postwar years antisemitic groups continued to belittle the Jewish role in the defeat of Germany.

In the story of Jewish participation in the Soviet war effort, the Lithuanian division and Latvian units represent a special chapter. The Soviet government had a special interest in creating national Lithuanian and Latvian units in order to demonstrate that these countries had become an integral part of the U.S.S.R. The Lithuanian division was created in the northern Volga region in December 1941, but because the number of Lithuanians available was too small to fill its ranks, Russian-born Lithuanians and Lithuanian-born Russians were also drafted into the unit. But in its initial stage Jews comprised a majority in the division. Jews also accounted for a large part of the Latvian national units. When the Lithuanian division finally reached Lithuanian soil, the proportion of Jews had been reduced to one fifth. Four of the Jewish soldiers serving in this division were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. After the war, a considerable number of former members of the Lithuanian division managed to reach Palestine.


Jews living behind the front underwent great suffering during the war. In addition to sharing the general fate of the population, many of them suffered special hardship, for the number of refugees among them was disproportionately large, and they lived under severe conditions in the towns and kolkhozes beyond the Volga and in Soviet Central Asia. A few refugees were allowed to join the Polish army under General Anders and were thus able to leave the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities were suspicious of the Jewish refugees, especially the former Polish citizens among them. Even those who had formally become Soviet citizens, were, at the beginning, drafted into labor battalions only. A tragic example of this attitude was the execution by the Soviets of two former Polish Bund leaders, H. *Erlich and V. *Alter, in December 1941.

Latent antisemitism among the Soviet masses manifested itself overtly throughout the war. Its principal victims were the Jewish refugees, whom the local population regarded as competitors for the scarce food and shelter available. When in 1943–44 the Soviet army liberated the occupied areas, not only was the Holocaust of the Jewish communities revealed, but also the hatred of the Jews that the Nazis had successfully aroused and encouraged among the local population. This hatred was further intensified by the attempts of the few returning Jews to regain their houses and positions. In numerous instances, Jews who had survived the war and tried to reestablish themselves in their old homes were murdered by their erstwhile neighbors. Liberated Kiev was the scene of a pogrom in which a number of Jews lost their lives.


New archival material from the *Zentralestelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen at Ludwigsburg, which was previously not available, now makes it possible to give an account of the extermination of the Jews in the Nazi-occupied territory of the U.S.S.R.

The Jewish population of the U.S.S.R., within the frontiers of Sept. 17, 1939, was, according to the census of January 1939, 3,028,358, with the following breakdown: Ukraine 1,532,776, Belorussia 375,092; Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic 956,599; all other territories 200,000. Eighty percent of these Jews lived in the large industrial cities or in small towns which served as industrial and commercial centers for the surrounding villages.

The Nazi onslaught on June 22, 1941, and the rapid progress of the German army, took the Jews completely by surprise, as was the case with the Red Army command. As a result of the confusion and lost sense of direction, and because of transportation failures, heavy shelling, and the swift advance of German units (on June 26 they approached *Minsk and, by the middle of July, almost the whole of Belorussia and the greater part of the western Ukraine, with *Zhitomir, were occupied), it was practically impossible for Jews inhabiting Belorussia and the western Ukraine (on the right bank of the Dnieper) to escape. The number of Jews evacuated in an organized manner from the eastern Ukraine and the Russian Republic was, according to S. Schwartz, about 50 percent; according to reports by Einsatzgruppen, between 70 and 90 percent of the Jews escaped from some towns. They were evacuated with their plants and offices. There was practically no evacuation of Jews as such. Many of the Jews who had sought refuge in the *Crimea and the *Caucasus were subsequently murdered by the advancing Germans.

Many Jewish families did not even attempt to leave, as no one anticipated the Jewish extermination policy of the Nazis, since the Soviet press had adopted a friendly policy toward Nazi Germany, especially after the signing of the nonaggression pact, and it refrained from mentioning the persecution of Jews in occupied Europe.

At the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Nazi Government already had a carefully elaborated plan for the liquidation of Russian Jewry, and had prepared the material basis for implementing it. In March 1941, the organization of special units, the so-called Einsatzgruppen, began, with the aim of exterminating all Jews and Communists within the occupied territory of the U.S.S.R. Einsatzgruppen A, B, and C were directly subordinated to the *RSHA commander. Each of them operated in the territory of one of the three fronts (Heeresgruppe), while Einsatzgruppe D operated in the territory of Manstein's 11th Army to the south. The Einsatzgruppen immediately followed the front-line units, made inquiries, and, in cooperation with auxiliary police troops (mainly Lithuanian and Ukrainian), carried out the first mass slaughter of the Jews.

To quote only one example, Einsatzgruppe C entered Zhitomir together with the first German tanks and, on September 19, 1941, the 4a Einsatzkommando of the same Einsatzgruppe C arrived in *Kiev; here, ten days later, along with troops led by a senior SS officer and the Sued ("South") police units, it organized the massacre of more than 33,000 Jews at *Babi Yar.

The *SS and senior police officers (Hoehere SS und Polizeifuehrer – HSSPF) with their subordinated units were another organized force who, almost from the first day of the occupation, engaged in the liquidation of Jews under the guise of fighting the partisans. There were three such officers in the U.S.S.R.: Obergruppenfuehrer Hans Pruetzmann and Obergruppenfuehrer Franz Jeckeln, who alternately supervised the territories of the Baltic states and the northern part of the Russian Republic as HSSPF-Nord and the Ukraine as HSSPF-Sued, and HSSPF-Mitte Obergruppenfuehrer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who operated mainly in Belorussia.

The total number of Jews killed by the Einsatzgruppen and the troops of the HSSPFs during the first period of the occupation (mainly in July and August 1941) is still unknown. Incomplete evidence shows that in August 1941 alone the HSSPF-Sued units executed 44,125 people, most of them Jews, while the SS Kavallerie-Regiment 2, subordinated to the HSSPF-Mitte, killed 6,526 Jews in the period between July 27 and August 11, 1941. A comment by the commander of the aforementioned unit, SS Sturmbannfuehrer Magill, bears witness to the German soldiers' bestiality. He reported that the operation had in general been carried out satisfactorily, despite the fact that the marshes were not deep enough to drown the women and children.

There was close cooperation between the German army and those who organized the extermination of the Jews. The Einsatzgruppen received supplies from military sources and were assisted by regular army units in liquidating the Jews. The army often asked the SD to exterminate Jewish communities in the territory within their control (Priluki, *Gadyach), or took a direct part in such operations. In the report of Einsatzgruppe A for the period between Oct. 16, 1941 and Jan. 31, 1942, for example, it is stated that "up to January 1942, about 19,000 partisans and criminals, primarily Jews, were killed by the Wehrmacht."

Following this first wave of massacres, which took place immediately after the entry of the German army, there was a period of organized liquidation. The preparatory stage was similar to that elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe and included legal discrimination, the tattooing of numbers, registration, humiliating forced labor, and concentration in camps and ghettos. One notable difference, however, was that in Russia this stage took only a short time – from a few weeks to a few months. Usually, the Jews were forbidden freedom of movement from the outset, or not allowed to associate with non-Jews or benefit from public services. The quantity and quality of goods sold to Jews were usually minimal, as were the hours of sale; in many cases, all shopping was made impossible for the Jews. They were ordered to wear distinguishing badges: in Belorussia it was usually a yellow circle or a yellow magen David ("shield of David") on the chest and back, and in the Ukraine, a yellow armband. The so-called "Jewish Committees" were established during that period, whose task it was to supply the Germans with manpower, collect contributions, and – mainly in the Ukraine – register the Jews as a first step toward their extermination.

The next step was the systematic slaughter of most young men of Jewish origin. In the large cities, those capable of military service were interned during the first days of the occupation; Jews were usually separated from the rest, and, as a rule, executed soon afterward (Minsk, Kiev). In the smaller towns, Jewish men were rounded up – ostensibly for forced labor, but in reality to be put to death. Jewish prisoners of war were as a rule shot immediately. There is eyewitness evidence of the mass slaughter of Jewish intellectuals at that time (Minsk, *Vitebsk, Vinnitsa).

In the majority of cases during the second month of the occupation closed ghettos were established in large Jewish communities and in district centers for the concentration of Jews in the whole area. It also happened that, where there were few Jews (as in Novo-Moskovsk or Baran), no ghettos were established, and the Jews were allowed to remain in their places of residence until they were exterminated.

Ghettos were usually located in those suburbs which had been most badly damaged, and in buildings unfit for human habitation – factories, barracks or warehouses (*Kharkov, Vitebsk). Those deported to the ghetto were permitted to take only hand luggage.

Since these ghettos were simply concentrations of Jews to be liquidated, they were often merely open areas surrounded by barbed wire (Smolevichi, *Gorodok, *Polotsk, Smolyany, Kletnya). Such ghetto-camps usually existed from several weeks to a few months. The Jews in the ghettos received no food as a rule, and the mortality rate there was very high, particularly during the severe winter of 1941.

The liquidation of the newly-established ghettos began as early as the autumn of 1941. Of the 18 known ghettos in Belorussia, nine were liquidated by the end of 1941, six of them in October. In the Ukraine, too, most of the Jews had been put to death by the end of 1941. Out of the 70 known Jewish communities in the Ukraine (including the Crimea), 43 were liquidated by the end of 1941, and the remainder were also rendered judenrein by mid-1942. For the Germans themselves, the "Jewish question" in the Ostland (including the Baltic states and Belorussia) had virtually found a solution. In the Ukraine, the "Jewish question" ceased to exist by August 1942.

In 1943, Jews were still to be found only in a few ghettos (those of Minsk, *Slutsk, and *Khmelnik) and a very few labor camps, but they were liquidated by the end of the year. In the Crimea and the Caucasus, and probably also in the southeastern Ukraine, practically no ghettos were set up. Jews were liquidated there almost immediately after the occupation of the region, and the German orders followed one after another; first, the establishment of the Jewish Committee, then registration, badges, and finally "evacuation," which meant death. Such was the fate of the Jews of *Simferopol, *Yevpatoriya, *Feodosiya, *Kerch, *Rostov, *Krasnodar, Kislovodsk, and other towns. As a rule, the Ashkenazi Jews were liquidated first, and then the Crimean Jews (Krimchaks).

The executions were usually organized by the Einsatzgruppen. The ghetto was surrounded by the German police, assisted by auxiliary forces of the local police and frequently by the Wehrmacht. The Jews, who believed they were being evacuated, were rounded up in public squares and taken in trucks or driven on foot to the place of execution. In front of the graves, prepared beforehand, by the local population or, more often, by Soviet prisoners of war, the victims were ordered to strip naked or remain in their underwear, stood in groups at the edge of the graves, or pushed inside them and told to lie down, after which they were machine-gunned. The executions were carried out by both Germans and their local assistants. Fresh victims were laid on the corpses and the process continued until the grave was full. To make their work easier, the executioners sometimes rendered their victims unconscious by hitting them on the head. During an operation in Vitebsk in October 1941, Jews were reportedly shot on the bridge over the Dvina, and their bodies thrown into the river. At *Artemovsk, some of the Jews were shot dead, and others immured alive in the marbleworks. In some cases, Jews were made to run over a minefield or killed with grenades (Kharkov, *Mogilev). In the Crimea, the method most widely adopted was to shoot Jews over wells into which their bodies were subsequently thrown. In certain communities (Minsk, Kharkov, Krasnodar), Jews were killed in special gas trucks. The Germans and their associates treated children with particular barbarity: their backs were broken, or they were poisoned or stabbed to death, or their heads were smashed against stones. Many children were thrown into graves or wells while still alive.

Executions of Jews usually took place in forests, ravines or isolated places near their places of residence. It can be said that almost every town in the territory in question had its own "Babi Yar." To mention but a few, at Mogilev it was Polikovichi; at Vitebsk, Ilovskiy Yar; at Pskov, Solotopki; at *Smolensk, Mogalenshchina.

In June 1942, *Himmler had already given orders that all traces of the activity of Einsatzgruppen in the East be removed. Paul Blobel, head of the Sonderkommando 4a, was charged with the task, He organized Kommando 1005 to unearth the corpses from the mass graves and burn them. It seems, however, that this obliteration of the traces did not become a mass operation before the autumn of 1942.

It is difficult to estimate how many Jews were massacred by the Nazis in the U.S.S.R. Only fragmentary data are extant, mostly according to the documentation of the Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen at Ludwigsburg, which give the number of Jews killed as 573,000, This figure, however, applies only to those put to death in the later period of German occupation (approximately after September 1941), and does not take account of the very large number of massacres in July and August of that year. Moreover, that figure applies only to a small number of townships and settlements, of which there were about 130 in occupied Soviet territory within Russia's 1939 frontiers. Nothing is known of the fate of Jews inhabiting the provinces as a whole; some data are available concerning individual communities, such as the districts of *Cherkassy, Sumy and Voroshilovgrad. There is also information to the effect that 6,150 Jews were killed in the *Nikolayev and *Kherson regions. Even where the number of victims from certain communities is known, the evidence tends to be incomplete or inaccurate, since it is either confined to limited periods or else gives the total number of Jewish and non-Jewish victims together.

It can be assumed, however, that the actual number of Jewish victims in the occupied territory of the U.S.S.R. was at least twice the figure cited above, i.e., more than 1,000,000.


G.D. Hundert and G.C. Bacon, The Jews in Poland and Russia: Bibliographical Essays (1984). GENERAL WORKS: Institute of Jewish Affairs, London, Soviet Jewry (1971), an extensive bibliography; L. Greenberg, The Jews in Russia, 2 vols. (1951); S.W. Baron, The Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets (1964).

1772–1917: J.S. Raisin, The Haskalah Movement in Russia (1915); Dubnow, Hist Russ; J. Kunitz, Russian Literature and the Jew (1929); I. Levitats, The Jewish Community in Russia, 17721844 (1943); J. Frumkin et al. (eds.), Russian Jewry 18601917 (1966); V. Nikitin, Yevrei zemledeltsy (1887); M.L. Usov, Yevrei v armii (1911); L. Zinberg, Yevreyskaya periodicheskaya pechat v Rossii (1915); Yu. Gessen, Istoriya yevreyskogo naroda v Rossii, 2 vols. (1925–26); S.Y. Borovoy, Yevreyskaya zemledelcheskaya kolonizatsiya v staroy Rossi (1928); N. Buchbinder, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Arbeter Bavegung in Rusland (1931); A. Levin, Kantonistn… 18271856 (1934); S. Ginzburg, Historishe Verk, 3 vols. (1937–38); B. Dinur, Bi-Ymei Milḥamah u-Mahpekhah (1960).

1917–1970: International Military Tribunal, Trials of the Major War Criminals, 4 (1950), 3–596; S.M. Schwarz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (1951); idem, Yevrei v Sovietskom Soyuze s nachala vtoroy mirovoy voyny (1966); L. Kochan (ed.), The Jews in Soviet Russia Since 1917 (1978); N. Levin, The Jews in the Soviet Union Since 1917: Paradox of Survival, 2 vols. (1988); J. Tenenbaum, Race and Reich (1956), 347–70; B. West (ed.), Struggle of a Generation: The Jews under Soviet Rule (1959); idem, Hem Hayu Rabbim (1968); L. Lénéman, La Tragédie des Juifs en U.R.S.S. (1959); J.B. Shechtman, Star in Eclipse: Russian Jewry Revisited (1961); B.Z. Goldberg, The Jewish Problem in the Soviet Union (1961); E. Schulman, A History of Jewish Education in the Soviet Union (1971); E. Wiesel, The Jews of Silence (1966); Gli ebrei nel' U.R.S.S. (1966); Ben-Ami (A. Eliav), Between Hammer and Sickle (19672); S. Rabinovich, Jews in the Soviet Union (Moscow, 1967); L. Kochan (ed.), The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917 (1970); A. Dagan, Moscow and Jerusalem (1971); Jews in Eastern Europe (1958– ); S. Agursky, Di Yidishe Komisariatn un di Yidishe Komunistishe Sektsies (1928); N. Gergel, Di Lage fun Yidn in Rusland (1929); A. Rafaeli (Zenziper), Eser Shenot Redifot (1930); S. Dimanstein (ed.), Yidn in FSSR. (1935); L. Zinger, Dos Banayte Folk (1941); J. Lestschinsky, Dos Sovetishe Idntum (1941; Ha-Yehudim be-Rusyah ha-Sovyetit, 1943); T. Belsk, Yehudei Ya'ar (1946); M. Kahanovitch, Milḥemet ha-Partizanim ha-Yehudim be-Mizraḥ Eiropah (1954); Y.A. Gilboa, Al Ḥorvot ha-Tarbut ha-Yehudit bi-Verit ha-Mo'aẓot (1959); idem, The Black Years of Soviet Jewry (1971); Ch. Shmeruk (ed.), Pirsumim Yehu diyyim bi-Verit ha-Mo'aẓot (1961); idem (ed.), A Shpigl oyf a Shteyn (1964); A. Pomeranz, Di Sovetishe Harugey Malkhes (1962); J. Levavi Ha-Hityashevut ha-Yehudit be-Birobidzhan (1965); A.A. Gershuni, Ha-Yahadut be-Rusyah ha-Sovyetit (1965); J. Litvak, in: Gesher, 12, nos. 2–3 (1966), 186–217; M. Guri et al. (eds.), Ḥayyalim Yehudim be-Ẓivot Eiropah (1967), 135–57; S. Nishmit, in: Dappim le-Ḥeker ha-Sho'ah ve-ha-Mered, Series B, Collection A (1969), 152–77; S. Redlich, in: Beḥinot, 1 (1970), 70–79; He-Avar (1952– ). ARCHIVAL MATERIAL: Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem: Unit 0–53/Ludwigsburg/, files nos. 1–10, 13–14, 15–17, 22–33, 36, 44–45, 57, 83, 86, 88–91, 93. Unit 0–53/F (JM-2996)/Ludwigsburg/; "Čhornaya Kniga." PUBLICATIONS: The Black Book, the Nazi Crimes against the Jewish People (1946); I. Ehrenburg, V. Grossman, The Complete Black Book of Russia (2002); R. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (1961); G. Reitlinger, The Final Solution (19682); S. Schwartz, Yevrei v Sovetskom Soyuze s. nachala vtoroy mirovoy voyny (1966); Prestupleniya nemetskofashistskikh okupantov v Belorussii 19411944 (Minsk, 1965); Rozprawa sadowa w sprawie o bestialstwa popelnione przez niemieckich najeźdźiców faszystowskich i ich slugusów na terytorium miasta Krasnodaru i kraju krasnodarskiego w okresie przejściowej ich okupacji/July 1417, 1943/ (Moscow, 1943).

1970– : Y. Ro'i, in: EJYB 83–85:405–10; Y. Litvak, in: EJYB 86–87:363–70; R. Vago, in: EJYB 88–89:405–5; M. Beizer, in; EJYB 90–91:388–95; idem, in: The Shorter Encyclopaedia Judaica in Russian, Suppl. 1, (1992), 31–41; idem, in: Jews and Jewish Topics in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (hereafter Jews and Jewish Topics), 2:12 (1990), 69–77; idem, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 3:19 (1992) 62–77; T. Friedgut, in: Soviet Jewry in the 1980s (1989), 3–25; M. Altshuler, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 2:9 (1989), 5–29; idem, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 3:16 (1991), 224–40; Z. Gitelman, in: Soviet Jewish Affairs, 19:2 (1989), 3–4; Y. Florsheim, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 2:15 (1991), 5–14; idem, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 3:19 (1992), 5–15; M. Tolts, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 2:18 (1991), 13–26; idem, in: East European Jewish Affairs, 22:2 (1992), 3–19; A. Greenbaum, in: EJYB 90–91:179–83; I. Dymerskaya-Tsigelman, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 3:10 (1989), 49–61; B. Pinkus, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 2:15 (1991), 15–30; M. Gilbert, The Jews of Hope (1984); idem, Ukrainian Diary, SeptemberOctober, 1991, manuscript; D. Prital (ed.), Yehudei Berit ha-Mo'atsot ("The Jews of the Soviet Union"), vols. 8–15 (1985–1992); "The Seeond Congress of Vaad," in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 3:16 (1991), 224–40; Z. Gitelman, in: Soviet Jewish Affairs, 19:2 (1989), 3–4; Y. Florsheim, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 2:15 (1991), 5–14; idem, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 3:19 (1992), 5–15; M. Tolts, in: Jews and Jewish Topics, 1:14 (1991), 31–59. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: U. Schmelz and S. DellaPergola, in: AJYB, 1995, 478; Supplement to the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, 2, 1995, Jerusalem; Y. Florsheim, in: Jews in Eastern Europe, 1 (26) 1995, 25–33; M. Beizer and I. Klimenko, in: Jews in Eastern Europe, 1:24 (1995), 25–33; Antisemitism World Report 1994, London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, 143–153; Antisemitism World Report 1995, London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, 196–206; D. Prital (ed.), Yehudei Berit ha-Moaẓot be-ma'avar, 16:1 and 17:2; Mezhdunarodnaia Evreiskaia Gazeta (MEG), 1993–1994; M. Tolts, "The Post-Soviet Jewish Population in Russia and the World," in: Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe, 1, 52 (2004), 37–63. WEBSITE:

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