Soviet Government Charged with ‘strangulation’ of Jewish Life
Menu JTA Search

Soviet Government Charged with ‘strangulation’ of Jewish Life

Download PDF for this date

Full documentation of the official Soviet Government policy of “strangulation” of Jewish life in the USSR–not only lingual, cultural and religious, but even educational, civic and political–is detailed in an article in the January issue of “Foreign Affairs,” leading American quarterly, published by the Council of Foreign Relations. The author is Moshe Decter, an author and editor, who is director of Jewish Minorities Research.

Soviet authorities, declared Mr. Decter, want the Jews to assimilate but “on the other hand, they irrationally fear the full penetration of Soviet life which assimilation implies. So the Jews are formally recognized as a nationality, as a religious group, as equal citizens–but are at the same time deprived of their national and religious rights as a group, and of full equality as individuals.”

Frequent Soviet boasts “proving” Jewish equality in political life are deflated in the article. Soviet authorities have cited figures showing that there are 7,623 Jews who had been elected as deputies to local Soviets all over the USSR. But Mr. Decter shows that the percentage of Jews in local Soviets is less than one-half of one percent of the total, whereas the Jewish population of the USSR comprises a ratio twice as high–1.09 percent of the total population.


Another favorite Soviet “proof” of Jewish equality, regarding education, was also shown as false by Mr. Decter’s interpretive figures. Soviet authorities point to the high number of Jews in institutions of “higher learning,” saying the Jewish ratio totals 3.1. percent. Actually, Mr. Decter showed, the ratio had been 13.5 percent in 1935, while the proportion of Jewish population had declined only slightly. Furthermore, Mr. Decter showed, the term “higher learning” includes not only straight universities and colleges but also conservatories of music and schools of journalism in which there are heavy Jewish enrollments.

On the religious level, Mr. Decter showed that, whereas such synagogues as exist in the USSR are isolated houses of worship, forbidden to form an overall religious organization, this is not true of other religions. He backed up this contention by citing the existence, with official Soviet permission, of such overall-countrywide or regional organizations maintained by Moslems, Evangelical Christian-Baptists, the National Ecclesiastical Assembly, Lutherans and, of course, the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.

Mr. Decter reiterated the well-known facts about official Soviet bans on the Hebrew language, even as its use applies to religious worship and study–while religious works and even periodicals are permitted in the “religious languages” of other faiths existing in the Soviet Union.

“In sum,” he stated, “Soviet policy places the Jew in an inextricable vise. They are allowed neither to assimilate nor live a full Jewish life nor to emigrate (as many would wish) to Israel or any other place where they might live freely as Jews. Soviet policy as a whole, then, amounts to spiritual strangulation–the deprivation of Soviet Jewry’s natural right to know the Jewish past and to participate in the Jewish present. And without a past and present, the future is precarious indeed.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund