Report on Soviet Jewish Emigration
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Report on Soviet Jewish Emigration

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Although 51,320 Jews left the USSR in 1979, a close analysis of the statistics and trends demonstrate that on evolving counter-trend was also taking form. In a report, “Jewish Emigration Trends from the USSR in 1979,” released by the Soviet Jewry Research Bureau (S JRB) of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry at the organization’s annual policy conference here, some time in the summer of 1979 a decision to cut down the rate of emigration was made in the highest Soviet circles.

Until the latter part of 1979, the exodus of Soviet Jews numbered approximately 4000 per month, the S JRB noted. However, the latter part of the year saw a steady decrease in the number of people actually leaving. Charlotte Jacobson, chairperson of the S JRB, said. “The number of visas issued by the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, representing Israel in the USSR, had decreased by November and December to 3600 and 3300, respectively. This sharp drop was later felt in Vienna with approximately 2800 arrivals in January and 3000 in February, representing a significant drop from the 1979 average.”

S JRB director Elie Volk concluded that new restrictions, set in motion before the invasion of Afghanistan, have caused the fall off. “While we cannot ignore the impact on emigration of the present international climate, “said Volk, “the cutback should not be seen as a Soviet reaction to U.S. measures undertaken after the Afghanistan invasion.”


The restrictive measures reflect the widescale use of a new requirement for the issuance of on exit visa, according to the S JRB, Used only sporadically in the past, the prerequisite stipulates an invitation (visor) from “close or first degree relatives. ” This invitation is the necessary first step for most people to leave the USSR, Volk explained.

“The broad application of the new requirement began in May 1979, in Odessa, and slowly spread to Kharkov and Kiev, then to Kishinev and Tashkent. By the first quarter of 1980 it had touched Minsk, to some extent Moscow and was announced in Leningrad at the end of February. Not only have exit visas been denied, but initial applications are increasingly rejected by clerks if the affidavit of invitation is signed by a relative other than spouse, parents, children or siblings. In Kiev, where the restrictions are most severe, only parents and children qualify.”

The effect of the new wave of refusals has been felt by Jews in the USSR with the creation of a new category of “internal immigrants,” Volk said. These are persons who, for the most part, were not involved in Jewish activities. “In general, they are not psychologically prepared for the life of a refusnik, “he stated.


The number of affidavits sent annually from Israel has increased from 1977 through the first half of 1979, the S JRB reported. In 1974-1977 on average of 39,000 affidavits were sent; this figure bared to 107,212 in 1978. During the first eight months of 1979, 96,000 were sent. The change in number was largely a result of the authorities demand for affidavits from close relatives. The approximate figure reported by the S JRB indicates that 128,000 such invitations were sent from Israel in 1979.

The S JRB said the increasing demand can be attributed to: the sharp increase in all manifestations of anti-Semitism; worsening of USSR’s economic conditions; widespread rumors which stated that because of the 1980 Olympic Games, applications will not be received after January, 1979; or generous assistance to Jewish immigrants in Western countries, especially the U.S., Canada or Australia.

The S JRB conducted its own study of affidavits sent to the USSR in the last 12 years and compared those figures with the results of the recently published Soviet census. S JRB’s figures indicated that 598,100 Jews were sent invitations from Israel from 1968-1979, of whom 228,700 received exit visas and reached Vienna. The difference indicates that approximately 370,000 Jews in the USSR had considered emigration to the extent of seeking invitations from Israel.

According to the analysis, taking into account the official Jewish population figure of 1,811,000 according to the January 1979 census, there are approximately 1,760,000 remaining Soviet Jews. Approximately 20 percent of them have considered emigration. Some demographers estimate the number of Jews in the USSR as 2,200,000 in 1979, and 2,500,000 in 1970. Using this figure, 17.2 percent of the Soviet Jewish population asked for invitations at least once, with 9.0 percent having left since January 1970.

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