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Dreaded Pogroms Don’t Materialize, but Soviet Jews Still Living in Fear

May 7, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The long-dreaded pogroms against Soviet Jews that had been threatened for May 5 did not materialize Saturday in the Soviet Union.

But fear among Jews there is still very much alive.

May 5 is widely known in the Soviet Union as the birthday of Karl Marx and as a religious day in the Russian Orthodox calendar. For months now, it has taken on another, more sinister identity as the date that anti-Semitic groups had targeted Jews for violence.

Soviet authorities had issued assurances that violence against Jews would not be permitted, and few Soviet Jewry groups in the United States believed large-scale slaughter of Jews like the turn-of-the-century pogroms would be possible today.

But because the threats had triggered near hysteria among some Soviet Jews, especially in the Russian republic, representatives of Jewish groups and some individual monitors of human rights traveled there to be present Saturday.

David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, reported Sunday by telephone from Moscow that “nothing happened yesterday, to the best of anyone’s knowledge. There were no reports of any incidents.”

Harris is one of three AJCommittee officials in Moscow to conduct a national survey of attitudes among Soviet Jews and non-Jews about Jewish identity, culture and religion.

On Sunday, Harris met with Jewish activists from Moscow, Leningrad, Minsk, Sverdlovsk, Tbilisi and other cities. None of them reported disturbances in their respective cities.


In addition, said Harris, 150 to 200 people gathered Saturday at Moscow’s Choral Synagogue without any harassment. There was “no particular police protection in front of the synagogue” in evidence, he also observed.

In Leningrad, Jacob Davidson and Elie Wurtman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry also reported all quiet, but the “Jews are very scared,” Davidson said.

They spent Shabbat at Leningrad’s Choral Synagogue, along with Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz and Vladimir Michnik, a refusenik of 11 years who is head of B’nai B’rith International in Leningrad.

Davidson said they were informed of a “show trial” set for Monday in the Ukrainian city of Krivoy Rog. Michael Chodos, a 19-year-old Jew arrested a day after receiving an official invitation to immigrate to Israel, is charged with evading the draft. He faces a three-year prison sentence.

The lurking menace of attacks on Jews, whether real or embroidered to induce panic, has given rise to contingency planning.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is even looking into setting up a possible safe haven for Jews in Soviet Georgia, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

According to Post correspondent Walter Ruby, Jewish Agency representative Yitzhak Moshe is allegedly working to prepare a refuge for Jews in Soviet Georgia, where they can flee if catastrophe strikes.

So far, he has signed up 100 Georgian Jewish families to take in refugees in the event anti-Jewish violence forces them to flee their homes, Ruby reported.

Other reports of safe haven center on Lithuania, the Baltic republic that recently proclaimed independence from Moscow.

According to a report in the French weekly Jeune Afrique, Soviet Zionist leader Lev Gorodetsky has reached an agreement with Sajudis, the Lithuanian National Front, to provide a refuge for Jews fleeing anticipated anti-Semitic outbreaks in the Leningrad area.

The report said the Lithuanians agreed to provide camps for Jewish refugees, on condition that all expenses are paid for in hard currency by Jewish organizations in the United States.


The extent of anti-Semitism in Leningrad was revealed in data collected by Alexander Benifand, executive director of the Jewish Research Center, a privately funded bureau of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Benifand, who showed his data in a recent interview in New York, indicated that a full 81 percent of Jews in Leningrad had experienced anti-Semitic incidents within the preceding six months. And a whopping 94 percent of Leningrad Jews feared pogroms.

Moscow was ranked next among Soviet cities where Jews reported experiencing the most anti-Semitism. The lowest figures for experiences of anti-Semitism and fear of pogroms occurred among Georgian Jews and those in other Central Asian republics. Jews in the Baltic states also experienced a relatively low incidence of anti-Semitism.

In Israel, Soviet Jewry activist Natan Sharansky said attacks on Jews are less likely to occur in the big cities, “where the government is in control.”

However, Sharansky observed that such attacks “may occur in the more remote communities, where there are relatively few Jews.”

Sharansky, speaking in Israel on Saturday, said the fact that pogroms did not materialize does not mean Jews can relax. “Although there are no pogroms, there is an atmosphere of pogroms in the Soviet Union,” he said.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

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