With the Polish partitions, czarist Russia acquired a Jewish "problem" which it sought then and in subsequent epochs to solve by a variety of often contradictory means, ranging from integration to repression. Czar Alexander III's principal adviser, Konstantin Pobedonostev, projected a kind of apocalyptic vision of the final resolution of the festering issue: one-third of Russian Jewry would perish; one-third would be totally assimilated; one-third would emigrate. The "problem" would vanish when Jewry ceased to be. If macabre, the formulation proved to be remarkably clairvoyant. The Nazi invasion brought about the liquidation of approximately one-third of Jewry inhabiting the Soviet Union. With the twin polarities of assimilation and emigration currently pulling at Soviet Jews, the likelihood of a Jewish future in the U.S.S.R. is exceedingly dim, probably nonexistent.
In the working out of that destiny, the United States has played and continues to play a key role. During the epoch of Pobedonostev's preeminence, the House of Representatives called upon the Administration to "exercise its influence with the government of Russia to stay the spirit of persecution as directed against the Jews," while Secretary of State James G. Blaine would formally justify American intervention in the internal concerns of Russia on the grounds that "the domestic policy of a State toward its own subjects" may be "at variance with the larger principles of humanity." Since 1869, when President Ulysses S. Grant first intervened on behalf of Russian Jewry, 11 Administrations have concerned themselves with the "problem." Today and for the immediate future, that concern, through the Jackson-Vanik Amendment tying levels of U.S.-Soviet trade to Soviet policies on emigration, ineluctably focuses upon the future of Soviet Jews.
Roy Medvedev, writing in samizdat almost a decade ago, already noted the advanced state of assimilation among Soviet Jews. The largest number of Jews, he observed, "feel they are Russians" and retain only some "external features and family names" to recall their lineage. There was yet a second group of Jews, Medvedev
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