ONLINETo Flee or Not to Flee? Soviet Jews Face the German Invasion

February 24, 2021 Free
WW2 Battlefield.
(Photo: Johncairns/iStock)

Jews as a group were never mentioned in Soviet evacuation orders, which prioritized withdrawal of the party, Soviet and security agency functionaries, as well as those employed in defense industries. During the Cold War, this led to allegations of Soviet indifference to the fate of the Jews; accusations that they were deliberately abandoned to their fate under German rule. The reality, so it seems, was more complex.

In the first months of the war, the Soviet regime was on the verge of military defeat and total collapse. In fact, with the exception of the aforementioned groups, critically necessary for its survival, the regime left the decisions to its people, Jews among them. As a result, Soviet Jews had to make one of the most important decisions of their lives: to flee or not to flee. This was an enormous challenge for people disciplined for years not to display initiative if the government did not explicitly tell them to do so. But now, Jewish individuals and families had to make fateful decisions, frequently at the spur of the moment, and almost always without having reliable information, thus relying on their intuition.

The behavior of Soviet Jewish civilians in these critical hours and days was motivated by their resourcefulness, the degree of their “Sovietness,” Jewishness, personal circumstances like health problems, as well as by the specific conditions reigning in their region (like the behavior of local Soviet authorities, presence of refugees and German bombardments).

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Fact Sheet
Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 3:00 pm - 4:15 pm

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