Jewish History (2018) 31: 291–317 © Springer Science+Business Media B.V.,
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10835-018-9286-4 part of Springer Nature 2018
Escape through Poland: Soviet Jewish Emigration in the 1950s
New York University, New York, USA
National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Abstract The emigration movement among Soviet Jews is usually dated to the 1960s–1990s.
This essay focuses on the premovement emigration in the 1950s, which prepared the ground
for the massive departure of Jews and non-Jewish members of their families, primarily to
Israel and the United States. The parameters for leaving the Soviet Union in the 1950s were
in many ways similar to the parameters for returning to Poland in the immediate post–World
War II years. On paper, the basic pools of emigrants were the same: Jews who at the outbreak
of World War II were Polish nationals. In reality, many repatriates of the 1950s were more
Soviet than Polish, leaving the country where they had lived for up to twenty years, which
often was a lion’s share of their lives. Those—that is, the majority—who ultimately reached
Israel went through two repatriation processes: ﬁrst, as returnees to their pre–World War II
homeland and, second, as Jews going back to their historical homeland. As this essay shows,
the contemporaneous political and social climates in the Soviet Union and Poland, the nature
of those countries’ mutual relations and of their relations with Israel, not present on the map
until 1948, framed a unique context for emigration in the early post-Stalinist period.
Keywords Polish Jews · Soviet Jews · Repatriation · Emigration · De-Stalinization ·
Just as a heart cannot be cut up and divided, so one cannot split up
the Jewish people into Polish Jews and Russian Jews.
Former Polish Citizens
In the fall of 1939, when the Soviet Union annexed the eastern half of the Sec-
ond Polish Republic, the Soviet Jewish population increased by close to 1.5
million. Expulsion of “unreliable elements” from the border regions, migra-
tion for work and study, and, from June 22, 1941, evacuation had removed
about a ﬁfth of these people from the theater of the Soviet-German war.
Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee,ed.
Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir P. Naumov (New Haven, CT, 2001), 113.
Lucjan Dobroszycki, Survivors of the Holocaust in Poland: A Portrait Based on Jewish Com-
munity Records, 1944–1947 (Armonk, NY, 1994), 19; Mordechai Altshuler, Soviet Jewry on
the Eve of the Holocaust: A Social and Demographic Proﬁle (Jerusalem, 1998), 323–26.