1953 The Soviet Union’s campaign against Jews as “traitors” ends with the death of Joseph Stalin, but anti-Semitism continues.

1958 The Soviet Union’s first census since the Holocaust reveals that the nation is home to 2.3 million Jews, compared to 5 million in 1939, just before World War II began.

1965 The Soviets increased the intensity of the persecution of Jews with a campaign to silence human-rights activists and dissidents, including many Jews.

1966 To reunite families divided by World War II, Soviet leaders allow some Jews to emigrate to Israel. The Jews of Silence by Elie Wiesel focuses world attention on the plight of Soviet Jews.

1967 Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War stirs pride among Soviet Jews. Some are able to secure exit visas. Their success inspires thousands of others. The Soviets increase restrictions on Jewish enrollment at top universities.

1968 Just 281 Jews are allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Eighteen Soviet Jewish families appeal to the United Nations (UN) for help in immigrating to Israel.

1969 At the UN General Assembly, the United States declares that Soviet emigration policies are a violation of fundamental human rights.

1970 At the Leningrad trials, eleven people are convicted of treason; nine are Jews, two of whom are sentenced to death. Members of the group were planning to emigrate by hijacking a plane but were arrested as they crossed the tarmac. People around the world protest. The Soviets respond with an antisemitic campaign at home and abroad, and Jews worldwide begin to organize in support of Soviet Jewry.

1971 The first world conference on Soviet Jewry opens in Brussels, Belgium. Soviet leaders ease emigration restrictions even though harassment continues. Approximately 30,000 Jews receive exit visas.

1972 Jewish activists in the Soviet Union smuggle The White Book of Exodus out of the country. It contains personal letters and appeals to the West for aid. The Soviets place a “diploma tax” on Jews who graduated from a Soviet university and now wish to emigrate. American Jews protest the “diploma tax.”

1973 The US State Department urges the release of more than 700 Soviet Jews who have been denied exit visas.

1974 The US Congress passes the Jackson-Vanek Amendment, which links trade benefits for the Soviet Union to the easing of restrictions on Jewish emigration.

1975 The leaders of the US and the Soviet Union sign the Helsinki Accord. It recognizes the freedom to emigrate and the reunification of divided families as basic human rights.

1976 The US forms a commission to ensure that the Soviets adhere to the Helsinki Accord.

1977 The Soviets charge Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, a young Jewish activist, with treason and spying for the US to challenge the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Accord. His imprisonment attracts worldwide attention.

1979 The Soviets invade Afghanistan. The US condemns the invasion and places an embargo on trade. The Soviets respond by halting nearly all Jewish emigration.

1980 Andrei Sakharov, a noted Russian physicist, is exiled from Moscow after protesting the invasion of Afghanistan. He is a supporter of refuseniks.

1981 More than a hundred Hebrew-language teachers and students protest government harassment by appealing to the Supreme Soviet (legislative bodies of the Soviet socialist republics in the Soviet Union).

1985 Soviet officials limit annual emigration to 800 Jews. Israel’s Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, calls for free emigration for Soviet Jews. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party and promises glasnost, a new policy of openness.

1986 Gorbachev announces Perestroika, a program of economic and political reform.

1987 Gorbachev arrives in the US for his first meeting with President Ronald Reagan. Over 250,000 Americans support that call by marching on Washington, D.C.

1988 Between 1970 and 1988, about 290,000 Soviet Jews are granted exit visas.

1989 At a meeting in Vienna, the Soviets agree to end all restrictions on emigration.

1990 Nearly 182,000 Soviet Jews emigrate to Israel, the US, Germany, and other nations in the West.

1991 The Soviet Union dissolves into independent republics and emigration restrictions are removed. Between 1991 and 2006, 1.6 million Jews emigrate from the former Soviet Union (FSU); 1.7 million remain (about 600,000 live in the Russian Federation).


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Timeline." (Viewed on December 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/communitystories/sovietjewry/timeline>.


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