Highlight from Recently Digitized American Soviet Jewry Movement Collections: Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry Records—Travel to the USSR—Visiting Jewish Refuseniks in the Soviet Union

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by Andrey Filimonov

View digital materials online at http://digital.cjh.org/2658842


Folder with information for the American Soviet Jewry movement activists traveling to meet Jews in the Soviet Union. Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry Records, I-507, American Jewish Historical Society 

Thanks to generous support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), the Center for Jewish History has completed the digitization of more than 75,100 images and 500 audio hours from the American Jewish Historical Society’s Soviet Jewry collections. For more information on the project, click here.  

One highlight from the digitized collections includes a folder from the Records of Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry containing information compiled to prepare local American Soviet Jewry movement activists to meet with the Refuseniks in the USSR. The information is based on the expertise of the previous travelers and on the advice and requests received from the Soviet Jews. The materials are of high historical value, as they summarize the experiences of thousands of the Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union as participants of the American Soviet Jewry movement. Although such visits were technically not illegal, the Soviet authorities invariably treated any interactions of the foreign visitors with the ostracized local dissidents with great suspicion. Any such contacts were very closely monitored by the KGB—the Soviet secret police. This newly digitized folder contains a wealth of practical advice and instructions that helped avoid potential hazards for the travelers, and the grave repercussions for the Refuseniks. The realities and potential dangers of travel to the USSR can be understood by the advice found in the digitized brochure Seattle Action for Soviet Jewry Objectives for Travel to the USSR: “Assume that your hotel room is bugged and that your hotel phone in your room is also bugged… The employees in your hotel, as well as your [tour] guides are KGB (secret police) personnel,” or by a recommendation to use a magic slate as means of communicating sensitive information in a bugged hotel or apartment. Since most of the US travelers could not officially declare their purpose of visit to the USSR as to engage with the known dissidents, they are advised to take the guise of tourists, interested predominantly in museums and sight-seeing tours. In addition to the practical advice, the brochure explains the great importance of personal contact with Soviet Jews as “the most fulfilling way to help their cause.”

Andrey Filimonov is an archivist at the Center for Jewish History.

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