Apparatchiks with typewriters, or, in the Soviet archives

Russian Cyrillic typewriter of the type found in Soviet archivesI recently got my hands on a research collection from the Soviet archives of government documents on Jewish immigration, dating from 1957 to 1989. The book was published in 1998, just as the post-collapse euphoria came to a close and Russian archives began to fold back in on themselves, so these documents are no longer as accessible. It’s fascinating to see that time period through bureaucratic eyes, where official propaganda hovers in that murky zone between spin and something they actually believed to be the truth.

It makes you think of every cliche Soviet apparatchik movie character, sitting at a drab, grey desk in the vastness of the Kremlin, dictating to their secretary. Did they actually believe it themselves, or was it meant to convince the reader on the other end?

Secret

Background Report

Among the worst consequences of the Second World War was the harsh policy of apartheid implemented by fascists toward the peoples of Europe and other states of the world who survived the occupation of the Hitlerite horde. Not only were millions of people brutally exterminated and tortured but also millions of families found themselves separated scattered throughout the various countries of the world. This fate also befell great masses of the Jewish population.

The Soviet government, manifesting the lofty principles of proletarian humanism … facilitated in every way the reunification of families, permitting departures from the USSR to Israel and other countries of citizens of Jewish nationality who were striving to reunite their families. In 1971 alone, the Soviet authorities granted 13.7 thousand Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality exit visas to Israel. Of these, more than 1.4 thousand had higher education, including 538 engineers, 279 doctors and 235 teachers.

… At the present time the problem of uniting dispersed families has basically been resolved: not a single Jewish family remains in the Soviet Union with close relatives in Israel with whom it wishes to unite.

Of course, “present time” being May 20, 1972, there still remained more than a few Jewish families in the USSR wanting to be anywhere but there. On the whole, it’s fascinating to see this mix of very careful adherence to data (538 engineers and 279 doctors) with the calculated white-washing of just who was victimized by the “Hitlerite hordes” and the desire of Soviet Jews to leave the country.

This is just one of many such memos over the years, but it gives a sense of just how bothered the Soviets were by the Soviet Jewry movement, and the efforts they went to to give the appearance of caring, while pretending that there was no immigration problem at all.

© 2017 Lea Zeltserman