1970s Soviet Union aliyah

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A Type 2 Soviet Exit Visa given to those who received permission to leave the USSR permanently and lost their Soviet citizenship

In the 1970s a major immigration wave of Soviet Union Jews went to Israel.


A mass emigration was politically undesirable for the Soviet regime. In the wake of Israel's victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Anti-Zionist propaganda campaign in the state-controlled mass media and the rise of Zionology were accompanied by harsher discrimination of the Soviet Jews. By the end of the 1960s, Jewish cultural and religious life in the Soviet Union had become practically impossible, and the majority of Soviet Jews were assimilated and non-religious.

The sense of pride for the victorious Jewish nation over Soviet-armed Arab armies stirred up Zionist feelings.

Many were formally refused permission to leave. A typical excuse given by the OVIR (ОВиР), the MVD department responsible for provisioning of exit visas was that the persons who had been given access at some point in their careers to information vital to Soviet national security could not be allowed to leave the country.

The increase in the number of emigrants[edit]

After the Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair in 1970 and the crackdown that followed, strong international condemnations caused the Soviet authorities to increase the emigration quota. In the years 1960-1970, only 4,000 people left the USSR; in the following decade, the number rose to 250,000.[1]

In 1972 the USSR imposed the so-called "diploma tax" on would-be emigrants who received higher education in the USSR. In some cases, the fee was as high as twenty annual salaries. This measure was apparently designed to combat the brain drain caused by the growing emigration of Soviet Jews and other members of the intelligentsia to the West. Following international protests, the Kremlin soon revoked the tax, but continued to sporadically impose various limitations.

Many of those allowed to leave to Israel chose other destinations, most notably the United States.

The emigration policy of the USSR[edit]

Whoever requested to leave the USSR had to apply for an exit visa, which would have a request letter from a family member living in the same country which they were interested in emigrating to. The person sending of the visa, would be obligated to support his family member. The request of the family member should be notarized in the country of origin, and then sent to the family member that lives in the USSR. The person requesting the visa would then need to go to the department of the Ministry of the Interior, which was called “Ovir” (the office of visas and to registrations of the Ministry of the Interior). In the Ministry of the Interior he had to fill all sorts of documents, which partly included filling up intrusive questions. One then had to bring a “karakteristika” – a sort of a recommendation letter from his manager in his workplace. To obtain a visa he also had to get approvals from any children's schools and from the local community where he was living. An approval that one did not have any economic debts inside the USSR, an approval from ones parents and even an approval from one’s divorcee if the person requesting the visa was divorced. If the emigrant was a party member, he had to obtain an approval from the offices of the local party and from the professional union that they had agreed he could leave. After all the approvals were handed in and everyone affiliated with the person requesting the visa was notified of his intention to leave the country, all the documents were handed to the “Ovir”, with an additional payment of forty Russian rubles. Typically, an official response to the request would arrive after half a year. If the answer was positive, then one had to hand in confirmations attesting that any children had left their schools, and that one had left the workplace and that the apartment had been sold. Once a person was granted an exit visa, they were stripped of their Soviet citizenship. During the Six-Day War, the emigration wave from the USSR almost stopped completely, and in addition to that the authorities did not accept any requests for emigration visas. The reason was that the USSR supported the Arab states during the war, and due to a dissociation with Israel.

In 1971 the anti-Zionist wave reached a record, and even so, during this year a decision was made by the senior decision makers regarding the granting of exit-visas to emigrating Jews.

Factors for the emigration[edit]

The overwhelming victory of Israel during the Six-Day War changed the opinion of many of the Jews in the USSR. The victory increased the feeling of Jewish pride amongst them. Furthermore, it increased their feeling of alienation with the USSR, which had a pact with the Arab states during the course of the war. After the war the Soviet Jews started to send letters to the Soviet authorities in demand of letting them immigrate to Israel. Except for the arousal of the national emotions amongst the Jews of the USSR, there were also additional reasons for them to choose to emigrate:[citation needed]

  1. Jews were discriminated against in higher education institutions (in a policy known as Numerus clausus), by government institutions, and in professional advancement.
  2. Anti-Zionistic propaganda was common in the Soviet media.
  3. Many Jews were dissatisfied with the political and economic situation.[citation needed]
  4. Increased nationalism among Soviet nations made some Jews consider their right for a national identity.[citation needed]
  5. There was increased communication between Soviet Jews and Jews worldwide.[citation needed]

The absorption of the emigration wave[edit]

1972. A tearful reunion after 20 years between a brother and sister, who just arrived from Russia, at Lod Airport

In 1968, 231 Jews were granted exit visas to Israel, and 3,033 followed in 1969. From that point on, the USSR began granting exit visas in growing numbers. During the late 1960s and 1970s, about 163,000 Soviet Jews emigrated to Israel; the majority of the emigration wave happened between 1969 and 1973.

An increasing number of Soviet Jews began choosing to emigrate to the United States instead. Known as "dropouts," they would apply for US refugee visas while waiting at transit centers in Europe. In March 1976, the "dropout rate" was over 50%. Most of the Soviet Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel for religious, ideological, or family reasons had already done so by 1973; the majority of immigrants in the late 1970s and 1980s were motivated to leave the Soviet Union for economic reasons and due to antisemitism. Many were secular and saw themselves as Jews by nationality only, and thus they had little religious or ideological motivation to move to Israel, which they saw as a small market with fewer opportunities than the United States. Soviet Jews continued arriving in Israel, but in smaller numbers.

Most of the Soviet Jews who continued emigrating to Israel were those with stronger Jewish identities from the Baltics, Moldova, and Georgia, while the "dropouts" were mainly assimilated Jews from the Russian heartland.[2]

The Soviet immigrants assimilated into Israeli society and learned Hebrew quickly. They eventually established a Russian-language newspaper.[3]

Overall, between 1970 and 1988, some 291,000 Soviet Jews were granted exit visas, of whom 165,000 immigrated to Israel, and 126,000 immigrated to the United States.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History of Dissident Movement in the USSR by Ludmila Alekseyeva. Vilnius, 1992 (in Russian)
  2. ^ http://www.cis.org/RefugeeResettlement-SovietJewry
  3. ^ Russian Jewish Immigration and its Effect on the State of Israel
  4. ^ Post-Soviet Aliyah and Jewish Demographic Transformation. Mark Tolts