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The Economist on Russian Jews in Germany:

The Economist has an interesting article on Russian Jews in Germany. Since 1991, some 200,000 Russian and other former Soviet Jews have emigrated to Germany. Until recently, Germany was one of the very few advanced nations that gave Russian Jews an automatic right to settle in the country. As a result, Russian Jews now make up over 80% of the total German Jewish population and Germany has Europe's fastest-growing Jewish community.

Much of what the article says is consistent with my own admittedly unscientific observations in Germany when I was a visiting professor there in 2004. At that time, I spoke with a considerable number of Russian immigrants, including some distant relatives of mine who moved there in the mid-1990s. It is true that there are significant tensions between Russian Jews and native-born German Jews, and it is also true that the majority of Russian Jews in Germany (as in the US and Israel) are generally secular and have relatively little interest in religious observance. As in this country, that fact is a source of conflict with the more religious elements among native-born Jews.

However, the article obscures the fact that, for most of the Russian Jews, life in Germany is much better than in the former Soviet Union - not only in terms of economic opportunity, but also because there is much less anti-Semitism in Germany today than in Russia.

The main problem for most Russian Jews in Germany is not the strained relationship with the small native-born Jewish community but the difficulty of finding jobs in the tightly controlled German labor market (where stringent government regulation has led to high unemployment), and of assimilating into a German society that tends to be less accepting of immigrants than is the case in the US. While most Germans today frown on anti-Semitism, many do have a strong sense that immigrants (whether Russian Jewish or not) from other cultures can never be fully German. On the other hand, younger Russian immigrants that I met in Germany seem to be more fully assimilated than the older ones and I am guardedly optimistic about the longterm future of Russian Jews in that country.

Finally, I should note that the Economist article contains two significant factual errors that make me wonder about the accuracy of the rest of their material. First, the article claims that for Russian Jews, "Hitler was the enemy only in a military sense" (unlike for native-born German Jews, many of whom perished in the Holocaust). In reality, several hundred thousand Soviet Jews died in Holocaust, including about a half dozen of my own relatives. In The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hillberg estimated that 700,000 Soviet Jews died in the Holocaust, in addition to 200,000 from the Baltic States (which were forcibly annexed by the USSR in 1940). Awareness of this among Russian Jews is very strong, since almost all those whose families lived in the parts of the USSR occupied by the Germans lost relatives in the Holocaust (and the vast majority of Soviet Jews did in fact live in areas occupied by the Germans in 1941-42).

The article also claims that a high percentage of Soviet Jews lacked "documents" proving their Jewish identity. I'm sure this was true in some cases, but highly doubt that the problem was as great as the Economist claims. The article fails to note the fact that Soviet Jews, like everyone else in the USSR, were required to have internal passports that noted their "nationality" (Soviet law regarded Jewishness as a "nationality" analogous to being Russian or Ukrainian). These documents could be and routinely were used to establish Jewish identity for purposes of emigrating to the US, Germany, or Israel.

Both of these facts could easily be discovered through research and the first is pretty widely known even without it. If the Economist nonetheless got them wrong, it's hard not to wonder what other, less obvious, mistakes there might be in the article.

neurodoc:
Mirable dictu, the Economist is not absolutely reliable in its reporting on a subject pertaining to Jews! As "problematic" as its coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, though, the Economist is more reliable than the Guardian on that one, isn't it?
1.6.2008 2:00am
Tony Tutins (mail):

the difficulty of finding jobs in the tightly controlled German labor market

To be eligible for almost any job in Germany, you must have the proper training and certification, along with mandatory continuing education. Changing careers is considerably more difficult than it is here, as well.

Germans don't warm to any newcomers, really. Most people socialize with their lifetime friends. But, the real oddballs are the Muslims, with their large families and strangely dressed women, as well as their rejection of pork (in Munich, even the ground beef includes pork).

It's been a while since I read it, but I read a good article pointing out the many flaws of the Economist, wondering how it obtained so much credibility and respect.
1.6.2008 2:37am
Rabbi popping in:
It was a very strange read, definitely not up to snuff for The Economist. As for Zhid being in the passport, the article may be refering to documents acceptable according to Jewish law for which a passport does not qualify, or for the relative ease of having a forged passport stating Zhid. The crisis of forged documents of Jewish identity in Russia has caused the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to set up an office of professional examiners to check every document coming from Russia.

The article also fails to discuss the parallel Jewish institutions and communities being set up in Germany not subject to the influence of the old Gemeinde dominated by German Jews. It's a very complex tale, but The Economist chose to portray it in very confusing language as a simple one.
1.6.2008 2:43am
Ilya Somin:
As for Zhid being in the passport, the article may be refering to documents acceptable according to Jewish law for which a passport does not qualify, or for the relative ease of having a forged passport stating Zhid.

As the article points out (correctly) the German govt doesn't use the religious definition of Jews but instead relies on secular definitions and accepts the Soviet government's definition. Forged passports may indeed be a problem, but that issue (non-Jews claiming to be Jews) is the opposite of the one the Economist raised (bona fide Jews not having the documents to prove it).

BTW, "Zhid" is the Russian word for "kike" and is an anti-Semitic insult. It's really not the best word to lightly throw around in a blog comment.
1.6.2008 2:54am
A. Zarkov (mail):
“BTW, "Zhid" is the Russian word for "kike" and is an anti-Semitic insult. It's really not the best word to lightly throw around in a blog comment.”

The word “zhid” (yid?) is not really the equivalent of “kike,” at least not in America. According to Kim Person’s Rhetoric of Race by Eric Wolarsky.


All parties agree that the term was originally used by German Jews who had emigrated to the United States earlier in the 19th century to describe their later-arriving Ashkenazi counterparts. In its origins, kike was used by Jews to describe other Jews who they felt were vulgar, and from there it became appropriated as part of the American vocabulary of slang.

snip

Kike is certainly the king of the pejorative terms for Jews, beating out yid, hymie, sheeny, and hebe hands down. Unlike yid, for instance, kike has never lost its bite, and is not considered funny by contemporary Jews.
But I suppose in contemporary Russia things are different and unlike America, “yid” has not lost its bite.
1.6.2008 5:25am
b.:
Ilya said,


Both of these facts could easily be discovered through research and the first is pretty widely known even without it. If the Economist nonetheless got them wrong, it's hard not to wonder what other, less obvious, mistakes there might be in the article.


I suggest you replace the final word "article" with the phrase "publication as a whole, week after week after week."

Don't get me wrong: I read the Economist from cover to cover every week. They do well with the big picture, but seem, as in the present case, wholly disinterested in chasing-down the details.
1.6.2008 5:38am
Ilya Somin:
But I suppose in contemporary Russia things are different and unlike America, “yid” has not lost its bite.

Zhid and "yid" are related in their linguistic origins. However, in Russian "zhid" has the same sort of significance as "kike" with the important exception that it is in much more regular use (because of the much greater prevalence of anti-semitism in Russia relative to the US).
1.6.2008 6:24am
M (mail):
"Until recently, Germany was one of the very few advanced nations that gave Russian Jews an automatic right to settle in the country."

This may be right in some sense but over-states things in relation to the US where Russian Jews were (and, until very recently, still were to a lesser extent) given massively preferential treatment as refugees. The large majority of Russian Jews given "refugee" status in the US (the main way that most moved to the US from the 70's through early 90's) would not have counted as refugees if the standard refugee definition would have been applied to them in the same way that it's applied to applicants from other parts of the world. They were statutorily declared to be refugees for transparently political reasons and did not have, in the large majority of cases, to meet the evidentiary standards that most refugees do which is good because usually they could not (their mal-treatment rarely rose to what would count as persecution in most cases, for example.) Additionally, the US gave special treatment as far as processing goes. Now, as far as I can tell this has been almost completely to the good of the US and to the detriment of the FSU. But it should be kept in mind when discussing refugee policy, especially when the US has such a stingy policy when it comes to settling many other refugees. Finally, on the lack of papers, my experience both in working w/ refugees in the US (at HIAS, mostly) and with talking with people in Russia is that many people who wanted to emigrate were able to "find" a Jewish background in different ways so as to do so when this was the best or sometimes they only way it was possible. The degree of fraud varied from case to case but it was fairly common. Once again this sort of thing, at least in the US, was given vastly less scrutiny, for political reasons, than is common for, say, people coming from Africa or Latin America.
1.6.2008 7:25am
Eric Muller (www):
The current pattern in Germany is quite an interesting turnaround from the situation 70 to 80 years ago, when German (and Austrian) Jews were first troubled by Jewish immigration from the East. Back then, it was the German and Austrian Jews who were primarily secular, and the overt religiosity of the "Ostjuden" (mostly from Poland) was a big source of the German and Austrian Jews' discomfort. It's ironic now to see the German Jews as troubled by the secularism of the Russian Jewish immigrants.
1.6.2008 10:26am
Tony Tutins (mail):
My understanding is that originally zhid simply meant "jew", as a cognate of "yid", without any negative connotations, as it still does in Polish. How did "zhid" pick up negative connotations in Russian?
1.6.2008 11:33am
Paul B:
As to gentiles leaving the FSU by claiming to be Jewish, I was at a cocktail party a couple of years ago here in California, where a large number of the participants were Israelis. The subject of Soviet emigration to Israel came up and I was surprised by a)the vehement complaints about the Russians which were very similar to the criticisms of the Russians in Germany mentioned in the Economist article, and b)a claim that lots of the Russians arriving weren't even Jews by any definition, and were just looking to get out of the FSU.

When I asked one of the people why Israel would allow non-Jewish Russians to emigrate, he said that the need to offset the high birth rates of the Arabs caused the government to look the other way, since any Russian arriving would be a de facto Jew, regardless of his background.

I don't know if this is correct, or if this was just a bunch of expats bitching (they were much more harsh when it came to the ultra-Orthodox). Anyone here have more info on this?
1.6.2008 11:44am
bradley:
I don't know about "Jews by any definiton" but it is certainly true with respect to Jews by religious definition. It creates all kinds of headaches in Israel - such as marriage between Russian non-Jews and Jews (secular marriage is illigal in Israel) and where to bury dead non-Jewish Russian soldiers, etc.

Frankly I'm puzzled that everyone (Israel, Russia, Germany, United States) has decided to adopt Adolf Hitler's definition of a Jew rather than the one that has been in place since at least the Talmud was sealed.
1.6.2008 12:01pm
Annonymous Coward (mail):

wholly disinterested in chasing-down the details.
They are not, uninterested they are. As noted this is as common in English journalism as in talk radio in the United States.
1.6.2008 12:03pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Awareness of this among Russian Jews is very strong, since almost all those whose families lived in the parts of the USSR occupied by the Germans lost relatives in the Holocaust

Anecdote: The Cheslers were from Zabludow, a shtetl outside Bialystok, and notwithstanding that Chesler is probably ciesla, Polish for carpenter, considered themselves Russian Jews. The population of Zabludowe was apparently mixed Jews, Russians, and White Russians - Poles were not mentioned. Some Cheslers came to New York, some to Buenos Aires; those that remained died between 1941 and 1943.
1.6.2008 12:21pm
Yankev (mail):
Adding to what Bradley said, the recent neo-Nazi attacks in Israel were the work of non-Jewish Russians who had immigrated to Israel without being halachically Jewish. And there have been complaints by Russians of Jewish background in Israel (both those who are halachically Jewish and those who are Jewish through paternal but not maternal lineage) that the same anti-semitic thugs that they hoped to escape by leaving Russia for Israel have followed them to Israel as a result of loose policy on the part of both governments.

As to the Israeli government's motivation, some may be for the reasons Bradley noted, but some of the motivation is to offset the fact that both birth rates and immigration rates are higher among Orthodox Jews than among secular Jews. By admitting non-Jews who claim a Jewish connection, the secular parties can both stick it to Orthodox Jews and reduce both the cultural and political influence of both the National Religious and Chareidim.
1.6.2008 1:22pm
FC:
Bradley,

Don't confuse eligibility for Israeli citizenship by the Law of Return with classification as a Jew for religious purposes (marriage, etc.). In Israeli law, the former is not necessarily sufficient for the latter.

The Economist has so many hangups about Jews and Israel that I wouldn't believe them if they told me rugelach were tasty.
1.6.2008 3:24pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
Ilya Somin:
But I suppose in contemporary Russia things are different and unlike America, “yid” has not lost its bite.

Zhid and "yid" are related in their linguistic origins. However, in Russian "zhid" has the same sort of significance as "kike" with the important exception that it is in much more regular use (because of the much greater prevalence of anti-semitism in Russia relative to the US).



Ilya, it was nice to finally meet you Friday at the Kelo discussion. Thanks for inviting all of us. I stayed all day and especially appreciated the Duke lacrosse paper.

In my personal Jewish community the word "yid" is definitely not a derogatory term. We will refer to someone as an MOT (member of the tribe) or a yid. Although my Hebrew name is Yahuda I was always told my Yiddish name was Yiddle.
1.6.2008 4:32pm
bradley:
FC:

I don't confuse the two, I'm just not clear are why they aren't the same. To my mind they should be.
1.6.2008 4:55pm
Ilya Somin:
"Until recently, Germany was one of the very few advanced nations that gave Russian Jews an automatic right to settle in the country."

This may be right in some sense but over-states things in relation to the US where Russian Jews were (and, until very recently, still were to a lesser extent) given massively preferential treatment as refugees.


Automatic refugee status for Russian Jews in the US ended in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.
1.6.2008 6:05pm
M (mail):
You're right that "automatic" (that's too strong but nearly right) refugee status for Russian Jews to the US ended in 1991, but in fact Russian Jews were still given highly preferential treatment when they claimed to be persecuted, despite rarely if ever meeting a standard that others had to meet for this claim, long after that. This slowly died out but persisted long beyond the end of the soviet union. (This was the clear opinion and experience of the staff of HIAS in Philadelphia while I worked there and I'm fully confident that they know more about this particular area than anyone else writing here.)
1.7.2008 7:18am
ElamBend (mail):
My girlfriend's family came to the US after leaving the USSR on a Jewish exit visa, however, they had family friends that went to Germany that were German Russians (the result of several waives of German immigration to Russia, first instigated by Catherine). Although it's anecdotal, they have reported similar difficulties in assimilating in Germany. Although they sometimes still spoke German when they moved to Germany, they are still considered Ost. No doubt, this will change over generations, of those who stay.
1.7.2008 8:36am
ramster:
This is hardly unique to this article. Whenever I've come across something in the Economist that I have a fair bit of knowledge about, the factual inaccuracy and mediocre analysis has been striking. They've been coasting on their reputation for years.
1.7.2008 10:41am
ys:

My understanding is that originally zhid simply meant "jew", as a cognate of "yid", without any negative connotations, as it still does in Polish. How did "zhid" pick up negative connotations in Russian?

"Zhid", as has already been noted, is the neutral term for "Jew" in Polish, as well as in most other western Slavic languages, although this spelling indicates the Russian flavor (the non-Russian versions would be spelled with various flavors of "z" only). Along with the German "Jude" it's derived from "Judah" and ultimately "Yehudi" as in Hebrew. It entered Russian with the acquisition of Polish territories and as an alien word it was easy to adopt for negative connotations, with Polish attitudes to Jews probably playing a role. I believe it has been noted on VC that even the neutral Russian word for Jew (evrey) had acquired negative flavor in the Soviet times and was used sparingly. This apparently has changed somewhat in the post-Soviet times, but of course using "zhid" in Russian is just as rude and derogatory as ever.
1.7.2008 12:22pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Thanks, ys. In Polish there's some diacritical marks that my keyboard cannot easily reproduce.
1.7.2008 12:36pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Bradley: If the State of Israel isn't the place where possibly-stateless people who are being prosecuted for being Jews can always go, where else?
1.7.2008 1:13pm
ys:

In Polish there's some diacritical marks that my keyboard cannot easily reproduce.

Indeed, Polish has a different mark - ż, whereas the rest of Latin script-based ones use ž. I also notice, that as you move west to east "zhid" is changing to "evrey" with the transitional region of several Balkan languages (mostly Cyrillic-based) using both words as neutral.
1.7.2008 1:37pm
bradley:
David:

The Law of Return isn't for persecuted people - it is for any Jew at all.

It might be nice for Israel to have a seperate immigration law for those who are persecuted on the basis of percevied Jewish-ness, but the Russian non-Jews didn't have to meet any evidentiary burden with respect to pesecution or percevied Jewish-ness. The only evidentiary burden was to prove that there were Jewish by the Third Reich's definition - 1 Jewish grandparent.
1.7.2008 4:39pm