Jewish Clevelanders played a leading role
in the development of the movement to aid Soviet Jewry in the 1960s.
Because of the efforts of the Cleveland Council on Soviet
Anti-Semitism, the larger Jewish community in the city and
throughout the country began to pay greater attention to the plight
of Jews in the Soviet Union and to consider steps to help them
emigrate. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 tied
trade relations to emigration, thus enabling tens of thousands of
Jews to flee the Soviet Union.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, approximately 12,000
Jews who emigrated from the USSR came to Cleveland. The Jewish
community, led by the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Family
Service Association, organized aid for these new immigrants and
helped them to adjust to American life. While the efforts to aid
Soviet Jewry are very well documented in the Cleveland Jewish
Archives of Western Reserve Historical Society, the stories of the
immigrants themselves have yet to be told.
The Soviet Jewish Oral History Project aims to
address the neglect of the Soviet Jewish immigrant experience by
collecting the oral histories of select immigrants and, when
possible, documents, photographs, and artifacts that will help WRHS
and others to tell their stories in the future.
The outcome of this project
will be a new collection of sources in the
Cleveland Jewish Archives, a collection that
can be used by the public, including
students of all ages.
Work on the project began in 2014. After extensive
outreach to the community of Jewish
immigrants from the former Soviet Union, 75
persons were interviewed by volunteers
working closely with the Cleveland Jewish
Archives of the Western Reserve Historical
Society. The project is in its final phases.
The Soviet Jewish Oral History Collection
will be announced as a new resource in the
fall of 2016.
of the oral histories will be transcribed
and stored in the collections of the Library
of the Western Reserve Historical Society where they can be used by
researchers. Possible future uses include
editing the interviews for use in an exhibit
for the public or placing select clips in an
The project has been generously supported by the
Cleveland Jewish Archives Advisory Committee
and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. It
is under the direction of Sean Martin Ph.D.,
Associate Curator for Jewish History at the
Western Reserve Historical Society.
Sean Martin, WRHS, May 3, 2016