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The Oral History Project

Soviet Jewish Oral History Project
Cleveland Jewish Archives
Western Reserve Historical Society

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.

The recordings 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 online exhibit.

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.

Source: Sean Martin, WRHS, May 3, 2016


Webkeeper's note: When the WRHS makes this resource public we will add links to any online exhibits, request a list of the persons who furnished oral histories and publish this list when received.


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