To Flee or Not to Flee? Soviet Jews Face the German Invasion

Seminar on Russian and Eurasian Jewry
Event Format

Jews as a group were never mentioned in Soviet evacuation orders, which prioritized withdrawal of the Party, Soviet and security agency functionaries, as well as those employed in defense industries. During the Cold War, this led to allegations of Soviet indifference to the fate of the Jews; accusations that they were deliberately abandoned to their fate under German rule. The reality, so it seems, was more complex. In the first months of the war, the Soviet regime was on the verge of military defeat and total collapse. In fact, with the exception of the aforementioned groups, critically necessary for its survival, the regime left the decisions to its people, Jews among them. As a result, Soviet Jews had to make one of the most important decisions of their lives: to flee or not to flee. This was an enormous challenge for people disciplined for years not to display initiative if the government did not explicitly tell them to do so. But now, Jewish individuals and families had to make fateful decisions, frequently at the spur of the moment, and almost always without having reliable information, thus relying on their intuition. The behavior of Soviet Jewish civilians in these critical hours and days was motivated by their resourcefulness, the degree of their "Sovietness," Jewishness, personal circumstances like health problems, as well as by the specific conditions reigning in their region (like the behavior of local Soviet authorities, presence of refugees and German bombardments).

Register for Zoom webinar, or watch live on Facebook.

Remote video URL


Cosponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University. The Project on Russian and Eurasian Jewry has been made possible with the generous support of Genesis Philanthropy Group.


The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us at 617-495-4037 or in advance of your participation or visit.

Requests for Sign Language interpreters and/or CART providers should be made at least two weeks in advance if possible. Please note that the Davis Center will make every effort to secure services but that services are subject to availability.