Today the “Third Emigration” is in the news, the third to take place under Soviet rule, the third in fifty-seven years. So far, the overwhelming majority of these émigrés are Jews, who are being allowed out relatively easily. But if everyone were allowed to leave, no one knows which nationality would predominate: Lithuanians, Latvians, Russians, or Ukrainians. It is a good thing that the Jews, at least, are being let go; not simply because it is the migration of a people to their historic homeland, but above all because it is a flight from Russia. It means that Russia has grown unbearable for them; it means they can’t take it any more. Some of them go out of their minds when they break out into freedom; some of them lapse into poverty as they look for a suitable niche for a Russian in the vast, unfamiliar, stifling outside world. But still they leave. One day, Mother Russia, you bitch, you will have to answer for these children of yours, whom you brought up and then shamefully flung onto the rubbish heap….
Russia, of course, will manage without Jews, just as she has managed without a Church, without a nobility, without an intelligentsia, without literature. She has, in the end, the strength and the means to make good this latest loss too. It is still an empire, with countless different peoples: Tartars, Chuvash, Greeks, and even Assyrians. What will it be like without Jews? It will be boring, monochromatic. And who then will be the scapegoat for our familiar sins?
This is perhaps the right place for me to say a few words in defense of Russian anti-Semitism. By that I mean: what good is concealed, in the psychological sense, in the unfriendly Russian attitude (putting it at its mildest) toward the Jews? The Russian is incapable of admitting that any evil can derive from a Russian, because deep down (like everyone else, no doubt) within his soul he is good. He cannot conceive that in the Russian state Russian people can be made unhappy through the fault of other Russians or by his own fault. A Russian is one of us, ours (svoi, svoisky, sovietsky). Nothing bad ever comes from our people, always from others. Russian anti-Semitism is a way of externalizing evil, a way of thrusting our own sins onto a scapegoat.
Obviously this is not much comfort to the Jews. But in this instance I would ask you also to consider the moral problem of the Russian, who, having done so much harm to himself and to others, simply cannot work out how it all happened—unless it is owing to interference by some kind of “wreckers,” “spies,” and “saboteurs,” who have secretly seized power and have turned everything that was good in the Russians into bad. In prison camps, for instance, simple peasants (especially among the long-term prisoners) are convinced to this day that the entire government of present-day Russia, all the judges, all the state prosecutors—and…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.
Copyright © 1976 by Andre Deutsch Limited and Doubleday & Company, Inc.