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Triumph over Tyranny: The Heroic Campaigns that Saved 2,000,000 Soviet Jews

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Triumph over Tyranny

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Triumph over Tyranny
The Heroic Campaigns that Saved 2,000,000 Soviet Jews
By Philip Spiegel
Foreword by Natan Sharansky
Devora Publishing (2008)
ISBN: 978-1-934440-13-1

Reviewed by Boris Segel - December 1, 2009

Russian and Soviet antisemitism and oppression of Jews is well-known fact. However, what may not be as well known is the fact that the Soviets waged a concentrated campaign, which began with Stalin, to destroy Judaism within the borders of the Soviet Union and throughout Soviet Bloc countries. Unwilling to live under such tyrannical and oppressive condition, Soviet Jews attempted to immigrate to Israel so that they could live freely as Jews, a movement that began to gain international attention in the 1960's. While the Soviets did not want them to live as Jews, they were also not willing to let them go. In Triumph over Tyranny, Philip Spiegel details the unprecedented efforts that were carried out that eventually led to some 2,000,000 Soviet Jews being allowed to emigrate to Israel and other countries, where they could live freely as Jews.

Detailing the actions of the Jewish Refuseniks, who were refused permission to leave the Soviet Union, as well as the actions of those outside the Soviet Union to aid their cause, this book chronicles a pivotal period in Jewish history. As such, it is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Jewish or Soviet history, as well as in the cause for Human Rights. Within the pages of this monumental book, Spiegel pays particular attention to the efforts made on behalf of the Soviet Jews by Israelis and Western Jewry who were determined not to let the plight of the Soviet Jews go unnoticed, nor to sit idly by as their brethren were tormented and their Jewishness excised. As important, Spiegel examines the unique and often unrecognized role that Chabad Lubavitch (a Chassidic movement) played in keeping the Jewish flame alive within the Soviet Union. He details their numerous and often dangerous clandestine activities that include just about everything from running underground religious schools to helping Refuseniks get false documents when necessary to save a life! Spiegel also details the rise of grassroots organizations whose aim was to aid Soviet Jews, as well as the diplomatic avenues that were used to convince the Soviets that it was in their best interest to let those Jews who wanted to, to leave the Soviet Union.

What I found of most interest in this book were Spiegel's personal accounts of the tribulations and machinations that most Soviet Jews were forced to undergo before being given permission to leave, and the life they were forced to lead after they let the authorities know of their wish to immigrate - an event that usually resulted in them losing their jobs, often their housing, and being interrogated by the KGB and sometimes even imprisoned. He also gives some insights into what their lives where like after they had shed their Soviet chains.

In writing this book, Spiegel conducted numerous interviews with former Refuseniks and activist who struggled to secure the freedom of all Soviet Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union. He interviewed numerous politicians, community leaders, and prisoners of conscience. He also consulted, and quotes in the book, recently declassified KGB documents that detail the Soviets premeditated attempt to eradicate Judaism and how antisemitism had become ingrained in the Soviet system. The end result is a highly readable and comprehensive account of the campaign to save Soviet Jewry begining in 1920 and continuing through 2007 and the post-Soviet period. This historic volume is well illustrated, includes copious endnotes, and the foreword to the book was written by Natan Sharansky, a leader of the refusenik movement during the 1970's. In short, Triumph over Tyranny: The Heroic Campaigns that Saved 2,000,000 Soviet Jews is a must-read for both general readers as well as academicians with an interest in Jewish history, the struggle to save Soviet Jews, and human rights. This is also a book for anyone simply interested in reading a gripping and inspirational book about man's struggle against inhumanity and the monumental effort that went into saving Soviet Jewry from extinction.


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