This poster was created by the Council of Youth Movements in Israel with the slogan “Let my People Go” that was used in the protest to free Soviet Jews of the USSR, as well several other human rights’ protests over the years. The background of the poster is red, and in the centre there is an image of a man’s head. The right-hand side of the man’s head can be seen, whilst the left-hand side is hidden in darkness. The visible side of his face is frozen in a scream, and the head is surrounded by loops of barbed wire, symbolising imprisonment.
The poster was created by the Council of Youth Movements that was involved in the protest to free Soviet Jewry in the 1960s and 1970s. This global campaign was intended to put pressure on Soviet leaders to allow the Jews living in the USSR freedom of belief and religious practice and the right to leave the USSR.
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Refuseniks – During the communist rule of the Soviet Union, it was very difficult for Jews to obtain visas to leave the country, and only a small quota of Jews was allowed to leave each year. The Jews who were refused an exit permit were unofficially named “refuseniks” and were considered either traitors or a security liability. Jews who applied for an exit visa were subjected to KGB (secret police) surveillance, were often denied employment, and, as a result, would either face imprisonment or find a menial job. Famous refuseniks included Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Yosef Mendelevitch, Israel and Sylva Zalmenson, and Yuli Edelstein, who later became the speaker of the Knesset (Israeli parliament). In the 1970s the plight of the Soviet refuseniks became known, and Jews from around the world placed international pressure on the USSR to allow Jews to leave the country. In 1990s, with political changes in the USSR Jews were allowed to leave freely.
Soviet Jewry Movement – The Soviet Jewry movement refers to the activities of Jews in the United States, Europe, and Israel to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jews to immigrate to Israel. This movement began as a grassroots movement in the United States, led by students and housewives, but within a short time many more joined the movement and they even succeeded in enlisting large Western governments to protest the plight of Soviet Jews, as a human rights issue, whenever they met with Soviet officials. The movement’s slogan, taken from the book of Exodus, was “Let My People Go,” and it was used in demonstrations and rallies that took place around the world, culminating in the 1987 March on Washington when a quarter of a million people rallied in Washington, DC before the Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Throughout this period and continuing after the collapse of the Soviet Union, over one million Russian Jews left the Soviet Union, with most of them immigrating to Israel. Some well-known Russian emigres are Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Yuli Edelstein, and Sergey Brin, Google co-founder.
Jews in the Soviet Union – The communist ideology of the Soviet Union demanded all Soviet minorities and nationalities to merge into one Soviet entity. While the Jews were not allowed a Jewish identity or to practice their Jewish tradition, they were nonetheless forced to have the word “Jewish” printed on their identity cards during Stalin’s rule. The combination of wiping out national and religious identity and yet singling out Jews created a difficult situation for Soviet Jews. With the creation of the State of Israel, their situation became even more complex. Despite voting in favour of the establishment of the State of Israel, the Soviet Union rejected Zionism in principle and prohibited any activity of a national or Jewish nature. In the 1960s, and especially after Israel’s success in the 1967 Six-Day War, Soviet Jews felt tremendous pride in Israel and empowered to request exit visas to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. However, most applicants for exit visas were “refused,” which led to them being known as “Refuseniks.” Some Refuseniks were fired from their jobs and even arrested and charged with activity against the government and the Soviet people. The plight of Soviet Jewry aroused international Jewish activity and pressure from the United States and Europe on the Soviet Union to open their gates. As a result of this activity, the Soviet Union changed its policy and enabled hundreds of thousands of Jews to leave for Israel.