Soviet Jews lived through a record number of traumatic events: the Great Terror, World War II, the Holocaust, the Famine of 1947, the Doctors' Plot, the antisemitic policies of the postwar period, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But like millions of other Soviet citizens, they married, raised children, and built careers, pursuing life as best as they could in a profoundly hostile environment. One of the first scholars to record and analyze oral testimonies of Soviet Jews, Anna Shternshis unearths their everyday life and the difficult choices that they were forced to make as a repressed minority living in a totalitarian regime.
Drawing on nearly 500 interviews with Soviet citizens who were adults by the 1940s, When Sonia Met Boris describes both indirect Soviet control mechanismssuch as housing policies and unwritten quotas in educational institutionsand personal strategies to overcome, ignore, or even take advantage of those limitations. The interviews reveal how ethnicity was rapidly transformed into a negative characteristic, almost a disability, for Soviet Jewry in the postwar period. Ultimately, Shternshis shows, after decades living in a repressive, nominally atheistic state, these Jews did manage to retain a complex sense of Jewish identity, but one that fully disassociates Jewishness from Judaism and instead associates it with secular society, prioritizing chess over Talmud, classical music over Hasidic tunes. Gracefully weaving together poignant stories, intimate reflections, and witty anecdotes, When Sonia Met Boris traces the unusual contours of contemporary Russian Jewish identity back to its roots.
About the Author
Anna Shternshis is the Al and Malka Green Associate Professor in Yiddish Language and Literature and the Director of Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923 - 1939 (2006) and more than twenty articles on the Soviet Jewish experience during World War II, Russian Jewish culture, and the post-Soviet Jewish diaspora.
Table of Contents
Part I: Oral History and the First Generation of Soviet Jews
Chapter 1 When Only Memories Tell the Truth
Chapter 2 Who Gets to Tell the Story: Oral Histories of the First Soviet Jewish Generation
Part II: The Making of a Soviet Jewish Family
Chapter 3 Boys are Like Glass, Girls are like Cloth: Raising Jewish Children in the 1930s
Chapter 4 Weddings between Errands: Love and Family during the Soviet Jewish Golden Age
Chapter 5 Lost, Found and Guilty: The War and the Family
Chapter 6 How not to Learn about Antisemitism at Home: Soviet Jewish Family Values after the War
Part III: From Enthusiasm to More Enthusiasm: Jews in the Soviet Workplace
Chapter 7 What My Country Needs and Where My Aunt Lives: Choosing a Profession in Stalin's Soviet Union
Chapter 8 The Right Specialists with the Wrong Passports: The Search for Employment
Chapter 9 "You Do Not Seem like a Jew At All": The Atmosphere at Work
Chapter 10 Jewish Doctors and the Doctors' Plot
Chapter 11 The Happiest Memories: Life in the World of Soviet Yiddish Culture
Epilogue Soviet Jewish Oral Histories: Past and Future
Appendix 1 Methodology
Appendix 2 Statistical Distribution of Interviewees