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When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry
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When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  210 ratings  ·  32 reviews

A New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorites

“Beckerman recounts the historic trajectory of this grand assertion of human rights with passionate clarity and pellucid conviction.â€â€”Cynthia Ozick

AT THE END OF WORLD WAR II, NEARLY THREE MILLION JEWS WERE TRAPPED INSIDE THE SOVIET UNION. They lived a paradox—unwanted by a repressive Stalinist state, yet forbidden to leave. When Th

Hardcover, 608 pages
Published September 23rd 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2010)
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4.27  · 
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 ·  210 ratings  ·  32 reviews

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Jan Rice
This book recounts the predicament of the nearly three million Jews in the USSR and the movement to extricate them. After setting the stage with the culmination of the Stalin era in paranoid antisemitism, the book goes into exhaustive detail, seemingly covering every refusenik and dissident there and every American activist, as well as the political ins and outs of every American administration and every General Secretary of the USSR. It is comprehensive. If you know little about the movement to ...more
Mandi | No Apathy Allowed
Sep 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-faves
I have to admit that it was the author, rather than the subject matter, that first intrigued me about this book. Gal and I arrived in Germany at about the same time and took part in the same fellowship program together. At that point, When They Come For Us, They’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Jewry was in its final stages of preparation for publication and all of us in the program got to know him as the “long suffering author” of this book (as he describes himself in the acknowledgements) ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
In 1987, I travelled with about 250,000 others to Washington DC for the rally to demand that Gorbachev release the Jews held in the Soviet Union, the Refuseniks. For decades, Jews in the USSR were not permitted to practice their religion or to leave the country. The process of obtaining an exit visa was expensive, oppressive and often a dead end. Instead, when Jews asked for the right to leave, they often lost their jobs immediately and cut off from society. Within the Soviet Union, they formed ...more
Dec 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is a comprehensive history of the struggle for freedom by Jews in the Soviet Union. Chapters alternate between personal stories of refuseniks, and the growing awareness of American Jews of the situation. The interplay of politics between the Soviet Union, the United States, and to a lesser extent Israel, was very interesting. Having taken courses in this subject area while in high school, and having participated in some of the demonstrations (I especially remember the huge demonstratio ...more
Mel Ostrov
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone

Let My People Go

Antisemitism goes back as far as the days of Pharaoh, still persisting over the eons to the present day. This book is a tour de force exposition on the plight of the Jews restricted in the Soviet Union following World War II. You would expect that after the Holocaust Jewish people would at least be treated sympathetically and fairly in their home country, but Russia and its border states (including Poland and Ukraine) were culturally antisem
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The story of Soviet Jews, their struggle to leave the USSR and that of American Jews to advocate for them, was one just dying for a book. Beckerman does that and more, doing service to the refugees and their advocates alike through a magisterial, insightful, and very readable volume. The model seems Taylor Branch's trilogy on MLK and the civil rights struggle. This one nearly matches Branch's in being a gripping page turner.

Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
FIN! I'm very impressed by the vast comprehensiveness of this book, which covers three decades of detailed activism in America, Israel and the Soviet Union. Gal Beckerman has proved to me that the nonfiction writing style of a journalist tends to be more readable than that of a historian. But the subject matter was so exhaustive that admittedly I put this book down several times and cheated with others. :P

Now I'm at the end and will summarize what I can. The general focus of this book about Sovi
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Gal Beckerman has a single-minded, driven passion: the plight of the Jewish people suffering under oppressive regimes. If nothing else comes through in his book, When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone, this heart cry does. His concern for his fellow Jews across the world originated in his synagogue where the practice of celebrating a particular Soviet Jewish boy's bar mitzvah along with one's own created an awareness of people suffering outside his own insulated upbringing.

Beckerman meticulously tr
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
WOW WOW WOW. This was an incredibly well-researched and well-executed book. At 500+ dense pages, there were some sections where I slogged through a bit, but I am really glad I read this.

When I was a child, my dad took me to Washington DC with our synagogue to protest Soviet Jewry - I might have been 10 or so (it was the late 1980's) and I can remember being taught that Jews in Russia weren't allowed to practice Judaism and that we were going to DC to get our congressmen to change that. I can rem
Susan Grodsky
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A massive, authoritative history, probably the best we will ever get. Beckerman has collected a vast trove of information and organized it into a cogent narrative.

It requires quite a time commitment (I spent almost three weeks on this book), but repays the effort

Beckerman has an eye for the revealing, humanizing detail. For example, my favorite among the refuseniks was Ida Nudel. Why? Because she had a beloved dog, Pizer, that she took to Israel with her when she was finally allowed to emigrate
Philip Girvan
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well researched, When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry draws on hundreds of interviews and Soviet government documents to provide a comprehensive account of the struggle of the nearly 3 million Jews living in the Soviet Union at the end of WWII . The book also provides tremendous insights into the grassroots efforts of individual American Jews to raise awareness among their countrymen and government of the repression facing Jews in the USSR as wel ...more
George Serebrennikov
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jews-israel, 2013
While reading some chapters of the book, I felt like “déjà vu all over again”, with all the familiar names like Nathan Sheransky, Vladimir Slepack, Iosif Begun, Alexander Lerner, and places like Ovrajki railroad station, and Arkhipova Street in Moscow. For me, it is more than just a history - it is my youth. I did celebrate Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, and Rosh Hashanah outside the synagogue on Archipova Street, where I met my wife; I did listen to the Jewish and Israeli songs in the forest near Ovr ...more
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An exhaustively detailed, fascinating, illuminating and sometimes deeply moving history of the struggle to save Soviet Jewry, restoring to historical memory a movement that seems to fade into the background of retellings of the Cold War. While ultimately Beckerman doesn't successfully make the case for some of his broader claims about the movement's impact on the Soviet Union and doesn't quite connect the dots between his research and his overall thesis, this book is still a remarkable accomplis ...more
Michael Brown
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history about the relationship between American and Soviet Jews. There's an interesting sequel to this to be written about how the Exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union changed the nature of Israeli politics. Hopefully Beckerman is working on it.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Piecing together three strands of narrative--the grassroots, secret organizations of Soviet Jews to preserve culture and emigrate in the face of Russian bureaucracy, the shifting US Cold War policies of detente and hostility and the Israeli attempts to react to and juggle both, the author gives valuable sidelights on the fracturing of the American Civil Rights partnership of Jews and African-Americans, the creation of Cold War Jewish Neo-Cons and the unsung but critical importance of small, port ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: done
An amazing complete account of the American and Israeli involvement in the Soviet Jewry movement, the book also covers what the Soviet Jews were doing and going through at the time. It progresses until the players actually get to communicate with each other, and in some cases, ultimately meet. There is a ton of information here, I actually found the excellent index very useful to remind myself of who someone was or when a given event happened.

A fascinating story that explains the WWII guilt that
Jan 28, 2012 rated it liked it

This is an interesting subject and worthwhile to know the history. Unfortunately, Beckerman is a poor historian, jumping from narrative to narrative and then back again so that it is difficult to piece together the whole story. I also didn't appreciate the lack of footnotes or endnotes (notes are insufficient) and his imaginative liberties with people's inner dialogues are inappropriate for a history.
Victoria Drob
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A comprehensive historical account of the Soviet Jewry movement in the 20th century. Being an immigrant Jew from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), I had a vague idea of the large-scale emigration of Jews out of the FSU, but I never imagined what a vast undertaking this movement was on the part of Soviet activists, Israel, and the United States. Jewish existence in the FSU was intolerable; it took many intricate networks and singular individuals to make the mass exodus possible.
Jewish Awakening
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful! Written by a journalist, so it's easy to read, and constantly exciting. Most of the material comes from one-on-one interviews with Soviet Jewry Movement activists. The only drawback is that the book gives the impression of covering the entire scope of the movement, while leaving out many of the local stories that would challenge the grassroots vs. Jewish "establishment" dichotomy.
Leora Eisenberg
What a wonderful book. As the child of Russian Jewish immigrants, this book helped me immensely to understand what helped them to emigrate to the US (Jackson--Vannick sp?) and understand the struggles that they had to face every day. Gal Beckman makes this book very- dare I say it?- readable, which few authors can do with such a dense subject. Highly recommended.
Elsie Klumpner
I'm on page 200 of this book. It is well-written and informative. I'm learning so much Jewish history that I never knew about. Where was I? He presents each topic very well. He is biased on occasion, but that does not detract from the facts of the history. This is a must read. He covers the Soviet Jewry movement from its infancy and also gives wonderful context to all of it.
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it

Very good read. Being a Russia Jew myself I knew bits and pieces, but never realized the scope of the movement that help us to get out. This very well researched book and I recommended it to many friends.
May 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Very readable and engaging history of the Soviet Jewry movement, both in the US and the Soviet Union. As someone who was only vaguely familiar with it while it was going on, I found the book enlightening.
Nov 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
So far, I think it's fascinating. And I do find it a page-turner.
Just wasn't up for it this go round...I think I was expecting more narrative.
Oct 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wish I could give this book more than 5 stars. Really want to see the sequel describing the lives of those who were the first ones to make it to the West.
Oct 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended, and not just because it's about my people. Detailed, wide-ranging, making brilliant connections between far-flung events and yet keeping everything on the human level.
Really enjoyed this.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully detailed account of the work behind the scenes on behalf of the Soviet Jews. I will keep an eye out for future work by the same author, since he has earned my rarely bestowed respect.
Jeffrey Coleman
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very detailed. authoritative. somewhat profound. fascinating exploration of the world's first human rights issue
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Gal Beckerman is a writer and editor at The New York Times Book Review. He has regularly contributed to many publications, including the New Republic and The Wall Street Journal. His first book, the award-winning “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone,” was chosen as a book of the year by The Washington Post and the New Yorker.

His first book, “When They Come for Us We’ll Be Gone,” won two major boo