Posts tagged ethnicity.

Anonymous asked: Why is it bad that Jewish is listed as a nationality?

I never wrote that it was bad, I just pointed out that it was identified as a nationality by the Soviet state. 

I don’t think that whether or not Judaism is a nationality is important here. What interests me are the ways in which the Soviet state identified Jews.

In 1932, the state began identifying all citizens by their “nationality” (the “fifth point” or “fifth record”/пятая графа) within internal passports. While non-Jews were listed as “Ukrainian” or “Byelorussian,” for example, Jews were denied those identifications (and “nationalities”); they were always categorized as “Jewish.”

There are lots of things you could talk about here, and I’ll bring up a few.

  • Self-identifying as a Jew was denied to folks. The state had the power to categorize and identify (for) you.
  • Since anti-Semitism was state-sanctioned, being identified as a Jew in your passport was obviously dangerous, restrictive, and facilitated discrimination.
  • This “fifth point” played a large role in shaping and maintaining a Soviet Jewish identity. Anna Shternshis, author of Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, wrote that the “‘fifth point’ (nationality) in the Soviet passport probably played the most important role (comparable only to popular antisemitism) in maintaining a conscious ethnic identity among Jews during the entire Soviet period.”
Posts I’ve made that are about or make mention of Soviet passports can be found herehere, and here. My mom talks a bit about her passport and how she was identified as a Jew in the second half of my short documentary, which you can watch here (and part one is here!).

I’m open to talking more about this and hearing from others. I’m no expert and what I have to say is based on the (not incredibly extensive) research I’ve done.

  August 03, 2012 at 10:24am