The Economist on Russian Jews in Germany:

The Economist has an interesting article on Russian Jews in Germany. Since 1991, some 200,000 Russian and other former Soviet Jews have emigrated to Germany. Until recently, Germany was one of the very few advanced nations that gave Russian Jews an automatic right to settle in the country. As a result, Russian Jews now make up over 80% of the total German Jewish population and Germany has Europe's fastest-growing Jewish community.

Much of what the article says is consistent with my own admittedly unscientific observations in Germany when I was a visiting professor there in 2004. At that time, I spoke with a considerable number of Russian immigrants, including some distant relatives of mine who moved there in the mid-1990s. It is true that there are significant tensions between Russian Jews and native-born German Jews, and it is also true that the majority of Russian Jews in Germany (as in the US and Israel) are generally secular and have relatively little interest in religious observance. As in this country, that fact is a source of conflict with the more religious elements among native-born Jews.

However, the article obscures the fact that, for most of the Russian Jews, life in Germany is much better than in the former Soviet Union - not only in terms of economic opportunity, but also because there is much less anti-Semitism in Germany today than in Russia.

The main problem for most Russian Jews in Germany is not the strained relationship with the small native-born Jewish community but the difficulty of finding jobs in the tightly controlled German labor market (where stringent government regulation has led to high unemployment), and of assimilating into a German society that tends to be less accepting of immigrants than is the case in the US. While most Germans today frown on anti-Semitism, many do have a strong sense that immigrants (whether Russian Jewish or not) from other cultures can never be fully German. On the other hand, younger Russian immigrants that I met in Germany seem to be more fully assimilated than the older ones and I am guardedly optimistic about the longterm future of Russian Jews in that country.

Finally, I should note that the Economist article contains two significant factual errors that make me wonder about the accuracy of the rest of their material. First, the article claims that for Russian Jews, "Hitler was the enemy only in a military sense" (unlike for native-born German Jews, many of whom perished in the Holocaust). In reality, several hundred thousand Soviet Jews died in Holocaust, including about a half dozen of my own relatives. In The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hillberg estimated that 700,000 Soviet Jews died in the Holocaust, in addition to 200,000 from the Baltic States (which were forcibly annexed by the USSR in 1940). Awareness of this among Russian Jews is very strong, since almost all those whose families lived in the parts of the USSR occupied by the Germans lost relatives in the Holocaust (and the vast majority of Soviet Jews did in fact live in areas occupied by the Germans in 1941-42).

The article also claims that a high percentage of Soviet Jews lacked "documents" proving their Jewish identity. I'm sure this was true in some cases, but highly doubt that the problem was as great as the Economist claims. The article fails to note the fact that Soviet Jews, like everyone else in the USSR, were required to have internal passports that noted their "nationality" (Soviet law regarded Jewishness as a "nationality" analogous to being Russian or Ukrainian). These documents could be and routinely were used to establish Jewish identity for purposes of emigrating to the US, Germany, or Israel.

Both of these facts could easily be discovered through research and the first is pretty widely known even without it. If the Economist nonetheless got them wrong, it's hard not to wonder what other, less obvious, mistakes there might be in the article.