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World War II redrew the map of world Jewry. Seventy-two percent of European Jewry perished during of the Holocaust, the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and attempted annihilation of Jews (and some other “undesirable” groups) by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. During this period, six million Jews (and millions of others) were murdered. The world’s largest pre-war Jewish communities, Poland and the U.S.S.R, were decimated; those Eastern European Jews who survived the war faced anti-semitism in the postwar period. Stalin, who controlled not only the U.S.S.R, but also the communist satellite states of Eastern Europe, closed Jewish cultural institutions and imprisoned hundreds of Jews.
Stalin’s death in 1953 brought some relief to Eastern European Jews, but Middle Eastern politics presented a new stumbling block to Jewish life. The Soviet government, fearing the groundswell of Jewish self-identification occasioned by the establishment of the state of Israel, branded Zionism illegal and closed all secular Jewish institutions. In 1971, the Soviets began to permit Jewish emigration but maintained tight reigns over who was allowed to leave. Those Jews who were refused emigration permits (“refuseniks”) were deemed untrustworthy and often lost their jobs. In total, more than 250,000 Soviet Jews emigrated during the 1970s. A majority of Soviet émigrés settled in Israel; others moved to the United States, Canada, and Australia.
A new regional pattern emerged for the Jews of Western Europe after World War II. Whereas German Jewry had been the Jewish cultural touchstone of pre-war Europe, the postwar period saw the Jewish communities of Britain and France become the largest and most important in the region. While British Jewry ultimately declined in numbers as a result of assimilation and intermarriage (issues faced by all western Jewish communities in the postwar period), the Jewish community in France grew as a result of emigration of Jews from Northern Africa.
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