Hundreds of thousands of Jews left the USSR during the 1970s. The route they took was determined by the geopolitics of the Cold War and by the decisions of the resettlement agencies which supported their migration: a brief stop in Vienna, followed either by a flight to Tel Aviv or to Rome and then to their ultimate destination. But as the decade wore on, a group of Soviet Jewish migrants challenged this well-worn path, and in doing so, complicated the delicately balanced transnational politics of refugee resettlement in Cold War Europe. These migrants were the returnees, known somewhat pejoratively in Hebrew as the yordim. Having initially settled in Israel, the returnees left for Europe in search of resettlement opportunities elsewhere- but found only legal, political and diplomatic limbo. Unwilling to return to Israel and unable to resettle elsewhere as refugees, they moved across Europe from Amsterdam to Paris, West Berlin to Milan in search of legal status and security. The returnees thereby drew governments, NGOs and Jewish communities across three continents into what was soon dubbed the 'yordim problem'. Taking a transnational perspective, this talk will explore the experiences of the returnees and examine how this small group of migrants shaped international migration policy during a crucial period for Cold War geopolitics.
Amy Fedeski is the Alfred and Isabel Bader Postdoctoral Fellow in Jewish History at Queen's University. She completed her PhD at the Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia, in 2022 with a dissertation entitled “What We Want To Do As Americans”: Jewish Political Activism and United States Refugee Policy, 1969-1981. Dr. Fedeski's wider research interests focus on transnational Jewish politics during the Cold War.