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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Going West
Jeroen Doomernik

(Aldershot: Ashgate , 1997)
ISBN hb 1-85972-633-x, 35, 167pp, bib.


It is one of the most curious and paradoxical migrations of recent times - the flow of several thousand Jews to Germany from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It is a migration which has considerably strengthened the small Jewish community in Germany, perhaps most visibly in Berlin. On the other hand it has disrupted common conceptions about the relationship between Germany and Jews and presented an unsettling challenge to the argument that the experience of the Holocaust has left an unbridgeable chasm; that, ". . . a black cat has walked between the German and Jewish nations" (as one interviewee who was opposed to migration to Germany put it, p.41). Even one of those who did go to Germany could say; "Initially I had my doubts about coming here. Jews do not belong in Germany, it seemed improper."(p.99) Little wonder that, although it is a tiny proportion of the recent Jewish exodus from the former Soviet Union, this migration has led to tensions between the Israeli government and the Jewish authorities in Germany who have, to a degree, encouraged the movement.

The author's primary focus is on migration rather than ethnicity and his conclusions reflect this. However, for those interested in ethnic identity there is much of interest; the startling weakness of Jewish identity and the strength of a Russian, or at least 'Soviet' identity among many of the migrants, for example. Because so few of the new arrivals have a strong sense of Jewish identity it seems in the short term as though the arrival of these people has done more to strengthen the Russian than the Jewish community in Berlin. On the other hand, the fact that many of the new arrivals are sending their children to Jewish schools suggests that in the long term the Jewish community will be considerably strengthened and enlarged. This illustrates the importance of education in both breaking down (in the Soviet Union) and reconstructing (in Berlin) ethnic identities.

The level of personal detail about interviewees provided in the book is a bit unsettling and at times seems unnecessarily intrusive. We learn not only of people's experiences of migration but also of illicit affairs, deluded dreams, personal failings. This reader for one found this level of detail too much, much of it far from relevant to issues of migration or ethnicity and distracting from the central themes.

On the other hand the individual stories remind readers of the hopelessness and depression and isolation which can descend on the displaced person, whether immigrant or refugee. Those like the interviewee who states bluntly 'I have few friends, Germans or Russians' (p.137) raise the issue of what exactly 'community' or 'group identity' means to a person isolated and so far from 'home'.


Niall O Dochartaigh, National University of Ireland - Galway



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