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19 November 2018

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Book Review

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When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone

by Gal Beckerman

In this enthralling narrative of the Jewish struggle for emigration from the Soviet Union, Gal Beckerman shows how, in his words, “a small number of willful individuals on both sides of the iron curtain took on the superpowers.” And won.

Through scores of interviews, Beckerman is able to recount this 30-year struggle for human rights with novelistic detail, starting his tale in the forests outside Riga in the 1960s, where future refusenik Yosef Mendelevich found his heritage, and culminating in the release of Natan Sharansky and the opening of the floodgates. But there is also the drama played out in the U.S., especially in New York, where the “Soviet Jewry” issue, Beckerman shows, was hugely important in forming modern Jewish-American identity.

It is easy to forget at this remove that there was a time when Russians could not vacation in Turkey, could not worship as they pleased, could not emigrate. Beckerman brings that era vividly back to life, reminding us of one of the most significant human rights struggles of the post-war era. A must read.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Sep/Oct 2010