Refusenik

  • 2007
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Laura Bialis' documentary chronicles the decades-long, international grassroots movement to pressure the Soviet government into allowing the emigration of "refuseniks:" Russian Jews who were systematically persecuted after applying for exit visas, applications that were inevitably refused. Frequent targets of anti-semitic Czars, Russia's Jews at first...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Laura Bialis' documentary chronicles the decades-long, international grassroots movement to pressure the Soviet government into allowing the emigration of "refuseniks:" Russian Jews who were systematically persecuted after applying for exit visas, applications that were inevitably refused.

Frequent targets of anti-semitic Czars, Russia's Jews at first hoped that the communist revolution would better their lives, but its promises of non-partisan equality quickly evaporated. Under Stalin, who at first appeared sympathetic to the Jewish cause and even surreptitiously sold military planes to Israel, Jew were simultaneously scorned, denied educational and employment opportunities and further disenfranchised by a concerted effort to purge all traces of Jewish history, religion and culture from the national consciousness, a form of "spiritual genocide." And to cap it off, Jews were refused the right to leave and resettle elsewhere; the official excuse was that they were (despite everything) among the USSR's best and brightest, so their knowledge and expertise could never be allowed to fall into enemy hands. By the mid-1950s, Israel had formed a special branch of the Mossad, Nativ, to contact Soviet Jews and make them aware that there was a Jewish state, and by the 1960s regional movements sprouted all over the US, some driven by students and civil rights activists, others by housewives and drapers, many of them Holocaust survivors whose consciences drove them to speak out. Bialis interviews dozens of refuseniks, famous and not, whose recollections paint a vivid picture of life under a regime so oppressive that reading Leon Uris' Exodus was a life-changing experience, as well as members of the movement to liberate Soviet Jewry, who both lobbied their political representatives and traveled to the USSR as tourists to meet dissidents face to face, smuggling religious objects in and bringing out home movies in which they spoke eloquently about their struggles and made direct appeals for help. .

Judicious editing could easily have trimmed 20 minutes of repetitive material, but overall Bialis' film is an effective history of a movement built from the ground up, one that became powerful enough to make a superpower bend to the will of the people. (In English and subtitles Russian and Hebrew)

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  • Released: 2007
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Laura Bialis' documentary chronicles the decades-long, international grassroots movement to pressure the Soviet government into allowing the emigration of "refuseniks:" Russian Jews who were systematically persecuted after applying for exit visas, applicat… (more)

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