Winter Semester 2023/2024

Jewish Dissidence in Eastern Europe (1956–1991)

Lecturer: Dr. Jakob Stürmann

Wednesday, 1.15 to 2.45 p.m.

Start: 11 October 2023

Venue: Dubnow Institute, seminar room

Seminar Language: German

1956 in Hungary and Poland, 1968 in Czechoslovakia and on the Red Square in Moscow, 1970 and again 1980 in Poland, and 1989 in the GDR: In the decades following Stalin’s death, people within the Warsaw Pact states repeatedly involved themselves in larger and smaller protest movements. Various dissident groups emerged around the events in question, in which numerous Jews were also involved. They fought for the right to freely practice their religion, to be allowed to emigrate, and for general human rights.

This seminar is dedicated to discussing the political developments in Eastern Europe between 1956 and 1991 from the perspective of dissidence. Of key importance is the question of why these movements engaged intensively with international law and historical memory and to what degree one can here speak of a transnational phenomenon of the Cold War. The seminar will also explore scholarly definitions and key terminology.

The seminar will concentrate on the biographies and perspectives of Jewish dissidents. These will serve to illuminate developments both general and specific and the tensions between universalism and particularism that these engendered. This in turns raises the question of the influence that dissident experiences exert on political debates in the present-day successor states of Eastern Europe and in Israel and, finally, whether this phenomenon can therefore still be deemed topical in the present.


Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent. Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human Rights. Middletown, Conn. 1985; Nathan Benjamins, Refuseniks and Rights Defenders: Jews and the Soviet Dissident Movement, in: Ders./Kenneth B. Moss/Taro Tsurumi (eds.): From Europe’s East to the Middle East. Israel’s and Polish Lineages. Philadelphia 2021, 362–375; David Kowalski, Polens letzte Juden. Herkunft und Dissidenz um 1968. Göttingen 2018; Yaacov Roi (ed.), The Jewish Movement in the Soviet Union, Washington 2012; Joshua Rubenstein, Soviet Dissidents. Their Struggle for Human Rights. Boston 1980.

Open to mature age students: no
Participation is limited to 20 people.