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Author(s): Shternshis, Anna
Date: 2011
Abstract: In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
A few days after arriving in New York during the spring of 1990, Anatolii S. (born in 1920, Ukraine), put on his jacket, decorated with the numerous military medals that he had earned during his service in the Soviet Army during World War II, and went into a nearby synagogue, hoping to find out about the benefits available to him as a Jewish veteran of the war that "helped to save America from fascism." He showed his documents to the local clerk, who only gestured for him to put his hat back on and to pray with the prayer book. Unable to open the book correctly, and most importantly, unwilling to pray, Anatolii realized that neither his participation in the war, nor his knowledge of Yiddish, made him a true member of this community. Being accustomed to displays of public respect and economic benefits from his status as a war veteran, Anatolii now had to embrace his new status in a society that did not regard him any differently from any other non-English speaking, elderly Jewish immigrant from Russia.

Anatolii, like the other approximately 26,000 Soviet Jewish veterans who migrated to Germany, Israel, Canada, and the United States in the 1990s, was certainly welcome to attend synagogues and Jewish community centers in his new country, but his understanding of what it meant to be a Jew differed profoundly from the majority of members in these communities. Anatolii and his peers (Soviet veterans) regarded their participation in the war as the most important part of their Jewish identity, and they were often shocked to find out how little the war meant to the Jewish identity of the local populations they encountered. Unsatisfied with the status quo, many Soviet veterans launched their own organizations, where being Jewish and proud of Soviet accomplishments did not seem contradictory. Moreover, the definitions of "Soviet" and "Jewish" shifted, merged, and eventually formed the foundation of a specific culture, with its own leaders, traditions, rituals, and language.

In this article, I look into the modes of survival of Soviet language and ideology among veterans, and analyze what these modes tell us about the patterns of immigrant adaptation. I concentrate on three centers of veterans' activities: New York, Toronto, and Berlin, and discuss similarities and differences in the adaptations of veterans in these communities. I will discuss how the culture of each city and country influenced what the veterans select from Soviet rhetoric to describe their present lives.

The second goal of this study is to challenge existing scholarship, which treats elderly migrants as passive and apathetic. Nursing Studies and Gerontology dominate research in this area (rather than the field of immigrant studies) and as a result we know much more about cases of extreme isolation, deprivation, and depression among elderly immigrants in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe than about the contribution elderly migrants make to the social and cultural systems in their new societies. While the vulnerability of this group is undeniable, I perceive studying foreign retirees solely as victims or disadvantaged entities as an "ageism" bias which denies proper recognition and acceptance of the achievements and life experiences of the elderly, as it sees them solely through the prism of their ailing bodies. Soviet Jewish veterans, as a group, serve as an ideal case study of how elderly immigrants fight such perceptions, both consciously and subconsciously, not only by creating their own organizations, but also by establishing an awareness of their legacies in their new home countries.

Data and Methodology
This study is based on 233 in-depth interviews with Soviet veterans of World War II conducted between 1999 and 2007 in Toronto, Berlin, and New York. I used a snowball sample, where the initial respondents—located through veterans' organizations and ads placed in Russian-language media—suggested other potential interviewees. The interviews consisted of open-ended questions about respondents' experiences throughout their lives. Russian-language newspaper articles published in immigrant papers also served as useful sources for public expressions of veterans' opinions about political, cultural, and social issues in their new countries.