Former Chief Rabbi warns of a second ‘Iron Curtain’ for Russia’s Jews


Eastern Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis,

Former Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt. Photo AFP, David Gannon

The former Chief Rabbi of Russia has warned that its Jewish community is in danger.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, who presided as Moscow’s Chief Rabbi announced at the Conference of European Rabbis that a “new Iron Curtain” will separate the Russian regime from the Jews. Goldschmidt also warned in a Süddeutsche Zeitung interview that Russia was “rapidly changing for the worse.” Goldschmidt resigned last year which marked the end of his thirty-year leadership in Moscow. When the war in Ukraine broke out, he left Russia and settled in Israel.


In the interview, he further on the concept of a new “Iron Curtain.” In Soviet times, the KGB enforced tight controls on the Jewish community, including their synagogues. Only a dozen or so children knew the Hebrew alphabet. They were forbidden from holding top positions and could only work within the fields of music, science, and medicine. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the first Iron Curtain lifted, and the Jewish community was forced to start from scratch, according to Goldschmidt. Now, with nearly a year into the war in Ukraine, Russia’s government is in danger of repeating last century’s mistakes.

“Russia is rapidly changing for the worse. All citizens suffer from this, but especially the Jewish community. The suppression of civil society and of any kind of dissent has been going on for a long time, now the Iron Curtain threatens to close again,” he said.

Final Solution

As examples, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov equated Western government support for Ukraine as Hitler’s Final Solution, which was an event that eventually killed six million Jews. Lavrov’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova does not consider Zelensky to be Ukrainian at all but “from a completely different culture.” Goldschmidt says that this is in reference to his Jewish background, as Russia attempts to fight a “fascist regime” under his leadership.

When it comes to the Jewish communities in the war, the one in Ukraine remains destroyed, Goldschmidt said. Rabbis from the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Dnipro, and Kharkiv have faced “an even worse situation.” Many have rabbis have fled, and now their communities “lie in ruins.”


Despite widespread destruction from Russia, Goldschmidt estimates that at least 90 percent of the Russian Jewish population does not support the war. Many are choosing to stay silent, because speaking out in protest is too risky. Escaping Russia has proven to be even more challenging, he said to Süddeutsche Zeitung. Ukrainian Jews are welcome all across Europe, but when it comes to Jews in Russia, they have experienced difficulties in getting visas or entering as refugees.

Despite Europe closing the door to Russia’s Jews, approximately 80,000 have found refuge by emigrating to Israel, Dubai, Georgia, and Armenia. When it comes to the future, Goldschmidt remains uncertain but hopeful that new communities will form in other parts of the world.

“Everything is reversible, something new can arise again,” he said in the interview.



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