Oral history of Russian-speaking Jews coming to Lynn Museum

A postcard used to pressure Soviet government officials, featuring the children of Refuseniks. (The Nizhnikov family)

LYNN — A new exhibit is bringing the history of Russian-speaking Jews to Lynn Museum/LynnArts.

Immigration Stories: An Oral History of Russian-Speaking Jews in Massachusetts opens later this month and was created by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Salem State University. It is made possible by funding from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and Mass Humanities.

The exhibit is part of the center’s oral history project, started two years ago, on the story of the Russian-speaking Jewish community in the North Shore and greater Boston area and is part of a larger program from Mass Humanities called Expand Massachusetts Stories.

“It reintroduces a very part of the North Shore community in places like Lynn and other places to a large community that is not as well known as other communities,” Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Christopher Mauriello said.

The text of the exhibit has been translated into Russian and Spanish and features excerpts from interviews with community members regarding their lives in the Soviet Union, their decisions to emigrate, and their experiences living in the United States, alongside family photographs, portraits, and relevant artifacts.

The exhibit is designed to introduce the public to the experiences of Jews and members of other ethnic groups under the Soviet regime, as well as the challenges and successes of those who made the greater Boston area their home.

Regina Kazyulina, program research associate at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said the project includes previously untold stories of Jewish immigrants in America who came from places like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, especially those of the “Refuseniks” — Jews who were denied emigration by the Soviet government. Many of those featured in the exhibit later emigrated with the fall of the Soviet Union.

“This is part of a larger project that we’ve been working on for several years,” Kazyulina said. “We wanted to record their stories. There are stories about their lives in the Soviet Union, their immigration experience, and then some of their first impressions of life here in the United States.”

The exhibit includes documents, photos, posters, and artwork from Refuseniks, along with selections from interviews.

Mauriello said that Lynn Museum is the perfect place to have the exhibit because the North Shore was one of the most prominent places Russian-speaking Jews emigrated to after New York City and Boston.

“We like that fact that it’s part of the community,” Mauriello said. “It’s an urban setting, it’s an immigration gateway city and it reaches out to the people that we really want to connect with in our community.”

Executive Director Doneeca Thurston of Lynn Museum/LynnArts said in a statement that the museum looks forward to hosting the exhibit.

“Lynn Museum/LynnArts is pleased to continue its partnership with Salem State University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies,” Thurston said. “Their work is incredibly important and we are fortunate to host the ‘Immigration Stories’ exhibition. The acknowledgment and elevation of personal stories of members of our community is powerful and the exhibit sheds light on a more recent history within Lynn.”

The exhibit opens with a free reception at Lynn Museum on Sept. 21 from 5-7 p.m. and runs until Dec. 11.

“It’s exactly the type of work that we want to do at the center: make people aware of the power of immigration and the complexity of the issues around immigration,” Mauriello said. “We’re really welcoming the whole community to this and love that people from all backgrounds and all different ages can enjoy the exhibit.”

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