128. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Brezhnev’s Figures on Soviet Jewish Emigration

The figures on Soviet Jewish emigration Brezhnev gave to Congressional leaders on June 192 appear in various parts accurate, unintentionally erroneous, and perhaps deliberately misleading.

Brezhnev said there were 2.1 million Jews in the USSR, which is the figure used in the 1970 Soviet census, but which is significantly lower than the three million figure Kosygin used in Stockholm in April 1973 and generally accepted by Western scholars.

Brezhnev said that 68,000 Soviet Jews were able to leave before January 1973. He gave no beginning date for the period. According to our figures (from the Dutch, the Israelis, and voluntary agencies) from 1960 until January 1973, 55,500 Soviet Jews emigrated for Israel. This is 12,500 below Brezhnev’s figure. We have no data for the period before 1960 nor comprehensive totals on Soviet Jewish emigration for countries other than Israel.

In the first five months of 1973 Soviet emigration to Israel was approximately 12,500. Therefore, the combined total from 1960 through mid-June 1973 is just over 69,000—close to Brezhnev’s 68,000 figure, which he, however, claimed as the total by January 1, 1973. He may have confused relevant time periods.

Brezhnev referred to 61,000 applications and to 60,200 approvals in 1972. We have no firm data on applications last year, although the Israelis believe that some 100,000 applications are pending. However, the reference to 60,200 approvals seems far wide of the mark since about 31,500 Soviet Jews actually emigrated. If Brezhnev misread and the “6” was actually “3” the number of applications he claimed was approved would correspond fairly closely to the number which actually left. (The figures on annual totals vary by several hundred depending on where the count was made—Moscow, Vienna, Israel—because of the numbers in pipeline.)

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Brezhnev’s reported assertion that 95 per cent of the Soviet Jews are free to leave appears to be a brash effort to dissimulate. The claim was first made formally by Soviet Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs Shumilin in December 1972 when he asserted that 95.5 per cent of all applications are approved. In his remarks to Congressmen, Brezhnev gave some corroborative evidence on what had been suspected about how the 95 per cent figure was reached.

In referring to the list of “742” names of Jews denied permission to emigrate, Brezhnev reportedly said that “177 have not applied for exit visas for security reasons, but these cases are being reviewed.” It seems clear from this remark that the Soviets did not count these de facto refusals of applications in their tabulations. The “95 per cent” claim, therefore, almost certainly refers only to applications which have been accepted for action, either to be approved or refused. The number of applications which the authorities refuse to accept, and are not included in the Soviet tabulations, is unknown, except for the “177” (probably 177 families) to which Brezhnev referred.

Brezhnev’s statement that 300 Jewish emigrants have asked to return to the Soviet Union appears credible. We have no way of assessing his remark that 1,300 did not pick up their exit visas. Both figures are relatively small given the numbers involved.

Theodore L. Eliot, Jr.3
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 939, VIP Visits, Brezhnev’s U.S. Visit, May–July 1973, 2 of 4. Secret; Nodis. Clift forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger under a June 29 covering memorandum, which Kissinger initialed.
  2. See Document 125 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. Dudley W. Miller signed for Eliot above this typed signature.