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There is plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding Jews and Germans (and possibly other stigmatized ethnic groups) in the USSR trying to dissimulate their ethnic origins: e.g., children issued from mixed marriages would adopt the last name and/or the ethnicity of their parent that they considered less problematic (that is in order to be more accepted in the Soviet society and avoid discrimination.) One well-known example is Garry Kasparov (born Weinstein), who adopted the name of his Armenian mother's last name:

At the age of twelve, Kasparov, upon the request of his mother Klara and with the consent of the family, adopted Klara's surname Kasparov, which was done to avoid possible anti-Semitic tensions common in the USSR at the time.

I wonder whether there are statistical data or other sociological research on how common these practices were. I am also interested in whether there have been significant changes after the collapse of the USSR.

Related question: Why has the number of Germans in Kazakhstan begun to increase?

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  • I'm not sure I understand the term "Dissimulate" here. Is the intent to ask how many minorities changed their name to conceal their ethnicity?
    – MCW
    Apr 24 at 14:34
  • @MCW yes: those who changed their name or/and if there was preference to (not) declare certain ethnicities upon reaching adulthood (in the USSR one's ethnicity was stated in all important documents and legal forms, known as "fifth record") If other ways to hide one's ethnicity were used, it is also of interest.
    – Roger V.
    Apr 24 at 14:49

2 Answers 2

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The following is from a conference paper Mixed Marriage and Post-Soviet Aliyah by Mark Tolts, from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The article deals with the trends immediately after the collapse of the USSR:

As mentioned previously, offspring of mixed marriages could opt to be registered on their internal passports as Jews or as non-Jews. The data on offspring of mixed couples collected before the start of the recent mass emigration showed a clear preference for non-Jewish ethnic affiliation for the children (Volkov, 1989). Also, according to the most recent data of the 1994 Russian microcensus, non-Jewish ethnic affiliation was clearly preferable among offspring of mixed couples. For children under 16, the percentage declared Jewish was about the same regardless of the composition of the mixed couples—only 11%. Among offspring aged 16 and above, the percentage was even lower: 6.2% for couples consisting of a Jewish husband and a Russian wife, and 4.1% for couples consisting of a Russian husband and a Jewish wife (Table 8).
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Thus, despite all recent changes in the Jewish situation in the Russian Federation and FSU as a whole, such as greater investment in Jewish education, we see a continuation of the clear preference for non-Jewish ethnic affiliation for the children of mixed couples. Dynamics of the “core” Jewish population^1, whose numerical decrease in the results of the 2001 Ukrainian census, confirm this conclusion (Tolts, 2005). Moreover, emigration is selective by level of Jewish identity, and is obviously higher among the more strongly identifying Jews (Brym and Ryvkina, 1996; Chervyakov et al., 2003). These are the ones who have left—and are still leaving—the FSU.

There is probably only one large group of people of mixed origin interested in ethnic reaffiliation with the Jewish people, namely, those who made the decision to emigrate, particularly to Israel. These people have been leaving the FSU very rapidly; that is, they have joined the Jewish population abroad, especially in Israel.

^1 The “core” Jewish population is the aggregate of all those who, when asked, identify themselves as Jews or, in the case of children, are identified as such by their parents.

(emphasis is mine)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the indication of ethnicity in the official documents ('fifth record') became non-obligatory, and it is possible that many Russians of Jewish origin prefer to keep their ethnic roots private:

The statistics, published last month by Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service, showed that just 82,644 people identified themselves as Jews in the national census conducted in 2021.
[...]
For instance, Russia’s previous census, conducted in 2010, showed nearly 160,000 people who identified as Jews or belonging to the related groups — suggesting a decline by nearly a half over the last decade. During the same period, Russia’s total population grew by 3.5%.
[...]
There could be other Russian Jews who were not captured by the census. Lechaim noted that 17 million people left their nationality blank or identified themselves as having no nationality — a move that Jews, whose national identity can be complicated in whatever country they live, might be inclined to make in a country with a relatively recent history of state antisemitism.

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I think it is impossible to answer. My own biography proves it. I am half-German myself. Both my parents are half-German. Until 1991, when the USSR fell, I didn’t know that I was half-German. By then, I was already 29. I believed my father was quarter-Latvian and didn’t know my mother’s real father.

My parents hid this information from me because being German was very bad in the USSR, far worse than being Jewish.

"For example, having 'German' in the passport meant that a citizen had no opportunity to get a higher education at all, while Jews were restricted from only 5-6 main physical/mathematical universities or faculties."

With "Russian" nationality in my passport, I was assumed to be Jewish. Any citizen without a Russian surname but with official Russian nationality was automatically presumed to be Jewish. As a result, I couldn’t get certain jobs or study at some universities, but these problems were much easier to deal with than the potential issues if I had been recognized as German.

Now ask yourself: How would you count half- and quarter-bloods? And how would you determine the nationality of people who often didn’t know it themselves? Even if they did know, they often tried to hide it.

For your research, remember that the situation with surnames was complicated. There were also Ukrainian and Belorussian surnames, some "pure" and some that could be Jewish, with endings like -skij, -ak, -uk, -ik, etc. In your statistics, you should use only those pure surnames with endings -ov, -ev, -ko, -in. (ов, -ев, -ёв, -ко, -ин).

Even endings are not sufficient. For example, if a surname has a Jewish name as its root, it is considered Jewish even with a "good" ending, such as "Abramov" or "Ruvin." You surely understand the point: if a person has parents' surnames like Abramov and Katz, or Artabalevskij and Briker, any choice is bad.

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  • Thank you, this is very interesting. Regarding actual counting: with "nationality" marked in all the documents, one could, in principle, see how many people with, e.g., a Jewish and a Russian parent (marked in their birth certificate) registered themselves as "Russian" in their passport - without discrimination would expect 50/50. In principle such a statistical information exists. Also, adopting mother's family name could be disproportionately common for "half-bloods".
    – Roger V.
    May 13 at 6:40
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    @RogerV. If you need proof of discrimination: I lived in a group of blocks in Moscow, where 99% were Russians - all pupils in my mid. school age level (180p.) had Ru/Ukr/Bel surnames. From our group of blocks 5 men were sent to Chernobyl. All five had NOT Russian surnames... I think, your elaborated statistics tricks are needed when the discrimination is merely slight, but not in the case of a brazen oppression of some nationalities.
    – Gangnus
    May 13 at 18:11
  • Good point about the surnames. Note that I am not questioning that discrimination of Jews, Germans and other groups existed and was blatant - I am merely trying to quantify what I have always regarded as a "common knowledge"... that is common among the discriminated.
    – Roger V.
    May 13 at 18:41
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    @RogerV. I never thought you were questioning the discrimination. I think you want to prove the discrimination to people who question it. But I have spoken to such persons, and IMHO, they are hopeless. They simply refuse to get any arguments, and if they can't, they start to attack the opponent personally. ... I have noticed a mistake in the list of endings, and I am moving the comment to the answer, editing it.
    – Gangnus
    May 14 at 11:21

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