Riga (Sep. 20)
(J. T. A. Mail Service)
How the declaration which appeared in the Yiddish Communist paper “Oktiabr” last spring, contending that there was no campaign being carried on in Soviet Russia against the Jewish faith, and asserting that the Jews had never felt so free as they do now under the Soviet regime, which created a sensation at the time in Jewish circles abroad, came to be signed by the thirty-one well known Russian rabbis, was related here by a prominent Jewish personage who has arrived here from Russia and who was in close touch in Minsk with the events which led up to the issuance of this declaration.
One morning, he states, a number of rabbis, coming to their homes from the synagogue, found orders awaiting them instructing them to go to the offices of the Ogpu. They were filled with fear and anxiety, but they realized that the orders of the Ogpu must be obeyed. There was weeping and lamentation in their homes. One rabbi even sat down to write his last will. Few expected to return.
In fear and trembling, the rabbis presented themselves to the Ogpu. In the room to which they had to report, they found three Ogpuists, one of them a Jew, seated at the table’ Telling them to be seated, the Jewish Ogpuist asked the rabbis in Yiddish a number of questions, whether they were Chassidim or Mithnagdim, why they had not gone to the Rabbinical Conference in Leningrad, whether they took part in the work of the aid societies in the Beth Midrashim, who were the members of these aid societies, etc. The rabbis replied to these questions. They were then told to go into the corridor and wait there till they were called. On coming back they were told that they were free and could go home.
A few days later they were again ordered to attend the same place. This time they found there the three Ogpuists and five rabbis, Rabbi Medalic of Vitebsk, Rabbi Zimbalist of Minsk, Rabbi Schneuerson of Homel, Rabbi Levin of Minsk, Rabbi Schapiro of Bobruisk, Rabbi Gluskin of Minsk and Rabbi Abramski of Sluck. The Ogpuists handed the rabbis the text of a declaration and asked them to sign it. After reading the text the rabbis replied that they could not sign it. They were allowed to leave. The next morning they were again called to the Ogpu, and given a fresh text, which again they refused to sign. This happened a third and fourth time. The rabbis refused to sign each new text submitted to them.
On the fourth day, the rabbis decided to return to their homes and arranged to meet at the railway station. That evening, while they were lined up waiting at the booking office to take their ticket, a man came up and told them that he wanted to talk to them. They replied that it was impossible, because their train was due to leave in a few minutes. Then they recognized him as the Jewish Ogpuist who had conducted the negotiations with them. He explained that the Ogpu demanded that they should return.
At the Ogpu they were handed a fresh text, the fifth, and they were given all night to think over whether they would sign. The rabbis sat up all night discussing whether or not to sign. Several of the rabbis urged that if they refused to sign the Jewish Communist Sections would start a new campaign against the Jewish faith. On this ground it was finally decided to sign the declaration. One of the rabbis broke into tears when the decision was made. All night long they sat as if in mourning, and the next day they went downcast and apprehensive and signed the document.
In the town it was said that the rabbis had signed the declaration, because it would bring about a relaxation of the campaign against Judaism. Before long, however, this hope, too, was shown to have been false, several synagogues being confiscated in Borisov. Orsha and other places.