Not too rose-colored are the glasses through which Walter Duranty views Biro-Bidjan.
Duranty sailed for Europe last night to resume his briefly interrupted job of reporting news from the Soviet union for American consumption. He has been at it for thirteen years. Yesterday saw the end of a five weeks’ vacation in this country.
“When one receives one’s livelihood from a capitalistic organization,” he grinned, “it’s well to get away from the Soviet for a while so that one may renew one’s perspective.
“If I were working for the Pravda it would be all right never to leave. But as an employe of the New York Times I must make occasional jaunts into the realms of profit and loss, to maintain my realization of the fact that things are different over thereâ€”different beyond the conception of most Americans.”
But the Soviets are on the right track, Duranty feels, and he says so quite frankly.
BIRO-BIDJAN AND ALASKA
“Biro-Bidjan? Well, let’s see if we can draw an analogy to give you some idea of what the Jews are up against there.
“Let’s say there’s a bookkeeper here in New York Cityâ€”not necessarily a Jewish bookkeeper, but a man of almost any racial origin. He’s fallen on evil days and the United States government feels it’d like to help him out.
“‘We have some vacant land up in Alaska,’ the government tells this man. ‘Why don’t you and your family move up there?’
“You can easily understand the difficulties contingent upon such a proposal. Our imaginary bookkeeper is undoubtedly a product of city life. Chances are he is fitted neither physically nor psychically for the hardships he’d have to endure in winning sustenance from a country like Alaska. And then the distance would seem appalling to him. He’d be going so far away from what to him had been home.”
Distances are even more appalling in the Soviet, Duranty said. And Biro-Bidjan, north of and adjacent to Manchuria, would be directly in the line of a Japanese invasion, if there were one, he pointed out.
“In any event it’s hard country,” the reporter said. “I don’t think it’s particularly fertile country either. I do believe the Soviets thought it better country than it really is when they offered it to the Jews. I think they were sincerely altruistic in their purposes.”
That borught up the question of motivations. Why was Biro-Bidjan held forth as a sort of Hebrew land of promise? Was it because there was some desire to segregate the Jews? Did the Soviet powers want them out of the territories they already occupy?
BELIEVES SOVIET SINCERE
Duranty answered the last two questions in the negative.
“I honestly believe the Biro-Bidjan move was made without any desire to play the Jews a dirty trick,” he said. “To understand what lay behind the offer you must get some idea of the make-up of the Soviet union.”
He proceeded then to expatiate on the diversity of races, creeds, blood strains and languages contained within the vast precincts of the country.
“The Soviet attitude,” he said, “is this: ‘We have plenty of land that needs developing. We freely offer you a chunk of it, to do with more or less as you please, within certain limits. If there are enough of you with common ties of blood and language, you may populate this land, teach your own tongue in your schools and maintain your old traditions. We’ll ask you, in return, also to teach Russian, of course, and to adhere to the basic rules we’ve set down for our governmental and economic system. Otherwise you’re to be free as air. You can take up residence there or not, as you please.’”
That Duranty believes, is how the Soviets feel about the Jews and Biro-Bidjan.
COMPETITION WITH PALESTINE
Unquestionably, he said, the movement also entails a certain element of competition with Palestine and the recent rising tide of Zionism. But the latter question is more or less incidental in the minds of the Soviet chiefs, he thinks.
How about Germany? Had he been there recently?
“Not since February,” he said, “I’ve been in and out of Germany frequently during the past thirteen years. Things really are very bad there.”
Asked whether he believed reports of Reich brutality and widespread racial hatred, he answered in the affirmative.
“Most of the facts, so far as I have been able to observe,” he said, “are true. I do think, though, that no one has successfully answered the question which contains the crux of the entire situation: What is behind the anti-Semitic policies of the Hitler regime?”
He described, then, a luncheon about three years ago at a Berlin cafe, at which his companions had been Hermann Goering and “Putzy” Hanfstaenglâ€”the same “Putzy” who now is attending his Harvard University class reunion.
“Curiously enough, on that occasion,” Duranty said, “there was no mention of anti-Semitism. The three of us were speaking quite intimately and neither of this Nazi pair was a bit #aciturn about his intentions.
“Nonetheless there wasn’t a word about the Jews. Both these men were anti-this and anti-that but there was never a whisper of anti-Semitism.”
Duranty himself has no satisfactory explanation for the race hate phenomenon.
“Various theories have been advanced,” he said, “but none of them completely convinces me. Undoubtedly there is some truth in the ‘scapegoat’ explanation. Perhaps there is something, too, in the thought that the Jews, forced to live harder lives than their ‘Aryan’ neighbors, have excited prejudice by their resultantly greater abilities to make financial capital of opportunistic situations.
WILL STUDY ANTI-SEMITISM
“But there’s more behind it than that. I hope to look into the thing during my coming stay in Europe. I’ll have more time than I formerly had.”
In this connection he explained that in the future he’ll be reporting for the New York Times only four months of the year, with headquarters in Moscow, where he plans to go immediately after his arrival in Europe. He sailed aboard the Europa.
The remaining eight months of the year he’ll be on a roving mission throughout Europe, doing work for the North American Newspaper Alliance and for weekly and monthly publications.
“I have a fine idea for a book, too,” he said in parting. “It entails, among other things, interviewing Hitler, whom, incidentally, I’ve never met. You’ll hear more about the book later, though, I hope.”