Two reportsâ€”a sad one about the present position of the Jews in Lithuania and an encouraging one about the activities and plans of the Yiddish Scientific Instituteâ€”were brought American Jewry by Judl Mark, editor of the Kaunas Folksblatt and member of the philological section of the Institute, who is here on his first visit to America.
The only remnants of Jewish autonomy in the Lithuanian republic are the Yiddish and Hebrew schools, to some extent, which are subsidized by the government and are part of the general school system, Mark declared. All other autonomous positions, such as the Jewish ministry and the right of Jewish communities to impose compulsory taxes, disappeared years ago.
EQUALITY IS FARCE
Yet there are no officially anti-Jewish laws in Lithuania, and until a short time ago there was no social anti-Semitism, Mark continued. However, the equality of Jewish rights in Lithuania is only formal, for as a matter of fact the Lithuanian Jews have been degraded economically to second-class status.
Nevertheless, the editor said, it must be emphasized that there have not been any pogroms in Lithuania and anti-Semitism there has none of the pogrom spirit.
Two factorsâ€”the economic crisis and Hitler’s assumption of power in Germanyâ€”have brought on the social anti-Semitism of Lithuania.
In Lithuania the crisis came later than it did in other countries and was not generally felt until the beginning of 1932. It found expression in a strong decline of exports of principal products like milk, butter, eggs, fowl and hogs.
This was especially true of exports to Germany, which exerts a strong economic pressure on Lithuania. This diminution of exports affected the peasant first and later the Jewish tradesman and artisan.
The dissatisfaction of the peasants began to be exploited by anti-Semitic elements, especially by the “Verslas” organization, which openly conducts anti-Semitic propaganda. It is the followers of this movement that are responsible for the anti-Semitic movement in the country. So long as there were government jobs available, the Lithuanians left the Jews alone.
But now that all government posts have been filled the sons of the peasants and the officials have begun to wrest positions from the Jews for themselves.
NAZI PROPAGANDA HURTS
A second element which led to the rise of social anti-Semitism is Hitlerism, Mark said. Since Hitler came to power the Nazis have been carrying on an energetic anti-Semitic propaganda campaign in the Baltic countries, especially in Memel.
True, the government takes a negative attitude on the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazis and their pogrom sheets, but the agitation does nevertheless affect the dissatisfied population.
For these reasons the Jews of the country are depressed. About twenty-eight per cent of the 160,000 Jews in Lithuania are artisans. This group suffers more than all the others. The help of their relatives in America and other countries plays a great part in the material support of the Jews of Lithuania and this aid should be increased, Mark emphasized.
MANY GO TO PALESTINE
Economic conditions being what they are, the Jews of Lithuania are ready to emigrate to any country which would admit them. Many of them are going to Palestine.
Three hundred Jews went to Biro-Bidjan and most of them stayed there, although a small number left that region to settle in other parts of the Soviet Republic.
Despite the difficult economic situation, there is lively activity in the cultural sphere. There are new young writers. There are four daily Yiddish newspapers in Kaunas, where a fourth of the Jewish population of the country resides.
An enthusiastic spirit prevails in the Yiddish and Hebrew schools and in the various social undertakings, the editor reported.
Mark’s principal purpose in coming to America is to spend half a year in the interests of the Yiddish Scientific Institute. Prominent in the 1935 plans of the Institute (which is most active along the lines of (1) language and literature; (2) economics and statistics of Jewish life; (3) Jewish history; (4) psychology and pedagogy; are the following:
1.â€” The foundation established in honor of Dr. Z. Shabad on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, which will develop new research workers for the institute.
2.â€” The institute convention in August, 1935, which will review its ten years of work and prepare the ground for further activity.
3.â€” Research among youth, under the direction of Dr. Max Weinreich, which is already well under way, 300 autobiographies of Jewish youths having been collected in Poland and other countries.
4.â€” Sociological research in the realm of Jewish family budgets and standards of living.
5.â€” History of the labor movement among Jews to the establishment of the Bund in 1897.
6.â€” Studies in the Yiddish language, several in the orthography and grammar of which are to be released shortly.
Mark will give a detailed account of these plans at the opening of the annual conference of the American Section of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, which is to open tomorrow at the Rand School. Mark will be guest speaker.