NEW YORK (May. 21)
That the Soviet authorities may permit the emigration of Lithuanian citizens as soon as Japan or other neighboring countries permit their transit, was reported today at a press conference by Moses W. Beckelman, American representative of the J.D.C. in the Baltics who recently returned to this country.
“Between Dec 1, 1940, and the date of my departure from Lithuania on Feb. 21, 1941, more than 2,000 Jewish refugees in Lithuania had been assisted to leave the country through the activities of the J.D.C.,” Beckelman said. “This is the first time that emigration on such a scale has been possible from Soviet territories and the movement was still continuing when I left. Though, at that time, permission to emigrate was almost exclusively limited to refugees from Poland, the indications were that the question of granting exit permits to Lithuanian citizens then under consideration would be decided favorably, provided that transit opportunities through Japan or other neighboring countries would be available.
“The policy in favor of permitting emigration was adopted by the Soviet authorities following decrees promulgated by Moscow and the Lithuanian Soviet Republic at the end of 1940, making eligible for Soviet citizenship all persons resident in the territory of any of the former Baltic republics on Sept. 1, 1940. All persons not wishing such citizenship were permitted to file applications for exit permits. When applications closed on Feb. 10, 1941, there were about 3,000 pending applications which had not been disposed of. When, to this figure, is added the number of Lithuanian Jews who might wish to emigrate if this became possible, the probable number of pending transit cases would reach at least 5,000.
“Simultaneously with the publication of the decrees offering citizenship to all refugees, the Soviet authorities declared that all aged, ill or otherwise unemployable persons would be provided for by the social welfare institutions of the Lithuanian Soviet Republic, and requested the foreign relief organizations than operating in Lithuania to wind up their affairs. This brought to an and the most recent phase of J.D.C. activity in Lithuania–war relief on behalf of Polish refugees–which had begun on Oct. 11, 1939, and continued uninterruptedly to the end, despite the difficulties in transmission of funds during the summer of 1940.”
“The J.D.C. was supporting, wholly or in part, a daily average of 15,000 people until the Dec. 31, 1940, decrees transferred this responsibility to the social welfare institutions of Soviet Lithuania. The J.D.C. appropriated a total of $575,000 for refugee relief in Lithuania.
“When exit visas began to be issued in large numbers at the beginning of 1941, the J.D.C. turned its attention from the relief program to the problem of emigration,” Beckelman said. “When I left on Feb. 21 the emigration process was still continuing, though the number of visas issued daily had decreased sharply because of difficulties in obtaining Japanese transit resulting from the jam of refugees then in Japan, awaiting further movement.
“When I arrived in Japan on March 23 there were about 1,700 refugees, chiefly in Kobe. The Japanese authorities, although sympathetic in their attitude and in many individual cases extremely helpful, took the stand that they could not permit further transit until the number of persons then in the country had been substantially reduced. The refugees were cared for under the auspices of the Jewish community of Kobe with funds provided by the J.D.C., which have up to now totalled $70,000. In an effort to relieve the congestion in Japan, a plan was prepared for the transmigration of approximately 500 persons, without other entrance visa prospects, to Shanghai. In this connection I went to Shanghai at the beginning of April. About 20,000 refugees are now in Shanghai, chiefly from the countries of Greater Germany.”