WASHINGTON (Jan. 4)
Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson received today a delegation representing the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith to whom he expressed regret over the fact that his executive assistant Milan D. Smith released an anti-Semitic letter in connection with the dismissal of Wolf Ladejinsky from his post as agricultural economist for the U.S. Government.
The Secretary emphasized that anti-Semitism is abhorrent to him and that he repudiates the anti-Jewish implications in the letter, which was written by a White Russian emigre, George N. Vitt, who impugned the loyalty of American Jews of Russian origin. Present at the meeting today was Mr. Smith, who sought to deny that he had endorsed the anti-Semitic Vitt letter which he had released to the ress.
The Jewish delegation was headed by Henry Edward Schultz, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, and Murray Gurfein, member of the administrative committee of the American Jewish Committee. It also included Benjamin R. Epstein, national director of the ADL; Herman Edelsberg, ADL Washington representative; Edwin J. Lucas, director of national affairs of the American Jewish Committee, and Nathaniel H, Goodrich, AJC Washington counsel.
Following their talks with Secretary Benson, Mr. Schultz and Mr. Gurfein issued the following statement.
“We came to see the Secretary of Agriculture at his invitation to discuss with him the overtones of the Ladejinsky matter. We expressed our deep concern that the unfortunate release of the Vitt letter had raised questions in people’s minds about the injection of religious prejudice in the determination of Ladejinsky’s status.
“The Secretary stated that the religious question played no part in that decision. He regretted the release of the Vitt letter and repudiated its anti-Semitic implications. He stated that anti-Semitism is abhorrent to him and that he would never countenance it in his Department. We urged Secretary Benson in view of all the circumstances, to reopen and reconsider the whole Ladejinsky case as the Navy did in the Chasanow matter.”
White House press secretary James Hagerty was asked today if the Ladejinsky case was now before President Eisenhower. He declined to answer but did say that Secretary Benson had discussed it with Sherman Adams, the President’s assistant. It is understood that Mr. Benson made no commitments to the Jewish delegation as to whether he would reopen the Ladejinsky case.
Joseph Barr, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans, who had announced earlier that he would discuss with President Eisenhower the anti-Semitic overtones of the Ladejinsky case, was received today by the President, but declared later that he had not had an opportunity to discuss the Ladejinsky affair with him.