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American Jewish Committee Meets with Mikoyan on Fate of Soviet Jewry

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Anastas I. Mikoyan, Soviet First Deputy Premier, and the Soviet Ambassador to the United States Mikhail A. Menshikov, met at a luncheon conference here today with four top leaders of the American Jewish Committee.

The principal subject discussed at the meeting was the situation of the estimated 3, 000, 000 Jews in the Soviet Union, their cultural and religious institutions, their status, minority rights, and related matters. One of the specific topics of grave concern expressed by the Committee to the Soviet officials involved reports that a large-scale movement of Soviet Jews to Biro-Bidjan in Siberia may be proposed to the Soviet Party Communist Congress, opening January 27, in Moscow.

Conferring with the Soviet Deputy Premier and the Ambassador were: Former Herbert H. Lehman, honorary vice president of the American Jewish Committee; Irving M. Engel, president of the Committee; Jacob Blaustein, honorary president of the Committee; and Ralph Friedman, chairman of the AJC foreign affairs committee.

During the conference Mr. Mikoyan said that the Soviet Government has no intention of setting up any separate region of Jews in Biro-Bidjan. However, he did not indicate whether his reply meant that the question of transferring Jews to Biro-Bidjan would not come up at the forthcoming congress of the Communist Party in Moscow.

The full text of the statement by the American Jewish Committee on the Biro-Bidjan situation, reads:

“Recent published reports from reliable sources indicate that at the forthcoming Twenty-first Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union next January, a renewed plan for the settlement of a large number of Jewish citizens of that country in the so-called ‘Autonomous Jewish Region’ of Biro-Bidjan will be presented. These reports have not been refuted by any responsible Soviet source.

“The history of the original Biro-Bidjan settlement itself presages the failure of any attempt directed at further voluntary resettlement. The fundamental right of the individual to preserve or to change his dwelling place and cultural environment in accordance with his own needs and aspirations has been sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The basic obstacle with regard to Biro-Bidjan consists in the inherent artificiality of the idea of settling an urban European element in a primitive Asian area adjacent to the Chinese border, to which no historic, sociological and spiritual ties bind them. Spontaneous interest in this kind of project can only be very sporadic at best. In the case of Biro-Bidjan, even the last traces of such interest have been wiped out by the failure of the original scheme, and particularly by the repeated purges, in 1937-39 and 1948-53, of its Jewish leaders.

STRESS OPPOSITION TO OPEN OR DISGUISED PRESSURE ON SOVIET JEWS

“Today, Jews constitute only one-fifth of the population of this so-called ‘Autonomous Jewish Region’ in which almost all expressions of Jewish cultural life such as schools, theatres, publishing houses, have been suppressed. The renewal of the scheme would, therefore, be completely devoid of any incentive for Jews to accept voluntarily the enormous sacrifices and burdens involved. This means that if the project is undertaken in the absence of genuine interest on the part of Jews, it can clearly be carried out only by means of overt or covert compulsion.

“Regarding the nature of compulsory transfers of populations, there should be no difference of opinion. In his Special Report to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mr. Khrushchev himself stated: “More monstrous are the acts whose initiator was Stalin and which are rude violations of the basic Leninist principles of the nationality policy of the Soviet state. We refer to the mass deportations from their native places of whole nations, together with all Communists and Komsomols, without any exception.’

“The American Jewish Committee urges that no transfers of populations by compulsion, direct or indirect, of Jews or others be undertaken in the Soviet Union; that, in particular, Jewish citizens of that country will not be forced by open or disguised pressure to leave their present homes, and that, above all, only such proposals be entertained for the future of Soviet Jewry as are entirely compatible with the exercise of free choice by the individual.

“We sincerely trust that the disturbing reports will prove unfounded and that such measures, if contemplated, will not be undertaken by the Soviet authorities.”

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