Soviet Restrictions Against Jews Discussed at London Conference
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Soviet Restrictions Against Jews Discussed at London Conference

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Sharp condemnation of restrictions and discriminations against Jews in the Soviet Union, especially in regard to religious practices and cultural aspirations, were voiced here today at a conference of leading British political and intellectual figures, non-Jewish as well as Jewish.

At the conclusion of a series of reports, many of them based on personal observations and experiences in the USSR, the conference adopted a resolution which:

1. Enumerated many anti-Jewish articles in the controlled Russian press.

2. Listed restrictions on the practice of religious rights by Jews in the Soviet Union.

3. Condemned the limitation of Jewish cultural activity in Russia.

4. Pointed out that Russian Jews were “forcibly separated” from other members of their families outside the USSR and appealed to the Soviet authorities “not to remain insensitive to the voice of public opinion in this matter.”

The conference had been summoned by two members of Parliament, Richard Crossman and Lord Boothby, and by Israel M. Sieff, prominent Anglo-Jewish leader. Emanuel Litvinov, British author who visited the Soviet Union, presided. He gave the conference a detailed report on the situation of Soviet Jewry. He declared that “individual Jews” were rehabilitated after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, “but nothing was said about the in justice done to the Jews as a group.”


Soviet authorities deny that there is discrimination against Jews, Mr. Litvinoff said, “but a half million Jews who declared in the last census that Yiddish is their mother-tongue have almost no press or books, while about the same number of the small sect of Maris living in the USSR have 17 newspapers.” He pointed out that there are only 233,000 Yakuts in the Soviet Union, and these people have 28 newspapers. “At the same time.” he said, “Russian Jews are hungry for culture.”

Every publication in Yiddish, said the author, is “snatched from the bookstall as soon as it appears.” Yet, he said, many Russian. Jews still wait for copies of “Soviet-isch Heimland,” the new Yiddish periodical published recently, which was issued only in 20,000 copies.

“There is also anti-Semitism in many areas,” Mr. Litvinoff continued, “though it is often disguised as anti-religious propaganda. The synagogue remains the only Jewish address,” While the Baptists, he said, have one chapel for 1,100 congregants, there is only one synagogue for 20,000 Jewish worshipers.

Turning finally to Russia’s ban on emigration, he said: “The inability of members of Russian Jewish families to be reunited with members of their families in Israel has created many tragedies. The Jewish problem in Russia remains unsolved, 44 years after the revolution.”

The only non-British participant in the conference, Manus Sperber, a well-known French author, told the conference: “The Russian Jews remain a people, whatever the Soviet theory may be. Many of them live as the Marranos did, as far as their Jewishness is concerned, though they are free as citizens by and large. I hear from friends who talked with Khrushchev that he is obsessed by the Jewish question, and returns to it again and again, so that he himself denied any sense of discrimination.”


Max Hayward, of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, said: “We have an ally in this fight for Russian Jews in the Russian intelligentsia, some of whom are as disgusted as we are. But anti-Semitic excesses could break out under certain conditions. In fact, some small incidents have occurred from time to time.” He said he, himself, was “assaulted as a Jew,” although he is not Jewish.

Sir Leslie Plummer, a member of Parliament, juxtaposed the situation of the Jews in Russia and in Poland. In Poland, he said, the towns are free of anti-Semitism, while peasant communities remain anti-Semitic, But in Russia, he declared, agricultural collectives are free from anti-Semitism, while the urban populations are anti-Semitic. “We must mobilize world opinion,” he said. “Not in the cold-war sense, but only in regard to the Russian treatment of Jews.”

Reverend W. Simpson, of the British Council of Christians and Jews, told the conference: “We must try to avoid getting involved in wider issues. Our purpose is to demand, in the name of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the name of civilization generally, the right for Russian Jews to live their cultural and religious life like other Soviet nationalities.”

A hope that Russia might allow its Jews to emigrate was expressed by another parliamentary speaker, Marcus Lipton; Pointing out that China had allowed Jews to leave “because they simply did not fit into the Chinese revolution,” he said “some Russian Jews may not fit in perhaps–we may hope that the Russians will emulate the Chinese example.”

A former Russian who addressed the conference, S.B. Utechkin, stated: “When I lived in Russia in my boyhood, I was not even aware of the Jewish problem. I learned about it later. As a Russian, I am ashamed I did not know about it before and I am sure many Russians feel the same, whatever their political outlook or wherever they are. This is why drawing attention to the problem is important.”

Novelist Wolf Mankowitz said a group of writers has written to the Soviet Writers Union about the situation of Russian Jews, but has received no answer thus far. “We know, however,” he declared, “that many of our colleagues in Russia are as perturbed by anti-Semitism in their country as we are.” At times, he said, Russian provincial newspapers “stoop to the obscene levels of the ‘blood libel’ and the Streicher technique, like printing cartoons showing a swastika encircled by Stars of David.”

Alex Nove, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, said anti-Semitism is “deeply rooted in Russia, and has many ways of manifesting itself.” Strangely enough,” he said, “it has increased since the end of World War II.” Jacob Miller, of Glasgow University, warned that “incredible as it may seem, pogroms could occur in Russia under certain circumstances, though such manifestations might give the authorities a shock.”

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