LONDON (Jan. 13)
Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, speaking at a meeting in Moscow of leading writers, artists, musicians and high government officials, expressed his opinion that it is better for Jews not to hold top positions in Soviet government offices, because “this only provokes popular resentment.”
The meeting, according to a report in Sunday Observer, written by Edward Crankshaw, a foremost expert on Soviet affairs, took place in Moscow last month and was called primarily to discuss Soviet writing, art and music. However, it turned out to have been taken up largely with bitter arguments about anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
The view that it was best to avoid placing Jews in top government positions was already conveyed by Mr. Khrushchev to leaders of Poland and Hungary, back in 1956. That was the year when the Soviet Premier visited Poland to prevent an anti-Communist revolt there and when the revolt in Communist Hungary was crushed by the Russian army, Mr. Khrushchev said that, in his view, the revolts in Poland and Hungary were largely due to the presence of “too many Jews” in top government posts.
The Moscow meeting, held December 17, was widely publicized by the Soviet press, but none of the details about the debate on anti-Semitism was made public. The Soviet Government, wrote Mr. Crankshaw, had been advised by certain leaders of satellite governments that the latest Russian drive against Jews had created “a poor impression in the outside world.” The satellite leaders, according to Mr. Crankshaw, referred to the arrests of rabbis and other Jewish leaders on charges of currency speculation, and the continued closing of synagogues in the Soviet Union.
HOW THE DEBATE ON ANTI-SEMITISM STARTED AT THE MOSCOW MEETING
The debate on anti-Semitism, according to Mr. Crankshaw, was caused by an attack by the Communist Party’s chief propagandist, Hychev, against the composer Shostakovich for using the famous Yevgeny Yevtushenko poem, Babi Yar, in connection with his latest major composition, the Thirteenth Symphony. Babi Yar had been widely interpreted in the West as a condemnation of continuing Soviet anti-Semitism. It dealt with the ravine in Kiev where at least 40, 000 Jewish men, women and children had been buried in mass graves after a wholesale massacre of Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of Kiev in World War II.
Not only was Shostakovitch attacked during the Moscow meeting, but there were also violent personal attacks against Ilya Ehrenburg, the veteran Soviet Jewish author. After the debate on anti-Semitism, Mr. Crankshaw reported, Mr. Khrushchev assured Ehrenburg that the attacks were not directed personally against the writer. “You must understand,” the Premier reportedly told Ehrenburg. “that, as a professional politician, I must take things as I find them, and warn against dangers.”
Mr. Khreshchev was also quoted by Mr. Crankshaw as asserting, “half defensively and half aggressively,” that there was no more anti-Semitism in Russia because “the nationalities question has been solved.” “There is only individual anti-Semitism” in Russia now, Mr. Khrushchev was quoted as saying.
SYNAGOGUES IN 10 CITIES WITH LARGE JEWISH POPULATION CLOSED DOWN
“These words do not ring quite true,” wrote Mr. Crankshaw, “in view of the sustained attacks, increasing all through 1962, against Jewish culture and against Jewish religious observances. At least 10 important centers of Jewish population have had their synagogues closed down in recent months, making a total of at least 60 closings of synagogues since 1959, More than 60 per cent of the published total of persons shot for ‘speculation’ and similar activities have been Jews.”
In some of the trials for “economic crimes,” Mr. Crankshaw noted, “synagogues were described as meeting places for crooks and speculators.” In addition to the very recent shutdown of the synagogues at Lvov, stated Mr. Crankshaw, other Jewish houses of worship closed last year included the one at Sverdlovsk, where there are 40,000 Jews; Zhitomir, with 30, 000 Jews; Kazan, with 25, 000 Jews; Grozny, with 12, 000; and many others. In many places, Jews who had met for religious services in private homes were “dispersed” by police and “pilloried,” Mr. Crankshaw reported.
Yevtushenko, meanwhile, has denied reports that he had re-written his Babi Yar poem to fit Communist Party line, “I have not changed the poem,” he was reported as saying, “I have expanded and supplemented it a little,” A new section of his poem, according to a Moscow report, tells about a Russian, non-Jewish woman who had sacrificed her life to save the lives of two “Jewish children during the Nazi occupation. The Soviet Premier, in making his comment on anti-Semitism in Russia, told the meeting that Babi Yar had magnified the “isolated cases” of anti-Semitism all out of proportion.