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Jewish Leaders Testify in Washington on Moscow’s Treatment of Jews

A number of leaders of Jewish organizations and experts on the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union today gave compelling and detailed testimony on the plight of Soviet Jewry before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while a number of Congressmen indicated that direct intervention by the State Department on behalf of Soviet Jewry was essential.

Testifying before the subcommittee, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, representing the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry–a cooperative body of 24 major national Jewish, religious, civic and Zionist groups united to combat Soviet treatment of its Jewish population–presented for inclusion into the record a number of photographs, pamphlets, cartoons and other graphic material depicting the Soviet Union’s religious and cultural persecutions during the past number of years.”

Dr. Prinz told the members of the House that “only in one sense–in terms of ultimate purpose–may it be said that the policies of Hitlerism and of Soviet government towards Jews are all alike: both have sought the elimination of the Jewish presence in history: both have sought to remove Jews as a distinctive entity among the diversity of mankind; both have sought in our lifetimes to bring to a close the long Jewish experience and the stream of Jewish religious and cultural expression.”

Dr. Prinz expressed “deep regret” that both the Executive branch of our government and the State Department have been reluctant to press forward on “this humane question.” He said that the State Department “until now has been so strangely reticent and reluctant on the matter of Soviet Jewry. Despite mounting public opinion, unfortunately, the voice that could have proven the most telling was absent from the chorus of condemnation–the official voice of the government of the United States. To be sure, there have been expressions of sympathy by the State Department, but they have been couched in terms so vague and hesitant as to be virtually inaudible.”

In calling upon the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to adopt the resolutions on Soviet anti-Semitism before it, Dr. Prinz said: “We do not ask that the Soviet government compel Soviet Jews to manifest a contrived affinity for their Jewish heritage. We do not desire for Jews or anyone else to be coerced into a feeling of fellowship or identity that is not indigenous and authentic. But we challenge Soviet authorities to allow the establishment in the Soviet Union of a single Yiddish school, a Yiddish newspaper, a Yiddish theater, a Yiddish Publishing House as a means of demonstrating the response of Soviet Jews.”

WITNESSES ASKED ABOUT SOVIET MOTIVES FOR ANTI-JEWISH MEASURES

Committee members questioned witnesses on Soviet motives for anti-Jewish measures. One answer given was that Jews have relatives abroad, are considered alien, and are subjected to bias in efforts to destroy the Jews as a cultural and religious group.

Dr. Erich Goldhagen, director of the Institute on East European Affairs at Brandeis University, told the subcommittee that he could predict “with statistical accuracy” the “extinction of Jewish life in the Soviet Union if the government’s current policies continue.” He said that the restrictions imposed by the USSR on other religious groups in no way compares with the suppression of Jewish religious life.

Rabbi Meir Felman, representing the Synagogue Council of America (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism) added to the documentation of Jewish suppression by telling the subcommittee that many cemeteries had been desecrated and destroyed outright, and that permission to open new cemeteries is not being granted. The religious leader, who visited the Soviet Union last year, said “those who hold firmly to the tenets of their faith are many times subjected to violent diatribes.”

Dr. Joseph B. Schechtman, vice-chairman of the American Zionist Council, addressed himself to Soviet discrimination in government and legislation. “There is not a single Jew in the highest echelons of the Soviet government,” he said. “The last to be eliminated were Lev Mekhlis in 1950, and Lazar M. Kaganovich in 1957.” He said that in November 1962, a Jew, an engineer, Veniamin E. Dimshitz, was appointed to a non-political job as chairman of the Soviet State Planning Committee, and later to the rank of Deputy Premier.

“Jews are also strikingly underrepresented in the legislative bodies of the Soviet Union, and their representation is steadily shrinking.” Dr. Schechtman said. He noted: ‘In 1934, Jews comprised 4.1 percent of the membership of the two houses of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. By the end of 1947, there were 32 Jews out of a total of 596 (5.3 percent). Now, among the 5679 elected members, only 13 are Jews–0.22 percent–as against the Jewish population ratio of 1.09 percent, almost one-fifth of the proper percentage.”

Dr. Judd L. Teller, writer on Soviet Affairs, told the Representatives that “the circumstances which have persuaded the Soviet authorities to indulge in this practice are not very likely to change in the very near future; hence, unless checked by an outraged public opinion abroad, the Soviets might react to these circumstances by capitalizing even more on anti-Semitism as a political advantage.”

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