International P.e.n. Congress Refuses to Act on Rights for Soviet Jews
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International P.e.n. Congress Refuses to Act on Rights for Soviet Jews

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The presidium of the International P.E.N. Congress, meeting now in New York with more than 600 writers from 55 countries in attendance, has refused to put on its agenda a proposal by the Yiddish P.E.N. Center that the Soviet Union be requested to permit full rights to Soviet Jews to practice, pursue and develop Jewish culture in the USSR.

The International P.E.N. organization of poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists in all languages, is headed by Arthur Miller, the noted American Jewish playwright. President of the Yiddish P.E.N. Center is Aaron Glanz-Leyeless, of New York, one of the world’s leading Yiddish poets. The rejection of the Yiddish group’s proposed resolution took place at a meeting of the Congress presidium, which included leading delegates from all over the world, as well as members of the International P.E.N. executive committee.

The resolution dealing with Soviet suppression of Jewish culture was introduced by Mr. Glanz-Leyeless; Dr. Israel Knox. vice-president of the Yiddish Center, who is associate professor of philosophy at New York University; and Joseph Leftwich, of Britain, a well-known writer. Among its principal opponents, during a heated debate, were Mr. Miller; Elmer Rice, another prominent American playwright, who is also a Jew; and David Carver, of Britain, general-secretary of the International P.E.N. The resolution would have had the world organization demand that the Soviet Union.

Give full rights to the practice, pursuit, development and publication of Jewish literature in the USSR; open Jewish schools and theaters; permit the publication of Yiddish newspapers and books; permit the teaching and learning of the Hebrew language; and grant to Jews in the USSR religious rights equal to those permitted to other minorities in the Soviet Union.


The chief arguments against placing the resolution on the agenda were to the effect that insufficient proof had been adduced showing the suppression of Jewish culture in the USSR, and that the Soviet Union is not the only country in the world where minorities are denied full and equal rights.

An amendment proposed by the Belgian P.E.N. Center requested that the entire question of suppression of minority rights in various countries, including Belgium and Spain, be probed by the Congress. The amendment and the original resolution moved by the Yiddish group were rejected by a small majority. It was noted, however, that many members were absent and many others abstained in the voting on the issue.

In the debate, the proponents of the original resolution told the presidium that they are not opposed to a consideration of the general denial of equal cultural rights to minorities in any country, but insisted on consideration of the specific suppression of Jewish cultural rights in the USSR.

Dr. Knox pointed out the undenied facts about the purges of Jewish writers and other Jewish intellectuals in the USSR, and the destruction of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union. He spoke of the “tragedy” of the liquidation of Jewish culture in the USSR which, he maintained, has not been equaled anywhere else in the world. He noted that, while there are cultural suppressions for minorities in Belgium, the latter is a democratic country, whereas the Soviet Union is a dictatorship.

Mr. Miller, conceding that Jewish cultural rights have been suppressed in the USSR, noted that, in Spain, the Catalonian culture is also being suppressed. Regarding the situation of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, he said, after the Yiddish group’s draft resolution was defeated, he had himself attempted to intervene on that issue with “significant personalities,” in an effort to improve the situation of Russian Jewry. The P.E.N. Congress, he stated, has no authoritative powers, and there are no Government representatives in attendance at the Congress.

Mr. Glanz-Leyeless stated after the session that he “regrets” that the majority of the Presidium members had not given sufficient moral support to the resolution proposed by the Yiddish Center. Mr. Carver told several members of the Yiddish group that he will make an effort to have the issue reconsidered at further sessions of the Congress, which is continuing until Saturday.

Mr. Miller, in his opening presidential address, did refer to the Soviet Union. But his remarks were directed only at the failure of the USSR to permit a Soviet delegation to attend the Congress. That negative move, he declared, was evidently motivated by fears that the Congress would criticize the Soviet Union for the harsh treatment accorded two Soviet writers, Andrei D. Sinyavsky and Yuli M. Daniel. These authors were recently convicted in a Moscow court and given long prison sentences for smuggling abroad works deemed to be anti-Soviet.

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