NEW YORK (May. 21)
Twenty-two prominent American literary figures — including six winners of the Pulitzer Prize — today appealed to writers in the USSR to help restore cultural institutions denied the Jewish community of Soviet Russia. The appeal — signed by Ralph Ellison, Archibald MacLeish, Arthur Miller and 19 other leading American poets, novelists and critics — was contained in a 750-word letter to the fourth All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers, which opens in Moscow tomorrow.
The letter was drafted by Robert Penn Warren, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who is a sponsor of the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, a non-sectarian group. In their message to the Soviet literary congress, the American writers declared: “Historically in your country, probably more than in any other country’s literary tradition, the role of the writer has always transcended art. The writer has been, uniquely, social critic, intellectual goad, moral guide, tribune of the people’s conscience.”
It was in this spirit and as “bearers of a moral burden,” the letter continued, “that we turn to you now and ask you to consider the painful situation of Jewish literature and culture in the Soviet Union today.” The issue was “not just a cultural question, grave as that is, but a moral and historical one — directly affecting the Jewish fate and destiny and the conscience of Soviet society now and for the future,” the American writers declared.
The statement conceded that many Soviet Jews might wish “to assimilate voluntarily and fully into the Russian culture and abandon Jewish culture. “We would uphold their right to do so, and would seek to impose no obstacle to that choice,” the letter said, adding: “This indeed is precisely what we would urge — the possibility of choice, the availability of options. And there is not the slightest doubt that vast numbers of Soviet Jews wish to perpetuate their tradition and its cultural and moral values in viable forms compatible with Soviet life.”
Asserting that Soviet Jews have no remaining communal institutions, the American writers declared: “In this fundamental deprivation, they stand alone among the more than one hundred Soviet nationalities. Thus, uniquely, they face the threat of enforced assimilation.” The letter appealed to the Soviet writers as “guardians of your country’s moral heritage, to bring to bear your incalculable prestige and influence on behalf of the restoration of a wide range of cultural institutions for Soviet Jews.”
Other signers of the letter were Saul Bellow, Eric Bentley, John Ciardi, Babette Deutsch, James Dickey, John Hersey, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, Howard Nemerov, Norman Podhoretz, Maurice Samuel, Meyer Schapiro, Lionel Trilling, John Updike and Elie Wiesel.