800 Delegates Begin World Conference on Soviet Jewry; Theme is ‘let My People Go’
Menu JTA Search

800 Delegates Begin World Conference on Soviet Jewry; Theme is ‘let My People Go’

Download PDF for this date

Eight hundred delegates representing Jewish communities in some 50 countries filed into the Palais Des Congress here this afternoon to attend the world conference on Soviet Jewry, the theme of which was stated on a huge banner stretched across the hall bearing the words, “Let My People Go.” The opening session was devoted to highly dramatic proclamations of the unity of the Jewish people with the Jews of Russia. Several recent Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union who came here as part of the Israeli delegation, spoke of an “awakening” of Soviet Jewry. The one concrete proposal to emerge from the initial session came from Mrs. Raya Yaglom, president of the world Wizo who heads a delegation composed of the Wizo presidents from Britain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Holland. She told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she would propose that the conference elect an all-Jewish delegation to go to the Soviet Union to discuss the condition of Russian Jews with government authorities and with whatever Soviet Jews were available for such discussions. Mrs. Yaglom said she was aware that the Soviet authorities might refuse to receive such a delegation but she didn’t think that should deter the conference from electing one. The opening session heard from Maj. Grischa Feigin, a former Soviet Air Force officer, Vitaly Svechinsky, a scientist and Dr. Mendel Gordin, a biochemist, all recent arrivals in Israel from Russia.

They presented no first hand accounts of Jewish life in the USSR but gave ardent testimonials to Jewish self-assertiveness in that country. Feigin said the Soviet regime was bound to pay heed to world public opinion. He said the solidarity of world Jewry with Russian Jews “is very vital to them. They are now awakening and they draw great comfort and power from this solidarity.” Svechinsky said, “It is too late to suppress Soviet Jews. They have asserted themselves and will fight for the right to be Jewish to the last Jew. If only one remains, he will strive to reach Israel.” Rabbi Herschel Schacter, chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, who presided at the initial session, said the conference had gathered to “proclaim, first of all, the unity of the Jewish people.” He said, “We are gathered to speak on behalf of one party of Jewry which is not free to speak.” Replying to Soviet charges that the conference organizers had insulted the Russian people by selecting Red Army Day to open their conference on Soviet Jews. Schacter said, “We pay homage to all the armies that fought against tyranny, including the Red Army. We are not here to denounce, challenge or argue. We are here to affirm our demand for human rights for Soviet Jews.” He added, “We are witnessing the end of an era. Soviet Jews themselves are no longer silent. Young Soviet Jews, effective and efficient members of their society, affirm their Jewishness before the whole world.”

Rabbi Israel Miller, president of the American Zionist Federation, said here today upon his arrival that the participants “have not come to Brussels to dispute the Soviet system of government, or its economic and political philosophy.” Neither, he added, was the conference a “debate” with Soviet authorities “over the extent of anti-Semitism which exists in Russia, for they will only deny its existence and try to convince the world that Jews are treated fairly there.” Rabbi Miller said the delegates were here to tell the world of “our concern for our brothers and sisters who today live unhappily under Russian rule,” and to tell the Russians to uphold their obligation to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which they agreed. “Before this international forum and for all the world to hear, we say: Grant freedom to those who wish to leave. Let our people go.” The same theme was sounded by Herman L. Weisman, president of the Zionist Organization of America. He declared that “Soviet Russia’s seeking to make martyrs of its Jewish citizens can never succed in suppressing the resurgent Zionism among the masses of Soviet Jews whose particular dream it is that they may go and settle in Israel.” Weisman said he is hopeful that the conference will have an impact upon world opinion which will lead thousands of humanitarians–Jew and Christian alike–to appreciate more fully the plight of Soviet Jewry.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund