WASHINGTON (Jun. 2)
Rep. Edward I. Koch has attacked Aron Vergelis, Editor-in-Chief of Sovietisch Heimland, the only Yiddish publication in the Soviet Union, as the Soviet “house Jew” for denying the existence of Soviet anti-Semitism and Soviet repression of Jewish cultural and religious life. In a letter sent to Vergelis at his Moscow home, the New York Democrat wrote: “I was not astonished by your statement which appeared in the New York Times of May 21 defending Soviet policy toward the Jews. I can understand why you do what you do. It is without malice that I say you are the ‘house Jew.'” Vergelis, in his article which appeared in the Op-Ed page of the N.Y. Times, also denied that the Soviet Union refused emigration visas to those who sought them, and stated that Jewish authors published many books each year, that there were many Yiddish theatrical companies in Soviet cities, and that Yiddish songs were recorded and widely distributed among the Jewish people.
In his letter, sent May 27 and released publicly today, Koch recalled that on his recent trip to the Soviet Union, Vergelis had told him that Jewish youths were not permitted to attend all-day Yiddish schools or attend Yiddish schools after the regular school day because “it would be divisive if Jews went to Jewish schools.” Yet, Koch noted, “it is apparently not divisive for Uzbeks to attend their own schools.” The letter continued, “(When) I asked you why the Soviet Union refuses to permit Jews who wish to emigrate to do so, your reply was that anyone can freely leave the Soviet Union. I said,” Koch noted, “Mr. Vergelis, that is simply not true.” Koch contrasted Vergelis’ “complacent attitude” towards his fellow Jews with his experiences at the Moscow Synagogue where he attended services. When the congregants learned he was a visiting American Congressman, he wrote, they pleaded in Yiddish with tears streaming down their cheeks, “Help us, help us.” All around me, he added, “people whispered, ‘Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, we want to go to Yerushalayim, help us.'” Koch concluded by writing, “Mr. Vergelis, God will forgive you because the flesh is weak and He knows it. Many of your brethren whose lot you have made even more difficult, will not.”