Will the Soviet government permit its Jews to be reunited with their relatives in the United States along the same lines as the reunification of Soviet Jews with their relatives in Israel now taking place in a very limited way? This question is now being posed, following the statement by Attorney General John Mitchell that the US will admit Soviet Jews as refugees under the “parole procedure” if the Moscow government permits their departure. It was due to quiet negotiations conducted in Washington by Max M. Fisher, president of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, that the Mitchell statement came about.
In his negotiations, Fisher had the full backing of all major Jewish organizations in this country and acted on their behalf. Prior to the Mitchell statement, the problem of reuniting Soviet Jews with their families in the United States hinged on two questions: 1. Will Moscow permit the Jewish relatives to proceed to the United States? 2. Will the US admit them? The Attorney General cleared up the second questions. The answer to the first question will have to come from Moscow. Under international obligations signed by the Soviet government, the Kremlin cannot ignore reunification of families, if proper affidavits–known in Russia as “Vysovs”–are sent by persons in the United States to relatives in the Soviet Union.
However, it can refuse an exit permit to the concerned Soviet Jew under various excuses. It can also “freeze” applications for exit permits for many months, if not years. It can also use various methods to “convince” the concerned applicant that he should withdraw his application. In the case of emigration of relatives to Israel–as is the case also of emigration of Greek Soviet citizens who Moscow permits quietly to leave for Greece–the explanation given by the Soviet authorities to the local population, for whom the gates of the Soviet Union are hermetically sealed. Is that Jews and Greeks are permitted to be reunited with their families abroad as a “humanitarian act” because they are emigrating to their national homeland.
This explanation cannot be given in the case of Soviet Jews seeking emigration to the United States, since the US is not their national homeland. There are also other problems which the Soviet government may face which do not exist in the case of permitting Soviet Jews to leave for Israel. No non-Jew in the Soviet Union would think of emigrating to Israel. However, many thousands of non-Jews would be only too happy to be reunited with their relatives in the United States. This is expecially true with regard to Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Estonians who have large numbers of relatives in the United States; they are not being discriminated against as is the case with the Jews, and whether they would qualify as refugees is a different story.
ZIG-ZAGS IN EMIGRATION POLICY
One needs, therefore, not to be too optimistic about the possibility of a favorable response from Moscow to the American challenge to permit emigration of Jews for the reunification of families. However, one need also not be too pessimistic. Even prior to Mitchell’s statement, the Soviet authorities permitted Jews, here and there, to rejoin relatives in the United States. This was done in a very quiet way and in just a few cases. A few Jewish families from Carpatho-Russia arrived recently in the US and there is even a case of a Moscow-born Jewish engineer who was given permission to emigrate to the United States–probably the first such case. Carpatho-Russia, which was before World War II a part of Czechoslovakia, is now a part of the Soviet Ukraine.
History of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union knows of zig-zags and is the Communist policy with regard to permitting Jews to leave the country. In the very first years of the Communist Revolution no emigration from the Soviet Union was possible. Later, permission was granted to a number of Jewish intellectuals–including the nationally renowned Jewish poet Ch. N. Bialik–to emigrate to Palestine. Others received permission to leave for Western Europe and they made Berlin their Jewish cultural center. Following this brief interval, the Soviet Union was again closed to Jewish emigration. But about 10 years later, members of the then still-existing Chalutzim colonies in Crimea were permitted to emigrate to Palestine.
No further emigration of Jews was permitted since then till the present emigration of Jews to Israel under the reunification of families pledge given by the Soviet government to the United Nations and its signing of international obligations to this effect. Will the Soviet government keep this pledge also with regard to Soviet Jews wishing to join their relatives in the United States?…Time will give the answer. In the meantime, American Jews intending to bring over relatives from the Soviet Union should secure the proper information from the United Hias Service on the formalities. Who knows?…Maybe the forthcoming visit of President Nixon to Moscow will soften the Kremlin to permit Jewish emigration to the US along the same lines as it is done now for emigration to Israel. Maybe!…