MOSCOW (May. 25)
In turbulent scenes that rocked the international press center here today, world famous author James A. Michener walked out of a news conference on the Soviet creative arts after charging a Soviet political and literary leader with “making fun of a very serious question”–the Jewish issue. The author was in a front row of the press center set up for the Soviet-American press summit conference, when he made the statement. Michener, who is not Jewish, is representing Readers Digest. He has been associated for long with Israel.
The Soviet speaker accused by Michener is Alexander B. Chakovsky, editor of the “Literary Gazette,” a member of the Supreme Soviet and a Jew. He was replying to a question by an American Jewish newsman pertaining to the absence of Jewish newspapers in the Soviet Union and the need to increase news about “other world Jewish communities.” In reply, Chakovsky started reading sarcastic passages about the Jewish issue from a 1935 satirical novel about the US, “The Golden Calf,” written by two Soviet Jews. The passages he read drew long applause and loud laughter from the Soviet journalists present in the hall. It was at this point that Michener walked out in anger and protest.
Chakovsky obviously came prepared to rebuff charges of Soviet discrimination against Jews and he used the question put to him as the anvil on which to hammer it. Typical of the atmosphere was the translator’s remark which accompanied the American journalist’s question – “Here comes the notorious Jewish question” – while Chakovsky responded with a quip in Russian that was partially lost in the laughter. He had apparently said, however, that Jews residing in the United States do not consider themselves as “citizens of the United States but of some kind of world-wide community.”
PAY ATTENTION TO AFFAIRS IN U.S.
Chakovsky also spoke of the Birobidjan newspaper, “The Star,” and Moscow’s “Sovietische Heimland.” He gave statistics on books published in Yiddish and of the Yiddish theater and musical groups. Chakovsky then turned to what he termed Jewish life in America, saying: “As far as I know acts of arson have occurred in 39 or 40 synagogues, 15 cemeteries, three centers and six schools.” Laughter followed this report.
Chakovsky also said, attributing his information to “our own correspondent,” that in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Jews complained of living in “a reign of terror.” After several more such reports, the Soviet journalist concluded: “It is high time you pay attention to affairs in your own country.”
A Soviet Jew, Aleksander Demschitz, a 60-year-old Soviet Jewish poet and critic, responded to a suggestion by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent that round table talks should be held between American and Soviet artists on the subject of Judaism. Demschitz said, “I know that we are prepared to discuss any questions beneficial to human beings. I must add that we Jews don’t have problems different from common problems facing the Soviet people as a whole.”