B’nai B’rith Leader Assesses Situation of Jews in Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey
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B’nai B’rith Leader Assesses Situation of Jews in Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey

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Jack Spitzer, president of B’nai B’rith International, who returned last Thursday night from a four-week visit to four countries in East Europe and Turkey, said here he found that Jews in those “isolated” communities feel it is important to have visits from American Jewish leaders.

Spitzer said he found “viable” Jewish communities in Hungary, with 100,000 Jews, in Rumaina, with 33,600, and in Turkey with 18,000 to 20,000 Jews. But in Poland, where the number of Jews has dwindled to 6,000-7,000, and Bulgaria, with only 5,300 Jews, Spitzer said there are only “remnant” communities which may disappear in the next 25 years. But he said the governments of all four Communist countries were pledged to maintain the Jewish culture that had existed in these countries for centuries.

The most immediate problem discussed by Spitzer at a press conference last Friday at B’nai B’rith headquarters was the most-favored-nation trade status for Rumania which the United States must renew annually. Foreign Minister Stefan Andre of Rumania is scheduled to come to Washington next year to discuss the MFN renewal with U.S. officials. The MFN status for Rumania is linked to the Jackson-Vanik amendment which requires proof of free emigration for Jews and others.


Spitzer said that even before he left for Europe, he presented the Rumanians with a list of 897 “hardship cases” who are seeking to emigrate to Israel. He said that when he met with Andre in Bucharest, he found that some 500 on the list had already been given exit visas. The B’nai B’rith leader said he discussed many of the cases with Andre, who said he was willing to cooperate.

Spitzer, who has represented the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations before Congress on this issue for the last two years, said he could not say now whether the Presidents Conference would recommend MFN approval for Rumania. He noted that of the 400,000 Rumanian Jews who had survived the Holocaust, 350,000 had emigrated to Israel. He said 49 percent of Rumania’s remaining Jews are over 60 years old.

In Poland, Spitzer said he received assurance from government officials that the Warsaw government is opposed to anti-Semitism despite the out-break of some recent anti-Semitic incidents.

He said that, on a visit to Auschwitz, he viewed with pleasure the sight of school children being taken on a tour of the former death camp. But he said he noticed with “dismay” that they were not taken to the Jewish pavilion. He said he received a promise from Minister of Religion Jerzy Kubresky that from now on, the Jewish pavilion will be the first stop on tours given school children.


Spitzer said that in Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, he urged government leaders to consider renewing diplomatic ties with Israel as the Rumanians did. He said in Hungary he found a large Jewish library and the only seminary for rabbis and cantors in Communist countries. Spitzer said he was interested to learn that although Bulgaria was occupied by the Germans in World War II, the Bulgarians did not turn over to the Nazis any of the 45,000 to 48,000 Bulgarian Jews.

In Turkey, Spitzer said he felt that the Jewish community had been given new life by the military takeover last September. He said most Jews thought it was a necessary step to prevent anarchy either from the left or the religious Moslem right. Spitzer said he felt that democracy would be restored soon to Turkey as it had been after previous military takeovers.

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