WASHINGTON (Jul. 24)
Rep. Martin Frost (D. Texas), who has just returned from his first trip to the Soviet Union concludes that it is difficult to speculate on when conditions for Jews in the USSR will improve.
But he believes two things must continue to go on in the United States to help them. “First, it is absolutely imperative that our government should continue to raise the question of human rights in a forceful manner in all discussions with the Soviets and should make it clear that we expect progress in return for cooperation in other areas,” he said.
“Second, it is important that the American Jews continue to maintain contact with Jews in the Soviet Union. We cannot perform miracles for them, but we can try to sustain their hope and let them know they are not alone.”
Frost and his wife, Valerie, who were denied visas by the Soviet Union last fall, made the trip as part of a 20-member bipartisan House delegation which went to the USSR to conduct a series of meetings with the Supreme Soviet. The delegation led by Rep. Thomas Foley (D. Wash.), the House Majority Whip, visited Leningrad, Moscow and Yerevan in Soviet Armenia from July 1 through July 10.
In addition to Frost, three other members of the delegation were Jews: Reps. Henry Waxman and Anthony Beilenson, both Democrats of California, and Dan Glickman (D. Kan.).
RAISES A HOST OF ISSUES
During the opening meeting with the Supreme Soviet, Waxman raised the issue of Soviet Jewry, listed the case of individual refuseniks, criticized the barriers to emigration and protested the new Soviet anti-Zionism committee. He also raised the question of discrimination against Baptists and other Christian believers.
Several Congressmen in the delegation have reported that while the Soviets were attentive to the Americans they were rude to Waxman when he brought up the issue of Jews, and several could be seen taking out their ear plugs in which they heard the translations from English.
The next day, when the delegation was broken up into working groups, Waxman and Frost pressed the issue of anti-Semitism and barriers to emigration at the human rights working group. The Soviets claimed that “virtually everyone” who wanted to emigrate had left and that “there is a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” Frost said.
He said the Soviets had two Jews on the human rights committee, Lev Shapiro and Genrikas Zimanas. “I had a particularly poignant discussion with Zimanas, who came from Lithuania where part of my family and part of my wife’s family originally lived,” Frost said.
“I asked him how he could stand idly by while the Soviet government accused Jews of having collaborated with Hitler during World War II. Zimanas clearly had trouble with the question and could only respond that some Jews stayed in the ghetto and did not resist the Nazis during World War II. I responded that there is a big difference between not resisting and collaboration.”
Almost all members of the delegation met with refuseniks in Moscow and Leningrad and the wives of the Congressmen had a meeting with a group of refusenik scientists. Frost said these were “moving” experiences. “We met engineers who were forced to take jobs as boiler stokers or attendants in a public bath,” he said. “We met a leading Soviet mathematician who had just lost his teaching position. And we met a leading concert pianist who was having great trouble finding work.”
The refuseniks’greatest concern was for their children. Frost said. “While things had been tough for them personally, they had, for the most part, been able to get an education and pursue a particular profession, ” he explained.”Now, their children were being denied positions in most universities, and there was absolutely no future for them in the Soviet Union.”
A REBIRTH OF JUDAISM
At the same time, according to Frost, “it was clear from our discussions that there is a rebirth of Judaism among many of the refuseniks. Many are studying Hebrew and are anxious to receive any religious materials. They proudly wore small Jewish stars or other symbols and had Jewish items on display in their small apartments.”
Frost pointed out that the Congressmen were able to bring in books in Hebrew and religious articles while most American tourists cannot. “We were given the red-carpet treatment because the Soviets wanted dialogue on arms control and trade to continue,” he said. But the Congressmen stressed to the Soviets that they should expect progress in these areas to be linked to progress on human rights.