BUDAPEST (May. 5)
Jewish leaders from 26 countries, from both East and West, gathered here Tuesday for the opening Wednesday of the first major Jewish conference to be held in a Communist bloc country since the end of World War II.
The two-day meeting of the enlarged executive of the World Jewish Congress will symbolically examine the issue of Soviet Jewry and East-West relations.
The delegates will also gather at the foot of the statue erected for Raoul Wallenberg to lay a wreath in honor of the man who risked his life to save tens of thousands of Jews during the last days of the Nazi occupation of the city.
AN OPTIMISTIC ATMOSPHERE
The conference is opening in an optimistic atmosphere with delegates and WJC officials stressing that the meeting could probably not have taken place in a socialist country without at least the tacit approval of the Soviet Union.
Several delegates told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the conference’s location “must be seen as a proof of the change in atmosphere.” WJC officials also stressed that the Hungarian authorities went out of their way to facilitate the holding of the meeting and granting delegates all possible facilities.
WJC president Edgar Bronfman said Tuesday upon arriving in Budapest, “I am optimistic that under the new leadership (in Moscow) there are signs in the Soviet Union, straws in the wind, that bode well for Soviet Jews.”
SAYS LIFE BECOMING BETTER FOR SOVIET JEWS
Bronfman said that “life is becoming increasingly better for Soviet Jews” and added that he believes that Soviet Jewry might participate in WJC activities in the near future.
The WJC president said that Soviet Jews “will obviously first have to organize and this cannot be done without the Soviet government’s approval.” He said, “If all goes well they could participate in our activities, like Jews from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary do, in three to five years from now.”
Bronfman, who was greeted at the Budapest airport by the Hungarian Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs, Barnada Sarkadi Nagy, said that during his recent trip to the Soviet Union (together with Morris Abram) “I was given promises besides the promise that they (the Soviet leaders) will examine all the issues we would put to them.”
REACTION TO U.S. DECISION ON WALDHEIM
Asked about America’s decision to put Austrian President Kurt Waldheim on a “Watch List,” Bronfman stressed that “this was the decision of the U.S. government, based on the documentation it has–not ours.”
When pressed by the large Austrian and West German press contingent present for the meeting, Bronfman added: “I have seen enough of Waldheim’s initials and signatures on various documents to know that he was part and parcel of the Nazi killing machine.”
A LARGE ISRAELI DELEGATION PRESENT
A large Israeli delegation arrived in Budapest to attend the conference without encountering the slightest difficulty although most of its members, as well as the Israeli journalists accompanying it, arrived without Hungarian visas. Local observers said this was a clear indication of the government’s willingness to ease matters and provide the meeting with all possible courtesies.
The Budapest State Opera is opening its doors for a gala reception for the delegates, the city’s mayor is giving a party in their honor, and the Minister for Religious Affairs Imre Miklos will address a plenary meeting Wednesday afternoon. All these receptions and addresses are held publicly and openly with the press invited. “The Hungarian authorities have chosen to give the entire affair a high profile,” a WJC official told the JTA.
Thursday morning, the 92 delegates will attend the ceremony at Wallenberg’s statue. It is not yet known whether the Hungarian government will be represented. Officials here say that Wallenberg’s name clearly appears inscribed at the foot of the statue with the following Latin quotation translated into Hungarian: “While good fortune stands by your side, friends are plenty, but when grey clouds gather you are left alone to withstand the storm.”
In addition, Moscow Chief Rabbi Adolph Shayevich is due to arrive here Wednesday. He probably will attend the World Jewish Congress in an observer capacity, marking the first time that a Soviet Jew will attend a major Jewish meeting. The rabbi was invited to attend the graduation ceremony of the Jewish Theological Seminary here, of which he is himself a graduate, and the ceremony will coincide with the opening of the congress.