At the Wjcongress in Budapest: Bronfman Expresses Cautious Optimism on the Future of Soviet Jewry
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At the Wjcongress in Budapest: Bronfman Expresses Cautious Optimism on the Future of Soviet Jewry

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World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman expressed “cautious optimism” on the future of Soviet Jewry as he opened the enlarged WJC Executive meeting here Wednesday. He said the Soviet Union leaders with whom he met during his recent trip to Moscow have promised to examine in a favorable spirit requests for shipments of Jewish books and religious material to Russia.

A WJC spokesman later said that a first list of such books and items has already been handed over to the Soviet authorities and that additional lists of requested books will be submitted in the near future.

Bronfman also told the 92 delegates from 26 countries that he has started to feel a “better climate” which, he said, he hoped would lead to a relaxation of East-West tensions and overall improved atmosphere which would have beneficial consequences for Soviet Jewry.

The WJC president did not specify what he would consider a significant change. He mentioned, however, as encouraging, the figure of close to 800 Jews who were allowed to leave the Soviet Union last month. “This figure could and should be increased to 900 and then to 1,200 per month,” Bronfman said.


The conference opened with a unanimous vote of congratulations addressed to U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese and the U.S. government “for having put Kurt Waldheim on the ‘Watch List’ and barring his entry into the United States.”

The resolution, which was voted by a show of hands, was seconded by the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in West Germany, Nahman Werner, who had earlier expressed his disagreement with an overly harsh condemnation of the former U.S. Secretary General “unless some of the evidence on which the decision was based is made public.”


Werner and several of the Austrian delegates continued to lobby for setting up an international commission of investigation to study the documents pertaining to Waldheim’s wartime activities.

Werner told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “If he was a war criminal, barring him from entering the United States is far from enough. If he is innocent, however, this is too harsh. An international commission should study all the pertinent facts and inform public opinion.” Werner said he had no opinion on who should appoint the commission nor on how it should proceed. “This is up to the governments concerned,” he said.

The conference also heard reports on Catholic-Jewish relations, the result of the negotiations with the Polish church and other Catholic dignitaries on the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, and the future of Catholic-Jewish ties.

The rapporteur, Dr. Gerhard Riegner, stressed that Catholic-Jewish relations “will be further improved when the Vatican will recognize the State of Israel and establish full, normal diplomatic relations with it.”

Bronfman called on Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Varkonyi Wednesday morning and was scheduled to meet later in the day with the President. Other delegates met with a number of Ministers with whom they discussed East-West relations, the Middle East situation and the situation of Soviet Jewry. A spokesman for Bronfman later said that the WJC president had told the Hungarians that he is in favor of an international peace conference on the Middle East.

Addressing a press conference later, Bronfman said that he and the WJC were opposed to the lifting of the Most Favored Nation status from Rumania. He described the Rumanian regime as “the most repressive one we know” but added that on the other hand the country’s remaining 23,000 Jews enjoy a certain number of privileges and that their overwhelming majority had been allowed to emigrate to Israel.


Bronfman also said that as far as he is concerned “the Waldheim case is now closed.” He added “our task should now be to work towards a reconciliation between the Austrian people and the Jews.” The WJC president said that he hoped he will meet the Austrian chancellor, Franz Vranitzky, who is due to visit the U.S. later this month. “I know that he wants to see me and I want to see him,” Bronfman said.

Told that Waldheim is planning to sue him, Bronfman said “being denied entry into the United States, he can not sue me in America, but to make it easier for him I am prepared to go to Vienna so that he can sue me there.”

Bronfman plans to visit the Soviet Union next month but refused to say whom he plans to meet and what issues he plans to raise during his meetings there.

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