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Moscow Jewish Center Opens As Soviets Soften History

The opening of a Jewish cultural center in Moscow Sunday night was preceded by a flurry of statements by Soviet officials, signifying the lifting of decades-old restrictions on the expression of Jewish culture and the granting of official legitimacy to a viable Jewish life in the Soviet Union.

The center, the first in the Soviet Union since the days of Josef Stalin, was attended by delegates from around the world, including Soviet ambassadors from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France and Australia, as well as a group of Israeli diplomats.

The Solomon Mikhoels Center, most recently a movie theater near the center of Moscow, was addressed by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Weisel.

The theater was originally the Moscow Yiddish State Theater, of which Mikhoels was director.

There was no formal greeting from the Soviet government, although a member of the Foreign Ministry’s humanitarian affairs department and a member of the Cultural Ministry did attend the opening ceremonies.

Nevertheless, the last week saw again a change in how the Soviet Union is facing up to its past.

Last Thursday, two Soviet historians denounced Soviet anti-Zionist campaigning of the last twenty years, comparing it with Nazi anti-Semitism.

Sergei Rogov, who used to be a diplomat at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, and Vladimir Nosenko wrote an attack on this official anti-Semitism, saying it helped create the climate in which thousands of Jews have sought to emigrate.

In an article appearing Thursday in the newspaper Soviet Culture, Rogov and Nosenko said a leading anti-Zionist, Vladimir Begun, established the tone of government propaganda by seeking “to sow mistrust toward Soviet Jews.”

ANTI-SEMITISM STILL REMAINS

The historians also cited a virulent anti-Semitic article that was published in December in a reactionary journal, Nash Sovremennik. In writing this, they showed that the problem of anti-Semitism remains very strong even under Mikhail Gorbachev.

In another display of the lifting of restrictions in the Soviet Union, Soviet authorities signed an unprecedented agreement this month with the New York-based Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

The arrangement will permit Soviet Jewish cultural activists for the first time to accept grants from a Jewish foundation in the West.

Four initial grants have been approved. One goes to Mikhail Gluz, artistic director of the Jewish Musical Theater of Moscow, to write an original opera based on the life of Bar Kochba, the 2nd-century Jewish hero.

In addition, grants will enable Cantor Vladimir Pliss of Moscow’s Choral Synagogue to study in Israel; Zev Kuravsky, a teacher of Judaic studies at the synagogue, to study advanced Talmud in Brooklyn; and a Moscow Jewish cultural activist to study museum curatorship at a Jewish museum in the United States.

Also last week, Moscow news broadcast that the Soviet Supreme Court had voted in 1955 to rehabilitate the reputations of the members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee of the Soviet Union, most of whom were imprisoned and/or shot under Stalin’s orders.

This was the first time the crimes committed against these Jews was publicly acknowledged by Soviet authorities.

Moscow news, monitored by the BBC, reported Jan. 26 that the Politburo heard a report from the Soviet Supreme Court, which has been examining material on the subject of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the rehabilitation of its members.

The report, which was reprinted the following day in Pravda, said, “A check carried out in 1955 established that the charges against the members of the ‘Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee’ were fabricated.

“The USSR Supreme Court on 22nd November 1955 examined the USSR Procurator General’s conclusions on the so-called ‘Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee’ case and annulled the sentences against all those convicted in this case.”

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