NEW YORK (Feb. 1)
There has been a sharp escalation of fear among Jews inside the Soviet Union, in the wake of new threats of violence by members of anti-Semitic groups, according to Soviet Jewry activists in the United States and Israel.
The growing concern over the possibility of violence is “heightened by economic deterioration and uncertainty” over the future of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, said Martin Wenick, national director of the National Conference on Soviet Jews.
But he cautioned against exaggerating the threat to Soviet Jews. While reports of threatened pogroms are disturbing, said Wenick, there does not appear to be any imminent danger to Jewish lives.
Whether the threats are legitimate or merely empty promises, they have ignited a very real sense of panic among Soviet Jews.
In activist circles, the word “evacuation” is becoming more common when discussing the need for stepped-up Jewish emigration.
A group of former Soviet Jewish prisoners of Zion released a statement in Israel this week stressing “the need for immediate evacuation of Soviet Jewry.”
The statement, signed by Yosef Begun, Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak, Yosef Mendelevich and others, noted with alarm that Soviet Jews receiving exit visas now must wait a year before they can leave for Israel, in part because of a shortage of flights leaving the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, “the strengthening of anti-Semitic groups, murders and the threat of pogroms have become the norm of life for Soviet Jewry,” the statement said.
THREATS OF POGROMS IN MAY
Fear among Soviet Jews peaked this past weekend when a member of the ultranationalist, virulently anti-Semitic group Pamyat predicted pogroms for May 5 during an appearance on the nationally televised program “Before and After Midnight.”
In Leningrad, where anti-Semitic activity is said to be widespread, a group called the Patriots reportedly has been handing out leaflets in the subway calling for a pogrom on May 13.
Another incident that has Jews worried occurred on Jan. 18, during a meeting at the Writers Union in Moscow. A group of 20 to 30 members of Pamyat reportedly disrupted the meeting, smashing the building’s windows and calling out epithets against Jews.
According to various accounts from both the National Conference and Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, the intruders threatened that while they carried only megaphones that day, they would eventually return with guns.
The local militia removed the perpetrators from the building, but did not arrest or punish them, reported Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils. She said she had been told that Pamyat members beat some of the writers.
The incident was reported on television and in newspapers, and the threats made against the Jews were included in the news reports.
“The population is being whipped up (against Jews) by the ultraconservative nationalists, and it is being condoned by the Communist Party,” contended Cohen. “Gorbachev is either unwilling. or unable to stop it.”
TALK OF TEMPORARY RELOCATION
Dr. Margaret Pollner, a cinematographer who returned from Moscow last week said the television and newspaper coverage amounted to free publicity for the anti-Semitic groups. Pollner, who was in the Soviet Union working on a documentary, said she was taken aback by the level of fear among Jewish university students.
Lynn Singer, executive director of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry, reported that Soviet Jewish activists met Wednesday to discuss “how they will evacuate if pogroms come and how they are going to protect themselves.”
Cohen of the Union of Councils said that Leningrad Jews have been discussing the possibility of temporarily locating to cities friendlier to Jews, such as the Latvian capital of Riga or Alma-Ata, in the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, until they are able to leave the country.
Wenick of the National Conference warned against overplaying the actual threat of pogroms at this time. Worldwide publicity about such incidents might goad ultranationalists to perpetrate copy-cat acts, making pogroms a “self-fulfilling” prophecy, he said.