P.e.n. Congress Session Hears Plea on Jewish Culture in Russia
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P.e.n. Congress Session Hears Plea on Jewish Culture in Russia

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A plea to the International P.E.N. Congress — world organization of poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists — to call on the Soviet Government to permit the revival of Jewish culture in the USSR, in both the Yiddish and Hebrew languages, was voiced here yesterday at the concluding session of the Congress, which was attended by 600 delegates from 55 countries.

The appeal was made by Aaron Glanz-Leyeless, of New York, noted Jewish poet and president of the Yiddish P.E.N. Center, who was one of the speakers at the last plenary session. Just prior to the opening of the Congress, the P.E.N. presidium had turned down a draft resolution presented by the Yiddish P.E.N. Center, calling upon the Soviet Union to give full rights to the Jewish minority in the USSR for the practice, pursuit, development and publication of Jewish literature, the opening of Jewish schools teaching both Yiddish and Hebrew, and the publication of Yiddish books, magazines and newspapers.

The International P.E.N. Congress was boycotted this year by the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the presidium refused to take action on the proposal by the Yiddish Center, turning the issue over for the consideration of the organization’s executive council, which is scheduled to meet next September in London.

In his address, today, Mr. Glanz-Leyeless pointed out that, in the debate on the Yiddish group’s draft resolution before the presidium, one of the opponents, the American playwright Arthur Miller, who is president of the International P.E.N., had conceded that he knew there was discrimination against Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union. Mr. Miller is a Jew who, in other forums, had pleaded for equalization of Jewish rights in the USSR. Interpreting Mr. Miller’s stand as an admission that there is at least partial suppression of Jewish literature in the USSR, Mr. Glanz-Leyeless said: “I hope Mr. Miller’s reference will contribute toward the restoration of the cultural rights of the Jewish minority in the Soviet Union.”

“We ask for the restoration in the USSR, ” he continued, “of the free use of Yiddish for the publication of newspapers, books and magazines. We ask for freedom in the Soviet Union to teach and to learn Yiddish and Hebrew. We are sure that Mr. Miller’s own appeal will not fall on deaf ears, either in this assembly or outside of it.”


“As the Yiddish P.E.N. Center views it,” Mr. Glanz-Leyeless stated, “the struggle for the restoration of Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union is just beginning, especially as it had to do with the writers of all nations and languages. It is a fact — perhaps a sad fact — that most of the writers of other lands and other literatures know very little about Yiddish literature, and still less about the Yiddish language.

“If we could bring home to these writers all over Europe and Africa and Asia the significance of Yiddish, both as a tongue and as a culture, we have not the slightest doubt that we could easily get some support of a majority of all the writers, regardless of their color, race or creed.”

Commenting on the presidium’s referral of the Jewish group’s proposal regarding Jewish culture in the USSR to the executive council, Mr. Glanz-Leyeless told the session: “We intend to renew and to pursue our effort toward the restoration of Yiddish culture in the USSR from the moment this Congress closes. We will prepare all the necessary documentation and we will carry our struggle to the next session of the executive council of the International P.E.N.”

The Yiddish P.E.N. Center has a permanent representative on the P.E.N. council in London. He is Joseph Leftwich, a British author whose writings are both in English and Yiddish. He was one of the chief proponents of the draft resolution laid before the presidium, along with Mr. Glanz-Leyeless and the Yiddish P.E.N. Center’s vice-president, Dr. Israel Knox, Associate Professor of Philosophy at New York University.

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