On U.S. Tour Soviet Health Chief Rejects Requests to Allow U.S. Medical Men to Visit Jewish Prisoner
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On U.S. Tour Soviet Health Chief Rejects Requests to Allow U.S. Medical Men to Visit Jewish Prisoner

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Soviet Health Minister Boris Petrovsky declined here today to give firm assurances that American medical men visiting the Soviet Union as members of professional or government delegations could enter any Soviet medical facility or meet with particular patients. A number of Soviet Jewish dissidents are in such facilities and prisons with a variety of illnesses, some incurred after conviction and imprisonment in recent trials.

Dr. Petrovsky, concluding a ten-day visit to major health facilities in the United States as head of a Soviet delegation to which the US government was host, sidestepped questions proposing such assurances from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during a news conference at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare attended by about 50 newsmen and electronic media technicians.

He was asked whether he had been denied any opportunity to visit any medical facility or meet any individual, doctor or patient on his tour and he answered he had been “saturated” by the HEW program and did not seek to add to it. He was then asked whether similar opportunities would be extended to American medical men. He replied that “complete monographs” published by the Soviet government “describing achievements” were available to medical delegations.

When the JTA reporter observed that Petrovsky had not answered his question, the Health Minister said that he “personally as Minister,” receives a great many visitors and this his first question is “What do you want to see?” He added that he always try to accommodate their requests.” He spoke in Russian with a Soviet woman interpreting for him in excellent English.


Questions directly concerning Soviet Jewish prisoners had previously been put to the Health Minister by representatives of the Alpha Omega dental fraternity, an international group, and the Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry. Dr. Norman Buckman, of Silver Spring, Md., asked Dr. Petrovsky why two Soviet Jewish dentists–whom Dr. Buckman identified as Michael Kornblit of Leningrad and Boris Azernikov of Kalinin did not receive “adequate medical care” at Potma prison. Dr. Buckman said the two dentists had been imprisoned because they wanted to emigrate to Israel.

“You are a cardiac specialist,” Dr. Buckman told the Health Minister. “We are informed that cardiac patients have to do heavy labor in prison. How do you account for patients having to do this?” Dr. Petrovsky replied that every country has laws and that “even though they are dentists,” those who infringe the laws are “still responsible within the criminal code.” Indicating he was not aware of the cases Dr. Buckman mentioned, the Health Minister said that “under any condition and any circumstance any Soviet citizen is rendered full medical assistance.” Dr. Buckman said the fraternity had 20,000 members in the United States and Europe and added he was chairman of a group set up by the fraternity to help the imprisoned Soviet dentists.

Milton Yadin of the Washington committee, himself a recent emigre from the Soviet Union, asked Dr. Petrovsky questions in English and in Russian. He charged that Sylva Zalmanson, imprisoned on a 15-year sentence, had a “very sick heart” and that Raiza Palatnik “lost her baby” in a prison camp. Yadin also said that both Jewish women were in the Potma camp and that he had received information about their poor physical condition last week via telephone from the Soviet Union. Yadin also asked the Health Minister for information on Lev Yagman and Victor Buglovsky who, he said, also are in the Potma prison.


Elliott Richardson, the HEW secretary, tried twice to keep the Soviet Jewish issue out of the press conference. But Dr. Petrovsky responded to Yadin’s questions. He remarked that, as a physician, he could not diagnose cases on the telephone and that therefore information on any disease received by telephone was “not reliable to me.” Richardson’s first effort came when Dr. Buckman began speaking. Richardson said the purpose of the meeting was to give the Health Minister an opportunity to discuss his US tour. In opening remarks, Richardson announced he was accepting Dr. Petrovsky’s invitation to visit the Soviet Union. Dr. Petrovsky responded by saying he welcomed cooperation between the US and Russia on medical research, mentioning particularly cancer and heart disease. An HEW press release said Dr. Petrovsky came to the US to broaden the Soviet-American health pact and to speed exchange of medical information.

Plainly irritated when Yadin began asking his questions, Richardson said it was “not fair to the Minister to ask him to comment on specific individuals” and that “it is not serving a useful purpose to pursue individual cases.” Speaking with newsmen after the press conference, Dr. Roger Egeberg, a special assistant to Richardson for health policy and co-chairman of the US-Soviet joint committee on health cooperation, said the meeting marked the first time during the Soviet delegation’s tour that its members had encountered questions on the Soviet Jewish issue. He expressed surprise such questions had not been raised earlier in the Soviet tour.

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