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Moscow Rabbi Fears Anti-semitic Tide, but Expert Doubts Pogroms Will Occur

February 20, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The chief rabbi of Moscow, Adolf Shayevitch, says his overriding fear is the emergence of classic Russian anti-Semitism in the new atmosphere of openness and freedom of expression in the Soviet Union.

The pogromist spirit is already abroad in the “absolute impunity” with which the fascist Pamyat group conducts its anti-Jewish ranting amid silence on the part of the authorities, Shayevitch said in an interview with the Moscow correspondent of II Messaggero, published Saturday.

But a leading Jewish authority on Eastern Europe is convinced that while the fears of Soviet Jews are understandable, there will be no pogroms in the Soviet Union, because neither the Red Army nor the KGB would tolerate them.

That was the opinion Dr. Stephen Roth, former head of the Institute of Jewish Affairs of the World Jewish Congress in London, expressed Saturday in an address to the national convention of the American Jewish Congress in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Shayevitch was one of the signatories on a letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on Jan. 30 denouncing Pamyat’s activities and urging Gorbachev to use his full powers to “prevent the possibility of bloodshed.”

“I know of people who don’t at all want to leave the Soviet Union, but who have now decided to do so,” the chief rabbi, who presides at Moscow’s famed Choral Synagogue, declared.

“And people fear for the lives of their children. This is not emigration, it’s flight,” he said.


“Anti-Semitism is growing, while for the first time in 70 years, we have the possibility of giving breath to our religious life, to our culture,” Shayevitch said.

He said the Soviet authorities permitted a rally by Pamyat near St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, and “calmly allowed anti-Semitic slogans to be shouted.”

At the AJCongress gathering, meanwhile, Roth acknowledged that the emergence of Pamyat is a “repugnant revival” of the classic anti-Semitism of the Russian Orthodox Church.

But he emphasized that at present, there is no apparent likelihood of pogroms in the Soviet Union such as marked the pre-revolutionary period.

“Pogroms will not be tolerated. There is still a Red Army and a KGB, which will step in if necessary, even under glasnost and perestroika,” Roth said.

However, “we now see a panicky mass exodus of Jews,” he observed, dominated by two fears: that Gorbachev might fall, or that if he survives, anti-Semitism will rise closer to the surface in the new climate of openness.

Roth was less optimistic about conditions confronting Jews in Romania and Hungary, where “the re-emergence of former anti-Semitic parties, such as the old Peasant Party in Hungary, give cause for concern.”

Roth also worries about political parties in Hungary and Romania that have “Christian” as part of their name. The word “Christian” in the name of a political party “denotes only one thing: no Jews,” he said.

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