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Hearings on Soviet Anti-semitism Commemorate Babi Yar Massacre

October 14, 1981
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Hearings to increase public awareness of officially-condoned anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union were held on Capitol Hill last week. The hearings, which took place Oct. 6, were designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the massacre of more than 33,000 Jews by the Nazis at Babi Yar near Kiev in the Ukraine.

The special hearings were co-chaired by Sens. John Heinz (R. Pa.) and Claiborne Pell (D. R.I.), both commissioners of the Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission). Cosponsoring organizations were the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) and the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.

In his opening statement, Heinz said, “As we gather here on this doubly sad day (referring to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the massacre at Babi Yar on Oct. 6, 1941) there is no question that the repressions of Soviet Jews is the harshest of any time in the last decade.”


He told the heavily-attended hearings: “One thing that emerges as more disturbing than anything else. It is not the oppression of Jews who apply for visas for Israel. It is not the rejection of most of the applications, not even the waiting in fear and anguish for years, which is the fate of most Jews who want to leave the country which simply does not accept them as Jews. The ugliest part of the cruel anti-Semitism which today is part of Soviet policy is its unrelenting effort to eradicate every last vestige of Jewish culture and Jewish contribution to the history of the Soviet Union.”

Heinz added: “All of us — Jews and non-Jews, Americans and others throughout the free world — should recognize and know that this is the most evil and dangerous epidemic, and it is getting worse, not better. Just as the people of the free world did not permit the lesson of Babi Yar to be lost in history, so we will not permit Soviet anti-Semitism to escape our thorough and critical examination.”


Pell, who is a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that while the Soviet Union is a signatory of the Helsinki accords, it “has consistently and flagrantly violated these obligations in its treatment of Soviet Jews.”

He stated, “Through its policies and practices, the Soviet government institutes and fosters the growth of anti-Semitism. There are many indications that in recent years discrimination against Jews, particularly in the areas of education and employment, has increased.” In addition, Pell said, “the Soviet government has placed further obstacles in the pathway of Jews who desire to emigrate to the West and has increased harassment of those who have been refused exit permits.”

Dr. Michael Novak, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, was among the scholars, clergymen, and a former refusenik to testify. He emphasized, “The situation for Jews in the Soviet Union is especially bleak at this time.”

Dr. William Korey, director of International Policy Research for B’nai B’rith International, echoed warnings by Soviet Jews that this is “a moment of grave urgency.” He quoted from a recent analysis of the Soviet Jewish condition signed by nearly 130 prominent Jewish activists in Moscow and Leningrad which stated: “The Jews of the USSR are facing the threat of a national catastrophe.”

Observing that anti-Semitism has become “a form of state policy” in the Soviet Union, Korey declared that as a result, Soviet Jews “find themselves particularly vulnerable” because not only has their institutional life and structure “all but been pulverized” by a drive that began in 1948 and that has continued ever since, but a 90 percent slash in emigration finds them trapped in the Soviet Union. Emigration, he said, “is their only salvation,” but with doors all but closed, “agony becomes desperation.”

Two Washington clergymen who visited the Soviet Union last year, Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of the Luther Place Memorial Church, and Father Eugene Brake, Oblate, St. Francis DeSalles, Chaplain of the Lorton, Va., Reformatory, described their meetings with Soviet Jews and witnessing signs of their harassment.

Dr. Israel Kugler, national president of Workmen’s Circle, told how thousands of Jews thronged to the tiny exhibit booth he manned at the Moscow Book Fair last month, in awe over the Yiddish and Hebrew books displayed. Marcia Weinberg, chairwoman of the Committee on Soviet Jewry of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Council, and Jerry Goodman, executive director of the NCSJ, assisted in questioning the witnesses. The entire proceedings were recorded by the Voice of America for future broadcast.

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