(J. T. A. Mail Service)
The appeal to Maxim Gorki that he should intervene with the Soviet authorities to obtain cessation of the persecution of the Hebrew language in Soviet Russia, has been submitted to the great Russian writer by a group signing themselves the “Subterranean Conference of Hebrew Teachers (Tarbuth) in the Soviet Union.” The appeal describes the persecution to which the Hebrew language is subjected in Russia.
Your jubilee, the appeal says, addressing Gorki, is a great popular festival not only for Russia, but also for the oppressed peoples throughout the world. We Hebrew cultural workers and teachers of the Hebrew language because of our illegal position in the Soviet Union robbed of the opportunity of greeting you in person and of speaking with you are compelled to confine ourselves to a written application in which we seek, if we may, to explain to you, the defender of the oppressed, the position in which the Jewish national culture created in the Hebrew language now finds itself in Russia. Do you know that at the time when all the peoples in the Soviet Union were given the widest opportunities of developing their national culture in their national languages, the thousands of years old culture of the Jewish people created in the Hebrew laguage is suppressed. The language of the Prophets of the great poets of the Middle Ages, and of to-day of Jehudah Halevi. Mendele Mocher Senhorim, Bialik. Tchernichowsky and Schneuer, is held in the Soviet Union to be counter-revolutionary and is in actual fact prohibited. We say “in actual fact” because there is no offcial prohibition against the Hebrew language but in actual fact Hebrew is driven underground in the literal sense of the word.
The Jewish population of the Soviet Union numbering three million, has not one Hebrew newspaper, periodical or publishing enterprise. The import of Hebrew literature from abroad is very difficult and in fact impossible. As if that was not enough the entire Hebrew literature including even the Hebrew works of Shalom Aleichem has been elected from the libraries and placed into special departments from which it is forbidden to issue them to readers. People who want to take out from any library a Hebrew book of Mendele, Shalom Aleichem. Perety or Bialik must first obtain a special permit from the Jewish Communist Sections, certifying that the book is required for study purposes, and it is very rarely that one succeeds in obtaining such a permit. This is the position in Moscow, the centre. What it is like in the provinces cannot be described.
In the whole of the Soviet Union there is not a single school in which the Hebrew language is taught. The teaching of Hebrew in schools attended by Jewish children is strictly prohibited. Children and young people who study Hebrew and Hebrew literature in their own homes are, like their teachers, persecuted and terrorized. The Hebrew language in Russia is regarded as religion and clericalism, and considered as counter-revolutionary. The teaching of Hebrew in the Soviet Union is described as spreading counter-revolution and is subjected to the penalities imposed for such activity-prison, exile, etc. Officially the proceedings are taken against the accused not as teachers of the Hebrew language, but as counterd-revolutionaries.
These persecutions have forced the cultural work in Hebrew underground. Hebrew is now being taught illegally, and this has naturally led to still more severe repressions.
There is no one to whom we can complain, and those who lodge complaints place themselves in danger. They are branded as counter-revolutionaries and sooner or later they are arrested or banished. There have been many such cases. Three or four years ago, a petition was submitted to the Central Committee bearing the signatures of the Academicians Professors Mar and Oldenburg setting out the facts with regard to the persecution of the Hebrew Janguage. That petition has not yet been given an answer. Since then the situation has grown worse. We are telling you not a thousandth part of what is being done in Russia to persecute the Hebrew language. Two years ago the Central Executive Committee began to receive petitions from Jewish children and their parents asking for permission to use the Hebrew language in their schools. 10,000 such signatures coming from the province of Podolia alone. Such a thing has not been known in the past 2,000 years of Jewish history. It is an unparalleled example of anti-Jewish persecution. The answer to these petitions was mass arrests and redoubied persecutions. It is impossible to keep silence. But we have been robbed of the opportunity of complaining and protesting. We cannot find words to express our pain and protest at this tragic position. We appeal to you great fighter for the freedom of culture for the peoples that you should raise your voice in protest against the persecution of the Hebrew language and culture. The slogan of a fight against anti-Semitism is an absurdity in the eyes of the Jewish masses at a time when the language of their national culture is being persecuted.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.