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Lord Russell Charges Russia with Not Keeping Promises on Soviet Jews

February 28, 1966
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The situation of Soviet Jews is “one of those tragic anomalies that exercise the concern of those who are steadfastly opposed to the cold war and seek greater understanding between the nations,” Lord Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher, declared here today.

He made that statement in a lengthy message to the national conference of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, which convened here today. “The irony of this situation is that Soviet Jews, survivors of a people whose destruction was a priority of Nazi Germany’s war aims, are still facing the problem of national survival,” he added.

Recalling the fate that befell the Soviet Jews under the late Josef Stalin, Lord Russell stated: “In 1948, Stalin and his secret police executed the Jewish creative intelligentsia and totally destroyed Jewish institutions — publishing houses, schools, theaters and every vestige of national existence outside the synagogue. Destalinization has brought little improvement. Jews still have no schools, no national theaters and no secular, communal institutions.”

“Although restitution was frequently promised in 1956 and 1957,” Lord Russell continued, “only token symbols of culture have been permitted — a handful of books in the Yiddish language published in small editions and exploited as reassuring propaganda abroad, one monthly Yiddish magazine, one or two dramatic groups and a few touring Jewish singers. This represents the total cultural resources of 3,000,000 people traditionally regarded as one of the most talented and creative Jewish communities in the world.


“A comparison with other Soviet nationalities exposes the basic injustice of their situation, for even the smallest national groups in the Soviet Union are given the opportunity to pursue a cultural, social and political life of their own, denied to Jews.”

Turning to the suppression of religion affecting Soviet Jewry, Lord Russell declared: “Although the anti-religious campaign in the USSR is directed against all religions, it is prosecuted with exceptional severity against Judaism. Propaganda against the Jewish religion often assumes a character of racial anti-Semitism as in the writing of Kitchko, Maryatsky and Osperov. The closure of synagogues has been conducted ruthlessly.

“At the time of the October Revolution, there were some 3,000 synagogues in the Soviet Union. By 1956, according to a Soviet report to the United Nations, only 450 remained. Since then, a further 354 have been closed and many cities with large Jewish populations have no places of worship available at all. Religious life is additionally hindered by the denial to Judaism of essential facilities available to other recognized Soviet religions, to the extent that makes it impossible to practice Judaism with the freedom guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution.


“It is particularly tragic that the Soviet authorities have still taken no steps to end the separation of members of Jewish families disunited in appalling circumstances during the Nazi war. As a result of repatriation agreements between the USSR and other Communist countries in Eastern Europe, most of these problems have been solved in regard to Poles, Rumanians and Germans who were allowed to resettle in their own countries, many Germans being permitted to join relatives in Western Germany.

“The one community which suffered most at the hands of the Nazis — the Jews–have many thousands of individuals in the USSR who have been waiting for more than 20 years to join their close relatives in Israel and other countries. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Jews in similar positions have been allowed family reunifications. The Soviet Union, however, has granted exit permits only to a small number of mainly elderly persons. Soviet Jews have no opportunity to voice their feelings publicly and are dependent on public opinion abroad. I am happy that students of British universities are engaged in this special effort to make the facts more widely known. Discrimination against Jews in the USSR, like the persecution of dissident intellectuals, seriously impair the development of the Soviet Union as a true Socialist society and binder the efforts of all those working for international coexistence.”

Pravda, the official organ of the Soviet Communist Party, reported this week the election of G.E. Podgayev, a non-Jew, as first secretary of the regional committee of the Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidjan, according to dispatches reaching New York.


The conference adopted a number of resolutions, including one asking for adequate compensation of victims of Nazism. It lauded the decision of the British Government to accede to the United Nations Convention Against Genocide and welcomed the enactment of the British race relations bill as “an important step in the field of civil rights legislation.”

The conference also applauded the recent United Nations action on an International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Intolerance and approved of the recent action by the Council of Europe which decided to deal with the subject of incitement to racial and religious hatred and violence.

In other sections, the conference urged the strengthening of Jewish education, in both Hebrew and Yiddish, and warmly approved the efforts by the British section of the World Jewish Congress to foster Yiddish culture.

The conference, which is the 14th biennial assembly of the British section of the WJC, was presided over by Jacob Halevy, chairman of the British section. Principal speakers, in addition to Mr. Halevy, included Dr. Judah Shapiro, of New York, secretary of the National Foundation of Jewish Culture in the United States; Dr. S.S. Levenberg, who spoke on the Middle East and Russian Jewry; and Ambassador Aharon Remez, Israel’s envoy to Britain.

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