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Soviet Minister of Culture Derides Suggestion for Reopening Yiddish Theater and Yiddish Hebrew Schoo

May 25, 1972
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Madame Ekaterina Furtseva, the Soviet Union’s Minister of Culture, today derided suggestions for reopening the Yiddish Drama Theater in Moscow and allowing the Soviet Jewish people to have schools in which to teach their children Yiddish or Hebrew. The English translation of her remark was drowned out by laughter and some applause from the audience of about 350 media persons. It had to be repeated by her interpreter, a Jew, at the request of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s correspondent.

When she charged near the end of her response to JTA’s question on schools that “a Jew” threw the bomb that killed a secretary in the New York office of impressario Sol Hurok who promotes Soviet cultural attractions in the United States, the JTA correspondent stood up and asked, “how do you know it was a Jew?” Mrs. Furtseva answered: “According to the American press the bomb was planted by Jews,” she said. “Mr. Hurok visited us and put his finger on it. He named the Jewish Defense League. I met him and, please believe me, he did not lie. If the actual criminals have not been found it is not to the honor of the United States.”

Earlier, she blamed the JDL by name for the cancellation of the Bolshoi Theater tour of the US early last year. The Bolshoi was “all set to go” in 1971 but it was cancelled because of the “many unfriendly acts in the United States.” Mrs. Furtseva said. In this connection she said the JDL “obstructed” the binational cultural relations. Asked by the JTA whether the summit talks might influence the re-programming of the Bolshoi in the US, Mrs. Furtseva said she did not know the outcome of the talks but that she was “sure” the cultural field would be discussed at the summit.


A veteran correspondent in Moscow elicited her comment on the Yiddish theater. He observed that some Jews who desire to leave the Soviet Union are motivated in that way because there are no longer broad opportunities in the Soviet Union for development of Jewish national culture, compared, say, with the situation in the 1920’s and 1930’s when such Jewish culture developed in the USSR.

To this, the Minister of Culture replied: “This is not a new question for us and it is completely contrary to reality. Jews have an autonomous Jewish region, Birobidjan.” Birobidjan is in eastern Siberia, away from the Soviet centers of culture and concentrations of Jewish population. Its Jewish element has so deteriorated that it has been described as neither Jewish nor autonomous.

Mrs. Furtseva also pointed to the Yiddish newspaper “Sovietsche Heimland” in Moscow and creative Jewish artists. “The question is often asked why there is no drama theater in Yiddish,” she volunteered. “In Moscow, we don’t have a theater in Ukrainian. No one asks why not. If we try to reopen a Yiddish theater in Moscow, we will have to supply simultaneous translation. Many Jews do not speak the language at all,” she added. “I’m sure this is not the motivation of many Jews. Many Jews are busy building Soviet culture in one family of nations.”

Soviet official census figures for 1970 published in Pravda show 388,000 declared Yiddish as their first language. It is believed hundreds of thousands more understand it but have preferred to name some other language, principally Russian or Ukrainian, as their first language in the Soviet census questionnaire.

The JTA correspondent asked if Mrs. Furtseva would discuss why the Jewish people in the USSR are not allowed schools in which to teach their children Yiddish or Hebrew. The interpreter, Mikhail Bruk, an editor for Novosti Press Agency who told JTA afterwards, “incidentally I am Jewish,” began her response by saying “I’m not sure many people would send” but he caught himself there and said “children who would study in schools which teach Yiddish or Hebrew.” In the United States Mrs. Furtseva added, “you have little literature in Yiddish or Hebrew. You reproach us when in your own country it is worse than with us.”

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