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U.S. Jews Ask Russia to Grant Soviet Jewry Equal Rights with Germans

March 7, 1966
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Cultural rights for Jews in the Soviet Union — at least equal to those recently guaranteed by official decree to the German minority in Russia — was requested today by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry.

The Conference, which represents 24 national Jewish organizations in matters dealing with the rights of Jews in the Soviet Union, simultaneously released a documented report which details aspects of the educational and cultural institutions currently available to the 1, 600, 000 Russians of German nationality now living in the Soviet Union. A decree on Russians of German nationality living in the country was issued by the Supreme Soviet on August 29, 1964. In making public the documented report, the Conference said that the facts should be compared to the cultural status of the Jews in Russia.

“In the name of simple justice, the Jews in Russia should be treated at least as well as the Volga Germans, regarded as enemies in World War II, ” Rabbi Israel Miller, chairman of the Conference, declared in an appeal to the Soviet Government. He phrased his appeal in the very words adopted by the Supreme Soviet in dealing with the problems of Russians of German ethnic background, making only once change in the phaseology of the decree — the substitution of the word “Jewish” for the word “German” in the two places it appears.

“The purpose of our documented report, ” Rabbi Miller said, “is to raise a very simple question: If the Soviet Germans, widely dispersed through Soviet republics, are permitted schools in which to teach their children the German language and literature, as well as daily and weekly newspapers, textbooks, teachers institutes and the like — why not also the Soviet Jews who number 3,000,000?”


Rabbi Miller stressed that the forthcoming Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, scheduled to convene on March 28, will have a historic opportunity to undo the grievous wrongs committed against the Jewish people in the USSR. That Congress, he pointed out, comes just one decade after the famous 20th Congress, held in February 1956, provided a major turning-point in Soviet history by revealing many of Stalin’s crimes and promising a return to decency in Soviet public life.

“One of the promises of that Congress, ” Rabbi Miller noted, “was to rectify the wrongs done to various nationalities. Some of those promises were carried out. Thus, hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens who took refuge in the USSR during World War II, as well as others of Polish origin, were permitted to return to Poland. In addition, several Soviet nationalities whose political loyalty was suspect during the war, were rehabilitated.

“The Kalmyks and the Chechen-Ingush, for example, were repatriated to their newly re-established autonomous republics. And, as the report on the German minority demonstrates, the Soviet German minority was formally rehabilitated, and its educational, cultural and communal institutions continue to expand. Soviet Jewry — though its loyalty during the war was never impugned — remains the sole exception to the rule of restoring minority group rights and of enhancing and expanding them. “

Several token concessions have been made in response to the pressure of world opinion, according to Rabbi Miller. Among them he listed the publication of a few Yiddish books over the past seven years, the appearance of a Yiddish literary monthly, and many performances of Jewish folk songs and dramatic skits. But these tokens, Rabbi Miller emphasized, “do not begin to scratch the surface of our basic demands, ” which he listed as follows:

“1. The restoration of Jewish schools and of special courses and classes in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian, so as to make it possible for Soviet Jews to transmit their heritage to their children.

“2. The establishment of an institutional center to provide for all the religious needs of Soviet Jews — including a rabbinical seminary, the publication of religious books, the production of religious articles, the maintenance of contact and communication among rabbis and congregations inside the USSR and between Soviet Jewry and Jewish communities abroad.

“3. The creation of unified central institutions to supervise the enhancement and expansion of Jewish educational and cultural life — through publishing houses, professional theaters, institutes for research and higher learning, cultural-communal centers — so as to secure the continuity of Jewish life in the USSR.

“4. From a humane point of view: The reunion of families that were shattered and dispersed during the war and the Nazi occupation. This would involve permission for scores of thousands of Soviet Jews to leave the USSR to rejoin their relatives in Israel, the United States and other countries.

“These are basic minimal demands, ” Rabbi Miller stated, “to restore the right of the Soviet Jews to live as Jews. The facts revealed in the documentary report on the Soviet Germans demonstrate what can be done. The forthcoming 23rd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party has an historic opportunity, as well as a profound moral obligation, to redress the injustice done to the Jews, and to restore their rights. “

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