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JOINT STATEMENT OF MR. AND MRS. BERNARD ALPERT AND MR. AND MRS.
During the period of October 10 through 19, 1971, we were in the Soviet Union as tourists, with special interest in meeting Soviet citizens of the Jewish faith. We were able to contact many people and speak freely with them. All of the people with whom we spoke at length had applied to go to Israel under the U.S.S.R.'s plan for family re-unification.
Victor Polsky, 23 Krasnokazarmennaya, Flat 62, Moscow
Lena Prestin, Uralskya 6-4-11, Moscow
Lillian Korenfeld, Pervomayskaya 14-65, Moscow
Aron Hesin, Poliarnaya 22 corp 2, Apt. 97, Moscow 4-221
Lev Lerner, UL Engelsa 28, K-156, Leningrad
Israel Varnavicky, M Foresa 102/2 FE 19, Leningrad
Tamara Ozechnova, Architektu 102–2, Vilnius
Ruth Glickman, Kudizkos 7-2, Vilnius
Their efforts to obtain the basic Human Right of Free Exit had all met with rebuff and severe recrimination. They were fired from their work, or reduced in position, their phones were tapped, their actions monitored, families, and children especially, harassed. None were deterred by this situation, but rather strengthened in their determination to emigrate.
It is important to note that once a preson applies to Ovir (Office of Visas and Permits), he is considered a dissident and is often publicly denounced by his fellow workers. When this happens, anything could happen to you. For this reason, these Soviet Jews are anxious to have their names known in the West. When they receive phone calls and mail from outside the U.S.S.R., they are relatively safe from possible disappearance to labor camps or mental institutions, a common Soviet method of disposing of “agitators.” The entire process of trying to obtain permission to emigrate is aggravating and degrading.
We became aware that while the Jews are recognized as a nationality and a religion in the Soviet Union, and as such are protected under Article 123 of the Soviet Constitution, they are, in fact, singled out for attack by the authorities. For a population of three million Jews, 57 synagogues exist in the entire Soviet Union. Production of religious articles is forbidden. The Jewish cemetery in Moscow is full and no permission has been granted to open a new one. One seminary exists to train rabbis, but it dosen't function. Why? Because the authorities will not grant housing permits to prospective students. In all these areas, other religious minorities are able to operate with minimum friction. There is no central organization whereby the Jewish communities within the U.S.S.R. can maintain contact with each other. The list of grievances is endless, but the picture is clear! Genocide, albeit cultural and religious.
It became increasingly evident that while the U.S.S.R. was a signer of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, those guaranteed Human Rights were not being extended to her own citizens. The situation of the Soviet Jews is depressing. For those who wish to leave, there is only waiting and enduring the hardships related to waiting as a stateless person. For those who wish to stay, only the knowledge that they will ultimately be assimilated into the atheistic Soviet Society. For the next generation will see an end to Soviet Jewry!
We urge the Congress of the United States to speak out in the form of this Resolution. We must take urgent steps to press the Soviet Government to allow religious freedom to all its citizens, as stated in its constitution, and further to allow those citizens who wish to leave, to do so freely.
1 Submitted by Congressman McClory. See p. 38.
STATEMENT OF RABBI HARRY BRONSTEIN, PRESIDENT, AL TIDOM ASSOCIATION, INC.
I, Rabbi Harry Bronstein, was born in Wyszkow, Poland in May of 1911. I was ordained in 1933 and emigrated to Canada in that year. In 1940, I entered this country and am now a U.S. citizen. During World War II, I was a civilian chaplain in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps at Camp David and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
I am past vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a nationwide organization of orthodox rabbis, and founder and president of the Al Tidom Association, dedicated to aiding Soviet Jewry in its quest for religious and cultural material.
Between 1958 and 1967, at the request of national Jewish organizations and world Jewish leaders, I made nine visits to the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. On my ninth visit, I was arrested by the Soviet Secret Police in Kiev on charges of instigating an illegal exodus of Russian Jews to Israel. After a prolonged period of interrogation I became critically ill and was expelled from the U.S.S.R. Subsequently, I was declared persona non grata by the Soviet Government.
My direct involvement with Soviet Jewry, is resultant from a mission to Poland in 1958. Early in that year, the late Michael G. Tress, then executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America returned from a visit to Poland with the request that a Mohel, a practitioner of Jewish ritual circumcision, be sent there. Twenty thousand Polish Jews, repatriated from the Soviet Union, where circumcision is prohibited, refused to continue their journey to Israel until their young men were circumcised. They felt themselves lacking in one of the primary and paramount precepts of the Jewish religion.
As a prominent Mohel and teacher of Milah, I was chosen by the Agudath Israel to travel to Poland to circumcise these young Jews and to train others so that the ritual could continue after my return to America.
On Feb. 11, 1958 I arrived in Poland. During the ensuing weeks, I circumcised literally hundreds of young men from 8 to 28 years old and trained three men in the art of circumcision.
It is essential to note that I was met in Poland by thousands of people whose intense determination and boundless enthusiasm to have their sons undergo circumcision was paled only by the hundreds of young men, who were to undergo this painful surgery normally performed on infants eight days after birth. "Rabbi, make me a Jew" they entreated of me, while clamoring to be circumcised. To my utter amazement, they refused even local anesthesia, enthusiastically enduring the pain and thanking me profusely afterwards. This . . . after spending their entire life in an atheistic Communist state.
In 1959, a prominent Soviet Rabbi invited me to the then functioning Moscow Yeshiva to instruct the students in circumcision. During that and other visits, I travelled throughout the length and breadth of the U.S.S.R. establishing and maintaining contact with Russian Jewry. Initially, I went to hear, later, I returned to help. This help was not of a monetary or material nature. Never during any of my conversations with Soviet Jews was I asked for a suit or a shirt-though poverty certainly exists in Russia. "Please send us a prayer book, a prayer shawl, a Jewish history book", they begged of me. "Jewish education is forbidden", they said, "we need the religious articles and educational materials to learn ourselves and to instruct our children". From this outcry, the Al Tidom Association received its name meaning dare not be silent.
Returning to the U.S. after my initial visit, I founded and now direct Al Tidom, which is dedicated to providing the moral support and material supplies necessary to foster and further the survival of Judaism in Russia. Since its inception in 1958, Al Tidom has, by various means, delivered thousands of religious articles, literature, tapes and audio-visual aids to Jews behind the Iron Curtain. I have trained eighteen Mohalim in Russia, a country where less than two percent of the male population is circumcised, whereas in New York City alone, 92 percent is circumcised for religious or hygenic reasons.
I should like to submit, therefore, to the honorable members of this committee, that the unquenchable religious and ethnic spirit so prevelant among Jews in Iron Curtain countries represents the greatest challenge to Communism today. How can the Kremlin advocate a system which after fifty years has left millions of its subjects disheartened and disillusioned? How can they misconstrue the acts of bravery and daring by the innumerable young Jews who begged me to circumcise them in the nocturnal secrecy of a forest or a cemetery as being motivated by feelings other than spiritual bankruptcy and a lack of purposeful existence?
The Russian Government is well aware of this challenge. Their response is a ruthless campaign to spiritually starve the Soviet Jew. Three hundred and seventy synagogues have been closed in the past ten years. Only 60 houses of worship remain for a Jewish population of over three million persons, and those are filled with informers and under KGB surveillance. No Jewish educational institution is allowed to function. Yiddish theatre and Jewish cultural activities are forbidden and the one Yiddish journal, Sovietish Heimland, is a strictly controlled government propaganda organ. The lack of religious articles and texts is appalling. A prayer book, a prayer shawl or a chart of the Hebrew alphabet is treasured by its owners as we would prize a diamond.
We of the world's mightiest nation, the home of the free, must act to thwart this cruel attempt at spiritual genocide simultaneously exploiting the thorn in the Communists' side. A lifetime of Soviet propaganda, of deprivation of religious and cultural instruction, of disruption of religious and ethnic life and of being subjected to intensive inculcation in Communist dogma could not uproot from Russian Jewry the innate religious motivations nurtured by minute amounts of furtively gained religious training that has alienated them from Communism and rendered them impervious to Communist indoctrination. Now that through their words and deeds they implore us to help them gain religious freedom and, for those who desire it, repatriation to Israel, can we turn a deaf ear to their pleas? Should we not protest the disregard of elementary human rights practiced by the Soviet Government, a signatory of the international document guaranteeing those rights?
I urge this committee to prevail upon the Congress to do its utmost in behalf of Soviet Jewry, whose indomitable spirit stands as an example to the peoples of the world to resist the tyranny of Communism.
Mr. RICHARD MAASS,
ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE OF B'NAI B'RITH,
American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry,
DEAR DICK: We are most interested to learn of Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal's subcommittee hearings in the House on Soviet Jewry. I understand that you will represent the American Jewish Conference at these hearings, and we know that yours will be an effective and convincing voice.
You can be sure that the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith is solidly behind the efforts of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry to dramatically educate the public concerning the problems of Soviet Jews. Our record in behalf of this problem has been a strong one in terms of fact-finding, education and counter-action, as you well know. We believe that a great deal of education must still be done on this vital issue. That is why we mounted our recent exhibition "The Plight of Soviet Jewry," to try to demonstrate the extent of Soviet anti-Semitism over the last 25 years.
As you well know, many persons today, well-meaning or otherwise, are convinced that the Jew in the Soviet Union is really not worse off than other minorities who live there. What they fail to understand-and this is a point we know you will make at the subcommittee hearing-is that the Jew must carry his label with him on the internal passport, a device which, we believe, is used by the USSR to foster anti-Semitism. Many Soviet Jews who have arrived in Israel report how extensively this passport must be used, and how it subjects them to back-biting, persecution and discrimination, simply because they are Jews. The lack of a flourishing Jewish culture, of ethnic identity and even of minimal religious activities is further indication that the Soviet state has decided to penalize its Jews simply because of their ethnic and religious origin. Furthermore, the USSR is exporting its particular brand of anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism to the satellite countries, where Jews are accused of all the problems conceivable within those countries and within the world.
Any sensible efforts to alleviate the problems of Soviet Jews and to counteract the insidious attacks on Zionism, Israel and the Jewish people that emanate from the USSR are absolutely necessary and should be welcomed by all men of conscience. Indeed, these efforts should be increased; above all men in high places, in our own government, must be made aware of this Soviet attack on human dignity and freedom. Emigration to Israel is, of course, an immediate 70-614-72—14
and justifiable solution. At the same time, we should hope that life for those Jews who are obligated to remain behind in the USSR be improved at least to the level which other Soviet nationalities experience.
We wish you Godspeed in your mission, and are happy to add our voice of concern to those of the other members of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry endorsing the efforts of more than one hundred congressmen who have joined in co-sponsoring a bill which proposes that the United States government take formal and informal steps toward the Soviet government, and through the United Nations, for specific activities to alleviate the hardships of Jews in the Soviet Union who wish to leave that country or live there as Jews.
Yours very truly,
OWEN S. RACHLEFF,
Director, European Affairs Department.
STATEMENT OF JOEL J. SPRAYREGEN, CHAIRMAN, SOVIET JEWRY COMMITTEE, CHICAGO COMMUNITY COUNCIL OF JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS
Representatives of the State Department have appeared before your committee to minimize the oppression of more than three million Jews by the Soviet government. We submit this statement in order to correct the distortions and indifference of the State Department. Our Community Council represents almost all of the major Jewish organizations in the Chicago metropolitan area.
The observations contained here are based on (1) visits to the USSR and discussions there with Jews and Soviet officials by several of our members, including the author of this statement, (2) interviews in the United States and Israel with Jews who have been permitted to leave the USSR, (3) conversations with Soviet officials in the United States, and (4) close and concerned study.
I. CULTURAL GENOCIDE
"We are the only people in the Soviet Union who have been ordered openly, without equivocation, to assimilate, to dissolve, to disappear among the other peoples."
So reads the famous 1970 Rosh Hashanah letter of 83 Moscow Jews. This statement sums up the totality of Soviet policy towards Jews and the reason for the remarkable resurgence of Jewish commitment in the USSR: Soviet policy is committed to the forcible assimilation of the Jews i.e., our disappearance as a people. Soviet ideology holds that the Jews are not an authentic national group and thus have no right to exist. Thus other Soviet nationalities have schools where their language, culture and history is taught. But there are no Jewish schools in the USSR because the Soviet Government seeks to forbid transmission of Jewish culture to young Soviet Jews.
These Soviet practices represent a continuation of Stalinist policies. The murder by the Soviet Government on August 12, 1952 of the 24 leading Jewish writers in the USSR1 has never been acknowledged as a crime by the Soviet Government, and the burial places of the writers remain unknown. The refusal of the Soviet Government to acknowledge crimes directed at extermination of Jewish culture shows that such cultural genocide remains official Soviet policy. Raiza Palatnik, an Odessa librarian, was sentenced to two years in a Soviet penal camp in June in part for possessing a book by David Bergelson one of the murdered writers.
The State Department may seek to minimize the situation of Soviet Jewry. But the infliction of spiritual genocide on one of the three major Jewish populations left in the world constitutes terror in our eyes.
II. THE RIGHT TO LEAVE
The impossibility of living as Jews in the USSR has led many thousands of Soviet Jews to the conviction that repatriation to Israel is the only solution to their problems. The demand for repatriation has become the exclusive motivating force in their lives.
1 See Gilboa, The Black Years of Soviet Jewry (1971).
2 Esther and David Markish, widow and son of Peretz Markish, best known of the Jewish writers executed on Aug. 12, 1952, are still being denied exit visas by the Soviet government. See their letter in the New York Times of Oct. 21, 1971 (copy attached).
Numerous provisions of international law-including Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights—guarantee the right of any person to leave the country where he happens to reside.
If the Soviet Government desires establishment of various pacts and treaties with the West, does it not make elementary sense to insist that the Soviets honor their existing commitments? For there is no justifiable reason in law or morality to deny a human being the right to choose the country where he will live. By trampling on this elementary right, the Soviet Government places itself beyond the pale of civilized, law-abiding governments.
Mr. Kosygin's recent attempts to define the categories of Jews whose emigration is barred, of course, constitute no legal or moral justifications of Soviet restrictive emigration policies. But was Mr. Kosygin telling the truth? If he was, we suggest the Soviet Government could decree the right to immediate emigration for millions of Jews outside the defined categories. But we know enough to discern the difference between what Mr. Kosygin says abroad and what he does to the Jews at home.
III. INHUMANE TREATMENT OF APPLICANTS FOR REPATRIATION
The extent of the inhumane treatment accorded to Soviet Jews who are courageous enough to apply to leave is not generally recognized.
The Soviet Jew who applies to leave will lose his job, sustain anti-Semitic abuse, and is compelled to embark on a Kafkaesque merry-go-round lasting many months to seek papers from various agencies. The Soviet government wants to make certain future Israeli citizens have complete character references!
The plight of an individual applicant might be bearable were not his children expelled from their schools and consigned to manual labor notwithstanding their academic aptitude and achievements. And the applicant who undergoes this Soviet treatment never knows if there will be light at the end of the long dark tunnel which his life has become. Will he ever receive permission to leave, or will he be put in prison?
Finally, if the application to leave is granted, a ransom of 900 rubles-threequarters of a year's wages-for each adult must be paid for the privilege of leaving the U.S.S.R.
IV. SOVIET JEWISH PRISONERS
At least 43 Soviet Jews are today subjected to inhumane conditions in Soviet labor camps. They are guilty of no more than wanting to leave a country where they found it impossible to live as Jews. Numerous violations of Soviet law and elementary norms of fair treatment under international conventions were committed by Soviet authorities during the proceedings against these prisoners, including:
1. Closed trials.
2. Lengthy pre-trial detention without access to lawyers or family.
3. Compulsory use of Soviet defense counsel who could not assert the rights of defendants but only throw them on the mercy of the court.
4. Employment of judges who acted like part of the prosecution theme. The desperation which led the Soviet government to try to intimidate Soviet Jews by imprisonment must be recognized. The intimidation failed. The Soviet government must be told forcefully to now recognize its obligation to release political prisoners whose only "offense" to the U.S.S.R. lies in their desire to leave it.
President Nixon's forthcoming visit to Moscow is of immense importance. If the Soviet government wants concessions from the West and acceptance as a civilized and law-abiding power which honors its obligations, it must be called upon to correct the injustices summarized in this paper. We count on President Nixon to tell the Soviets clearly that detente with the West is not attainable over the prostrate bodies of Jewish hostages.
The common blood of millions of Soviet citizens, including Jews, killed in World War II-as well as the blood of Soviet Jews killed during the Stalinist "black years" of 1948 to 1953-cries out in favor of the right of repatriation for all those Soviet Jews who desire to leave.
However lightly the State Department treats the conditions of Soviet Jewry, millions of freedom-loving people throughout the world find the situation intolerable.