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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 1971
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met at 10 a.m., in room 2255, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Benjamin S. Rosenthal (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. ROSENTHAL. The subcommittee will be in order.
Our first witness is our distinguished colleague from Ohio, the Honorable Charles A. Vanik.
STATEMENT OF HON. CHARLES A. VANIK, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF OHIO Mr. Vanik. Mr. Chairman, I certainly want to express my appreciation for this opportunity to be here. I would like unanimous consent to have my entire statement included in the record.
Mr. ROSENTHAL. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(Congressman Vanik's prepared statement follows :) STATEMENT OF HON. CHARLES A. VANIK, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM
THE STATE OF OHIO Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to present testimony relative to actions which this government should take to assist persons of Jewish heritage residing in the Soviet Union.
There are a large number of resolutions before your Committee concerning the problem of Soviet Jewry.
One resolution, of which I am a co-sponsor, would have the Congress request the President “to manifest our country's position as the guardian of the traditions of liberty and justice for all, the dignity of all mankind, and the freedom of worship, by taking appropriate affirmative action to persuade the Soviet Union to revise its official policies" with respect to the rights of Jewish citizens of the USSR. These rights include the right to worship, to preserve their cultural identity (as other Soviet minority groups are permitted to do), and to emigrate freely. Under this Resolution the President would have support to use diplomatic, United Nations, and economic and trade pressure—as well as the tools of publicity-on behalf of Soviet Jews.
Another resolution which I am co-sponsoring would support Voice of America broadcasts in Yiddish to the citizens of the Soviet Union. As the resolution states, “broadcasting by the Voice of America in the Yiddish language would constitute for the Soviet Union's Jewish citizens an act of great psychological support."
A TRAGIC ACCOUNT
I have long been concerned about the plight of the Jews in countries where they are being repressed, but the severity of the problem in the Soviet Union was forcefully brought home to me by several long conversations this March with Madame Lyuba Bershadskaya. Because of the fantastic and tragic experiences which she has had in the Soviet Union as a result of her connections with Americans during World War II, I have introduced a private claims bill on her behalf, H.R. 7086, which is presently before the House Judiciary Committee and which I hope will be acted on in the near future.
Her story is worth briefly repeating here since it is a sample of what has happened and is happening to Jews throughout the Soviet Union. If one is interested in a fuller description of her life, I cannot recommend too highly an article which appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on March 14, 1971, written by Trudie Vocse and entitled “Twenty-four Years in the Life of Lyuba Bershadskaya."
Because her English was so good, Lyuba, who was a Soviet Jew and an accomplished ballerina with the Bolshoi, was hired by the American Military Mission in Moscow in 1942 to teach Russian to the highest ranking officers and officials of our Mission-including Ambassador Harriman. She worked for the Mission until 1946, but when it left, she was immediately arrested for "criminal connection with Americans.”
She was kept in solitary confinement in a Moscow jail for nine months. Then, she was transported to Siberia in a sealed train-a journey which took twentyeight days and during which she was given only salted fish to eat and water to drink. When the train arrived at the concentration camp, it took eight lorries to cart away those who had died during the journey. She slaved in the camps for ten years under truly indescribable conditions.
In the liberalization which began around 1956, she was freed. During this time her persecution was largely due to her association with Americans and not primarily because she was Jewish. She did note, however, that after the Doctors' Plot "Train after train after train with prisoners, all Jews" arrived at the camps. As she says, “Only Jews, Jews, Jews. They came by the hundreds. The whole camp was full of Jews.” Sixty to seventy died each day.
It was when she returned to Moscow in 1956 that she began to experience the fierce waves of anti-Semitism. As she states, “When I came back from the camps in 1956, I could feel the difference in Moscow. Worse, worse. Anti-Semitism was thick, deep-it was everywhere. It was like a fog: you breathed it.”
Her family had been separated and frightened away from her. Employment was denied because she was a Jew; she could get no permanent residency permit.
A HAPPY ENDING After Kosygin's 1966 Paris statement that Jews would be permitted to leave the Soviet Union, Lyuba immediately applied, along with thousands and thousands of others, to emigrate to Israel. Every morning for three years she went to the office of the Organization for Visas and Registration (OVIR). "Every morning they were spiteful, rotten."
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Lyuba was finally able to leave for Israel in the fall of 1970. This accomplishment is a monument to her courage through all those long years. She was one of the "Moscow Twenty-five" and "Eleven Women" who petitioned their government, the United Nations, the women of the world, and the entire free world in open letters, seeking justice under Article 13/2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares:
"Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
Hers is not an isolated case. As she says, “What happened to me is the biography of thousands." From her friends, organizations and information from the Soviet visa office, she estimates that about a quarter million Jews have asked for visas for emigration to Israel. All these people obviously feel the burden of persecution against their culture and religion as well as the 2,000 year old desire held by Jews to return to their Holy Land.
Discrimination against Jews continues in the Soviet Union, although more than fifty years have passed since the Bolshevik Revolution, with its promise of equality to all citizens. The treatment of the Soviet Jews in the Soviet Union must be seen within the framework of their anti-Semitic nationalities policy.
Within a few years of the Revolution, Soviet Jewry established an impressive network of schools and cultural institutions which became a valuable asset to the development of Jewish Culture in the post-revolutionary period in Russia. However, the State required that the ultimate direction of that new system was basically the complete assimilation of all minorities, and this dream of a new life for the Jewish minority, supposedly freed from the Czar's pogroms, was doomed.
Officially promoted discrimination against the Jews has in the last year culminated in a series of trials which have been justified by Soviet officials as being legitimate actions against individuals for hijacking and other crimes in the Soviet Criminal Code.
Jewish sources say that the defendants were being prosecuted solely for their desire to go to Israel—which, as I have pointed out, is guaranteed under Article 13/2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Of the eleven arrested at the airport, two were given the death sentence while the other nine were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
DEATH SENTENCES COMMUTED
World-wide reaction to this "sentence” included appeals by the French and Belgian governments to have the death sentences commuted, as well as a personal appeal by Secretary of State Rogers to the Soviet Foreign Minister, urging that these sentences be reduced. Such pressure did save the lives of the two, but such pressure must continue to keep alive the humanitarian conscience of the world on the plight of the Soviet Jew.
The Soviets have not hidden their policy against Jews. The Communist newspaper, Pravda, warned Soviet Jews that anyone espousing Zionist beliefs would "automatically become an agent of international Zionism and hence an enemy of the Soviet people" (New York Times, February 20, 1971).
Pravda warned Soviet Jews who criticized Soviet policy and who had openly agitated for emigration rights to curtail their activities.
Although the series of trials appears to have ended, for the present at least, the Jewish oppression continues to be an explosive problem. The Jewish voice within the USSR has inspired and re-awakened the Jewish consciousness and determination. This is a problem that should re-awaken the humanitarian consciousness of all people. And Americans should act to show that we will not stand quietly, while men anywhere are suppressed for their expression of culture and religion.
Thus it is imperative that we in the Congress stand up for action to improve the condition of Soviet Jews. The world must never stand by in silence while conditions similar to those which existed in Nazi Germany continue. Our diplomacy with respect to the Jews of Europe before and during World War II was one of utter moral bankruptcy-it must never happen again.
We must make every effort to publicize what is happening within the Soviet Union and use every tool which we have to work for the improvement of conditions there. As Lyuba Bershadskaya said of her effort to leave the USSR, “We would not have had the courage if we were not supported by the free world. Anytime we heard our letters over the radio from England, from America, from Israel, we used to become braver."
It is significant that just this last Saturday, November 6th, the Washington Post carried an article entitled, "Soviets seen boosting exist visas of Jews.” The article speculated that Jewish emigration might reach 10,000 for all of 1971. The article said that:
"Diplomatic observers who keep track of Jewish emigration believe foreign pressure on the Kremlin is responsible for the relatively large number of Jews now being allowed to leave. Foreign pressure was renewed recently in Canada and France, where both Communist Party leader Leonid I. Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin got clear impressions of local opinion on the issue of Soviet treatment of Jews."
The article also warns that “the stream of immigrants could be cut off abruptly at any time." Obviously, pressure must be maintained. And, obviously, this is not a short-term problem. As the newspaper article also noted, “There are indications that the more Jews are permitted to leave, the more will seek to leave."
Therefore, Members of the Committee, I hope that you will report to the Floor of the House of Representatives a complete package of strong bills designed to direct the entire range of our available resources to the solution of this problem.
Mr. VANIK. First of all, I want to thank you for this opportunity to present testimony relative to actions which this Government should take to assist persons of Jewish heritage residing in the Soviet Union.
There are a large number of resolutions before your committee on this subject. One resolution, of which I am a cosponsor, House Joint Resolution 222, would have the Congress request the President to manifest our country's position by taking appropriate, affirmative action to persuade the Soviet Union to revise its official policies with respect to rights of Jewish citizens of the U.S.S.R.
Under this resolution, the President would have support to use diplomatic, United Nations and economic and trade pressure as well as tools of publicity on behalf of the Soviet Jews.
INCREASED TRADE WITH EAST
I might say, Mr. Chairman, as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, we should be considering expanded trade proposals. I think the element of effectiveness of our Government through trade policies could have a great bearing on this problem, because there is great and rather widespread pressure for increasing trade with the Eastern bloc.
Under another resolution which I am sponsoring, and which many of you are cosponsoring, H.R. 567, we would support Voice of America broadcasts in Yiddish to the citizens of the Soviet Union.
I think this is a very important change and would be very helpful in bringing American points of view to the people that really need to hear the outside world in their traditional language and to be encouraged.
Mr. Chairman, I am a member of the Cleveland Council of Soviet Jewry and have been long concerned about the plight of Jews in countries where they are being suppressed.
The problem was forcibly brought home to me by several long conversations I had this spring with Madame Lyuba Berskadskaya. Because of the fantastic and tragic experiences which she had in the Soviet Union as a result of her connections with Americans during World War II, I have introduced a private claims bill in her behalf which is presently before the House Judiciary Committee.
I think you are all familiar with her experience during World War II. She worked as an interpreter for our Government with the military mission and when she left she was kept in solitary confinement in a Moscow jail for 9 months, then deported to Siberia for 10 years and then in the liberalization which began in 1956, she was freed.
CAN'T PRACTICE RELIGION
She was a very, very expressive woman and very honest. After my long conversations with her, I became even more deeply concerned about the problems of the Soviet Jewish citizens, people that are in the Soviet Union and can't practice their own religion or their own culture.