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COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK,
New York, N.Y., November 10, 1971. Mr. RICHARD DAVIES, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
DEAR MR. DAVIES: As I indicated in my telegram of November 10, I am thoroughly appalled at your testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee as reported in the New York Times of November 10. Although I thoroughly support your desire to have a "solid and realistic" evaluation of the situation, I do not feel your presentation as reported in the Times was consistent with this guideline. The responsible Jewish community as well as people knowledgeable in Soviet affairs have not claimed that Jews in Soviet Russia are living in a state of Nazi-like terror or Stalinist purges. To suggest that this has been our evaluation is to posit a straw man which then can easily be demolished, there by justifying a policy of over-caution if not silence. As a rabbi I am offended when I am told that my people cannot be assisted because our situation is not equivalent to the most recent tragic persecution of our community. Such analysis abuses the Holocaust and does not learn from it the most important lesson that inaction and overcaution can be as destructive as malicious violence.
Second, I should like to point out the unique mistreatment of the Jewish people which you endeavored to downplay in your presentation. Enclosed are a number of items which verify that the Soviet Government has singled out the Jewish people for particular mistreatment. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency Daily News Bulletin of April 1 describes the murder of a Jewish scholar in Minsk, and the burning of its Matza Bakery. It also refers to the case of Miss Reiza Palatnek, a librarian in Odessa who has been imprisoned simply because she possessed books which referred to Israel and other Jewish matters. Another clipping from the JTA Bulletin of October 4 describes the order to close one of the three remaining synagogues in Moscow. Mr. Sol Polansky's report that synagogues are usually well attended somehow neglects to mention that he over 200,000 Jews living in Moscow currently only have two synagogues. On Simchat Torah of last year thousands of young Jews attempted to fill the Leningrad synagogue on that holy day. Upon arriving they found the synagogue boarded-up and were dispersed shortly by Soviet police.
Finally, a recent publication from the Novesti Press Agency, in Moscow, “Soviet Jews: Fact and Fiction,” gives governmental figures about religious life of Soviet Jews. In accordance with that publication, there are under one hundred synagogues for over two million Jews, according to the 1970 census. Also, the only Jewish school cited (page 30) is the Yeshivah of the Moscow Central Synagogue. Having concluded a three year tour in Moscow I do anticipate that Mr. Polansky should be able to report that this school has not been in existence for a number of years, thereby leaving us to conclude--and accurately so—that there are no Jewish schools whatsoever in the entire Soviet Union.
In addition to the above facts, the Leningrad Trials of December, 1970, fully confirm that the treatment of Jews is indeed unique, warranting a forthright response from men in government of good will everywhere. To be able to state that everything is not all that bad after the Leningrad trials misses the import of that tragic event in Jewish history.
I hope that in the future the response of the State Department will be a realistic and appropriate one, recognizing the specific situation of the Jew within dissident and minority groups in the USSR. I hope that future public pronouncements on this situation will adequately reflect the realities and problems of the Jewish minority in the Soviet Union. Respectfully,
(Signed) CHARLES SHEER,
Rabbi, Jewish Chaplain.
(From Jewish Telegraphic Agency Daily News Bulletin, Apr. 1, 1971) JEWISH SCHOLAR KILLED; MATZOTH BAKERY DESTROYED; JEWISH WOMAN
NEW YORK, March 31 (JTA)--A Jewish scholar was shot and killed four months ago in Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, by an anti-Semite, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned today from Jewish sources. The professor, identified only as Michelson, was shot last Nov. 19 and died three days later. His assassin,
whose name was not available, was arrested and reportedly declared mentally ill. More recently-within the past few days-Minsk Jews were given permission to bake matzoth for Passover, but the bakery was destroyed by fire, it was learned. Meanwhile, a Soviet Jew who had applied for emigration to Israel and was arrested in Odessa last Dec. 7 for “Zionist activities" is still being interrogated and is continuing to refuse to talk until her questioners cease what she calls their “brutality,” according to Jewish sources. The woman, Reiza Palatnek, 33, is demanding that they abide by the Soviet law prohibiting brutal interrogation. She was sent to a mental home, but the doctors said she did not belong there.
ONE OF THREE REMAINING SYNAGOGUES IN Moscow ORDERED CLOSED BY
New York, Oct. 3 (JTA)-The smallest of three remaining synagogues in Moscow has been ordered closed by the authorities by Nov. 1, reliable Jewish sources here reported today. The sources said there was no immediate information on the official reason for the closing, but said the authorities were making it difficult for the worshippers to open another synagogue. The synagogue, which hold approximately 100 worshippers, is the Cherkizovoyo at 70 Lermontov St., in a suburb of Moscow.
It has not had a rabbi since the last one died several years ago. There are now six rabbis for the approximately 3 million Jews of the Soviet Union. The remaining Moscow houses of Jewish worship are the large Choral Synagogue and the small Marina Rosha, which holds 200-300 persons. The elderly rabbi of Marina Rosha, Natan Olevsky, died in 1961 in his 90s and has not been replaced.
Rabbi Arnold S. Turetsky of the Jackson Heights (N.Y.) Jewish Center, who visited both of the smaller synagogues on the 17th of Tamaz fastday last year and again this year, expressed sadness to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on learning of the impending shutdown of Cherkizovoyo. "I feel very bad," he said “because we had friends there. We really felt an intimacy." In 1970, he said the worshippers hugged and kissed him and the members of his student delegation; this year, however, they were “very depressed,” even more than was to be expected on a fast day. But Rabbi Turetsky said there was no indication that the worshippers knew their synagogue was doomed. When he asked them if they needed anything, he said, they replied ; “Questions are for the seder. This is not Pesach."
SOVIET JEWS: FACT AND FICTION
The Soviet Union has nearly one hundred synagogues located in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Vilnius, Riga, Kishinev, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Tashkent, Odessa and many other cities. Besides, there are more than 300 minyans in various places, large and small, where religious Jews live. (A minyan is a group of at least ten Jewish male worshippers.)
In the Soviet Union the Church is separated from the State. Therefore the number of churches, synagogues, mosques and houses of worship depends on the requirements and financial resources of the communities and parishioners and not on the state.
It should be mentioned that the majority of the Soviet people long ago became atheists, by no means as a result of state coercion. The overwhelming majority have a materialistic world outlook, and Jews are no exception.
There is no official record of the number of believers in this country. But sociologists established by sampling that 3–6 per cent of the Jews in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine are religious. In the Baltic republics-Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia-the figure is 5-9 per cent, in Georgia, the Northern Caucasus and Bukhara—7-12 per cent. Mostly they are aged people.
However, during big religious festivals—Simhath Torah, Rosh Hashana, Passover-many non-worshipping Jews in keeping with national traditions gather near the synagogues to make merry, sing and dance. Jewish national dishes are frequently served in Jewish families on traditional holidays when relatives, friends and colleagues gather together.
In the Soviet Union believers are absolutely free to profess any religion and to perform their religious ceremonies and rituals. This is specifically stated in the Constitution.
Each year before Passover, Jewish communities start baking matzoh. The mechanized bakery of the Moscow Synagogue bakes about 100 tons of matzoh annually. Synagogues have their own poultry slaughter pens and kosher meat shops.
The religious calendar is published by the Moscow Central Synagogue every year. In 1968, it put out a new prayer book in a total of 10,000 copies edited by Rabbi Levin.
The libraries of synagogues have thousands of religious books. The Moscow Central Synagogue has a theological school—the Yeshiva-training rabbis, shohets, etc.
REPRESSION OF JEWS IN THE SOVIET UNION
(Edited by Louis Rosenblum, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews; introduction by
Louis Rosenblum) The Jewish minority in the USSR is subjected to singularly repressive treatment. Special prohibitions are placed upon Jewish education, religious observance, and culture. Discrimination is practiced against Jews in employment and schooling. Anti-Semitism is inflamed by a stream of news articles, books, and cartoons from the government press. As a consequence, an estimated 44 million Jews have sought permission to leave the Soviet Union. Most desire to reunite with families in Israel.
All but a small number of the applications have been denied, in spite of the fact that the demands to emigrate are legitimate and in keeping with Soviet Constituition, law, practice and international treaty. The record shows that the Soviet government has allowed the reunion of families and has indeed supported the repatriation of entire ethnic groups living in the USSR, e.g., several thousand Spaniards, 1936-60 and 200.000 Poles, 1957–8. Additionally, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on January 22, 1969 ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Article 5, paragraph d, subsection 2 of the Convention provides that each contracting party to the treaty "guarantees the right of every one to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country.”
To check the growing "exodus” movement the Soviet government has resorted to three major stratagems: "silence" vocal dissidents by letting them leave; discourage application for emigration by intensifying the financial and procedural requirements; and repress Jewish national feeling by arrest of persons possessing Jewish history or Hebrew language books on criminal charges of anti-Soviet activities.
The present wave of repression began with the arrest of Boris Kochubyevsky in December 1968 and his trial in May 1969. Following this came the secret trial in Riazan, February 1970, the infamous Leningrad hi-jacking trial of December 1970, and the recent trials in Riga, Leningrad, Kishinev, Odessa, Sverulovsk, Kharkov, and Chernovitz. In general, those arrested have been charged with “political crimes" under RSFSR Criminal Code Statute 70 (anti-Soviet propaganda) and Statute 72 (anti-Soviet organization). In addition, defendants in the Leningrad hi-jacking trial were charged with treason and theft of government property. Sentences up to 15 years in strict or special regime labor camps were meted out.
The Soviet Union maintains five types of penal labor camps. In order of increasing severity they are: colony-settlement, ordinary enforced, strict, and special. The latter two types of camps are mainly for political prisoners. Generally, major political offenders are sent to the notorious Potma camps in Mordovia, some 280 miles southeast of Moscow. The camps, part of the Dubrovlag Complex (see map on facing page), are a sinister relic from Stalin's day. As of the summer of 1969, the distribution of the political prisoners were as follows:
Camp No. 3, for women, also Central Hospital, 300 patients, 80 staff.
Non-political prisoners, as well as political ones, sentenced under articles other than "especially dangerous crimes against the state,” and religious prisoners, totalling about 8,500 men and 3,500 women, comprise the rest of the Dubrovlag population.
At the Potma camps prisoners are employed, under extremely primitive conditions, in lumbering operations and furniture manufacture. They are expected to fullfill high production norms difficult at best on a full stomach and impossible on the semi-starvation camp diet. Prisoners in strict and special regime labor camps receive a diet of 2,400 calories per day. Compare this to the recommended daily dietary intake for an average adult male (source: U.S. National Research Council) :
Calories At rest in bed.-
1, 800 Inactive occupation -
2, 200 Active occupation.
3, 200 Heavy work.----
4,500 In the whole of the Soviet period there has been an official reticence, unparalleled in any modern state, about the penal system. Conditions in Soviet penal institutions have been, and remain, hidden not only from the outside world, but from the Soviet public too. Occasionally though, through the writings of former inmates, a window is opened into the prison compound. Books by A. I. Solzhenitsyn, Raphael Rupert, Michael Solomon and others have provided details of prison life during the Stalin period. Little, however, was known of conditions in present day Soviet penal institutions before Anatoly T. Marchenko's book, My Testimony, was smuggled out of Russia and published in 1969.
Marchenko, at the age of 20, was working as a foreman on a drilling site in 1958 when a fight broke out between two groups of workers. The police indiscriminately arrested the innocent and the guilty and Marchenko was sent to a prison camp from which he escaped. He was arrested trying to cross the Iranian border and sentenced to six years imprisonment (1960-1966), which he spent in prisons and camps reserved for political prisoners. My Testimony was written following his release in 1966. The KGB (secret police) found a pretext for arresting him again in July 1968. He was sentenced to one year on a trumped-up charge of infringing the internal passport regulations. While in prison camp his book appeared in the West and his sentence was increased two years for 'slandering the Soviet Union.' Marchenko was released on July 28, 1971.