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February 08, 1980 - Image 13

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1980-02-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Expert's Example of Soviet Repression

By ABRAHAM KATSH

(Editor's note: Dr. Ab-
raham I. Katsh, president
emeritus of Dropsie Uni-
versity in Philadelphia, is
the only known Western
scholar who was granted
permission by the Soviet
Union in the 1950s and
1960s to examine and
microfilm important
Jewish documents and
manuscripts in the Soviet
Union.)

On my first trip to Russia
in 1956, my colleague, the
late Prof. Christian 0.
Arndt, and I visited the then
deputy minister of educa-
tion, A. Arsenyev. During
our discussion about the
government's interest in
fostering national lan-
guages and cultures, I re-
marked that I was certain
there were some Soviet citi-
zens who did not have an
opportunity to study their
own language and culture,
because the study of He-
brew and Hebrew culture
was officially forbidden, al-
though the study of Yiddish
was once allowed and was
still recognized as the offi-
cial language of Birobidjan
(the proposed region of
Jewish settlement—ed.).
I also mentioned that I
knew that Soviet law pro-
hibits the teaching of any
religion until the age of 18
except by parents.
Private bilingual schools,
such as are common in the
Western world, too, are for-
bidden to function; there-
fore Jewish youths, up to
the age of 18, have no oppor-
tunity to study the lan-
guage, culture and the
civilization of the Jewish
people. I mentioned that the
Soviets recognize the
Jewish nationality but do
not give Jews a chance to
study their language and
culture.

I then asked: "Could
not Hebrew be taught in
at least some 10-year
schools in the manner
Hebrew is taught in U.S.
public schools?" The de-
puty minister's first reac-
tion was that the same
principles apply to the
Jewish nationality as to
all other nationalities. He
suggested that the He-
brew language and cul-
ture could be fostered in
Birobidjan.
I called to his attention

that Birobidjan is not con-
sidered a separate republic
and that the distance from
Leningrad and Moscow to
Birobidjan would make it
impossible for Jews from
those cities to study Hebrew
in Birobidjan unless they
settled there.
Arsenyev then cited the
Soviet law which provides
that if 10 or more parents
request that their national
language be taught to their
children in any 10-year
school, then the authorities
must comply with the re-
quest.
When I asked whether
this law applied to the
teaching of modern Hebrew
as well as to Yiddish, his an-
swer was an emphatic "yes."
Moreover, he said, this law
applied also to culture, cul-

ABRAHAM KATSH
ture meaning literature,
history, and music.

We then asked if he
would give us this state-
ment in writing, so that
we could quote him accu-
rately. Arsenyev readily
agreed and on the follow-
ing day we received this
official statement:
"I am communicating to

you the answer to the ques-
tion as to whether people of
Hebrew nationality can
study their native language
in the USSR.
"According to the Soviet
law, every parent is given
the right to put his child in a
class in which the instruc-
tion of all subjects is con-
ducted in the native lan-
guage. For the organization
of such a class in any school,
only 10 parents of studnets
who wish their children
taught in the native lan-
guage are necessary. This
right is quite applicable to
people of Hebrew origin.

"In addition, in schools
where instruction is carried
on in the language of a
union or autonomous repub-
lic (Russian, Ukrainian,
Tartar, Bashkir, etc.), addi-
tional studies of other lan-
guages, or national litera-
ture, history, and music
may be organized according
to the wishes of the parents.

"If 10 pupils wish to
study these subjects, the
teacher is paid from the
account of the school.

"With the respects of the
Assistant Minister of Edu-
cation of the USSR."
(signed) A. Arsenyev
I showed the letter to the
late Chief Rabbi of Moscow,
Rabbi Sh. Schliffer, who
was well regarded by the
government.
It was he who succeeded
in getting permission to es-
tablish a yeshiva in Moscow
(in 1956) for 30 students. He
also secured permission to
publish the first siddur
printed in Soviet Russia.
Rabbi Schliffer's first re-
mark was, "We need people
like you here."
I replied: "If I lived in
Moscow, I doubt that I
would have received this
kind of letter."

At any rate, when some
Leningrad Jews tried to
act according to the let-
ter, some of them were
imprisoned for making
such a request!

USSR is confronted with
many problems connected
with Jews. The Soviets can-
not admit that Communism
has failed to solve the
Jewish problem. It is faced
with the Stalinist fallacy
that the Jewish people are
not a nation.
The Russians had hoped
that the Jews would assimi-
late into the new society.
This failed because no ef-
forts were made to educate
the non-Jews and to grant
the rights of the constitu-
tion to the Jewish national-
ity.

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The difference between
coarse and refined abuse is
the difference between
being bruised by a club and
wounded by a poisoned ar-
row.

Jews being ubiquitous in
Russia are an anomaly and
an anomaly breeds trouble.
The Russian government
refuses to admit that there
is anti-Semitism in the
USSR. Anti-Semitism to
them means Tsarist anti-
Semitism, i.e., pogroms.
To the Jew, however, a
spiritual pogrom is tan-
tamount to a physical pog-
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Jews want to get out of the
"Communist paradise," but
no other group is denied its
group rights in the manner
Jews are being deprived.

Friday, February 8, 1980 13

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