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September 07, 1990 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-07

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Editor Emeritus

Elie Wiesel


f the many debts of
gratitude we owe the
University of
Michigan, the presently add-
ed one is extraordinarily im-
portant. On Sept. 25 com-
mences the series of annual
lectures in honor of the hero
in the rescue of tens of
thousands from the Nazi
ovens, Raoul Wallenberg. It is
the 45th anniversary of his
incarceration by the Russians
upon their entrance into
The Wallenberg arrest, as
well as the Russian infamy,
are historic records.
Would that Mr. Wallenberg

First U-114 Wallenberg Medalist

could be here to accept the
honors accorded him. There is
a prevailing belief that he is
still alive in a Soviet prison.
The honor to the Universi-
ty of Michigan graduate from
its College of Architecture
also will be the occasion for
the presentation of the an-
nual Raoul Wallenberg
Medal. The event, to be held
in the Hill Auditorium in
Ann Arbor, assumes added
significance because the first
recipient of the Wallenberg
Medal will be Nobel Prize
Laureate Elie Wiesel.
There is very much that is
ennobling in the U-M

testimonials to two great per- .
sonalities — Wallenberg and

There is very much
that is ennobling
in the U-M
testimonials to
two great

While commending our
university's action honoring a
distinguished graduate, we
must not forget those who en-
couraged inauguration of the

honor more than 20 years ago.
The late Sol King, who was a
classmate of Mr. Wallenberg,
inaugurated the fund-raising
for the project. The late Prof.
William Haber was an active
member of our committee for
the perpetuation of the
Wallenberg historiography.
These are factors to
remember as we express
gratitude to the University of
Michigan for sponsoring the
Wallenberg Lecture and
I wish now to recommend a
successor to Elie Wiesel as
recipient of the Wallenberg
Medal. He is Georgio

Perlasca, of Padua, Italy,
whose heroism, a replica of
Wallenberg's, is now becom-
ing known. The account of his
courage is told by Michael
Ryan, one of the editors of
Parade Magazine.
Under the heading "In the
Midst of the Holocaust .. .
This Quiet Man Saved Thou-
sands" (Parade Aug. 10)
Ryan related the Perlasca
bravery in Budapest where he
was doing the rescuing.
This story must await a
forthcoming Commentary. I
shall always feel the impact of
the Perlasca story as I do
Wallenberg's. ❑

Russian Jewry Finds Voice In Self-Liberation


enturies of oppres-
sions and humilia-
tions have been
sprinkled with hopes that our
people would have opportuni-
ty to be self-helpful to erase
When the most agonizing
hatreds of the last century
became unbearable, there
began to emerge defiance. It
was soon to be an awakening
of Zionist idealism. That
which created the social and
political aims of the Zionist
cause also had its precursor.
Preceding Theodor Herzl and
his "The Jewish State," the
most deeply moving appeal to
Jewry was the advocacy of self
assertiveness by the eminent
Dr. Leon Pinsker (1821-91).
The life and activities of
this distinguished personali-
ty should be studied for a
comprehension of the many
causes that created Jewish
appeals. Insofar as the
perpetuated lesson of this
Odessa physician is concern-
ed, it will remain in historic
records of his advocacy of self-
help. The pamphlet "Auto-
Emancipation," which he
wrote in 1882, preceding
Herzl by more than a decade,
was an urgent call to action

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Vol. WWII No. 2 September '7, 1990



that inspired the liber-
tarianism of Zionism.
Leon Pinsker provided
guidance to his fellow Jews of
a century later, those now
enrolled in the New Exodus.
It is the admonition that self-
emancipation is the respon-
sibility of our time.
The lesson of "Auto-
Emancipation" is especially
applicable to the analyses of
the emerging commitments
by Dr. Zvi Gitelman, of the
department of political
science at the University of
Michigan and an acknowledg-
ed authority on the issues of
Russian Jewry.
He provides his basis for
understanding the new
developments and the people
involved in the mass im-
migration. Prof. Gitelman's
"Anti-Semitism in the Age of
Perestroika" is published by
the Hebrew Immigrant Aid
Society — HIAS.
There is an especially im-
portant summarizing com-
ment that leads to an ap-
preciation of his valuable
social and human study of the
events that have historic
Jewish value. He declares:
The USSR may be on the
brink of chaos or revolu-
tion. All the ingredients of
a classic pre-revolutionary
situation are there: a divid-
ed elite, a leadership un-
sure of its course, a
disintegrating empire,
discontented nationalities,
an economy in shambles,
and a hitherto repressed
population exhiliarated by
finding its voice and using
it before new rules of civil
discourse have been work-
ed out.
No one can predict what
will be the outcome of the
interplay of these forces. In

the light of recent history,
with the loss of tens of
thousands of their fellow
Jews in the civil war and
over a million in the
Holocaust, Soviet Jews are
not inclined to wait and see
what the future will bring.
They would rather try and
determine their own
futures as free men and
women rather than as ob-
jects of other peoples'
frustrations and
This is the heritage for
which I now call for utiliza-
tion of Leo Pinsker's em-
phasis on self-liberation,
defining the plight of Russian
Many queries arise. There
were reports of threatened
pogroms that did not
materialize, yet there are
many individualized
There are the skeptical who
would reduce concerns in an
effort to abandon fears. Zvi
Gitelman takes them all into
account and provides them a
platform by indicating the
From a Western perspec-
tive, the behavior of Soviet
Jews today could be seen
as irrational and
hysterical. After all, very
few Jews have been killed
in the ethnic violence of
the past two years, some
Jews seem to have attained
prominence in the Soviet
intelligentsia, and, besides,
those who are truly
frightened can leave.
There are as yet no very
reliable data on the extent
and intensity of anti-
Semitic attitudes in Soviet
society. A recent study con-
ducted in the Moscow
region found that 18 per-

cent of the respondents
said they disliked Jews,
and equal proportion said
they liked them, and 65
percent said they were
neutral. Nearly equal pro-
portions of people thought
that "most people in the
Soviet Union are anti-
Jewish" and that "very few
people are anti-Jewish."
Over 90 percent thought
Jews should have the right
to emigrate or choose to
stay in the USSR and 88
percent favored equal
employment for Jews.
Though these results —
which may not be
generalizable to the coun-
try as a whole — indicate
higher levels of anti-
Semitism than what most
surveys find in the United
States, they do not indicate
widespread and intense
anti-Jewish feelings which
would lead to pogroms.
Furthermore, in elections
to local Soviets in March
1990, "right wing" can-
didates associated with ex-
tremist nationalism and
anti-Semitism were sound-
ly trounced in Moscow,
Leningrad, Sverdlovsk and
other areas. Overall, Rus-
sian nationalists seem to
have gotten only about 10
percent of the vote in the
Russian republic.
The response to these
agonies is the total rejection
of the inhumanities in the
Gitelman challenge that
leads to commitment to the
New Exodus.
The affirmation of faith is
defined in the Gitelman
analyses as follows:
Why then the widespread
fear of pogroms and the
rush to flee the country?
We must understand that

Prof. Gitelman

Soviet Jewish perspectives
are quite different from
Western outlooks because
they have been molded in
a specific historical con-
text and in very different
circumstances from that of
American Jewry . . . For
Soviet Jews, these events
took the lives of their near
and dear ones. They have
an immediacy and reality
which few Americans can
Where once Jews feared
the power of the govern-
ment, today they are
frightened by its weakness.
It may have neither the will
nor the ability to intervene
effectively against anti-
Semitic attacks. For Jews
today the danger seems to
come more "from below"
than "from above."
In some ways this is a
more frightening type of
anti-Semitism. When the
government was the main
source of anti-Jewish agita-
tion, Jews experienced a
Continued on Page 46

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