The Kremlin’s Strange Victory
How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline
During the past quarter-century, enlightened public opinion throughout the world has become keenly sensitive to the treatment of minorities as a barometer of moral decency and social sanity. The awesome experiences of this period have drawn particular attention to the symbolic and actual position of the Jewish minority. In this light, the status of the Jews in the Soviet Union warrants special concern.
The situation of Soviet Jews can be comprehended primarily within the framework of Soviet nationalities policy. That policy, as reflected in Communist party directives, the Soviet Constitution and public law, is based on the ideological acceptance of the concept of national self- determination and on the legal recognition of the right of all nationalities within Soviet borders to cultural freedom. Actual Soviet policy toward the Jews clearly violates these principles. It is tantamount to a policy of discrimination for it denies to the Jews such ethnic- cultural rights as are generally accorded all other Soviet nationalities.
The Soviet Union officially recognizes Jews as a nationality. In the personal identification papers which all Soviet citizens carry (the internal "passport"), Jews must list their nationality as "Jewish" (Yevrei) just as other nationalities-such as Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians and others-must list theirs. Thus, in the official Soviet census returns of 1959, published in Pravda on February 4, 1960, Jews are listed among the official nationalities. In all previous censuses, citizens were required to provide proof, in the form of their internal passport, of their claim to belong to one or another nationality. In 1959, for the first time, they were allowed to volunteer, without proof, the nationality with which they chose to be identified. Despite the possibility thus provided for Jews to "pass," 2,268,000 people specified their nationality as Jewish (there are reasons to believe that the total number more closely approximates 3,000,000).
Soviet Jews constitute 1.09 percent of the population, but they occupy a far more significant place than this figure suggests. Of the considerably more than 100 diverse Soviet nationalities, the Jews are eleventh numerically. The great majority of them live in the three most populous Union Republics: 38 percent in the Russian Republic, 37 percent in the Ukraine, 7 percent in White Russia; but there is no republic of the U.S.S.R. where Jewish communities may not be found. And an important reflection of their sense of identification after several decades of direct and indirect forcible assimilation is that 472,000 (20.8 percent) gave Yiddish, which is the traditional language of speech and literature of East European Jews, as their mother tongue.
The Jews are also regarded, secondarily, as a religious group. This complicates their status and makes it even more precarious. For though their unique dual character is a natural outgrowth of Jewish history and tradition, it creates unusual difficulties for them under Soviet conditions. An assault upon the Jewish religion, for example, will inevitably be taken, by Jews and non-Jews alike, as an attack upon the Jewish nationality as a whole-upon Jews as such. And they have come increasingly to be considered an alien group in a land where they have resided for more than a thousand years.
Their vulnerability is increased by the fact that, unlike most other Soviet nationalities, which have their own geographic territories, the Jews are widely dispersed throughout the country. They are also the only Soviet nationality a majority of whose total world population lives outside the U.S.S.R. Because the Soviet Jewish minority has historic and traditional ties of culture, religion and family with Jewish communities throughout the world outside the Communist bloc, it is subject to even greater suspicion.
Soviet Jews are especially sensitive to their vulnerable condition because their memory of what they themselves call the "Black Years"-the last five years of Stalin's rule, when his terror assumed a viciously and openly anti- Semitic form-has not been erased. One reason they have not forgotten is that Soviet policy toward Jews and Judaism has remained essentially the same since 1948-with the vitally important exception, of course, that the terror is gone. And they are not less keenly cognizant of the fact that, of all the crimes of Stalin catalogued by Premier Khrushchev and his colleagues at the Twentieth and Twenty-second Congresses of the C.P.S.U., his crimes against the Jews were passed over in utter silence.
The significance of Soviet policy toward the Jews was dramatically highlighted in September 1961 by the publication of a poem, "Babi Yar," in the Literary Gazette, organ of the Soviet Writers Union. This poem by a loyal Communist, Yevgeny Yevtushenko-one of the most popular young Soviet poets-caused a sensation. It is a searing indictment of anti-Semitism both historically and as a facet of contemporary Soviet society. In his opening line, the poet protests that there is still no monument to the scores of thousands of Jewish martyrs slaughtered by the Nazis in 1941 at Babi Yar, a vale on the outskirts of Kiev. This is a pointed reflection of the fact that Soviet authorities have been consistently silent about the nature, dimensions and even the very existence of the unique Jewish tragedy during the Second World War. Though not himself a Jew, Yevtushenko identifies himself in his poem with persecuted Jewry throughout history. He thus points up the existence of a historic Jewish people, which Soviet doctrine denies-and of Jewish history, which Soviet policy prevents Jews from learning.
Yevtushenko is not alone in mirroring the mood and sensibility of the literate younger Soviet generation. There is a whole "underground" literature that passes from hand to hand among the university and literary youth, and one of its frequent leitmotifs is isolated, disadvantaged Soviet Jewry. In this, as in their general quest for a purified idealism, Yevtushenko and his confrères are in the main stream of the honorable tradition of the liberal Russian intelligentsia from Pushkin to Tolstoy and Gorky.
The Jews are the only nationality which is deprived of the basic cultural rights accorded to all others in the U.S.S.R. These rights have recently been reaffirmed by no less an authoritative source than the new Party Program adopted by the Twenty-second Congress in October 1961: "The Communist Party guarantees the complete freedom of each citizen of the U.S.S.R. to speak and to rear and educate his children in any language- ruling out all privileges, restrictions or compulsion in the use of this or that language."
Until 1948 the Jews were permitted a cultural life in their own language, Yiddish (though Hebrew was forbidden), on a large scale: newspapers, publishing houses, thousands of books, a variety of literary journals, professional repertory theatres and dramatic schools, literary and cultural research institutes, a network of schools, and other means of perpetuating Jewish cultural values, albeit in a Communist form. In 1948 (and in some cases during the purges of 1937-39), the whole vast array of institutions was forcibly closed.
No basic change in this policy of cultural deprivation occurred, despite Stalin's death and the gradual easing of the tyranny, until 1959. Since then, a grand total of six Yiddish books has been published-by writers long dead. (None has been published in 1962 as of November.) They were put out in editions of 30,000 each, mostly for foreign consumption, but those copies that were available to Jews inside the U.S.S.R. were eagerly and quickly snapped up.
This total of six books is to be compared with the facilities made available to many ethnic groups far smaller than that of the Soviet Jews, and which do not possess as ancient, continuous and rich a culture. Two striking examples are in order. The Maris and Yakuts are two tiny primitive Asian groups which number 504,000 and 236,000 respectively. In 1961 alone, Soviet printing presses produced 62 books for the Maris and 144 for the Yakuts, in their own languages.
The Soviet Yiddish theatre was once considered one of the prides of Soviet artistic achievement. Today there is only a handful of amateur theatrical groups, made up of Jewish workers banded together after working hours, existing on a marginal basis; there is not even such a group in Moscow or Leningrad, the two major centers of Soviet Jewry, together totaling nearly one million.
In the autumn of 1961, for the first time since 1948, a Yiddish literary journal, Sovietish Heimland, began publication as a bimonthly. Welcome though this is, it is no more than the exception proving the rule. But it does represent, along with the meager half-dozen Yiddish books (and the "concerts" of Yiddish dramatic readings and folk songs which have been permitted and which have been attended by millions of Jews in recent years) a tacit repudiation of the oft-repeated Soviet assertion that Soviet Jews have lost interest in their culture. This state of affairs is again to be contrasted with the press available to the Maris and Yakuts. The former have 17 newspapers, the latter 28.
A frequent Soviet rationalization for the absence of cultural institutions for the Jews is that the Jews are so widely dispersed. This is invalidated, however, by the fact that tiny minorities like the Chechens (418,000), Ossetians (410,000) and Komis (431,000), which do not have their own territories, yet have their own newspapers and literatures in their own languages, and schools where their languages are taught. The Tadjik minority in Uzbekistan (312,000 out of a total Republic population of 8,106,000) has similar rights and institutions, as have the Poles in White Russia (539,000 out of 8,055,000).
It is not just schools that are forbidden to the Jews.[i] They are not even allowed classes in Yiddish or Hebrew in the general schools; nor, for that matter, classes in the Russian language (comparable to Sunday School education in the United States) on Jewish history and culture. Nor are Soviet Jews permitted to have contact on purely Jewish cultural matters with Jewish institutions abroad.
All religions in the U.S.S.R. exist very precariously within a context of official anti-religious ideology and propaganda. In a variety of fundamental respects, however, Judaism is subjected to unique discrimination. Jewish congregations are permitted no variant of the right enjoyed by the others to maintain nation-wide federations or other central organizations through which religious functions are governed, religious needs serviced, religious belief bolstered and communication between congregations strengthened. Rabbis and synagogue leaders have nothing at all comparable to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the All- Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the National Ecclesiastical Assembly of the Armenian Church, the Lutheran Churches of Latvia and Estonia or the Moslem Board for Central Asia and Kazakhstan.
These churches are permitted a wide range of religious publishing facilities, publishing houses and paper supplies. Thus, the Russian Orthodox version of the Bible was reprinted in 1957 in an edition of 50,000. In 1958, 10,000 copies of a Russian-language Protestant Bible were published by the Baptists. The same year the Moslem Directorates in Ufa and Tashkent produced editions of 4,000 and 5,000 copies, respectively, of the Koran. And in May 1962 the Moslem Board for Central Asia issued still another new edition. It should be noted that these editions of the Koran are in Arabic, a language not spoken by Soviet Moslems, but used for religious study and other religious functions. This is comparable to what the status of Hebrew might be there.
Judaism is permitted no publication facilities and no publications. No Hebrew Bible has been published for Jews since 1917. (Nor has a Russian translation of the Jewish version of the Old Testament been allowed.) The study of Hebrew has been outlawed, even for religious purposes. Not a single Jewish religious book of any other kind has appeared in print since the early 1920s. In contrast, prayerbooks are available to the other denominations in relatively ample supply: the Baptists were authorized in 1956 to publish 25,000 hymnals; the Lutheran Church of Latvia has produced 1,500 copies of a psalter and is now preparing a new edition of its 1954 hymnal. Religious calendars, indispensable guides for religious holidays and observances, are freely available. Other types of religious publications are also permitted. The Russian Orthodox Church publishes the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, its official monthly organ. It has also published collections of sermons and several annuals. The All-Union Council of Baptists puts out a bimonthly, the Fraternal Review.
No such prerogatives have been vouchsafed to the Jews. Until 1958, no siddur (Sabbath prayerbook in Hebrew) was printed. In that year, an edition of 3,000 copies of a pre-Revolutionary siddur was provided by photo-offset- a ridiculously small figure for the hundreds of thousands of religious Jews whose prayerbooks are tattered and worn. No edition at all has been allowed of special prayerbooks which Jews use on their High Holidays and major Festivals. As for calendars, the Jews have had to depend on photographed copies of handwritten ones, surreptitiously circulated from hand to hand.
A subtler but harsher form of discrimination has resulted from the ban on Hebrew. The Russian Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, Georgian or Armenian believer is not handicapped in his participation in religious services, for they are conducted in his native spoken tongue. But the half-century-old ban on Hebrew has made it impossible for Jews educated under the Soviet régime to make sense of their synagogue services. Thousands come-and must stand mute and dumb.
The other major ecclesiastical bodies are authorized to produce a variety of religious articles-ritual objects such as church vessels, vestments, candles, beads, crucifixes and ikons. The mass sale of such articles, especially candles, is an important source of church income. But the production of such indispensable religious objects as the tallis (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries ) is prohibited to Jews.
A brief statistical examination illuminates the extent to which the faithful are served by churches and priests, synagogues and rabbis. For the 40,000,000 Russian Orthodox there are some 20,000 churches and 35,000 priests (quite apart from those in the 69 monasteries and convents). This comes to one place of worship for each 2,000 believers and one priest for each 1,100 believers. For the 3,000,000 Baptists (including women and children who are affiliated through family membership) there are roughly 6,000 parishes and pastors, which amounts to one place of worship and one minister for each 500 believers. The Lutheran Churches of Latvia and Estonia have 100 churches and 150 pastors for about 350,000 communicants- approximately one church for each 3,500 believers and one minister for each 2,300. By contrast, there are some 60 or 70 synagogues and rabbis for the nearly 1,000,000 Jewish believers-which amounts to one synagogue and one rabbi for each 15,000 to 16,000 Jewish believers.
Most religious groups also maintain educational institutions to prepare men for the priesthood. The Russian Orthodox have two academies and five seminaries; the Moslems have a madrassa where their mullahs are trained. In addition, quite a few Moslem clerical students have been permitted to advance their studies at the theological seminary in Cairo. Young Baptist seminarians have attended theological schools in Great Britain and Canada. Such programs serve the twofold function of maintaining spiritual contacts with coreligionists abroad and of enhancing the quality of religious education at home.
Until 1957, religious Jews had no institution to train rabbis. In that year, a yeshiva (rabbinical academy) was established as an adjunct of the Great Synagogue in Moscow. Since then, precisely two men have been ordained as rabbis, neither of whom has functioned as a synagogue leaden. Of the 13 students at the yeshiva until April 1962, II were over 40-which means that very little provision was made for replacing the rabbis now serving in the U.S.S.R., all of whom are in their seventies and eighties. This is to be contrasted with the "accent on youth" for Russian Orthodox seminarians. The Jewish community is thus being deprived of needed religious leadership.
A most serious restriction was imposed on the yeshiva in April 1962, when a majority of the students, who came from the oriental Jewish communities of Georgia and Daghestan, were forbidden to resume their studies in Moscow, on the ground that they lacked the necessary residence permits for the capital city which is suffering from a housing shortage. This left just four students in an institution that has been transformed into a virtually empty shell. Nor has any Jewish seminarian in the last five years been allowed to advance his studies at institutions of Jewish learning abroad.
In addition to their prerogatives at home, other Soviet ecclesiastical bodies have enjoyed the privilege of regular and permanent ties with coreligionists abroad, an incalculably important boost to their morale. Since 1956 there have been innumerable exchange visits of religious delegations-Russian Orthodox, Baptists and Moslems-between the U.S.S.R. and Western Europe, the United States and the Middle East. The Soviet Moslems have for years been associated with a World Congress of Moslems. At the end of October 1962 a national conference of Moslem leaders, meeting in Tashkent, was authorized to establish a permanent department for international relations, with headquarters in Moscow, which would speak for all Moslem Boards in the country. And within the past year, the World Council of Churches (Protestant) accepted the full-fledged membership of the Russian Orthodox Church and of five other major Soviet ecclesiastical bodies: the Georgian and Armenian Churches, the Baptists, and the Lutheran Churches of Latvia and Estonia.
No Jewish religious delegation from the U.S.S.R. has ever been permitted to visit religious institutions abroad. Nor are synagogues in the Soviet Union allowed to have any kind of official contact, permanent ties or institutional relations with Jewish religious, congregational or rabbinic bodies outside their country.
The process of attrition and pressure against Judaism and Jewish religious institutions and practitioners has been systematically stepped up since the middle of 1961. In June and July of that year, the synagogue presidents in six major provincial cities were deposed. In the same period, six lay religious leaders in Moscow and Leningrad were secretly arrested. In September 1961, on the occasion of the Jewish High Holy Days, the authorities ordered the construction of a special loge in the Moscow Great Synagogue to seat the Israel Embassy officials who came to attend services- the better to cut off the thousands of Jews who came to the synagogue from their fellow Jews from abroad. In October 1961, the Moscow and Leningrad leaders were secretly tried and convicted of alleged espionage, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In January 1962, Trud, the central trade union paper, published a notorious article that portrayed these devout religious Jews as agents of Israeli spies who, in turn, were described as tools of American intelligence.
On March 17, 1962, Rabbi Judah Leib Levin of the Moscow synagogue announced that the public baking and sale of matzah (the unleavened bread indispensable to the observance of the Passover) would be forbidden. This was the first time in Soviet history that a total ban on matzah was enforced throughout the country. The ban was actually part of the larger official attempt to destroy the bonds between Soviet Jewry and the traditional roots of Judaism that have a national historical significance. Since Passover is the ancient feast that commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery and their establishment as a religious people, this holiday is subjected to especially virulent assault in the Soviet press. It is linked with "Zionist ideology," the State of Israel, chauvinism and so forth. The propaganda goes so far as to brand Jewish religious holidays, and Passover in particular, as subversive. "Judaism kills love for the Soviet motherland"-this is a slogan from a typical press article.
All this adds up to a systematic policy of attrition against religious Jews and their religious practices. The synagogues are the only remaining institutions in the U.S.S.R. which still embody the residues of traditional Jewish values and where Jews may still foregather formally as Jews. The objective of this policy is clearly to intimidate and atomize Soviet Jewry, to isolate it both from its past and from its brethren in other parts of the world, to destroy its specifically Jewish spirit.
This policy of cultural and religious repression is conducted within the charged atmosphere of a virulent press campaign against Judaism. From it the image of the Jew emerges in traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes. The majority of the articles appear in the provincial press-in the larger cities, frequently the capitals, of the various republics, primarily the Russian Republic, the Ukraine and White Russia. These are the regions where the bulk of Soviet Jewry lives and where "popular" anti-Semitism is still widespread and endemic.
A study of a dozen such publications reveals that the following themes recur repeatedly:
The stereotype that emerges most blatantly is that of Jews as money worshippers. Rabbis and lay leaders of the synagogues are consistently portrayed as extorting money from the faithful for ostensibly religious purposes, their object in fact being to feather their own nests. Thus, whether it is the religious service itself or some ancient rite, it is all presided over by religious figures who are "in reality" money-grubbing thieves.
Judaism is constantly denigrated. All its rites are mocked in a manner which contrasts harshly with the Soviet Union's boasts of religious toleration. Circumcision, for example, is denounced in the crudest terms as a barbarous and unhealthful ritual: "The priests of the synagogue offer the regular sacrifice to their God Jehovah."
Drunkenness in the synagogue is another favorite theme. The scandalous rogues who pocket the money innocently contributed by the believers are shown as devoted to drink-guzzlers who confuse their prayers under the influence of alcohol. The leader of a synagogue burial society is quoted as saying: "In booze-I believe; in God-I don't."
Brawling is alleged to occur frequently in the synagogue, invariably over the division of the ill-gotten profits from religious "speculation," The newspapers "name the names" of the religious "mis-leaders" allegedly involved and frequently give their addresses and public positions, if any.
In these articles Jews often are used to inform on fellow Jews and to denounce Judaism. Many articles are signed by Jews; some contain recantations, usually by elderly men, of their religious faith.
A favorite device is for the writer to single out for special attention the adult children of elderly religious Jews. They are usually named and their public positions (teacher, engineer, nurse, etc.) noted, as well as their places of work and, where relevant, their party membership. Thus not only the parents but the presumably loyal, non-religious Communist children are held up to public obloquy, in a not very subtle effort to exert social blackmail on them.
Propaganda assaults on private prayer meetings are also frequent. Since many synagogues throughout the country are closed, Jews have taken to foregathering in each other's homes for prayers. Such gatherings are frowned upon, indeed unauthorized, and have regularly been dispersed, and their members warned and even punished. Articles list those who organize and attend such prayer meetings.
Perhaps the most ominous of all the themes is the consistent portrayal of the tenets and practitioners of traditional Judaism as potentially or actually subversive. The following references are typical: "The Jewish clericals and bourgeois nationalists provide grist for the mills of our class enemies, distract workers from their class and Communist interests, and weaken their conscious ness with chauvinist poison." "The traditions bolstered by the synagogue are doubly harmful. First of all, they contribute to the perpetuation of the false religious world outlook. Secondly, they serve as an instrument for the propagation of bourgeois political views which are alien to us."
This must be contrasted with the resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, signed by Premier Khrushchev on November 10, 1954, and re- echoed in Pravda on August 21, 1959: "It must not be forgotten that there are citizens who, though actively participating in the country's life and faithfully fulfilling their civic duty, still remain under the influence of various religious beliefs. Toward these the Party has already demanded, and will always demand, a tactful, considerate attitude. It is especially stupid to put these under political suspicion because of their religious convictions."
These standards have been clearly violated where Jews and Judaism are concerned. In the Soviet Union official atheism affects all religious groups; but it is only with regard to Jews and Judaism that the theme of lack of patriotism, disloyalty and subversion is injected into the propaganda. When the religion of the Russian Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, the Georgian Orthodox, the Baptist or the Moslem is attacked in the press he does not thereby come under political suspicion, nor does he feel his loyalty impugned either as a member of a given nationality or as a Soviet citizen. By the same token, the mass of non-believing Russians, Armenians, Georgians or Uzbeks do not feel that they are involved when the religious members of their nationality see their religion attacked in the official propaganda.
But with the Jews it is different. Because of the persistence of "popular" anti-Semitism, subtly encouraged from above, an attack upon the religious Jew and the portrayal of the Jewish image in traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes is felt even by the non-religious Jew as somehow involving him too. And he is not far wrong in feeling that many of his non-Jewish neighbors understand it in the same way. Small wonder, then, that-in the absence of a consistent educational campaign against anti-Semitism, such as was conducted in Lenin's time-an assault upon the Jewish religion will be sensed, by Jews and non-Jews alike, as an assault upon the entire Jewish group.
In such an atmosphere, it is hardly surprising that Jews should be subject to a subtle policy of discrimination in employment, education and other sectors of public life. That policy may be summarized in the phrase attributed, perhaps apocryphally but none the less aptly, to a top-level Soviet leader: "Don't hire, don't fire, don't promote."
A few especially gifted or brilliant Jewish individuals can still be found within the Soviet leadership. Many occupy positions in the middle ranks of professional, cultural and economic life. But virtually all face potent discriminatory measures in key "security-sensitive" areas of public life. The instrumentality for this exclusion, carried out quietly and informally, is the nationality listing on the internal passport. Thus, Jews have virtually disappeared from positions of major responsibility in the diplomatic service and, with rare exceptions, in the armed forces. This contrasts sharply with the situation that prevailed from 1917 to the late 1930s. The proportion in higher education, science, the professions and political life has also been declining for many years. The key to the decrease is the system of nationality quotas in university admissions. A considerable body of evidence points to the existence of a numerus clausus for Jews in the universities and, in some cases, of a numerus nullus. This explains the decline of Jewish representation in important activities.
The extent of the decline in higher education is reflected in the fact that Jews today represent 3.1 percent of all students in higher education, as contrasted with 13.5 percent in 1935. During this 27-year period, the Jewish proportion of the population decreased merely from 1.6 to 1.1 percent. There is no way of accounting for this drastic decline in a country with an expanding economy and growing opportunities-except by discrimination.
Even the present 3.1 percent is a skewed figure, for it fails to take account of two decisive factors. In the first place, the category "higher education," as given in Soviet statistics, lumps together both universities and many other types of specialized academies such as teacher training schools, music conservatories and journalism institutes. Jews have a strong position in the latter types, and this fact artificially raises the total by balancing out the much lower proportion of Jews in the universities as such. Secondly, it is estimated that 90 percent of Soviet Jews are urbanized. Most universities are located in the larger cities and recruit their student bodies from the children of the urban intelligentsia, in which the Jews have traditionally occupied a leading position. To get a more accurate measure of Jewish representation in higher education in proportion to the population, the Jewish proportion would have to be compared not with the percentage of Jews in the total population of a given republic, but with the percentage of Jews in an urban university area.
As for the professions, the declining proportion of Jews has been as much as admitted by Premier Khrushchev and Culture Minister Furtseva themselves as a matter of policy. (In making such admissions, they have referred to the necessity of making room for "our own intelligentsia"-clearly giving away their feeling that the Jews are not truly indigenous.) In general, the proportion of non-Jewish nationalities among professionals has been rising at a very rapid rate, but that of the Jews at a much slower rate. For example, since 1955 the number of Russians and Ukrainians in science has increased by 40 percent, that of the Jews by 25 percent. In 1955, Jews constituted 11 percent of Soviet scientists; the figure was 10.2 percent by 1958 and 9.8 percent by 1960. Even this figure is deceptively high, for it includes a substantial number of an older generation who had far freer access to the universities and the professions in the '20s and '30s. It is obviously the Jewish youth who are hardest hit by the declining rate; they have to be very good indeed even to get into the universities, and they find it increasingly difficult to enter the professions.
The disappearance of Jews from leadership positions in political life has been striking and dramatic. Soviet spokesmen have tried to counter this fact by noting recently that 7,623 Jews were elected to local Soviets all over the country. This seems impressive until it is realized that, as of 1960, more than 1,800,000 such local deputies were elected. The "large" number of Jews thus comes to less than one-half of 1 percent. Moreover, in all but one of the Supreme Soviets of the 15 republics, the number of Jews is far below their proportion of the population.
When this pattern of discrimination is linked to other facets of Soviet policy toward the Jews, it becomes clear that they are considered a security risk group-suspected of actual or potential disloyalty, of essential alien-ness.
Many nuances of the same pattern of hostility have been revealed in the massive campaign waged with increasing severity in the past few years against the widespread economic abuses that characterize so much of Soviet life. A series of decrees, beginning in May 1961, called for capital punishment for such offenses as embezzlement of state property, currency speculation and bribery. The authorities have made no attempt to conceal their concern over these activities or the fact that vast numbers of the population engage in them. Major pronouncements by leading officials have, indeed, given a picture of a country shot through with corruption- ironically, of a "capitalist" sort. All organs of the Party, the Komsomol, the state, the press and other major institutions have been pressed into service in the campaign against it. The secret police, one of the last strongholds of Stalinism, plays a key role. And the public at large has been strenuously urged on to be vigilant, with all the overtones of vigilanteeism.
Though the campaign's objective may not be anti-Jewish, there is little doubt that it has had anti-Jewish implications and consequences, of which the authorities-and the secret police-cannot but be aware.
Thus the Soviet press has especially featured those trials that have resulted in death sentences (frequently accompanied by the denial of the right of appeal). To date, 36 such trials have been reported in 26 different cities. In these trials, death sentences have been meted out to 70 individuals-of whom 42 (and possibly 45) are Jews. In a number of cases, the Jewish religious affiliation of some of the culprits was made explicit: the synagogue was portrayed as the locus of illegal transactions, religious Jews were mockingly described as money worshippers, the rabbi was shown as their accomplice, their family connections in Israel and the United States were pointed up. In general, the Jews are presented as people "whose only God is Gold," who flit through the interstices of the economy, cunningly manipulate naïve non-Jewish officials, prey upon honest Soviet workers and cheat them of their patrimony. They are portrayed as the initiators and masterminds of the criminal plots; the non-Jews are depicted primarily as the recipients of bribes and as accomplices.
The ominous significance of this publicity is clear. It informs the conditioned Soviet reader that the government thinks the tiny community of Jews, which constitutes little more than one percent of the population, is responsible for nearly two-thirds-and in some areas 100 percent-of the economic crimes that warrant capital punishment. Anti-Semitic feelings are exacerbated. From many cities come reports of grumbling on the food queues: "The Jews are responsible for the shortages." Western travelers who were in Vilna during and immediately after a major economic trial in February 1962- where all eight accused were Jews, four of them receiving capital punishment and four lengthy prison terms-reported that the authorities mobilized the entire population to attend what was universally called the "Jewish show trial." The atmosphere of fright in the Jewish communities may be imagined.
In sum, Soviet policy places the Jews in an inextricable vise. They are allowed neither to assimilate, nor live a full Jewish life, nor to emigrate (as many would wish) to Israel or any other place where they might live freely as Jews. The policy stems, in turn, from doctrinal contradictions abetted by traditional anti-Jewish sentiments. On the one hand, the authorities want the Jews to assimilate; on the other hand, they irrationally fear the full penetration of Soviet life which assimilation implies. So the Jews are formally recognized as a nationality, as a religious group, as equal citizens-but are at the same time deprived of their national and religious rights as a group, and of full equality as individuals.
Though the Jews are considered a Soviet nationality, official doctrine has consistently denied the existence of a historic Jewish people as an entity, and official practice has always sought to discourage Soviet Jews from feeling themselves members of that entity throughout the world.
Soviet policy as a whole, then, amounts to spiritual strangulation-the deprivation of Soviet Jewry's natural right to know the Jewish past and to participate in the Jewish present. And without a past and a present, the future is precarious indeed.
[i] Though Soviet law permits any ten parents who request it to organize instruction for their children in their own language, Jewish parents have been understandably loath to take advantage of this provision.