My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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DETROIT—One of the questions I submitted to Mr. Khrushchev, after the recording of the interview was ended, was about his general attitude on the Near Eastern situation and the treatment of the Jews in the Soviet Union, as well as some of his statements on the State of Israel.

Mr. Khrushchev seemed very anxious to have us understand that a Communist could not be anti-Semitic. Communism was opposed to all discrimination for reasons of race or religion, and if a member of the Communist party were known to be anti-Semitic no one would shake hands with him. Inasmuch as Karl Marx was a Jew, continued Mr. Khrushchev, how could we believe that any Communist would be anti-Semitic? And his own son, who was killed in the war, he told us, had been married to a Jewess. Jews in the Soviet Union, he went on, were given all opportunities for education and for securing positions. He then said that the Soviets had voted for the creation of the state of Israel, but at present he felt Israel must change its policies and be less aggressive.

I suggested that the Soviet Union had given the arms to Syria which had been one of the reasons for the sense of insecurity in Israel and therefore for their show of aggression. He flared up and said there were 80 million Arabs and about one million Israelis, so if Israel continued her present policy she will be destroyed. Who attacked Egypt? he asked. Wasn't it Great Britain, France and Israel?

I at once answered that he would have to separate the attitude of Israel from that of Britain and France. Israel had been told for a year by the Egyptians that when they were ready and fully armed by the Soviets, the Egyptians would drive the Israelis into the sea. Thus the action of the Israelis was in the nature of self-defense, because they could not wait until the build-up against them was completed. Proof of the build-up had been found in the Sinai desert when the Israelis had captured over $50 million worth of military material provided by the Soviets or their satellites.

Mr. Khrushchev dodged this. When I added that I thought he was wrong in saying Israel was aggressive, because they needed peace more than any other country in order to strengthen their country, he turned upon me and said: "The U.S. is backing Israel with arms." Here Dr. Gurewitsch broke in to say: "But do you remember that the U.S. voted with you on the Suez issue?"

Mr. Khrushchev answered that he remembered very well, but that it was evident the U.S. wanted to remain on good terms with both sides. They did not want to lose the Arabs because of the oil, and the Arabs understood this very well. Then he turned to me to say how stupid he thought the assertion was that anti-Semitism existed in the Soviet Union. Didn't I know there were many Jews of high rank in the Soviet Army, including a Jewish general, and that there was a Jew buried inside the Kremlin wall?

I thought I would adopt his tactics of attack at this point, and said: "In any case, sir, it is very difficult for any Jew to leave the Soviet Union if he happens to want to go and settle in Israel or even to visit it."

"I know," replied Mr. Khrushchev without hesitation; "but the time will come when everyone who wants to go will be able to do so."

I then said that it seemed to me the Soviet Union could help if they were willing to work with the U.S. to achieve an understanding between Israel and the Arab countries. Israel was willing to sit down with Arab representatives and try to work out their difficulties, but the Arabs always refused.

Mr. Khrushchev answered that he knew very well the Arabs had made mistakes; but we must remember that the Soviet Union was for a class, not for a state. Israel consisted of all sorts of classes; the Soviets were for the Socialists in Israel, but not for the State! (I presume when Mr. Khruschev spoke of "Socialists" here, he meant Communists.)

There is no question in my mind but that the Soviets are trying to integrate the Jews completely. Elsewhere, the Soviets are proud of the fact that they have allowed their various Republics to retain their own culture, their own arts and languages. But the Jews in the Soviet Union are not in a separate Republic; they are scattered all over the different cities. I think the Soviets felt they could make good use of the brains of these people, but they wanted them as Communists, not as people with a separate culture and with perhaps a different political belief. That is why, for example, there is no longer a Jewish theatre in the Soviet Union. They permit attendance in the synagogue, just as they permit attendance in the Orthodox church and in churches belonging to the Baptists. Each of these religions can train a certain number of rabbis and ministers. But there is no Jewish school for children, since they want the Jews to attend the regular Soviet schools.

It is quite true that the Jews occupy high places in the ministries, among the doctors, teachers, scientists, etc. But Jewish culture is certainly not encouraged, and I am sure there are a number of Jews who would be glad if they could even be given permission to visit Israel for a short time. How soon Mr. Khrushchev's promise that "the time will come" will be carried out, we will have to wait to find out.



Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Detroit (Mich., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 8, 1957

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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