My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

NEW YORK, Tuesday—We started much too early yesterday morning from Hyde Park and I reached Flushing in time to watch all the last-hour preparations for a General Assembly session. I saw all the earphones tested, the desks dusted and the first spectators come in and sit down.

I was there to speak on the resolution—put on the agenda by Chile—asking Russia to give exit permits to Russians who had married nationals of other countries. This was argued at length in Committee #6 in Paris and the vote on it had been 26 in favor of the resolution condemning the USSR, six against and six abstentions. It was fairly obvious how the vote would go in the General Assembly yesterday, but I had been asked by our delegation to prepare to speak on it.

Ambassador Hernan Santa Cruz from Chile spoke first and stated the case of the son of their Ambassador to Russia who had married a Russian woman who had not been permitted to leave with her husband and return with him to Chile.

The contention on the part of the Soviet Union always has been, first, that this is not a proper item for the Assembly to discuss. Russia maintains it is a purely domestic matter what countries do in relation to their own citizens. Secondly, the USSR says this is a ridiculous subject to bring up and bother the General Assembly about—two individuals taking up so much time. They cannot see that the question has anything whatever to do with human rights. Finally, they argue that Soviet wives who have left their country have always been so unhappy that Soviet authorities feel they must prevent these women leaving now because wherever they go they are mistreated and unhappy.

Of course, the Soviets took this opportunity to say that no one was interested in the rights or wrongs of the case. They insisted it was just another way in which the United States and the United Kingdom could attack the USSR. They even said that Chile was not acting under her own motor power, but that these two great nations were forcing her to this action.

The Soviet spokesman then went into detail about two cases of mistreatment of Soviet wives, which occurred in Great Britain and which have been talked about for two years now though they bear all the earmarks of having been planned. Where the United States is concerned they went in to many accusations on bad treatment of women, segregation, inequality in employment and, last but not least, how could they permit a Soviet citizen to come to a country where there was a black market in babies.

I spoke immediately after the Chilean and explained that we were interested in the Chilean case and also in the impossibility of getting exit visas for some of the Soviet citizens married to United States citizens.

We explained the restrictions and regulations under which our arrivals and departures function, but we assured the USSR that when they granted exit visas everything in our power would be done to allow the wives of American citizens the usual preferential treatment. They had said so much in Committee #6 about the need of protecting the Soviet women from becoming "kitchen slaves" in the United States that I could not resist asking them whether in the Soviet Union the housework was done exclusively by the men, or whether their communal facilities carried on in the homes as well as outside.

It is really rather a sad picture because we should not be forced into the situation of arguing acrimoniously questions of this kind.

E. R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL