Moshe Decter, an activist and writer who was instrumental in raising world awareness about the plight of Soviet Jewry in the 1960s, died July 5 of congestive heart failure. He was 85.
Decter was one of the first to begin writing publicly about the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. With funding from a secret office in the Israeli government, he created a small bureau called Jewish Minorities Research, which he used to bring the issue of Soviet Jewry onto the world stage. Despite opposition from some in the Jewish community who feared that his work would damage Soviet-American relations, Decter publicized and wrote hundreds of articles detailing the Soviet Union’s mistreatment of its Jewish minority.
“His research was the fuel of the whole Soviet Jewry movement,” Jacob Birnbaum, founder of the group Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, told the Forward. Decter was also instrumental in convincing many public intellectuals and activists, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bertrand Russell and Saul Bellow, to speak out on behalf of Soviet Jewry.
Born in Tarentum, Pa., in 1921, Decter graduated from The New School for Social Research. During World War II, he served in the infantry, where he was awarded a Purple Heart. Early in his career, as political editor of the Voice of America, Decter was active in criticizing McCarthyism. He was the managing editor of left-wing, anti-communist magazine The New Leader in the late 1950s. It was there that he began researching Soviet Jewry.
After he completed his work with Jewish Minorities Research, Decter became executive secretary of the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews and director of research at the American Jewish Congress. Later in life, he was editor of the Near East Report and served as an adviser to the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Decter, whose first wife, Midge Decter, later married Commentary magazine founder Norman Podhoretz, is survived by two daughters, a son and six grandchildren.