Daily editor travels to U.S.S.R. to investigate Cold War reality

by Megan Boldt

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a 10-part series of stories highlighting each decade of the 20th century and how The Minnesota Daily covered them. The series will appear on Wednesdays leading up to the Daily’s 100th anniversary on May 1, 2000, and culminate with a special edition. We hope you enjoy this trip through time.

As Communist witch hunt stories flanked the sides of his reports, The Minnesota Daily editor in chief Dean Schoelkopf sought to portray Cold War reality through letters from behind the Iron Curtain.
Schoelkopf and six other college newspaper editors from across the United States toured the Soviet Union during January 1954. He sent three coded reports back to the Daily throughout the month.
But, his attempts to show the truth about the Soviet Union were sometimes clouded by the Russian government.
“By prearrangement… Schoelkopf’s first sentence was to be followed by two periods if Russian censors demanded to see the letter,” stated the editor’s note in Schoelkopf’s second letter published Jan. 12, 1954. “Two periods did follow the sentence.”
Despite Soviet censorship of Schoelkopf’s articles, the Daily editor gave University students a window through which to view life in the Communist country.
The hotel the students stayed in, while in Moscow, was Soviet premier Vladimir Lenin’s former headquarters during the Czarist revolution, according to Daily archives.
Schoelkopf even toasted vodka shots with Russian students on New Year’s Eve.
“The Russians were quite familiar with the idiom ‘down the hatch,’ and were insistent that everyone comply,” Schoelkopf wrote.
The student editors also visited an industrial college in Azerbaijan, a republic of the former Soviet Union.

Commies on campus
While Schoelkopf’s letters revealed what few Americans of the decade could see — the human side of the Soviet Union, his letters often ran alongside front-page stories of communist witch hunts, a consistent Daily headline of the 1950s.
With the sentiments of Sen. Joseph McCarthy running rampant throughout the United States, the University joined in on the search to find Communists on campus.
The Wisconsin senator spurred what is now termed “McCarthyism,” the publicizing of accusations of disloyalty and treason with inadequate evidence.
In 1954, the accusations that two University graduate students, Eugene Bluestein and Jules Chametzky, had Communist Party affiliations made top Daily news.
Both students described the charges as “fantastic” and denied incriminating testimony by a former University student.
“I am not, have never been and never will be a member of the Communist Party,” Chametzky said in a Daily report.
Then-University President James L. Morrill appointed a committee to review the charges made against Chametzky and Bluestein by former Communist and student Barbara Roehrich.
“In a situation of this kind the University is obligated to act promptly and patriotically, sensibly and justly — with due regard to the good name of the University, to the proper protection of individuals who may be falsely accused, and to the paramount interest of the nation and the state,” Morrill said to the Daily.
In April 1954, Morrill acquitted both students of the charges. The acquittal came from the recommendations of the committee Morrill assigned to hold hearings on the charges.

Loyalty Oath
Following the detainment of a University student along Minnesota’s northern border with Canada, the Daily responded with a series of editorials condemning the McCarran Act that forced foreign visitors to give a loyalty oath when they traveled to other countries while residing in the United States.
Kristi Jaanitila, a graduate journalism student from Helsinki, Finland, was held for four days at Port Arthur in Dec. 1950 after she tried to re-enter the country from Canada.
The McCarran Act of 1950 also forced communists to register with the American government.
“The McCarran law hangs like a sword over the campus,” read a Daily editorial published the week following Jaanitila’s detainment. The Daily argued the law was a violation of free speech and inherently undemocratic.
“Before McCarran, (Americans) could point at Russia and say, the communist system is undesirable because people can’t speak up against it, whereas in America everyone has the right to criticize,” the editorial stated. “But it’s pretty hard to use that argument when you’ve visited America and found that here, too, criticism is out of fashion.”
Following the editorials, several campus organizations came out in support of repealing the McCarran Act.
As a result of nationwide pressure, largely from college campuses, the act was amended in 1965 and restrictions on foreigners eased.
But the Daily had more to say about loyalty oaths in the 1950s.
In 1959, three eastern colleges withdrew from the National Defense Education Act, a federal organization to provide loans to needy college students. The schools objected to the act because it required a loyalty oath to qualitfy for the loan.
Letters about NDEA and the oath requirement poured into the Daily as students debated whether the University should sever ties with the group. The Daily dedicated several opinion pages exclusively to the controversy, printing letters from both sides of the argument.
However, Daily editorials were largely one-sided in support of University withdrawal and the banishment of all loyalty oaths.
“There is a greater danger to America than Communism — the danger of suspicion of one’s own people,” a Dec. 1959 editorial declared. “We cannot limit freedom because we believe we must fight an enemy.”
“America must be careful, in fighting communism, not to take on the aspects of a dictatorship itself.”
Within the next decade, the University withdrew the loyalty oath requirement.

Megan Boldt welcomes comments at [email protected]. Todd Milbourn welcomes comments at [email protected].