Brief History of the Soviet Jewry Movement


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Thirty-six years ago two Russian Jews were sentenced to death for a hijacking that never happened. This slideshow tells their story and how it led to the exodus of 2,000,000 Soviet Jews.

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  • Brief History of the Soviet Jewry Movement

    1. 1. A Quick History of the Soviet Jewry Movement How a Foiled Hijacking Led to the Greatest Exodus in Jewish History Philip Spiegel December 2005
    2. 2. Topics to be covered <ul><li>Definitions of refusenik and POZ </li></ul><ul><li>1967 – Soviet Jews begin to demand their rights </li></ul><ul><li>1970 – The Leningrad Hijack Trials </li></ul><ul><li>1971 – International Support for Soviet Jews </li></ul><ul><li>1975 – Refuseniks organize self-help groups </li></ul><ul><li>1985 – Changes during Gorbachev’s regime </li></ul><ul><li>Results to date - 2,000,000 emigrated; religious freedom for those who remained </li></ul>
    3. 3. Which is the correct definition of refusenik ? <ul><li>1. A member of the Israel Defense Force who refuses to serve in occupied territories </li></ul><ul><ul><li>OR </li></ul></ul><ul><li>2. A citizen of the former Soviet Union who had been refused permission to emigrate </li></ul>
    4. 4. Which is the correct definition of Prisoner of Zion? <ul><li>1. A Jew who, because of Zionistic activity, was imprisoned or exiled for more than six months </li></ul><ul><li>OR </li></ul><ul><li>2. A young Israeli who has not yet traveled abroad </li></ul>
    5. 6. What was it like to be a Soviet Jew 50 years ago? <ul><li>Rampant Anti-Semitism </li></ul><ul><li>Jews convicted of economic crimes </li></ul><ul><li>No opportunity for Jewish education </li></ul><ul><li>Fear prevalent among “Jews of Silence” </li></ul><ul><li>Emigrate? No way! </li></ul>
    6. 7. Israel’s Six-Day War Victory in June, 1967 Ignited Sparks of Jewish Pride Throughout the Soviet Union <ul><li>“ Jews of Silence” no longer: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Yasha Kazakov, a student in Moscow, renounced his Soviet citizenship. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Boris Kochubievsky, an engineer in Kiev, refused to vote for an anti-Israel resolution. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mark Dymshitz, a pilot in Leningrad, had an outrageous scheme… </li></ul></ul>
    7. 8. <ul><li>Mark Dymshitz </li></ul><ul><li>Born in 1927. </li></ul><ul><li>Served in Red Army and trained as pilot. </li></ul><ul><li>Attained rank of major. </li></ul><ul><li>Worked as commercial pilot in Uzbekistan. </li></ul><ul><li>Applied to be commercial pilot in Leningrad. </li></ul><ul><li>Felt he was rejected because he was a Jew. </li></ul><ul><li>Decided to study Hebrew and emigrate to Israel. </li></ul><ul><li>Realized that a major would not get an exit visa. </li></ul><ul><li>Considered escaping on foot over mountains, swimming underwater to Turkey, building a balloon or small plane. </li></ul><ul><li>Finally decided to hijack a commercial plane . </li></ul>
    8. 9. Chronology of the Hijack Plot <ul><li>June 1969 - Dymshitz meets Hillel Butman in his Hebrew ulpan and proposes hijacking a 50-passenger TU-124. </li></ul><ul><li>January 1970 – Butman contacts friends in Riga who produce Iton, an underground Jewish newspaper: Yosef Mendelevich, Sylva Zalmanson and her husband Edik Kuznetsov, a convicted dissident who recruits 2 non-Jewish ex-con friends </li></ul><ul><li>April 1970 – “Operation Wedding” planned for May 2 but put on hold while Butman awaits opinion from Israel </li></ul><ul><li>May 1970 – Butman and most plotters back out after receiving coded message from Israel urging plotters to desist. Dymshitz has new plane using 12-passenger AN-2 </li></ul><ul><li>June 14, 1970 – Dymshitz, Kuznetsov and 12 others prepare to board plane in Leningrad and Priozersk. </li></ul><ul><li>June 15, 1970 – KGB arrests all plotters before they board plane. Other Jewish activists arrested in six major Soviet cities. </li></ul>
    9. 11. The First Leningrad Trial <ul><li>Opened December 15, 1970. </li></ul><ul><li>9 Jews and 2 Christians accused of “Betrayal of the Fatherland” – possible death penalty. </li></ul><ul><li>F. Lee Bailey volunteered to represent the defendants; President Nixon wanted to send observers; Soviets said “ Nyet” to both. </li></ul><ul><li>Elena Bonner attended and passed notes of daily proceedings to Andrei Sakharov and Western correspondents </li></ul><ul><li>Sylva Zalmanson declared “Next year in Jerusalem”. </li></ul>
    10. 12. Guilty! <ul><li>Sentences on Christmas eve: </li></ul><ul><li>Mark Dymshitz and Edik Kuznetsov - death </li></ul><ul><li>Yuri Federov and Yosef Mendelevich – 15 years </li></ul><ul><li>Alex Murzhenko – 14 years </li></ul><ul><li>Leib Khnokh – 13 years </li></ul><ul><li>Anatoly Altman – 12 years </li></ul><ul><li>Sylva Zalmanson and Boris Penson – 10 years </li></ul><ul><li>Israel Zalmanson – 8 years </li></ul><ul><li>Mendel Bodnya – 4 years </li></ul>
    11. 13. Thoughts of the Condemned Israel Zalmanson recalls: “The first thing I heard was our relatives in court shouting to us, ‘You did a good job!’. I was in shock. What were they talking about? We had nothing to be proud of; we caused the KGB to arrest others and to confiscate fifteen typewriters.” He continued to relate how he was seated next to Kuznetsov who really believed he was going to die because he said, “Farewell” rather than “See you later” to his relatives. In the van from the court to prison Kuznetsov spoke not of himself but shared news he heard from his attorney that some Jews in Riga had just gotten exit visas. So Zalmanson thought, “At least some people are getting out, so it was not completely in vain”.
    12. 14. Worldwide Outrage <ul><li>American civil rights leaders protested immediately. </li></ul><ul><li>Thousands in Israel mourned and demonstrated. </li></ul><ul><li>Socialist International and Communist parties in France and Italy urged clemency. </li></ul><ul><li>The Pope and other religious leaders deluged the Kremlin with messages of indignation. </li></ul><ul><li>Andrei Sakharov wrote to President Podgorny requesting commutation of the death sentences. </li></ul>
    13. 15. Commutations <ul><li>Dec. 26, 1970 – Spain’s General Franco commuted death sentences of 6 Basque terrorists who actually blew up a building. </li></ul><ul><li>Dec. 31, 1970 – Soviet government decided they could do no less. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dymshitz and Kuznetsov death sentences commuted to 15 years imprisonment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mendelevich’s 15-year sentence reduced to 13 years </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Altman and Khnokh get 10 years </li></ul></ul>
    14. 16. Growth of the Soviet Jewry Movement <ul><li>“ The demonstrations worldwide on behalf of the Leningrad prisoners served to solidify public advocacy.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice, Canada </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ The Leningrad trials in 1970 were perhaps the greatest stimulant for the local councils to coalesce in forming the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Micah Naftalin, Executive Director, UCSJ </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ I just had to get involved after the Leningrad hijacking; it opened my eyes.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lillian Foreman, long time BACSJ activist </li></ul></ul>
    15. 17. Emigration Increased in the1970’s <ul><li>Brezhnev was looking for détente with Nixon and the West </li></ul><ul><li>Soviets thought they could get rid of the troublemakers </li></ul>
    16. 18. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment <ul><li>Links most-favored nation trade status to freedom of emigration </li></ul><ul><li>The single most effective step taken by the U.S. as a policy of principle upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights </li></ul>Senator Jackson & Congressman Vanik, supported by Soviet Jewry activists and refuseniks, battled for over two years with President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger until the amendment was enacted as part of the 1975 Trade Bill. During those years the Soviet government allowed 70,000 Jews to emigrate. Jackson staunchly advocated for the rights of Soviet Jews and strongly opposed any weakening of the amendment.
    17. 19. Yosef Mendelevich’s Struggle to Observe Judaism in the Gulag <ul><li>Insisted on observing Sabbath and wearing kipah* </li></ul><ul><li>Constructed chanukiah out of stale bread and matches </li></ul><ul><li>56-day hunger strike after confiscation of Jewish books </li></ul>*”Those who will die by the commands of Brezhnev are afraid of death. However, those who believe that death will come by the command of G-d are not afraid of His command”
    18. 20. Release and Aliyah <ul><li>Sylva Zalmanson was released in 1974 after 4 years in exchange for a Soviet spy caught in Israel </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In 1977 she went on a 16-day hunger strike at the UN in behalf of her husband, brothers and all prisoners of conscience. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Dymshitz and Kuznetsov were swapped for 2 Soviet spies arrested in the U.S. in 1979. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In 1987, at age 60, Dymshitz earned an Israeli pilot’s license. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Federov served 15 years and was not allowed to emigrate until 1987 when he came to New York. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In 1998 he founded the Gratitude Fund to help former political prisoners and their families. </li></ul></ul>
    19. 22. Emigration Soars after Gorbachev- Reagan Agreements
    20. 23. 35 Years After the Leningrad Trial <ul><li>Nearly 2 million Jews emigrated from the former Soviet Union </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1 million to Israel </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>0.5 million to United States </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Emigration is virtually unrestricted </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Jews in formerly Soviet republics are free to study and practice Judaism </li></ul><ul><li>Anti-Semitic acts still occur in many communities of the former Soviet Union </li></ul>
    21. 25. For More Information <ul><li>Remember & Save Association Web Site: </li></ul><ul><li> / </li></ul><ul><li>Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue & Renewal: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>February 12, 2006 - May 14, 2006 If Not Now, When? 150 Years of California Jewish Activism </li></ul><ul><li>Magnes Mueseum – Berkeley, CA </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>The Journey of Soviet Jewry </li></ul><ul><li>5-session Lehrhaus Judaica course at Etz Chaim </li></ul><ul><li>April 26 to May 31, 2006 </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>