The trial of Lazar Liubarsky at Rostov-on-Don in February has received wide publicity in the free world. But it is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface lurk an unknown number of similar cases of Jews arrested on trumped-up charges, and perhaps brought to trial, with the aim of discouraging others from attempting to emigrate to Israel.
During the past eight months, prominent Jewish activists in outlying towns of the USSR where Jews are not so numerous have been picked off to serve as a warning to others in the area. usually they have been held on the flimsiest of charges , as a pretext for imprisoning them and them charging them with something much more serious . This method was highlighted recently in the case of Isak Shkolnik, a 36 year old fitter from Vinnitsa in the Ukraine.
Last month the British Labour MP, Greville Janner, announced to an unbelieving public that Shkolnik had been accused of ‘spying for England’. Shkolnik, married and with a five year old daughter, was arrested last July 5 after his apartment had been searched during an early morning raid by members of the KGB.
The record of the search stated that the purpose behind it was to uncover material of ‘an anti-Soviet nature’. The KGB men finally confiscated five dollars, a receipt for an imported transistor, a radio ‘tuned to a frequency of a hostile radio station’, letters from abroad, postcards and photographs with English writing on the back, numerous magazines in the English and Russian languages and a few written lessons in Hebrew.
Another find was a relatively innocent visiting card of a British engineer who had worked for his firm in Vinnitsa in 1968. Shkolnok had also allegedly ‘copied some documents’ for him.
During the few months which followed the arrest, the KGB called a number of people for questioning. pressure was put on many of them to give ‘evidence’ of Shkolnik’s activities by threats of dismissal from work. Others were told subtly that they would be charged with refusing to give evidence, if they did not cooperate with the investigators. Shkolnik was also intimidated by his KGB interrogators with a threat of confinement in a mental hospital if he refused to confess.
Suddenly the statutory three month investigation period was lengthened to nine, and Shkolnik was accused of ‘active anti-Soviet agitation’, and then, under section 64 of the Soviet Criminal Code, charged with ‘treason to the motherland’. The latter charge, it transpired, was based on his association with the British engineer. A confiscation order had been issued in respect of his property and his apartment on Kosmonautov Street where his wife, Feiga, still lives.
Shkolnik’s case follows a pattern, used in previous trials of Jews. The KGB has been putting up evidence – material such as outdated open letters to world and Soviet leaders, tape recordings of old Kol Yisrael broadcasts and records of Hebrew songs – as a basis for the initial arrest of Jews, and then coupling with a charge of individual aberration.
Yuli Brind, a 42 year old master engraver, was arrested on March 24 last year in the emigration office of Kharkov. For no apparent reason, a number of KGB men rushed him off to Mental Hospital no.36 in the city. In the hospital, the doctors repeatedly tried to convince Brind that he was insane because he wished to go to Israel.
One statement made by an examining doctor was ‘perhaps this is a result of meningitis’ – a clear inference of instability. It was only after a number of inquiring telephone calls from prominent psychiatrists in England and the United States to the doctor in charge of the case that Brind was suddenly judged to be of sound mind and therefore a political criminal. he was thereupon moved from the hospital to an ordinary prison.
On June 1, Brind’s trial took place, not in a normal court of law, but in his factory, in an atmosphere befitting a caged monkey in a zoo. The prosecution brought evidence of a letter, written by Brind to Pravda a few days before the Six Day war, explaining his anxiety about the situation and particularly his concern for his relatives in israel.
There is a five year limitation on the use of such documents in a Soviet court. If Brind was ready to be put out of circulation with readily available ‘evidence’, his trial had to take place before the fifth anniversary of the Six Day war.
Another investigation now taking place is that of the Kipnis-Davidovich affair in Minsk in Soviet Byelorussia. on November 29 1972, Gedalya Kipnis and his wife,Tsfania, were taken off their Israel-bound train at Brest and returned to Minsk by the local militia. Kipnis allegedly had in his possession a letter to the editor of Literaturnaya Gazeta from a number of Minsk Jews. he was imprisoned and on December 1, the house of his friend, Cololnel Yefim Davidovich, was searched.
One week later, KGB Investigator, Nikiforov, charged Kipnis with ‘activity aimed at undermining the Soviet regime by spreading slanderous fabrications, vilifying the soviet social and government system.’ More interestingly, Davidovich was accude of being in possession of illegal arms. This referred to a TT pistol that Kipnis had given Davidovich at the latter’s own request.
Davidovich, an ardent fighter against Stalinism and anti-Semitism in the Communist party, sent a strongly worded and potent protest to Leonid Brezhnev. Rejecting the bizarre basis upon which the Minsk KGB hoped to bring him to trial, Davidovich commented cynically:
My grave illness forced the KGB to release me from prison under a signed obligation not to leave. Hundreds of plain-clothes spies, from green youngsters to very old men…have surrounded my home and follow me, step by step, whenever, I am able to go out for a walk, and also pursue members of my family , my friends and acquaintances.
In the sick minds of the organisers of this operation, there is evidently the impression that I have been preparing great acts of terrorism; the murder of all the sportsmen of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic; arson against all the age-old homes in the city, placing hydrogen bombs in the Komarovsk market, physical violence against the chairman of the municipal council and presenting his post to Ben-Gurion.
And last but not least with the help of my TT pistol, that was found in my possession, a 1941 model with eight rusty bullets, I was preparing the widening of the borders of Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates , the annexation of Byelorussia to Israel and the carrying out of the missions, required of myself by the Elders of Zion to the last letter.
As this is not as funny as it is sad, for the anti-Jewish hysteria, paraded under the slogan of anti-Zionism, is continuous.
The imprisonment of the ‘forgotten’ prisoner of Kishinev, Yankel Khansis, is even more revealing. in June 1970, Khansis had arranged to meet an official of the Dutch Embassy in Moscow about the intended emigration of his family to Israel.
Outside the embassy, he was suddenly attacked by three plain-clothes militiamen. They beat him up so badly that he had to be hospitalised. In a closed trial, some two months later, Khansis was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment because of his ‘vicious hooliganism’.
In the camp in Kirov and later in the town of Omutninsk, Khansis continually protested against his detention and demanded to go to Israel. He was soon accused of ‘anti-Soviet activity’ and after a spell in Moscow’s notorious Serbsky Institute – the mental hospital favoured by the KGB for dissenters – was suddenly brought to trial at the end of last September.
Khansis was brought into the courtroom on a stretcher, paralysed in both legs, crying that he would rather kill himself than be sentenced again in an unjust trial. The soviet court had no pity on him and meted out another eighteen months.
Recently Khansis’s wife, Elizabeth and daughter, Galina, attempted to see him. When they arrived at Omutninsk, the camp administration told them that the paralysis was simulated and ‘he does not wish to leave the camp to meet his family.’
these tactics appear to be having relatively little success and have not frightened people from trying to get to Israel. As Moscow’s Professor David Azbel put it after emerging from a brief spell in prison, ‘when you’ve spent 15 years in one of Uncle Joe’s hotels (a Stalinist labour camp), such provocations do not deter you any longer’.
Jerusalem Post 2 March 1973