Colonel Yefim Davidovich, a Red Army hero and one of the Leaders of the Soviet-Jewish exodus movement, died last Saturday in Minsk at the age of 52 after suffering a fifth heart attack.
Davidovich symbolised the heroism of the Jewish activists in the USSR. He survived one assault after another on his integrity yet his determination to reach Israel never wavered.
It can truly be said that he died for his beliefs. In a letter to the Soviet authorities in March, 1973, he warned that “every interrogation is a threat of death for me. Until a medical commission reaches its conclusions, I ask you to put a stop to the interrogations and so prevent the deliberate murder of an honoured veteran.
“You know that I have never committed any crime. My alleged crime is my struggle against the anti-Semites”.
His written attacks on the Soviet authorities were regarded as among the most valiant and eloquent appeals ever to have come out of the USSR. His philosophy was cemented in the old-time socialist Zionism of the pioneers of the yishuv.
Initially he was not a Zionist, but an ardent Communist. As he began to perceive the errors of Stalin, he became sensitised to the injustices of anti-Semitic discrimination. He believed that the Soviet Union had lost its way along the road to socialism and had allowed anti-Semitism to flourish.
In 1971, he began to help the activists in the Jewish movement to combat anti-Semitism in Minsk. He himself did not apply to go to Israel. Instead, he became the central victim in Case No 97, which was to have ended in a conspiracy trial of Jewish activists in Minsk.
During the long investigations, the KGB harassed him although they knew he had a weak heart and even threatened to intern him in a psychiatric institution when he was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.
Yet he gave as good as he got. He never allowed the KGB to tread on him and consequently he became the dignified champion of hundreds of Minsk Jews fighting to leave for Israel.
Even after the case against him was dropped, the authorities continued to harass him and criticised him in the press.
By this time, he had become a Zionist and had applied to leave for Israel but every available means was used to stop him emigrating.
The most common excuse was that, he did not have the consent of his parents. In their 80s and senile, they did not understand and feared the consequences if they gave their permission.
And so it went on. Davidovich died a little each day. Even a last appeal by Andrei Sakharov a few weeks ago failed to soften the hearts of the KGB.
In his death, Davidovich joins the thousands of Jewish martyrs murdered in Siberian exile, an the islands of the Gulag Archipelago and in the dungeons of Lubyanka.
His friends in Britain who never had the pleasure of shaking his hand and saying “Shalom” will not forget him and what he stood for.
Jewish Observer 30 April 1976