Blow the dust off the clock. Your watches are behind the times. Throw open the heavy curtains which are so dear to you — you not even suspect that the day already dawned outside. It is longer that stifled, that sombre, Irrevocable time when you expelled Akhmatova in the same servile manner It Is not even that timid frost period when you expelled Pasternak, whining abuse at him. Was this shame not enough for you? Do you t to make it greater? But the is near when each one of you will seek to erase his signature from today’s resolution.”
- Solzhenitsyn on his expulsion from the Soviet Writers’ Union, November 1969)
MANY individual Soviet Jews have expressed disgust and shame at the ignominious expulsion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the USSR. Solzhenitsyn’s extraordinary courage and uncompromising determination in the mid-sixties certainly helped to create a social atmosphere which enabled a Jewish movement to exist in the U.S.S.R. following the Six Day War.
Although very much a Russian nationalist, Solzhenitsyn had numerous Jewish friends, one whom is Lev Kopelev, the writer whose acquaintance he first made in the labour camps during Stalin’s last years. In “The First Circle,” the main characters, Gleb Nezhin, the critical cynical Russian, and Lev Rubin, the orthodox Jewish Communist in the prison at Mavrino, are in fact based on the experiences of Solzhenitsyn and Kopelev in their camp in the late ‘forties.
Solzhenitsyn’s zeal for the truth sometimes irritated his friends as well as infuriating his enemies. In a Jewish context, his characterisation of unpleasant Jewish characters in addition to those positive Jewish heroes in his books ‘Cancer Ward” and “The First Circle,” led to an unjustified accusation of anti-Semitism, instead of an admission that there is good and bad in all people.
One such accusation was voiced by Mikhail Grobman, art immigrant from Russia, in an article in The Jerusalem Post in November 1972. The article aroused a great deal of criticism, among others, from four Soviet Jewish activists: Professor David Azbel, cyberneticist Mlkhail Agursky, sinologist Vitaly Rubin and Natan Feingold, an artist who Is now in Israel. They expressed their “sharpest protest against the slanderous and definitely untrue accusation of anti-Semitism against Solzhenitsyn, which compels us to dissociate ourselves utterly from such opinions.”
In the USSR, Solzhenitsyn certainly supported the right to existence of the State of Israel and condemned the massacre of Israel’s athletes at Munich. At the time of the Six Day war when many people in Eastern Europe sympathised with Israel, and the establishment position was violently against the Jewish State, Solzhenitsyn was the target of another discriminatory campaign.
During an ideological lecture at a Moscow publishing house, the speaker continually criticised Solzhenitsyn, referring to him le “Solzhenitser.” When a member of the audience passed a note to- him informing him that the name was in fact “Solzhenitsyn,” the speaker came over and said, “No, it’s not a mistake. The person known to you as Solzhenitsyn is really Solzhenitser and he is a Jew.”
This inaccurate statement was repeated more than once in the U.S.S.R. at that time. Even, his patronymic Isaievich, which sounds Jewish was used to ‘turn him into a Jew.’
The fate of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a sad one for him personally. Yet it is ironic that while he wanted to remain and was forced to leave, Soviet Jews, the Slepaks, the Polskys, the Leviches and many others — are forced to remain while all they want is the possibility to leave.
It is more than gratifying that Solzhenitsyn did not have to suffer the rigours and indignity of the Soviet system of strict regime labour camps. However, he was saved trial and imprisonment only by his international prestige.
For lesser beings, there is no protection. Alexander Feldman, 27 year old Jewish labourer from Kiev, was given three and a half years for allegedly assaulting a girl carrying a cake — a crime that only existed in the imagination of the KGB. Last week, after complaining that the camp authorities at Shepetovka were deliberately giving him impossibly hard work, he was placed In a solitary confinement.
Three weeks ago, in Derbent, the five-year sentence passed on Petya Pinkhasov for alleged embezzlement, was confirmed by a court in Makhachkala. He was then moved to an unknown destination. A carpenter, Pinkhasov’s crime was that he was one of the first in that part of the U.S.S.R. to apply for permission to go to Israel.
Solzhenitsyn’s courage and defiant passion will be remembered by progressive men everywhere. When the ashes of the present generation have long grown cold, today’s Soviet politicians will surely only be remembered for one thing — that they were lucky enough to have lived during the epoch of the great Nobel prize-winner, Alexander Isaievich Solzhenitsyn.
Jerusalem Post 19 February 1974