The rejection by the Ukrainian Appeal Court in Kiev on December 27 of Alexander Feldman’s appeal against his sentence to three and a half years in a forced labour camp for “hooliganism” does not provide much encouragement for a change of attitude by the Soviet authorities in 1974.
The KGB’s offensive against the Jewish exodus movement as the old year died, manifested itself in charges of hooliganism, parasitism or alcoholism. The tactic was ostensibly to depoliticize Jewish trials and parade the accused to an unsuspecting world public opinion as ordinary criminals.
Before Brezhnev’s visit to the U.S., there had been only two trials, those of Liubarsky and Shkolnik, both of whom had been arrested in the summer of 1972. In addition, the Minsk conspiracy case was dropped and the Goldshtein brothers were told that their case was being reconsidered “in the spirit of detente.”
During the following few months up to the Yom Kippur war, a period of relative quiet descended on the Soviet Jewish scene. With the outbreak of war, harassments increased enormously. In the last six weeks of 1973 there were Jewish trials in Derbent, Kiev and Sverdlovsk plus a new investigation in Moscow. Personalities such as the eminent physicist Professor Mark Azbel and ballet dancer Valery Panov were called in by the police and told that they were parasites.
Fifteen-day prison sentences were meted to activists who demanded to be permission to emigrate. This feature of harassment was particularly effective during the World Congress of Peace Forces in Moscow two months ago. While the delegations there were excitedly applauding Leonid Brezhnev’s opening speech, 23 Jews were being arrested outside. Anatoly Novikov was arrested three days running as soon as he stepped outside his home.
The Yom Kippur War had an e1ectrlfying effect on Jews in the USSR. Messages of solidarity with Israel sent from the remotest Jewish communities in the USSR. For example, a group of eight Jews from Tallinn, the capital of Soviet Estonia who had not until than been active, sent the following message to President Katzir:
In these anxious days, our hearts are entirely with our people. We regret very much that it is impossible to be with you, but our hope that the hour is not too distant when our energies and skills will serve to strengthen and develop our land.
Some of the younger Jews preferred a more demonstrative method of showing their feelings. As the War entered its second week, three Moscow Jews staged a demonstration outside the offices of the Central Committee of the Communist party. They paraded up and down with placards which stated: “We consider ourselves to be Israeli prisoners-of-war in the USSR and we demand to be granted exit permits or- to be put in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camps.” Within minutes they and the five Western correspondents who were reporting and filming the demonstration were arrested.
As the war progressed, Soviet Jews showed their support in other ways. Sixteen Jews from Tbilisi and Leningrad sent a telegram to President Nixon asking him to give arms to Israel to balance the enormous help given the Arabs by the USSR. New applicants for emigration showed their disgust at the Soviet Union’s attitude towards the conflict by requesting Israeli citizenship. As in many other countries, hundreds of Jews volunteered to give blood to Israel. The Soviet Red Cross categorically refused to take blood which would go to Israel’s wounded. However, announcements were made In colleges and universities that students should give blood to the Arab cause.
In particular, the biased and distorted coverage of the war by Tass and other news media annoyed Soviet Jews. For example – many people in Britain were critical of the BBC’s coverage of the war, in particular their Damascus correspondent who seemed to transmit each and every Syrian communique without evaluating it beforehand. This was not good enough for Moscow’s “Radio Peace and Progress.” it saw the BBC in another Light, according to a broadcast on October 9: •
The British Broadcasting Corporation has again demonstrated the real value of its ill-famed impartiality and so-called objectivity. When referring to the latest events In the Middle East, the BBC in obviously if insulting tones comments on dispatches from Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries about the course of the fighting. It tries to depict Israel as the victim of a surprise attack and plays up the boastful statements and threats made by the Israeli government and Command.
Even after the end of the war, Soviet Sews followed events closely.
The “neutral” statement of the nine NEC countries designed to appease the oil-producing Arab states angered five Jews in Tallinn. In a letter addressed to “Citizens of the Common Market countries,” they pointed out:
The policy of closing your eyes to the denial of the Arab countries to recognise the right of Israel to exist certainly contributed to the four Arab-Israeli wars. In the end, even this attitude succumbed In the face of economic sabotage and threats of terror. Your silence will be interpreted as support for that sabotage and that terror. Your government has sold itself and its morality for a tanker of oil. It is possible that you, too, will bury your convictions in return for a gallon of petrol. Remember Munich 1938 and what followed.
In early October; the KGB took advantage of Jewry’s preoccupation with Israel to launch a new campaign of oppression. Alexander Feldman who was sentenced to three and a half years “strict regime” on a charge of malicious hooliganism is a prime example of this new policy.
Feldman had been told a number of times by the KGB that he was “abnormal,” and as early as September, a friend was told that a case had been started against him. Everywhere Feldman went he was shadowed by KGB agents. He felt that his arrest was immanent. In view this situation, Feldman made sure that he would not put himself into any sort of compromising position which could lead to a fake charge. One way of this was to be accompanied by a bodyguard of friends who would be witnesses to any provocative incident.
On Simchat Torah, Feldman attended the service in the synagogue and walked home with friends. At seven in the evening a few minutes away. Feldman was followed by two male students and a young woman who ran ahead and hid in some bushes. As Feldman approached, the girl, in true Victorian melodramatic fashion, jumped out screaming, carrying a rather large cake which was deliberately dropped. The two students ran after Feldman, pounced on him end and arrested him in the manner of good Soviet citizens.
They then threw him into the car of the deputy head of the Investigation Department of Kiev’s Darnitsky region who was waiting for the incident to take place before he started up his car so that he could just pass by. At the police station, Feldman was offered a choice: He could either be charged with assaulting the girl or attempting to rape her.
The assailants were part of the trap set to catch Feldman. The girl described herself as a kindergarten teacher, but had not taught In Kindergarten Number 605 in Kiev for at least three months. Her present place of employment was not revealed even in the courtroom. The two students were enrolled at the institute of Jurisprudence, but turned out to be police cadets studying law.
Plans were made to keep the trial as secret as possible. It was postponed once and was finally held in the hall of a club belonging to a car factory and not in the scheduled court room.
Despite a three-metre high fence around the factory, militia were posted all around the perimeter. Feldman’s family and friends were barred from entering. The only people permitted to witness the proceedings were plainclothes KGB agents and militiamen who were brought to the factory gates in two coaches. Some of the latter were recognized as having been present at the Babi Yar service in September while others were known for their provocations outside the Kiev synagogue. In this atmosphere, the Kiev court sentenced Alexander Feldman to three and a half years for an act of malicious hooliganism that he never committed.
In addition to “hooligans” and “parasites”, the KGB searched In vain for Jewish alcoholics. Ida Nudel, a well-known Moscow activist, went for a check-up one day for her heart complaint. By chance she glanced at her medical card and saw she was labelled as an alcoholic, In Soviet terms, this can be interpreted as a sign of abnormality, curable by a period in a psychiatric clinic. A strange accusation for a woman whose closest contact with alcohol is a glass of kiddush wine on Shabbat.
Then there was the case of the Jewish carpenter from Derbent, Petya Pinkhasov. He arrested on an embezzlement charge after he refused to give up his idea of emigrating to Israel. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment in November. And Leonid Zabelishensky who got six months on a parasitism charge in Sverdlovsk in December. –
By a return to oppressive methods. It is clear that the KGB was to frighten the Jewish masses by persecuting the few activists. In the past a policy of trial and arrest has proved futile because many Jews have considered the risk worthwhile. In addition to those who left In I973, there are still many thousands of Jews sitting on their suitcases, waiting to leave. In addition, the Soviet Union’s desire for acceptance into the international community and its ardent overtures for détente are likely to be sharply rebuked by the West if persecution of Jews continues.
The Soviet Union’s recent ratification of the UN Declaration of Human Rights shows that freedom of emigration is not the internal affair of one state, but of all mankind. How far the USSR will honour its promises in 1974 is anyone’s guess, but it is clear that a spontaneous movement like the Jewish one cannot be put down easily or in silence.
Jerusalem Post 10 January 1974