EIGHTY YEARS ago this month, Boris Ginsburg was arrested while walking along a street in Proskurov, a city in western Ukraine.Mr Ginsburg was one of the last leaders of the underground Zionist movement in the USSR. It is believed that he died under interrogation by the GPU, the forerunner of the KGB, in Kaminets-Podolsk. He was 31 years old.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Jewish movement for emigration from the USSR only began after the Six-Day war in 1967. Mr Ginsburg’s courageous example proves the very opposite.
It started after 1917 when the Bolsheviks first began to exhibit authoritarian tendencies. Mr Ginsburg had been absent when
the GPU arrested the entire central committee of Tserei Tsion and the Union of Zionist Youth at a clandestine meeting in Moscow in September 1934. Over the next two years, he tried to coordinate disparate Zionist groups in the USSR, often sleeping in different locations on succeeding nights.
The Bolshevik suppression of Jewish institutions, the teaching of Hebrew and Zionist activities gathered speed during the 1920s. In part, born-again Jewish Communists, often former Zionists, were responsible for the persecution — much to the bafflement of their perplexed non-Jewish comrades.
During the early part of the 1920s, the first trials of Zionists were held. Short sentences were handed out and a few were even able to leave for the Yishuv. In September 1924, however, 3,000 Zionists were arrested and sent to places of exile in the remote reaches of the USSR. This established a pattern of exile and return repeated many times in succeeding decades. There are cases
of Jews who wished to leave in 1920 but only reached Israel in 1970.
Like other Zionist groups in the 1920s, Tserei Tsion split into a legal organisation which cooperated with the Soviet authorities and an illegal one that did not. By 1930, all had been banned by Stalin. Yet Zionist groups maintained their activities, which often earned them imprisonment and exile in the permafrost of the emerging gulag. Older Zionists were amazed to meet these new teenage inmates in their camps in the 1930s.
Boris Ginsburg was one of the many faceless Jews who struggled to reach the Yishuv and perished. In this year of anniversaries, we should also remember them. As the Baal Shem Tov commented,
“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”
Jewish Chronicle 24 February 2017