The hunger demonstration of 10-11 March
On 10 March 1971 56 citizens of Riga appeared in the Reception Room of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet. At 11 am they handed in a statement addressed to N. V. Podgorny, President of the Supreme Soviet, and A. N. Kosygin, member of the Presidium, by Jewish families in Riga who have been refused permission to emigrate to Israel.
They demanded: permission to emigrate to Israel; the provision of written, reasoned replies in cases of refusal; the cessation of judicial and extra-judicial persecution connected with the desire to emigrate to Israel; and the replacement of Kh. V. Kaia, the head of OVIR [Department of Visas and Registrations] in the Latvian SSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, whose outrageous conduct was intolerable in an official representative of the authorities.
Those present announced that they would remain in the Reception Room of the Presidium until they received a positive reply to their statements.
A secretary proposed that they should register for individual appointments or choose a representative for interview, since nobody would conduct an interview with all of them at once.
By 1 pm, 149 people had gathered in the Reception Room. Jews from Vilnius, Kaunas, Lvov, Berdichev, Kislovodsk, Tallinn and Odessa had joined those from Riga.
Foreign correspondents were removed from the Reception Room by officials of the KGB.
Three hours after the statement had been submitted, the 56 Riga Jews announced a hunger strike in the Reception Room of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet in protest at their detention on the territory of the USSR. The others joined the hunger demonstration. It lasted until the evening of 10 March, when the demonstrators left the Reception Room on being threatened with the use of force, but continued the following day.
On the morning of 11 March department-head Dumin talked to those who had gathered in the Reception Room. In answer to the remark that the Soviet Union had ratified [4 February 1969] the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and thus recognised the right of citizens freely to choose their place of residence, including emigration to another country, Dumin said: “Did you not know that this document has been approved for the sake of the outside world, but is not law on the territory of the USSR?”
After submitting several more statements the Jews set off for the premises of the Reception Room of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs]. There they talked to Colonel Ovchinnikov, acting head of the All-Union OVIR, Major-General Samokhvalov, head of the Operations Group of the MVD, and finally to the USSR Minister of Internal Affairs, Colonel-General N. A. Shchelokov. The latter stated that by taking this step—going on hunger strike— those present were dancing to the tune of the Zionist bosses, and that anyone who interfered with our building of the radiant edifice of communism, and got under our feet, would be punished. “You’d better not forget what we did to the Tatars,” said Minister Shchelokov. He also promised to examine and reconsider the cases of those who wished to emigrate.
At 4.30 pm the Jews ended their hunger strike and left the premises of the Reception Room of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs.
By the end of March 1971, most of the participants in the hunger demonstration in Moscow had received permission to emigrate to Israel.
On 26 March 1971, 39 Jews were apprehended in the Reception Room of the USSR Procurator-General, where they had been waiting for a reply to their statement demanding that those arrested in Leningrad, Riga, Odessa and Kishinyov should be either released or tried in open court. There were 213 signatures to the statement.
Two-and-a-half hours after they had begun their wait, those present were taken by bus to sobering-up station No. 9. There, after being questioned, they were all charged with petty hooliganism. On the following day Judge Sgibneva of the Frunze district passed sentence (fines of 10-20 roubles and five to fifteen days’ imprisonment), on the basis of the 15 February 1962 decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet: “On increasing the penalties for endangering the life or health, or belittling the dignity, of officials of the police and the people’s vigilantes [druzhinniki]”.
One of the 39 Jews apprehended at the Procuracy of the USSR was A[lexei] Tumerman. On 26 March 1971 he was subjected to fifteen days’ imprisonment, and in protest he carried out a ten-day hunger strike. On the night of 12-13 April, Tumerman was taken to the police station in accordance with a summons requiring him to appear before the head of the district police for an interview at midnight. From there he was taken to a psychiatric hospital.
On 18 April, Tumerman wrote a letter from the hospital to Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, asking her to help him to emigrate to Israel.
On the authority of the district psychiatrist he was released and placed under his parents’ guardianship.
Letters and appeals
28 April. An Open Letter from a psychiatric hospital by A. Tumerman. He places the responsibility for his forcible detention in a psychiatric hospital personally on Prof. Pavel Nilovich Ushakov and Dr. Nina Matveyevna Morozova, head of section seven of the Solovyov Psychiatric Hospital [in Moscow].
On 26 April a group of Jews from Riga who are attempting to obtain permission to emigrate to Israel sent an appeal to Shchelokov, Minister of Internal Affairs, stating: “We await your positive decision” (ten signatures). The same group sent telegrams to Podgorny, President of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, and Kosygin, President of the USSR Council of Ministers.
In protest at their illegal detention and arrest [on 26 March] ten persons announced a hunger strike. M. Zand and A. Gorbach were on hunger strike for the whole fifteen days of their imprisonment.
Yelena Stroyeva and Yury Titov, who are husband and wife, were separated from the other detainees and placed in the Kashchenko Psychiatric Hospital.
On 25 March the mothers and wives of the Jews arrested in Kishinyov and Leningrad appealed to the 24th Party Congress and to Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Party Central Committee, urgently requesting the release of their sons and husbands. The latter had spent from four to nine months in confinement, while their only “guilt” was their desire to study the Jewish language and Jewish culture, and to return to their historic homeland.
End of April 1971: an appeal to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet and the 24th Party Congress from relations and friends of those convicted by the Leningrad City Court on 26 December 1970 [i.e. the //Smolny “hijackers”]. It asks for them to be pardoned.
An appeal to the representatives of the Italian and French Communist Parties at the 24th Party Congress from Jews in Riga who are attempting to emigrate to Israel. 52 signatures.
An appeal to the chief rabbis of Jewish religious communities.
It complains of the impossibility of observing religious rites in the USSR, and asks them to assist religious Jews in emigrating to Israel. Seventeen signatures to the appeal and 48 more in support.