The Jewish Movement to Leave for Israel, March 1972 (24.8)

<<No 24 : 5 March 1972>>

On 6 February fourteen Jews addressed a letter to President Nixon in which they asked him, bearing in mind his impending visit to Moscow, to use his good offices to obtain permission to emigrate to Israel for Esther Markish, the 60-year-old widow of the well-known poet Perets Markish, who was shot in 1952. [30]

A reference issued by the Central Scientific Research Institute for the Cotton Industry to Roman Rutman for submission to OVIR [Department of Visas and Registrations] contained the following statement: “The administration, Party committee and trade-union committee of the institute object to Rutman’s emigration to Israel, since he is … a highly-qualified specialist.” After R. Rutman and his family had been refused permission to emigrate by OVIR [the Visa & Registration Department], with the remark: “You must understand – after all, we don’t detain refuse collectors”, Rutman ceased work and declared a strike beginning on 21 February, demanding to be allowed to leave for Israel with his family. A few days later he was dismissed. [31]

At a meeting of the Soviet executive committee of the Frunze district in Moscow, Vladimir Slepak, in the presence of the District Procurator, was accused of being a parasite. [32] Slepak is a highly-qualified engineer with more than twenty years’ service, and the former head of a laboratory. Last September he was forced to leave his job at a scientific research institute as a result of persecution. The cause of the persecution was Slepak’s wish to emigrate to Israel. At present he is making a living by giving lessons and consultations, of which the financial authorities have been notified and which Soviet law regards as work of social value.

Political prisoner G. Z. Shur has written a letter to the USSR Supreme Soviet [33] in which he sheds light on certain details of the Kishinyov trial of the Nine (June 1971; CCE 20.3). The “Zionist, nationalistic books’’ Ariel and This is Israel, which were confiscated from Shur during a search, were judged to be material evidence of his guilt, since they “characterised him as a member of an anti-Soviet organisation”.

Ariel is a survey of culture and the arts, published in Israel in 1965 in Russian, and sent to the USSR by post. The content of the collection is suggested by the titles of the articles which it contains: “Shakespeare on the Israeli stage”, “Israeli methods of investigating cancerous diseases”, “Mstislav Rostropovich on tour in Israel” and so forth. This is Israel is an advertising brochure published in England by a travel agency, containing mainly illustrations – views of historical monuments and scenery in Israel. Charges against the accused at the Kishinyov trial also mentioned such books as The Maccabees are My Brothers by H[oward] Fast (on the national-liberation uprising of the Jews against the Graeco-Persian hegemony in the second century B.C.), Text-book of Jewish History for Schools and Private Study by S. M. Dubnov (published in Russian in Petrograd, 1918), Jewish Encyclopaedia (a pre-revolutionary publication in Russian) and so on.

A Collection of Prayers, Rituals and Laws of the Jewish People (a pre-revolutionary publication in Modern Hebrew and Russian) which had been confiscated during the search, was subsequently “destroyed by burning” by officials of the KGB, since it “had no bearing on the case and its content was reactionary” (the certificate of burning is quoted in full in Shur’s letter).


[30] See text in News Bulletin on Soviet Jewry (NBSJ), No. 212, which also prints Mrs. Markish’s letter to Golda Meir of 6 February. (For NBSJ, see Bibliography in CCE 22-23.)

Among the many letters on behalf of Mrs. Markish and her son David, see those in The Times (23 June, from 12 eminent writers, including Joseph Brodsky) and the Daily Telegraph (4 January, from three journalists). See also accounts in the British press of the hunger-strike by Mrs. David Markish outside the Soviet embassy in London on 11-13 June.

[31] See Rutman’s open letter on this whole episode in NBSJ No. 213. Rutman has also signed many Jewish appeals, notably one from nine Moscow scientists to the international scientific community calling for help in emigrating. See extracts in a Reuter dispatch of 12 January.

[32] The public accusation that Vladimir Slepak was “a parasite” occurred on 23 February and provoked strong protests in the USSR and abroad. On the whole affair see NBSJ Nos. 211-214. Later, on 12 May, a Jewish prayer-book signed by 200 British MPs was sent to Moscow by airfreight as a bar-mitzvah// present for Slepak’s son Leonid, but was confiscated by the Soviet customs.

Then the Slepaks’ telephone was cut off. In Parliament protests were requested from the British government by the secretary of the All-Party Commons Committee for the Release of Soviet Jewry, the Labour M.P. Greville Janner, especially concerning the Soviet breach of the International Telecommunication Convention. He received sympathetic but cautious replies from government spokesmen. See The Times, 15 and 16 May, and 8 June.

[33] Shur’s letter to the USSR Supreme Soviet, dated 25 October 1971, has reached the West but it has not yet been published, perhaps because it is 3,500 words long. In January Shur suffered severely, in Camp 17(a) in Mordovia, from chest pains and an ulcer. When the authorities refused to hospitalize him a hunger-strike involving 11 Jewish prisoners was staged from 7 to 18 February (see NBSJ No. 212).