Yefim Aronovich DAVIDOVICH, retired colonel and veteran of the Second World War, holder of eighteen medals and military honours, died on 24 April 1976; he spent his last years fighting for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel.
Davidovich (right) with other Jewish war heroes Alshansky and Ovsishcher
Yefim Davidovich was born in Minsk in 1924. At the age of 18 he went to the front as a volunteer. He was wounded five times. After the war he graduated from the Frunze Academy with honours. While serving in the army, he suffered two heart attacks and was retired from active service in 1969.
As he was not indifferent to the fate of his people, who had suffered terribly in recent decades (200,000 Jews perished in the Minsk ghetto; among them Davidovich’s parents and three younger brothers), Davidovich spoke out loudly and honestly against anti-Semitism. The letters, appeals and protests written by Davidovich attracted attention to him, particularly the keen attention of State security [KGB]. In 1972 he was investigated for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”. On 1 December 1972 Davidovich was arrested but released a day later after signing an undertaking not to leave town. For half a year Davidovich was questioned; the prolonged and intensive interrogations led to fainting fits and heart attacks. After a routine interrogation on 21 February 1973 Yefim Davidovich was placed in a respiratory unit, and his life hung by a thread.
The pressure of public opinion led to the case against Davidovich (“Case 97”) being dropped in May 1973. The campaign of persecution did not cease; indeed, it grew. Biased articles were published; he was not allowed to travel to Moscow and was taken off the train by force.
In May 1975, after speaking at an anti-fascist meeting in the area where the Minsk ghetto formerly stood, Davidovich was deprived of the rank of retired colonel and of the pension and medical care that went with it (CCE 39.4).
This soon had an effect on his health: on 1 March 1976 Davidovich suffered his fifth heart attack.
Davidovich fought against injustice to his last day. It can be said, without exaggeration, that he lived like a man and died like a warrior.
Those who knew Davidovich will remember him — as a good, honest and fearless man.
[Davidovich’s Last Illness]
During Davidovich’s last illness, Jewish activists [in the USSR] tried to obtain permission for him and his family to emigrate to Israel. On 17 March L. Ovsishcher, I. Nudel and A. Lerner were received by V. Obidin, head of the All-Union Visa Department (OVIR), who promised to give them an answer shortly.
On 21 March Davidovich was visited in Minsk by V. Rubin and S. Lipavsky, a Ph.D. in Medical Sciences. After examining Davidovich, Lipavsky sent urgent telegrams to the CPSU Central Committee, the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Masherov, First Secretary of the Belorussian Communist Party, pointing out Davidovich’s serious condition and stating that a radical change in his living conditions could lead to his recovery.
On 25 March 1976, the Visa Department refused to consider Davidovich’s application to emigrate, as “the Visa Department has information that Davidovich is feeling fine”. On receiving this reply, A. Lerner, I. Nudel, L. Ovsishcher, V. Rubin and S. Lipavsky went to the central reception office of the KGB and handed in the following declaration:
“Our appeal to the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs, asking for an urgent and humanitarian consideration of the question of allowing Yefim Davidovich to emigrate in accordance with the Helsinki Agreement, has had no result. No one in the world would believe that the emigration of a man who was mortally, who retired over seven years ago from the army, could be a threat to the security of the Soviet Union. There can be no doubt that the new situation will lead to an outburst of indignation all over the world.”
On the same day, Lerner, Nudel, Ovsishcher, Rubin and Lipavsky sent a telegram of similar content to A. Gromyko and to [Prime Minister] H. Wilson in London:
“The life of Yefim Davidovich, hero of the Second World War and a leading fighter for the rights of Soviet Jews, is in mortal danger. The refusal to allow the emigration of a sick man, who has suffered his fifth heart attack, is a blatant infringement of the Helsinki Agreement. We ask you to take appropriate measures immediately.”
On hearing of Davidovich’s death, 57 Soviet citizens issued the following declaration:
“What some people have been trying to achieve for a long time has happened.
“Colonel Yefim Davidovich, hero of the war against the fascists, holder of eighteen Soviet military honours and medals, untiring fighter for the rights of Soviet Jews, a man of rare courage, has died. He was murdered by the KGB. He was murdered because he fought unselfishly for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel, and because he defended every victim of persecution without sparing himself. What Hitler’s bullets could not do has been cold-bloodedly achieved by the executioners of the KGB.
“This was their reward for the blood Davidovich spilt fighting for Russia, the Ukraine and Belorussia, for his decision, as a Jew, to emigrate to the land where a Jewish state has been built up, where his daughter and grandson, those near and dear to him, would not have to put up with insults from the anti-Semites in power. This was a murder without any beatings, without needles being pushed under nails, without the use of standing cells and other accessories of the Stalin epoch. The contemporary heirs of Beria and Yezhov know how to kill without leaving any traces …
“After his fifth heart attack, when there was a real threat to his life, we appealed to the CPSU Central Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We warned them that Yefim Davidovich was in a critical condition and asked that he be allowed to emigrate to a country which he considers his own. It is possible that this would have prevented his untimely death, but even if he had soon died in Israel, his last wish would have been fulfilled — to die in his homeland.
“However, those to whom we appealed to fulfil the last wish of a dying man answered us in the words of Albert Ivanov (Central Committee) and Vladimir Obidin (Ministry of Internal Affairs), that according to their information, Davidovich was feeling fine. May the hero and martyr Yefim Davidovich never be forgotten!”
The funeral of Yefim Davidovich took place in Minsk at 5.00 pm on 26 April. Over three hundred people were present, among them 17 Jewish activists from Moscow, Vilnius and Tallinn. The Israeli flag was draped over the coffin and those who took part in the funeral procession wore armbands, with a blue ribbon on a white background. At the graveyard speeches were made by L. Ovsishcher, A. Lerner and V. Rubin, and a few words were said by M.K. Davidovich, the dead man’s widow. Then kaddish, the Jewish requiem prayer, was read out.
On the same day, at 6.00 pm, kaddish was said [for Davidovich] in the Moscow synagogue. After the kaddish a mourning assembly took place outside the synagogue, attended by about fifty people. V. Fain made a speech at this meeting.
That morning [26 April] police officials visited a number of Jewish activists to persuade them not to attend the meeting. There were many policemen and KGB agents in civilian clothes near the synagogue.
The meeting took place without incident.