Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Andrei Sakharov

Thank you for your great heart, for your clear understanding of reality, for your honesty. Can one be grateful for honesty? Yes, for in the world we live in, honesty requires in many courage which is not granted to all.

Your courage is so immense with its radiance that it chases away some of the darkness around us and gives hope that reason will score its victory over folly, justice will triumph over lawlessness, good will overcome evil.

(Letter of support to Andrei Sakharov from the 35 leading activists in Moscow, September, 1973).

A former Jewish activist from Moscow passing through London over the weekend was ecstatic at the news that Dr. Andrei Sakharov had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“It is a victory for the truth of the individual over the manufactured truth of the propaganda machine. Indeed, it is a giant step forward for mankind”, he said.

‘Righteous gentile’

The official Soviet accusation of “anti-patriotism”, issued from the pen of the well-known anti-Israel commentator, Yuri Kornilov, was not unexpected

The Soviet Union had been quietly supporting the candidature of President Kekkonen of Finland, who stage-managed the recent multi-national Europe security conference in Helsinki. The Nobel committee chose differently, however.

“For Sakharov”, the official citation stated, “it is a fundamental principle that world peace can have no lasting value unless it is founded on respect for the individual human being in society.”

In Jewish homes in Moscow aid Jerusalem, Sakharov’s health was toasted with gratitude and admiration. In the hearts of thousands of Soviet Jews, he has earned the title of “righteous gentile because of the help he has given to many a Jew in distress.

His first intervention on behalf of Soviet Jews came on December 28, 1970, when he appealed to President Podgorny to prevent the execution of Mark Dymshits and Edward Kuznetsov, sentenced to death in the first Leningrad trial. In his letter. Sakharov condemned the authorities for their restrictions on Jews who wished to emigrate.

At the end of the second Leningrad trial in May, 1971, at which another nine Jews were sentenced, Sakharov as head of the Soviet Human Rights Committee sent another appeal on the Jewish question to the praesidium of the Supreme Soviet. This went much further than the limited issue of anti-Jewish trials and questioned the authorities’ legitimacy in disseminating distorted ports about Zionism. Sakharov wrote:

Zionism is no more than the idea of Jewish statehood and one can only admire the persistence of ancient and persecuted people in very difficult circumstances, have resurrected a long-vanished State. It is precisely such rebirth and elimination of the tragic consequences of dispersion for the Jewish people that constitute the goal of Zionism.

Later letters in 1971 commented on the anti-Jewish trials of Raisa Palatnik and Valery Kukui and included renewed appeals for free emigration.

For Soviet Jews, the name of Andrei Sakharov was rapidly being equated with those values treasured by Judaism: social justice and down-to-earth honesty, treasured by Judaism.  It was no surprise, therefore, to find him with other leading Jewish activists outside the Lebanese Embassy in Moscow in September, 1972, in a bitter demonstration against the massacre of the Munich athletes. He, too. was arrested.

Sakharov’s next move on the Jewish problem was his courageous support for the Jackson amendment, which attempted to link trade agreements between the Soviet Union and the US to the emigration issue.

The Soviet establishment came down heavily on him and scurrillous articles were churned out by the dozen on the propaganda conveyor belt.

Many people feared that he would be arrested and imprisoned. That was why the 35 activists wrote the eloquent and warm letter quoted at the beginning.

Sakharov was called in by the deputy prosecutor-general of the USSR and warned that his activities would end in the bleak comfort of a prison cell. He reacted by appealing to the US Congress “to rise above temporary partisan consideration of commercialism and prestige” and act on the basis of “its historical responsibility before mankind”.

During the Yom Kippur War, Sakharov closely followed Israel’s determined effort to defend itself against the invading armies of Syria and Egypt. In an interview with a Lebanese correspondent, Sakharov pointed out:

This hostility was stirred up to a considerable extent by the prudent policies of other states. All mankind has on its conscience the Jewish victims of Nazi genocide during World War II. We cannot permit a repetition of that tragedy today.

Sakharov’s defence of persecuted Soviet Jews continued throughout 1974 and 1975. Among those on whose behalf he spoke out were Isak Shkolnik, Alexander Feldman and Dr Mikhail Shtern.

But despite all this, the vast majority of public figures in Jewish communal Ilk has propagated an embarrassed silence over the oppression of Sakharov. A notable exception has been Greville Janner QC, MP, who in fact suggested a long time ago that Sakharov should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. More recently the community effectively ignored the arrest of the human rights activist, Andrei Tverdoklebov, a colleague of Sakharov and a friend of Soviet Jews.

Silent letter

“Jews in the USSR”, published by the Board of Deputies, printed an appeal of ten Jewish activists in support of Tverdokhlebov some five weeks after it had been made in Moscow — and after its publication in the Jewish Observer.

In May, a Jewish organisation in New York made an award to Sakharov for his efforts in helping Soviet Jewry. Sakharov sent a letter of thanks but it was not read out because it urged the organisation to consider the wider issue of emigration of all Soviet citizens, not just Jews. The suppression of the letter, transmitted by Jewish activists in Moscow at great risk, was privately condemned by Jews in the Soviet Union.

Jewish officialdom has tried to erect an invisible barrier around a man who has done so much for the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. Organisations which continue this approach are clearly failing’ in their moral duty.

Jewish Observer 17 October 1975

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.