Bertrand Russell and Soviet Jews

In July 1969, six young Jews, Shimon Grillius, Yuri and Valery Vudka, Oleg frolov, Shimon Zaslavskyand Yevgeny Martimonov were arrested in Riazan in the Lithuanian soviet socialist Republic and charged under Articles 70 and 72 of the Soviet Criminal Code which deals with anti-soviet propaganda.

The trial began on February 10 1970 behind closed doors. Entry to the court was restricted to a few relatives, KGB workers, CPSU and Komsomol members and accredited representatives of different organisations.

the main evidence used in the trial was material which had been confiscated during a KGB search of shimon Grillius’s house. This included a document entitled ‘The Decline of Capital’, a few volumes of the Jewish Encyclopaedia, Winston Churchill’s book on the Six Day war, Leon Uris’s ‘Exodus’and numerous Hebrew textbooks and records.

One piece of evidence which was specifically used to illustrate the ‘anti-Soviet activities’ of the defendants was an appeal to Bertrand Russell who had concerned himself with the Jewish problem in the Soviet Union in the mid-sixties. Dubtsov, the local prosecutor, asserted that Russell had been associated with a number of well-known anti-Soviet figures and that the mere existence of such an appeal constituted an anti-Soviet act.

There then followed a heated discussion between Judge Matveyev and the defendants on the Jewish question in the Soviet Union and the reasons behind the growing desire of many Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. On February 19 1970, the judge sentenced Yuri and Valery Vudka to seven and three years imprisonment in a strict regime corrective labour camp. Grillius and Frolov received five years each and the sentences of Zaslavsky and Martimonov were suspended.

Until quite recently very little was known of the trial  and the ridiculously severe sentences passed.  At the end of last year, Yaakov Farbshtein, Ilya Shaknovich and Roman Arliuk addressed from israel an open letter to Roman Rudenko, the Prosecutor-General of the Soviet Union. These three who had since emigrated to Israel, had been witnesses at the Riazan trial and confirmed Dubtsov’s appraisal of Bertrand russell in court as ‘an anti-Soviet figure’. In their letter to Rudenko, they demanded a re-examination of the case and a repeal of the sentence.

When further information on the trial began to filter through, friends and supporters of the philosopher expressed complete astonishment that an appeal to Bertrand Russell for help could serve to place innocent men in a Soviet labour camp. At the beginning of February, nine internationally known socialists including Noam Chomsky, Kinju Morikawa, Livio Labor, Laurent Schwartz, Lawrence Daly and Mehmet Ali Aybar wrote to Leonid Brezhnev and requested his intervention on behalf of the Riazan four.The signatories stated that :

Russell had worked for Jews, Arabs and many peoples in need of help. the fact that he received appeals from political appeals in more than forty countries is well known and such activities on behalf of civil liberties did not in any way impede his overall efforts for peace and disarmament, against colonial oppression and for the free development of all nations outside the boundaries of terror which have become established in the nuclear age.

So far Mr Brezhnev has not replied to the letter of the nine. Edith, Countess Russell, wrote earlier this year to Enrico Berlinguer, the newly elected Secretary-General of the Italian Communist party on the Riazan matter. Berlinguer’s reply was much more positive succinctly praised the philosopher’s great contribution to peace and international understanding.

Grillius, the Vudka brothers and Frolov are now interned in the camps of the Potma complex in Soviet Mordovia. the Vudka brothers have suffered intense harassment at the hands of the camp authorities because they insisted on observing certain Jewish religious doctrines such as the observance of the dietary laws. On Christmas eve last year, Grillius and his friends went on hunger strike with other Jewish prisoners in Potma on the first anniversary of the First Leningrad trial of Soviet Jews.

Indeed it remains to be seen if the protest of the Left about the injustices committed in the course of the Riazan trial is heeded by the Soviet authorities and permission is granted to the four prisoners to emigrate to Israel.

Tribune 7 April 1972

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