Interview with Lydia Korenfeld


Why did you apply to go to Israel?

It’s a very simple yet very difficult question. We wanted to go to Israel because we wanted to bring up our children in a Jewish atmosphere. •

So why did the Soviet authorities refuse to give you permission for over five years?

You never know where you stand with these people. Sometimes they grant permission to applicants who are in possession of classified information. Others, however, are refused even though they have never had access to secret documentation. This was the case with my family. They said that my husband had had access to some secret papers in previous employment. This was not true, but, nevertheless they kept us for nearly six years.

You were in a leading position in the Jewish movement during perhaps its most active years. What pressures did the situation place on you as a mother and a wife?

It was really very, very difficult, especially to do the housework and be in prison at the same time! Seriously, though, I was away from home a lot. There were many interrogations and because I could speak English, I often met people from abroad. It affected Natasha, my younger daughter, to a considerable extent. She was only seven when we began our struggle. It was really terrible and this was what worried me most of all. Ludmilla, the older one, was an adult and she could understand our participation in the movement. But for the child, it was tragic that she had to live under such conditions.

Natasha received a threatening letter from Black September. What were your reactions?

We were shocked and we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know whether to tell her the truth or to keep it from her, whether to let her go to school and play with her friends as usual or to keep her locked up in the house. We decided to continue on a basis of business as usual. We really had no measures with which to protect her. It was a terrible time for us.

Another woman in Moscow who has been under similar strain is Vladimir Slepak’s wife, Masha. In January, the Slepaks took the dramatic step of undergoing divorce proceedings, so that at least one part of the family would be permitted to leave. Did you ever contemplate this step?

No. Our situation was somewhat different from the Slepaks. I could not think of leaving my husband behind. He is not a healthy man—he has high blood pressure—and has virtually no relatives in Moscow. Our family is a very close one and I couldn’t come to terms with such a prospect.

Yet I can understand why Masha did what she did. They have waited two years longer than us and she is very tense and nervous. Even so, they have refused to give her permission to leave with Leonid, the younger son. The situation of the Slepaks is bad. Next year, Leonid is due to be conscripted for army service, which would delay their departure for even more years. If this happens, then Masha’s position will become unbearable.

What is the general situation of wives and children in the Soviet Union who are separated from their husbands and fathers who now live in Israel? I think particularly of Stella Goldberg, whose husband left illegally some seven years ago. Is there any hope for people like her?

Stella is like a sister to me. She has been refused permission to leave for six years. Stella’s son is being brought up in terrible conditions. I don’t really know if there are good prospects for their emigration but I believe the west must exert pressure to help her because she is on the verge of despair.

You applied at about the same time as the veteran refuseniks Prestin and Abramovich, yet you have now been permitted to leave. How are such decisions made?

We don’t know. But I hope that with sufficient pressure in the west, all the refuseniks will be allowed to leave. It was the case with Victor Polsky. It was the case with us. They don’t always leave directly, but after a couple of months they are given permission.

You were friendly in Moscow with Professor Benjamin Levich. Both of his sons are new in Israel and the promise given to him that he and his wife would be allowed to go appears to have been reneged. What are the prospects for their aliyah?

Their situation is becoming worse. His wife, Tanya, had heart trouble this summer. I heard Ponomarev noted as saying that Levich was not  being allowed to emigrate because he knows a great number of secrets. I do not believe this. He has not worked for the Government for a great many years and the projects he worked on must now be obsolete. They now have grandchildren in Israel whom they have never seen.

What developments await the Soviet Jewry movement after the recent wave of arrests which preceded the American elections? Will Boris Chernobilsky and Iosif As be placed on trial?

I hope such trials will not take place. But I believe in the spirit of the protests. I believe in strong measures. You must stop at some point. With the Soviet authorities it is important to keep on doing things. This is important in the west as well. As long as there is work being done, then there is hope for Soviet Jews. If not, that is the end of everything.

What about the efforts being made in Britain?

I was in the United States and I am here just to ask you to work as hard as you can and to contribute to the cause with even greater zeal than in the past, because I do not want another Germany to be repeated. And with the Soviet authorities, you never know.

Jewish Observer 12 November 1976

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