Interview with Tamara Galperina

When did you first think of leaving for Israel?

About six years ago. It seemed that Israel was the right place for me to be.

What happened after you applied to leave?

The day after my husband applied, he was thrown out of his job. I worked for a few months, but everyone was afraid to speak to me. It was a very unpleasant atmosphere.

We were lucky, however; because my husband found a job. As a rule, refuseniks are never employed. Anatoly was a very, very special case. Life, therefore, was a little easier for us compared with other refused families.

My daughter was a 16-year-old schoolgirl when we applied. She was subjected to a four-hour long examination at school as to why she wished to leave for Israel. All her schoolfriends were frightened to remain in contact with her. She left for Israel without us a year ago.

In the four-and-a-half years that you waited, did you ever consider withdrawing your application and forgetting about everything?

Never. It was quite impossible.

What harassments did you suffer during all those years?

The life of every refusenik family is hard. We are watched. Our homes are bugged by the KGB. I would prefer not to tell about my own troubles. I am lucky to be here and to be free.

I would like to tell you about a woman who is loved by every Moscow Jew, Ida Nudel. I have known her for the past five years. Her task is to look after the interests of the Jewish prisoners. She collects every detail about their life in the camps and transmits such information abroad. Her work is therefore very dangerous.

Her position has always been precarious. The authorities threatened her with internment in a special psychiatric hospital. This is perhaps the most severe form of punishment. There is no way to escape. Very few are unaltered by their experience in this madhouse. Ida is very tired and quite alone in Moscow. Her husband and her sister are already in Israel.

In addition, there are refuseniks in Moscow who have been there even longer than Ida. For example, Slepak, Prestin, Abramovich and Stella Goldberg. Why have these people been kept waiting since 1969?

I cannot explain why. Perhaps it is a form of vengeance. When you are dealing with the Soviet authorities, it is quite impossible to explain their whims. And so my friends continue to suffer.

Why do you think that they allowed Vitaly Rabin to leave for Israel earlier this month?

When I was in Moscow, I believed that he might be allowed to leave as the US Presidential elections drew nearer. He was permitted to go even quicker than I had guessed. Perhaps others will also be allowed to leave now.

You regard the Presidential elections as being important?

Absolutely. The Soviet Government will, I hope, make more concessions to western public opinion. It is therefore very important for the campaign in the west to focus on the issue of the refuseniks at this time.

In Moscow, you also had contacts with non-Jewish democrats who had helped Jews.

Yes. I knew very well the mother of Vladimir Bukovsky. He is in the worst prison in the Soviet Union, Vladimir prison, and he is still on hunger strike after many weeks. He is very, strong-willed and extremely courageous. His mother believes that the authorities mean to eliminate him.

He must be given the opportunity to leave the Country. Without Bukovsky’s help, it would have been virtually impossible for thousands of Jews to leave the USSR each year. Like Ida Nudel, he is a very special person. They do such dangerous work without for a moment thinking of their own safety. They do everything for others.

The west must make a great effort to help such remarkable people, otherwise unthinkable things will happen.

The current campaign of the KGB appears to be aimed at severing contact between Soviet Jews. Take, for example, the attempt to close scientific seminars and to stop the publication of Jews in the USSR.

Is this campaign succeeding?

People are struggling against it. The KGB also tries to isolate us from our friends abroad. For many years, our telephone in Moscow was disconnected. If during just one conversation, you mention a few words about Jews in Russia, your telephone will be immediately cut off.

This situation is very serious in the small cities where the Jews do not have the protecting presence of western diplomats and journalists. There it is a very courageous act to even ask for an invitation from Israel. The authorities in these small places now refuse to deliver such invitations, so naturally people ate frightened.

Since the beginning of 1971, tens of thousands of Jews have left the USSR for Israel. In 1976 the emigration rate is very low. Does this mean we are witnessing the end the great post-1967 emigration wave from the USSR?

The authorities cannot stop emigration. Perhaps this is the end of a wave. But one problem at present for many young people is the conscription issue. More often or not, when a young man applies to leave, he risks being placed in the army. Great use has been made of this recently in order to stop the emigration of the youth.

As the emigration proceeds, the percentage of people who do not go to Israel appears to increase. Why is this?

I cannot speak for those who go to other places. I know only that all my friends in Moscow dream of one thing: stepping on to the earth of Israel at Lod Airport. It would appear that it is becoming easier to gain permission if the authorities know that you do not intend to go to Israel.

People say quite openly now to the authorities where their final destination will be.

It has been reported that a watchdog committee will be set up officially to supervise the adherence of the signatories to the Helsinki accord. Do you think that the agreement has been of any help to Soviet Jews?

When some Soviet Jews asked the authorities about the agreement, they were told: “It isn’t for you. Helsinki is for the west”. It was quite official.

The agreement is of importance in the issue of separated families where one partner is in Israel and the other remains in the USSR. If the west insists on this point, the Soviet Union might make some concessions.

Do you think the west is making a sufficient effort to help Soviet Jews?

I think people try their best. In Moscow, I was quite sure that I had many friends abroad who were trying to help me. It was only their work that helped me to survive and gave me the possibility to leave the country. It’s only due to them that I am here today.

Jewish Observer 25 June 1976

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