Remembering the Jewish Prisoners

The fourth anniversary of the futile attempt by a group of Jews from Riga and Leningrad to steal an airplane and escape to Sweden was marked by hunger strikes by Jews in a number of Soviet cities.

Jewish prisoners in strict-regime labour camps in Potma and Perm began a hunger strike last Saturday, the identical date of the ill-fated flight to liberty in 1970.

the participants were tried in the famous first Leningrad trial and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The two main defendants, Mark Dymshits and Edward Kuznetsov, were initially given death sentences, but worldwide from the Pope to the French trotskyists forced the Soviet authorities to grant a reprieve. Instead Dymshits and Kuznetsov received long sentences of 15 years.

In Leningrad a hunger strike had started twenty four hours previously to commemorate the anniversary. The 34 Leningrad fasters in a message to Jewish communities of the Diaspora pointed:

The relatives and friends of the convicted had written in their letter to the chairman of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR: “the only aim of these trials was to frighten the Jews of the USSR in order to show them that even the desire to leave for their homeland was a crime.” History has judged differently.

We can now see that the number of people who had followed the path paved by the martyrs of 15 June is growing at an incredible rate. Therefore the enforced detention of the Jewish prisoners under guard is senseless.

the hunger strikers included the well-known scientists, Arkady Rabinov and Moisei Kislik and many relatives of the imprisoned Jews.

Protests in support of the airplane people also took place in Moscow and Kiev.

At Shepetovka, the Jewish prisoner, Alexander Feldman, has been placed in the camp’s internal prison for six months. for the first month, he is expected to survive on a diet of bread and water. Feldman has suffered four periods of 15 days in a punishment cell during the last three months. In May he threatened to stage a hunger strike if he was imprisoned again or persecuted by the camp supervisor.

A new trial of a Jew, wishing to leave for Israel, took place in the Ukrainian city of Chernovits this month. On June 3, Albert Isakovich Koltunov was sentenced to five and a half years strict regime on a charge of involvement in bribery.

Koltunov was a poor worker in the state lottery in Chernovits. In late February, he and his wife, Genia, submitted applications to emigrate to Israel to the city’s emigration office. On the same day, Koltunov was visited at his office by the deputy manager of the head lottery office and two militiamen with special duties for economic offences.

the militiamen opened Koltunov’s safe ‘to look for money’. It was however the well-known practice of the lottery to bank all the money immediately. finding only documents, the militiamen interrogated Koltunov for three hours.

In the evening they made an arbitrary search of Koltunov’s apartment without an official warrant. this was permitted, one militiaman said because this was ‘an emergency search’. It was clear to the Koltunovs that the militiamen were just going through the motions of going through a search to justify their accusations as they were extremely careless and inefficient in their work.

The militiamen were extremely interested to know the Koltunovs were going to finance the cost of their emigration to Israel. Three weeks later Koltunov was arrested.

Big winners on the lottery had to collect their takings at Vinnitsa, some 250 km away from Chernovits. Koltunov who regularly travelled to Vinnitsa on business was asked on ,many occasions if he would pick up the prize money for a customer. Koltunov obliged and many a grateful winner would buy him a drink for his help. On no occasion were bribes given or taken.

At the trial one woman alleged that she had been involved in a bribe involving 250 roubles. When Genia Koltunov confronted the woman outside the courtroom, the woman said that she had been ‘persuaded’ to say this.

this trial follows the clear policy of imprisoning Jews for so-called ‘criminal’ offences rather than an open move against potential emigrants to Israel.

Jerusalem Post 20 June 1974

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