Vladimir Bukovsky’s fight for harassed Jews


Many Soviet Jews who do not share Bukovsky’s views hold him in high esteem for his guidance in the early days of the exodus movement in showing it how to contact western correspondents in Moscow and thus publicise even the smallest aspect of KGB harassment.

Together with his friend, Vladimir Telnikov, he organised a relay of couriers to convey instant news from the courtroom of the first Leningrad in December 1970. Later, he organised a series of telephone contacts

Bukovsky organised the transmission of one version of the Leningrad trial to the  west. This played a major part in the decision to save Edward Kuznetsov from the firing squad. Had the news been allowed to take its normal course and trickle out after the verdict, the KGB could have taken advantage of the fact that there was no news coverage during the Christmas to propagate their own version of events.

Kuznetsov was committed to a slower death —15 years in a strict regime labour camp. Within a couple of months, Vladimir Telnikov had permission to leave the USSR. A Russian democrat, he decided to follow his wife Galya, from Odessa, to Israel.

Bukovsky’s campaign to publicise psychiatric abuse in the USSR prompted the KGB to remove him permanently. At the beginning of 1972, he was sentenced to seven years in the camps plus five in exile. In addition, he would not have been allowed to return home for a further eight years—in essence, 20 years’ deprivation of freedom of movement.

It is a little known fact that five members of the Jewish exodus movement, including Vladimir Slepak, staged a demonstration outside the courtroom in support of Bukovsky and sent a protest telegram to President Podgorny.

An appeal which Bukovsky wrote shortly before               his arrest drew the attention of western psychiatrists to the internment of a number of Jewish democrats in mental institutions. One such victim, Victor Fainberg, later came to London and played a major part in           the campaign to release Bukovsky. Another was Ilya Rips, who had been interned after setting fire to himself in Riga in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Rips went to Israel in 1972, became deeply religious, enrolled at a yeshiva and won the much coveted Katzir award for mathematics. His chasidic wedding just over a year ago symbolised his transformation from an assimilated rebel to a spiritual Jew in Israel.

Even in the camps, Bukovsky struggled for Jewish prisoners against the anti-Semitic excesses of the administration. In April 1974, Jews in the Perm camps staged a hunger strike for an improvement in their own conditions but also demanded a transfer to a hospital for Bukovsky, “ a man who has helped many Jews in their struggle to emigrate to Israel”.

Jewish Observer March 1977

Leave a comment

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