17.8 Persecution of Jews Wishing to Emigrate to Israel

No 17 : 31 December 1970

(based on material from the “Chronicle” section of Exodus [1])

The Shmurak case

On 28 September 1970 Semyon Shulimovich Shmurak, a resident of Kiev, was sentenced to fifteen days for “petty hooliganism”.

On 26 September he submitted an application to OVIR, requesting permission to emigrate to Israel. In the evening of the same day he was stopped outside his home. With cries of “Stop that! I know you! Don’t try it on! I’ll show you!” an unknown man began waving his fists at Shmurak. Two policemen immediately appeared, took Shmurak by the arm and led him to the police-station. There it turned out that Shmurak had “used obscene language and attempted to assault citizen Yampolsky”. He was then taken to a preliminary-detention cell, and on 28 September tried “for petty hooliganism”. The only witness was a man whom Shmurak had never seen before. He told the court, however, that Shmurak had done everything of which he was accused. The sentence – fifteen days’ imprisonment – “is not subject to appeal”.

“And so,” Shmurak writes in his letter to Israel, “I was not at the rally at Baby Yar on 29 September 1970 [2], and I celebrated Rosh Ha Shannah [the Jewish New Year] in a cell.”

The Trial of Jonah Kolchinsky

On 14 October 1970 a double police-squad and a “witness” armed with a heavy object burst into the flat of D. Volkov who, until he was demoted to being leader of an orchestra for wishing to emigrate to Israel, was a senior lecturer at the Kharkov Institute of Arts.

Jonah Kolchinsky, aged nineteen, who had also been trying to emigrate to Israel, was visiting him at the time. Having cut the telephone wire, the policeman beat up Kolchinsky and arrested him. Kolchinsky was again beaten up in the car on the way to the police-station. For 24 hours he was held there without food and subjected to anti-Semitic insults. They shaved his head and shaved off his beard by force, and after a trial behind closed doors lasting two minutes (by one judge and a secretary) he was sent to prison for twenty days. There Kolchinsky was kept on the strict regime and developed pneumonia.

The grounds for Kolchinsky’s arrest were his application of 6 October to the Kharkov Notary Office No. 1 requesting that his power of attorney be certified. Since the text contained the word “Israel”, this request was judged to be an act of hooliganism. Previously, in September 1970, Kolchinsky had submitted to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet a statement of renunciation of citizenship.

At the end of December, after being released from imprisonment, J. Kolchinsky was called up into the army.

The Arrest of Reiza Palatnik

Reiza Palatnik (b. 1937) was arrested in Odessa on 1 December 1970 on a charge of circulating fabrications of a libellous nature slandering the Soviet political and social system (Article 187-1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code, equivalent to Article 190-1 of the Russian Code).

After graduating from the extra-mural department of the Moscow Institute of Librarianship, Palatnik worked as a librarian in Odessa. Recently she had been trying to locate her relatives in Israel, dreaming of emigrating there, and thus attracting the attention of the KGB. On 14 October a search of her home was carried out under the pretext of looking for property stolen from school No. 53, with which she had no connection whatever. A typewriter and verses by Korzhavin, Okudzhava, Galich, Mandelstam, Akhmatova and other poets were confiscated. The confiscated items were described by Kuverzhin, head of the Odessa KGB, as “illegal literature”. After being repeatedly summoned to the KGB, where she was interrogated about her friends, R. Palatnik was arrested on 1 December. After her arrest a second search of her home was carried out in her absence, with the object of discovering “slanderous, anti-Soviet and other documents having a bearing on the case”. Items confiscated during the search included the works of David Bergelson, copies of the journals Novy mir and Moskva, Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, R. Palatnik’s school-leaving certificate and a packet of unused paper.

In a letter written shortly before her arrest, Reiza describes the KGB’s conduct of the investigation: “They summon my relatives, friends and colleagues for questioning, intimidate them and demand confirmation of fabrications about my anti-Soviet activities” … “I am awaiting arrest, and when it happens I shall speak out in court against those who suppress the most natural and human desire: to live in one’s motherland.”

The Case of Igor Borisov

On 23-24 December 1970 the trial of Igor Borisovich Borisov (b. 1942) on a charge of malicious hooliganism (Article 206-2 of the Russian Criminal Code) was held in the small town of Toksovo in the Leningrad Region.

Borisov had openly stated that he regarded Israel as his motherland and desired to emigrate there. Immediately after that, on 1 and 2 September, Borisov and his wife Ratner were summoned to the KGB in connection with a report which they (i.e. the KGB) had received stating that Borisov intended to cross the state frontier with the object of going to Israel. The couple was advised to apply to the Leningrad OVIR.

On 2 September, returning home after a “chat” with the KGB, Borisov and Ratner became involved in an act of malicious hooliganism which took place in a carriage of an electric train. They were sitting next to a drunk, Kulagin, and his pals Shishkin and Mishchenko, who were drinking vodka and discussing the Jewish problem. Kulagin loudly announced that he “hated the Jews, I’d like to murder them all, slit their throats …” In answer Borisov said that he was a Jew and that he wished to live in Israel. At this the drunks became indignant: “Who ever heard of Yids opening their mouths in Russia? We’ve always bashed you and we always shall! ” Five of the men in the carriage resolved to carry out their intention immediately. They threw themselves on Borisov, and one of them hung round his neck from behind and tried to throttle him. They tore his shirt, but got nowhere – they did not even manage to knock him down. The drunk Kulagin went on swearing and insulted Borisov’s wife.

All this time (for about 45 to 50 minutes) a man had been advising Borisov to go to another carriage; when the train was already approaching Sosnovo he took a hand in the affair. He turned out to be Colonel Vodnev of the KGB, and he asked all of them to go with him to the police-station. The hooligans ran off. At the police-station the drunk Kulagin insulted Borisov in the presence of policemen and witnesses. Colonel Vodnev tried not to notice this. At Vodnev’s insistence no report of the incident was drawn up at the police-station; he merely made a list of those who had taken part in the incident and took it with him.

On 30 September Borisov and Ratner gave evidence to the Procuracy as witnesses.

On 14 October Borisov was summoned to a confrontation with witness Shishkin. Questioning was conducted by investigator Petropavlovsky in the presence of Baikov, Procurator of the Vsevolod District Procuracy. I. Borisov was detained and charged under Article 206-2. Kulagin, who after the incident in the carriage had been despatched to the sobering-up station, was adjudged to have been the victim of Borisov’s hooliganism.

The court at Toksovo sentenced Igor Borisov to three years’ imprisonment.