20.1 Leningrad Trial (the aeroplane affair)

No 20 : 2 July 1971

The case was heard in the Leningrad City Court [27] from 11-20 May 1971. Accused were:

  1. Gilya Izrailevich Butman, aged 39, an engineer – Articles 17 (complicity), 64-a, 70-1, 72 and 189-1 of the Russian Criminal Code.
  2. Mikhail Semyonovich Korenblit, aged 34, a dentist – Articles 17, 64-a, 70-1, 72.
  3. Vladimir Osherovich Mogilyover, aged 30, an engineer and mathematician – Articles 70-1, 72, 189-1.
  4. Solomon Girshevich Dreizner, aged 39, an engineer – Articles 70-1, 72, 189-1.
  5. Lassal Samoilovich Kaminsky, aged 41, an engineer – Articles 70-1. 72, 189-1.
  6. Lev Naumovich Yagman, aged 30, an engineer – Articles 70-1, 72, 189-1.
  7. Lev Leibovich Korenblit, aged 48, a physicist and Master of Science – Articles 70-1, 72, 189-1.
  8. Victor Noyevich Boguslavsky, aged 31, an engineer – Articles 70-1, 72.
  9. Victor [L] Shtilbans, [born 1941,] a doctor – Articles 70-1, 72.

MEMBERS OF THE COURT

Presiding: N.S. Isakova, Deputy Chair the Leningrad City Court [she also presided at the trial of E.A. Lalayants in late 1969 (see CCE 14.5 and 16.7 “Following up reports in the press”)].

Counsel for the prosecution: Senior Assistant Leningrad City Procurator I. V. Katukova [state prosecutor at the trial of Lalayants and at the December 1970 Leningrad trial of the “hijackers”, CCE 17.6] and Assistant Procurator [G.] Ponomaryov.

Counsel for the defence: for Butman – [I.] Breiman, for [M.] Korenblit – [Yu.] Buziner, for Mogilyover – [S.A.] Kheifets [who defended R.I. Pimenov (CCE 16.2)], for Dreizner – [V.L.] Vishnevsky, for Kaminsky – [F.] Rozhdestvensky, for Yagman – [V.G.] Stryapunin [who was among the defence counsel at the Kishinyov trial (see 20.3)], for L. Korenblit – [V.] Chernyak, for Boguslavsky – Zerkin, for Shtilbans – [G.] Yarzhenets.

THE INDICTMENT [summary form]

International Zionism is engaged in activities aimed at undermining the socialist countries, attempting to bring about the ideological subversion of the USSR and other socialist countries, circulating slanderous articles and sending in tourists. This contributed to the creation in Leningrad of a Zionist anti-Soviet organisation.

Investigations have established that persons joining this organisation maintained contact with Israeli Zionist circles, actively engaged in hostile activity, slandered Soviet domestic and foreign policies and fostered pro-emigration attitudes, influencing persons of Jewish nationality in favour of emigration to Israel, making use for this purpose of anti-Soviet Zionist literature, some of which was published in the capitalist countries. They formed a committee, maintained contacts with other cities, tried to maintain secrecy, collected membership dues and utilised parcels from Israel and from the firm of Dinerman [through which goods are sent legally to Soviet citizens]. They circulated the following anti-Soviet literature; Exodus by [Leon] Uris, Kennan’s feuilleton, Iton [a samizdat journal] Nos. 1 and 2, “For the return of Jews to their Homeland”, and “Exodus”, a collection of slanderous letters [i.e. issue No. 1 of the samizdat journal Exodus]. [28]

To the question “Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” the accused replied:

G. Butman: to Articles 70, 72 and 189 – guilty; to Articles 17 and 64-a – not guilty.

M. Korenblit: to Articles 70 and 72 – guilty; to Articles 17 and 64-a – partially guilty [i.e.] of the actions [on which the charge is based].

V. Mogilyover: guilty on all counts.

S. Dreizner: guilty on all counts.

L. Kaminsky: to Articles 70 and 72 – guilty in part, to Article 189 – not guilty.

L. Yagman: to Articles 70 and 72 – not guilty; to Article 189-1 – guilty. [see testimony below.]

L. Korenblit: guilty on all counts.

V. Boguslavsky: not guilty on all counts.

V. Shtilbans: guilty on all counts.

QUESTIONING OF THE ACCUSED

G. Butman stated that he and his comrades had formed a Zionist organisation with the aim of combating the assimilation of Jews and of asserting the right to emigrate to Israel. They had studied the language and history of the Jewish people and produced literature, part of which had been judged by the court to be anti-Soviet, although he had not previously regarded it as such. He had not aimed at undermining the Soviet system, but this might possibly have taken place inadvertently.

At the very end of December 1969 and at the beginning of 1970 he had intended to leave the USSR illegally by aeroplane together with Dymshits [CCE 17.6], and had taken part in the planning of the operation, but he later realised that this alternative was unacceptable and withdrew from it of his own accord (on about 9 or 10 April 1970), Moreover Israel was opposed to it. In order to realise his dream of going to live permanently in the state of Israel he had asked his relatives for an invitation for his whole family. From the middle of April until the end of May he energetically took all possible steps to prevent the operation (i.e. crossing the border illegally), and by 26 May 1970 was firmly convinced that he had averted all possibility of its being carried out.

M. Korenblit stated that he had wished to emigrate to Israel. He had studied its language arid history. He had submitted an application to OVIR, but this was rejected. When Butman suggested leaving the USSR illegally by aeroplane he had at first agreed, but had soon begun to doubt the correctness of this path, and under the influence of Mogilyover, Chernoglaz and Kaminsky had rejected this plan completely. As a member of the organisation he had kept books on the history of Israel at his home, and helped to organise a conference at which the organisation’s constitution and programme were adopted. He had been outraged by the crimes of the Arab terrorists, who murdered women and children. He regretted what he had done. In conclusion he said: “The fact that Jews with higher education are in the dock proves that there is no anti-Semitism in the USSR.”

V. Shtilbans testified that he was an incidental member of the group. At one time he had wished to emigrate to Israel illegally, by aeroplane, and as a doctor had prepared a soporific drug to give the pilots, but later he had rejected the plan. He now regretted all he had done and was critical of Zionist extremists.

V. Mogilyover was one of the founders of the Zionist organisation. He had worked on cultural enlightenment, taught Ivrit [Modern Hebrew] and compiled text-books. Wishing to emigrate to Israel he had submitted an application to OVIR, which was rejected in October 1969, He had signed collective letters to Soviet bodies and sent them abroad. He had not previously regarded his activity as anti-Soviet. When preparing literature he had tried to ensure that it contained nothing anti-Soviet. He regretted isolated anti-Soviet remarks, as he had no wish to inflict harm on Soviet authority,

S. Dreizner pleaded guilty. He was one of the founders of the organisation, had taken part in its conference and been a member of its committee. He considered it his duty to promote the study of Jewish language and culture and to further the struggle for the right to emigrate to Israel. He had known that the organisation possessed a stolen “Era” duplicating machine and had assembled its components. The machine was intended exclusively for the preparation of Ivrit text-books, but had never been used. His attitude to the aeroplane operation was negative.

L. Korenblit said that he was born in Bessarabia and was a Rumanian subject until the age of eighteen. He had been brought up in the traditional Jewish spirit. Almost all the members of his large family had perished in concentration camps and ghettoes. He saw the formation of the state of Israel as the sole protection and refuge for the Jews who had survived.

He said:

“As became clear in the course of the investigation, I had completely misinterpreted the term ‘anti-Soviet’. I thought literature was anti-Soviet if it advocated the overthrow of Soviet authority or a change in the Soviet system. During the time which has passed since my arrest it has been explained to me that any idea diverging from the official Soviet line, anything contradicting or disagreeing with what is said in the Soviet press, is regarded as anti-Soviet. In that sense those articles expressing sympathy with Israel and supporting her struggle for existence really are “anti-Soviet” even though the Soviet Union might not be mentioned in them. I therefore plead guilty to the circulation, preparation and possession of ‘anti-Soviet’ literature and am prepared to suffer the appropriate punishment.”

L. Yagman said that in 1969 he and his family had submitted an application to emigrate to Israel, but this was rejected. He had then written to various organisations, but was again refused. He and his comrades had not pursued the aim of undermining or weakening the Soviet state. They had written collective letters in order to obtain permission to emigrate. The first of these was an Open Letter to the newspaper Pravda, He had not seen it in Pravda, but he had seen it on the investigator’s desk. The second was a letter to U Thant asking for his help in emigrating to Israel. He pleaded not guilty to Articles 70 and 72 because he did not regard the organisation as anti-Soviet, and to Article 189 because he did not know that the duplicating machine was stolen.

L. Kaminsky said that he had dreamt of emigrating to Israel for twenty years. He had first submitted documents to OVIR in 1967, He had met Butman and Dreizner, recognising them as persons of like mind, and studied Ivrit under Butman; later he had prepared text-books and circulated literature on the Jewish question. They had never had the aim of undermining or weakening the Soviet system. That was beyond the power not only of their group, but also of the many imperialist states. What he liked about the literature prepared and circulated by their organisation was the information on the history of Israel, on life in that country, and not the anti-Soviet statements which had happened to slip in Iton 1, Iton 2, The Aggressors by [Ladislaw] Mnaeko [a Slovak writer], the collection of letters “Exodus” and “For the return to the Homeland”, which the investigation had judged to be anti-Soviet, were this sort of material. He regarded the organisation not as anti-Soviet, but as Zionist, seeing it as a movement for the unification of Jews in Israel. He did not identify himself with the Zionists who organised disturbances in Soviet institutions abroad.

V. Boguslavsky said that he had fastened together the pages of Iton 1 and of Iton 2. He was not always in agreement with their content, as statements against the Soviet government occurred in them, and he, as well as his colleague L. Korenblit, had proposed that the production of Iron should be terminated. He had translated a chapter of the book The Road to War [possibly the book on the Six Day War by R. and W. Churchill]. The personal manuscripts on which the charges against him were based had been confiscated during a search of his home, but he had not circulated them.

During questioning the Judge repeatedly interrupted the accused and their defence counsel, demanding an exact repetition of what had been said during the pre-trial investigation.

Witnesses questioned included Mark Dymshits, Eduard Kuznetsov, Silva Zalmanson and Joseph Mendelevich, who were convicted in December 1970 in the case of the “hijackers” [see CCE 17.6]. They testified that the accused at this trial had been categorically opposed to crossing the border illegally. Butman and L. Korenblit had tried to dissuade them from trying to seize the aeroplane.

Witness B. Maftser (see “The Riga Trial of Four”  in this issue, CCE 20.2) testified that the accused had been opposed to anti-Soviet statements contained in articles in Iton and had demanded that Iton should be carefully edited and should not contain anything derogatory to Soviet authority.

Other witnesses (in all more than 40 persons were questioned) described the organisation as cultural and educational, and testified that its members had no anti-Soviet opinions or criminal intentions.

Procurator Katukova accused the defendants of anti-Soviet activity aimed at undermining and weakening Soviet authority, of organising the operation to seize the aeroplane, of being in contact with reactionary circles in Israel and of slandering Soviet international and domestic policies.

Taking into account the defendants’ confessions and remorse expressed during the investigation, the Procurator proposed the following sentences:

  • Butman – ten years of strict-regime camps,
  • M. Korenblit – eight years,
  • Mogilyover – four years,
  • Dreizner – three years,
  • Kaminsky – six years,
  • Yagman – five years,
  • L. Korenblit – three years,
  • Boguslavsky – three years and
  • Shtilbans – one year.

Defence counsel did not deny the fact that a clandestine organisation had existed, or that the defendants had belonged to it; they acknowledged the anti-Soviet and Zionist character of the organisation. They disputed only the guilt of their clients and, accordingly, the severity of their punishment. Counsel for Butman and M. Korenblit disputed their guilt under Article 64-a (via 17), counsel for Yagman and Boguslavsky their guilt under Articles 70 and 72. Counsel for Kaminsky pointed out that it was a conversation with his client which had persuaded Butman (as he himself has stated) finally to reject the idea of seizing an aeroplane.

In their final addresses all the defendants pleaded guilty to having committed a crime, and expressed remorse.

SENTENCE OF THE COURT

(pronounced on 20 May 1971, the eighth day of the hearing):

G.I. Butman – ten years of strict-regime camps; M.S. Korenblit – seven years; L.S. Kaminsky – five years; L.N. Yagman – five years; V.O. Mogilyover – four years; S.G. Dreizner – three years; V.N. Boguslavsky – three years; L.L. Korenblit – three years; V.I. Shtilbans – one year. [29]