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90 3 Context and Strategies New Leadership in Moscow The first worldwide Jewish conference devoted to the issue of Soviet Jewry was convened in Brussels from February 23 to 25, 1971, two months after the first Leningrad hijacking trial. More than fifteen hundred people representing Western Jewish communities from thirty-eight countries met in Brussels.1 Participants in the conference included politicians David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin and intellectuals Saul Bellow and Elie Wiesel along with many other distinguished guests. Soviet Jewry was represented by recent arrivals from the Soviet Union, including Vitaly Svechinsky. At the Brussels Conference, world Jewry declared its unconditional support for its brethren in the USSR whose efforts to bring about a national revival brought on cruel reprisals. The First Brussels Conference The First Brussels Conference of 1971 had great importance as an international forum for bringing together Western Jewish communities and groups concerned about Soviet Jewry after the Leningrad hijacking trial. Soviet authorities’ intense campaign of anti-Zionist propaganda in response to the announcement of the conference suggested their sensitivity to such an endeavor. The conference also highlighted, however, the challenges attending this solidarity: Nativ, which organized the conference, did not welcome the participation of New York firebrand Meir Kahane, who arrived unannounced to promote his program. The detention and expulsion of Kahane from Belgium aroused controversy among the attendees. The anodyne proposals of the conference Context and Strategies  |  91 organizers for quiet diplomacy and designing a symbol for the movement could not compete with Kahane’s scandal. The tension highlighted issues that would continue to complicate relations between the established organizations and Western grassroots activists. The attention of the West compounded problems the regime encountered in corralling Jewish national activists. As we saw in chapter 2, in the first years after the Six-Day War, experienced Zionists, many of whom had survived arrests, interrogations, camps, and prisons, played the primary role in leading a Jewish national revival. Influenced primarily by the Holocaust and by the creation of the State of Israel, and having witnessed the intensified anti-Semitism that ensued, these Zionists had lost all faith in Soviet ideals and feared neither the regime nor informers. They generally did not seek to establish a formal leadership or centralized management nor did they favor rash or risky operations, as they had felt on their own flesh the high price to be paid for such endeavors. Uncompromisingly dedicated to the cause, they strove to transmit their passion and experience to an expanding circle of activists. In light of the prominence and authority that many of these initial leaders of the Jewish national revival had acquired in the West, it was simpler for authorities to let them go. This would “permit the elimination of nationalistically inclined individuals and religious fanatics who exert a harmful influence on their surroundings,” as KGB chairman Yuri Andropov and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko explained in a written report to the CPSU Central Committee.2 From 1969 to 1971, the families of dozens of veteran activists from the Baltics received exit visas, including the Slovin, Garber, Valk, and Shperling families. In the fall of 1969, David Khavkin, the Moscow “Moses,” left the country. At the beginning of 1971, Vitaly Svechinsky arrived in the West in time to attend the First Brussels Conference on Soviet Jewry. David Drabkin, Meir Gelfond, and Mikhail Zand left the USSR and immigrated to Israel in the spring and summer of 1971. The arena was cleared for a new generation of leaders. Three people immediately stood out among the Moscow activists: Viktor Polsky, Vladimir Slepak, and Vladimir Prestin . Alexander Lerner and Alexander Voronel later joined their ranks. 92  |  “We Are Jews Again” Viktor Polsky, who was already more than forty years old at the time, possessed clear leadership qualities. Tall, sporty, and very articulate, he attracted people to himself. Viktor Polsky discussed his experiences and the role he played:3 Kosharovsky: From what institute did you graduate? Polsky: The Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. I received my diploma on December 11, 1952. Kosharovsky: What a date you picked! The very height of the campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” and the start of the Doctors’ Plot case. Polsky: I applied for graduate school. You can imagine how they looked at me. I wasn’t asked why I had applied or what I wanted. I was asked, “Who advised you to apply to graduate school?” I was the best student in my year—I had a diploma with distinction and before...


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