LONDON (Dec. 15)
Nine persons, at least seven of them Jews, went on trial in Leningrad today on charges of “banditry and treason” which, under the Soviet criminal code could carry the death penalty if they are convicted. The charges stem from an alleged attempt to hijack a Soviet airliner at Smolny Airport near Leningrad last June 15. A total of more than 30 Jews in several Russian cities have been reported arrested since then on related charges or for other alleged offenses. Sources claim that the charges are based on manufactured evidence intended for a series of “show trials” to intimidate Russian Jews demanding the right to emigrate. According to authoritative sources, the Jewish defendants are Anatoly Altman, 38; Mendel Bodnis, 33; Wolf Zalmanson, 31 and Leib Khanokh, 26; the other three whose ages are not known are Boris Pestner, Mark Dymshitz and Edvard Kuznetsov. The sources said that Kuznetzov, Khanokh, Zalmanson and Altman are from Riga, Latvia. Dymshitz was alleged by the Soviet authorities to be a pilot. The Leningrad trial was closed to the foreign press. Western newsmen learned from “judicial sources” in Moscow that it opened today but there was no mention of the fact in Soviet newspapers.
Some observers expressed surprise at the absence of news in the Soviet press which might have been expected to arouse public opinion against the defendants in advance of a “show trial.” One source here said that trials in the Soviet Union for alleged offenses against the State are often held without publicity and the press is informed only after a verdict has been rendered. The theory that Soviet authorities have a show trial in mind stems from the nature of the charges and the swiftness with which Jews were rounded up in other cities after the alleged hijack attempt. Documents published in the Russian Jewish underground newspaper “Exodus,” smuggled out of the USSR recently, claimed that the hijacking charge was never substantiated to the satisfaction of any unbiased observer. They noted that the KGB, the Soviet secret police, arrested Jews all over Russia and searched the homes of many more, ostensibly because they were collaborators of the would-be hijackers. But the arrests and searches were made within an hour after the arrests at Smolny Airport, too short a time to gather evidence or transmit instructions unless the entire operation was planned beforehand.