NEW YORK (Dec. 16)
A Soviet news blackout appeared to have descended today on the trial that opened in Leningrad yesterday of nine persons, at least seven of them Jews, charged with “banditry and treason,” offenses for which the Soviet criminal code provides the death penalty. The trial is closed to foreign newsmen. But the blackout seems to extend to the Russian press. Tass, the official Soviet news agency, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency this afternoon that they haven’t received “a single line” on the trial. Western news agencies queried said they have had no further information since learning from “judicial sources” in Moscow yesterday that the trial has begun. Some sources said yesterday that II have gone on trial and that one of those arrested was in the military service and would be tried by court martial. Two of the defendants were reportedly charged with anti-Soviet activity in addition to the alleged hijacking attempt. It is punishable by a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment.
The JTA published the names yesterday of seven of the defendants identifiable as Jews. The names of the others suggest that they are not Jewish. But Jewish leaders here consider the trial another manifestation of official Soviet anti-Semitism. Rabbi Herschel Schacter, chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry and Dr. William A. Wexler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a joint statement released today that the trial was “a travesty of justice.” They urged “the civilized world” not to remain silent while “these victims, now marked for purging in Leningrad, are made martyrs for their zeal for freedom.” Hundreds of Jewish youths from New York area colleges and high schools, demonstrated in front of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations for 90 minutes yesterday demanding an end to the trial and release of the prisoners. They carried a photograph of one of the defendants, Leib Khanokh and shouted “stop the show trial” but no incidents were reported. The demonstration was organized by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.
According to the group’s coordinator, Glen Richter, it brought out students from Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women. Brooklyn College, Hunter College, City College, Queens College, Long Island University and Yeshiva High schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn. According to Richter, who claimed a turn-out of 700, about 60 of the Brooklyn high school students left their classes in defiance of orders from their teachers to stay. Police estimated the crowd at 400. Meanwhile, the New York Conference on Soviet Jewry sought a police permit for a mile-long demonstration march up Fifth Avenue to the Soviet Mission on Sunday. Schacter and Wexler called for an “outpouring of condemnation of such atrocities in the name of justice” of such magnitude “that the rulers of the Soviet Union will not be able to disregard it.” They claimed that “not only the lives of the innocent scapegoats, but the fate of all Soviet Jewry may well be at stake.” The Jewish Labor Committee “appealed to men of good will everywhere, to the United Nations and to the American government to speak out” against the trial. Charles S. Zimmerman, president of the JLC stated that “the ‘show trial’ may result in an even greater anti-Semitic drive against Soviet Jewry.”