The trial of the II Soviet citizens – seven of whom have been identified as Jews – and three more trials scheduled to be conducted early next year in Leningrad, Kishinev and Riga, is in effect a warning to all those in the Soviet Union and its east European satellites that any opposition to the regime will be unmercifully crushed. The trial is not a “show trial” but a secret trial. It is closed to the foreign press, unreported by Soviet news agencies, and lawyers from abroad are not permitted to come to the Soviet Union to defend the prisoners in the dock and to assure impartial and objective proceedings. This makes the trial all the more ominous and significant than previously imagined. What is at stake is not merely the right of Jews to emigrate to Israel or any other country of their choice or the right of Jews to live as Jews with the same guarantees that other minority groups have under the Soviet constitution. The trial is not merely an attempt to discourage Jews from emigrating. At stake in this trial and the others scheduled is a concerted effort by the Kremlin rulers to crush all opposition to the regime by those who are dissatisfied with current conditions.
The trial reveals that Jews are in the dock as scapegoats because they are in the forefront of the struggle against the criminal rule of the Russian oligarchs. The Soviet authorities, know better than anyone else that the form of Jewish resistance, which currently is expressed as a struggle for the right to emigrate, has far greater ramifications. The Jews in the Soviet Union, in fact, are inspiring others to open resistance. Unlike the image of Jews in many western countries where they are linked to the status quo, the Soviet Jews are in the forefront of an anti-establishment movement. This does not mean that they are organizing open rebellion but it does mean that their actions are giving heart and courage to others to do so. The sixteen Soviet republics are seething with unrest and discontent. Artists, intellectuals, scientists and writers are in ferment against the stranglehold the ruling elite is exercising on free intellectual expression. But these elements are isolated, atomized and fragmented by the very nature of their profession and generally impotent as a community to exert any far-reaching pressure on the regime. By contrast, the Jews in the Soviet Union, despite their dispersal throughout the country, are a cohesive and integrated community in its tradition, ideals and objectives. They are also, as a national minority, subject throughout the country to the same abuse and chafe under the same repressive mechanism which deprives them of the right – in practice – to pursue their Jewishness.
SOVIET RULERS AFRAID DEFIANCE OF JEWS WILL INSPIRE OTHERS TO REBELLION
What undoubtedly concerns the Brezhnevs and Kosygins is not the desire of Jews to leave the Soviet Union, but the prospect that their demand, which can be summarized, as “Let us leave or let us live,” could open a Pandora’s Box and pave the way for the restructuring of the entire social fabric as a more democratic and equitable society. It seems unlikely that a mere wish to emigrate would have required such an elaborate frame-up as attempted hijacking. Evidently, what is of greater concern to the Soviet authorities is that the defiance of the Jews against repression, their insistence that they be allowed freedom of expression and movement as provided under what Soviet leaders contend is the “most democratic constitution in the world,” will provide the spark and flame for more widespread opposition. One has only to recall how 1000 Soviet Jews recently defied Soviet police to conduct a memorial observance at the mass grave of 30,000 Jews slaughtered by the Nazis in 1942 in Rumboli Forest on the outskirts of Riga. One need only recall the outpourings of thousands of Jews – young and old – on the streets of Leningrad to celebrate Simchat Torah.
One needs also to recall that ‘urging the 1930’s, the infamous Moscow Trials against the “Old Bolsheviks” – many of whom were Jewish – was sparked by the assassination of Kirov, a Communist Party hack in Leningrad. His assassination, which many Sovietologists contend was ordered by Stalin to serve as a pretext to crush opposition to his rule, was developed as a “plot” against the “workers’ republic” by “renegades” and “traitors” working with, if not for, Hitler. But the actual reason for those trials, which lasted three years and which led to the death of dozens of Bolshevik leaders and the incarceration of thousands of people, was to find a scapegoat for the economic failures of the then Five-Year plan. The refusal of the Soviet authorities to permit the foreign press and lawyers to attend the current trial, is also extremely significant and revealing. During the Moscow trials this permission was not only granted but encouraged. At that time, Stalin felt he had the sympathy of the world on his side and an airtight case against the victims. Now, apparently, the Kremlin leaders feel they have neither. The secret trial now being conducted will be recorded as an infamy in the annals of world history. But the heroism of the Jews to confront their oppressors and to speak out, even at the knowledge that they face imprisonment and possible death, will be recorded as a monumental contribution toward ending the Soviet system of despotism. In the last analysis, the struggle to free the Soviet people from the shackles of enslavement – mental and physical – will be attributed to the heroism of those who dared to defy.