British, French, Italian Communist Parties Assail Trial, Sentences
Menu JTA Search

British, French, Italian Communist Parties Assail Trial, Sentences

Download PDF for this date

Waves of protest at the death sentences imposed on two Soviet Jews of the “Leningrad 11” trial swept through Western Europe this weekend, with sharply worded denunciations and disavowals coming from three unexpected sources–the British, French and Italian Communist parties. In Paris, the Communist Party declared in its newspaper, L’Humanite, that “the extreme severity of the verdict appeared to be out of proportion with the facts.” The newspaper said it was to be regretted that the motives for such an important verdict at Leningrad had not been made public and the trial had been held practically in private. “Furthermore,” it stated, “if they merited such a punishment, it is essential to explain clearly why.” The British Communist Party also expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict and appealed to Moscow to commute the sentences, predicting that “many friends of the Soviet Union would be gravely concerned” if they were carried out. In a Sunday editorial, the Italian Communist Party newspaper, L’Unita, called the death sentences “unbelievable” and noted they were for a crime “which had not been carried out–and this is juridically grave.” It expressed a hope that the sentences would “not be carried out.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, sent telegrams of protest to the Soviet Union President Nikolai Podgorny, Foreign Minister Andrel Gromyko, and a number of Soviet ambassadors in Western capitals, asking them to intervene for the “commutation of the death sentences and for the release of all prisoners.” Dr. Goldmann also tried unsuccessfully to telephone Soviet leaders from London to plead for clemency for the Leningrad Jews. A spokesman for Dr. Goldmann told newsmen that the Jewish leader was told that the Soviet officials were all away from Moscow for the weekend. Several hundred British Jews have been demonstrating outside the Soviet Embassy in London since news of the sentences was released on Thursday. A three-man delegation delivered a formal protest to Embassy officials. Meanwhile, as 1,000 persons in Brussels demonstrated in protest against the Leningrad verdict, the Belgium government formally asked the Soviet government to commute the two death sentences. The Belgium Foreign Ministry said the government intervened with the Soviet authorities as “the interpreter of public opinion in Belgium.” In Switzerland, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists sent a telegram to the Supreme Soviet urging clemency “in view of the tragic events suffered by the Jewish people in our time” and criticized the Soviet authorities for not publishing full infor- mation on the trial. Writer Friedrich Duerrenmatt and other leading Swiss intellectuals also voiced their protest against the sentences and called on Soviet authorities to “annul the sentences and order a retrial attended by international observers.” Protests also mounted in the Scandinavian countries where 200 demonstrators in Stockholm staged a torchlight parade to the Soviet Embassy where they presented a letter demanding the release of the “Leningrad 11” while in Copenhagen, a group of Danish politicians, writers and clergymen expressed their shock in cables sent to Soviet Premier Alexsei Kosygin. The Jewish Youth Organizations of Scandinavia registered their outrage with officials in the Soviet embassies in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In Marseilles, France, three Jewish students began a hunger strike. In Paris, the display window of In tourist, the Soviet national tourist agency, was broken when a stone was flung at it by an unknown person. Shortly after the incident, the Jewish Defense Committee there issued a statement claiming responsibility for the incident and vowed that it would continue its anti-Soviet campaign. While Pope Paul VI offered his traditional Christmas speech and blessing to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, some 40 Italian Jews demonstrated silently against Soviet anti-Semitism. They displayed signs in Italian stating, “freedom for Jews,” and distributed leaflets denouncing the death sentences. Spokesmen for the group said the demonstration was not aimed at the Pope but was aimed to reach people from various countries attending the Christmas services.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund