NEW YORK (Jan. 3)
Even as Jewish and non-Jewish political and community leaders throughout the world expressed gratification at the commutation of death sentences given two Jews in the Leningrad 11 trial and hailed the reduction of the sentences of three other defendants as a voice of conscience, the Soviet Union was preparing the trial of nine more Jews scheduled to begin Jan. 6 in Leningrad. In addition, Wolf Zalmanson, who was arrested together with the other 11 persons on June 15 at Smolny Airport in Leningrad for allegedly plotting to hijack a Soviet airliner, is scheduled this week to face a court martial. Zalmanson is a lieutenant on active army duty. A third group of 11 or 12 Jews also face trial in Kishinev and Riga. While the exact date of their trial is still not known, it is believed it will begin within the next two weeks. According to Information released this weekend by the American Jewish Committee in the form of an extract from an interview conducted by Steven Windmueller with a 25-year-old Russian Jew whose identity was not revealed because his family and friends still reside in the Soviet Union, the Leningrad nine have been charged with knowing about the alleged hijacking and not reporting it. The Kishinev-Riga defendants have been charged with anti-Soviet activities, namely, spreading Zionist propaganda.
Jewish travelers arriving in Israel from the Soviet Union during the past few days said it was likely that the nine Jews facing trial this week will “confess” in court to anti-Soviet activities. Unlike the secret trial of the Leningrad 11, this trial is expected to be open to the public and press. The travelers also reported that some 40 Jewish youths have been arrested recently in Leningrad by secret police. According to informed sources, the Leningrad Nine were charged under articles 70 and 72 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code. These cover anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation and “organizational activity directed to commission of especially dangerous crimes against the state and also participation in anti Soviet organizations.” Under article 73, the maximum sentence is death or 15 years imprisonment if the sentence is connected with treason or flight abroad. Eight of the nine accused are reported to be engineers. The death sentences handed down against Mark Dymshits. 43, and Edward Kuznetsov, 31, was commuted to 15 years confinement in special camps. This means both will not be permitted to receive as many visitors or food packages as is permitted to other prisoners and will be restricted to subsistence diets.
Similar restrictions have been imposed on Silva Zalmanson Kuznetsov, 26, wife of Edward Kuznetsov, who received 10 years; Leib G. Khanokh, 26, who received 10 years; Boris Pestner, 33, 10 years; Isak Zalmanson, 26, brother of Silva Zalmanson Kuznetsov and Wolf Zalmanson, eight years; Anatoly Altman, 38, 10 years; Mendel Bodnia, 33, whose parents are in Israel, four years; Alexsei Murzhenko, 14 years; Yosif M. Mendelevich, 23, 14 years; Yuri Fyodorov, 15 years, Murzhenko and Fyodorov are non-Jewish, the other nine are Jewish. The reduced sentences were for Altman, from 12 years; Khanokh, from 13 years and Mendelevich, from 15 years. Tass, the Soviet news agency, said the Russian Republic’s Supreme Court, which heard the appeals last Wednesday and handed down the reduced sentences on Thursday, “proceeded from the fact that the hijacking attempt was averted in time and that under Soviet law, the death penalty is an exceptional measure of punishment.” The commutation of the death sentences was attributed by world leaders to the widespread concern and denunciations expressed by government leaders and hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the world who appealed to the Kremlin to commute the death penalties and reduce the prison terms. Observers noted that the Soviet government was apparently also surprised by the severe criticism of the French, British and Italian Communist Parties, and the strong statements issued by French government leaders who have been extremely critical of Israel. Many also attributed the appeals court decision to Spain’s decision on Wednesday to commute the death sentences of six Basque nationalists.