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Bella Alshkovsky: Zionist Heroine

A Russian Zionist heroine, unheard from for over 30 years, has reemerged as a “refusenik” trapped in the depths of the USSR, according to the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ). The SSSJ reported that the then 18-year-old Bella (Bilha) Alshkovsky joined the Bnei Akiva Zionist youth movement’s hacksharak (preparatory) Kibbutz Avraham in Slobodka, near Kovno, training for a future life in Palestine.

When the Germans overran Lithuania in 1940, Bella and six friends sought to escape Russia at the Iranian border to make their way to Palestine. They were captured by the Russian border police, and her comrades were sentenced either to the labor camps or to death. Bella was given 10 years. When she miraculously emerged alive from the camps she discovered that of her group of seven and of her family, she alone had survived.

Little is known of Bella’s activities during the next quarter-century. She married, had a son and lived in Nizhni-Tagil, a city near Sverdlovsk in the Urals. A friend she knew before the War who was now in Israel but believed Bella lost, suddenly began to receive letters after the Yom Kippur War. “You ask me how I remained alive, ” she wrote. “About those days there’s much to tell, but it’s difficult in these few lines.”

Her troubles began anew. Her husband died and she was refised an exit visa four times “because you will be leaving your son” who was fired from his job when she applied to leave. The rigors of the labor camp have not left her and she has been repeatedly hospitalized.

Yet Bella’s passion for Israel still burns. She writes: “I live in hope. I have faith the hour of reunion will arrive because we need to and must be together. Not only the living want this, but the dead as well. Be strong and well and peace will be with you speedily. Au revoir.”

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