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Special Interview a Desperate Plea by Mothers

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A group of mothers in Israel whose children remain behind in the Soviet Union and whom they have not seen for at least eight years are sad, angry, lonely, and desperate. They are also frustrated because they are unable to present their case for family reunion to Soviet officials.

To get their message out both to the Soviet officialdom and to the world at large, four of these mothers were in New York and Washington with a poignant plea to the Soviets: Let our children go.

The group, which represents about 85 Soviet emigres in Israel, calls itself “Mothers For Freedom.” This is only a small part of at least 200 Soviet mothers living in Israel who have not seen their children for up to 20 years but who hesitate to join the Mothers For Freedom for fear of reprisals against their families.

The four mothers, who were in the United States last week, all emphasized that the children who remain in the Soviet Union may never see their parents again. Many of the mothers in Israel are sick and bedridden, according to the group, and they say other mothers — about 15 — have already died. In fact, some of the refuseniks have already lost both parents.

NEW IMPERATIVE MESSAGE

For the children waiting in the Soviet Union to emigrate to Israel for family reunification, the chance may never come unless it happens soon; there may be no one to invite them to Israel.

The four mothers brought this imperative message to the U.S. hoping that American officials and representatives of Western nations who are now attending the UN General Assembly in New York might listen to their plea and intercede in their behalf.

These women related their individual stories in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the offices of the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, which sponsored their visit to this country.

KTZIYA RATNER’S STORY

Ktziya Ratner is 81 years old, wizened and in failing health. Despite her intense worries, she displays an indomitable spirit, helping handicapped or ill persons more aged than herself in her Rehovot community, and writing poems in Yiddish. Ratner composed a poem at the interview table about her love for her “own land, Israel.”

Ratner has not seen her daughter, Judith Bialy of Moscow, in 13 years.

Ratner and her husband, Yehuda, emigrated to Israel in 1973. They first applied for exit visas in 1971, at which time Bialy’s husband, Leonid, an electronics engineer by profession, was fired from his job as a result of the Ratners’ application to emigrate.

In 1973, when the Ratners made aliya, Bialy, a metallurgist, was fired from her job at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Although she was later reinstated at the metallurgical institute of the Academy, it was a technician at one-fourth of a scientist’s salary, Ratner said. Bialy lost that job in 1977 when she and her husband and children applied to emigrate.

Bialy is practically immobilized since an automobile accident in 1979 which killed her aunt, who was en route to Israel. A disability pension she received after the accident was suddenly terminated two years ago.

Ratner and her husband had written many times to the Soviet authorities asking that the family be permitted to be reunited in Israel, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Yehuda Ratner died in 1978. Leonid Bialy has suffered four heart attacks in the last six years, the last one severe. His mother died last year.

“As you can see, I am a very old woman. My time is running out,” Ratner said. She said she worries not so much for herself as for her daughter and daughter’s family. “If I die,” she said, “then my daughter will not be able to leave. I had a sister in Tel Aviv, but she died four months ago. Now I am alone. I truly don’t know what to do.”

ASYA PLOSHCHANSKAYA’S STORY

Asya Ploshchanskaya, 65, of Jerusalem, recalled a life of adversities. Her father, a high ranking army officer, was executed in 1938 for being “an enemy of the people,” and her mother was confined to a labor camp for nine years for her relation to him. Mother and daughter were not allowed to see each other and had to meet covertly.

Ploshchanskaya, forced to live alone, could not find work because of her membership in this “enemy” family. She married a man who gave her work as a bookkeeper, and they had a daughter, Natalia. Shortly afterward, he left them.

Ploshchanskaya has not seen her daughter, Natalia, in nine years. Natalia Rosenshtein, 46, and her husband, Grigory, and family are dauntless aliya activists in Moscow, openly observant Jews, and constantly harassed by the KGB. Natalia, a landscape architect, and Grigory, a cyberneticist, left their jobs in 1971 and 1972, respectively, in preparation for applying for exit visas, which they did in 1973. They were refused in 1974 on grounds of “state secrecy.”

Ploshchanskaya, working as a teacher, did not apply for a visa with them, but because their applications would eventually affect her, she quietly left her job and lived on her small pension. When she applied for a visa, she received it almost immediately. She has been in Israel since 1977. The Rosenshteins, who were granted Israeli citizenship in 1974, have been denied visas repeatedly.

VANDA OSNIS’ STORY

Dr. Vanda Osnis, 59, of Kfar Saba, has not seen her son in 14 years. She, her husband Yitzhak, also a physician, and their only child Marat, who lived in Chernovitz, applied to emigrate in 1972, and the two doctors immediately lost their jobs. Marat’s wife, Klaudia, was expelled from the university where she was studying economics. Marat had left his job as a computer engineer in 1971 to avoid being fired. Since that time, he has not worked in his profession.

Marat and his family have been refused a visa every six months on grounds of alleged access to secret information at his work place. Although he was once told he would be allowed to leave 10 years after he had left his work, he was refused again in 1981 and in 1985.

In March of this year, Marat’s father, Yitzhak Osnis, underwent a serious operation in Israel. Marat submitted medical documents on his father’s illness to the Soviet authorities, pleading to be allowed to see his father, but he was refused once more. Vanda Osnis’s mother and brother died recently.

FRIDA LEMBERG’S STORY

Frida Lemberg, 63, of Tel Aviv, formerly of Riga, lost her entire family, including her parents, during World War II when the Germans occupied Latvia. Returning to “normal” life, she studied music and voice and became a conductor of a philharmonic orchestra, a position she had to leave when the family applied for exit visas in 1972.

Their sons, Theodor and Solomon, received their visas separately after initial refusals, so that by 1978 all but their youngest son, Grigory, were living in Israel. Grigory’s army service, between 1965-67, was the pretext given all along to the family for the repeated visa refusals. Grigory has been refused every six months. He married in 1981, and had a daughter, whom the Lembergs have never seen.

Lemberg acted as informal spokesperson for the group of mothers, describing the myriad hardships that befall families as one member or all apply for exit visas. The plea for the remaining parents is overwhelmingly important now, said Lemberg, because “time is flying.”

Ktziya Ratner perhaps summed up the feeling of all the mothers by saying: “I have gone to everyone I could. What more can be done soon so that I can see my daughter and her family again, so that they can come here this year? Next year is not good enough. It must be this year.”

REMINDER: There will be no Daily News Bulletin dated October 6, Rosh Hashanah.

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