LONDON (Feb. 1)
For Jews in the West to fight for the release of Prisoners of Conscience and the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate is natural. For a group of Jewish women in Moscow to take a lead in doing this is remarkable.
Such a group exists — “Jewish Women Against Refusal.” They are refuseniks and the wives of refuseniks, many of them trying for more than a decade to obtain exit visas, reports Martin Gilbert, a prominent British historian who is the biographer of Winston Churchill.
Their husbands are among the leaders in the struggle for emigration rights, and, as a result, they and their families have suffered isolation and hardships. But two years ago they began to take action, in the Jewish tradition of self-help, which in Russia dates back to the time of the Czarist pogroms.
Twenty-three refusenik wives in Moscow and Leningrad sent a letter to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev shortly after he took office on behalf of Anatoly Shcharansky, then serving a 10-year sentence in Soviet prisons and labor camps. When Shcharansky was finally released in February 1986, they took up the cudgels on behalf of Dr. Iosif Begun, who has completed more than two-thirds of a 12-year prison sentence. His wife, Inna has not been allowed to visit him for over a year.
“Jewish Woman Against Refusal” has written to the International Red Cross in Geneva asking that food and clothing be sent to the prisoners and that the world be kept informed of the state of their health and “that they are being humanely treated,” Gilbert reported.
‘WE HAVE SAT HERE ENOUGH’
One of the signatories, Elena Dubianskaya, has been waiting nearly 10 years for an exit permit. Another is Ida Taratuta of Leningrad who, with her husband, Aba, and son, Misha, have been regularly refused exit visas since 1974.
Gilbert said that when asked why the women have organized now, one of them, Oksana Kholmiansky, replied, “We have sat here enough.” Kholmiansky, her husband, Michael, their son, Maxim, and her brother-in-law, Alexander, are 10-year refuseniks.
Alexander, an “unofficial” Hebrew teacher, recently completed an 18-month sentence at a labor camp.
Two years ago, the personal intervention of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher helped two refusenik wives, Evgenia Utevskaya and Polina Gorodetsky, to emigrate. Both are living with their families in Jerusalem.
Thatcher will visit Moscow this spring. It is hoped that she will intervene again, successfully, for these refusenik wives, Gilbert said.