For the Diaspora, 5748 was a year marked by resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States, successful prosecution of some notorious Nazi war criminals and meaningful progress on Jewish emigration from the USSR.
While the rate of Soviet Jewish emigration remained significantly below the 1979 peak levels, the dramatic monthly increases seen the preceding year continued.
Even more encouraging then the numbers was the large number of prominent long-term refuseniks permitted to emigrate: Ida Nudel, Vladimir and Maria Slepak, Alexander Lerner, Yosef Begun, cancer patient Benjamin Charny and Alexei Magarik, the last prisoner of Zion.
Those who remained in the USSR received support from Soviet Jewry activists in the United States — especially on Dec. 6, when 200,000 people gathered in Washington in an unprecedented show of solidarity on the eve of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival.
REAGAN MEETS WITH REFUSENIKS
The cause of Soviet Jewry also received global attention when President Reagan reciprocated Gorbachev’s visit with one to Moscow, where he met with refuseniks.
But while congressional vigils and individual appeals for Soviet Jews continued in the United States, at least one major rally was canceled. For the first time since its inception 16 years before, New York’s massive Solidarity Sunday March for Soviet Jewry was called off. Smaller rallies took place in Washington and Helsinki, Finland.
The transit of those allowed to leave the Soviet Union also became a major issue in 5748. Israel, deeply concerned by the high “dropout” rate, announced a new policy in June that would require all those emigrating on Israeli visas to fly directly to Israel.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, meanwhile, temporarily suspended its refugee program, under which Soviet Jews and Armenians are granted visas to settle in the United States.
Jews choosing to remain in the Soviet Union received new hope that conditions would improve, with promises of a Jewish cultural center and kosher restaurant in Moscow.
The arrival in Moscow of an Israeli consular delegation in July hinted that in 5749, there would be a continuation of improvements — not only in Soviet Jewish life but in Soviet-Israeli relations as well.
A number of other Eastern European countries extended olive branches to Israel during the year. Hungary re-established low-level diplomatic ties in March and then welcomed Israeli officials in May, July and September. Poland extended a gracious welcome in April to top Israelis and thousands of Jews around the world for the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
POPE AGAIN ANGERS JEWS
Diplomatic progress notwithstanding, there were a number of unsettling developments in Europe. Pope John Paul II infuriated Jews by meeting again with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim and neglecting to mention the extermination of Jews during a visit to Mauthausen.
As Austria marked the 50th anniversary of the Anschluss in March, an international panel of historians ruled that Waldheim must have known about war crimes during the Holocaust, but was not personally involved in either perpetrating or stopping the atrocities.
While East Germany cracked down on the neo-Nazi “Skinheads,” anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism cropped up all over Europe.
Perhaps hardest hit was Italy, where a Jewish-owned bookstore was firebombed and Rome’s chief rabbi was inundated with hate mail and death threats, fueled by an anti-Israel press. In April, grapefruit imported from Israel were sabotaged and tainted with a harmless, but intimidating, blue dye.
In France, right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen made a shockingly strong showing in the first round of the presidential elections, but was later defeated in a run for Parliament.
In West Germany, Holocaust survivors were betrayed by their own landsmen, when it was revealed in May that the late chairman of the Jewish community and cohorts had embezzled at least $18 million in reparations funds.
Anti-Semitism was not limited to Europe. In South Africa, men dressed like Adolf Hitler’s storm troopers desecrated a synagogue on the Nazi leader’s 99th birthday and the eve of Israel Independence Day.
In the United States, Jewish businesses in Chicago were vandalized on the 49th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington was defaced with a swastika in May.
ANTI-SEMITISM IN CHICAGO
But perhaps the most vivid memories of anti-Jewish sentiment in 5748 were the outbreak of black anti-Semitism in Chicago last spring and the targeting of Jews in connection with a controversial movie about the life of Jesus.
The year also saw a number of victories in the battle against hate and the drive to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. The most monumental was the April conviction in Israel of John Demjanjuk, the notorious Treblinka death camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.” His death sentence is now being appealed.
Klaus Barbie’s appeal of his jail sentence was rejected by a French court in June. And Andrija Artukovic gasped his last breath in a prison hospital in Yugoslavia.
In Canada, revisionist Ernst Zundel was convicted, the country’s first Nazi war crimes trial began and new anti-hate legislation was upheld by a key appeals court. But in the United States, 14 neo-Nazis were acquitted in a long-running trial in Fort Smith, Ark.
Finally, war crimes prosecutions were given a tremendous boost when the United Nations at last opened its war crimes archives to the public.
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