UJA Film Finds Jews Are Fleeing, Not Just Emigrating, from USSR

Jews are not just emigrating from the Soviet Union to Israel, they are fleeing from a new brand of Soviet anti-Semitism, according to a film released Wednesday by the United Jewish Appeal.

A new variety of anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Soviet Union — it is grass-roots instead of state-sanctioned, violent instead of verbal, and Jews are fearful for their lives.

Post-glasnost anti-Semitism is documented in “Anti-Semitism: the Dark Side of Glasnost,” a 10-minute video filmed in the Soviet Union over the last two months featuring eyewitness accounts of recent violence against Soviet Jews.

In the film, Mikhail Rosenthal, a Soviet Jewish lawyer, tells the story of how his daughter was burned to death and his flat destroyed in a suspicious fire. He later discovered tacked to the wall a note: “Let Jews Die.”

Nikita, a Jewish student in Riga, says that he had many friends when he was thought of as a Russian, but as soon as his Jewishness was discovered, he was beaten.

A woman interviewed in Georgia is afraid of imminent pogroms.

“The Jews in Russia are in great menace,” said Vassily Paukov, a recent immigrant to Israel, at the film’s opening. “The new anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union is a loaded gun ready to go off at any moment and directed at the chests of Soviet Jews.”

GROWING ANTI-JEWISH ATTITUDES

Paukov, his wife, Anna, and another recent immigrant, Ella Tzveyer, are accompanying the video on its 11-city screening, to verify the contents of the film and to tell their own personal accounts of the growing anti-Jewish attitudes in the Soviet Union.

“Everyday life for Jews in Russia is full of fear. Jews are in a permanent state of nervous tension and fear, and there are grounds for it,” said Anna Paukov. The violence, she says, is no longer just verbal, although one is bound to receive abuse “if you happen to look Jewish.”

Tzveyer agreed. “I was faced with this animal (called) anti-Semitism all my life,” she said. A former art historian and museum tour guide in Leningrad, Tzveyer became active in the Jewish underground after her son was stabbed in an anti-Semitic incident.

When Tzveyer made aliyah in 1989, she left behind a Jewish friend who had survived the Holocaust and was a patriotic Soviet. The friend said that she would never leave her Soviet home land. In response to recent anti-Semitic activity, however, she has changed her mind. “I smell Auschwitz in the center of Leningrad,” she recently told Tzveyer.

Anti-Semitism, previously within the domain of the state, has been unleashed with the Gorbachev reforms, particularly glasnost. The new popular anti-Semitism is being fueled by ultraconservative groups, feeding on the country’s economic troubles and uncertain future.

Even Pravda, the official organ of the Soviet Communist Party, recently reported on the rise, of anti-Semitism in response to the opening-up of Soviet society and the new freedoms there.

In an article July 22, Pravda wrote, “This unprecedented anti-Semitism is of great concern, because we face an attempt to disrupt the process of social consolidation.”

“A law-based state must protect people of every nationality,” the article said.

The article singled out Pamyat as the most outspoken and highly organized of several nationalistic groups. In the film, and in a private interview with Leonid Kelbert also released Wednesday by UJA, Pamyat’s leaders speak openly, denouncing Jews for everything wrong in the Soviet Union, from the rise of Communism at the turn of the century to its current decline.

“We consider the Jews responsible for the genocide of the Russian people,” said Alexander Kulakov in the interview. “All the government consisted of Jews till 1937, and they are responsible as the head of the government for Gulag (labor camps); they are responsible for the hunger in the Ukraine and Byelorussia.”

Kulakov called for a trial of all Soviet Jews, based on the same premise of the Nuremberg trials. They would be charged with genocide against the Russian people, he said.

“More than 100 million of Russians, Slavians and other people were exterminated. That’s official figures. The evil is Judaism, and its aggressive attitude to other people,” Kulakov said.

Konstantin Ashtashvili is another Pamyat leader interviewed in the film. “If I were to go on any train in the suburb of Moscow,” he bragged, “or into any market,” and “begin speaking and saying that the Jews are to be accused of all the faults in Russia, even if I were to exaggerate, no one will contradict me. But they will support me.”

NEXT STORY