Boris Penson. Jailed Artist, Gravely Ill
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Boris Penson. Jailed Artist, Gravely Ill

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Boris Penson, the 26-year-old bachelor artist serving a 10-year “strict regime” sentence in Leningrad, has an ulcerous condition, is denied proper medication and is in “very poor physical health”—so poor that he “can’t last–according to a childhood friend now working for his release. Furthermore, says Mikhail (Misha) Net-burger, 27, Penson is denied permission to paint, and “for a painter not to be allowed to paint, it’s like death.” He was arrested in June, 1970, for allegedly attempting to steal a plane to cross the border and escape to Israel.

The brown-bearded Neiburger, who tends an apple orchard at Kibbutz Maron Golan in Israel, where he immigrated from Riga 15 months ago, reported on Penson’s condition to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He is here, under the auspices of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, In connection with an exhibit of Penson’s paintings at the Jewish Museum. The exhibit which opened yesterday and will run through Nov. 26, was brought to this country from Israel by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. The exhibit is sponsored In New York by the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry under the auspices of the NCSJ prior to a national tour.


Speaking in Hebrew, Neiburger said Penson’s father died recently at age 74 and his nearly 60-year-old mother Is alone In Riga, denied communication with her prisoner sot. The last time Neiburger saw Penson, a year ago, the then 25-year-old Inmate’s hair had turned white after a year in Jail.

Neiburger recommended public pressure on the American and Soviet governments on Penson’s behalf. He also urged that demands should be mounted for Penson to at least be allowed to paint while serving his term, which ends June 15, 1980.

Penson’s paintings were confiscated on his arrest–the later ones incorporated Zionist symbols –but Neiburger managed to smuggle out more than 100. An Israeli committee has been formed on Penson’s behalf; it includes such names as Avraham Shlonsky, the poet; Mrs. Esther Herlitz, the diplomat, and Adiel Amoral, a Knesset member.

Recently, Penson wrote that the Leningrad prisoners were being “kept together with war criminals” and served a 500-calorie-a-day diet of “horrible food”; were denied transfer to a foreigners’ zone after renouncing Soviet citizenship; were accorded “cruel treatment during hunger strikes,” and were “continually persecuted because of our nationality.” He added: “Generally speaking, lawlessness, irresponsibility, arbitrary treatment….This is about everything I can say on our general situation.”

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