Special Interview Grilius: ‘imprisonment is the Price for Immigration to Israel’
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Special Interview Grilius: ‘imprisonment is the Price for Immigration to Israel’

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“Imprisonment is the price for immigration to Israel.” This is the way Shimon Grilius, a 30-year old Vilnaborn electronics engineer, yesterday summed up his five years of hard labor in Soviet prisons.

Grilius, the first Orthodox Jewish “Prisoner of Conscience” to emigrate to Israel, received especially harsh treatment when he tried to observe kashrut, the Shabbat and other religious laws in prison. He is now in New York to spend a month as the first “Hero-in-Residence” under a program sponsored by the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Board of Jewish Education, During the month he will speak at Jewish schools in the daytime and before adult groups in the evening.

Speaking in Hebrew, Grilius was interviewed before he and another former “Prisoner of Conscience,” Sylva Zalmanson, participated in a Simchat Torah “Festival of Freedom” in front of the New York Public Library sponsored by the GNYCSJ.

Nearly 1000 people braved the rainy weather to attend the demonstration. Many of them marched to the Isaiah Wall opposite the United Nations where Zalmanson began a hunger strike in support of her husband, Eduard Kuznetsov and the other “Prisoners of Conscience.” Individuals and organizations were expected to join her as she appears before the Isaiah Wall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, Kuznetsov, who was sentenced in Dec., 1970 in the first Leningrad trial, is still serving a 15-year sentence.


Grilius stressed that the cause of prisoners and the Jewish activists and emigration are all part of the same issue. He said Jews should seek the freedom not only of the “POCs” but of all Jews in the Soviet Union. He said the fact that he, Zalmanson and others are in Israel and are able to come to the United States to seek help for other Jews is “a miracle of God but God also expects us to help in his miracles.” He said he has learned that Jews are not people of separate nations but are all one, and that when one Jew suffers all Jews must come to his defense.

The young engineer was arrested on July. 21, 1969 in Raizan in central Russia along with several other young Jews at the University of Raizan, an engineering school, because they had been seeking to emigrate since 1966, Grilius noted that he and others had gone to Raizan because quotas for Jews made it impossible to go to universities near their homes. The charge was anti-Soviet activities.

Grilius said the only evidence presented by the authorities was that he had a record called “The Diary of the Six-Day War.” He said another piece of evidence was an article written by Yuri Vudka, the only one of the students who was Orthodox before imprisonment, arguing that Jews had a right to emigrate to Israel on the basis of a return to their national homeland. This was written in 1966, a year before the major drive for aliya, which was spurred by the Six-Day War, began.

Grilius, who said he was raised as a traditional not a religious Jew, noted that both his grandfather and father had been imprisoned under Stalin for wanting to remain Jews. His grandfather was subsequently killed by the Nazis in Lithuania.


Grilius spent two years in the Putma labor camp and three years in Perm, all of them under strict regime. He suffered the same harsh treatment that other Jewish prisoners did, including the indignity of sharing quarters with former Nazis. But for the religious prisoners it was even harsher, he said.

He related that they tried to keep kosher and therefore refused much of the food. He was always hungry. It was worse on Passover because they gave up eating bread which was their main staple, he recalled. Grilius and his friends also worked longer hours so that they would not have to work on Shabbat.

Grilius, who now has a long, thick red beard, said the Soviet prison guards forcibly removed his kipot and shaved his beard and payot. In addition; he and his friends were put into solitary confinement after each attempt at wearing a kipot and beard, Grilius said that one can survive a five-year term but he was afraid for those like Vudka and the defendants in the first Leningrad trial who have to serve up to 15 years. He said the camps are in an area where it is 10 degrees below zero for eight months and prisoners are not provided with warm shoes or clothes.

Grilius arrived in Israel in Dec. 1974, and studied Hebrew at the ulpan at the Beit Brodetsky Absorption Center in Ramat Aviv. He will start work soon as an electronics engineer at the Sony plant in Tel Aviv. Noting that he knew of conditions in Israel while still in the USSR, Grilius said that the things he expected to be good there are even better and some of what he thought would be bad are even worse. “But I feel that I am at home,” he said, He added that Israel is the only country where he could live a full Jewish life and affirmed that he wants to help build the Jewish State.

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