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Jewish Groups Elated over the Release of Mendelevich

February 19, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

— Jewish groups here expressed joy and gratitude at the release of Iosif Mendelevich. Commenting on his release, Burton Levinson, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said:

“We have long held that the confinement of Mendelevich, and that of other young Jews and two non-Jews sentenced in the so-called Leningrad trials was unjust. Since then Iosif was repeatedly and continuously subjected to punishment for his attempts to observe the practices of the Jewish religion. While tried under Soviet law, in my view Mendelevich’s real crime was his stubborn desire to go to Israel at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so, and for his desperate efforts to flee the country with friends and colleagues.”

Levinson suggested that “this new move might be a traditional act of amnesty–one which is most welcome–in view of the forthcoming 26th Communist Party Congress.” He noted that Soviet authorities have on such occasions granted amnesty to or pardoned prisoners, either political or criminal.

In a message to the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, in his capacity as Soviet President, Levinson stated: “We are pleased to learn that your government has granted an early release from labor camp to Iosif Mendelevich. The young man is now on his way to Israel to join his mother and sisters. This was an action worthy of praise. We hope, Mr. President, that two men still remaining from the same trial, Aleksei Murzhenko and Yuri Federov, will be released to join their families and friends.”


Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of Agudath Israel of America and chairman of the Agudas Israel World Organization, said Mendelevich’s “coming into the free world gladdens the hearts of all Jews throughout the world who prayed and worked for his release. Mendelevich is a living ‘kiddush hashem’ (santification of God’s name) because, by continuing to observe the Jewish religious faith under harsh prison conditions, he is the symbol of the eternal Jewish determination to keep the fires of Torah alive.”

The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, which had mobilized numerous actions on behalf of Mendelevich and had staged a rally together with the Jewish Identity Center 10 days ago opposite the United Nations, said “We are exhilarated at Mendelevich’s release. A decade of persistent pressure and protest by thousands of Jews and non-Jews around the world has paid off.” The SSSJ added that if Mendelevich “can be sprung from hell, so can the rest” of Soviet Jewish and non-Jewish dissidents.

The Jewish Identity Center expressed its “gratitude to God for his (Mendelevich) release from a labor camp where under inhuman conditions, like his Biblical namesake, Joseph in Egypt, he clung to the faith of our age-old religious heritage. Despite those who say that God does not hear the prayers of a Jew, Mendelevich’s release proves otherwise.”

Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, credited the JDL with Mendelevich’s release. At a press conference here he said the JDL viewed the release as a result of pressure it has been bringing to bear on Soviet diplomats in New York. He said that if the Soviets continued to hold other Jewish dissidents, such as Ida Nudel and Anatoly Shcharansky, the harassment of Soviet officials by the JDL “will intensify, escalate and reach new, serious levels.”

Zeesy Schnur, executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry, stated that the release of Mendelevich “comes as welcome news to freedom loving people everywhere. We interpret his release as a positive signal to the Reagan Administration, the Madrid conference participants reviewing the Helsinki accords and the representatives who will be attending the 26th Congress of the Communist Party in Moscow next week.” She added: “The last two Leningrad defendants Yuri Federov and Aleksei Murzhenko continue to be held in prison camps in the Soviet Union and we will continue to work for their freedom. The joy of Mendelevich’s release must be tempered by concern for them and for all other Soviet Jewish Prisoners of Conscience.”


Meanwhile, the number of Jews who left the Soviet Union during the first 15 days of February was 562, according to Charlotte Jacobson, chairman of the Soviet Jewry Research Bureou of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Though this figure reflects an increase over recent half-monthly figures, it seems unlikely that this February’s total will reach last year’s February figure of 3,023, she said.

Recent reports of a more lenient Soviet emigration policy and unofficial estimates of the issuance of exit visas of 1,500 to 2,000 per month in Moscow along, have not yet been confirmed by the actual arrivals of Jews in Vienna, Mrs. Jacobson said.

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