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Katzir Describes Arrest, Questioning by Kgb in Leningrad

July 5, 1984
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prof. Ephraim Katzir, former President of Israel, and his wife, Nina Katzir, were detained for nearly 90 minutes by KGB agents — one of them Hebrew-speaking– in Leningrad Sunday after they attempted to visit the home of a Leningrad Jewish refusenik.

He and his wife were treated courteously but very firmly, Katzir said describing the incident at an airport press conference here yesterday. He was Israel’s fourth President, having held office from 1973-78. He is a biochemist by profession, associated with the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovoth. He spent two weeks in the Soviet Union attending the Congress of the European Federation of Biochemists.


Katzir said that more than 100 Israeli scientists attended the Congress in Moscow, including Prof. Michael Sela, president of the Weizmann Institute, and his wife. They received a warm and even friendly reception and were treated with the same courtesy extended to the other foreign delegations, Katzir said.

He believes the local KGB in Leningrad detained him and his wife mistakenly and went through with the interrogation in order to cover their error. But it was an ordeal.

Katzir spoke to the press during a brief stopover here enroute to Boston where he is to address a scientific gathering at Harvard University. Appearing calm and relaxed, he explained, “I had been given by an Israeli family the name and address of one of their relatives living in Leningrad. On Sunday (July I) my wife and I took a taxi and drove from our hotel to the man’s home.

“We entered the building, and even before we entered the elevator, three men in civilian clothing barred our way. One of them who looked non-Jewish but spoke Hebrew, showed us their KGB cards and asked us to accompany them to police headquarters for interrogation,” Katzir said.


He said he clearly identified himself as Israel’s ex-President, but this made no impression. He and his wife were driven in a military jeep accompanied by the three KGB agents and several armed soldiers to an official building, about 10 minutes drive from the building where they were arrested.

They were asked to empty their pockets and Mrs. Katzir had to show the contents of her handbag. The Hebrew-speaking KGB man acted as interpretor during their interrogation. The KGB wanted to know what they had been doing and with whom they met since their arrival in the USSR two weeks earlier.

Katzir said the KGB seized an album of photographs of Israel, a book of Israeli songs and some Israeli coins intended as gifts for the Leningrad refusenik. Their own possessions, including a Jewish prayerbook, were returned. Katzir would not identify the refusenik.

After nearly 90 minutes they were told they could return to their hotel and that same evening they boarded the night train to Moscow together with Prof. and Mrs. Sela.

Sela, who is presently in Lille, France to receive the Life Foundation Award for his research in synthetic vaccines, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that throughout his two-week stay in the Soviet Union he was warmly treated. He said he invited a high ranking Soviet scientific delegation to Israel as guests of the Weizmann Institute. The Russians accepted but no date was set.

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