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March of 10,000 to Protest Leningrad Trial, Plight of Soviet Jewry, Ends in Near Riot

December 21, 1970
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A peaceful march up Madison Avenue by an estimated 10,000 persons to protest the Leningrad trial and the treatment of Soviet Jewry, ended in a near riot a block away from the Soviet United Nations Mission today. Eye-witnesses said police used clubs on persons trying to break through barriers 500 feet away from the Mission building. Twelve persons were arrested and five others were hospitalized. At least one man was seen bleeding profusely. Several policemen were injured. At one point about 100 Polish protestors demonstrating at the Mission against the Gomulka regime In Warsaw, mingled with the Jewish demonstrators and shouted. “We’re with you.” Observers at the scene said the rioting was due to the unruly behavior by members of the Jewish Defense League who were among several thousand persons Joining the march at its end, near the Soviet Mission headquarters, and attempted to take it over. The JDL members reportedly incited the demonstrators to break through police lines. By contrast, the march and an earlier rally on behalf of Soviet Jewry in front of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, was orderly. It was organized Jointly by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, umbrella groups encompassing about 75 local and national Jewish organizations.

The purpose of the rally and march was stated in a Joint statement issued by Rabbi Herschel Schacter, chairman of the Conference on Soviet Jewry and Dr. William Wexler, chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, co-sponsors of the rally. Referring to the trial of Jews that opened in Leningrad Dec. 15 and similar trials expected to open there and in other Soviet cities shortly, they declared, “In the Soviet” Union, Justice is manipulated to serve the ends of the regime. The charges have no resemblance to fact.” Schacter and Wexler were Joined in the march by Black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, Father Donald Champion, editor of the Catholic weekly “America,” Rep. Edward Koch, New York Democrat, Bronx Born President Robert Abrams and Stanley Lowell, vice president of the Conference on Soviet Jewry. The marchers in a line stretching eight blocks carried placards reading, “Stop Russian Terror Trials”; “Kosygin Honor Human Rights”; “Save Soviet Jewry”; “Why Arrest Jews For Studying Hebrew”; and “Russia Stop. You’ve Spilled Enough Jewish Blood.” According to Jewish Telegraphic Agency reporter Yitta Halberstam who was on the scene, there was no generation gap evident in the march, “people over 30 almost matched the number of high school and college youngsters,” she reported.


Fred Wohl of North Bellmore, N.J. interviewed by the JTA reporter, said he Joined the rally because he was convinced that what was transpiring in Leningrad was a “show trial” and “only the beginning of a campaign of harassment against Soviet Jews.” He added, “We are here because we don’t want what happened in 1939 to happen again.” Another participant. Jack Biller, 50, said it “hurt” him that Russian Jews were being persecuted. Asked if he thought demonstrations made any impression on the Soviet authorities, he replied, “I don’t know but it’s the only thing I can do to help.” Howard Koenig, an 18-year-old Columbia University freshman said “We must protest the mock trials…We are protesting to let the world know, especially the U.S. that there cannot be an entente with a barbaric country.” Schacter and Wexler expressed fear that the Leningrad defendants and other Jews to be tried might face the death penalty. They are charged with “banditry and treason” which, under the Soviet criminal code, calls for capitol punishment. The charges arise from an alleged attempt to hijack a Soviet airliner at Leningrad last June.

The two Jewish leaders said In their Joint statement, “The prisoners at the bar in Leningrad today, like other innocents awaiting their tune to be pilloried on trumped up charges, are not criminals brought to Justice. They have been chosen by a cynical regime to be made object lessons to the 3 1/2 million Jews of the Soviet Union of what can happen to Jews who have the temerity to ask permission under Soviet law to leave the Soviet Union and go to Israel to live as Jews.” Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld of Cleveland, president of the American Jewish Congress, issued a statement earlier in which he noted that “word coming out of the Soviet Union from the wives, mothers and sisters of the defendants leads us to believe that forced “confessions” may have been exacted from them.” He added that “no Soviet charges against these accused will delude a world that knows their innocence.” In a related action, City Council President Sanford D. Garelik introduced a resolution In the City Council deploring “continuing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, instigated and encouraged by the government of that country.” The resolution, introduced Thursday, urged “the governing bodies of every major city in this country and elsewhere” to prepare similar declarations.

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