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The Sound of Klezmer Music Marks 10th Anniversary of Helsinki Accords

August 2, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

When four members of the well-known Boston Klezmer group, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, went to the Soviet Union last May, the highlight of their visit was meeting and playing with the Phantom Orchestra, a group of Jewish and non-Jewish refuseniks in Tblisi, the capital of Georgia.

Because of this meeting, Merryl Goldberg, Rosalie Gerut, Hankus Netsky and Jeffrey Warschauer were expelled from the USSR three days later on the charge of “visiting criminals.”

Goldberg and Gerut described their experiences at a Capitol Hill program yesterday marking the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki accords. It was sponsored by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Boston Action for Soviet Jewry, and the Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry.

The two Boston musicians also sought to recreate some of the feeling of their performances with the Phantom Orchestra held in the homes of members. The some 100 persons present at the gathering yesterday heard classical music by pianist Victor Rosenbaum and mezzo-soprano Jane Struss, both of Boston; and Klezmer music played by the two women individually and with several other members of the Boston band and with the Farbrangen Fiddlers, a Washington Klezmer group.

The sound of klezmer music was also heard in front of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York today as the Klezmer Conservatory Band was joined by several other Klezmer groups in a “Freedom Concert” to mark the anniversary of the Helsinki accords. It was sponsored by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.


“We find we cannot forget those we left behind,” Goldberg said. “We are here and they are not. We can speak freely and they may not. We were expelled from the Soviet Union and they are unable to leave. Because of this, we will be their voices and instruments today.”

The Boston musicians met the Phantom Orchestra through two of its organizers, Grigory and Isai Goldstein, physicists who have been seeking to emigrate to Israel since 1971. The brothers are also co-founders of the Georgian Helsinki Monitoring Committee. Among others the musicians met are two other brothers, Tenghiz and Eduard Gudava, Catholics who have been trying to emigrate for nine years.

A month after the Boston group left, the homes of seven members of the Phantom Orchestra were searched and nine orchestra members were arrested by the KGB and interrogated and threatened with imprisonment. Two orchestra members, Tenghiz Gudaba and Emanuel Tualadze, are currently in jail.

The women musicians played a tape of the Phantom Orchestra which they had been given after they returned to Boston. Their own tapes of their performances with the refusenik group were confiscated when they were expelled from the USSR.

“There are many kinds of hostages in the world,” Gerut said. “Soviet refuseniks are one of them.” She expressed the hope that President Reagan, when he meets with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in November, will “emphasize the basic human rights” for all Soviet Jewish and Christian refuseniks, as well as Soviet human rights activists. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R.N.Y.) chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged “linkage” of human rights with any agreement made with the Soviet Union. “It is not enough for us to decry the situation,” he said. He declared there must be “a worldwide demand for human rights. These demands must be part of the centerpiece for any future accords lest we just be seen as giving lip service to human rights.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D. Md.), co-chairman of the commission, said he disagrees with those who want to abandon the Helsinki process becuase it “creates the possibility” that the Soviet Union can be moved. He urged the effort to be “pursued with more determination until it is “realized.”

Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R.N.Y.), member of the executive committee of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, said he believed there will be a “breakthrough” although in his meetings with Soviet officials, both in Moscow and in Washington, he noted they refused to discuss the issue.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D. Cal.), Caucus co-chairman, said that the difference between the 1940’s when the West failed to speak or act against the Holocaust and the 1980’s is that “there is no more silence. There is and there will continue to be a demand that the Soviet Union live up to the Helsinki accords.”


Gerut read a message from the Phantom Orchestra which said: “It must be clear to all now that the Jewish communities of the world will not stop their struggle until all Jews in the USSR will be able to emigrate if they want to. Let the Pharaohs of the 20th century understand at last that the right of every Jew to go to Israel will never be the internal affair of any country and that the exodus will not be stopped by harassment and internal obstacles.”

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