Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Trial of Soviet Jews Charged with Selling Matzoth Opened in Moscow

July 18, 1963
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Four Jews, including a shochet and two women, went on trial before a People’s Court in Moscow yesterday on charges of profiteering in the illegal sale of matzoth prior to last Passover, according to a dispatch in today’s New York Herald Tribune, from the newspapers correspondent in the Soviet capital. Moscow’s Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levine called the trial the first of its kind since the existence of the Soviet Union.

The defendants are Emil Katz, 82, charged with being the “ring leader”; Golko Bogomolny, 49, a shochet; Mrs. Klavdiya Blyakhman, 52; and Mrs. Malka Brio, 59. The prosecution, conducted by the three-judge panel consisting of two men and a woman jurist, charged that the women had baked the matzoth, sold the unleavened bread to the two men at 6 cents a pound, while the latter tried to resell the matzoth at $1.38 a pound. The prosecution presented photos of the stoves and cutting tables on which the matzoth were allegedly produced, and a list of 18 potential customers.

Two defense attorneys, Mikhail Lozinsky and Matvey Sokolovich, denounced the investigation of the case, which has been under way for four months. They told the court that they see “no crime committed”, declaring the case should never have gone to court. “These people,” said Mr. Sokolovich, “did it Just for themselves. They are all believers.”

The defense insisted that the women had tried to dispose only of the surplus matzoth they had baked, and had not engaged in “large scale” operations as charged, “All churches,” said Mr, Sokolovich, “sell candles and wafers at high prices, and nobody holds them for criminal responsibility.”


Mr. Sokolovich denied the accused sold matzoth for personal profit, insisting they did it “for their religious beliefs,” and pointing out that they used no hired labor.” He pleaded for the release of Mrs. Blyakhman, who, he said, has already spent four months in jail “without committing any crime at all.”

Mr. Lozinsky criticized the investigators who had built the case, saying they had taken “a dogmatic position.” Mr. Katz had been accused in the indictment of selling 1,100 pounds of matzoth over a lengthy period. The attorney said Mr. Katz had admitted selling a third of that amount in eight days. All but Mr. Katz have been in jail since their arrest in April. Mr. Katz was permitted to remain at home because of his physical condition.

Rabbi Levine had been called as a prosecution witness, and Mr. Lozinsky recalled to the court that the Chief Rabbi had testified that he had had a conversation prior to Passover with a man named Andreev, an official of the State Committee on Religious Cults. The attorney told the court that Mr, Andreev had told Rabbi Levine: “Unfortunately, this state cannot provide you with matzoth at the moment because it has neither place nor equipment for it, but has nothing against the Jewish community doing it itself. “

“We asked the court,” said Mr. Lozinsky, “to summon Andreev, but it never did. If Andreev stated here what Katz himself said (about baking matzoth for one self) it means all the defendants would have been not guilty. Now you think about the old and dilapidated invalid (Mr. Katz) and decide his future. “

Among the witnesses called by the defense were a non-Jewish man and his wife. They told the court they had made their own peasant-style stove available to the Jewish women, declaring: “We realized what the matzoth meant to the Jews, so we allowed them to bake it at our place.” The audience in court nodded with admiration hearing this testimony.

The accused face possible sentences of four years in prison, and the additional penalty of the confiscation of their property.

Recommended from JTA