It was our fate to be born in a country which severed us from our national roots, annihilated our writers, arrested our religious and cultural leaders. An Iron Curtain blocked us from world Jewry. The Soviet authorities fed us an enormous quantity of slander and lies about our people, and as a result many became ashamed of their Jewish origins. For three generations, we were isolated behind the Iron Curtain in this evil empire.
The Six Day War restored our dignity. There were always isolated cases of Zionists in the Soviet Union. From this trickle, in 1967, they were transformed into a movement of thousands that began to forge their path to Israel. Out of these thousands, there were those who were ready to make personal sacrifices, perform heroic deeds and they led the struggle. They had no defense – no army, no government; only the will and the spirit against the mightiness of the KGB. By ourselves, we had no chance. But thank G-d, as you know, we were not alone. Almost all the aliya activists were linked to the nerve center of world Jewry – through you. Each time the KGB touched this nerve system, there was a ferocious reaction. Every time the KGB raised its fist against us, a strong hand blocked the blow – it was your hand. Letters of protest, demonstrations, large scale rallies, newspaper articles , the mobilization of political support constantly thwarted Soviet diplomats and other high ranking Soviet officials who visited the West.
The truth is we were not alone even before we started our struggle. In 1952, Israel, then only four years old, established NATIV – the Liason Bureau in order to safeguard our fate. In 1955, NATIV launched a public relations organization called BAR in order to awaken the international community to the issue of Soviet Jewry. In the mid-1960’s, a Center for Research and Documentation on Soviet and Eastern European Jewry was created in order to provide the world with reliable information. Due to these efforts and the many articles that appeared in the West, official organizations were established in the U.S., France and England, and many grassroots organizations sprang up in the U.S. and other countries. Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, headed by Jacob Birnbaum and Glenn Richter, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry under the leadership of Lou Rosenblum, JDL under Meir Kahane. Later, the ‘35’s in England became a world-wide organization and Soviet Jewry groups emerged in Canada, Australia, South Africa, South America etc. Establishment organizations, by nature, move slowly, overly cautious and fearful of angering Soviet and Western authorities – the sha-shtil behind the curtains policy.. The grassroots organizations were in the forefront of the public struggle and were not afraid of using innovative techniques and methods. They compelled the establishment organizations to follow their lead. You were wise to join your forces in Brussels which agitated the Soviet Union. The Leningrad hijacking contributed to this…
You succeeded in placing the struggle for Soviet Jewry on the world agenda. You succeeded in linking our struggle to the most sensitive points of the Soviet Union – international trade agreements between the super-powers by the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and relations with Europe by the Helsinki process. Together with Israel, you built bridges over the Iron CurtAin; pierced the Iron Curtain itself and built a line of communications with us.. Through these lines, emissaries, tourists, information, books, Jewish and Hebrew study materials, goods, medication and funds reached us. You knew how to receive information almost about everyone; and you took care of the Refuseniks who were thrown out of their jobs, were beaten, arrested, and imprisoned including personal adoptions of the activists.
The entire organization that we built inside: Hebrew uplans/classes; seminars; Jewish pre-school/kindergarten programs and schools; information networks; legal seminars; protest groups – you built concomitant support groups. We put pressure from the inside and you from the outside; and you were able to translate this into international public and political pressure on the Soviet Union which increased until the Soviets could no longer withstand it.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t simple. Hundreds of Refuseniks paid for their activism by their health, by hundreds of years of imprisonment, and thousands of years of refusal.. Many are no longer with us… Most of those who remain are sitting here.
Together with you, we were totally victorious; we became comrades-in-arms and we’re proud of this..
The Activists are in this room.., The challenges that confront Israel and the Jewish people today cannot be left to others. Once again the warning bell sounds and it calls us to action..