Tina Brodetsky, a prisoner of Zion from Moscow, spent three years in labour camps from 1958 to 1961.
She finally got to Israel in 1970 and now lives in Jerusalem.
Odessa, 1941. The country is at war. My mother said: “I took the Hippocratic oath, it is not for nothing that people take it; it has to be kept. I must do my duty as a doctor.” She went to the front to work in a field hospital, taking us, her two children, with her. We came to Stalingrad. I remember those horrible bombings; my mother was on duty at the hospital while I, who was just under six, ran along carrying my baby sister who was less than 12 months old. The militia were driving the passers-by into the bomb shelter. People shouted to me, “Girl, little girl, come here!” “No, I’m going to my Mama.” When I came there, Mother was taking the wounded down to the bomb shelter. “Go home,” she said. She was overwrought. When I ran back with my sister, I remember, the streets were empty, only the militia men calling again, “Little girl, come here!” “No, I’m running home!” The hospital director asked Mother afterwards, “Where did you put your children?” And Mother was almost hysterical.
While on our war journeys, my little sister died of pneumonia. Mother was sitting with the dead child, and one officer came up in a brichka (small two-wheels horse-driven carriage) and said, “Doctor, you have a dead daughter, and I have a dead son, let’s bury our children together.” He opened the little coffin, put into it my one-year-old sister beside his six-year-old son with her head against his feet, took my mother with him, and they both rode off. I don’t know where. I dream of finding this place, perhaps through the “Wait for me” programme or, maybe through existing search groups, as well as to find the grave of my father who was killed, that is, reported missing in 1942 (apparently, in the vicinity of Voroshilovgrad).
In 1941 my father and my mother’s brother volunteered for active military service. They were both killed.
I have many more plans in this life. I want to find more brother-soldiers (there is one, though, he is 91, and I always call him in Moscow on Victory Day to wish him a happy holiday.)
My parents and myself had been born in Odessa, and it was from there that we went to the front. My mother’s father also went to the front, although he was almost 70, and worked in the commissariat service. We met him at the front. When Odessa was liberated we convinced him that he should stay there, and then continued to move together with our hospital beyond the border. I had already become ‘illegal’ as the Front Commander was not aware of my existence in the hospital, and they used to hide me in the hospital linen. When we moved from country to country they would put me into a sack and say, “Keep quiet. Wait till the patrol goes away and then you may get out.” After some time the Front Commander permitted me to be taken along. In this way we crossed Hungary, Romania, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. My impressions, my ideology as a child, were being shaped in the war. During this period of five years I never went to school. My school was Ilya Ehrenburg’s articles like “Kill the German” or Simonov’s verse like “Kill the Enemy”. I keep a Hebrew translation of his poem. Standing on a stool before the wounded soldiers I read out newspaper articles and recited poems for them. That was my school, and I got my education from the wounded Russian soldiers, to whom I kneel, take off my hat and salute them for their heroism. They had saved this world, I am convinced of it; I saw it.
My mother spent days on end in the hospital, and spent all her time with the wounded whom I loved and who adored me. They refused cigarettes and took chocolate instead to give it to me. I have very sweet memories of my teachers, but my greatest teacher was my Mother. And so it went on till the end of the war. We were then in Hungary with the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Then came the 9th of May 1945. Victory! It was an unforgettable experience. We get to Budapest, we see hearses; someone is being buried. I asked my mother about it. She said, “It’s soap made of human fat out of the bodies of Jews.” Things like that were shaping my personality, and so, when still a child, I knew that we Jews must have our own banner, our own sub-machine gun, our own land, our own state.
We came back to Odessa in 1946, my mother in uniform; we had nothing. I was 12 years old. Like many war children I was over-age for school, but with vast knowledge of life and with an ideology that was foreign to the Soviet regime. I was not like the kind of girl who would embroider or knit; I was a thinking child and kept a diary. My mother was a scientist. She worked at a dermatological-venereological institute and was going to defend a thesis for a doctor’s degree. This thesis was on a level that would entitle her to a professorship, but the so-called anticosmopolitan (i.e. anti-Jewish) campaign started before it was completed. The institute was closed up as it was full of Jews, and they were all discharged. Another reason that made the defense of the thesis impossible was that foreign names could not be mentioned. It was in 1948-1949. We moved to Moscow as Mother had married a Muscovite whom she had met at an international exhibition where his inventions in machine building were displayed. He was a senior scientist at a machine building institute in Moscow, a talented person who had made a whole lot of inventions. He was to have received a reward, but, being a Jew, he got none. Then came the “Doctors Plot”. Mother stayed unemployed for a year; we exchanged our flat in Odessa for a communal apartment in Moscow which we shared with other tenants (a common thing in those days). I was already in the 8th grade; I kept a diary. I wrote: any struggle is impossible, all activity useless, submission is a foul thing, how am I to live? I had read Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire; those words were out of Rousseau. I was given to much suffering. I was a solitary thinking person with an ample spiritual life.
During this period, at the end of my school days, I felt I had in me ‘strength enormous, destination great’ and decided to devote my life to my people. I thought I was obliged to do so for I felt I was unable to live a different life. But how was I to do it?
1955. I finished school and entered a literary faculty. Having decided to devote my life to my people, I went to the synagogue in Arkhipov Street for the first time I approached Israel’s ambassador Yosef Avidar there. I was the only young person in the synagogue. There were only old people. I pronounced the words of Trumpeldor which I had learned somewhere: Tov lamut be’ad artseinu. Avidar never forgot this episode, and always told Israeli soldiers about it afterwards. When Avidar died, his family invited me to the funeral and I spoke at his graveside. Here is a short quotation: “Avidar has departed this life now at the age of 89. Scenes of the past arise before my eyes. 1955. Meeting the ambassador and his wife for the first time. “It is good to die for our Mother-land”, I said solemnly. Yosef, taken aback somewhat, objected: It’s good to live for our Motherland! At that time he was for me the embodiment of freedom, strength, independence, victory. He became the embodiment of Israel for me.” This moment was the starting point of our underground connection, a dangerous connection, spiritual and romantic for me, not for them. They were poor at clandestine activities. I met them at all Jewish concerts that took place; at the skating-rink I met Embassy secretaries, attaches for cultural affairs. My mother and my stepfather joined in. My mother and I brought literature under our coats from all illegal meeting-places. There was complete unity in our family. My stepfather and my mother had been brought up on Russian culture, but they had the purity of the Jewish soul. I keep books Mother gave me. One of them was inscribed, ‘Love your long-suffering people and be always faithful to it.’
In 1957 an International Youth Festival took place in Moscow. I wrote an article entitled ‘Two weeks of life.’ I handed over that article for publication in Israel and in the foreign press. At the Festival I made the acquaintance of two students – Shmuel Ashkenazi and Emmanuel Zisman. Zisman was 20 and was from Bulgaria, although he was studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For two weeks I brought them fruit to the Timiriazev Academy where they lodged. Before leaving they cut a big globe in two, put letters inside and glued the halves together. In this way they were able to carry abroad all the illegal mail. A few years ago, all those who took part in the Moscow Festival were gathered in the vicinity of Jerusalem. I was also invited. As far back as 1955 Yosef Avidar gave me a postcard of Israel. There was an Israeli flag, dirty and torn, and it hurt me. I saw that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. I tried to get rid of those thoughts as much as possible. It had to do with the lack of conspiratorial skills in the Embassy workers and with their behaviour. Our requests were not always met (for instance, I asked to be given Jabotinsky’s articles, but never received them). Often, they did not give what we wanted, although they did let us have newspapers, postcards, magazines and journals on cultural matters. We distributed all those materials.
Once, in the midst of a crowd at the Festival I saw and heard a boy of about 17 or 18 who spoke just like I did. It was Boria Podolsky. Afterwards he came to see me at home, then brought my parents and me to his place. His parents were also in touch with Embassy officials, and they were being shadowed. There were listening devices at their place. That was how we got into hot water. At that time I had already started, at the request of Dora Podolsky (Boria’s mother) to hand over her writings at the skating rink, in the Gorky Park, and other places. I, a young, slender, athletic-looking girl, was conspicuous. They started shadowing me.
The 25th of April 1958. I remember it all as if it were yesterday. My mother, together with a lady of her acquaintance, was about to leave Moscow for the Caucasus from Kursk Station. My stepfather went to see her off, and I stayed at home with my six-and-a half-year old sister Nadia from the second marriage. It was already 11, but my stepfather did not come back. I was worried. Boria Podolsky had come shortly before, and we discussed the way we would celebrate the 1st of May, or rather, would assemble our Jewish crowd out of town to talk about Israel, Jerusalem, Zionism. On his way home he was arrested. At 11:30 the doorbell rang, and I saw my parents, pale, with their suitcases, followed by security men and witnesses. A search started; they turned everything upside down, took with them whatever they needed, including the wrapper of the chocolate from Israel that I was treated to at the Festival, took my diaries which I had kept from grades 4 to 10. They summoned my stepfather’s sister to stay with my little sister while we were being taken away, each in a separate car. The most horrible period of my life was the 10 months’ solitary confinement in Lubianka when I knew that my stepfather was in jail, but had no idea where my Mother was. They told my stepfather that if he didn’t confess to writing an anti-Soviet article (on the Jewish Theatre and its actors eliminated by Stalin, on Mikhoels, an article I handed over for publication in Western press), his wife and his five-year-old child would be left to rot in jail. He confessed in order to save his wife and his child. His name was Yoshua Drobovsky. I knew he was in jail, but they didn’t tell me where Mother was. For 10 months I was questioned only at night, for 10 months they didn’t let me sleep, for 10 months the light was left on. I was in solitary confinement. The only pleasure was the Lubianka library: I was reading Byron, Shelly, other literature but not philosophy and politics. I communicated with my neighbour by tapping. I even found out his name, although I’d never seen him before. It was Yurka Mashkov who afterwards turned out to be anti-Semitic scum, but at that time he was quite a decent chap from the University. I read out to him the verse: I love you, my sad neighbour,
I love you as my young years’ friend,
You, my chance comrade,
Although through fate’s insidious play
We’ve been forever separated –
At present by a wall, tomorrow by a mystery.
And he answered:
I would surely die in this cage,
Were it not for the lovely neighbour…
Mother employed two lawyers, who did nothing. She didn’t have food for herself, but brought parcels for the two of us, fed the five-year-old child, and went on working. Many people were afraid to associate with her; security men sat near her workroom at her place of work, and whenever she came out, they said, “Get back!” Security took note of who came to see her at home, and a certain girl, who was formerly my friend, turned out to be a snitch. She’d been recruited, and she reported everything she found out. To this day my sister cannot forget that first house-search although she was only five then. Likewise, she cannot forget the day when, before our departure for Israel, I was summoned to Lubianka. Nadia was waiting for me near the Detski Mir department store, and I had told her that if I didn’t appear in 40 minutes, she should call foreign correspondents. At Lubianka they displayed photographs in which I saw both familiar and unfamiliar faces. The familiar ones were those of the Embassy workers whom I had known for years.
“Whom can you identify?”
“Then write about your old case for us.”
“Take the file out of the archive.”
I never knew what they’d summoned me for. We were given two days for packing. We were put aboard a plane, but we didn’t know whether we were flying to Vienna or to Siberia. It was Vienna. It was in 1970.
September 1959. After reading the file, I saw that we all had behaved with dignity. There were six of us: my stepfather, myself, Boris, Dora and Semion (Boris’ parents), our teacher Grigori. We saw each other at the trial. We were happy to be able to talk to each other. The case was transferred to a military tribunal as they were going to frame Dora and Semion for treason. They had a relative serving in the army, and they were alleged to have passed military information to the Israeli Embassy. Recently, Volodia Girshovich showed me a book that the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office had published a year ago, on trials that had taken place from 1953 to 1958. I found all of us in it. It stated that we were engaged in anti-Soviet activities and passed secret military information to a foreign state. When I was in Moscow, I contacted the editorial office which had published the book. I was told these data had been supplied by the Prosecutor’s Office. I said I protested against the espionage accusation. True, they had intended to frame two of us as spies, but if you take the file you will see that not one of the six of us was accused of espionage; we were only accused of anti-Soviet agitation. Dora and Semion got seven years, Boria five, we were given less. The judge, who was a general, rejected the treason charge. We were tried by a military tribunal attached to the Lefortovo prison, not in Arbat, so that no one would know anything about us. It was a trial by troika. I want a refutation to be published, but I’ll not be able to bring this about since Moscow officials are not going to take on the task. Our behaviour at the trial was dignified. Dora turned her last word into one by an accuser instead of by an accused. They’d wanted to give us longer terms, hence the attempt at the treason frame-up, but it was all too thin, the tribunal saw through it, times had changed. It was in 1959, so we were tried based on article 58/10 + 11 (group action). Only then did I find out that my mother was not in jail.
For a whole month a railway jail-car carried me through all the prisoner transit centres. Those were terrible places. I had to share a common cell with such hideous types as murderers and perverts. It was a month without food – merely a herring tail and a small piece of bread. So it went on till the train arrived at Mariinsk. Those camps situated in the Kemerovo region have been described by Solzhenitsyn in his ‘Gulag Archipelago’. I thought I’d be met with flowers as a heroine, but nobody came to meet me with flowers. I was met by Gitia Davidovna Landman, the German sister of the former Israeli minister of justice Ya’akov Shimshon Shapiro. I salute this elderly woman. She had lived in Malakhovka, engaged in Zionist activities, and also met with the Israeli Embassy people. During a meeting with Nehemia Levanon security men burst in. He had been searched, diplomatic documents were found on him, and he was evicted from the country. Gitia Davidovna and her husband Moisei were imprisoned. She got five years, he was given a three years’ sentence. Imprisoned in the same camp was also Dora Podolskaya. They were in an invalid team while I, being young, healthy and strong (I was nicknamed a Moscow mod girl) was included in a team headed by Lisa Leiss. Gitia Davidovna had met me, and was the first to feed me. It was very important for me, and I do not forget it. I remember her giving me her sleeveless fur jacket when I was put into a punishment cell. I worked in a most frightful team. Lisa Leiss, an ethnic German from the Volga area, had formerly served with the Gestapo, and by that time she had spent 13 years in the camp, but she had never worked. She had been sentenced to 25 years. Her functions as team leader were the same as in the Gestapo, the exception being that she did not shoot although she would if given a pistol, but she abused the prisoners as much as she could. She was tall and strong. The likes of her were many in the camp, but only a few were such as myself. There was Gitia Davidovna and Natella Magradze of Georgia, who was against Stalin. She was one of Georgia’s aristocrats who were all eliminated by Stalin. There was Neola from Lithuania, a couple of people from Estonia who had fought for the independence of Estonia and Lithuania, Ira Verblovskaya from Leningrad sentenced together with Revolt Pimenov, Valia Tsikhmister, one of the dissidents from the University’s physics and philosophy departments and Nadia (whose surname I don’t remember) who had been tried with them. Among the inmates of a camp for men there were Yurka Mashkov, Vadim Kozovoi, and a crowd we made friends with later – Yura Mekler, Boria Shperling, Tolia Rubin, David Khavkin. David Khavkin and I had been in Lubianka at the same time, but we didn’t know each other then. During the questioning my investigator sometimes posed as a friend of the democrats, and I quoted to him Semion Frug’s lines: “I grew up in a strange cold clime, the son of bondage and national sorrow; fate invested me with two endowments – the thirst for freedom and the destiny of a slave.” The military tribunal people had nicknamed me Joan of Arc. To this very day my friends go on calling me that. Fimka Spivakovsky who rings me up from New York, calls me the Jewish Joan of Arc. Fimka, who in 1953 led an uprising in a Kolyma camp, is a hero; he was imprisoned for Zionist activities. All my friends were jailed for Zionism, not for anything else. I am happy to have such friends, I am happy that we were born free people under a totalitarian regime, and the period of the richest experiences of my spiritual life was that of the 10 months of solitary confinement. During this period you experience tremendous sensations and emotions, an extraordinary risng of the soul, your spiritual world is enriched and you experience sensations that can never be experienced in any other period of life. That is what I usually tell my Sabra friends, such as Geula Cohen or Ezra Yakhin who has been in the Acco jail and was wounded three times during the British mandate. I tell my friends of the Lehi organization: “My friends and myself were born under a totalitarian regime. But we always had wings.” Recently I saw a film about Misha Kalik in which he says: “I was born a free person.” Tolia Rubin always says that the 10th generation born in Israel has a diaspora mentality. In my letter to the Knesset concerning the Beduin in the Negev I wrote: “I feel myself in Israel as if in a ghetto, not in a land of my own. I was born in a totalitarian state, but I always had wings. Here in Israel I want to live as Arabs live, freely and without fences.” On seeing another fence, I rang up the University’s pro-rector and told him that I was worried about two things: 1) the way we bring up our young people who grow up behind this fence, what kind of morale do we instill in them and 2) ourselves, people who have gone through camps and prisons have already been behind barbed wire. It hurts to see barbed wire in Jerusalem, of all places. It gives rise to terrible recollections. We are still alive, and it’s a trauma. It has given me heartache from the very first day of my arrival in Israel, in September 1970, to see those fences. The Knesset, too, has fenced itself in with the same kind of enclosure, where dogs run around on a chain. This reminds me of the camp where I walked under guard.
While in the camp, I dug a foundation pit, worked in timber-cutting and in railway sleeper sawing, I harnessed a horse, loaded 16 to 20 cartfuls of wood, and then unloaded them, I worked with a hack and a pickaxe, I opened silo pits when the temperatures reached minus 40-50 C. I wore valenki (felt high-boots), a pea-jacket, wadded trousers, a wadded jacket and ate the vile grub they brought us in the taiga. In the spring I cleaned the silo pits of thawed snow and mud, standing up to my knees in it. Among the camp prisoners there were Nazis, Bandera people, orthodox Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals and Seventh-Day Adventists. Many of them believed in non-resistance to evil and they accepted whatever the authorities said. They were quite awful; their main purpose was to draw you into their faith and not to care a pin for you afterwards. I was always alone for there were very few people like me. We were in different teams, and I was in the most frightful team of all – that of Lisa Leiss (it was called the tractor team). I was never given any soft jobs, nor did I ever work in the storeroom. I worked in the cattle-shed, loaded trolleys of 500 kg each, and that only on night shifts from 8 in the evening to 8 in the morning. In the hay fields there were snakes; in the wood, lynxes; once I came across a wolf, but he was kinder than the humans, he was not hungry.
Parcels used to come. I put mine on the table at once, and it was eaten up the same day; I left nothing for myself - such is my character. There was another kind of people. There was a Jewish woman with us who had caviar rotting in her nightstand, but she never put it on the table. I thought it the right way to act as I did. When still in jail, a stoolie was placed in my cell. Mother used to bring me food parcels then, and I put everything on the table so that, God forbid, the stoolie would not disapprove of me. In the morning she was duly called for ‘questioning’ and given a square meal.
Hard work hardens people, only a few died in the camp. The Israel that I pictured to myself in my dreams, gave me strength to hold out and to live. I was released in 1961. I had passed through the transit jails of Sverdlovsk, Novosibirsk and Taishet. No one stole from me because, when asked who I was, I said I was Jewish and started telling them about Spinoza and Bar Kokhba, and all those bandits and murderers looked at me with great respect. There was a certain Bronia in our camp, who was jailed for having shouted out dirty oaths about Khrushchov in the market place. When asked ‘Who are you?’ she said, burring the ‘r’ sound: ‘A Ukrainian’, and they beat her up immediately. I told her, if you go on saying you are Ukrainian, I’ll be the first to hit you. I had childish ideas about all sorts of perversions. When in the 1st year at the Literary faculty, I had read ‘The Nun’ by Diderot. I didn’t know what Lesbians were; I was a naпve child. What I needed was only to accomplish feats. My only thoughts were about heroes like Julius Fucik, not hops and carousals. I was going to accomplish nothing but heroic deeds. This was instilled in me by my parents. Whatever was in me was imbibed from the Decembrists, the freedom loving poems by Pushkin and Lermontov, and Soviet education: to love the Motherland, to love the flag. But to me to love the Motherland meant to love the Jewish Motherland, the Jewish flag, to have your own Jewish submachine gun. Therefore today when I see a torn and dirty banner, I buy a flag, carry it to a police station or some other place and ask to exchange it. They call me crazy, but I give them this flag and go. I have done this so many times during my 30 years in Jerusalem. I do so, I cry, my heart breaks, I am ready honestly and sincerely to give my life today if need be in the name of my Land. I want to feel proud, I am ashamed of many things that take place here. I want to die standing, not live kneeling; that is what my slogan was then, is now, and will be in the future. ;
That was a lyrical digression.
Now about Taishet. I was brought from the camp to Taishet jail and was kept there for six months before being released. There were some blokes there who were not guarded. They’d already heard about me, I’d worked with them for some time on the tractor. They were murderers, but they did not touch me. After being released they remained there. They respected me for my pride, my dignity and frankness, for, it might be said, my heroism, as well as for being a pretty girl. My cell was on the ground floor, and they used to throw sugar and all sorts of other foods, through the barred window, for me. I’ll never forget the details of my release. I boarded a train bound for Moscow. I had no identity card, only a certificate of release from imprisonment. I came to Moscow illegally for I was bound by law to stay at kilometer 101. My stepfather had also returned by this time. Since he was a talented design engineer, his institute was interested to have him back so, after much solicitation on their part, he was allowed to live in Moscow. I registered at kilometer 101 and appeared in Moscow only illegally. I entered the Defectology Dept of the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. Even before my return my mother spoke to the dean, who was a Ukrainian by the name of Vassili Akimovich Siniak, and he said, “When she comes, I’ll let her study with us.” It was great luck, for I was able to study all world literature and defectology. I was shadowed and whenever caught in Moscow, evicted. I was an extramural student, and, as such, had to attend evening classes until I completed my studies. I didn’t work so Mother took care of me. Mother repeatedly insisted that I be allowed to live in Moscow, but it only happened when the residence restriction regime came to an end, and I received a regular passport (identity card). Until then I had to stay at the town of Alexandrov, 101 km from Moscow. It was stated in the passport that it had been ‘issued based on the certificate of release and the Passport Statute’. Anyone who saw this passport would know I’d been in prison. I began reestablishing old ties. Boria wasn’t there, their room had been taken away from them, his parents were still in the camp, so Boria had left for the Ukraine, where he married Lida, and very seldom came to Moscow. I got acquainted with all former camp inmates and established contacts with them. We started doing, as best we could, what we had been doing before the arrest, quite forgetting that a second arrest could mean a 10 year term. We resumed searching for literature, went on meeting the Embassy people (David Bartov, Katriel Katz – the last ambassador in 1967 when diplomatic relations were severed). When Geula Gil came to Moscow, we attended all her concerts went to all international exhibitions and were invited to all the banquets at the Israeli Embassy. If Geula Gil went to Riga from Moscow, I flew to Riga and was at her concert, if a poultry-breeding exhibition came to Kiev, I was there. What for? To take literature, to meet people, to express my protests against the Soviet establishment. It was the year 1966. I met Edik Finkelshtein at a banquet. He now lives in Munich and writes articles; in 1966 he was a post-graduate student in Moscow, got acquainted with us, often visited us at home, but was awfully afraid. People were scared stiff of us then because we went the whole hog. Edik and I got a lot of literature and drank to Israel and Jerusalem together with KGB people.
Then came the year 1967 when diplomatic relations were severed and Katriel Katz expelled. He took leave with tears in his eyes: ‘Take care of yourself’. All our crowd wanted to submit documents, but they were not accepted. Earlier, in the fifties, I was alone everywhere but now we were many. I made friends with Vilia Svechinsky and David Khavkin, who were real heroes. On December 23, 1968 all my family submitted documents; in the summer of 1969 our application was refused. I wrote an open letter to Kosygin, in which I described all the life of my family and my own biography. It was signed: Tina Brodetskaya, 1st Mosfilmovsky Pereulok 4, Apt. 193. I wrote it in July, sent a copy to Israel and asked that it be published in two weeks’ time. In Israel, however, they did not publish the letter in July because, as they claimed later, they were afraid for us. It was only published in October.
In 1969, pressured by my friends (Khavkin, Shperling, Khorol and others who were already in Israel), Golda Meir read out my letter to Kosygin and the letter of 18 Georgian Jews in the Knesset. I come home in the evening, Mother sitting by the radio receiver and crying. Golda Meir is reading out my letter. I felt proud of it. Not of what she was reading, but rather of me having achieved this. My letter said that our family held Zionist views, that we had already gone through jails and camps, and that we would never change our views, even under the threat of destruction. We demanded that they let us go to Israel. I wrote I had gone through the front, had seen German camps liberated by our Russian soldiers, had seen the embalmed heads of Jewish commissars, gloves and umbrellas made of human skin. I want to live in the Jewish country, I wrote; please let us go!. In 1994, at a seminar held in the environs of Jerusalem in honour of the 35th anniversary of the International Youth Festival in Moscow (it was led by Ya’akov Ahimeir), a recording of Golda Meir’s voice reading out my letter to Kosygin was played at the end.
When 81-year old Dr Moshe Mostkov was leaving for Israel together with his 22-year old grandson, the first collective letter (the letter of the seven) and my own letter to Kosygin typed on thin fabric (instead of on paper) were sewn into his clothes. Both were searched in the Sheremietievo Airport, but nothing was found on them.
Jews of many Soviet cities brought us hundreds of appeals addressed to different newspapers and the UNO. We passed these letters over to the West using our illegal channels. It was dangerous, terrifying, but there was no one else who would do it. I was taking risks every minute, again and again. I have never said I started off the whole thing, although I had walked in Moscow alone. When Ida Nudel and Sharansky are said to have been the beginning of it all, I remain silent. They don’t know me, or any of us, they don’t know how it used to be, how people died in the camps, how it all rose wave-like and went under. We began writing open letters first of the seven, then of the 10, the 12, the 13, the 25, the 75, and the 39. Those letters are in the archives. The story of the letter of the 39 is famous; it was an answer to a televised press conference. On the 5th of March Dragunsky and co appeared on television, shouting at the top of their voices that there was no anti-Semitism. 42 Jews took part. I was sitting in front of the television set boiling with indignation. I phoned Dr Bluma Diskin, the biologist. I said to her, our boys die in Israel, and this pack are speaking on television, and we sit and are silent; we are duty-bound to hold our own press conference in the synagogue in Moscow – and we went to see Vilia Svechinsky. He said, “Well, ladies, I cannot say no to you, let’s think how to bring this about.” We went to Meir Gelfand’s, where Alka and Vitia Fedoseyev also were. It was in the evening of the 6th of March.
We said, “Let’s hold our own press-conference as a protest.”
They said, “No, they’ll run in all of us, we’d better write.”
We wrote the letter, started editing it, but then decided that the letter should be given a jurisprudential form. The lawyer and well-known advocate of human rights Valeri Chalidze corrected the letter imparting to it a juridical style. Within a mere two days, we collected 39 signatures for this letter. On the 8th of March Vilia Svechinsky transferred our famous letter of the 39 Jews of Moscow, and at one hour in the morning all radio stations of the world broadcast it. We didn’t send it to Israel. I was taking risks every moment, I could incur a 10-year sentence, recidivism. A secretary of the Dutch Embassy took letters only from me during illegal appointments. Besides myself, the letter was signed by my heroic mother Bella Drobovskaya, and I am proud of it. The letter of the 75 was also signed by my stepfather Yevsey (Joshua) Drobovsky. I am proud of my parents.
We had already sent the letter of the 39 abroad when Vilia came across Julius Telesin in the street. We had just decided to send the letter to Zamiatin in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Vilia asked: Will you sign? And he became the 40th although the letter sent to the West contained 39 signatures. When I came home at night, my mother was sitting with the “Izvestia” newspaper in her hands, and she said: “Tina, in this letter of the 39 you signed in the names of Gitia Davidovna Landman with whom you were in the camp, and Moisei Landman, her husband. (They had allowed me, should anything be written in Moscow, to sign them for them without asking them.) Look at the article ‘Denouncing the Outcasts’, and the names of four people who look like outsiders.” Two of them don’t know what is going on (the Landmans), the two others are Julius Telesin and Boria Shlain. Telesin’s name didn’t even go to the West. Nothing can be gathered from this article: some sort of Zionists, some terrorists, outcasts, what do they protest against after all? But the article is there, it means these people have committed some crime. Mother says: “You must go to Malakhovka now, you have no right to leave them (the Landmans) in this state of unawareness”. I called David Drabkin and said we must go to Malakhovka. When we came they didn’t open the door for quite a long time, for they thought they were to be arrested. I said: “Moisei Grigorievich, Gitia Davidovna, I’m going to read out to you our letter of the 39 Jews of Moscow, to which I signed your names, with your permission, and you will tell me whether you agree or not.” Drabkin, like a great actor, starts reading, and asks after each sentence: “Do you agree?” Moisei Grigorievich, a religious person, was sitting with closed eyes and praying without saying yes or no. The letter had been read out to the very end, and then Gitia Davivovna exclaimed: “I have signed for him and for myself.” We were satisfied.
Dina Beilin: Were you shadowed?
Tina Brodetsky: At every step, all the time, but they didn’t arrest me.
D.B.: Were you still studying?
T.B.: I had already completed my studies and begun working with Yelena Fiodorovna Rau in a group for stammering children.
D.B.: Tell me something of your personal life.
T.B.: I never thought of personal life; it did not interest me. When people told me “You’re a pretty girl, men are attracted to you, get married” I just dreaded it, I fled from it. I couldn’t respect those men, loving, as I saw it, meant loving a hero.
To resume, in the morning as we left the Landman’s at six, we went to Vilia Svechinsky’s place. We started discussing what our line of conduct should be if we were arrested, but none of the organizers of this letter or other letters were summoned.
In the winter, I went, together with my younger sister (she was 16), on a trip to the Baltic Republics as there was not a single open collective letter from the Jews there. We met with Vitia Boguslavsky in Leningrad, we came to Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius. We were meeting Jews whom we knew or who were recommended to us. As an example, we came to Monek and Esther Golzberg in Vilnius with a huge cake, ring the bell: “Hello, we come from the Kerlers.” They received us with open arms. We asked them to bring together Jews, and they did so. Those were Pavlik Beilinson (who has since died), Monek, Valera Gorelik, Itamar - all my friends today. We told them: With the rich history of the Lithuanian Jewry behind you, why are you silent. You must write a letter, we give you two weeks.” Khonka Khayatauskas brought the letter of the 7 Jews of Vilnius, a tremendous letter. Leningrad responded with the letter of the 22. I then transferred those letters to the West. My letter to Kosygin was printed in Israel in hundreds of copies in both French and Italian (I have one such postcard.) They sent those postcards to Russia. There were wonderful letters, for instance, the letter of the 6 Moscow Jews, that we had written. Vitia Polski wrote a superb letter to Dragunsky. We were joined by Pasha Abramovich, Slepak and others.
The summer of 1970. I am on leave. In Vitia’s Volga motorcar we went to Estonia, with a yacht on top. On arrival we pitched our tents on the camping site, assembled the yacht, and I suggested that the yacht be given a name. There was a lengthy argument, at first we thought that ‘Kadima Exodus’ was a suitable name, but then decided that no one would understand, so let’s rather call it ‘Shalom’. We glued a blue adhesive tape to the sail, inscribed ‘Shalom’ in Hebrew and Russian and sailed in the lake. When 17 years later the Prestins and the Abramoviches came to Israel (Lenochka and Mara were with us on that yacht), they told us that they had encountered some Jews over there who said many years before a yacht named ‘Shalom’ was sailing in that lake. During our stay there we often phoned Lucia Mutchnik (my parents were in their summer cottage at that time). She said to me: ‘It seems likely that you’ve got permission to leave and we don’t know where your parents are, so come immediately!” My parents were, of course, found. Vitia Polski and I went to the airport, he bought me a ticket for the plane, he himself staying behind. In two days he, too, appeared in Moscow saying he couldn’t stay put there any longer.
We were given two days to make preparations for departure. Up to the last minute we were terrorized with threats to cancel our permission. Within those two days we succeeded in selling our cooperative flat. I bought a yacht and brought it, disassembled, with me to Israel. I had, however, to part from it because fantasy is one thing and real life quite another. In my flat there’s sea and yachts all around. Even today, it is my dream to learn to sail a yacht, sell this flat, sail all over the world, and end my life somewhere by leaping downwards.