The Journey Home That Lasted Forty-Eight Years.
The History of the Gorodetsky family.

Part 2

by Grygory Gorodetsky

Translated by Ekaterina Likhtik.

Refusal: the long haul

       In 1972 my brother Michael was called to the army. He was sent to a classified rocket division near Krasnoyarsk, so that later on his ability to leave the USSR could be compromised. The underground rocket training ground (the size of a whole city) was located about 100 km from the regional center, near the village called “In memory of 13 fighters”. Later, when Michael would apply numerous times for permission to emigrate to Israel, he would receive the following reply: “You will be denied permission so long as this rocket division is located in the same place.” After receiving a denial to emigrate, the only job he could secure (despite his advanced degree in engineering) was as a metalworker at a taxi fleet.

       The 40th anniversary of the Dolmatsky brothers’ aliya came in 1973. Here is what they wrote to us about the occasion: “Forty years ago we left our parents’ home. We still remember how we parted, how mother couldn’t bear be parted from us but we left with the hope of being together again. Yet everything has turned out so differently. Man assumes and God laughs…”

       In the meantime, I was also not exempt from attention bestowed on my family by the governing agencies. While a student of the Kuibishev Polytechnic Institute (KPI) in 1973, I decided to try my luck and go to Bulgaria with a group of students. While filling out the request form for the trip, I was asked by an official from the first (classified) department of KPI whether I had any relatives abroad. I answered that four of my parents’ brothers live in Israel. This was enough to refuse me permission for the trip.

       It became clear that we wouldn’t be able to emigrate while remaining in Kuibishev: the local KGB had amassed a thick file with a plethora of accusations against the Gorodetsky family. The family decided to move to a different Republic – to Moldavia, where half a century ago our long marathon began. Kishinev was considered a more realistic base for immigration to Israel than the closed city of Kuibishev that was filled with defense-related industries.

       I was the first to come to Kishinev, where I found a job and got housing in a dormitory. Only five years later, through an unbelievable four-way exchange of apartments, I was able to get a place for my parents in an “operation that could fall through at any moment. Before the move to Kishinev in1976, however, my grandfather Ephraim died, not ever to be reunited with his relatives in Israel.

       While walking down Pushkin Street in Kishinev I happened to walk into the National Scientific Research Institute (NSRI) for the development of means for indestructible control. They took me as a student designer. And what an ironic twist of fate; it turned out that I had ended up in the microbrewery of Zionist activities! Not long before I joined, people working in this institute were witnesses in the “Dymshitz-Kuznetsov Hijacking Affair” of 1970.

       Given the circumstances, the authorities of Moldavia were vigilant. We invested an enormous amount of effort in sending requests for exit visas to the Department of Visas and Registrations (DVR) at the Ministry of the Interior. I wasn’t fired, but Major Novikov, the head of Human Resources at the Institute, who had a lot of experience in dealing with Jews interested in emigrating, said: “It’s the custom here that those in need of a reference letter need to apply for a voluntary resignation.” Thus losing my engineering job at the Institute and thanks to the contacts of Victor Pelacha – another refusenik - I luckily found a position as a ventilation technician in one of the Kishinev hospitals.

       In 1979, when all our paperwork was ready, the authorities simply refused to recognize the application forms and supporting documents from my parents. According to the authorities, my parents moved to Kishinev in order to leave for Israel, and this was unpardonable. In response to our question “How long do we have to live here to apply for an exit visa?” came the laconic answer, “There is no time frame.”

       In the end, they took documents only from me that year. After a couple of months of having sent in my paperwork, I was called in on a day which was usually meant for people who had been granted their visa.A crowd of Jews gathered at the entrance to the DVR. The “lucky ones” were taken to a hall where they were informed of the positive outcome of their case. I was the only one who was denied, and for the ridiculous reason that “Your parents will be left alone in Kishinev.”

       At last, after several visits to the acting director in the Moldavian Ministry of the Interior, M.S. Railin, the exit request for permanent residence abroad for my parents was accepted. On June 4, 1980 they received yet a new refusal with the justification that they would have lost familial ties with their Israeli relatives by now. And this continued from year to year.

       At that time I was working as an engineer at a design firm for agricultural equipment and even became the head designer at my company. According to immigration laws, an exit visa request was allowed to be renewed once a year. When I needed yet another recommendation from my employer for the Department of Visas and Registrations, the director at my job showed a certain amount of flexibility. “I don’t want to fire you, but I have to do something”, he said. In the end, we arrived at a compromise: I write a statement announcing my bad state of health, then I’m demoted to a lower position, my salary is decreased, but I continue to work.

       I decided to go to Moscow to see General R.V. Kuznetsov – the head of all the Soviet DVR branches, sealer of thousands of refusenik fates. Having finally gotten through to this nobleman in his shoulder straps, I heard the following from the General: “You will never be able to emigrate to Israel because Faivel Gorodetsky was an active Zionist!”

       It’s hard to find a more colorful demonstration of the dull-witted lunacy that the Soviet system personified If a person is a Zionist, an undesirable element according to the contemporary authorities, isn’t it preferable to get rid of him or her via the most expedient of manners, to allow him toemigrate? As it turns out, that’s not the case. The person instead suffers by being forcibly retained in a country where all peoples have been turned into one, and where his or her presence thoroughly annoys the brainwashed Soviet Jews who are loyal to the communist regime.

       Saddened by the latest series of refusals, Shmuel Dolmatsky wrote to us in January of 1981: “We are surprised by, and don’t know how to explain, the fact that they (a family from Kuibishev) were granted permission to leave within two and a half months [of their applying], whereas you are constantly refused. It seems we have to believe that blind fate rules in a country where faith in the logic of human behavior is all the rage.”

       In the beginning of the 1980’s, the Kishinev KGB noticed my persistence and tried to recruit me. As a result, I received a strange summons to appear at the DVR on an unusual day and hour. I went with my father. In the office I was met by a stranger dressed in a uniform who called himself “Victor Ivanovich”. He took us for a two hour walk. The committee knew all the details of our family’s trials and tribulations and he told us we have no chance of leaving. However, our opportunity, which he advised us not to miss, was to begin working with the authorities. “You have to work with us for about two years. We are not the organization that gives permissions to leave, but when we ask the DVR, they usually don’t say no.”

       I was even offered a first assignment – to ask my neighbor Leonid Fourer and his refusenik brother their opinions about an anti-Zionist article in a local paper.

       Naturally I declined the offer, pointing out that I was too busy taking care of my elderly parents. “Victor Ivanovich” proved to be quite insistent and didn’t leave me alone that easily. The next time he showed up at my job. On the next walk we took, he repeated all the same reasons he brought up at our first meeting, mainly that cooperation is our family’s only chance to leave, and that I should not miss this opportunity. We left each other with nothing resolved. On leaving, he recommended that I keep my mouth shut about our rendezvous.

       At the DVR I was introduced not only to mindless bureaucrats but to normal people as well. I still remember my conversation with the lieutenant Zinaida Ulanova: “The decision regarding your situation is outside our department’s jurisdiction. As soon as the political outlook from above changes, no one will try to keep you here – and you'll be able to leave.”

       For decades the Soviet authorities kept changing their reasons for refusing us exit visas. From 1957-1964: “[In Israel] they have their own family and you have your own. Let them come to you.” In 1979 they told my parents: “You’ve been living in Kishinev for too short a time.” The same year I was told: “You can’t leave your elderly parents alone in Kishinev because we don't separate families.” In 1981 the whole family was refused: “In your case, the principle of family reunification doesn’t apply – you have a son living in the USSR.” (They were referring to my brother Michael who was living as a refusenik in Kuibishev because of his “classified” status.)

       In 1983 and in 1984 the refusals followed one after another. The way one of them was phrased would have made us laugh if the whole situation hadn’t been so miserable:- “For the regime’s own reasons.” My mother aroused some resentment from Captain Boris Pavlovich Muravsky –head of the Kishinev DVR- when she asked him: “What classified information are you referring to if I’ve been a housewife my whole life?! Maybe I made my husband some bad dinners?”

       That year they came up with the most original reason for a refusal thus far: “Loss of familial ties.” And this in the face of our uninterrupted correspondence with our relatives! They demanded proof that my parents’ brothers in Israel are really their brothers and so I found their birth certificates in the Bendery archives. However, this did not help.

       The bulk of our correspondence occurred in Yiddish. As an amusing side note, our relatives would write in Russian if they wanted to speed up letter delivery, thereby “facilitating” the job for Soviet censors. For instance, during the tense period of the Six Day War our Israeli relatives wrote us in Russian (June 7, 1967): “We are all alive, healthy and working as usual. As you can tell, you don’t need to worry about us…”

       An interesting detail: all of the refusals were relayed to us orally. We never received one written decision. Even DVR appointments notices for the next refusal were confiscated from us while in the office by one DVR bureaucrat or other. Most likely Soviet officials didn’t want to leave any compromising evidence. The only printed notice we have saved in our family archive orders us to appear before the “Public Order Maintenance Department” at the Kuibishev Executive Committee of the City Soviet of People’s Deputies (1964), in order to discuss what was vaguely defined in the notice as “the issue which interests you.”

       In 1981 my mother wrote to her brothers: “Please write to our authorities and tell them the truth, that besides your only sister, you don’t have any living family left.”

       After years of fruitless attempts and endless anxiety, my father became very ill. He had a kidney removed. Meanwhile, my mother developed a serious case of arrhythmia. “The ambulance” became a frequent guest in our home…

International Help

       Our relatives in Israel were afraid of worsening our predicament and having learned from bitter experiences used only legal means in the fight for our repatriation. They would write endless requests to Soviet organizations, referring to humanist principles and the theme of reuniting separated families. In our correspondence there was never a note of open criticism towards the Soviet system, so as not to provoke the authorities to retaliatory measures.

       I saw that the situation was becoming hopeless and that the Soviet agencies were dismissive of all the appeals coming from us and from our Israeli relatives. Having exhausted all the official means for making a request, I decided to pass on information about our family to human rights organizations overseas. Looking back on the years gone by, I’d like to thank all those people – friends and strangers - for helping in our fight, for aiding us through all of the stages and for supporting us through its many years.

       Human rights organizations from the US, France, the UK and Canada stated support for our family. An especially important role in our family’s repatriation was played by Judy and Cliff Leznoff (Canada), Dora and Sidney Gabriel and Doris and Alan Sherwood (UK).

       Facts about our family were transmitted to Canada via Sveta Weinberg, who by some miracle managed to leave for Israel in 1983. It was our great luck that the Gorodetsky family was followed by the Leznoff family. Judy worked as a college instructor and took part in the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada and her husband Cliff was a chemistry professor at York University (Toronto).

       Twenty years after the beginning of our correspondence, Judy Leznoff would remember: “After having received your first letter, I was excited and immediately took an interest in your family. I dreamt that some day you would obtain exit visas. And in every letter I kept repeating one phrase – don’t lose hope! To this day I remember how you called me after having arrived in Israel. It seems like it was yesterday…We are proud of ourselves that we have achieved our goal.”

       On the 19th of October, 1983 I received my first letter from strangers in England – the family of Dora and Sidney Gabriel. The head of the family told me of his work as an architect and hinted that he and his friends are waiting for me. In his wishes for the year 1984, Sidney wrote: “I hope that you will soon receive your long-awaited permission to leave for joyful, sun-drenched Israel.”

       In five years I received many letter from Sidney, written in a rare calligraphic script on simple white paper; every letter was numbered, some of them were sent with a request for confirmation of delivery to avoid their “loss” in the Soviet post.

       Soon after I had arrived in Israel, I received a letter on stationary with an official letterhead, which made me realize that Sidney was the head of the Architects, Engineers and Builders Industries Committee for the Release of Soviet Jewry. The committee was created in 1973 and its stated goal was to help its colleagues in the USSR to immigrate with the use of any legal means available. The committee didn’t identify itself as either an anti-Soviet or as a pro-Zionist organization.

       Sidney’s wife Dora was an active member in the group “35’s Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry” – an organization of Jewish women in the UK who supported the rights of Soviet Jewry to emigrate. As was noted in one English newspaper, “members of Committee of 35 were housewives who defeated the KGB.” Letters from Dora and Sidney morally supported our family during the many years of our fighting for a visa to leave the USSR.

       Sidney Gabriel passed on information about our family to a well-known manufacturer – Sidney Ellis, a large-scale producer of wedding dresses in the UK. In June of 1985, right before my wedding with Maya Goldman I received an unexpected package from London – a beautiful wedding dress. This was a wonderful gift from Sidney Ellis. On this occasion, our Israeli relatives wrote: “It would’ve been better if we could have sent you flowers instead of a letter…”

       Not only organizations but individuals expressed their solidarity and support. In the "dead" period of the early 1980s, it was a pleasure to receive a letter from Alan Sherwood, a London businessman. We established a warm family connection. With pride Alan told us of his tightly knit family, his children Michael and Deborah, his love for Israel. After our coming to Israel, Alan wrote: “After all these years, your arrival seems a miracle.” A couple of months after our aliyah Alan came to Israel and we saw each other face to face for the first time in the Herzeliya Dan Acadia Hotel. The next time the family visited we happily hosted them in our own apartment. Friends from Alan’s youth that were living in Haifa- Dr. Cyril and Adi Glassman- became our good friends as well.

       Information about our family appeared four times on the pages of the bulletin “Jews in the USSR”, which was published weekly by the National Council for Soviet Jewry of the UK and Ireland. In March of 1984 this weekly called Faivel Gorodetsky the “oldest refusenik”, who has been trying to obtain permission to leave for longer than anyone else (since 1957).

       The suffering our family endured was described in the collection “1984 Is Already Here, Free the Soviet Jews”, published in support of Soviet Jewry by the South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry. This collection was presented to members of the US Congress, the State Department and various government organizations in the USSR.

       We were supported from Israel by the family of Josef and Rivka Gotlieb and from the religious kibbutz Kvutzat Yavne. During the Holocaust, Josef was a prisoner at Dachau and Osvencim (Aushvitz). After our arrival in Israel, we finally met in a heartwarming embrace at the Haifa Center for Absorption, where we lived for the first couple of months after making aliyah.

       We have saved a multitude of documents in our family archives – letters, petitions and photographs from those years, thanks to which we felt support and solidarity from our distant friends.

       As soon as Gorbachev opened a small crack in the iron curtain, our family took off to Israel. The calendar was showing that 1988 had already begun…

       At the same time, my brother Michael and his family left for the USA (to reunite with his wife’s sister). Michael’s daughter Rita was in first grade when they first applied for an exit visa and when they were finally allowed to leave, she had become a first-year medical student. Nowadays Rita Kushner is a lawyer in California and a member of the HIAS board of directors – a large organization that aids Jewish immigrants in the USA.

       In 2000, for Faivel Gorodetsky’s 80th birthday, an honorary reception was organized to celebrate the event by the deputy mayor of Haifa, Valentin Feinberg. The city’s mayor, Amram Mitzna, spent a long time asking the veteran member of “HaShomer HaTzair” about his life and the fight to make aliyah. Faivel said: “I can’t understand how one can live in Israel and not be satisfied. Living here, you have not only to take from the government, but also to give to the country.”

       On his 82nd birthday (2002) Faivel Gorodetsky received a congratulatory note from the minister Natan Sharansky. “It is you and people such as yourself that paved first a small path and then a wide road for former Soviet Jews to the Land of Israel. Your route to Israel is a living, fifty-year history of Soviet Zionist Jews, who, by paying the price of immense efforts, losses and bitter experiences, strove to achieve their dream. You are that generation after which we, the dissidents, arrived. You were fighters for civil rights and only when we all immersed ourselves in the struggle together, did we succeed in moving the iron curtain and giving the Jews of the former USSR an opportunity to exercise their right to freedom.”

       On January 2, 2005 Faivel died: on his grave, his children put a monument with the inscription “A fighter for Zionism.” In February 2005 Judy and Cliff Leznoff, who fought for the repatriation of the Gorodetsky family, planted trees in the Canadian park near Jerusalem on the track of land belonging to the Jewish community of Toronto, in memory of this wonderful person, whose journey to the Land of Israel lasted 48 long years.

Literary treatment by Shimon Briman

<== Part 1