From the History of
the Jewish Movement
What Was Written
about Us by the Press
LEST WE FORGET!
by Evgeny Lein
"Forward, to the Victory of Communist Labor!"
(Communist slogan on the forced labor factory of Chernogorsk)
"Arbeit macht Frei" - "Work Makes you Free."
(Nazi slogan on the gate of Auschwitz)
Chernogorsk is situated in the Steppe. Before the 1917 revolution, the writer Elpatyevsky wrote, "From the Sayany Mountains to the forests in the north, in the Abakan Steppe, a dead calm prevails. There are no clouds in the hot sky. The soil radiates heat; it is covered with a network of cracks because of the heat. There are innumerable graves in the low burned grass there".
They brought me to Chernogorsk located in the Abakan Steppe in winter, so I saw another picture. It was bitterly cold and a strong wind blew snow off the frozen soil. My eyes could see nothing beyond the whitish fog. There were some five-storey concrete buildings here and there for the local KGB, the Executive Committee, and the nomenclature - top officials. An island of concrete buildings was surrounded with a sea of shabby wooden huts. Khakass people, native residents of that land, could seldom be seen in Chernogorsk. The majority of the populations were descendants of the kulaks - well-to-do peasants who were exiled there during the first years of the Soviet regime. The exiles' children and grandchildren were formally free Soviet citizens, but they could not leave that place because of the propiska - domestic registration. In the years of giant Soviet construction projects the regime needed a vast increase in the number of cheap working hands. Under Stalin the enemies of the nation were sent there, and later the chemics under Krushchev and Brezhnev. During my exile there were about 50,000 chemics in Chernogorsk and 20,000 local residents including policemen with members of their families.
Chernogorsk means Black Town, and was so named mainly because there was a coal mine nearby. The whole town was covered with coal dust. Chernogorsk was also known as Black Town because windows in the houses were shut tight and locked with iron bars every night. Not a beam of light was let out. The whole population sat tight in their homes, afraid of the criminals. Streetlights were switched off because there was not enough electric power for industrial enterprises. And all that took place at a distance of only 200 miles from the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant - the pride and glory of the country! The authorities explained to the population that these problems were only temporary, and will be overcome during the next five-year period, the standard interval between the Communist Party's congresses. For the time being, the motto was "Your country wants you to economize! "
The population there survived mainly on green fodder - potatoes and pork fat. Canned mintay fish was on sale in local stores. According to the authoritative Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedia, mintay was not an edible fish. The cats listened to Brockhaus and Efron - they did not eat mintay. Soviet citizens in Chernogorsk were above these bourgeois prejudices and ate mintay, and cats, and dogs. Besides, there was vodka on sale. The population was happy.
Newcomers were surprised at first to see advertisements in stores such as: "Delicacies made of stale bread". Please don't be misled into thinking any such delicacies were actually available. What was being advertised was merely a recipe for preparing so called delicacies made out of stale bread. Another notice read, "Information for the citizens! The list of available meat products includes edible bones; 'pelmeni' made of by-products; joints; throat parts; ribs". These meat products were not on sale, however. Then why was the notice hanging there? The reason was that coupons were distributed on holidays entitling the possessor to buy meat at a store. Some people had gone wild when they were offered bones instead of meat. That was why it was necessary to explain that meat was not really meat. The well-trained Soviet people understood everything immediately and calmed down. According to a popular street joke: "A Soviet citizen lives to work, not to eat! "
Hundreds of thousands of times since my childhood I had heard or seen a slogan:
"Forward to the victory of Communism!"
Now at the entrance to the factory where I would be corrected through labor I saw a small but serious amendment:
I read a huge poster, "To the victory of communist labor!"
Unwillingly I compared what I saw with the infamous poster that hung on the gate of the Auschwitz camp:
"Arbeit macht Frei' ("Work Makes you Free").
Well, let us see what Communist labor really looked like, here, in this town of chemics sentenced under the Soviet Criminal Code to work on construction sites of the popular economy.
"In these difficult times we are with you"
They sent me to a factory where wooden wagons were assembled. There I had to work with fiberglass used for heat insulation. This work irritated me in every sense because the fiberglass got under my clothes and into my ears and eyes. My hands itched constantly and there was no shower in the shop. However, it was good that I was working under a covered roof and was protected against the cold wind. After working many hours I was allowed to go home. That shabby hut really became my sweet home because my beloved wife was waiting there for me.
Before her journey to Chernogorsk, Irina went to the judge and requested a copy of my sentence. Her request was legal and the judge told Irina to go to the secretary to have a copy made. There were no copy machines in courts at that time, so the copies were handwritten. The secretary was busy talking on the telephone to her boyfriend, and she suggested that Irina write the copy herself. Of course, Irina used the opportunity to read through the folder. On the last pages she saw dozens of telegrams and letters from abroad. Apparently, all these letters were useless and the authorities had ignored them but, in fact, the KGB had not dared to throw them away. These letters showed that the attention of Jewish and human rights organizations in the West had been attracted to my case. There is no doubt in my mind that it was information leaked to the West, which had saved my life.
That was only the beginning. Our address in Chernogorsk was printed in the 'Jews in the USSR' bulletin published by Mrs. Nan Greifer in London, in the 'Newsbreak' of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and in 'Focus' published by The Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry. Letters began to pour in both from Jews we knew and from others we did not yet know.
The commandant became concerned - he was used to dealing with ordinary criminals, and now he was witnessing communication with foreigners. He sent a messenger demanding that my wife and I visit the commandant immediately. I went to the office alone. The commandant yelled at me:
- I told you to come with your wife!
- I am serving sentence, not my wife. She is free, so your orders don't apply to her.
- They read your wife's letters on the radio station Voice of America!!! And this, what is this?! - the Second Colonel shoved two letters from abroad in my face.
Nothing sinister was written there, just a simple text: "Dear Evgeny, in these difficult times we are with you". Those were the first letters I received from Madame Evelyn Ascot from Paris and Madame Wolff from Grenoble. The letters had been sent by registered mail, with confirmation of delivery cards to be returned to the sender.
The commandant was shouting:
- Our courts of law are too lenient... They play the game of human rights. They sentence people like you merely to chemiya, not more! And then I have to deal with the likes of you!
He persuaded me that soon they would correct their mistake, fabricate my three transgressions and send me to the zone.
That was why I was in a hurry. I was hurrying to describe the impressions, experiences, and reflections of what I had lived through. In fact these notes embodied my last will and testament, left to my daughter and her friends.
"Reading and listening to the convicts, we are horrified by the terrible details of life in Soviet prison camps. We fear imprisonment and the Soviet power. Alas, it is a reality of our life that we may all find ourselves behind bars. We have to overcome that fear because imprisonment is dreadful not only, and not so much, because of physical disasters but because of being emotionally unprepared for it. It is the fear of being beaten, not the beating itself, that reduces a human being to nothing. In the Leningrad, Sverdlovsk and Achinsk prisons, I frequently recalled the lines of 'Yosef and His Brothers' from the book by Thomas Mann. I remembered an episode of Yosef being bound and thrown into a pit. His very existence seemed unbearable. Well, what does it mean, unbearable, when you must bear it? Under any circumstances, we have to retain our PERSONALITIES".
I tried to describe Soviet legal procedures, using my case as an example. It helped my work that Irina had brought food, warm clothes and medicines but also legal reference books: the Criminal Code, the Legal Procedural Code and the Penal Code.
Neither Irina nor I had any specialized legal training but we approached the reading of these Codes just as we did any kind of regular scientific job to which we were accustomed. During the day, I was busy at the factory doing my communist compulsory labor while Irina was ploughing through the Codes, omitting no articles and copying references for me to quote. In the evening we sorted out together what she had written down.
Of course, we already understood that the whole Soviet system was based on proclaiming humanitarian laws while, at the same time, cynically violating them. But a human being tends to be naive while observing such a phenomenon from the outside. Our purpose was to attract the attention of Western lawyers and politicians to the plight of refuseniks in the USSR. For that we needed proven facts, backed up by documents. It was for this purpose that we were carrying out our laborious task.
As a result, we compiled our Protest with a detailed list of Articles from the Criminal, the Procedural, and the Penal Code of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, all of which had been violated in my case. Officially, I addressed that voluminous document of 44 pages to Rekunkov, Prosecutor General of the USSR.
No, we did not expect any mercy or justice from the Prosecutor General who was reaping the benefits of the Great October Revolution. Our protest would have brought nothing but renewed trouble to our family had we not managed to smuggle a copy out to the West.
Irina took a flight to Leningrad to see our children and carried all these documents on her person. Foreign tourists were visiting Leningrad, so sending the documents from there to the USA and the UK, and then to Israel was a mere technicality.
After a while, Michael Freed, a member of the American Supreme Court, became involved in my case. He reviewed all the paragraphs of my appeal and sent his "Petition for the Rehabilitation of Evgeny Lein" to the USSR Supreme Court. That document was formed in accordance with all the canons of legal scholarship.
For the time being, I was very much concerned with what was happening to my children who were living with my elderly parents. Irina visited them and returned to Chernogorsk a week later. She was afraid that the KGB would get rid of me with no witnesses around. She was not thinking of herself at all. "United we stand, divided we fall", - she kept repeating.
Wolves and sheep in one boat
Second Colonel Svintsov got a message from his bosses in Moscow about my Appeal.
- So you are making complaints over my head! - he shouted threateningly. He finished abruptly with a questioning tone: - Are you complaining about me?
- Why do you think that, Citizen in Chief? Here is the text of my appeal addressed to the USSR Prosecutor General. Neither your name nor your commandant's office are mentioned here. I have no complaints about you, so far.
Svintsov calmed down at once, shouting just once more for dramatic effect, and then let me go.
That Second Colonel Svintsov was an interesting character. He loved to repeat that he "had graduated from the Kremlin School of Political Advisers". Indeed, Svintsov could be distinguished from the primitively cruel majors who commanded other offices in Chernogorsk by his broad knowledge and, I would dare say, his intellect. He had probably done something wrong when serving in Moscow and had been sent to Siberia as a punishment. He was in charge of the special office, but, in essence, he was just a chemic like those he was supervising. And his position of supervisor, albeit commanding supervisor, was not a cushy job for him.
Petty offenders were not the only workers in the contingent he supervised. Those had committed some minor offense against the rules of socialist society. But there were also workers of another category. When amnesties were granted to some really dangerous criminals, they were released from locked camps and sent to do compulsory work at construction sites. Such criminals considered their life under the chemiya regime to be a temporary vacation. They terrorized the local population, robbed, raped and fled. Their hostels were like sewers - literally. Drunken orgies were routine there. They drank anything that could drive them insane, including lacquer fluid. They sabotaged the jobs to which they were sent.
One day I was at a meeting of the chemics in the commandant's office. The case of a carpentry team was being discussed. The bosses were trying to locate window frames, which had disappeared from the construction site. "Did you sell them to anyone? " It transpired that the construction parts had not been sold. The carpenters had used the frames for campfires. They burned the parts they had made with their own hands. "Well, it is better than being frozen to death", the carpenters reasoned. They were punished - everybody lost ten roubles out of his ridiculously small wage. "We shall steal - we have no other way out", - the carpenters boldly told the officers.
Svintsov was continually sending people to the zone but the locked camps were already overcrowded, so his superior tried to discourage him. They reproached him that his political indoctrination work of the exiles was insufficient. Second Colonel Svintsov hoped to return to Moscow sometime, so he did not want to make waves. It was for this reason he was so concerned about whether I was sending any complaints about him to Moscow. He was having enough trouble without the additional burden of political exiles to look after. All this served as a background to some sort of modus vivendi which was established between us. Svintsov kept his eye on me constantly but took no punitive measures against Irina or me without direct orders from Moscow.
December, January and February passed by, the severest winter months. Irina became accustomed to the Siberian winter. However, the one thing she failed to get accustomed to, it was the widely prevalent language of curses. Crude Russian language mat was heard freely on the streets and in people's homes, in stores and in the post office, in the presence of women and children. I suggested that Irina take it as an exotic local feature. One day our landlady's brother came to visit his sister. His every second word was a filthy swearword. Irina asked him not to use such words. He stared at her, puzzled. Our landlady chuckled. The guest sincerely wanted to behave himself but he was just unable to use any other language. So he went on talking about how much the Siberians liked the citizens of Leningrad, and he used whatever words came into his mouth. Irina invited me to go for a walk while the guest was expressing his feelings. But it was freezing cold and windy outdoors, so we came back after 15 minutes. Besides, it was getting dark and walking around in the dark was unsafe. The Chernogorski Rabochi (Worker) newspaper wrote on February 13, 1982, "The Municipal commission is constantly monitoring the consumption of electric power. The commission has decided to turn off street-lights and lights in store windows".
Under such a policy of strict measures for economizing electric power, crime increased dramatically. It became the norm to remain indoors, with locks well bolted. The authorities condoned what was going on because the terrorized population was not able to take political action. The hungry and deprived citizens of Chernogorsk kept a low profile. Only the Pentecostals dared to riot when the criminals murdered a girl from their community. The Pentecostals arranged a demonstration in front of the Executive Committee building.
The Pentecostal community in Chernogorsk was quite big and inclined to civil disobedience. At that time the Voice of America reported the story of Vashchenko, a member of that community, who had found asylum in the American Embassy in Moscow and was demanding freedom for his whole community to emigrate.
It was amazing how other citizens of Chernogorsk reacted to the Pentecostals' demonstration. "Well, our people are murdered every day and we don't hold demonstrations. They are protesting so loudly just because one girl from their community was stabbed". Women working at our factory spoke approvingly about the repression against Pentecostals. "The authorities sent a fire engine to their meeting. The windows of the house were broken and cold water was poured on the worshippers". And that was in the cold Siberian winter! Both the actions of the communist-fascist authorities and the attitude of the citizens horrified me. These women were following the Leninist axiom: "The end justifies the means".
Life was hard for the few Jews living in Chernogorsk. It was not uncommon to hear on a bus, "You, Kike swine, move your ass! "
I usually worked silently, while my colleagues, citizens native to the region, spent their time gossiping. Thus I got to know all the details of life in Chernogorsk. Many things seemed exotic to me. It was strange to hear women discuss the curative effect of dog fat. They regretted that the chemics had stolen and eaten their dog Julka. They were discussing what better use could have been made of their other dog, Sharik: a hat, a pair of mittens or fur shoes. If one had no dog of one's own, it was not a big sin to steal somebody else's dog. One man had a bitch. When she was on heat, she attracted all the male dogs in the neighborhood. That man had a profitable business killing the visiting male dogs - this was commonplace in the remote Russian provinces, but it was strange and alien to me.
"The Communist Party is our helmsman!"
(Communist propaganda cliche)
The severe Siberian winter was drawing to a close. The sun was already above the horizon and the air was heated during the daytime. The nights were cold, however, and pools were transformed into skating rinks. But there was no freezing wind any more - the approaching spring could be felt in the air.
Irina and I celebrated the Pesach of 5742 (1982) together, just the two of us, but our friends sent us dozens of letters and several food parcels from Leningrad, Moscow and even from Israel. The parcels were partly burglarized but the package of Matzoth, which Anatoly Ioffe sent, arrived intact.
On April 22nd, the whole Communist Empire, including Chernogorsk, celebrated the birthday of the "immortal" leader of the world proletariat, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. On that morning people came to work lazily for a few hours but waited enthusiastically for the free lunch distributed on such holidays. Enthusiastically, they went on celebrating, and celebration meant drinking.
The birthday celebrations in honor of the Great Incomparable Chief of the Revolution, the Founder of the Communist Party, continued for a week. Provincial Communist Party bosses replicated ceremonial meetings in the Kremlin. Speeches by the Kremlin leaders were read aloud at workers meetings. A serial movie entitled Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was produced in 26 episodes "which convincingly demonstrated the essence of the complex problems on which our scientific teams had been working for decades, refuting the anti-Communist lies". The name of Mikhail Gorbachev was mentioned at that time in the central newspaper Pravda (Truth). The new member of the CPSU Politburo, Gorbachev, "very strongly emphasized the importance of the Leninist style of management in the Party's work".
On May 1st another celebration was to take place throughout the country. It was International Labor Day. Millions of Soviet citizens in every city, town and village, without exception, performed their voluntary-compulsory marches to the central square to demonstrate their unity and dedication to the Communist Ideal.
The citizens of Chernogorsk were sent to march along the main street - first in one direction, then back again. Blood-colored banners and posters were mounted prominently with calls to eliminate the imperialists. Among these decorations, the internal troops were standing with their automatic rifles were aimed at the crowd. There was no doubt that they would shoot immediately if anything went wrong. The slogans were thundering around, "Long live our dear communist government! Glory to the Communist Party! "
The celebration was over and it was time to return to daily work. I anxiously awaited a response from the Prosecutor's Office about my appeal. I was preparing for the worst. Something was obviously going on around me; there were some very bad omens. One day Irina and I returned home and found a KGB officer waiting for us there. He was blind drunk, so I took him by the arm and showed him the way out without any further ado. It was only on the street that he understood what had happened. "Just you wait", he promised me. This was all somewhat frightening, I must say, but I refused to play their games.
There were also some funny incidents. One day we received a letter from the Moscow refusenik, Zhenya Schwarzman. The letter was very cordial and I was surprised when I read, "Evgeny, would it be O.K. if I sent you some pictures of naked girls? " I was puzzled at first, then understood that such pictures, together with Marlboro cigarettes, could be used for bribing policemen in the commandant's office. Irina and I burst out laughing.
The tension was still there, though. One day I came to the commandant's office for daily registration and saw an Oper from Achinsk prison there. That same officer who had transported me from Achinsk, cut my beard short and threatened to fuck me up if he ever saw me again. This time he was sober, but his conversation with a captain, second in command in the office, was loud enough for me to hear. They were discussing my complaint to the prosecutor's office about being held in Achinsk prison for 30 days, which exceeded the legal limit of 10 days. The law had obviously been violated in my case. Usually the transported prisoners are ignorant of these legalities, but even those aware of the laws do not protest, knowing only too well what the inevitable sad consequences will be. That Oper from Achinsk prison had just brought another transport of prisoners to Chernogorsk. Once in the town where I was being held, he sought an opportunity to sort me out. I got out of there as fast as I could to be on the safe side.
Irina visited Leningrad and Moscow for a short period again and brought back good news. Roald Zelichonok had told her that he was in constant touch with Jewish organizations in the West, and the attention of many politicians there was focused on our family. Irina brought back a letter from the Administrative Director of The New York Academy of Sciences, Morton Meyers:
"Dear Colleague: It gives me great pleasure to inform you that at the last Board of Governors meeting of The New York Academy of Sciences, you were elected to Active Membership... "
I clearly remember my feelings at that moment - I was extremely grateful to members of the Committee of Concerned Scientists and its co-chairs, Joel L. Lebowitz and Paul Plotz, who participated in the seminar of refusenik-scientists in December 1978 and in April 1980. They had clearly not forgotten their colleagues in the Soviet Union.
What will the coming day bring me?
I was still being held under the chemiya regime in Chernogorsk. On the other hand, they did not send me to the zone, despite their threats. Moreover, answers to my appeals began to arrive from the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, addressed to the commandant in Chernogorsk.
Brizitskaya, Deputy Head of the Supervision Department wrote:
"Your complaints have been considered... The Prosecutor has applied to the Justice Department of the Leningrad Executive Committee in order to draw the judge's attention to the fact that there have been some violations of the Criminal and Procedural Codes".
Another response read: "It was found that the people's Court of Law had indeed violated Article 320 of the Procedural Code"... "I hereby advise you that your complaint of being detained too long in Enterprise IZ-19/3 (the prison in Achinsk) has been verified by the Prosecutor's Office. The facts were confirmed".
What I had accomplished was hard to believe - the Prosecutor's office had answered my complaint and even admitted the fact that the law had been violated.
There can be no doubt about the omnipotence of the KGB and the futility of raising any objection or filing any complaint. But something made the Soviet authorities cancel the death sentences on former prisoners of Zion Kuznetsov and Dymshitz, and reduce the sentences of Yosef Mendelevich and Arie Knokh! What caused the KGB in the 1980's to become more moderate and quash dozens of other Jewish cases?
I think there were two main reasons: firstly, the strength and courage of the victims who dared to follow the "don't trust them, don't be afraid of them, don't beg for mercy" principle. Secondly, support from the West. As early as 1975, Leonid Brezhnev signed the Helsinki Agreements on Human Rights. He did that, not because he intended to abide by them, but in order to use pacifist forces in the West against their own democratic governments. However, Brezhnev got caught up in the long and painful process that resulted in the disintegration of the Soviet totalitarian system. The necessity of promoting her pacifist image caused the USSR to behave moderately when trials of dissidents or Jews became known in the West.
The smuggling of my protests to the West played a considerable and positive role in determining my fate. When I complained of violations in general, such as the one-sided investigation or the inhuman conditions in jail, my protests were mostly ignored. But it was difficult for the Prosecutor's Office when I cited the violation of the permitted procedural schedule.
It was also significant that, while my case was concocted by the KGB, my protests went to the Interior Ministry. The rivalry between the Interior Ministry and the KGB was an open secret. The Interior Ministry officials were not eager to do the KGB's dirty work. The KGB supervisor in Leningrad had wanted to hurt me more and sent me to serve the chemiya 4,000 miles away from home. But there I had an opportunity to address officials in Moscow directly, circumventing the filter in Leningrad. The Prosecutor's Office in Moscow sent my protests to their subordinates in Leningrad ordering them to make inquiries. The structure of Soviet bureaucracy was such that a complaint from below could be ignored but not one from above. Besides, there was competition amongst the officials. A prosecutor was very often reluctant to cover for a colleague. He always gloated and took delight in colleagues' problems.
For some reason or another the Prosecutor's Office admitted to violating five (!) Articles of the Criminal Procedural Code. Under Soviet law, my sentence should have been canceled for this reason alone, but for them to have canceled my sentence would have been too much. They wanted to save face under any circumstances. That was why all the replies from the Prosecutor's Office contained a phrase, "...but that event (violating the law) did not significantly violate your rights".
The KGB in Leningrad understood that they had made a serious mistake by sending me beyond their reach, and they decided to correct it. I was summoned to the commandant's office and told that later that month "cases of some chemics would be reviewed for release 'on probation'. Your case has been presented to the commission for such review".
I could hardly believe it. I thought it was a psychological attack on me before sending me to the zone. Irinas's opinion was different - she believed we would win. We only agreed on the fact that some decision had been made. But what was the decision? Life or death?
The strain on us both was terrible while waiting for the review board to convene. Heads of special commandants' offices and other officials gathered from all over the district. The procedure required the prisoner to repent, swearing that he would never again violate the law. I heard them patronizingly reproach one domushnik, a house burglar. "It is the third time that you promise not to steal anymore, and each time you go on stealing". The domushnik promised, "This is the last time", and was pardoned.
Then came my turn.
- Now tell us, how did you hit the policeman and tear off his epaulet.
- I did not hit the policeman. Actually, I was sentenced for my desire to emigrate to Israel.
Their reaction was abrupt. A police commissioner shouted:
- He has not repented! Get him out of here!
A lecturer of the Communist Party's Town Committee leaped forward:
- So you are going to leave for Israel. Well, tell us what is your attitude to the aggression of worldwide Zionism and to Begin's party.
I was stupid enough to answer:
- Why are you concentrating on Begin so much? What about "your" man in Israel - Meir Vilner, chairman of their Communist Party? He was awarded the Order of the October Revolution.
They lost their tempers for a second. Suddenly, a small man in plain clothes raised his hand. Nobody seemed to notice him until then; he had just been sitting in the corner silently. Now everybody shut up.
- Comrades, we are not interested in citizen Lein's personal views. He was sentenced for resisting the authorities, and that Article contains a clause allowing his release on probation. Who votes for that? Unanimous!
On May 31, 1982 the second trial took place, repeating the procedure described above. The only difference was that in order to avoid confusion, they asked me no questions. The verdict was: "Lein Evgeny, already sentenced to two years probation under Article 191/2, should be released on probation".
Their logic could twist one's mind; why should I even need to be released if I had been put on probation, according to my original sentence? And if the words "on probation" were themselves ignored by KGB and I had already served my term in real prisons and at real corrective labor facilities in Siberia, did the words "released on probation" mean probation or something else? However, at that moment the verdict meant that I could return to Leningrad. They gave me an official document confirming that I was no longer registered with the Chernogorsk commandant's office, and we, Irina and I, ran to book our flight.
At peace with myself
The long-awaited moment finally arrived - our plane approached the escalator carrying passengers to the airport arrivals hall. The engines were switched off. The hostess announced:
- Our flight has landed in the Heroic City of Leningrad, at Pulkovo airport. Good bye.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty, and the passengers were not allowed to disembark. The hostess took the microphone and said in a perplexed tone:
- Citizens, passengers, return to your seats and fasten your seat belts.
The engines started up again and the plane rolled along a concrete runway, following a car with a sign Follow me. We were cruising for a long time until we found ourselves in some distant part of the airport. Irina and I heard two hostesses complaining:
- What sins have they driven us here for?
Finally, a ladder was pushed to the exit hatch. Again the hostess took the microphone:
- Citizens, prepare your passports and make your way to the exit one by one.
Obviously, something unusual was happening. The passengers became anxious. Suddenly, a man who had been sitting behind us stood up and shouted in a commanding voice:
- Citizens, stay calm. The aim of this operation is your safety.
Two plainclothes men were standing by the ladder checking the passengers' passports. This all looked so threatening that some passengers turned pale. I looked out of the window and saw a black Volga car. Oh, they are after us again. Kind-hearted Irina suggested going ahead of all the other passengers to spare them the torture of this procedure. But I did not want to take any part in that scenario. We approached the exit in turn and were grabbed at once. They needed no documents to recognize us. The luggage hatch was already open and our rucksacks were off the plane. Imagine! They were not lazy; they had searched through the entire luggage compartment of a Tupolev-154 plane that carried 250 passengers, though it was more likely that our rucksacks had been stored separately when the luggage had been loaded onto the plane. They pushed us into the black Volga car and sped from the airport to the city. The car was running along the special lane on Moscow Prospect that was reserved for top officials. I was sure I was under arrest again and I prayed to G-d at least for them not to touch Irina.
But what was it? The car passed downtown Leningrad, but continued out onto Engels Prospect. After passing Poklonnaya Mountain I realized that we were approaching our home. I was right. The car stopped at the entrance to our house. They pushed us out and said:
- No meetings or gatherings with the Jews, or else!
We went up to our floor but found that door locked. Neither our daughter and our son nor our parents were in. They must have been at the airport waiting for us to arrive. We had no door key. Well, we decided to get some fresh air in front of the house after what we had been through. Time was passing but there was no sign of our relatives or friends. We saw our neighbor who had helped Irina to obtain cereals and canned food before her departure to Chernogorsk. We greeted him, but the color drained from his face. He was afraid to speak to us out in the open. Eventually, a taxi stopped nearby and our son and daughter rushed to embrace us.
It turned out that they had, indeed, been waiting at the airport to meet us, together with several dozen other Jews, holding flowers for us.
Waiting for Lein's arrival. Pulkovo Airport. Leningrad, July 6th, 1982
Our flight arrival was not announced. There was no information about delaying the flight either. Everybody waited patiently. It was three hours after we landed that they found out that the flight had actually arrived on time. My daughter ran to the airport police and asked:
- Where are Evgeny and Irina Lein? They were on the passenger list.
The policeman winked meaningfully:
- Try looking for them at home.
Well, the Leningrad KGB managed to prevent the welcome ceremony for the outcasts, traitors and criminals. But they had not won. If the KGB was so afraid of Jews coming to the airport with flowers, our cause was not lost.
"No meetings or gatherings with the Jews, or else! " The last words of the KGB officer were imprinted on my brain. What nonsense! That same night, refuseniks gathered at our home. The joy of victory united us, giving us hope that our hopeless venture would succeed.
That was on June 6, 1982. By midnight, our friends had left, and in the morning we learned that the Israeli army had begun an operation against the PLO gangs in Lebanon.
From the History of
the Jewish Movement
What Was Written
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