A Jew behind the Looking-Glass
Translated from Russian
We Have to Leave the USSR
In 1979, with a delay of two years, I realized that the USSR was moving to a sharp decline in its economy. According to the Russian-Soviet tradition, Jews would be blamed for that. I feared the repetition of the Doctors' Plot [an anti-Semitic campaign of 1951-1953, in which a group of predominately Jewish doctors was accused of trying to assassinate Soviet leaders - translator's note] and I even thought it possible that the Soviet leadership could wage an atomic war to justify the fall of the population's standard of living.
I saw emigration from the USSR as the only way out for our family and spoke with Anya about it. At first she got scared, but in a couple of days she agreed that there was no other way out from the situation to come. We had warm feelings towards Israel. We followed all the news concerning Israel, felt happy for its victory in 1967 and worried for it in 1973. But we saw it as another Soviet bloc country, with obligatory common opinion for everyone and limited personal freedom. We wanted to leave the USSR for the free world, and our original direction was the USA. Having the USA as the would-be destination was a piece of luck for me, since it made me study English. We learned with a private tutor. Anya had studied English before and she had a knack for learning languages. I tried to compensate for my lack of talent for languages by being a diligent student. I developed for myself methods of learning that allowed me to learn the language all the time and under all kinds of circumstances. Learning English became an obsession with me. Without these constant efforts, I would not have reached the level that is necessary for working in Israel.
We could emigrate from the USSR only with an invitation from Israel. In 1979, the family of Anya's cousin were leaving the country, and we asked them to arrange an invitation for us. After a couple of months we received a parcel from abroad with a synthetic fur coat. This was a sure sign that the invitation had been sent, but we did not get it. For two years invitations from Israel were being sent, but they were never delivered to us. In the spring of 1981 the pressure of the invitations that were being sent broke the wall of prohibition, and within one week we received five invitations. As the rule at that time demanded, we addressed the Visas Department with a request to permit us to file an application for leaving the country. For this preliminary handing in we only needed an invitation and our application. We were refused. We complained to various bodies and in the end they allowed us to submit all the documents for the request to leave the Soviet Union.
Among the required documents, there were official letters from "next of kin" who live in the USSR testifying that they did not object to our emigration. When people sighed these certificates, they confirmed that they did not oppose our unpatriotic decision and what was even more unacceptable for the authorities, that they knew that they might have family abroad. This behavior could cause a negative reaction on the part of the authorities towards these people. All our relatives signed these documents. I would like to point out the admirable and deserving respect behavior of my step brother Grisha Dorfman. At the time when we applied to leave, he was the only one of our closest relatives who had a classified job. There were many cases when relatives of would-be emigrants were denied security clearances, which led to their demotion and even dismissal from their jobs. Grisha signed the document without any objections. Later, after my hunger strike and one-man demonstration (described below), the KGB tried to force him to bring influence to bear upon me, so that I would stop every activity aimed at the right to leave the USSR. Grisha refused, even under threats to deprive him of the opportunity to continue his work. The KGB did not take any measures against him. He later told me that he had participated in developing light-guides for communication that is protected against intercepting, and the KGB was greatly interested in his work.
In December 1981 we were denied permission to leave the USSR. The explanation was a standard "contrary to the interests of the state". Like everyone else who was denied the right to leave the USSR, we were called "refuseniks" since then.
The Hunger Strike that I Did not Want
Among the documents required by the Visas Department there were certificates from the work places stating that the employers agreed to our leaving the country. These certificates were not given to us and we, like the majority of other applicants, were forced to quit our jobs. After being refused the right to emigrate, we had to find jobs of any kind. During the first year I worked as a "travelling" technician for balancing large ventilation fans at chemical plants. I would come to the plant, live in the workers' hostel and wait until they stopped production and let me do the balancing. I had a lot of spare time for learning the language and reading. I had to be assigned to these plants and could get home only on rare occasions and illegally. It is illegal to be down for a business trip and not to be on the spot. Besides, the work was physically hard and it was on height, so when I started having backaches I quit the job for reasons of health. While I was going round plants, Anya started to earn some money teaching English privately, and I joined her when I returned to Leningrad. I gradually went into translating from English, privately, and also tutoring in Mathematics and Physics, doing tests for correspondence students and writing the mathematical part for other people's theses. The clientele grew and I was making more money than when I was head of laboratory. Knowledge of English allowed us to read books on Jewish history, traditions, ethics, philosophy, and also books about Israel. We gradually came to the conclusion that we wanted to live in the Jewish state and that if they ever let us go, we would go to Israel.
At the same time, I was looking for a job in my specialty. I wanted to find work with computers. First of all, it was interesting, secondly, an experience like this could help me in Israel, if they ever let us go. The demand for such specialists was great in Leningrad. I tried several vacancies and also registered with the Employment Office, but nobody agreed to employ me. Even those rare enterprises that were ready to accept a Jew, refused to do so when they saw the sudden demotion from Head of Laboratory to a regulation technician in my work record and realized that I was a refusenik.
The Soviet propaganda always emphasized the absence of unemployment in the country. When I lost hope for finding a job in a regular way, I started writing complaints to various Soviet and party organizations. As a result, they called me to the City Party Committee. "What do you want? - they asked. "Just one thing - that when the Employment Office sends me to fill a vacancy and the enterprise refuses to give me the job, they would fill in the "reason for refusing" in the warrant blank. They do it even for the worst drunkards" - I answered. They were surprised at my naivety and explained: "A drunkard is a Soviet citizen, a patriot, while you are a traitor because you seek to leave the country". Then I wrote a letter to the Supreme Soviet that if I did not get a job in the nearest three months, I would start a hunger strike.
The only response for my letter was a summons to Public Prosecutor's Office where they made me sign a warning of criminal liability for "parasitic way of life". The warning stated that if I did not start working within three months, I could be sentenced by a court of law to three years of deprivation of freedom. Fortunately, I read the warning to the end. It included an entry about my right to turn for help to the militia, which was obliged to find me a job within a month. I went to the militia. They sent me to an officer for employment who at once gave me several advertisements where specialists in computers were wanted. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, I called the advertisers from the officer's room, and he listened to the talks from another telephone. I started with talking about my education and work experience, and often I was asked to come at once. After that I would give them my name, and the tone of the talk would change at once. In the best case, they asked me for my phone number, but never called back. The time that was allotted me for finding employment was coming to an end. I had not found any work and I asked the Prosecutor's Office to extend the time. They turned down my request, and I was compelled to start a hunger strike.
Fearing an arrest, I sent abroad a detailed description of my job hunt and of my hunger strike. The hunger strike was "wet", that is, I drank clear water but did not eat any food. To confirm that was fasting, every two or three days I went to a paid medical service clinic [medical service was free in the Soviet Union, but there was a number of "paid clinics" which demanded fees for their service - translator's note] to have a blood test done. The first days of the fast were the most difficult. On the ninth day of the hunger strike I had a telephone call and an invitation to come from the district KGB committee. A KGB officer met Anya and me and after a short talk in the style "you, what do you want", he took us to the room of the head of the local department. The boss started with the question "Do you know who sat here, at my place, in 1937? Who shot innocent Russians?" and he answered it by himself naming several apparently Jewish names. Then he passed to our affairs and asked: "Why are you going on a hunger strike if the year 1984 is nearing?" Seeing our perplexed faces he told us that we were refused the right to leave the country until 1984, at the request of my mother's working place. My mother did not intend to go with us, nor did she ask for permission to emigrate. She had worked the whole of her life at a strictly civilian, non-military plant "Sevkabel", and she had retired several years before our applying for a visa in 1981. She later explained to us what the reason for her plant's demand could be. The party boss of the plant had been courting her, and when she had refused him, he had promised to revenge.
I was surely ready to stop the hunger strike immediately if we would be allowed to leave in the beginning of 1984. But the officer who was accompanying us said that he had looked into the matter and got a negativeanswer because the state was not interested in our leaving the country. The head of the KGB department promised to resolve the problem of my employment in the next few days, but he demanded that I stop the hunger strike immediately. I promised to stop the hunger strike at once after the paperwork for the new job was finished and signed. Five days later I was accepted for work at the computing center of the hosiery factory "Krasnyi Oktyabr", and I started exiting the fast.
How I Closed the Isaakiyevskaya Square
Since the beginning of 1984 we already knew that there were no reasons, even formal and made-up, to keep us in the USSR. On the other hand, I was afraid that after the authorities helped me to find employment they would assume that I gave up the fight for the right of emigration. To prove that the opposite was true I decided to hold a one-man demonstration. On one of winter evenings I came to Isaakiyevskaya Square, climbed the steps to Nikolay I monument and put on myself a poster saying "Free me of the Soviet citizenship". A police officer came up to me, asked for my inner passport, checked it and said: "Go away from my zone, demonstrate where you live, in Petrogradskaya neighborhood". I explained to him that it was in this square that the highest organ of power in Leningrad, Lengorsoviet, was situated. The cop said something into his walkie-talkie, and entry of transport to the square from all the streets was closed. In a couple of minutes, a police car came and they took me to the nearest police station. I spent several hours there in the "monkey cage", a detention room with bars instead of one of the walls. Then they took me to a room where a KGB man was waiting for me. This man explained to me that neither our personal circumstances, nor our activity can influence decisions of allowing us to leave the USSR. This was a question of the state policy and it depended only on the interests of the state. If needed, he said, we will go to every family, pack their things and take them away. After the talk they returned my passport to me and let me go.
The KGB Produces Zionists
One day we got a phone call from a man who spoke Russian with a heavy American accent. He was a student who had come to Leningrad to learn Russian. He had asked immigrants from the USSR in New York - who he could talk with in Leningrad for practicing Russian They had made it clear to him that a normal Soviet citizen would not socialize with an American, only the refuseniks would do so. This is how he obtained our telephone number from our friends. He turned out to be a very nice and communicative young man. We saw him several times, part of the time we spoke Russian for him to practice it, and part of the time we spoke English, for our benefit. He told us that his father had left his brother and him a pig farm, his brother was managing the farm and sending him money. He was learning Russian only out of curiosity. His sole connection with Jews was his mother-in-law, whom he characterized as "a culinary Jewess". Cooking was probably the only Jewish tradition with her.
One day he called and suggested to meet on Sunday. We invited him to come to a dacha that we were renting in Roshchino. We also wanted him to meet the family of my former classmate Osya Abramson, who also wanted to leave the USSR. We arranged to meet at the Roshchino railway station. Anya with Masha, who was nine at that time, and Osya with his ten-year old son went to meet him. Boria and I stayed in the dacha to study for his entrance exams. Soon the children ran back shouting: "Everyone got arrested!"
An hour later Anya and Osya came, and they told us the following story: when they met our guest at the platform, a black Volga suddenly appeared from nowhere. All the four doors of the car opened and four men in black suits came out of it. The men introduced themselves as KGB workers and took everyone to the nearest police station. They then let the children go and interrogated the adults separately. It turned out that Roshchino was situated farther from Leningrad than foreigners were allowed to go to. The watchful KGB men asked the detainees where and for what they were planning to go. The answer that they intended to go for a walk in the pine tree forest apparently did not satisfy them. In the end, they freed Anya and Osya, but they took the American to the city, made him pay a rather heavy fine and leave the USSR within forty-eight hours. Before his departure, the American came to us and said that immediately after returning he would contact organizations that were fighting for the right of Soviet Jews to leave the USSR and would actively participate in their work.
I do not know if the KGP reported that thanks to bugging our telephone they managed to reveal an anti-Soviet conspiracy, but they undoubtedly could congratulate themselves on one thing. They succeeded in turning a politically indifferent American student into an active fighter for the right of Soviet Jews to leave the country.
A Blow on my Son
Borya passed the entrance examinations with good grades and was admitted to LITMO. Already a student, he was called to wash the windows in the institute, as was widely accepted. A couple of days later the secretary of the selection committee Ochin Ye. F. invited Borya for a talk. Ochin said that Borya could not study at LITMO since his family wanted to leave the USSR. He promised to transfer Borya to another institute, but for that Borya was to sign a letter of refusal to study in LITMO. Borya was sixteen and he was not yet used to see nice civilized people who lied right to his face. He signed the letter. After that they declared that they were not going to have anything to do with him. It was a shock for Borya. I needed to support him and comfort him. Unfortunately, our existence in a totally hostile milieu made such heavy demands on a sixteen year old boy that he could not stand. I was angry with him, and now, after many years have passed, I regret it. We tried to get a document of the exams that Borya had passed and the grades he got for entering another educational institution. Contrary to all Soviet laws, LITMO refused to give us a document like this. We talked with Ochin, and he said that it was not his initiative, but instructions from his superiors. Anya and I went to LITMO's principal, professor G.N. Dulnev, whom I knew since my student years as an honest scientist. Dulnev showed us regulations for educational institutions for higher learning, which stated that the primary aim of these institutions was moulding young people into Soviet patriots.
It was already too late to take examinations for day-time classes of another institute. Borya entered a vocational technical school and the night classes of the Polytechnic Institute. He sometimes suffered from acute stomachaches, and medical examination found an ulcerous disease. The army medical commission exempted him of obligatory military service. After my arrest, of which I will write later, the police took Borya from classes and drove him to a military hospital. At first they confirmed the diagnosis. When Anya came to see Borya, she heard by chance a man in civilian clothes demanding from doctors to change the diagnosis. He justified it by the necessity to sever the young man from his unpatriotic family and re-educate him in the army. The diagnosis was changed and they sent Borya to serve in a construction battalion. Most soldiers in these units were former criminals and young people from Moslem republics. In Borya's file, which was sent to all the places where he served, the emphasis was on the necessity to re-educate him as a Soviet citizen. Some officers and soldiers saw their patriotic duty to make Borya's service as hard as possible.
Article 190-1 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR
In 1983 we got acquainted with Alik (Roald) and Galya Zelichonok, who were also refused the right to emigrate. Alik taught Hebrew and our whole family started attending his lessons. Besides our family, there were other refuseniks among the students. Soon we became friends with Alik and Galya. In Zelichonoks' apartment a seminar of refuseniks was held, and people were invited to deliver lectures on Jewish history and art. From the beginning we decided to avoid topics connected with the Soviet power and our time. Sometimes visitors from abroad came to us. They strove to support us, they told us about organizations and groups of people that were striving to help us to receive permissions to leave the USSR. They also brought Hebrew textbooks and books on Jewish history. With some of them we exchanged letters after their visit. Through them, we sometimes sent group addresses to different foreign social and governmental bodies with requests to help us in obtaining permissions to leave the USSR. The very fact that the state was forcibly keeping its citizens within its borders without any explanation presented the "most humane system in the world" in its true light. The Soviet authorities decided to stop this using their habitual method of intimidation. For this goal they chose Alik Zelichonok and me.
Since the end of 1984 our letters abroad ceased to reach the addressees. We sent most of these letters by registered mail, so we started submitting inquiry requests to the post office. In answer to those requests each of us received an official letter which stated that the main purpose of the post office was strengthening of the Soviet system, while the contents of our letters contradicted this purpose. As far as I know, these answers for the first time in a long period of time officially confirmed the fact of opening and perlustrating of letters of people whose lives could negatively characterize the Soviet system. We realized that the authorities would not stop at this acknowledgement and were expecting further punitive measures.
Alik was arrested in the middle of June 1985. He was charged under Article 190-1 with "fabricating considerations known to be false, which defame the Soviet political and social system". The charge was grounded on his private letters abroad. Simultaneously, they held searches in their apartment and in ours and disconnected our telephones. At our place, they confiscated all the books that had been published outside of the USSR, including textbooks and Hebrew and English dictionaries, and also tape recorder cassettes. Everyone was expecting my arrest, and my friends insisted on my leaving town. Jews who tried to help us from abroad were also expecting my arrest. One of them, a lawyer from the USA, asked my permission to take up my case if I were arrested. This is how I got an American lawyer.
I took several days off at work, for working on holidays, with my annual leave following straight after that, and we left for the South with Masha. Borya had left for the Caucasus with a hiking group even earlier. Until the train moved several dozens of kilometers off Leningrad, we were not at all sure that they would let us go. Our apprehensions were not ungrounded. Anya's mother, Mints Berta Fridmanovna, lived separately from us. On the day after our departure she went to our apartment. On the landing a man in civilian clothes was standing in front of our door. He produced a police ID and said that he wanted Vladimir Lifshits. Berta Fridmanovna said that I had gone on a holiday with my family and that she did not know where to. The militia man demanded that she let him in. He left when he saw for himself that we had really gone. I was lucky again. The KGB knew when I could take my annual leave but they did not know about the time off.
Three weeks later I received a letter from Galya Zelichonok with the date of the trial on which the defense asked me to be present as a witness. I returned to Leningrad and spoke at the trial. I said that Alik had never talked about the Soviet social and political system. Moreover, he had always emphasized that people who decided to leave a country should not try to change it. This was absolutely true, but the contents of my speech did not prevent the prosecution from writing in the sentence that the evidence of Lifshits confirmed Zelichonok's guilt. No one arrested me. I later learned that in the Soviet planned economy there were also yearly plans for imprisonments of different kinds of criminals. Probably during my absence the plan for our group was fulfilled. It turned out later that I was planned for the next year, 1986.
After Alik's trial, we decided to go on with the Hebrew classes and the seminar. We moved everything to our apartment. We decided to dedicate the seminar to Jewish history only and to make it an open event. We spread through our friends the schedule of the seminars and the information that anyone who chose to attend could do so. Even before Alik's arrest we organized celebrations of Jewish holidays for children, and we continued this tradition after his arrest, too.
I was arrested at my workplace on January 8 1986 and taken to the interrogation at once. They simultaneously searched our apartment and my workplace. A young investigator from the counsel for prosecution, Pristanskov Vladimir Dmitrievich, conducted the interrogation. He informed me that I was charged, like Alik had earlier been, under Article 190-1, with "fabricating considerations known to be false, which defame the Soviet political and social system". The grounds for the charge were my letters abroad, which the post office opened and perlustrated. Since I had been expecting the arrest, I had worked out my course of conduct in advance. I asked Pristanskov to point out the facts in my letters that the prosecution sees as false, so that I would be able to prove their truthfulness. He refused to do so. Moreover, I saw that he was sincerely surprised with my requests. Time and again he explained to me that the law stood at defending the state, so any fact that could negatively characterize the Soviet system was in its nature false, and this did not need any checking out. The only thing that he wanted to confirm in the interrogation was that I was the author of those letters. Later, already in Israel, I read in the Internet about his high positions in various law schools after the dissolution of the USSR. At the time of writing these notes he is professor of criminal processing and criminology of the State University of St. Petersburg. Hopefully, for the good of Russia, he teaches his students a more correct attitude to law.
At the end of the interrogation he offered to take to my wife my request concerning the attorney for the defense and asked me to sign the document confirming that I was informed of my rights. The answers to these questions I had also devised in advance. I did not believe that a Soviet lawyer could defend me against political charges and checked it out beforehand and found out that according to the Soviet law a defendant was allowed to hire a foreign lawyer. I wrote to Anya that I refused to deal with a Soviet lawyer and asked her to find a Dutch lawyer since Holland was then presenting the interests of Israel in the USSR. In a couple of weeks a foreigner came to her and told her that a Dutch international law advocate was asking her to sign her consent to his presenting my case. After leaving the USSR we met that lawyer. He turned out to be a non-Jew who had volunteered to take up my case for free out of curiosity - to know what was behind all the cries of democratization and perestroika in the USSR. In this way, I also got a Dutch advocate. Both lawyers, the American one and the Dutch one, requested entry visas for participating in the proceedings, but got no answers. They conducted my case from abroad. As to the document confirming that I was informed of my rights, I agreed to sign it only after they allowed Anya to send me books on the Criminal Code and Civil Procedure Code of the RSFSR. They brought me those books when I was already in prison, and at the second interrogation I signed the document.
I spent the first night in the detention cell where several dozens of people slept scattered on the floor. In the morning they took me and several other detainees to the Leningrad prison Arial, "Kresty". They searched us thoroughly and took away watches, wallets with money, belts and shoelaces. After that, they gave each prisoner a mattress and bedclothes and took us to our cells. They put me into the "pencil case". This was a cement cubicle two or three square meters in size, with a board for sitting which is built into a wall. After sitting in the "pencil case" for a long time, they took me to my cell. "Kresty" is a remand prison, which means that prisoners are kept there until the court's decision. A cell in "Kresty" is a room about 12 to15 square meters in size. It has two rows of three prison beds (shkonkas), one above the other, a sink and a toilet. As a rule, there are more that six prisoners in a cell, so some of them do not have shkonkas of their own and they spread their mattresses on the floor for night. There are three meager meals a day. The food is disgusting. Every prisoner is entitled to one parcel of a kilo weight and one purchase for the sum up to ten rubles a month, if money was transferred to his account from the "free world" and if he did not have reprimands during the month that had passed. Together with the parcel, the prisoner receives the list of the contents that the sender had complied, so he is able to know what was stolen from the parcel. They always steal, but you cannot complain.
Anya's Hard Choice
In my first cell the boss was a young guy. He met me friendly. He freed a lower shkonka for me, driving its owner on the floor. He explained to me that all the inmates there were drug addicts who for a doze of their drug were ready to cooperate with the administration in everything. He himself had served in Afghanistan and was doing time for a fight in the street. When he heard the article with which I was charged he said that he also hated the Soviet power and showed me anti-Soviet verse in his notebook. I tried to explain to him that the Soviet power interested me only in respect to a permission to leave, the rest was the business of those who stayed there. These talks continued for two days. On the third day he started with sudden attacks of rage towards other inmates. They did not relate to me, so I did not interfere. His violent punch in the head was totally unexpected. I came to in the prison hospital. Doctors told me that I had a severe brain concussion. A prison Operations Officer came to me. He demanded that I give him the name of the person who had hit me or sign a paper that I had fallen from my shkonka. I refused and did neither, stating that I had not seen the man who had hit me (a lie) and that I could not fall down because my shkonka was the lower one.
On the next day they transferred me from hospital to another cell. This cell was close to the center of the cross where the guards' booth was situated. The six constant prisoners in this cell were lots more decent than in the first one. Sometimes new inmates came but these temporary prisoners slept on the floor. I was kept in this cell until the trial. After the transfer from hospital, they immediately called me for an interrogation. Pristankov wanted to close the investigation with this interrogation. He was in a hurry to prepare documents for the trial, so he brought an advocate with him, even though in the Soviet Union advocates are not allowed to see defendants before the end of the investigation. Anya had employed the advocate Ostrovsky against my will. This decision of hers was the right one, and her choice was really good. Ostrovsky had not long before been demobilized from the army where he had been an army lawyer. He believed that the law was to be respected and obeyed. I warned him at once that at the trial I would decline his service and take the defense upon myself. He replied that he could be relinquished only by Anya, his employer, or the court. He only asked me that when I refuse to accept his service in court, I should clarify if I was doing this because of his personal traits of out of general considerations. I certainly did it. I refused to answer Pristankov's questions pleading severe headache after the brain concussion as a result of the assault in the cell. The advocate heard my story of the assault and retold it to Anya later.
Anya had to take a very difficult decision - whether to convey this information abroad or not to do so. Some of our friends tried to convince her that she should not send this information abroad. They feared that this "defamation" would bring retaliation against her, the children or myself. Anya took a different decision. She told about it to an American Jewish organization and our two foreign lawyers. No repressive measures against Anya or the children were taken. During all the time of my imprisonment different kinds of pressure were put on me, both by the administration and by the prisoners who cooperated with it, but I felt that there was a clear instruction not to beat me. After coming to Israel, I found out that in connection with the assault in "Kresty" on me a harsh letter of protest, which was signed by several senators and congressmen of the USA, was sent to the Soviet authorities.
The Soviet Court Is the Most Just
In the beginning of February Pristankov finished the investigation and let me read the open part of my file. It contained my letters, without any explanations of what was known to be false in them, the records of my interrogations and the interrogations of more than a score of witnesses. All the witnesses were refuseniks; I did not know many of them and judging from their answers, they did not know me either. I think that these interrogations were a part of the cowing. All the people who were interrogated answered Pristankov calmly, with self-respect, some even with humor, and they denied any anti-Soviet fabrications on my part. The only exclusion was the record of the interrogation of Haim (Yefim) Blyakhman. Haim, a professor of physics, a very pleasant and cultured man, had learned Hebrew under Alik together with us. In his testimony I was accused of everything, from anti-Soviet propaganda to Zionist incitement. His answers were written in the poor language of the Soviet propaganda, so different from his usual speech. I think that somebody else had worded this, but it bore his signature. In the indictment, he was down as a witness for the trial, but he did not speak at the trial. I found out later that he had obtained a permission to leave before the trial, and had left for the USA. I am sure that with his purposefulness and lack of scruples he succeeded there very well. On the other hand, the KGB/the FSS [Federal Security Service - translator's note] , under the threat of revealing compromising material, uses these people to the end of their lives.
At the last interrogation Pristankov warned me that my sentence was predetermined, but the place and conditions of my imprisonment would depend on my behavior at the trial. In spite of Pristankov's haste in transferring my file to the court at the very beginning of February, the trial was held only on March 19. The advocate explained to me that this delay happened because the judge who received my case at the beginning refused to work with it. My new judge was the chairman of the city court Poludnyakov Vladimir Ivanovich, and this assignment did not conform to his post, with the maximal punishment of three years, according to the charge. His career after the dispersal of the USSR is significant. In 1993 he was elected a lifetime chairman of St. Petersburg's city court, received the highest judicial rank and the title of honorific lawyer of Russian Federation, was a professor of the Leningrad University and wrote a number of books on law. It looks like the demand for judges who are ready to pass a predetermined, ready-made sentence remained very high.
My books on law allowed me to get well prepared for the trial. The explanations for Article 190-1 straightforwardly stated that the article did not apply to criticism of the Soviet system. In order to apply it they had to prove that the author's statements were false; moreover, that the author knew them to be false from the start. The investigation did not even try to prove these things.
On the way to the courtroom, I saw many of our refusenik friends in the corridors. Inside the courtroom there were few of them. The room was packed with total strangers. At the beginning of the sitting I asked to discharge the advocate and allow me to defend myself. The court refused, and this was a grave mistake on their part. My objections, and especially references to different points of Soviet jurisdiction could always be found doubtful, since they were subjective and unprofessional. A totally different thing was a presentation by a Soviet lawyer, who realized that the Soviet authorities, including the KGB, would make him answer for every word in my defense. He demonstrated by facts that the investigation had not proved the charge under Article 190-1. At the end of his speech he told about hostile actions of capitalist states, including Israel, and finished his oration with these words (exact quotation): "But the struggle for Soviet patriotism, against instances of nationalism has to stay within the framework of the law. And when criminal charge is necessary, it has to be thoroughly checked out, otherwise it can be counterproductive for our state's position. I request you to acquit the defendant for absence of offence".
His argumentation was so convincing that some optimistic refuseniks said to Anya that I would be freed right in the courtroom. But of course, it had no impact on the sentence. I was convicted and sentenced to three years of imprisonment. But the trial was not useless. Two refuseniks managed to record with tiny tape recorders that they hid in their sleeves everything that was said in the courtroom. After the trial Anya, with the help of some friends, transcribed the recording and had it taken abroad. On the basis of this recording, our American and Dutch lawyers wrote protests to the Soviet Prosecutor's Office and the Supreme Soviet. It certainly could not help me personally, but it did support the international pressure on the Soviet authorities for allowing the Jews leave the country.
After the trial, they brought me back to "Kresty", but to a different cell. I stayed in "Kresty" until the appeal procedure was completed, but I was denied the right of appeal, as could be expected. In the middle of May I was transported to prison camp. All that time I was often transferred from cell to cell; most of them were overcrowded.