An Internet site devoted to the history of Soviet Jewry’s struggle for repatriation to Israel would be inconceivable without a special section devoted to Prisoners of Zion, those zealots who paid by their freedom, health, and sometimes by their lives, for their ideal of returning to the Land of Zion.
This section is organized chronologically, according to dates of arrest, beginning from 1948 – the year of the establishment of the State of Israel and the appearance of hope, however shadowy, for the possibilities of repatriation. The names of the Prisoners of Zion of each year will be listed in alphabetical order.
The main basis for this section comes from the book “Haaretz Nikneit Baisurim”(“The Land Is Attained Through Sufferings”.) Album of Prisoners of Zion from the Soviet Union. Published by the Central Council of the Association of Zion Prisoners from USSR, Tel Aviv, 1995, 287 pages); the introduction from this book appears below. Those cases where information is based on other sources will be credited accordingly.
The Board of Directors expresses its gratitude to Michael Margulis, Chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Prisoners of Zion Council, for supplying the information, and to Edi Baal (Edward Beltov) for help in verifying the data.
The Editorial Board will be glad to receive any additions and clarifications of information presented in this section.
March 24, 2004.
In reviewing this section of the site, the editorial board has come to the conclusion that its decision to begin the publishing of data on Prisoners of Zion starting only from 1948 was not, in fact totally justified and we confess to this with some embarrassment. Without diminishing the significance of that year in the contemporary history of the Jewish people in general, and of Israel in particular, we have come to realize that, in the context of the history of the Prisoners of Zion there is, at least, one other year which rises above all others in the sad but heroic history of the Zionists’ struggle for their right to live in their historic homeland of Erets Israel. This was the year 1941 when the number of those arrested and sent to the Gulag Archipelago rose to 113. In fact, this number was most certainly bigger, as the number of 113 is arrived at from those whose names were inscribed in the above-mentioned Album of Prisoners of Zion from the Soviet Union. It will never be known how many others shared this fate but were, for whatever reason, not inscribed in the Album. There is also a specific and meaningful peculiarity of that year – all those people were residents of Poland, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Bessarabia.
And now we invite our readers to contemplate the situation: Jews were living in those countries, which were more or less democratic, and, those who wished to, lived a Jewish life, with Zionist ideals, absolutely legally. Suddenly came those from the East, whom nobody expected and nobody had invited, and established their own authority and their own authoritarian law. Those same Jews, many of whom were perfectly legally engaged in preparing themselves for life in Erets Israel, were suddenly branded criminals with a speed that left them unable to understand what it was that they were supposed to be guilty of. And who could, indeed, understand?
The psychological tragedy of those innocent people can only be viewed as immeasurable.
December 20, 2004.
The epic struggle of the Prisoners of Zion under the atrocious totalitarianism of the Soviet Union was on-going throughout the years of regime's existence. Yet, for new generations of Israelis and also for many Diaspora Jews, it remains unknown.
In 1917, two tremendous events shook the world in general and the Jewish people in particular. On November 2nd, the Balfour Declaration was published, proclaiming the right of the Jewish people to revive their national home in the Land of Israel. The Declaration gave hope to all Diaspora Jews, especially those of Russia. However, five days later, on November 7th 1917, the Bolshevik coup d'etat took place; the democratic Provisional Government was overthrown, and on the ruins of the Russian Empire the huge Soviet State was formed — the USSR.
Bolshevik power proved to be a major disappointment. From the very beginning it set out to persecute the Zionist movement and suppress the national consciousness of the Jewish people. The regime of terror introduced by Stalin, apart from anything else, set itself a goal of severing links connecting the Jews to Zion and Israel. It aimed at suppressing not only Hebrew but also Yiddish, a common language for many generations of Russian Jews.
Before the revolution, the Zionist movement in Russia numbered three hundred thousand in its ranks. Joseph Trumpeldor, who was a founder of the "He-Haluts" organization, worked out a training program for one hundred thousand young Jews who were to go to Eretz-Israel to pioneer the rebuilding of the Jewish national home. At that time, in Russia, there existed a broad network of elementary and secondary schools with Hebrew as a language of study. The "Tarbut" organization alone had more than 200 schools under its supervision. In 1917, the "Habima" theater was founded in Moscow. But, as was said before, with the consolidation of Soviet power after the end of the long, bloody Civil War, the Bolsheviks decided to put an end to the national aspirations of the Jewish people. Persecution of Jews was carried out all over the country. In the 20's, Prisoners of Zion accounted for a great part of all the political prisoners in the USSR. In the 20's and the early 30's, many thousands of members of Zionist organizations were arrested, accused of counter-revolutionary activity, sentenced to long terms of imprisonment or exiled to the remotest parts of the Urals, Siberia, Kazahstan and the Solovki islands. Many of them did not survive...
However, all that was only an overture to the onslaught of repressions in the 30's, the years of the great Stalinist terror. Not only active Zionists, but anybody who had been a member of any of their organizations, if only formally, was thrown into jail. In the basements of the NKVD (Ministry of the Interior), inquisition-like interrogations with torture were conducted. Prisoners were sent on long and horrible transport routes to the Gulag. Prisoners of Zion who served their terms in labour camps were deprived of their civil rights and were doomed to spend the rest of their lives in exile in remote northern permafrost regions. The assembly-line repressions, in the form of "Troikas" (a committee of three) and "Special Councils" condemned people to long prison terms in the camps of Pechora, Vorkuta, Kolyma and other ominous islands of the Gulag archipelago. Many were sentenced to death and executed. These persecutions continued in all the territories occupied by the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1941. They were repeated during the "black years" of 1948-1953.
The bones of a whole generation of Russian Zionists lie under the snows of the tundra (arctic plain) and in the vast expanses of the taiga (impenetrable Siberian forest). It was a legion of martyrs, of people full of faith, hopes and dreams who, in 1917, came close to the return to Zion and participation in the creation of the Jewish State. Only a handful of Prisoners of Zion managed to survive and to get loose from the grip of Soviet power. They were privileged to see the state of Israel become reality and took part in its creation. The persistent 25 year struggle of our organization under the slogan: "Let my people go!" bore fruit: more than half a million of our brothers, Prisoners of Zion among them, came to Israel. The Communist regime collapsed; the USSR fell to pieces. We have lived to experience that happy time when, at the expense of many sacrifices, the gates of CIS were at last opened, and the Zionist movement was recognized as a national liberation movement of the Jewish people.
The commentaries to the pictures are not always exhaustive since in many cases we do not have reliable information; sometimes we were not able to get full information on a particular person, on his Zionist activity and his arrest and exile. We hope that this book will find its way into many hearts and will encourage those who have additional information about Prisoners of Zion to pass it onto us.
Unfortunately, the information is far from comprehensive. There are too many buried in nameless graves without tombstones, many whose places of burial remain unknown.
From the book “The Land Is Attained Through Suffering"
Texts of this section were translated from Russian by Ilana Romanovsky and Ilya Simovsky.
Editor of the texts in English - Tamara Brill.