Sir Martin Gilbert
Photo was presented to refuseniks in 1983.

       It was a key event – a milestone in the history of the Jewish movement for repatriation to Israel – when Martin Gilbert, historian and member of the Scientific Council of Merton College, Oxford, visited the USSR in that terrible year, 1983.

       Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, was working on the seventh volume of the biography of that great British Prime Minister. Nevertheless, he made time for personal meetings with refuseniks in Moscow, Leningrad and Minsk. He understood the tragedies of refusenik families and took them all to heart. The main thing that Martin Gilbert understood was that the activist-refuseniks were no longer the “Jews of Silence” about whom Elie Wiesel had written in 1963.

       Twenty years on, in 1983, he saw for the first time that Jews were full of hope and determination to be repatriated to Israel, the land of their forefathers. He was amazed by the open confrontation of the refuseniks to the merciless totalitarian state and impressed by their unanimous appeal, “Do not forget us!” .

       A few months after returning to London, Gilbert wrote his book, “Jews of Hope“ ( Martin Gilbert. The Jews of Hope, The Plight of Soviet Jewry Today. Macmillan, London. 1984 ) Emotionally, and with great insight, he wrote about the fates of Aba Taratuta, Lev Ovsishcher, Vladimir Slepak and a dozen other refuseniks and Prisoners of Zion. This book went through several editions and attracted the attention of many Jews in the free world to the problems of Jews in Russia. For Martin Gilbert himself, that book was not just another episode among all his diverse scientific and public activities. A very talented and very active person with a big heart, he spared neither time not effort on behalf of refuseniks. He was never too tired to deliver his lectures about the Jewish problem in the USSR, whether in Jewish communities, at international human rights symposia or at scientific conferences.

       Once, during a television interview, Gilbert offered an envelope containing a $1,000 bill to the interviewer if he could name four Russian Jews imprisoned in 1983 for Zionist activity. Gilbert left the studio with the money and having made his point. He also maintained a regular correspondence with many refuseniks.

       Gilbert used to spend several months a year at the Hebrew University or in his home in Jerusalem working on his books on Jewish history: “Exile and Return”, “The Struggle for a Jewish Homeland”, “The Question of Bombing Auschwitz”, “The Second World War “, “The Macmillan Atlas of the Holocaust” and the “Jewish History Atlas”. In that last one Gilbert included two unique maps: Prisoners of Zion, 1984, and Former Prisoners of Zion refused exit visas, 1979-1984. This atlas was dedicated “To Grigory Wasserman of Leningrad in the hope that he, and all those who share his aspirations, may soon be in Jerusalem. ”

       Martin Gilbert was fully occupied by his work as a writer but he managed to keep in touch with the chronicle of life of refuseniks and to be aware of the protests they sent to Israel on various occasions. His articles supporting Prisoners of Zion were regularly published in The Jerusalem Post, The New York Times, The Jewish Chronicle and The Daily Telegraph.

       Gilbert wrote: “Russian Jews played a most important role in the first stages of establishing a Jewish State. ... The revival of Soviet Jewry, and its return to the land of its ancestors, have become the principal features of modern Jewish history

       Martin Gilbert was, and is, not only a chronicler but a creator of Jewish history. Many, many refuseniks cherish, deep in their hearts, their gratitude to him for the priceless aid he rendered to Jews in the USSR during those years.

D-r Evgeny Lein
Ma’ale-Adumim, 2003