The visit, in June 1984, of Shoshana Merkle-Lufschitz from Zurich, editor of the “Juden in der UdSSR“ newspaper, was memorable ..She is a woman with a wonderful soul, who speaks Hebrew, English, French, German, Hungarian and Italian fluently. Shoshana charmed us the very first time we saw her. Perhaps her own report about her visit to the USSR will help convey the atmosphere of that time.
“We ( Susie Merkle and Charlotte Herz ) were very excited when we began to plan this trip, having both been involved for years in the Swiss campaign for Soviet Jewry. A week before departure we still didn’t have our visas and we started getting nervous. Fortunately the visas arrived and we set off for Moscow.
We joined our traveling group for the city tour in the morning and stayed behind in the afternoon. We realized that this would be a good tactic; to join the others in the morning, have lunch with them and then find excuses for the afternoons….
On meeting Victor Fulmacht I was surprised at how well and freely Miri, Victor’s daughter, spoke Hebrew. She showed us her paintings, which were beautiful. Here we experienced the immense warmth and hospitality of the refuseniks. Most of them live under quite simple conditions, in small flats. We never left any of them without the feeling of having made new friends and the wish to come back. I asked Victor if he was not afraid because a few days earlier he had given an interview to foreign correspondents, replying to the lie of the anti-Zionist committee. “Why should I be afraid of anything” he answered, “I have done nothing illegal”. He then asked us whether we wanted to meet Inna Begun who had just returned from yet another unsuccessful attempt to visit Yosef Begun in his camp near Perm.
We were at the meeting point and immediately recognized Inna. She was standing there, small, with grey hair , wearing a grey coat, her wonderful dark eyes looking at us. “Shalom” she said and we went hand in hand to her apartment. The hours we spent with Inna were one of the highlights of our trip.
When we left her, we were both full of admiration, love and pity for her. There was so much we wanted to do for her and so little that we could.
Victor Fulmacht organized our next meeting for us, with Inessa Brohina and Alla Oberson. Inessa, 37 years old and divorced, with two small children, seemed to be full of strength and energy. The KGB threatened her many times, telling her that they would take her children away and send her to exile.
“We must be active, fight as much as we can to show them that the Jews here feel strong and are aware of their Jewish identity” she said. “You in the West can help us in your way. They want to frighten us as well as you. They will never manage this if you and we stay strong.” I was very impressed by these young people, admirable fighters for hundreds of thousands of others. Talking to them, I could imagine the other young fighters, over 40 years ago; the heroes of the Ghettos.
We left Moscow for Leningrad by night train. We knew that the pressure in Leningrad was more intense because of the absence of diplomats and foreign journalists.
After a city tour we took a taxi and got out two blocks away from the Taratuta’s house. We spent a whole evening at the Taratuta’s and were able to comprehend the life of an active refusenik. While we were there the phone rang about 20 times. And to my question of whether he was not afraid, he answered “No, we cannot allow ourselves to be frightened. Tell your friends in the West that they should not be afraid and should come and visit us”.
Later on, Yosef Rodomyselsky arrived. He is a remarkable young man who impressed us very much. It was very hard for me to leave them; we had become such close friends.
The last visit was to the Leins. When we arrived at the Lein’s flat, Evgeny was on the phone talking to Tatiana Zunshine from Riga whose husband, Zachar, was in prison, awaiting trial. She wanted to defend him at the trial as no Russian lawyer was prepared to do so. She needed the help and advice of Evgeny Lein who had defended himself in 1981. Evgeny passed the phone over to me and Tatiana told me about her struggles and problems. She told me how the KGB had managed several times to pull her out of phone booths, yet her voice sounded so calm and strong. I was almost unable to understand how she managed to go on struggling under such pressure.
Here again, at the Lein’s home, we were made aware of the immense solidarity amongst the refuseniks. They are one big family, linked together, eager to help each other under any circumstances.
Evgeny and his wife, Irina, made a very strong impression on me. During the four hours we were allowed to spend in their home, we never heard a word of complaint or self pity. When I asked Evgeny if he was not afraid of getting rearrested, he simply answered:
“To be inactive would mean to die morally. Some twenty of us must be the scapegoats for hundreds of thousands of others.” It is no wonder that I consider Evgeny Lein to be a Jewish hero of today!
Irina and Evgeny seem to be a very happy couple. She is a dynamic, personable, spontaneous woman in her forties. Her vitality and positive attitude must have helped her husband a lot when they were living together in Siberia, where she had followed him. I was immediately very attracted to this admirable woman and, as well as to so many others, I intend to write to her. I shall never forget her.
As on so many nights, we departed with much emotion and love from our new friends. Tomorrow we would be flying to the Free World, being obliged to abandon our new friends to a very insecure future.
Evgeny told us that, on that same day, a Leningrad refusenik, Yuri Kolker, his wife and son would be leaving for Vienna and that they might be on the same flight as us.
Sitting in the plane our excitement grew. Would we see the Kolkers? As soon as we were allowed to leave our seats, we searched the plane for them and found them. All we said was “Shalom”; their eyes were full of tears and Yuri kissed our hands…
How wonderful to leave the Soviet Union and to accompany at least one refusenik family to the Free World!
So our trip ended with those happy moments. It had been ten full days. Ten days, very human days, days which had given me so much more than I myself had been able to give. I knew that after this trip, more than before, I would go on in my struggle for the refuseniks, trying to help them as much as possible, trying to activate more people to do so”.
What it is possible to add to what you have just read, is that friendship and love ties us to Shoshana to this day. Her poetry book “Mes joies et mes espoires, mes doutes et mes incertitudes“ with its dedication “With a lot of love, your friend forever“ cannot leave one’s heart indifferent.
Dr. Evgeny Lein
Ma’ale Adumim, 2003