The following declaration was penned in Russian by Yosef Mendelevich on behalf of a group of Jews who attempted to hijack an empty plane to escape the Soviet Union to Israel in 1970. The declaration condemns the hypocrisy of the Soviet Union, and accuses U Thant, the secretary general of the United Nations, of failing to address the human rights of Soviet Jewry. It refers repeatedly to the State of Israel as “Home.” It also appeals to “Jews of the world” to not take the blessings of liberty for granted, to join in the support of Israel, and to fight for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. In its postscript, it emphasizes that the actions of the hijackers will not put others in danger: “From the moment we are airborne, we alone will be on board the aircraft.”
Flee from the land of the north
Flee, she who sits among the nation of Babylon
—Zacharia 2:10, 11
We, nine Jews living in the Soviet Union, are attempting to leave the territory of this state, without asking the authorities for permission. We are among the tens of thousands of Jews who have, for many years, notified relevant Soviet authorities of our desire to repatriate to Israel. But time and again, with monstrous hypocrisy, perverting universal human values, and international and even Soviet law, the authorities have refused us the right to emigrate. We are told, brazenly, that we will rot here and we will never see our Homeland. Jews who want to become citizens of Israel face all manner of persecution, including arrest. As a foreign element in this country, we continuously face the threat of a return of the events of the 1940s and even 1950s, when the policy of spiritual genocide reached its peak with the physical annihilation of the Jews. The future facing us here is spiritual assimilation, at best.
Futile are the Communist government’s attempts “to solve the Jewish question.” Let them finally understand that they shall have no peace; that it is not in their power to determine the fate of the Jewish people. With our action, we wish to direct the attention of the leaders of the Soviet state to these eternal truths, to the hopelessly tragic situation of the Jews in the USSR and to declare to them that it is in their own best interest to let our people go Home.
We also appeal to international organizations, and first and foremost to the United Nations and to Mr. U Thant personally. Mr. U Thant: the Jews of the Soviet Union have repeatedly pleaded with you for help. But you are obviously indifferent to the fate of an entire people. You avoid addressing this question in every way. You have not responded to our letters, despite our having placed great hope in you. You denounce Israel’s actions, which are motivated by an obvious need to defend itself, and you have no time for us. Or are you simply afraid to hurt the interests of a superpower? But in that case, who needs you? What right do you have to speak in the name of the peoples of the world? We demand that you take measures in order to put an end to the perennial suppression of basic human freedoms; in order to better the lot of the three million Jews of the Soviet Union. Enough of the bloody lessons that have befallen our people.
Jews of the world! Your solemn duty is to fight for the freedom of your brethren in the Soviet Union. Know that the fate of Russia’s Jews—whether they are to be or not to be—depends largely on you. We are deeply envious of liberty and her blessings that you take for granted. We urge you to use them in full, including to defend our rights. And until that time that we are free, you must build our Jewish Home and take our place there where we passionately long to be.
What moves us is a desire to live in our Homeland and to share in her destiny.
Mendelevich, Iosif Mozusovich, Riga (signature)
Zalmanson Israil Iosifovich, Riga (signature)
Wolf Iosifovich Zalmanson, Riga (signature)
Kuznetsov Eduard Samuilovich (signature)
Altman Anatoly, Chernovtsy (signature)
Dymshits Mark, Leningrad (signature)
Leib [Arie] Gershovich Khnokh [Hanoch], Riga (signature)
Penson Boris Solomonovich, Riga (signature)
P.S. We request of all of you that, should our attempt fail, you take care of our loved ones and shield them from the payback for our act. We must underscore that our actions do not endanger others. From the moment we are airborne, we alone will be on board the aircraft.
Translated from the Russian by Izabella Tabarovsky
Izabella Tabarovsky is a Tablet contributor and a researcher with Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, where she focuses on the politics of historical memory in the former Soviet Union. Follow her on Twitter @IzaTabaro.