112. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

956. Subj: Jewish Emigration. Ref: Moscow 902 (Notal).2

There have been recent indications that the regime is seeking to cope with Jewish “dissident” problem by permitting emigration of key vocal individuals who have had ties to Western correspondents and stepping up harassment of others in various ways. Experience with Leningrad hijacking trial3 has probably made Soviets more cautious about stirring up world public opinion over Jewish issue. This is undoubtedly reason why subsequently planned Leningrad, Riga, and Kishinev trials of Jews, which would have provided focal point for [Page 332] international attention, have been suspended. New approach is evidently designed to curtail dissidents with minimum outside uproar.
Soviet decision to issue exit documents to Leonid Rigerman (and his mother) coming on heels of exit permission for other Jewish dissidents Tsukerman, Feigin, and Svichenskiy,4 indicates desire to get rid of individuals who have contributed to world-wide attention to Jewish emigration question. (Western press sources indicate that five additional Jewish dissidents with families are being permitted to leave at about same time as Rigermans.)5 These departures not only eliminate domestic trouble-makers, but also rob Western press corps of bulk of their contacts within Jewish dissident circles. (Embassy aware that Rigerman and Tsukerman have been primary sources of Western correspondents for information on Jewish developments.) Consequently, Soviets also undoubtedly hope that these departures will reduce flow of news to the West thus dimming spotlight on problems of Jewish life in Soviet Union.
At same time there are indications that authorities are increasing their pressures on bulk of Soviet Jews who have applied for emigration to Israel. Western correspondent has received report from reliable source that a Soviet Jewish musician, who has applied to emigrate to Israel, was recently accosted by group of thugs, questioned about his emigration plans and punched repeatedly. Correspondent has refrained from filing story pending receipt of permission from musician to use his name in article.
Western correspondents inform us that they have heard of numerous arrests for petty hooliganism of Jews who have sought to emigrate. Jewish circles reportedly preparing list of these arrests which would seem to be designed both to punish emigration applicants and to picture them as morally unsound. Most recent case being cited is that of LV Shenkar who sentenced to fifteen days for allegedly impeding work of service personnel in his apartment.
Other measures authorities reportedly taking are accelerating draft call-up of young Jews who have applied to emigrate and making it difficult for emigration applicant to secure work references which are necessary to complete application.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–10 USSR. Confidential. Repeated to Munich and Tel Aviv.
  2. In telegram 902 from Moscow, February 12, the Embassy reported that Leonid Rigerman had just learned that he and his mother would be allowed to emigrate to the United States. (Ibid.) The Department instructed Beam to submit a formal note on exit visa representation “in order to capitalize on possibly short-lived Soviet gratitude on Ivanov and to avoid any inference that we consider Rigerman sufficient recompense.” (Telegram 24816 to Moscow, February 12; ibid.) After waiting until “Soviet reaction to Laos has worn off somewhat,” Beam presented the formal note to Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov on February 19. (Telegram 848 from Moscow, February 18; ibid.) The Rigermans, meanwhile, left Moscow and arrived in New York on February 20.
  3. See Document 82.
  4. Boris Tsukerman and Vitaly Svichensky, two prominent Soviet Jewish activists, and Grisha Feigin, a Soviet Jew and former Red Army war hero. All three had emigrated to Israel during the previous three weeks.
  5. See, for example, Anthony Astrachan, “Five Soviet Jewish Families Receive Exit Visas for Israel,” Washington Post, February 15, 1971, p. A22.