125. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

31680. Subj: Rigerman Call at Department.

February 23, Leonid Rigerman called on Secretary, Under Secretary, and Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand to express his and his mother’s appreciation for USG help in establishing their U.S. citizenship and leaving the Soviet Union.2 Rigerman accompanied to Dept by party of 4 led by Attorney Dan Greer. On arrival in U.S., Rigerman received intense publicity, including appearances on nationwide television and a press conference on Capitol Hill.
During conversations at Dept, Rigerman made clear his intention of remaining in U.S. to help Soviet Jewry. He took cautiously optimistic line that problems of Soviet Jewry are susceptible to improvement. Starting from premise that present Soviet regime unsure of itself, concerned about its image abroad, and prone to make mistakes, Rigerman felt that constant pressure from governments and organizations abroad and from Jews inside Soviet Union could eventually persuade Soviets of desirability of permitting substantial numbers of Jews to emigrate. Rigerman’s own estimate is that 500,000 would opt to leave if given chance.
Rigerman also drew distinction between other Soviet minorities who hope to change Soviet system and Jews who simply wish to leave. Tenor of Rigerman’s remarks suggested that Jewish movement in USSR is concerned more with securing free emigration than with obtaining religious and cultural prerogatives for Jews in the Soviet Union. This emphasis may perhaps be explained by Rigerman’s conviction that Soviet regime will not reverse its policy of stifling Jewish life in USSR. He regarded use of term “enemy of the Soviet people” to describe “Zionists” in recent Pravda articles as throwback to Stalin’s lexicon, but added that regime barked because it could no longer bite as it had in Stalin’s day. He observed that thousands had vanished without a trace under Stalin, but today imprisonment of only 50 Jews was sufficient to create international clamor.
Commenting on general dissident movement, Rigerman thought prospects were poor for Soviet “democratic movement” of civil-rights dissenters because of lack of Russian democratic tradition, gap between masses and intellectuals, and enduringly conservative Party/state machine. He estimated active dissidents at about 2,000.
Asked why regime permitted his departure, Rigerman replied he was obviously a nuisance to regime in light of widespread publicity his case had received. He told Dept officers Tsukerman had been driving force behind Jewish movement, but Rigerman had no doubt other leaders would emerge now that Tsukerman in Israel. In this connection, he mentioned that at farewell receptions for him, new faces had appeared, demonstrating again that movement is replacing itself constantly. He found especially significant fact that appeal of 200 Jews to 24th Party Congress listed signatories from five different cities. This was first time, he remarked, that organizational links had appeared between different cities.
Rigerman was asked repeatedly about value of violent tactics espoused by JDL. He said that violence should only be a last resort and that there are many things that can be done before resorting to violence.
Pouching memcon of Rigerman call on Secretary.3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–10 USSR. Confidential. Drafted by Semler and Mainland on February 24, cleared by Okun, and approved by Dubs. Repeated to USUN, Brussels, Tel Aviv, and Warsaw for Deputy Assistant Secretary Davies.
  2. According to his Appointment Book, Rogers met Rigerman at 4:23 p.m. (Personal Papers of William P. Rogers)
  3. According to the memorandum of conversation, Rigerman argued that “the Soviets were now more sensitive to public opinion abroad than in the past. It is, therefore, an opportune time for Western governments and public opinion to place pressure on the Soviet Union whenever possible.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–10 USSR)