208. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Hillenbrand) to Secretary of State Rogers 1

New Leningrad Trial and Anti-Soviet Violence

We have just received word from Embassy Moscow that the long delayed trial of Soviet Jews charged with “anti-Soviet slander” began today in Leningrad (cable at Tab F).2 Similar trials in Kishinev and Riga reportedly will begin in a week or so.

In view of this, we can expect heightened concern and agitation from the U.S. Jewish community. The chances of new anti-Soviet acts by the Jewish Defense League (JDL) are increased, and the numbers of American Jews inclined to sympathize with violent or militant tactics in behalf of Soviet Jewry will grow.

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The Soviet Government is using a “carrot and stick” approach to contain the outspoken minority of Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel. On the one hand, Moscow allowed emigration to Israel during March and April at rates which, although small in absolute terms, exceeded those of any prior two-month period. More than 2300 exit permits were issued compared to only about 1000 in all of 1970. Between March 16 and May 1, 1200 left. The post-Party Congress rate—200 per week—is still five times the monthly average for 1970. This upsurge has sent some of the most articulate Jewish dissenters to Israel and has helped to counteract Western criticism of Soviet restrictions on free movement of persons (see Tab B for additional statistics).3

On the other hand, new trials will again remind Soviet Jews of limits set on permissible activity as Soviet authorities attempt to intimidate further those who remain in the USSR. The trials could be exploited by the Soviet Government to link Jewish dissidents with alleged “interference from abroad” in Soviet internal affairs.

The defendants are apparently being charged under Article 70 of the Criminal Code (“anti-Soviet slander”). This is an open-ended provision of the Soviet code widely used against a variety of dissenters. Maximum sentence is seven years at hard labor. According to several reports, they may also be accused under Article 72 (“anti-Soviet organization”). This is a much rarer, more serious charge usually resulting in severe prison terms (Tab C).4 Treason may also be charged.

Reports indicate the accused were active in unofficial Jewish cultural circles. Some may have personally known the Leningrad “hijackers” tried in December 1970.5 Since, like other Soviet dissenters, the Jews are being tried for activities that would not be considered crimes in most countries, the outcry abroad will be considerable.

We have requested all involved agencies to make greater protection available to Soviet establishments and officials in the United States. The Department’s press spokesman has been furnished press guidance underlining the U.S. Government’s concern for Soviet Jewry and the effect of the issue on U.S.-Soviet relations (Tab D).6 However, we may well face a situation similar to December 1970, with protests and unrest among American Jews.

We note that for more than a year, United Nations Secretary General U Thant has been making behind-the-scenes representations on [Page 616] behalf of Soviet Jews who wish to emigrate (Tab E).7 The Soviets have apparently not found this kind of representation inappropriate and, in fact, many Soviet Jews mentioned in appeals which U Thant has forwarded to Soviet authorities have been successful in obtaining exit permission.

Under these circumstances, we believe it advisable for the Department again to show concern for Soviet Jews on trial. This is not only a political and moral requirement. It would serve also to support the “established” and moderate Jewish organizations who are under heavy fire from JDL-minded militants to adopt extremist tactics. Since your memorandum to the President of January 29 on anti-Soviet violence,8 our policy has been to bolster the responsible segments of American Jewry who have been vigorously combatting a philosophy of anti-Soviet violence and disruption. In connection with this latest Leningrad trial, we have been informed that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is sending a telegram to the President asking for a meeting in order to discuss the situation (Tab G).9

We believe that one effective way to register our concern and dampen renewed anti-Soviet violence would be to reconsider delivering the previously submitted statement about Soviet Jewry to Ambassador Dobrynin. (Statement at Tab A,10 earlier memorandum at Tab H11)


That you deliver the statement at Tab A to Ambassador Dobrynin.12




  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 29 USSR. Secret. Drafted by Mainland; cleared by Atherton. Davies initialed the memorandum for Hillenbrand. Eliot also initialed the memorandum, indicating that he had seen it.
  2. Attached at Tab F is telegram 3115 from Moscow, May 11. The principal source for the Embassy’s report was Bernard Gwertzman, chief Moscow correspondent for the New York Times. For his own reporting on the subject, see Bernard Gwertzman, “9 Jews on Trial in Soviet; 8 Linked to Hijacking Plot,” New York Times, May 12, 1971, p. 3.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. At Tab C are the relevant pages from an English translation of the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 77.
  6. At Tab D is a press briefing paper on the trials of Soviet Jews, prepared by the Bureau of European Affairs on May 10.
  7. At Tab E is telegram 1146 from USUN, May 4. The original “ribbon” copy and additional documentation on the issue are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, SOC 14 USSR.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 168.
  9. At Tab G is a memorandum of May 10 conversation between Davies and Rabbi Hershel Schacter, Chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry.
  10. Attached but not printed.
  11. See Document 138.
  12. Eliot wrote on the memorandum: “Secretary asked Amb. Johnson to do this. TLE. 5/18/71.” In his “evening reading” memorandum for the President on May 18, Rogers reported: “In view of the renewed trials of Jews in the USSR, I have asked Alex Johnson to call in Dobrynin tomorrow afternoon and give him the oral statement on Soviet Jewry outlined in my memorandum to you of January 29. This statement notes that Soviet policies adversely affecting Soviet Jews inevitably encourage anti-Soviet feelings, and states our belief that the climate of our relations would be improved if the Soviets would avoid actions which exacerbate the present situation.” (National Archives, RG 59, Entry 5049, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164, President’s Evening Reading Reports, 1964–1974, Box 3, Memorandum for the President (Master File)) Sometime later, however, Sisco noted in the margin: “Exercise cancelled 5/19/71.” The cancellation was due to the announcement the next day of the SALT “breakthrough.” See Document 236.