Sylva Zalmanson

Sentence: 10 years in Gulag 

"People who fight against an unjust regime, for freedom, must be prepared to pay a heavy price."

Edward Kuznetsov

 Sentence: Death by shooting 

"I don't know of any worthwhile ideals

that justify chopping off heads. 

There were many ideals considered the absolute truth and many heads chopped off in their name. Time passed, those ideas proved wrong,but those heads did not rise up again."

Sylva Zalmanson

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Born in 1944, Sylva grow up in a traditional Jewish Zionist family in Riga. When Sylva was 20, she started her Zionist activity which included spreading Hebrew teaching books to USSR Zionist groups in different cities. She graduated with a degree in engineering from the Riga Polytechnic University.

Sylva had dreams of making a home in Israel. At the age of 25, in 1970, after repeatedly being denied exit from the Soviet Union, Sylva, her husband then Edward Kuznetsov, two brothers and 12 other Zionist activists, were arrested by the KGB for an escape attempt from the USSR. It is known as the “Dymshits-Kuznetsov Hijacking Affair” or “The First Leningrad Trial” or “Operation Wedding,” a code name for a plan to take an empty plane outside the Soviet borders, over to Sweden, bound for Israel.

Young, fearless, and the only woman in the dock, Sylva was ordered to stand and state her case. She proclaimed: “Even here, on trial, I still believe I’ll make it someday to Israel. This dream, illuminated by 2,000 years of hope, will never leave me. Next year in Jerusalem!” The first Leningrad trial was broadcast around the world, creating furious street protests in America, Australia, Europe, and Israel, triggering an international outcry from 24 governments. Sylva’s sentence was 10 years imprisonment but due to pressure from all over the world, she was released after 4 years and arrived in Israel.

After four years in the gulag and a worldwide campaign on her behalf, Sylva was freed. Arriving in Israel in 1974, she fought for the release of her two brothers, her husband – whose death sentence was commuted to 15 years hard labor – and other Prisoners of Zion, raising the cause with world leaders and holding a 16-day hunger strike at the United Nations. Eventually her pressure, and that of numerous other activists and world leaders, bore fruit, and most of the defendants were released before the end of their terms. In 1979, after nine years apart, Zalmanson and Kuznetsov reunited in Israel; a year later the couple had a daughter, Anat, who is now a filmmaker. For years, until her retirement in 2005, Sylva worked as a Mechanical Engineer. She is also a painter, starting in 1992. Working in acrylics and oil, her subjects are often depicted in vibrant colors, in mixed media. She exhibited in Israel, USA, UK, Italy, Romania and Finland, and was an accepted member of the "Painters and Sculptors Association of Israel".

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Edward Kuznetsov

Born in 1939 in Moscow, Edward studied at the philosophy department of Moscow State University and became involved with the first unsanctioned samizdat (self-published) magazines. In 1958-61, he co-edited the underground literary journals. For this "crime" he was arrested, at the age of 22 and received 7 years in Gulag. When he was released, at the age of 29, he traveled to Riga to join Zionist group and there he met Sylva. They were married 6 month after, and were active in the Zionist underground: re translating books, dreaming of Israel. Once Sylva offered him to escape he, like her, immediately agreed and naturally became the leader of the group.

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Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov
 

I carry both my parents’ names.

Growing up, everybody knew about this event, but over the years it started to fade away from the public's collective memory. Though there are many films trying to describe this fascinating story, they only give a short 5 minute description and the only full length films about this event were made in Russia 2010. Those films are calling the group members "terrorists" and they re-write history – false imaginary history, or as my father calls it "documentary fairytales".

I realized that the faith of public memory is on my shoulders. This is an inspiring story that remind us all that civilians have power and even one person can change history, but would have to be willing to pay the price…

Philipp Bobkov: Andropov’s 1st deputy and the head of the 5th KGB Department:

*Bobkov was at the head of Operation Wedding group’s arrest (at the airport).

"There was no problem of Emmigration. Maybe 20 people in the whole USSR were not allowed to leave."  

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Oleg Kalugin, former K.G.B. Gereral: head of KGB operations in Russia and later a critic of the agency:

"I still think they were criminals. Hijacking it's a crime anywhere. But at that time it was viewed as as a great blow to the Soviet prestige. People will even commit crime, just to get out of the country." 

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Mark-Dimshits (the pilot)

Mark-Dimshits (the pilot)

Edward Kuznetsov

Edward Kuznetsov

Sylva Zalmanson

Sylva Zalmanson

Anatoly Altman

Anatoly Altman

Boris Penson

Boris Penson

Yuri Fedorov

Yuri Fedorov

Israel Zalmanson

Israel Zalmanson

Wolf Zalmanson

Wolf Zalmanson

Yosef Mendelevich

Yosef Mendelevich

Arie Chanoch

Arie Chanoch

Meri Chanoch

Meri Chanoch

Alexey Murzhenko

Alexey Murzhenko

Designed & created by Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov 2016