From Slavery to Freedom, directed by Arkady Kogan, a new documentary about Soviet Jewish refuseniks, especially Natan Sharansky, is premiering this week at the Berlin Film Festival. The film tells a fascinating story of Jewish dissidents who stood up to the Soviet political machine and succeeded in winning their freedom from the shackles of Soviet oppression.
Here we learn about those Jewish dissidents who, in the early 1970s, fed up with the institutionalized anti-Semitism in the Former Soviet Union, decided to apply for permission to leave the Soviet Union and emigrate to Israel. Due to the fact that their requests were refused, these Jews became known as refuseniks. The film tells their stories, including interviews with well-known refuseniks such as Josef Mendelevich (who was a participant in the attempted hijacking affair), Zeev Dashevsky, Vladimir Slepak and Dina Beylina.
Perhaps the best known of all of the Soviet refuseniks was Natan Sharansky, who began his long fight for permission to leave for Israel in 1973. He was three years a refusenik and human rights activist. Then in 1977, he was arrested and became a Prisoner of Zion, held in terrible conditions, until his release in February 1986. During these years, his wife, Avital, was traveling around the world trying to raise interest and awareness of his plight, and that of others held against their will in the Soviet Union. The film also includes interviews with American Jewish activists in the “Let My People Go” movement who worked tirelessly to obtain freedom for these refuseniks.
Sharansky talks about how the Six Day War had a profound affect on his Jewish identity. Up until that time, refuseniks, like himself, had grown up disconnected from their Jewish roots and slowly they began to learn about Jewish history, traditions and about the State of Israel. This was the beginning of the movement that eventually opened the doors and lead to more than one million people leaving the Former Soviet Union for Israel.
Although the film does not go on to talk about what happened to these people after they left the Soviet Union, it is important to mention – Natan Sharansky became a major public personality in Israel, including head of the Jewish Agency for many years. And the aliyah of the more than one million people from the Soviet Union, so many of them educated and skilled, has dramatically changed the face of Israel in fields such as music, medicine, engineering, and more.
From Slavery to Freedom (documentary, 84 minutes) is available from Go2Films.www.go2films.com The film tells an important story of heroism in the modern period.