What is the current situation regarding Jews in the Soviet Union?
It is a matter of life and death for them to be out of the country because of the catastrophic growth of anti-Semitism. Despite requests from the west, there has been no improvement at all in the religious facilities available for those who wish to remain in the country.
Your uncle was tried as a Menshevik, your family was persecuted and you yourself were interned in a camp after escaping from the Germans during the war. When did you decide to become a Zionist instead of attempting to reform the social system in the USSR?
My background and experiences obviously contributed in one sense. But in recent years, many Soviet Jews have become Zionists because they have understood the impossibility of living in the Soviet Union. I have understood this impossibility for a long time because of my family background. My father did not want to hide the nature of Soviet power from me and the terrible situation in which we were living and from an early age I realised that it was impossible to live in their country or leave it.
As for Zionism, the existence of the State of Israel was very important for me. Its image as a free democratic society — a society which can defend the best ideals of the Jewish people had a lasting influence on me and on many others.
What do you remember about the creation of the ‘State of Israel?
I remember it as being a very, very personal event. We did not think or dream that it would be possible to live in Israel and to take part in the building of our national homeland.
When did you make the transition from being a passive observer to an active participant in the Jewish movement?
I became active at the beginning of 1970 — a year before I applied for an exit visa. This activity increased more and more until the moment I was allowed to leave.
Why were you refused permission to leave so many times?
It is very difficult to say. I believe my difficulties were due to the efforts of one apparatchik within the central committee.
Some people in the west believed that your detention might have been connected with the Sino-Soviet conflict and the fact that you are a Chinese expert.
In fact I had already stopped working when I received a refusal from the emigration authorities. Furthermore. I was never a specialist on modern China.
Sometimes people try too hard to rationalise Soviet moods, which are often merely the whims of the bureaucrats. My case is one such example of this. It had no rational basis. My refusal was an irrational act, an act of vengeance, because of the spite of some influential people.
You have been associated with a number of different intellectual and professional committees in Moscow, Including the Jewish scientists’ seminar. What are the prospects at present for a scientist to gain permission to leave?
There is no time-limit after which scientists can leave. The Soviet authorities are unwilling to attempt something dramatic or decisive against the scientists. Therefore I am sure that all these people will eventually be allowed to leave.
Jewish Observer 22 October 1976