Vivian R. Gruder
Professor of History, Emerita
Queens College, City University of New York
December 8, 2008
In the summer of 1970, I attended two international history conferences in the Soviet Union. Before leaving New York, a friend of mine--an elderly Jewish man, Samuel Estrin, who had been a member of the Bund and had left the Soviet Union in the 1930s for New York where he was associated with YIVO--asked me if I would contact his sister and nephew who lived in Moscow. Of course I said yes.
In Moscow I met both of them. In fact his nephew visited me a few times in my hotel, the Rossia, where to my surprise he talked quite openly. Before my departure from Moscow to return to New York he asked me if he could give me some things to take back to the United States. Of course I consented. He came again and gave to me two envelopes and another package. He did say that the two envelopes were from friends of his at the Moscow Circus, where he worked, but I did not know exactly their contents. I placed the items in a large bag that I usually carry on trips where I place miscellaneous things. Fortunately officials at the airport did not search this bag.
When I returned to New York I contacted Mr. Estrin and told him about these items. He then contacted a gentleman (whose name I cannot remember) who was in the office of the Committee on Soviet Jewry that was associated either with the ADL or the B'nai Brith (again, I forget which of the two). Mr. Estrin and I went to visit that gentleman and I gave him the items that I had. I later found out from the gentleman at the Committee on Soviet Jewry that in the two envelopes were letters from Soviet Jews addressed to the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, asking their help to leave the Soviet Union. As it turned out, these were the first such requests from Soviet Jews to emigrate to the United States or to Israel. The other package contained tapes of dissident songs and/or poems that were hard to understand because of the poor quality of the tapes. The letter to President Nixon was sent to him, because about a week later there was an article on an inner page of the New York Times reporting that an official in the State Department commented on the receipt of the letter requesting help from Soviet Jews to emigrate. Whether the letter was sent to and received by Golda Meir I do not know.
Only a year or two later did the great increase in requests from Soviet Jews begin, following (if my memory is correct), the high jacking of a plane in Leningrad by some Russian Jews to publicize their cause.
Vivian R. Gruder