"Refusenik" Opens in NYC– Documentary on the Liberation of Soviet Jews

J.B. Spins reviews the documentary Refusenik– the first retrospective documentary to chronicle the thirty-year movement to free Soviet Jews.

J.B. writes:

The words “Next Year in Jerusalem” have always been rich with meaning but for Soviet Jewry, they took on even greater significance during the stark years of Communist oppression. Soviet Jews who dared to apply for exit visas were dismissed from their employment, harassed by the KGB, and often imprisoned or exiled to Siberian. Filmmaker Laura Bialis documents the inspiring story of the so-called Refuseniks in the new film Refusenik (trailer here), which opens in New York May 9th.

The film starts with a quick and lucid recounting of Soviet anti-Semitism, ranging from discrimination in university admissions to Stalin’s Doctors’ Plot, the invented conspiracy used as a pretext to persecute Jewish doctors. Although Stalin was an initial supporter of the State of Israel, anti-Semitism would become systematized to such an extent during the Stalin years that many were honestly expecting to be swept up in another Holocaust.


Anatoly (Natan) and Avital Sharansky phone President Reagan in 1986 to thank him for Natan’s release from prison. (GPO Photo)

…Perhaps the most celebrated Refusenik, Natan Sharansky is one of the film’s lead voices. His story is nothing less than heroic, having served nine years in a Soviet prison on trumped up charges. However, some of the lesser known Refuseniks are equally remarkable. Vladimir Slepak was actually the son of a loyal party member, but when told by his father it was preferable to arrest one hundred innocent people rather than allow one enemy of the party to go free, his response was: “I’ll never be in your party. It’s too much blood on your hands.”

Refusenik also chronicles the worldwide movement on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and is laudably bipartisan in who it credits in the struggle. The passage of the Jackson-Vanick amendment requiring countries observe emigration rights to qualify for favored nation trading status is presented as a principled coalition of liberal and conservative congressional representatives over a détente-obsessed Nixon administration.

Of American political leaders, two stand above all others. One is a Democrat, Sen. Scoop Jackson. The other is a Republican: Pres. Ronald Reagan. It is clear from interviews that he made Soviet human rights a priority like none of his predecessors had before him. It is not just summit anecdotes from George Shultz that make the point…

By exposing the abuses of Soviet Communism, Refusenik makes points that are still salient today. The courage and sacrifice of the Refuseniks profiled really are an inspiration.

Refusenik is playing in select theatres across the US.

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I met Natan Sharansky last year at the Democracy and Security Summit in Prague, Czech Republic and later in the year in Israel. He still works to promote democracy and freedom.

Previously on Natan Sharansky:
Freedom Writer
Sharansky Resigns
A Blogger Teleconference with Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky Blogger Teleconference -2-
A Night Out With Jose Maria Aznar, Vaclav Haval & Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky Discusses Iraq War & Gullibility of Western Media

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