Jack Cohen – Operation Wedding
“Operation Wedding” is the title of a documentary film about the dramatic incident that took place in 1970 when a group of 12 Jews attempted to take a small plane from an airport in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the former Soviet Union and fly to freedom. The film was directed by Anat Zalmanson, daughter of two of the primary actors in this incident, Sylva Zalmanson and Edward Kuznetsov, who were married 6 months before the incident. It was shown at AACI Netanya in the presence of the Director.
The title comes from the fact that the original plan, hatched by a group of Jewish refuseniks in Leningrad, was for them to pretend to be a wedding party of ca. 50 people and then hijack a commercial airliner and fly it out of the Soviet Union. Looking for supporters they contacted the group in Riga, Latvia, then part of the USSR. But, realizing that such a hijacking could endanger many lives the plan was aborted. However Zalmanson and Kuznetsov with other friends decided to go ahead with the plan, but rather taking a small empty plane from the airport, a twelve-seater. They had the participation of Mark Dymshits who was a qualified pilot.
On the day selected the group from Riga and Leningrad met and went to the airport. But, having so many people involved in the plot meant that the KGB knew all about it, and were waiting for them. They were arrested and tried with hijacking, a capital offense. Although there were 3 other women involved, Sylva Zalmanson was the only woman put on trial, and although the KGB thought she would easily break-down, they were wrong, she was very defiant. She was found guilty and received 10 years. Kuznetsov had a history of anti-Soviet activities and received a death sentence.
The Soviets made three major mistakes, 1. They decided to put on a public show trial; 2. They thought that the Jews would easily break-down, but they were defiant, and this gave the Jewish cause a tremendous boost; 3. The death sentence against Kuznetsov was seen to be so extreme (since there was actually no hijacking) that after tremendous international demonstrations they were forced to retract this verdict.
After a few years Kuznetsov was released in exchange for a Soviet spy held by Israel. Zalmanson served 9 years in the Gulag, almost one year in solitary confinement. After her release she went to Israel and rejoined Kuznetsov and they had Anat, but then the couple divorced. After many years Anat persuaded her mother to accompany her back to the former Soviet Union to make the documentary about this famous incident.
As an activist in the Soviet Jewry movement in the US at that time (I was Chairman of the Soviet Jewry Committee of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington DC that was affiliated with the National Conference on Soviet Jewry), although we were upset that the Zalmanson-Kuznetsov group were caught and tried by the Soviet authorities. But, nevertheless we were overjoyed because they gave us our heroes who defied the Soviet system at all costs. And the show-trial and death sentence on Kuznetzov played right into our hands. This galvanized the Soviet Jewry movement around the world and helped immensely to eventually bring about the release of the Soviet Jews and eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union.
To see the Full Video go to this link: http://original.greatmovie.us/play.php?movie=tt5805056