A story of true heroism and sacrifice
My fifth pick for the top works of the Soviet-Jewish decade is a documentary film, Operation Wedding, an almost forgotten story of true heroism that helped thrust the Soviet-Jewry movement into the spotlight.
The film tells the story of the 1970 Leningrad Hijacking, when a group of Soviet-Jews attempted to steal an empty plane and fly it out of Leningrad to freedom in Sweden. They were caught at the airport, two of the leaders were sentenced to death and the rest jailed. To the surprise of the Soviets, the group’s trial captured the public imagination and brought unprecedented global attention to the plight of Soviet Jewry. The film is directed by Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov, the daughter of Edward Kuznetsov and Sylva Zalmanson, key figures in the hijacking attempt.
Many years ago I read gulag memoir by a family friend, Alla Tumanov, called Where We Buried the Sun. I was still in my 20s, and the description of the time she spent in solitary confinement in 1951 struck me deeply, probably made more poignant by the fact I’d known her much of my life. Watching the scene in Operation Wedding where Zalmanson-Kutznetsov goes back to the Riga cell in which her mother was imprisoned in solitary confinement, took me immediately back to that long-ago feeling. It’s a powerful, haunting film that leaves you marvelling at the choices people make.
I’ve already written about Operation Wedding a couple times, so I will keep this post short. Suffice to say, it tells a story that altered the course of all our lives and pushed the Soviet-Jewry movement to international prominence. Essential viewing for anyone interested in Soviet-Jewish history or immigration. You can read my review in Tablet Magazine and the follow-up to my interview with director Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov here on my site.
The documentary continues to be screened around the world, and has also served as a launching pad for the Refusenik Project, a series of Soviet-Jewry lesson plans.