My Mom And Dad, The Would-Be Zionist Plane Hijackers

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Israeli activists dramatize Sylva Zalmanson’s imprisonment in the Soviet Union by protesting in a cage with a sign that reads, “Zalmanson, the people are with you.” (Courtesy of Anat Kuznetzov-Zalmanson)

Israeli activists dramatize Sylva Zalmanson’s imprisonment in the Soviet Union by protesting in a cage with a sign that reads, “Zalmanson, the people are with you.” (Courtesy of Anat Kuznetzov-Zalmanson)

Anat Kutznetzov-Zalmanson’s parents hijacked a plane, and she wants the world to know about it.

Sylva Zalmanson and Eduard Kuznetzov’s only real crime was that they wanted to leave the USSR and live freely as Jews in Israel.

To their daughter, a filmmaker, they are heroes who jumpstarted the movement to free Soviet Jewry, not the criminals the Soviet government made them out to be, sentencing one to death and the other to years of hard labor.

When Kuznetzov-Zalmanson, 32, was a child in Israel, people would approach her parents in the street and embrace them. Teachers would ask her to tell their story in class. But now, several decades later, most people, especially young ones, know very little, if anything, about the Prisoners of Zion who fought for human rights and permission to emigrate from the behind the Iron Curtain. If they are asked about refuseniks, the only name to spring to mind is often that of former Israeli politician Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, now chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

They almost certainly have no knowledge of the 16 people (14 of them Jews) led by Zalmanson and Kuznetzov, who attempted to hijack a plane from the USSR to Sweden on June 13, 1970, in a desperate bid to attract the world’s attention to their plight.

The attempt, known as “Operation Wedding,” failed, and all the members of the group were arrested. Most were tried Dec. 15 of that year, and on Dec. 24, Kuznetzov and Mark Dymshits, a Red Army pilot from Leningrad who was going to fly the plane, were sentenced to death. Zalmanson was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor, and the others were sentenced to between four and 15 years.

Kuznetzov-Zalmanson, a graduate of film schools in Israel and London, has always wanted to tell her parents’ story cinematically. Ultimately, she’d like to make a feature film, but for now is focused on getting a documentary off the ground.

“I’ve been trying to make the film for the past three years,” Kuznetzov-Zalmanson told The Times of Israel by phone from New York, where she‘s working to drum up financial support for the project, to be called “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Click here to read more and view the film project’s promo video.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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