In 1970, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov’s parents had tried to leave Leningrad several times, and several times they’d been refused. Out of legal options, they decided to flee. They and their friends dreamed up Operation Wedding, in which they’d fill a plane full of people ostensibly on their way to a wedding, and once in the air, they’d have the pilot change course. Lacking the 200 conspirators necessary for this plan, they set their sights on a smaller plane, and their group of 16 bought up all the tickets. They planned to leave the pilots behind on the tarmac and would use their own pilot; the border was just 15 minutes away and the plane would be empty save for those wishing to escape. Anat’s parents never made it onto the plane, caught by the KGB mere steps from boarding. Her mother was sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag. Her father received a life sentence. This is their story.
The programmers at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival have done an excellent job of presenting some very interesting stories at this year’s festival, but this one may take the rugelach (I know-forgive me).
Even today, Russia remembers them as terrorists. But who were they terrorizing? They simply wanted to leave the USSR. that was their crime. They knew the risk they were taking and were prepared to pay the price if caught; most preferred death. In court, they openly declared their wish to leave, and refused to beg for mercy. Two of the sixteen were sentenced to be executed by shooting, the first time the death sentence has been invoked in a hijacking case, plot foiled or not.
Israel held protests: the entire state stood still for those who may be put to death for a crime they didn’t even commit in the end. Jewish organizations in other countries joined in. Hunger strikes were held. And behind the scenes, Golda Meir was secretly pulling strings so that Spain’s “Franco the Fascist” would commute the death sentences of 6 cop killers, thinking that Brezhnev the Communist would try to out-humane Franco the dictator.
The documentary uses archival footage and primary-source interviews, but it’s Anat’s family connection that really brings it alive. When she visits the gulag cell where her mother did time, the bleak reality overwhelms her, and it moved me to tears as well.
Operation Wedding screens as part of TJFF
Friday 5 May, 1:00 PM – Alliance Francaise
Sunday 7 May, 1:30 PM – Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 6
Director Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov will be in attendance.