Leningrad 1970. Denied exit visas from the Soviet Union, a group of young Jewish dissidents remained trapped behind the Iron Curtain—but they had a plan. A fantasy, really. As outrageous as it was simple: Under the pretense of being members of a wedding party, the group purchased all the tickets on a 12-seater plane flying out of Leningrad, with the intention of hijacking the plane to Scandinavia and then on to Israel.
At the airport, though, things went wrong. Just steps from boarding the plane, the KGB discovered the plan. The group was arrested and tried for high treason. Sylva Zalmanson, the group’s only woman, was sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag. Zalmanson’s newlywed husband, Edward Kutznetsov, received a death sentence. Owing to international outrage, however, his death sentence was quickly reduced to 15 years in a labor camp.
The Soviet press called the group criminals, but tens of thousands of people throughout the world were suddenly made aware of the plight of Soviet Jews, and they began chanting “Let my people go!”
And so, while their attempt to flee the Soviet Union may have gone down in flames—it helped spark the worldwide movement to liberate Soviet Jewry. Soon, the Iron Curtain would open a crack for 300,000 Soviets Jews wanting to flee. Nevertheless, the group members were held back to pay the price of freedom for everyone else.
The story of what came to be known as “Operation Wedding” is retold in a compelling, award-winning documentary of the same name, that will be screened at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy at 2186 High Ridge Road in Stamford, on Sunday, March 10, 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Admission to the screening is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.
The film’s director, and granddaughter of Zalmanson and Kuznetsov, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov, will also be on hand joining live from her residence in Israel for a Skype Q&A following the film which tells the story of her family origins. Mixing archival footage with present day interviews, Zalmanson-Kuznetsov sets out with her mother, Sylva, to retrace the group’s journey from a Soviet airport to a KGB prison. The result is a film filled with both humor and drama, telling a tale that is plausible yet improbable.