Letter from Lilli S. Chertoff, Committee of Concerned Scientists, Inc. to Marshall W. Nirenberg
Chertoff informs Nirenberg that Jack Cohen has told her of Nirenberg's intention to write a letter on behalf of Dr. Mikhail
Shtern, an imprisoned Soviet Jewish scientist. Background material is enclosed, along with a draft letter for Nirenberg to
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1975-06-06 (June 6, 1975)
Chertoff, Lilli S.
Committee of Concerned Scientists, Inc.
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
Reproduced with permission of Lilli S. Chertoff.
Beyond the Laboratory: Professional, Personal, and Political Life, 1967-2002
Jack Cohen has told me of your kind intention to write a letter on behalf of Dr. Shtern. I am enclosing herewith some brief
background material on the case, together with a draft letter you can use as you see fit.
Very briefly, Dr. Shtern is an endocrinologist who practiced many years in his town of Vinnitsa. Shortly after he applied
for permission to emigrate to Israel with his family, he was accused of poisoning children, accepting bribes, and similar
outrageous charges. The case came to trial accompanied by the usual difficulties with witnesses -- some patients refused to
testify, at great personal risk to themselves, and others willingly gave false testimony. He was found guilty and sentenced
to eight years at hard labor.
There is absolutely no point in talking about the travesty of justice which took place in the case; it occurs daily in the
Soviet Union. The only thing we can ask for with any hope of success is clemency and commutation of sentence. He is a terribly
sick man and the conditions in the labor camp have already aggravated his condition. He cannot possibly survive very long.
His second son has now been given permission to leave and in fact has been ordered to leave in a few days. That will leave
Mrs. Shtern quite alone and helpless.
Our most recent information is that he is preparing an appeal for presentation to the USSR Supreme Court. It is doubtful that
they will take jurisdiction in the case, or that any appeal will be considered. However, we must pursue every avenue still
open to us, to plead for his release.
We are most grateful for your concern, and for your willingness to translate that concern into action. Will you please send
me a copy of the letter you send to Podgorny?
Lilli S. Chertoff
President Nikolai V. Podgnorny
I am writing to you, as the supreme voice of authority in the Soviet Union, to plead for the release of Dr. Mikhail Shtern.
Dr. Shtern by this time is a sick and tormented man, prematurely aged by his experiences. He suffers from severe health problems
and I fear for his life under the regimen of the labor camp. Certainly, he will never survive to serve his eight-year sentence.
The Soviet Union today is one of the world's great powers. Its place among the nations is secure and does not depend on
keeping one frail, sick man in prison. The prestige of the Soviet Union abroad can only be enhanced by a humanitarian and
generous act of clemency in his case.
I and many of my colleagues in science have welcomed the reduction in tensions between our two countries as a result of the
policy of detente. We are in the forefront of exchanges in science between the USSR and the United States. But those exchanges
cannot take place without the collaboration and support of American scientists, and their enthusiasm for such cooperation
is not encouraged when they read about Dr. Shtern or other Soviet scientists whose desire to emigrate to Israel has resulted
in severe punishment.
I urge you to grant amnesty to Dr. Shtern, and allow him and his wife to leave so that they may join the remaining members
of their family and live out their remaining years in peace.
Pertinent Addresses In U.S. And U.S.S.R. For Protest
(Please retain for future reference)
President Gerald Ford
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20525
Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin
Embassy of the U.S.S.R.
1125 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Procurator General Roman Rudenko
Pushkinskaya Street 15A
Chairman Vladimir A. Kirillin
State Committee on Science and Technology
USSR Academy of Sciences
Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev
President Nikolai V. Podgorny
Premier Aleksei Kosygin
Senator Henry Jackson
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Your own Congressman
Your own Senator
The head of any academic or scientific institution in the USSR known to you, or with whom you have professional contact.
Committee of Concerned Scientists, Inc.
Profile: Dr. Mikhail Shtern
Occupation: Endocrinologist, chief of a polyclinic
Status: Married. Wife: Ida, born 1917. Sons: Viktor, born 1941 (physicist, now working as a postman); Avgust, 1945 (Ph.D.,
biology, now tutoring)
Investigation Completed: 10/18/74
Charges: a) "Bribery"; b) possibly, "attempted homicide"
Trial: Date to be announced; due end of November, 1974.
In September 1973, the Shtern family took the first step in the emigration process when they received a vyzov (invitation)
from Mrs. Shtern's sister in Israel. Immediately following this, the entire family became the target of systematic harassment;
unofficial searches; calls to local government offices, interrogations. This preliminary campaign culminated in the arrest
of Dr. Mikhail Shtern on May 25, 1974 during a KGB search of the Shtern apartment. Four days later the family was informed
that an investigation had been opened in preparation for court action against Dr. Shtern.
The Vinnitsa Procurator's Office stated explicitly that the accusation was in retaliation for the entire family's
desire to emigrate to Israel, while the Chief of Investigation for the Ukrainian Republic commented that he didn't "like,
people going to Israel." Apparently acting on orders sanctioned by the Regional Communist Party, the procurator attempted
to accumulate evidence to support bribery charges. In view of the weakness of the evidence, however, additional charges were
sought and "found."
According to Mrs. Shtern, on the 9th of September, Maria Grigorievna Soloveichuk, residing in the village of Kitaigorod, Ilienetsky
Raion, Vinnitsa Oblast, came to the Vinnitsa Oblast Dispensary and demanded to know what "Dr. Shtern had poisoned her
son with." As Mrs. Soloveichuk informed the dispensary workers, interrogators at the Ilienetsky Municipal Procurator's
Office had asked her and other residents of the village, in particular Elena Timoshenko, for information which would prove
that the physician Shtern, had "taken bribes' and sold drugs." The authorities explained that they needed this
information to possibly save the "lives of children deliberately poisoned by Shtern."
Not satisfied with the explanation given by the dispensary workers, Mrs. Soloveichuk went to the Shtern's apartment. Upon
hearing the entire story, and learning how evidence was being initiated and gathered, Mrs. Shtern, (Dr. Shtern was still in
custody) requested that Mrs. Soloveichuk tell this to the Vinnitsa Oblast Procurator. Mrs. Soloveichuk attempted to comply,
but was directed instead to the administrator of the investigative department, Procurate Potapov. Mrs. Shtern's request
to have the informants recite their charges in her presence, and their version of how the investigation was conducted, was
denied. Instead, the local man merely "conversed" with Mrs. Soloveichuk privately and then sent her home.
Despite endless searches and confiscation of property worth 3,000 rubles, authorities found no evidence to support their charges.
The bribery charges alone carry a maximum penalty of 20 years.
N.B. Vinnitsa is a remote Ukrainian town whose isolation has served as cover for recent anti-Jewish outbreaks. In 1973, Isaak
Shkolnik, an unskilled laborer, was tried and sentenced to 7 years on charges of "treason." In recent weeks, one
of the few remaining activists in the town, Mikhail Mager, has been continually harassed and under surveillance.
Appeal by the Shtern Family to the Medical Profession and to all concerned people:
In September, 1973 our family received an invitation from our mother's sister, living in Israel; immediately after receipt
of this invitation we all began to undergo systematic and continuous harassment and persecution. On May 12th, 1974, our flat
was broken into by unknown persons, for an unknown purpose; at this time all members of the family were called to different
state and local government offices, and all retained in these various places for more than 4 hours. On May 25th, 1974, our
father was arrested; the arrest was carried out by officials of the K.G.B.: 10 men burst into the apartment in the most brutal
manner, without any warning or ringing of the bell or any previous notification whatsoever. On May 29th, 1974, during the
investigation, the procurator of the Vinnitsa Office openly stated that the reason for the preparation of an accusation against
our father was connected with our desire emigrate to live in Israel.
When it became clear that the attempts of the K.G.B. to institute, a political or even a civil case were doomed to failure
as they had no evidence of any kind, of either political activity or of bribery or corruption of any sort, the case was handed
over to the Procurator's office with instructions to prepare some sort of case so that our father could be brought to
trial. When the accusation was presented to him, a further search was undertaken, and all his personal documents were removed,
including his diploma of Kandidat Nauk, original manuscripts of scientific articles, a list of scientific works and so on;
At the request of the Vinnitsa Procurator, exit visas for the younger son and his wife have been held back.
In spite of the obvious absurdity and the open dishonesty of the accusation being prepared and presented against our father,
a doctor with more than 30 years experience in medical practice, the official governmental organs have been persisting for
the last 4 months with their efforts to press the charge of "attempting to poison little children who were under his care
as a doctor." Officials of the investigating authorities are browbeating witnesses, compelling them to give false testimony,
accusing the doctor whom they have always trusted and respected of the intention to poison their children. This was stated
by M. Soloveichuk and E. Timoshenko on September 9th, 1974. These two are relatives of former patients of our father.
Thus as it has not been found possible or convenient to bring a charge of violation of the criminal law code, or of abuse
of his rights as an official (by the taking of bribery), they have now decided to bring a charge against this doctor of "attempting
murder," highly reminiscent of the infamous "Doctors' Plot" case of 1952.
It is up to the consciences of all honest people not to allow this to take place. We appeal to the Medical Profession and
beg you to help us to save our father, whose whole aim in life has always been to help to save the lives of others.