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In 1946, within the framework of the Palestine agent case, the Vilnius Chekists were looking into a group of Lithuanian Zionists. According to intelligence, one of the leaders of the Jewish underground in the city was Shlema (Shlomo) Girshevich Gefen, a senior researcher at the Vilnius Institute of Sanitation and Hygiene.

Shlomo Gefen could have moved to Eretz Israel immediately after the liberation of Lithuania from the Nazis. But the daredevil remained in Vilnius, so that hundreds of other Jews were able to escape from the clutches of the Stalinist regime.

Shlomo Gefen was born in 1913 in Kaunas, into a wealthy family of a sawmill accountant and housewife.

At the very beginning of the First World War, his family from Kaunas to Vilno, where the Gefens remained exactly until the moment when in February 1922 the Vilnius sejm adopted a resolution on the annexation of the city to Poland. Little Shlomo managed to study in Vilna for 2 years in a Hebrew school, but his parents quickly realized that they, the Jews, would not be happy in Poland. The family council decided to go back to Kaunas.

Upon arrival in the temporary capital of the Republic of Lithuania, the parents enrolled their youngest son in the Kaunas Hebrew Gymnasium, which he successfully graduated in 1930. Carried away from by biology and chemistry, Shlomo chose the Faculty of Land and Nature of the Vytautas Magnus University. After graduating from the chemical department of the faculty, the young man received a biochemist degree and soon found a job in his specialty – in the chemical laboratory of the textile factory “Litex”.

Before the start of the Great Patriotic War, Shlomo Gefen lived in Kaunas. He got married and continued to work at Litex. On June 23, 1941, Gefen, his wife Reveka, parents and some other family members managed to evacuate on one of the last echelons from Kaunas, where an uprising against Soviet power began. The Kaunas uprising was accompanied not only by an attack on Soviet soldiers and officers, but also by the massacres of local Jews. The family was evacuated to the Uzbek city of Kitab, where Shlomo Gefen found a job as the head of a malaria station. In August 1945, the Gefens returned to Lithuania and settled in Vilnius. The married couple returned from Uzbekistan with replenishment: in 1942, in Kitab, the Gefens had a daughter, Yael.

From December 1945 until his arrest, Gefen worked as a senior researcher at the Vilnius Scientific and Technical Institute of Sanitation and Hygiene and, in addition, worked part-time as a biochemist at the Vilnius First City Hospital.

Shlomo Gefen was arrested on November 6, 1946 in Vilnius. On November 27, 1946, he was charged under two serious political articles: 58-1 “a” and 58-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code.

The Lithuanian Chekists knew that the Gefen family in Kaunas was considered Zionists.

As for the arrested chemist himself, in his youth, from 1931 to 1940, Gefen was an activist of the Zionist-revisionist youth organization Beitar. For several years Shlomo Gefen held the position of secretary and cashier in the Kaunas organization. During 1936, he served as the cell's military instructor as well as lecturer. In addition to the office in his native Kaunas, Shlomo Gefen was also a member of the republican board of the Lithuanian "Beitar", which consisted of four people.

In early December 1945, having arrived on a business trip to Kaunas, Gefen visited his relative and fellow in the Zionist movement, doctor David Reichmann. In addition to Gefen and the owner himself, Reichmann’s apartment was also home to Samuel Goldburg, a teacher and former member of the Algemein Zionist Party. So Shlomo Gefen, torn away from the national movement during the years of the war, again established ties with the Zionist underground.

A job was immediately found for Shlomo. Reichmann and Goldburg urgently left for Poland and were looking for a reliable and intelligent person who could instead lead and develop the conspiratorial infrastructure. Gefen, perfectly aware of the possible consequences, nevertheless gave his consent. So Shlomo Gefen became the leader of the Lithuanian Zionist underground, known as “Briha”. The headquarters of the organization was located in Italy.

Briha's job was to transport Zionist activists and Jewish youth from Lithuania to Poland, from where they could travel to Palestine. In the Middle East, they were preparing for the decisive battle for national independence, and the best sons of the Jewish people in the USSR were in camps and in special settlements. Members of youth movements, former partisans and soldiers who survived the Holocaust and on the fronts of World War II continued to fight in every way for the liberation of Soviet Jews.

Having familiarized himself with all the intricacies of the case, Gefen began to prepare groups in Vilnius. He knew many Zionists and their family members well who could provide all possible help in saving their loved ones. Arie – Lev Zhukhovitskiy became Gefen's assistant. Zhukhovitskiy was the son of a rabbi and once studied at the Kaunas yeshiva himself. A Zionist from Kaunas offered the chemist to share responsibilities. Arie took over the paperwork and dispatch of the people prepared by Gefen.

Four days after Shlomo and his people sent their first group abroad, on December 28, 1945, an emissary of the Ihud Lodz center named Petras arrived in Vilnius illegally. An experienced conspirator, a former member of the Hashomer Hatzair organization, he also had to deal with transporting Jews to Poland.

He delivered Gefen an order from the leadership of “Briha” – to hand over to the emissary the care of transporting people, and to work on the release of the convicted and exiled Zionists. The tasks of the emissary included the provision of material assistance to prisoners and their families. For these expenses, Petras gave Gefen 6,000 rubles to start with.

From Lodz, Petras brought one specific task for Gefen – to free the wife of the former head of the Kaunas “Beitar” Yechezkel Delion from exile. To carry out the operation, Petras gave Gefen a photo of Diana Delion-Rubinstein and 4 thousand rubles. Shlomo, as the head of the underground, could not leave Vilnius, so he involved his acquaintance Joseph Teitelbaum to save the woman. After some consultation, the underground workers decided: since it would be necessary to take Diana out of Siberia by rail, it was necessary to find a familiar railroad worker. In June 1946, such a man, a Pole, was found. For a monetary reward, he had to bring Delion-Rubinstein from the Tomsk region, supplying her with fake documents. If successful, the fugitive through Poland would be evacuated to Paris.

Gefen allocated the two thousand rubles remaining from the transferred amount for material assistance to the former secretary of the board of “Beitar” in Kaunas, Israel Evarovich, who was in exile.

The Briha activists helped not only the former Beitar members, but also representatives of other movements. When a former activist of the “Agudat Israel” organization, a rabbi, turned to Gefen and Zhukhovitskiy with a request to help him send more than 20 religious Jews to Palestine, the underground workers met halfway.

Despite the distribution of responsibilities, Gefen did not stop helping in finding new transportation channels. One of them was a corridor through the Belarusian regional center Baranovichi, which Gefen was helped to establish by a Zionist, a doctor from the city of Novogrudok named Gordon.

Subsequently, the Lithuanian underground workers managed to smuggle at least 25 people to Poland by this route.

In 1946, it became obvious that the Soviet special services were on the trail of the underground. Diana Delion-Rubinstein, who fled in September with the help of Gefen, safely got from the Tomsk region to Lviv, but was arrested while trying to illegally cross the Soviet-Polish border.

Gefen's companion Lev Zhukhovitskiy was no longer involved in sending groups and in April 1946 he was sent by Petras to Poland. Shlomo Gefen continued to work alone, at his own risk. In May 1946, together with Petras, he tried to transport to the neighboring country Semyon Goldenkop, a former member of the board of the Zionist organization El-al, who had returned to Vilnius after a five-year sentence. However, while crossing the border, he was detained by Soviet guards.

The last meeting between Gefen and Petras took place in August 1946. The underground workers decided to temporarily “lay low”. Petras left for Moscow, and Shlomo Gefen, having suspended the dispatch of groups, continued to go to work. However, in early November 1946, both Zionists were arrested by the state security authorities.

On April 7, 1947, the investigation against Gefen was completed. First, the case of Shlomo Gefen was heard by the Military Tribunal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Lithuanian SSR. Instead of announcing the verdict, the judges, to the surprise of all those present, announced that they had received a letter from the Minister of State Security of Lithuania, which, they say, contained information about the presence of new witnesses, data and accused. After sitting for two days, the tribunal determined: the case needs further investigation in connection with the new circumstances revealed during the investigation.

As expected, the additional investigation did not open anything new, but the second time the case was tried without a lawyer and a jury, and not in court, but in a “troika” – this was one of the Chekists' favorite tricks.

On November 29, 1947, a Special Meeting at the USSR Ministry of State Security decided to imprison Shlomo Gefen for “high treason and participation in a nationalist Zionist organization” for ten years in a labor camp.

Thanks to the incredible restraint of Gefen and his associates, the Chekists believed that the Vilnius underground workers were able to smuggle only a few dozen people from the USSR. In fact, there were much more of them: only one truck, sent to the Polish border, carried up to 70 people.

Since 1948, Gefen was in various prisons and camps of the Komi ASSR, then he was in Vorkuta. Then there was Ozerlag. At all times, prisoners feel about the same, but for the Jews who got into the Gulag for Zionism, the severity of “imprisonment” was twofold. They understood perfectly well that even after being released from prison, they would not be able to get out of the Soviet Union free.

In July 1954, Shlomo Gefen was transferred to the branch of the Ozerlag in Novochunka. On the advice of other political prisoners, Gefen filed a complaint on the USSR Prosecutor General with a request to reconsider his case. When the prosecutor's office asked the camp administration how they characterized the complainant, they said that the camp nurse Shlomo Gefen had not violated the regime, but, according to the operatives of the Ust-Vymskiy labor camp, he was a member of the Zionist organization of prisoners there. The orderly Gefen rallied the convicted Zionists around him, trying in every possible way to help those for whom imprisonment in the Gulag could become a death sentence.

In 1954, there was no response from the Prosecutor General's Office – repentant enemies of the people, in the opinion of Soviet justice, should not conduct Zionist activities in the camp. And no one was going to release the unrepentant.

But on September 5, 1955, Gefen was still released. The Zionist was forbidden to go home, and was immediately sent into exile in Syktyvkar, under the supervision of the local Ministry of Internal Affairs. Only in September 1956, the case was again reviewed and, in connection with the amnesty, Gefen's conviction was removed.

Only 16 years later, the Soviet government released the Zionist and his family to Israel. On April 11, 1971, Shlomo Gefen, like a captain who was the last to leave a sinking ship, finally reached Eretz Israel. In Israel, the brave former underground member became a member of the Prisoners of Zion Organization, and in 1996 he was elected its chairman. In the organization, he was highly respected, was an indisputable authority.

In Israel, the hero of the underground was engaged not only in public work, but also fully realized himself as a specialist. Until the age of 80, Shlomo Gefen worked at the Veterinary Institute and at the Wolfson Hospital in Holon. The prisoner of Zion died on July 27, 2005.

Shlomo Gefen

1913 – 2005

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