On December 20, 1974, the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States of America passed the Jackson-Vanik Amendment restricting trade with countries that prevent emigration. This was an attempt by the “world arbiter” at the legislative level to influence the authorities of the Soviet Union, which by the early 1970s had achieved perfection in the Jesuit methods of keeping their own population from fleeing to the West.
Little by little, they began to let Jews out, without lowering the standard level of pressure and not forgetting to constantly manipulate quotas.
Former Soviet citizens flew to Eretz Israel via Vienna. Understanding the full responsibility of working to ensure the transit of Jews, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI/Sokhnut) was very scrupulous about the selection of personnel. This was especially true of the position of director of the Jewish Agency in Vienna. The requirements for such candidates were strict: knowledge of the Russian and German languages, experience of the Zionist struggle, and understanding of the specific problems of Soviet Jewry were desirable.
Successful Tel Aviv lawyer Baruch Minkovich met all these requirements. He received an offer from the management of JAFI. In Israel lawyer Minkovich was in the middle of the term of the municipal deputy of the city of Ramat Gan, where he had lived since his repatriation, which kept him from going.
Friends convinced him that repatriation from the USSR is important for the country, and a real Zionist should always be guided by the interests of Eretz Israel. The lawyer Minkovich agreed with them and on November 2, 1979, he arrived with his wife Frida in Vienna.
The Israeli lawyer knew the Soviet Union and the problems of local Jewry firsthand. He was originally from Leningrad, which on his birthday, January 24, 1915, was still called Petrograd. The Petrograd public rabbi Eisenstadt even wrote down the newborn in the capital style: not Baruch, as was demanded by Judaism, but in the Russian manner – Boris.
Father's parents lived in Pinsk, which became part of the Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, so the Minkovichs managed to obtain Polish citizenship. However, the family did not go to Poland. In 1925, the ZIV branch, in which Baruch's father worked, was transferred to Riga. The entire family of newly minted Polish citizens ended up in Latvia.
Baruch's father was not a member of parties and movements, but he adhered to Zionist views. Although Baruch did not seriously study Hebrew as a child, and only visited the synagogue on major holidays, thanks to the atmosphere reigning in the family, the desire to move to the re-established Jewish state in Palestine was something completely natural for him.
The first few years in Riga went smoothly, but in 1930 the Minkovich family went through a serious test. Due to the difficult financial situation associated with the global economic crisis, the ZIV company went bankrupt, and the head of the family, without receiving payment, was forced to go to Paris to earn money. 15-year-old Baruch moved with his mother to a new, much simpler apartment, and kept up a lively correspondence with his father.
To please his son, Natan subscribed to the weekly magazine Rassvet, published by Vladimir Jabotinsky in Paris, and regularly sent it along with letters to his son.
The first meeting with Jabotinsky took place with the younger Minkovich in 1929 in Riga at a gala dinner in honor of an important guest. The personality of the leader of the revisionist movement shocked the 14-year-old boy so much that after many years, Minkovich could not name a single representative of right-wing Zionism who came close to this politician in terms of the integrity of his image. The choice for Boba was obvious – revisionism! Moreover, a friend, Jacob Hoffman, one of the leaders of revisionist Zionism, lived next door. In 1923 Hoffman, together with his associates, created the youth wing of the revisionist movement in Riga – organization “Beitar” (“Union named after Joseph Trumpeldor”). Vladimir Zhabotinsky himself was elected the head of the movement in 1928.
In the last grade of the gymnasium, Baruch decided to go to the Beitarians. This happened at the most inopportune moment - right after the assassination of Khaim Arlozorov, a prominent Zionist leader from Eretz Yisrael. In Palestine, suspicion fell on the revisionists, so the movement, accused of political murder, was going through hard times.
However, there was no time for the Palestinian events in Latvia. The rise to power in Germany of the Nazis and the influx of Jewish refugees into the Baltic states worsened the already hostile attitude towards the Jewish community. In May 1934, Karlis Ulmanis, who was the Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia, staged a military coup, dissolved the parliament and all parties, and suspended the constitution. Although Ulmanis himself was not an ardent anti-Semite, the Beitarians had to not only accurately communicate with the local authorities, but also to oppose the growth of Nazi sentiments in society.
In 1934, Baruch, already a prominent by that time Riga Beitarov and a graduate of the Jewish gymnasium, was enrolled in the Faculty of Law of the University of Tartu. Such anti-Semitism as in Riga was not observed in Estonian higher education. In Estonia, Jewish students could freely wear student hats, while in Riga they could easily beat them for such insolence.
In Tartu, Minkovich enrolled in the Limuvia Jewish student corporation, the oldest student corporation in the Baltic States. “Limuvia” took Jewish positions, but its participants were practically not interested in the issues of the revival of Eretz Yisrael. Having entered the organization of assimilated Jews, the young Beitarist decided in such a cunning way to attract them to Zionism.
Comrades in the Zionist movement soon thawed out and even chose Baruch as deputy head of “Beitar” in Tartu and Tallinn. It was difficult to combine classes and full-time work in the organization. Studying became especially difficult after Minkovich moved to the capital Tallinn, where Beitar rented an apartment for its leader.
In 1937, after his third year, Minkovich decided to drop out of the university and return to Riga. The reason for this was not only the workload of politics, but also the lack of funds for the family to pay for education. But the young man did not despair and upon arrival in Riga got a job as a private tutor.
Unlike the parents, who were saddened by the expulsion of their son, the residents of Riga were happy with the return of their friend. Minkovich headed the department of culture of “Beitar”, constantly inviting prominent Zionists to Latvia to give lectures. Boba had about thirty people under his command.
In September 1938, as a representative of Latvia, he took part in the Third World Congress of "Beitar" in Warsaw. Minkovich did not speak at the congress due to insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, but he actively participated in the discussions on the Commission on Culture. Then Minkovich spoke with Jabotinsky for the second time, having handed over the book “Rosh Beitar” from Riga.
The last time a Beitar member from Riga met the leader of revisionism at the beginning of 1939. Jabotinsky then came to Latvia with lectures, which in itself was already a risk – not only the Ulmanis authorities, but also the Soviet agents operating in the country, posed a threat.
On August 23, 1939, a non-aggression pact was signed between Germany and the USSR. According to a secret additional protocol to the treaty, Latvia was included in the Soviet sphere of interest. Already on October 5, 1939, in Moscow, the USSR People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Munters signed a Mutual Assistance Pact between the USSR and the Republic of Latvia. And less than a month later, on October 29, 1939, the first train with Soviet servicemen crossed the Latvian border. Rumors about the imminent occupation by the Soviet Union spread throughout the country.
The denouement came in June 1940. Baruch Minkovich was just appointed the head of the Beitar children's camp in the Ropazh parish of the Riga district. On June 17, 1940, not only in the camp, but throughout the country, changes occurred overnight. Soviet armored vehicles entered Ropaži noisily and in a businesslike manner. The Beitarians understood that the end of independent Latvia had come right before their eyes.
Dark times have begun in Latvia. The Latvian “Beitar” was disbanded. Riga activists were smart enough not to submit the lists of Beitar members to the liquidation commission appointed by the authorities, as well as to secretly bury the organization's flags. Baruch immediately burned all photographs of Beitar members in uniform, documents and correspondence. Everyone understood that the liquidation commission was directing everything to the NKVD, and they did not want to make it easier for the Chekists.
After completing his studies at the Faculty of Law of the University of Riga, Minkovich got a job as the head of the planning department of the Riga shoe factory “Uzvara”. Complete absurdity and a mighty Soviet bureaucracy reigned around.
On August 5, 1940, in Moscow, Latvia was officially admitted to the USSR, and the next day in Riga, a friend of Minkovich, who had been elected vice-chairman of the Latvian “Beitar” back in 1935, was arrested.
Alas, no one has forgotten about Minkovich either. The NKVD began to drag Minkovich for interrogation every week.
Interrogations at the “Corner House” lasted until mid-June 1941, and stopped suddenly. And from about June 12, 1941, strange, even suspicious, phenomena began in the capital of the Latvian SSR. First, the party committee demanded that the shoe factory, where Baruch worked, provide a truck transport together with drivers. Then in Riga, armed NKVD officers began to flash everywhere.
On the evening of June 13, the betrothal of Baruch and Frida took place. The same night the Chekists came to their home. In a steely voice, a man in a cap with a crimson band told Minkovich that his stay in socialist Latvia was undesirable, and he should immediately leave the republic.
The NKVD officers turned the whole apartment upside down: they were looking for weapons. At 5 am on June 14, 1941, Baruch and his mother were taken out of the house and taken to the railway station. Bina Minkovich was put on a regular train, and her son in a prison carriage went with other 40 thousand inhabitants of Latvia to Soviet camps.
A few days later, everyone was taken from Yakhnovo even further to the east of Soviet Russia. Due to the abundance of militant banners and the busy train schedule, the Latvian exiles understood: the war had begun, and, obviously, the Russians were retreating. In the carriages, opinions were divided about what was happening. Jews, including Baruch, thought with excitement about their relatives and friends, while the Latvians could hardly hide their joy...
After two weeks of a difficult journey, the exiles arrived in Solikamsk in the Perm Territory. At the staging post, everyone was assigned to camps. Baruch Minkovich ended up in the Chertezh camp, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by four towers located at the corners of the territory.
In the Chertezh, life was relatively well organized. The work assigned to the exiled was mainly related to the cleaning of the territory and other household work.
But in August 1941, everything changed for the worse. Minkovich, along with other young and healthy people, ended up in the Przma camp. There he joined the lumberjack brigade, which logged timber from 6 in the morning until late in the evening. A meager ration and the incredible burden of work, unbearable even for local peasants, not to mention the intellectuals from Riga, very soon led to the first deaths.
Once, on the way to the plot, the body of the greatly emaciated Minkovich could not stand. A purulent wound opened on the lower leg, which could not heal in any way. The guards were not going to provide help and led the people further, leaving the exhausted prisoner on the spot. So he lay until late in the evening on the ground, covered with snow, until the prisoners returning from the shift brought him to the camp. A well-known doctor, Professor Nikolai Stolygvo saved the patient, somehow miraculously getting a medicine for purulent inflammation.
All this time, the investigative part of the NKVD worked in the sweat of their brow, sorting out the cases of the exiled. No sooner had Minkovich been discharged from the hospital and started, like a convalescent, to chores, when he was interrogated by an investigator of the Latvian NKVD, who ended up in Solikamsk. In the indictment, Baruch Minkovich was accused of active participation in the counter-revolutionary “fascist-Zionist organization “Trumpeldor”. As a punishment, the investigator proposed the highest – execution with confiscation of personal property for the benefit of the state. A special meeting at the NKVD of the USSR considered the case until August 1942. The verdict under Article 58-4 of the RSFSR Criminal Code turned out to be surprisingly mild: five years of exile to Siberia.
In the NKVD of Krasnoyarsk, Baruch Minkovich with other exiles received a referral to Yeniseisk. A police officer reassured the new arrivals that relatives of Latvian exiles lived in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, who could come to the convicts and live with them.
The young man was already desperate to find his mother and his bride, but an absolutely incredible case helped. Waiting for registration in Yeniseisk, Baruch went to the Krasnoyarsk market to sell something of his personal belongings. After talking with one of the customers, he learned that she worked with Bina Minkovich on a state farm near Irbey, 500 kilometers from the Yenisei.
Thanking the woman, happy Minkovich sent an urgent telegram to Irbey. Mom answered only a few days later, and in a rather strange way: “Contact the NKVD and ask for a transfer to the Irbei region”. After a while, Minkovich received his application back. The paper had the “Allowed” stamp.
The young man, who was not yet physically strong after an illness, could not work. I had to use the good education I received in Riga and Tartu. At the state farm, Minkovich began to help his mother in accounting. Baruch learned from his mother that his beloved, Frida Finkelman, was alive and well. At the very last moment, the girl left Riga for Moscow, and then got a job as a physical education teacher and physiotherapist in Berezovsk near Sverdlovsk.
Celebrating the New Year 1943 in a nearby village with the Kaplan family in Riga, also exiled for belonging to the Zionist movement, Baruch received an urgent message from his mother. She conveyed through a local that Baruch urgently returned home. Baruch had the best New Year's present - Frida, his bride, who had come to him.
Decently proficient in accounting on a state farm, Minkovich got a job as an accountant at a creamery. For any shortage in wartime conditions, they could easily be sent back to the camp or even shot. Rigan, promoted to chief accountant, was appreciated at work and, despite his status as an exile, was very respectfully received in Krasnoyarsk, where he went every year with a report.
A law school graduate, Baruch became friends with the only judge in the area, the only prosecutor and lawyer who invited the law school graduate to court hearings. Minkovich realized that the specialty of a lawyer attracted him much more than the dry numbers of accounting reports.
The term of Minkovich's exile ended in 1947. As a citizen of Poland, he could count on repatriation to this country, although the family did not have any Polish documents in the hands of a long time ago.
Taking a vacation at the creamery and selling the family gold in order to have at least some means for the journey, Baruch went to the Polish embassy in Moscow. The diplomat received him kindly, but demanded at least some documentary evidence of Polish citizenship before 1939.
The exiled had to go to his alma mater - the University of Tartu, whose archive, by a happy coincidence, survived the war. In Tartu, there was not only a pre-war copy of Minkovich's Polish passport, but also a certificate of his admission, a citizen of the Polish Republic, to the university as a foreign student.
A whole year passed while waiting for permission to leave. During this time, Baruch received a promotion and moved his family to Krasnoyarsk. One fine day he received a call from the MGB Directorate for the Krasnoyarsk Territory. An employee of the authorities invited him to a conversation. He tried to dissuade the Soviet chief accountant from repatriation to Poland. From the conversation, it became clear that the permission had already been signed, and the employee was trying to campaign rather for pro forma.
At the same time, his family received good news. Frida's brother-in-law, the famous Zionist Benjamin-Eliav Lubotsky, tried to send an Israeli visa to Warsaw for the whole family.
It was much easier to breathe in the Polish capital than in the USSR. Through the Jewish Committee, Frida and Baruch got a job in an orphanage in Otwock near Warsaw. The orphanage was supported by the Joint and was just a resort in comparison with similar institutions in the Soviet Union.
In Poland, they learned about the death of Frida's parents and sister. The Finkelman family died in the Rumbula forest near Riga. At the same time, the fate of Nathan Minkovich, who remained in Paris, became clear. In 1943, Natan was handed over to the Nazis by the doorkeeper of the house where he lived. The Germans deported the elderly man through the Drancy camp to Auschwitz, where they almost immediately killed him.
Finally, having received permission to leave, the family said goodbye to their Polish friends and left for Italy. From Venice to Israel sailed on a ship with the appropriate name “Independence”.
Relatives already lived in Israel. The family settled in Ramat Gan and slowly began to settle down. Everything was not easy. Frida could not find a job as a physical education teacher, and Baruch learned Hebrew day and night. The language was needed for a difficult exam for a lawyer's license. Baruch's past in “Beitar” influenced employment not in the best way. At that time, the government bodies did not favor revisionists and could at any moment arrange, as it was said before, “tsores”.
In 1951, Minkovich decided to operate on his injured leg in the camp. The former Soviet prisoner used the months of rehabilitation to prepare for the exam in jurisprudence.
The first exam in Eretz Yisrael was a real challenge. The renowned judge Haim Cohen immediately addressed a group of 15 people with a question from commercial law. Before those present had time to collect their thoughts and answer, the strict examiner, not satisfied with the speed of the answer, sent everyone home. At the very first retake, three weeks later, Baruch Minkovich confirmed his diploma.
Soon Baruch's mother moved to an elderly woman in Tel Aviv, whom she began to look after, and the young family moved to the then completely new and uninhabited quarter of Ramat Amidar.
In Israel, Baruch Minkovich was awarded the title of “Prisoner of Zion”. According to his recollections, Meir Grossman, a longtime associate of Jabotinsky, helped a lot in this.
Baruch Minkovich never made money on Zionism, so he helped repatriates from the USSR who needed legal support for free. Having become a popular Tel Aviv lawyer, Minkovich, in his spare time, together with representatives of the Chabad movement, made summons for Soviet Jews to Israel. According to the law, only a relative could issue them, but, knowing perfectly well the essence of the bloodthirsty Bolshevik system, the lawyer closed his eyes on real family ties.
In 1973, Minkovich, an active social activist and former Soviet prisoner, received a call from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. A group of Israeli athletes went to Moscow for the 7th Summer Universiade, and they needed an accompanying person and an interpreter. It was assumed that in the future Minkovich would be involved through the Foreign Ministry with other, more complex tasks.
Having received security guarantees, lawyer Minkovich flew to Moscow. At the Moscow airport, Israeli athletes went through border control quickly, but the former prisoner was detained. They interrogated for a long time, letting understand that the personality of the translator was well known to the Soviet KGB.
In Moscow, all two weeks of their stay, the group was constantly followed by people of a specific type. This did not prevent the delegation from visiting the Moscow Choral Synagogue and talking with Jews who came from many cities.
Back in Israel, lawyer Minkovich, by then a member of the center of the Likud party, won elections to the municipal council of the city of Ramat Gan. For two years he headed the city construction commission, until he got a job at Vienna's JAFI.
In Austria, Baruch Minkovich represented the interests of Israel and introduced former Soviet citizens to the country. Regularly meeting planes with those who had left the Soviet Union, the head of the Vienna JAFI took them to a special hostel, where people were for several days before the second stage of the road. During these few days, people had to decide whether to repatriate, as expected with a visa, to Israel or fly to the United States. The head of JAFI hardly managed to persuade people to go to the homeland of their ancestors, but he did not want to exert any pressure. In the free world, everyone had a choice of how to deal with their destiny.
Baruch Minkovich worked in the Vienna office for two and a half years. Before resigning, he became a delegate to the 30th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, at which he spoke about the problems of Soviet repatriation. The lawyer was offered to stay in Vienna for a longer period, but he decided to return to Israel, to his law office.
After returning to the country, Baruch Minkovich was elected chairman of the public organization “Misdar Zeev Jabotinsky” – a kind of “order” spreading the ideas of Jabotinsky. Many years later, in 1997, Baruch Minkovich visited the former Soviet Union again. Together with Jabotinsky's grandson, he opened a memorial plaque in Odessa, installed on the house where the legendary leader of the revisionists once lived.
Baruch Minkovich raised a number of lawyers in his law office. For his outstanding service in Israeli jurisprudence in 2008, the Israeli Bar Association presented him with the “Best in the Profession” award. In 2014, a Riga Zionist and a brilliant intellectual published a memoir “The Sentence: The Death Penalty: The Life Story of a Zionist”.
In 2016, in the one hundred and first year of life, Prisoner of Zion Baruch Minkovich passed away. He is survived by 8 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. The Zionist dream of the Riga Beitar member has come true.
1915 – 2016