In the winter of 1953, the Kamyanets-Podolsk Directorate of the Ministry of State Security was incredibly lucky. The Soviet special services carried out in the city of Proskurov “the capture of the century”, although they had no idea about it at all.
Then relations between Israel and the Soviet Union deteriorated rapidly. The culmination was the explosion at the Soviet embassy in Tel Aviv on February 9, 1953, and the subsequent severance of diplomatic relations. A wave of arrests swept through the Land of the Soviets; special attention was paid to the relatives of Israeli politicians and dignitaries.
However, in the regions, the mass arrests were of a formal nature – this is the only way to explain the failure of the Chekists in Ukrainian Proskurov (since 1954 – the city of Khmelnitsky), where the accountant of the Regional Melioration Office David Yakov-Moyshevich Vertsman lived in 1953... His case could have thundered all over the world... but it remained almost unknown.
A disciplined and competent employee, well versed in accounting and auditing work, Vertsman was an ordinary citizen, lived with his wife Khaya Lipovna. Vertsman's daughter Galina was already an adult and studied at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. An exemplary Soviet family.
When on Friday, January 16, 1953, a rumor spread through the Proskurovskaya reclamation station: Vertsman did not come to work because he was arrested, the people were shocked. The modest accountant was never brought to trial and was never under investigation.
The capital demanded to intensify the work to identify Jewish bourgeois nationalists and Zionists, and here – just a find: a nationalist, anti-Soviet, who lived in Palestine before the war, maintains contact with abroad.
Vertsman's Tel Aviv relatives could decorate any political cause in the Union. But the officers of the Kamyanets-Podolsk MGB department never found out that David Yakovlevich's cousin, Mordechai Almog (Vertsman), the son of his uncle Genokh, was at that time the head of the Aman department of the Israeli military intelligence department. By that time, he had already managed to create the legendary "Unit 8200" - Israel's electronic intelligence. Subsequently, Mordechai Almog joined the Mossad, where, under the command of Shmuel Toledano, he held a command position in Tsomat, the unit that led all espionage activities. In 1957, he became the head of this largest division of the Mossad.
The secret services also did not know that another cousin of David Vertsman, Yitzhak Almog, also held high posts in the Israel Defense Forces, “Tsakhal” (later he was the head of the Israeli Defense Ministry's delegations in Great Britain, Scandinavia and Southeast Asia).
Paradoxically, the Chekists knew about Uncle Genokh Vertsman, who lived in Tel Aviv, but not what his sons were doing.
Vertsman was arrested because in 1948-1949 he repeatedly listened to anti-Soviet broadcasts of the Voice of Israel radio station.
The second reason for the arrest is Vertsman's past. The employees of the Kamyanets-Podolsk UMGB were interested in the biography of an elderly person not so much in his social origin as in his activities in the post-revolutionary years.
According to the personal data, the accountant was from the town of Zinkov, Kamyanets-Podolsk region. David arrived in the city of Proskurov in 1902 and settled with his maternal uncle. In Proskurov there were more opportunities to get an education than in little Zinkovo, and until 1906 David Yakov-Moishevich studied at home with private teachers. Vertsman's parents moved in with him from Zinkov a year before the First World War – in 1913.
At the first interrogation, which took place immediately on the day of his arrest, January 16, 1953, the accountant told the investigation that in 1920 he went to Palestine, but returned to the Union after 2 years. Vertsman explained his departure to the territory of the British Mandate by the oppression of the Poles, under whose occupation his hometown was at that time, and by religious beliefs.
The interrogator had to force David to open his mouth. Eli's grandson later recalled how the interrogations took place. They broke his arm several times, interrogated him for many hours in a row...
Three days after his arrest, on January 19, 1953, David had to confess that just before his departure to Palestine, in 1919-1920, he was a member of the Zionist organization.
In 1919, dumbfounded by the general devastation and the terrible Proskurov pogrom, Vertsman came to the conclusion that the Jews needed to return to Eretz Yisrael as soon as possible. He began attending Zionist meetings and paying a monthly fee of 50 kopecks.
In the fall of 1920, Vertsman left Proskurov for the capital of Galicia – Lviv. There he established contact with the “Jewish Committee” and, on his advice, left for Warsaw. In Warsaw, with the assistance of local Zionists, he received a visa from the British consulate to enter Palestine.
In Palestine, Vertsman and other olims who came with him were quickly employed. In Eretz Yisrael, they had to work on the construction of roads, houses and other structures, on agricultural plantations. Despite the hard work, David Yakov-Moishevich did not forget about politics in his free time. In Palestine, Ole Hadash attended the Zionist Club and regularly visited the library.
Realizing what the implications are, Vertsman denied in every possible way that he had met with famous Zionists in Palestine. The authorities guessed about these acquaintances, but had no evidence. The accountant had something to be afraid of: in Palestine, he was friends with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later the second president of Israel, and his wife, the children's writer Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi. Vertsman also met with the leadership of the Yishuv, including David Ben-Gurion, then the leader of the Histadrut trade union established in Palestine. However, the investigation still reported to Moscow about the meetings of the suspect with Ben-Gurion and Golda Meerson (Golda Meir).
According to the investigation, in 1922, Vertsman returned to the Soviet Union for a reason, but on the instructions of the Zionist leadership. Say, he was supposed to propagandize the departure to Eretz Israel, and then in every possible way to undermine the nation-building of the republic of Soviet Jews in Birobidzhan. On February 9, 1953, the Deputy Minister of State Security reported to Lieutenant General Ryasnoy that Vertsman had confessed to intentionally returning to the Union on the instructions of the Zionists, and the knackers continued to beat the accountant for the testimony they needed.
But Vertsman stood his ground: he never engaged in any espionage or Zionist activity, and in 1922 he returned to the Soviet Union on his own initiative, having received permission according to all the rules.
According to the accountant, he never again engaged in political activities, although he continued to adhere to Zionist views and in 1922 he returned to the Soviet Union on his own initiative, having received permission according to all the rules. At the behest of the heart and out of a sense of patriotism, and not on the basis of any guidelines received in Tel Aviv. Returning from the Middle East, he found a job within two months. He worked in various Soviet institutions as an accountant, got married and in 1930 his daughter was born.
As ordered by the Soviet homeland, he in every possible way raised his cultural and educational level. In 1940 he graduated from the correspondence department of the Institute of Foreign Languages, where he improved his knowledge in English and German. But the plans to go into pedagogy were prevented by the Great Patriotic War. Vertsman was not drafted into the army due to his very poor eyesight. With the whole family, he spent the years of the war in evacuation.
As the documents of the special services describe it dryly, after returning from evacuation to Proskurov, David Vertsman took energetic steps to establish contact with abroad. Immediately after the war, he began to correspond with his Tel Aviv uncle Herman.
The successes of state building in Palestine and the initially favorable attitude of the Bolsheviks towards the Jewish state instilled in David hope that he could return to where he reluctantly left more than twenty years ago.
Despite all the efforts of the relatives, permission for repatriation was not followed, and Uncle Herman died in Tel Aviv at the end of 1947 without seeing his nephew.
On May 14, 1948, Vertsman greeted the news of the proclamation of Israel's Declaration of Independence with enthusiasm: “...I was pleased that the sacrifices were not made by the Jewish people in vain”. Finding like-minded people in Proskurov, David hoped that the Soviet Union would give them the opportunity to leave – the example of the repatriation of the Polish population inspired hopes for a positive solution to this issue. The Jews began to gather at each other's apartments and eagerly listen to the barely breaking transmission of “Kol Yisrael”.
In addition to the fact of listening to the programs, the investigators were extremely interested in Vertsman's hobby for “anti-Soviet literature”. Until 1949, Vertsman subscribed to a Jewish newspaper and read Jewish books. “I love my language”, – he explained his interest in Bialik and other authors. But the reading of the work of the historian and literary critic Semyon Dubnov became fatal. In a certificate received from the Kamyanets-Podolsk Regional Department for Literature and Publishing on March 2, 1953, it was written in black and white that the book “History of Jewish Literature”, which Vertsman took to read, was banned as nationalistic in content.
There were other facts of the “crimes” of the Proskurov accountant in the case. According to the testimony of witnesses, Vertsman constantly slandered the Soviet regime and stated that, unlike the USSR, people from capitalist countries could freely go to Israel. In his opinion, if the borders of the Soviet Union were opened, the majority of Jews would have left for the homeland of their ancestors. And he, Vertsman, would be the first.
In the fall of 1950, in the midst of the struggle against cosmopolitanism, David began to criticize Soviet nationality policy: “The most prominent representatives of the Jewish people are being arrested, newspapers in the Jewish language are banned from publishing”. There was a witness who remembered his words.
Vertsman’s neighbor, Vera Melnik, testified that Vertsman had read a nationalist book and argued to her that Jews should die only for their country. Seeing once the prisoners who worked on the construction of the Proskurov House of Soviets, Vertsman told her that Proskurov would become the same concentration camp as all Soviet cities. Also, Vertsman, who visited many countries, constantly compared the living standards of the population – and not in favor of the Land of the Soviets.
On January 24, 1953, Vertsman was charged: in the past he was a member of a Zionist organization and conducted anti-Soviet agitation calling for Soviet citizens to leave for the reactionary capitalist state of Israel.
Two months later, on March 25, 1953, the investigation was completed. In addition to Vertsman, his acquaintances Mikhail Kuperstein, Benjamin Kolker, Mordko Sher and El Rabin been brought to justice.
Vertsman was sentenced to 10 years in prison with confiscation of property under Articles 54-10, Part 2 (anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation) and 54-11 (participation in a counter-revolutionary organization). He pleaded guilty on all counts, with the exception of slandering Soviet reality and listening to the Voice of America. In addition to the imprisonment in the special camp of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the court insisted on a 5-year term for the defeat of Vertsman and everyone involved in the case in political rights.
With the death of Stalin, the principle of “socialist legality” began to be somehow observed. Already in October 1953, the Judicial Collegium for Criminal Cases decided to release Vertsman's “accomplices” from custody. Kolker, Kuperstein and Rabin were released home; Mordka Shera, for lack of proof of the crime, was released even earlier. Only the “ringleader”, David Vertzman, was punished, excluding the confiscation of property and reclassifying the deed under a “lighter” article.
David was released on December 7, 1955 under an amnesty. The years spent in the Dubravny camp of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Mordovian village of Yavas did not pass without a trace – the elderly man became disabled. He developed serious heart problems and almost lost his eyesight.
Three years later, on June 26, 1958, the chairman of the Supreme Court of the USSR came to the conclusion that Vertsman and the other defendants, although they listened to the “enemy voices”, but the opinions expressed by them in a narrow circle were of a philistine character. There were no signs of anti-Soviet agitation in their speeches. The case was dropped due to lack of corpus delicti.
On retirement, Vertsman lived with his daughter in Khmelnytsky. Until the last days, he dreamed of leaving for Eretz Yisrael, but the authorities were adamant: will not release, period. David Vertsman died on November 23, 1975. After 4 years, his daughter Galina and grandson Eli immigrated to Israel.
1887 – 1975