Helping the Refuseniks



Soviet dissidents

Refusenik was an unofficial term for individuals—typically, but not exclusively, Soviet Jews—who were denied permission to emigrate, primarily to Israel, by the authorities of the Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc. The term refusenik is derived from the “refusal” handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities.

Eric Hochstein was a staff member for Senator Carl Levin of Michigan working on human rights. Human rights were a big issue for Senator Levin. 

Eric went as part of a standard commercial tour of the SU for two weeks from Sep 28th,1980, where he visited Moscow, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa, and Leningrad. Eric and his colleagues used this trip to peel off and visit various Refusenik families to bring them news, messages and supplies. 

Only protected by a US passport and a tourist visa Eric travelled by public transport under surveillance from the KGB carrying supplies for the families included Levi jeans which were better than money in the Soviet Union of the 1980s.  

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Peter Ryan is your host today and I am delighted to welcome Eric Hochstein to our Cold War conversation…

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