The Refusenik Who Took Photographs of Life in the Gulag

A native of the Latvian city of Riga, Joseph Schneider narrowly escaped the Nazis and joined the Red Army in 1944, serving for the next seven years. He then dedicated himself to sharpshooting (he reportedly set a world record in 1954), photography, and clandestine Zionist activism. Recently the Israel National Library acquired his extensive collection of photographs. Yaakov Schwartz writes:

Schneider spent four years in the gulag from 1957 through 1961 for the crimes of supporting Zionism and disseminating pro-Israel materials from his photography studio in [then-Soviet] Riga. In truth, the studio was really a cover for his illicit Jewish nationalist activities.

However, his dexterity with a camera quickly became known among the inmates and was brought to the attention of a guard who had been tasked with documenting day-to-day life in the camp. In exchange for the last two frames of each film roll, Schneider taught the guard some photography basics. When Schneider was freed, he smuggled out a cache of photographic evidence, hidden in the false bottom of a picture frame. The archive was the likes of which the world has never seen. . . .

In addition to the gulag, Schneider documented his grassroots efforts to promote Zionism in Latvia. He also took photos of Jewish historical sites and instances of religious observance throughout the former Soviet Union during the Stalinist era. Then, such activity could mean summary execution. . . .

According to [his son] Uri, Schneider was one of the first Soviet Jews in the early 1950s to apply to emigrate to Israel. [He] filled out the paperwork knowing full well that the Jews who had naively done the same in 1948 thinking that Israel’s socialist government made it a natural Soviet ally had been imprisoned, and many of them killed. Schneider would repeat the process—and get denied—sixteen times. . . . Following the 1968 exit of fellow refusenik and activist Dov Schperling—whom Schneider had met and mentored at the Mordovian gulag—Schneider’s request to move to Israel was finally approved in 1969.

Schneider died in Israel in 2006.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: History & Ideas, Photography, Soviet Jewry, Soviet Union, Zionism

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy