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.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Times of Israel

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

 

The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month

Register

Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Fathom

More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media