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

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela