‘The People From Whom I Stemmed’
Thank you for your ineffable cover story “Reconnect With The People” (Sept. 27). As you stated, “after 25 years, there is much to celebrate!” My brother, Fabian Kolker, of blessed memory, dedicated his entire adult life to trying to help save Soviet Jews. It has been said that he was one of the earliest American activists in the cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry. Fabian was born and raised in Baltimore, but he said “these are the people from whom I stemmed.”
In 1931, when he was a 16-year-old freshman at Johns Hopkins University, he started an America-Russia club. He was a co-founder of the New York-based National Conference on Soviet Jewry in 1963. He founded and served as the first chairman of the Baltimore Committee for Soviet Jewry in 1967. He had a passion to save Soviet Jews that bordered on an obsession.
At the end of 1979, he was honored by the International League for the Repatriation of Russian Jews as its Man of the Decade. In recognition of his significant contribution on behalf of Soviet Jewry and the State of Israel, he was honored in 1985 by AFSI ( Americans for a Safe Israel) with its Man of the Year award in Baltimore.
Fabian made 14 trips to the Former Soviet Union and traveled 27 times to Israel on behalf of freedom for Soviet Jewish refuseniks. It was my good fortune that he invited me to accompany him on his noble missions.
Our last journey to the USSR was in 1981 at the request of novelist Leon Uris, who asked Fabian to escort him on a tour to establish “lodges” for B’nai Brith International. The two stars of the speakers who comprised the B’nai Brith Lecture Bureau were Leon and Elie Wiesel. Leon was chosen because of his book “Exodus,” which was the first book to create an international understanding of the great significance of the State of Israel. He was Fabian’s friend and admired his vast knowledge, experience and brilliance. He thought Fabian was “the brightest candle on the menorah!”
We accompanied Leon every day for 14 days and nights to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Riga, Latvia; however, Fabian and I spent much of our time in Russia visiting Jewish refuseniks and dissidents in their apartments to give them hope and to reassure them that compassionate people in the U.S. were eager to help them gain their freedom. We also went many times to the American Embassy to help them obtain exit visas to leave the USSR.
I am delighted that the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is featuring Natan Sharansky as the keynote speaker at their gala celebration on Oct. 20 at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Fabian and I first met Anatoli [Sharansky] in 1975 in front of the synagogue in Moscow.
I was attempting to take a photograph of Anatoli and Fabian when the KGB confronted me and attempted to grab my camera.
I was determined that they were not going to wrestle my camera away from me. Fortunately, I was successful, as I cherish the pictures in my photo albums and hope to share them with Natan when he visits Baltimore for the Gala. I would love to have the opportunity to reminisce with him about the letter from his precious wife, Avital, which Fabian surreptitiously handed to him. It was the very first letter that he actually received from her, since he was forced to leave the USSR after their marriage. The letter had come from Jerusalem via New York because the Soviet government was intercepting his mail. Fabian had been given the letter when we were at the State Department in Washington, and we were asked to deliver it to Anatoli in Moscow. I treasure these memories.
Fabian Kolker, of blessed memory, was my inspiration, and Natan Sharansky is my hero. We must indeed celebrate and “Reconnect With The People.”
Gloria Kolker Hack
Editor’s Note: Fabian Kolker died in October 2000 at the age of 85.