It was an attempt to highjack an empty civilian plane on 15 June 1970 by a group of sixteen citizens of then Soviet Union in order to run away from Soviet Russia into the West.
As a result of broken diplomatic relations between Israel and the USSR following the 6 Day War, the USSR closed its borders for Jewish emigrants. Though not impossible, applying for exit visas was very difficult and strenuous; the families who wished to leave USSR had to first leave their jobs. This in turn exposed them to accruing charges of social parasitism, which was a criminal offense. The grounds for denial exit visas was the claim by the government given individuals had access to sensitive national security information and hence posed a threat outside of the USSR borders.
As a result, in 1970 a group of sixteen Russians, two of whom were not Jewish, led by Edward Kuznetsov, planned to purchase all seats on the 12-seater plan called Antonov An-2, also known as kukruznik, under the pretense of a wedding flight. The plan was to throw the pilots immediately before the take off and make the way to Sweden. The destination was to be Israel. Mark Dymshits, who was a former military pilot had experience with this particular aircraft. The group called the highjack “Operation Wedding”. The group never made it to the plane; they were arrested by the KGB upon arrival.
Sentence and the aftermath
The group was charged with high treason, which was punishable by death. The trial took place between 15th and 24th December 1970. The distribution of sentence was as follows:
Mark Dymshits, who was 43 years of age at that time along with Eduard Kuznetsov, ages 30, were sentenced to death. Sylvia Zalmanson, aged 25 and Kuznetsov’s wife was sentenced to 10 years. Yosef Mendelevitz, aged 23, and Yuri Fedorov, were sentenced to 15 years. Boris Penson, aged 23, was sentenced to 10 years. Israel Zalmanson, aged 21, was sentenced to 8 years. Mendel Bodnya, aged 32, was sentenced to 4 years. Wolf Zalmanson, aged 31 (and a sibling to Sylvia and Israel), who was a lieutenant in the USSR army was tried separately and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on 2 January 1971.
Because the matter gained international acclaim and foreign governments condemned the USSR emigration policy along with the trial, the Soviet authorities were forced to increase the emigration quotas dramatically. As a result between the years 1971 to 1980 347,100 Soviet citizens received exit visas 245,951 of whom were Jews.
In August of 1974 Sylvia Zalmanson was released as part of an Israeli and Soviet prisoner exchange where the spy, Yuri Linov, was involved. The exchange took part in Berlin. She immigrated to Israel shortly after. Mark Dymshits was released around the same time along with Aleksandr Ginzburg, Valentin Moroz and Georgy Vins. The exchange was also a result of another Soviet foreign intelligence officers (Rudolf Chernyaev and Valdik Enger) exchange. At the time of capture, they were employed at the United Nations Secretariat and as a result of espionage sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Kuznetsov became the head of news department of “Radio Liberty” after his immigration to Israel. Following leaving that role in 1990 he became the editor in chief at the most prominent Israeli Russian-language newspaper, Becmu (until 1990).
In 1981 Mendelevitch was released and rejoined his family in Israel. Aleksei Murzhenko was released on 15 June 1984 but re-sentenced as a result of a parole violation; he eventually emigrated to the US on 29th Feb 1988. Yuri Federov was denied a visa until 1988 when he emigrated to the US. In 1998 he founded the Gratitude Fund.
Kuznetsov’s daughter, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov, directed a documentary “Operation Wedding” was released in 2016.
2. Beckerman, Gal (2010). When They Come for Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 179, 191, 194–195.
3. Mozorov, Boris (Ed.) (1999). Documents on Soviet Jewish Emigration. London; Portland, OR: Frank Cass. p. 90, note 3.
4. "Proceedings of the Leningrad Hijacking Trial." In: Eduard Kuznetsov (1975). Prison Diaries. Translated from the Russian by Howard Spier. New York: Stein and Day. pp. 217–254. The account is described as having been "recorded by a relative of one of the accused who was present in the courtroom" (p. 217); ages or years of birth, as well as other biographical details, are included for most of the defendants.
Zalmanson Sentenced to 10 Years; Termination of Trial of Nine Seen As Ploy" (8 January 1971). Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
5. Ghert-Zand, Renee (29 December 2012). "My mom and dad, the would-be Zionist plane hijackers." The Times of Israel. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
5. Operation Wedding Documentary: https://www.operation-wedding-documentary.com/
Israel Zalmanson, uncut interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJxpWCyYMNs
Edward Kuznetsov uncut interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJxpWCyYMNs
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