The documentary “Operation Wedding” tells the story of a group of Soviet Jews willing to risk everything, including their personal freedom, for a chance to escape the USSR and bring media attention to the struggle of Soviet Jews. Use the discussion questions provided that highlight the history of the time and the choices this group made.
Before showing the film, the students need a general background about the situation of Jews in the Soviet Union. They suffered from anti-Semitism, many were arrested for learning Hebrew or celebrating Jewish holidays under the claim that they are spies. People were not allowed to leave the country, and if they asked for permission they were refused, fired from their jobs, and considered traitors.
Leningrad, 1970. A group of young Soviet Jews who were denied exit visas, plots to “hijack” an empty plane and escape the USSR. It started as a fantasy, Operation Wedding, as outrageous as it was simple: Under the disguise of a trip to a local family wedding, the hijackers would buy every ticket on a small 12-seater plane, so there would be no passengers but them, no innocents in harm’s way. The group’s pilot would take over the controls and fly the 16 runaways into the sky, over the Soviet border, on to Sweden, bound for Israel. Caught by the KGB a few steps before boarding, they were sentenced to years in the gulag and two were sentenced to death; they never got on a plane.
While the Soviet press writes “the criminals received their punishment”, tens of thousands of people in the free world demand “Let My People Go!“ and as the Iron Curtain opens a crack for 300,000 Soviets Jews wanting to flee, the group members are held back to pay the price of freedom for everyone else.
45 years later, filmmaker Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov reveals the compelling story of her parents, leading characters of the group, “heroes” in the West but “terrorists” in Russia, even today.
Official website: http://www.operation-wedding-documentary.com/
Screening the documentary Operation Wedding requires a license. Please fill in the screening request form at: https://www.operation-wedding-documentary.com/request-screening
Written by Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov
Below are suggestions for discussion points throughout the film. It is suggested that you pick a few main points to discuss during the viewing, and continue a conversation including other remaining points after viewing the film.
00:10:03: “Sylva Zalmanson: People who fight against an unjust regime, for freedom, must be prepared to pay a heavy price.”
Discuss: Would you be willing to give up your freedom or even your life in order to make a difference? Whom else can you remember in history that made the world a better place but he/she himself had to suffer for it?
00:10:56: “Sylva: We knew for a fact that we’d be going to jail.”
Discuss: The group knew that they will be arrested but they still follow through with their plan. Would you have done this if you knew you would be arrested?
00:13:01: KGB General “If someone learns that you listen to the foreign broadcasts regularly, they would report to the KGB, and the KGB would start investigating. ‘Maybe he’s getting some intelligence instructions “from the West or something?'”
Discuss: People were arrested for spying simply because they listened to foreign radio, or learned other languages. Why do you think the Soviets were so worried about their citizens listening to news or being exposed to cultures from other countries?
00:13:08: “KGB Deputy: What if they were planning an attack like 9/11?”
Discuss: What is the difference between a terror attack like 9/11, and operation wedding?
00:20:04: Were you terrorists, Dad?
Discuss: What is the definition of “terrorist”? Do you think this group were terrorists?
00:23:28: “Edward: our interests were in line with the interests of the KGB.
The KGB also wanted to arrest us at the airport to show the world that the people who fight for free immigration to Israel are criminals and thugs.”
Discuss: Both the group and the KGB wanted the arrest to be in the airport, so that people around the world hear about it. Why did the group wanted the world to hear about it? Why did the KGB want the world to hear about it?
00:23:57: “KGB Deputy: Also, there was no problem of emigration…There were maybe 20 people who were denied exit visas.”
Discuss: Do you believe Bobkov for saying there were only 20 people? How many Jews were in the Soviet Union?
This interview is from 2004, 13 years after the USSR collapsed and everybody already knows that people were not allowed to leave. Why do you think Bobkov is still saying that there was no problem of emigration” ?
00:52:44: “Edward: I don’t know of any worthwhile ideals that justify chopping off heads. There were many ideals considered the absolute truth, and many heads chopped off in their name.
Time passed by, the ideals were refuted, but the fallen heads were never restored.”
Discuss: What do you think Edward meant? What is his message?
Written by Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov