Former Refusenik Recalls Kennedy's Helping Hand
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now, one family's story about Senator Kennedy's commitment to both health care and human rights. Three decades ago, Boris Katz and his wife, Natalya, were living in Moscow. They were refuseniks, Soviet Jews denied permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Their baby daughter, Jessica,,was suffering from malabsorption syndrome. She couldn't digest food or milk. Her parents feared she would die. They demonstrated in Red Square in front of KGB offices, appealing for help. Their cause drew international attention. Then, late one night in September 1978, Boris Katz was called to a meeting at a friend's apartment.
Mr. BORIS KATZ: Around 1 o'clock, a number of cars I saw through the window drove by the building. Then Senator Kennedy appeared in the front door of the apartment.
BLOCK: This is 1 in the morning?
Mr. KATZ: That was 1 in the morning and as I said, a number of police and KGB cars followed him and several - sort of plainclothes officials got into the apartment with the senator. And he just turned around and asked them to leave. And all power to KGB people - just looked at each other and left. I must say, this is the first time I witnessed anything like that in my life.
BLOCK: Senator Kennedy told Boris Katz that he had met with Soviet authorities and had asked that Katz and his family be allowed to leave the Soviet Union on medical grounds.
Mr. KATZ: And then two days later, a friend of mine called me early in the morning and said that he just listened to the "Voice Of America," where the senator said that he talked to the Soviet officials and that they promised him to let a number of people leave the country, including the Katz family and what they called the littlest refusenik, my daughter Jessica Katz.
BLOCK: The littlest refusenik, your baby.
Mr. KATZ: Yes.
BLOCK: Well, you were ultimately granted your visas, immigrated to the United States, landed in Boston. Who did you see when you got off the airplane?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah. Well, I guess a number of people came to the Logan airport to greet us, but being Senator Kennedy, he was allowed to, I guess, come closer to the actual plane. And he was the first person in the United States we saw. And he embraced all of us, and it was the happiest moment of our lives.
BLOCK: Did Senator Kennedy ever explain to you why he took such a personal interest in your case - why he intervened?
Mr. KATZ: Yeah. Well, I feel sad that I never asked him about that, but I think I sort of understand why. I think senator is one of those very few people whose main goal in life is to help others, to help people in need, to help people who were done injustice. And this is what governed a lot of his actions.
BLOCK: And Jessica, the littlest refusenik, is now 31 years old. What is she doing now?
Mr. KATZ: Yes, she's 31 years old. We just recently celebrated her wedding. She work for the city of New York and provides housing for people with special needs, for people who need help. And I think that she got this sort of public service bug from the Senator Kennedy. I think she strongly believe in public service. I don't think there are that many people in the world who could point to someone and say, you know, this man saved our life. This man changed our life. And in our case, this is the case. Senator Kennedy certainly changed the course of our life.
BLOCK: Well, Boris Katz, thanks for telling your story to us.
Mr. KATZ: Thank you, Melissa, good talking to you.
BLOCK: That's Boris Katz, a research scientist at MIT, remembering Senator Ted Kennedy, who helped Katz and his family emigrate from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in 1978.
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