Prisoner of Zion ("Refusnik") medal commemorating Hillel Butman; cast in nickel(?); weight: 23.25g; size: 48.5mm x 63mm: obverse depicts Star of David enchained with lock bearing symbol of the Soviet Union and legend in English and Hebrew "Let My People Go"; obverse bears name of Hillel Butman on raised "plaque" above legend "USSR Prisoner of Conscience".
The origin of the movement promoted by this medal dervies from the Cold War when in the eastern bloc and particularly in the Soviet Union a combination of Communist/ideological anti-Zionism and ideological anti-religion (manifesting itself frequently as anti-Semitism) led many Jews to request permission to emigrate abroad. Such requests frequently branded the requesting person as a security liability or traitor, and the person either had to quit his employment in order to request permission to emigrate (or he was subsequently fired after making such a request).
For political and even anti-Semitic reasons many Jewish applicants were refused permission to emigrate and they became known as "refusniks" (or "Prisoners of Conscience"). Protest medals like this were commissioned by the "Union Council for Soviet Jewry" (UCSJ), a coalition of grass-roots action councils supporting freedom for Jews of the Soviet Union, founded in 1970. The organization exists to this day and may even be associated with the Israeli Government's "Nativ" ("Path") organization, which was founded in 1952 and subordinated to the Prime Minister's Office, to establish contact and attempt covert emigration of Jews in Communist Eastern Europe.
This organizaton began to function in the Soviet Union in 1954 and operated on two tracks: "Nativ", which acted as a liason bureau ("Lishkat HaKesher") with Soviet Jews, and "Bar", which operated in western nations to foster public pressure on the Soviet Union to bring about a change in the USSR's emigration policy. Though a covert organization at that time, "Nativ's" slogan was "Let My People Go" (as it also appears on this medal).
Hillel Butman (born 1932) was a Jewish and Zionist activist in Leningrad of the 1950s and '60s, organizing Jewish cultural and language classes; he helped organize the hijacking of a an airplane in June 1970 in order to emigrate to Israel (an event called "Operation Wedding" and recorded in historiography as the "Dymshits-Kuznetsov hijacking affair"): sixteen "refusniks" posing as wedding guests attempted to highjack a local flight from Leningrad and to fly to Sweden. The group was arrested upon arrival at the airport and Butman was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in a labor camp. There followed a crackdown on Jewish and other dissident movements throughout the USSR, although international condemnation actually caused the Soviet authorities to significantly increase the emigration quota. Butman was finally released in 1979 and he emigrated to Israel; he has written several books on his experiences and works in the Office of the State Comptroller.
סמל טליון יהודי מסורב עליה הלל בוטמן, יודאיקה