At the end of March 2023 our longtime friend and colleague, deeply believing Dutch evangelist Pastor Andre Ceelen, who had done many good things in Russia, passed away. Expressing our deep condolences to his wife Martha Ceelen, to relatives and friends, we consider it our duty to tell about the selfless work of Andre Ceelen in our country.
Andre Ceelen first came to the USSR in 1987 to help imprisoned Jewish refuseniks. Later among his tasks was also the provision of humanitarian assistance to orphans during the extremely poor 1990s in Russia. We met Andre shortly after the founding in 1990 of our human rights group, Movement Without Frontiers, with the task of helping Jews who, for various reasons, were denied by the authorities the right to Go to Israel. And because it was in the era of the Great Aliya — the mass exodus of Jews from the USSR and then from Russia, the number of people who asked for our help was many hundreds. So, the tasks of Andre Ceelen and ours coincided, and it was not by chance that he came to us to the Moscow Research Center for Human Rights.
It is impossible to list all the routes of Andre Ceelen, who was already seriously ill at that time, through vast Russia, through its places of detention. And we don't know much about it. But it is impossible to forget the inspiration with which he did this, the strength of his conviction in the absolute necessity of this activity, dictated by the Higher Will. Let's talk now about two amazing episodes.
1) Narrated by Boris Altshuler (Moscow). The case of Semyon Lifshitz, an officer of an atomic submarine in the Pacific Navy of the USSR, who, after retiring, filed an application to leave for Israel in 1990 and was arrested on the charges of trying to steal and transfer to Israeli intelligence Mossad the submarine on which he served in Far East.
Semyon Lifshitz was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but an avalanche of international protests forced the authorities to cancel the previous defiantly absurd charge, as a result, Lifshitz was sentenced to 10 years on no less absurd charges of raping some women. We, Movement Without Frontiers, were closely involved in this matter, with the support of Norwegian friends (primarily the famous Norwegian physicist and human rights activist Ole Kristoffer Gjotterud), we attracted to the case the leading Russian lawyer, Yuri Stetsovsky, who, thanks, of course, to the international support, managed to achieve a review of the case of Lifshitz by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. This miracle happened in the very beginning of the August 1995; Lifshits was released and flew to Israel on August 11. It happened so quickly only due to the efforts of the Israel Embassy, with which we also worked closely at that time.
But before that, for a number of years, Semyon Lifshits had been serving his sentence in one of the colonies not far from the place of his military service, about 30 km away from Vladivostok. And then Andre Ceelen arrives in Moscow from Holland, who tells us that he has obtained permission from the Russian authorities to meet with Semyon Lifshitz. This meeting took place, but only due to some incredible circumstances.
Andre is flying to Vladivostok, 9000 kilometers East of Moscow. In the morning of the day of the permitted visit agreed with the authorities in Moscow, he with his friend drives to the place of Semyon's detention. And suddenly — an impenetrable traffic jam for many hours. It is impossible to arrive at the colony on time, and the meeting will not be allowed the next day. The whole trip turns out to be in vain. What can be done? Returning to Moscow, Andre told us about this event. He said:
“I have prayed to God, and a miracle happened: a few minutes later we heard a siren from behind, this, overtaking all the cars standing in a traffic jam and forcing oncoming cars to step aside, two police cars rushed against traffic along the other side of the highway. And when they caught up with us, my friend was not at a loss and joined behind them. And in this way we quickly covered those kilometers that remained to the colony where Semyon Lifshits was imprisoned.”
2) Narrated by Edward Alekseev (Borovichi, Novgorod Region, 400 km. North-West from Moscow). Shilya Abramovich Shtulman, born in 1902 — more than 60 years in the camps.
Movement Without Frontiers originally, in 1992, organized the first visit of Andre Ceelen to us in Borovichi, when I told him that there were Jews serving their sentences in the Borovichi colony. It was to find out how to help them that Ceelen came to Borovichi. And already there, in the colony, we met Shilya, from whose stories there was a shock. And what was especially shocking — this prisoner, who spent his whole life behind bars, did not ask for tea, cigarettes, or food — he asked for a tallit (prayer cover) and a siddur (prayer book). Everything else, as he put it, he has. And I also remember Shtulman talking to Andre in Yiddish. Rather, Shilya spoke Yiddish, and Andre understood it and tried to answer in a mixture of German and Dutch. Yiddish for Shilya was his native language with which he was born, and he remembered it. The colony officer supervising the meeting, who did not understand Yiddish, asked to speak Russian. To this, Andre replied that we are not talking about secrets, it’s just that Shilya hasn’t spoken his mother’s language for so long that it spills out of him with emotions.
Shilya Abramovich told us about his childhood, about his fate. The first sentence — 25 years in prison, he received in the early 1930s for the fact that 10 years earlier, during the civil war, he had joined into Nestor Makhno's detachment. Having completely served these 25 years of imprisonment, Shilya Shtulman came to his native Odessa. None of his relatives was alive, he starved and stole a vase in the market to exchange it for bread, He was caught, received a new 5-year sentence. And after that, he was no longer released. As soon as his term came to an end, he committed an offense for which he received a new term. He himself turned to the administration of the colony and asked to be convicted under some article, since he had nowhere to go, nowhere to live. The administration did just that. As a result, without leaving the colony, Shtulman received 18 convictions.
Andre was impressed by this 90 year old man. He talked with the head of the colony, found out if Shtulman needed medicine, maybe some kind of food. The boss asked for warm clothes for Shilya, since winter was coming, and multivitamins. For 3 years, Andre Ceelen came on a date to Shtulman, brought medicines. He organized the delivery of humanitarian cargo of about 20 tons from Holland for the entire colony. Andre was waiting for Shtulman's next term to end in order to take him to the Netherlands and place him in a boarding house. Andre negotiated with the Consul and began to draw up paperwork for Shiley to obtain a foreign passport. But, unfortunately, fate decreed that 2 months before his release in 1995, the news came that Shilya Abramovich Shtulman died in the zone where he spent his whole life. Andre and his wife Martha came to Borovichi. They found Shtulman's grave and wept over it. Hardly anyone else ever mourned this old man.
Whenever Andre and Martha came to meet with Shtulman, they stayed at our house in Borovichi. I had written in advance petitions for a meeting between Ceelen and Shtulman from the Jewish community, since everything had to be coordinated beforehand. And I was three times with Andre in the territory of the zone on these dates, after which I made notes of what happened. I will also say that after 1996, when the Right of the Child organization appeared, Andre Ceelen also organized humanitarian assistance to orphans in the Baby Home in Borovichi.
That's the kind of person Andre Ceelen was. Eternal memory to him!
May his soul dwell in the Garden of Eden!
Edward Alekseev, Head of the Jewish community of the city of Borovichi, member of the NGO "Movement without Frontiers", host of the site "Haverim" — haverim.ru firstname.lastname@example.org
Boris Altshuler, physicist and human rights activist, Chair of the NGOs "Movement without Frontiers" and "Right of the Child"
Personal Page: http://right-child.ru/boris_altshuler.html