Dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Avraam Shifrin’s visit to Canada

Commissioned by the Center of Historical Political Science of the Institute of Political and Ethnonational Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, I have just completed the manuscript about Avraam Shifrin. This book will join a large-scale publishing project, a series titled “Political Portraits” by the Parliamentary Publishing House of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

I have had the honor of writing the political portrait of Avraam Shifrin, a man of amazing fate and unwavering will; he was born the son of a man labeled an “enemy of the people.” Shifrin was a veteran of the Second World War, at the end of which he held the title of officer in the Red Army at only 22 with a rank of major and with an injury that rendered him with a medium level disability. He became a senior criminal investigator, legal adviser to the Ministry of Armaments of the USSR, and an American-Israeli spy who had access to top-secret documents signed by Stalin. He was also a prisoner of the Gulag for 10 years, a Zionist, publicist, human rights defender, writer, translator, Israeli public and political figure, and an expert on the Soviet penitentiary system; according to the Soviet press he was the “number 1 enemy of the USSR.”

Avraam Shifrin: A Summary


Plunging into the study of this incredible figure, I once again, through his life example, saw how an entire era of atrocities can influence and create a person, and that person in turn can change an era to the extent of his individual capabilities, through strengths and desires, in full accordance with Novalis’ apt remark about how “people and circumstances usually alter the ideal chain of events.” Applying the third law of mechanics: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” to the field of psychology, we can say that the pressure of trying times on the human personality inevitably causes a reaction. However, the answer of what kind of reaction lies only in the human essence of each individual. So circumstances can either break us or make us stronger.


The repressions in the USSR in the second half of the 1930s, the horror of the Second World War, Stalin’s attempts to conquer the world and the continued repressions after the death the comically titled “leader of the nations” (Stalin) all lead to the crystallized essence of Avraam Shifrin. Making him akin to a diamond iceberg, on which the mammoth battleship called “USSR” collided with and sank to the depths of the ocean.


Avraam Shifrin always felt a responsibility and the need to act in seemingly hopeless and fatal circumstances. He saw his mission in opposing communist-socialist ideas that pushed and unfortunately still push humanity into the abyss of destruction. He was a man of both actions and words, and his strict principles and outspoken fearlessness in voicing the truth and confronting lies created an energy around him that always caused both the vicious hatred of some and the sincere respect of others.

Confronting the lies, hypocrisy and the criminal, perverse and corrupt power of the USSR, Avraam began his war with this embodiment of evil in the modern world, and he dedicated his life to this goal. Later, having ‘discovered’ Israel for himself and deeply realizing his Jewishness, he continued to fervently oppose the Soviet government, fighting against Soviet rule itself, seeing it as the mortal enemy of the Jewish people, as well as of all humanity in general no less than the Nazi rule.


This struggle required finding allies and interacting with all the anti-Soviet and anti-communist forces in the world. Once in the Gulag, Avraam Shifrin was able to establish an understanding and friendship with Ukrainian nationalists and Ukrainian dissidents, who saw him as an indomitable and principled fighter against Soviet rule. Avraam’s Jewish self-awareness inspired respect and support from Ukrainians. Among those with whom Avraam was aligned and in constant communication from the camps was the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Cardinal Yosyp Slipy, and Volodymyr Horbovy, a lawyer, and political and military figure.


Due to his camp experience, and with his knowledge of criminology and his analytical mind, Shifrin became one of the leading authorities in the world on the Soviet system of prisons and labor camps, and was invited to the US Senate to participate in hearings on these topics.

In his testimony given in February 1973 before the US Senate Subcommittee of the Internal Security and the Congressional Banking and Currency Committee, Shifrin presented the world with the most complete list of Soviet camps at that time. Shifrin’s two-day speech was published as a document of the US Senate and was distributed in translations all over the world revealing the horrors of the Soviet camps.

The Parallels

As this piece is being written, it is nearly 50 years since Shifrin visited the American continent at the end of 1972 on the invitation from the Ukrainian-Canadian community. According to witnesses, Avraam himself tall, imposing, with gray hair and a neat beard, outwardly resembled a biblical prophet. His speeches at rallies and meetings were truly prophetic; he believed in the collapse of the USSR but most importantly, he warned the youth of the West against the harmful fascination with leftist ideas. His message was to not believe the peace-loving speeches sourced from paid Soviet party workers. Avraam called on the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada and the US to protest and demand that the USSR release all political prisoners, including Yuriy Shukhevych, the son of UPA leader Roman Shukhevych. Yuriy was arrested by the Soviet authorities and spent almost two decades in the Gulag simply for not disowning his father, just as Avraam himself had done in 1937. His charisma made an unforgettable impression on the Ukrainian diaspora in North America, and especially on the Canadian diaspora.

Naturally, the USSR was well informed about Shifrin’s trip and this is shown in an informative message from the Ukrainian KGB department to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine dated January 11, 1973. The document contains information that at the end of 1972, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) held anti-Soviet demonstrations in Canadian cities: Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and London. The KGB noted that: “…Avraam Shifrin took an active part in these provocative actions of nationalists….” At these meetings, Shifrin called on Ukrainian nationalists, Zionists and members of other reactionary immigrant organizations to fight together against the USSR; in his speeches, he idealized the person of Simon Petliura, presented him as an enemy of anti-Semitism, and condemned the assassination of Petliura in Paris, thus trying to remove obstacles to the development of cooperation between Zionists and Ukrainian nationalists. Shifrin’s work to spread understanding and truth between two nations is what the USSR feared most.

Between the 1940s and 1980s the activities of the UCC were primarily aimed at opposing Soviet rule, fighting against the violent Russification of Ukraine and the persecution of dissident movements by Soviet punitive organizations in Ukraine. Understanding this we now know precisely what the Soviets referred to as the ‘provocative actions’ Avraam Shifrin participated in in Canada at the end of 1972.

On November 18th, 1972 an edition of the Ukrainian Echo published a report on the November 11 demonstration, where among others, Andriy Bandera spoke and the keynote speaker at this rally was Avraam Shifrin. The article emphasized that he constantly and everywhere pointed out that he is a Jewish nationalist and holds this title with pride. Arriving in Israel, Avraam set himself the goal of organizing a joint resistance of Jews and Ukrainians in the free world to protect their persecuted brothers and sisters in the USSR. Such cooperation existed between prisoners of different ethnic groups in concentration camps, and it was necessary in the free world to achieve the victory for independence and justice for all people and nations in the USSR. The article quoted the words of Shifrin: “…I swore on the graves of the victims of Russian-Bolshevik totalitarianism to fight with all my might for the freedom of all peoples of the USSR. Jews should have the right to be Jews, and Ukrainians to be Ukrainians…”.


Ukrainian Echo published an interview on December 2, 1972 with Shifrin. When asked why he was attentive to the Ukrainian resistance, Avraam answered: “…I was very interested in the people’s fight for independence, because for us, Jews, in the territory of the USSR, there is also a problem of freedom and ensuring our human rights. Once in the camp, I met Ukrainian independence fighters, so I was able to delve deeply into the problems of their confrontation. In the USSR, all the efforts of the authorities are focused on organizing strife between nations. For example, when young people are conscripted into the Soviet army, Ukrainians are sent to Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, and if an uprising against the Soviet government suddenly occurs there, it will be crushed by the hands of the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers. In turn, if an uprising breaks out in Ukraine, it will be suppressed by Tajiks or Turkmen mobilized into the army. There were talks about the future of Russia in the camps. And questions were raised about the fact that Russia is pursuing an imperialist policy and therefore it should be dismembered into parts so that every nation living in one or another territory has freedom and its own independence. You probably know such representatives of the democratic movement, for example, Volodymyr Bukovsky, who is fighting for the rights of all peoples and especially Ukrainians…” When asked whether Avraam had heard about the ABN and the fight of the Ukrainian people during and after the Second World War, he answered that only in the camps did he learn the truth about the struggle of the Ukrainian people. Shifrin said that the Soviet government deceived and is deceiving all people in the world, telling that Ukrainian nationalists under the leadership of Stepan Bandera and General Roman Shukhevych fought together with Hitler against the Allies and the USSR. But in the Gulag, he met soldiers of the Ukrainian national resistance and saw numbers tattooed on their arms from Nazi concentration camps. These people fought against Hitler and were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, and then continued to fight against the communist occupation of Ukraine, ending up in Soviet concentration camps.

According to Avraam, the activities of the ABN, without a doubt, always helped the dissidents in the USSR. Shifrin noted that in Canada he paid attention to the fact that despite the long separation from the homeland, the Ukrainian diaspora managed to preserve its nationality, identity, culture, and language. The diaspora managed to maintain a sense of connection with Ukraine and its fight for independence. This is a very important phenomenon and it once again proves the correctness of the national base on which humanity develops. It is also important to note that Avraam Shifrin had close, friendly relations with Yaroslav and Slava Stetsko, conducting regular correspondence with them, in which he discussed, in particular, the methods of the fight against the USSR and coordinated anti-communist activities.



The final publication where Shifrin was mentioned was in Ukrainian Echo dated December 9, 1972. On the front page an article titled USSR–the Land of Concentration Camps describes that after the November 11 demonstration in Toronto, Shifrin visited Ottawa, having discussions with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, Mitchell William Sharp, the former Prime Minister of Canada, John George Diefenbaker, and Senator Paul Yuzyk. Since then he has given speeches at the Universities of Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Winnipeg. On November 23, 1972, Avraam Shifrin held a press conference at the North Star Inn hotel in Toronto, and after that on November 26, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress organized a great protest rally, where Avraam Shifrin was the main speaker.


His story about the horrors of Soviet concentration camps amazed the audience. Avraam spoke continuously for more than two hours, and then he answered questions from the audience for a long time. In his answers, Shifrin clearly indicated that the so-called cultural exchanges with the USSR are harmful and should be protested against because there are many spies in these cultural groups that come from the Soviet Union. Demonstrations of the diaspora in the West not only cause no harm to Ukrainian prisoners, but on the contrary—they help them a lot. He mentioned that Ukrainians should hold these protest demonstrations together with Jews, Balts, Slovaks, Belarusians, peoples of the Caucasus and other nationalities.


I have presented a significant number of declassified archival documents of the USSR KGB and the US CIA, most of which have never been published before. I am sure that their analysis will allow readers to see a clearer picture of the complex and muddled time period as well as Avraam Shifrin’s heroic activism in a comprehensive way.

Shifrin concluded his speech with these words: “…The liberation of Ukraine is near and the truth will defeat lies. God will defeat the devil!”. His address to the Canadian government on that occasion contained words that horrifically parallel what is happening in Ukraine today in 2022: “…Ukrainians are alarmed today that the current course of Russia is aimed at the complete extermination of the Ukrainian people, our brothers and sisters in Ukraine…”.

The nobility, intelligence, energy, empathy and principles of Avraam attracted people of different national, religious and social strata. Having gone through various torments, just one of which should be enough to break anyone, he remained unsacrificially human.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Stanley Peterson Foundation in Canada for supporting and honoring my manuscript with the Established Writers Grant.