Refuseniks book scores PM’s award

Sam Lipski (centre) and Geoffrey Blainey (right) receiving their awards from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Andrew Taylor

A BOOK chronicling the landmark campaign by Australia, and notably the Jewish community, to help free Jews from the Soviet Union so they could emigrate to Israel and other destinations, has won a major literary prize.

Co-authored by Sam Lipski and Professor Suzanne Rutland, Let My People Go: The Untold Story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959-89, launched last year, has been jointly awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in Australian History.

The book shares the PM’s award in the Australian History category with historian Geoffrey Blainey’s The Story of Australia’s People.

Judges stated Lipski and Rutland “have produced a path-breaking book about the struggles of the Soviet ‘refuseniks’. Replete with new information, [it] draws on a vast array of primary and secondary sources. These include ASIO files, Rutland’s painstaking research on Australia and Soviet Jewry, as well as unfettered access to the massive archive about the campaign for Soviet Jewry of Lipski’s friend Isi Leibler,” who is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and activist for Soviet Jews.

Lipski, chief executive of the Pratt Foundation and a former -editor-in-chief of The AJN, described news of the award as “an overwhelming moment – to hear that I and co-author Suzanne Rutland had shared the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History with Geoffrey Blainey, the doyen of Australian historians”.

At the awards presentation on Tuesday, Lipski reflected the book was an appropriate recipient of a PM’s Award “because every Australian prime minister for 30 years, notably Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, had had to deal with the Soviet Jewry issue”.

Rutland, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney, learnt she had won while attending a meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in Romania.

She told The AJN it was “very thrilling and something I tried not to hope for or think about”.

Having begun work on the book in 1998, she said, “It is a great feeling to have such a wonderful end with such recognition at the end of this long journey.”