This highly effective organization, composed mainly of scientists, was founded exactly 20 years ago in June 1978, by several physicists on the staff of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory of the University of California, primarily to support dissident scientists in the USSR.
At its height, SOS had an international membership of over 10,000 scientists and engineers from 44 countries, including numerous Nobel prize laureates. All were signatories to the SOS moratorium pledge which committed members to a policy of non-cooperation with their Soviet counterparts. This action, widely regarded as unique in the history of modern science, was a powerful form of pressure directed against the Soviet state for its violations of the Helsinki Accords signed by Brezhnev in 1975.
When Natan Sharansky, currently a cabinet member in the Israeli government, learned of the acquisition of SOS's papers, he immediately sent a fax from Jerusalem, that expressed his "... gratitude to the Hoover Institution for preserving that time in history when the three of us, Professor Andrei Sakharov, Dr. Yuri Orlov, and I worked together to promote the issue of human rights. With your actions you have ensured that future generations will have a better understanding and appreciation for those tenets that we treasure and hold so dear."
One of the founding member of SOS, Dr. Morris Pripstein, senior physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, who served as SOS's chairman during it entire history, preserved many of the files of this group and donated them to the Hoover Institution Archives on the 20th anniversary of its founding. SOS's secretary and executive committee member, Professor Philip Siegelman, is at present gathering the remainder of the organization’s papers for transfer to the Archives. These gifts will complement the papers of Stanford chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Flory which were donated to the Archives in 1985. (The Hoover Institution Archives has been collecting documentation on humanitarian organizations since its founding in 1919.)
The work of these scientists and academics contributed significantly to the release of Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov and Anatoly Shcharansky (now known as Natan Sharansky). These men and other dissidents and refuseniks have testified to the contributions SOS made to their freedom from internal exile and imprisonment in the gulag. Following release from his Gorky exile, Andrei Sakharov was on his way to becoming a prominent and unique force in the reconfiguration of the former Soviet Union, a development tragically cut short by his death in 1989.
Yuri Orlov, released from Siberian exile in 1986, joined the staff of the Newman Laboratory of Nuclear Studies at Cornell University, where he resumed his career in physics while simultaneously working in the area of human rights as Honorary Chairman of the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights. He is currently working on human rights issues in China. After his release from the gulag, Natan Sharansky emigrated to Israel where he became the most prominent spokesman of the Russian emigration, rising to become Minister of Industry and Trade in the Israeli government.
Sharansky was able to visit the Hoover Institution in person and inspect the collection and related materials from the Russian collections. He asked for a copy of one document that the Hoover Institution had microfilmed from the Soviet archives in Moscow. It was a report by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1979 on ways to counteract the work of the SOS. A movement that began informally around the dining room tables of American academics became a matter of grave concern at the highest level of Soviet government. The papers at the Hoover Institution will enable scholars to study the impact of grassroots initiatives on world affairs.
A detailed finding aid for the SOS collection is available free of charge. Requests for copies of the finding aid may be sent to the archivist, Elena S. Danielson, by e-mail danielson [at] hoover.stanford.edu. or by fax 650-725-3445.
Visit the Hoover Institution Web Site at www-hoover.stanford.edu.