JERUSALEM — Neighbors ignored requests for directions, and when two visitors managed to find the apartment on their own, no one answered the bell, even though footsteps could be heard and moving shadows were visible beneath the door.
A hand-lettered sign below the peep-hole in the door identified the place as the "Headquarters of the Assn. for the Release of Anatoly Shcharansky," and it seemed fitting that the scene on the eve of the Jewish dissident's expected release was as guarded and secretive as the Soviet Union where he has been imprisoned.
U.S. and West German officials confirmed Monday that Shcharansky, who has spent the last nine years as a prisoner, is expected to be freed today in Berlin in an East-West exchange of prisoners. According to reports here, he is to be flown to Frankfurt and then to Israel and a huge reception.
Officials at the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center here confirmed Monday that they have a police permit for an outdoor demonstration at Ben-Gurion International airport tonight.
Still, despite the optimism, those who have most closely followed the case of Soviet Jewry's most famous prisoner preferred to wait until all doubt of his freedom is removed before issuing any statement to the press.
'Nothing is Sure'
"Until it happens, nothing is sure," a top government official said, refusing to comment further.
Shcharansky's wife, Avital, who immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union a day after their marriage in 1974, has received no official word as to when, or even if, Shcharansky is to be freed, Avi Maoz, a spokesman for the association, has said.
Avital Shcharansky disappeared from her apartment in West Jerusalem more than a week ago and has been out of public sight ever since. Maoz said she is still in Israel and will not leave the country until she gets definite news of her husband's release. However, West German press reports said she is at the Israeli Embassy in Bonn.
Other sources said that Shcharansky is expected to arrive by tonight on a special flight from West Germany. Activists in the Soviet Jewry movement here said that top Israeli officials plan to be on hand to greet him at the airport. They hope that Shcharansky will speak to a crowd of several thousand people outside the terminal.
Israel radio quoted the Public Council for Soviet Jewry as saying that Prime Minister Shimon Peres may head the welcoming delegation.
Massive Boost for Campaign
"Everyone agrees something like this would give a massive boost to the Soviet Jewry campaign," one activist said of Shcharansky's expected release.
Israelis working on behalf of Soviet Jews welcomed the reports that Shcharansky will be released but were quick to point out that tens of thousands of other would-be emigrants are still prevented from leaving the Soviet Union.
"Even if Shcharansky comes out, we don't think it's a big success," one said, asking not to be identified by name. "The Soviets win three ways around."
He said that because the release is part of an exchange of spies, Moscow can claim indirect confirmation that Shcharansky was guilty of espionage. Also, he said, "they get a real spy back" and simultaneously score a public relations victory in the United States for freeing a well known dissident.
Meanwhile, he went on, only 1,139 Soviet Jews were permitted to emigrate last year, down from a record of nearly 52,000 in 1979 and a small fraction of those who want to leave. What is needed, he said, is a "comprehensive solution" to the problem of Soviet Jewish emigration.