After years of exile in Siberia, Soviet Jewish human rights activist Ida Nudel still struggles to leave the Soviet Union for Israel.
LILITH launches in this issue a Women’s Appeal to Raissa Gorbachev, wife of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to allow Nudel, who has been applying unsuccessfully for an exit visa since 1971, to rejoin her sister in Israel.
Nudel, 55, an economist-engineer by profession, was sentenced in 1978 to four years’ “internal exile” in Siberia for hanging a banner from her balcony reading, “KGB, give me my visa for Israel!” Housed for most of this time in a barracks with male criminals, Nudel survived her exile (chronicled in issue #10), and tried to return to her Moscow home in March 1982.
Although she had the legal right to live and be registered there—or anywhere else in the country she chose—Nudel was barred from Moscow and given 72 hours to leave. She spent the next six months wandering from city to city, trying in vain to find a place she could be registered. She felt, she later told Jerusalem Post reporter Louis Rapoport, “like a hunted animal.”
She was finally allowed to live in Bendery, a town of 100,000 about 120 miles north of the Black Sea. She lives with her collie dog in a peasant hut of two small rooms, and works in her garden growing vegetables and tending fruit trees. It took her two years to get cold water piped in and electricity installed—and to recover physically from the stresses of Siberia and the six months’ homelessness (she still suffers from heart disease).
Known as the “Angel of the Refuseniks,” Nudel continues to do what she did before her Siberian exile: to write and send packages to Prisoners of Conscience. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, she gave shelter in her home to five children — Jews and non-Jews —evacuated from Kiev. Prevented from traveling outside Bendery, she told Rapoport, “I don’t live the Soviet Union in my spirit. I wish the Russian people well, but I want all Jews to understand: it was our fate before to live here… but now we have a country of our own at last” and she wants to go there, to Israel.
The recent Soviet “glasnost” (openness) policy has created a situation where the authorities may be more responsive to an appeal for Nudel’s release on humanitarian grounds.
We hope this new approach of a Women’s Appeal will play an important role in moving the Soviets to issue Nudel an exit visa. We are calling on all women and women’s organizations to join the Appeal. (Please see page 16.) LILITH will present all the signatures to the Soviet authorities publicly and with media attention.
Like released Prisoner of Conscience Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, Nudel was deeply involved with the Helsinki Watch Group, whose leaders were imprisoned in 1978, the same year Nudel and Sharansky were sentenced.
“Sharansky was absolutely right,” she told the Post, “when he stressed the connection between the Jewish movement and the dissident movement…”.
If oppressed Jews in the Soviet Union take great risks to speak out on human rights, how much more imperative is it for those of us living in freedom to add our voices to theirs.
We must not commit the crime of silence — of being bystanders when others are being persecuted—neither in the Nudel case, nor in the case of South Africa, where Blacks have for so long been denied the most basic human rights, as we see in the article on page 9.
Filmmaker Mira Hamermesh, who survived the Holocaust by fleeing Nazi-occupied Lodz for Palestine, sees apartheid through the prism of the Holocaust. Probing South African reality to research “Maids and Madems,” her film on the links between racism and sexism, she sees—and experiences— how white women benefit from white-skin privilege and cannot help but take advantage of their Black maids’ powerlessness. Repeatedly she asks herself, “Am I my sister’s keeper?”
For Jews who feel the pain and rage at having been abandoned (with a few shining exceptions) by the non-Jewish world at a time of their greatest Catastrophe and greatest need there can be one and only one answer to that question.