Before New Beginnings, Free Ida Nudel

<i> Elie Wiesel, the winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, is the Andrew W. Mellon professor in the humanities at Boston University. </i>

Ida Nudel, a Soviet Jewish activist, has been denied permission to emigrate to Israel for 16 years. In this article, author Elie Wiesel asks Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the Soviet leader, to intervene on behalf of Nudel and other “refuseniks.”

This plea is addressed to Mrs. Gorbachev with the hope that it will have a greater effect than those that many of us have addressed many times to your husband. It is made on behalf of a remarkable woman whose plight has moved millions of people from one corner of the world to the other. She needs your intervention; she deserves it. Please, put in a good word for her.

Ida Nudel and I have never met, but we have been friends for about 18 years. I admire her courage, her idealism and her moral commitment. Her “error” or her “sin”? She believed in glasnost before the word became popular thanks to your husband. She practiced it. She paid for it.

Born Jewish, all she wants is to be able to live as a Jew. This, she thinks, is possible for her only in the land of Israel where she has a sister and other relatives. In the Soviet Union she is alone.


Is it so wrong for a woman to wish to live with people she loves, and who love her? Think of her loneliness and you will understand why her friends are so numerous. Won’t you help her?

She is not--and never has been--an enemy of your country. Her motivation was never political. She was never involved in the ideological debates that seem to have been an organic part of Marxism. Her sole interest lay in her rediscovery of her Jewishness.

Why then have the Soviet secret police chosen her as one of their favorite victims? She has been persecuted, jailed, exiled--for what reason? She has committed no crime. Her release would jeopardize no one in your or your husband’s circle. What do the secret police intend to prove by keeping her in a constant state of distress? What glory could they derive from harassing a sick yet brave woman?

You, a woman who teaches philosophy and is fond of literature, please try to think of Ida Nudel as a woman whose womanhood has been denied to her. It is because of the KGB that she was deprived of the possibility of getting married and of having children. Now it is too late for her to become a mother. That is why, in the name of the children she will not have, I appeal to you, Mrs. Gorbachev: Look into her file, study her case, come to her aid. She has suffered enough. She has been punished enough. She has been in fear and solitude long enough.


And while you are at it, why not put in a good word for another marvelous woman, Masha Slepak, and her husband, Vladimir? And for Alexander Lerner? And for the young cellist Alexis Magarik? And for Lev Shapiro? And for Evgeny Gilbo?

Soon you may accompany your husband to Washington. You will be met by hundreds and thousands of Americans. They will be there, be sure of that. Help Ida Nudel and her friends, and many of us will use that occasion to proclaim our faith in new beginnings. Ida Nudel’s freedom must not be sacrificed for alleged nuclear detente. Today’s victims are as important to us as tomorrow’s.

Ida Nudel is still a victim. No one is reproaching your husband for the origins of her victimhood. But her present condition is his responsibility.

Before I conclude, may I share a phone conversation I had with Ida Nudel last October? I was in Moscow spending my days with Soviet officials and my nights with refuseniks. Hours after arrival, I managed to establish contact with Ida. She was far away, in exile in Bendery, Moldavia.


“Ida,” I said, “I came to visit you.” After a long silence, she began to cry. I, too, tried to hold back my tears but could not. The conversation that ensued will remain with me. The next day she boarded a bus for Moscow. Violating police restrictions, she was determined to come and see me. Several police thugs removed her from the bus. They used violence against her. Yes, she was beaten up. That is why I have not met her yet. But I will not rest until we meet.

Please, Mrs. Gorbachev. Do speak to your husband about my unhappy yet proud friend Ida Nudel.