A Hand in the Darkness the Autobiography of a Refusenik

A Hand in the Darkness the Autobiography of a Refusenik by Ida Nudel New York: Warner Books, 1990 314pp., $22.95

Ida Nudel has always been one of my heroes. The first contact I ever had with her was in 1971, when I called her in Moscow from the small B’nai B’rith Hillel office at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. The phone connection was lousy, her English halting and my Russian nonexistent. Nonetheless, she managed to convey to us the desperate situation of Jews in the Soviet Union. I followed her plight over the years as she fought for her right to emigrate, and I even joined in the international outcry on her behalf. [See LILITH, Spring and Fall 1987]

Now, 20 years later and three years after her immigration to Israel, I picked up her autobiography, hoping that her situation would come alive for me — so I could really understand how it felt to be Ida Nudel during her years of imprisonment.

And it did. In Hand in the Darkness, Nudel has detailed very vividly her harassment by the Soviet system. She has also recounted how she fought back: writing a multitude of letters to other Jews condemned to Soviet prisons and work camps simply for wanting to emigrate, joining in demonstrations and hunger strikes too numerous to count, and personally sacrificing her own comfort, health and happiness to help others to leave.

But I still do not understand why the Soviets carried their harassment to such lengths, why they wasted so much time having KGB officials trail her and why they opposed the emigration of such a small group of Jewish “agitators!’ Nudel ascribes this to the capricious nature of the Soviet bureaucracy and to the ebb-and-flow of international relations — specifically with the United States. This probably is true, however I would have liked to have seen more political analysis mixed in with the personal in this book. Still Hand in the Darkness should be read by every lover of human rights throughout the world because Ida Nudel clearly is the “guardian angel” who helped bring freedom to hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews.