Free Ida Nudel!

The case of Ida Nudel, the long-time refusenik who endured and survived four bitter years of Siberian exile (see LILITH#10), is winning increasing attention in recent months—including appeals on her behalf by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, historian Martin Gilbert, and human-rights lawyer Irwin Cotler.

Meanwhile Nudel, living in the Moldavian town of Bendery since 1982, is subject to KGB surveillance and harassment, and people have been warned to avoid her company. Last October, Nudel was forcibly prevented from traveling to Moscow to meet Wiesel.

She filed a complaint with the procurator of Bendery stating, according to the Jerusalem Post, that on October 23, 1986, she bought a ticket at the central bus depot and sat in her assigned seat. At 8 a.m., “two militiamen entered and announced that I must get off the bus… I refused. They continued to insist that it was in my interest to get off.”

Asked by her whether they had the authority to order her off the vehicle, “they began to laugh and to threaten me…. They dragged me by my hands and feet out the back door of the bus and threw me on the ground. Meanwhile, a police van arrived and they put me into it.” She was taken to police headquarters, and a criminal file opened against her.

The local police chief admitted to Nudel that there was no legal basis for the militiamen’s action, but advised her not to leave town “otherwise, I cannot guarantee you will stay alive.”

Nudel’s complaint asked under what law she was subjected to an act of violence; if the verbal declaration forbidding her to leave Bendery was legal; and how valid was the statement that her life was in danger.

Responding to this the day after she filed her complaint, L.D. Tederazh, assistant to Procurator Melnik, confirmed that the militia had acted illegally, assured Nudel she would not be harassed further, and told her she was “free to leave Bendery.” Nudel asked for this in writing, and demanded the militiamen be prosecuted for assault.

While Nudel’s situation in Bendery has not changed substantively, in November the Soviet envoy to the Vienna Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe reviewing the Helsinki Accords held a lengthy discussion with her sister Elena Friedman who lives in Israel. Jerusalem Post correspondent Ilona Henry, who reported on this incident, wrote:

“Soviet officials are showing a new attitude towards Jewish and human rights demonstrators at the European Security Conference here, stopping to chat with the protestors on a personal basis. In the past, the Soviets would not even let demonstrators approach their embassies.” (Some Soviet Jewry activists, however, disagree with this analysis, and believe that Soviet discussions with human rights demonstrators are merely a public relations ploy and mean little more.)

At the same time, McGill University law professor Cotler, involved with the Nudel case for the past eight years, held a five-and-a-half hour talk with Yuri Kashlev, ambassador and head of the Soviet delegation at the Vienna conference, and Vladimir Morozov, senior spokesman of the Foreign Ministry.

Cotler told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Morozov and Kashlev said there were’ state reasons’ which prevented Nudel’s departure. “I objected, quoting Gorbachev himself, who declared that no one can invoke state reasons after a lapse of more than 10 years. In Nudel’s case 15 years have elapsed since she first asked for a visa.”

He said he told the Soviet officials that Nudel was a symbol for the fate of Soviet Jewry as a whole. “As long as you keep her a prisoner,” he told them, “nobody is going to believe your statements on human rights.”

In December, British historian Martin Gilbert, in an appeal on behalf of Nudel, quoted from a letter, written by her in Bendery on December 7, and just received in the West, in which Ida Nudel describes herself thus;”I am a character Rudyard Kipling wrote about: the cat that walked by himself.” She continued:

“I feel myself as a hostage, but my condition is different from the traditional hostage situation; no pistols are directed against my chest, everything looks like normal until the time when I want to change my place by my own will.”

In her letter, Nudel points out that Jewish “resistance” in Russia, the struggle for exit visas, is always “peaceful,” and she appeals to all of us:

“Remember those who are so far off, so isolated by distance and hostility. Remember those whose life is being destroyed now in punishment cells, half hungry, half getting frown for no crime at all, but only for being a Jew. Remember those who, despite the persecutions and harassment, will celebrate our holiday, who will light up candles, who will tell their children about the history and dignity of the people they belong to.”

Gilbert concluded: “No one symbolizes that dignity more than Ida Nudel herself. Few people have done more to try to influence that recent Jewish history than Ida has done in making known the plight of the Jewish prisoners, and seeking to comfort them. Is it beyond the ability of the Western world to end her 16-year separation from the Jewish State, to enable her to light the candles of freedom next year at her sister’s side?”

LILITH Magazine is launching a Women’s Appeal to Raissa Gorbachev on behalf of Ida Nudel. The Appeal appears on the facing page of this issue. The complete list of all those who have joined the Appeal will appear in issue #17.

Readers wishing to add their names to the Appeal—which will be presented to Soviet officials—should sign and return the petition as soon as possible.

Soviet Jewry activists have stressed that time is of the essence here. The Soviets, in recent months, have taken various steps (e.g., the return of Andrei Sakharov to Moscow) that indicate a possible sensitivity to Western opinion on human rights issues.

There have already been several appeals on behalf of Nudel (see story above). If we can present to Mrs. Gorbachev a significant number of signatures on an appeal from feminists— a constituency they have not yet heard from on this issue—we hope we can speed up her exit visa for Israel.

Please, therefore, take a few minutes to sign and circulate the Appeal. We can also send out to readers additional copies of the appeal on Page 17, upon request to Ida Nudel Appeal c/o LILITH, 250 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10107.