A HAND IN THE DARKNESS: The Autobiography of a Refusenik by Ida Nudel (Warner Books: $22.95: 314 pp.) In the midst of the euphoria over the political changes sweeping through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, this book stands as a cautionary beacon. Removing state communism from the countries of Eastern Europe, and liberalizing it economically in the Soviet Union, has not meant that ethnic hatreds have been forgotten. Slav and Czech, Serb and Croatian, all are now freer to hate than they were before.
Most reviled of all are the Jews, not so much in Eastern Europe--the Germans saw to that--but in the Soviet Union. Nudel recounts a life experiencing anti-Semitism in Russia, from the children calling her "kike" before World War II to the apparatchiks who harassed her unmercifully when she decided to help her fellow Jews to emigrate to Israel--and to act as a solitary angel of mercy looking after Jews who were sent to prison camps in Siberia.
She used the telephone, telegraph and mail not only to buoy the spirits of prisoners but also to ensure their humane treatment. For her work, she was, inevitably, sent to prison, and denied an exit visa for 16 years. But perhaps the most depressing fact about her treatment was the verbal abuse from Russians who shouted to her that they wished Hitler had finished his job on the Jews--this from people whose own relatives, as many as 20 million of them, were slaughtered during the German occupation of Russia.