Elena Fridman is an accountant who lives with her husband in Rehovot, Israel. She is also the sister -- and sole blood relative -- of Ida Nudel, the Russian Jewish activist who spent four years in Siberian exile and who has subsequently been treated with unspeakable cruelty by the Soviet authorities.
Fridman was in Washington this past week, visiting members of Congress, as well as State Department and White House officials, trying to increase official pressure on the Soviets to let her sister emigrate to Israel.
She is hoping that the spirit that moved them to release Anatoly Shcharansky will also move them to let her sister leave.
"They have made some gestures, they have allowed some people out," Fridman said through an interpreter. "Maybe the time has come for Ida."
Nudel, an economist, first became active in "refusenik" causes in 1971 when she requested permission to emigrate. Permission was refused on the grounds that she possessed state secrets.
"She never worked in any security related installation," said Fridman.
Her room was bugged, she was detained and beaten on a number of occasions, she was followed, and fired from her job. In order to avoid the charge of being a social parasite, she worked as a cleaning woman.
During the next seven years, she sent chocolates, reading materials, food, medicine, and photos to imprisoned Jews when their families visited them. She came to be known as the guardian angel of the prisoners of conscience.
On June 1, 1978, she hung a banner from her Moscow apartment that said: "KGB, give me my visa." She was arrested and subsequently served four years in exile in Siberia, her only companion a collie. She lived in a camp generally reserved for male criminals, not political prisoners.
"I thought the end of that sentence would come and she would be allowed to join me. Almost all of the prisoners of conscience who served time were allowed to leave," said Fridman, but "it continues to this day."
After her release, Nudel attempted to return to her apartment in Moscow. She did not get a residency permit. "People knew about Ida even in the time she was in Siberia," says Fridman. "She got tremendous amounts of mail. There were formal resolutions from governments. When she returned to Moscow, newspaper people wanted to see her, to know how she was, about what happened in those four years. The weekend she returned, a number of articles appeared." Fridman believes that is why she was given 72 hours to leave Moscow.
"They didn't allow her to remain at home, so she left. She has no relatives, a few friends, but in no place did they give her a residency permit."
Nudel, who is now 55, is a small, frail woman who has been plagued by chronic health problems, said her sister. "For seven or eight months she traveled around the Soviet Union with a bag in her hand, after four years in Siberia, one lonely woman. At times she slept in train stations. She had nowhere to go.
"It happened she came to Bendery in the Republic of Moldavia. I'll never know whether it was picked in advance by authorities for her to find eventually. Ida had never been there. There she received a residence permit.
"Ida is like a grain of sand in such a huge country. Did they have to send that little grain of sand up and down the country? For what? There she received an identity card, like every Soviet citizen, with all her rights."
Still, said Fridman, "they watch her every move. She wanted to go to the doctor, they took her off the train. She wanted to say goodbye to friends who had received permits to leave, they took her off the plane. Even the people in the town who are doing this don't know why. They say, we received orders.
Fridman, who maintains contact with her sister by telephone, said she is deeply concerned about her health. "There are a lot of things she can't eat because her body is racked with pain, so she drinks tea.
"I'm afraid if it gets to that point, if she gets so sick she can't stand up, that there won't be anyone to bring her tea. People are afraid. They are warned, it's better to think about your children. So she is alone."
"This past year has been the most difficult," said Fridman. "When she was in Siberian exile, she had hope. She had a specific date on which this would end. She erased each day from her calendar that hung on the wall.
"Now she feels herself again in exile, but she has no date on which this will end. Now she erases a day and she erases a day of her life. The whole crime she did was she took on the suffering of others as if it were her own. For this, she gets this punishment."