October 2, 1946 – June 15, 2018
Natasha Ratner has penned a memorial tribute to her friend, former Moscow Jewish activist Nadia Fradkova:
Nadia Fradkova, a dear friend, passed away on June 15, 2018.
Rich in spirit, she left no family. I may have been the closest thing to family she had, and I was probably the only person who was in constant contact with Nadia from the very first day we met in 1980 and until the end.
We met at a time of a Soviet Jewish awakening. People were becoming conscious of their Jewish identities and seeking to immigrate to countries where Jews could live freely as Jews – Israel or the United States. Denied permission to emigrate, they became “refuseniks”.
Like many of us, products of an atheistic Soviet education, Nadia was not an observant Jew. Her parents – a father who was a scientist and engineer; a mother who was a Communist Party member -- were hostile to all religious tradition. Nevertheless, Nadia developed a certain emotional attachment to Jewish tradition and holidays, to the point that even later in life, when she became unwell and uncommunicative, with an ocean between us, she would always respond quickly if I emailed her with a "Shana Tova" or "Purim Sameach". But in her young adulthood, when we met, she was an activist in the “refusenik” movement, paying a heavy price: arrest, imprisonment, torture, several hunger strikes. Some of her struggles were noted in the American press, as, for example, a 1984 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled "A Desperate Refusenik Who Refuses to Give Up".
Her last hunger strike lasted 44 days. She had declared an open-ended water fast to protest the Government’s denial of her right to emigrate. She wasn’t sure she could do it, she worried she might become frightened of starving to death and give in, betraying her cause – but she never faltered.
On the 44th day, the KGB kicked in the door of her apartment and arrested her. They took her to the hospital, to an intensive care unit, where they had her force-fed before imprisoning her at a mental hospital, where she was drugged and tortured. She was then brought straight from the hospital to the courtroom and sentenced to two years' forced labor.
To us who knew her, there was a particularly heroic dimension to her hunger strikes, in that Nadia loved food and was an excellent cook. At the end of an earlier hunger strike, which had lasted 14 days, she opened my refrigerator at midnight, found a pack of 10 hamburgers in the freezer, cooked them in a frying pan and ate them all despite my anxious protests: people recovering from a long fast are supposed to observe a strict diet, starting with small quantities and bland foods. In the morning, when another friend brought over a small amount of grated vegetables and some diluted juice – that day’s allowance – Nadia made faces to me behind her back, silently imploring me not to mention those hamburgers. (I kept her secret, of course).
To me, as to many others, Nadia was a bright shining star, an irrepressible personality. She was intelligent, intellectual, brave, generous and totally honest. She was insatiably curious about life in all its multiple forms and manifestations. She genuinely cared about the people around her. She loved reading and could become absorbed in a book even while locked in a prison cell or languishing in a hospital bed; African tribes, the wild cats of India, languages ancient and modern, complicated math problems, folk cultures, movies -- her interests were endless. She had infallible taste and an almost professional discernment in literature and poetry, and even music and painting, though she claimed not to understand them. Her enthusiasm was contagious and childlike, brightening the days of her fellow inmates in the drab squalor of the labor camp.
She was, of course, a highly educated person. Born in Kuibyshev (Samara) on the Volga river, she studied mathematical linguistics at the Novosibirsk University before transferring to the Leningrad University, from which she graduated with honors. Later she took a post-graduate course at the Moscow State University. After immigrating to the United States in the 1990-s, Nadia earned a Master’s degree in computer science from Brandeis University in Boston.
The hardships she experienced – her parents’ divorce, Soviet anti-Semitism and oppression, her time in Soviet prison, labor camps, and inhumane mental hospitals – inevitably took a toll on her, both physical and mental. Nadia’s life, especially in later years, was overshadowed by depression and likely other conditions, which went undiagnosed and untreated. One of my enduring sorrows was my inability to make her seek professional help. I’m saddened to think what she might have become: an outstanding scientist, a loving wife and mother, a friend enriching the lives of many; such great potential, stolen from her by the dark cloud of depression and anxiety.
Nadia used to talk of the proverbial tree one must plant in one’s lifetime. She planted many such trees during her lifetime. Many of them grow inside my heart. Thank you, Nadia, my friend, for all that you were. May your memory be blessed. Rest in peace.
- Graveside Service Wednesday, June 27, 2018