Avital Sharansky was born Natalya Shteiglitz/Steiglitz in 1950, in the Ukraine.
In the early 1970s, Avital's brother applied for a visa to leave for Israel, where he settled in Jerusalem, but her parents would not allow her to follow him. She met Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky at a demonstration near the Moscow synagogue in autumn 1973 (during the Yom Kippur War) and became active in the refusenik movement, of which Anatoly was an active member. The term means being refused a Soviet emigration visa to Israel, which happened in 1973; he was formerly a mathematician.
The couple were married on 4th July, 1974, in a Jewish religious ceremony, under a Chuppah - without the required Soviet civil ceremony - but the exit visa to emigrate to Israel arrived for her alone, and she was obliged to leave her refusenik husband, who was also a human rights activist in Sakharov and Orlovs' Moscow Helsinki group. Natasha settled in Jerusalem, where she took the Hebrew name Avital; after a while studied Judaism, becoming religiously observant.
Throughout Anatoly's period of activism, Avital campaigned for his right to emigrate to Israel, and – after his arrest and exile to Siberia - for his freedom;. Natan was arrested on 15th March 1977 and charged; he was convicted in 1978 on multiple crimes (including treason, which carried the death penalty): From the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, Anatoly was sentenced to hard labor and sent to a prison camp or gulag in Siberia (Schistopol), where for part of the time he was placed in solitary confinement; his health deteriorated, to the point of endangering his life.
For a total of 13 years, Avital left no stone unturned in her campaign from Israel: meeting world leaders, diplomats, politicians, and speaking in front of Jewish audiences worldwide. Avital campaigned successive US Presidents, Congress, British and European political parties, Jewish lobbies, every major Jewish convention in Israel or worldwide, the UN in New York and Geneva (under the terms of the Helsinki Final Act). Anatoly's mother, the late Ida Milgrom, campaigned within the USSR.
Anatoly was finally released in exchange for a Soviet spy on 11th February 1986, being transported the following day to what was then East Germany (Berlin), where Avital met him as he came across the bridge; they both flew home to Israel and thousands of waiting welcomers.
Ida Milgrom and her other son, Leonid, subsequently received visas to join her son and daughter-in-law in Israel, where she lived in Jerusalem, until her death at age 94 (May 2002).
Avital holds an M.S.W.; she lectures in Jewish Studies for Russian-speaking olim, as well as talking about her past to young students, but remains largely out of the public eye. Avital and Natan live in Jerusalem and have two daughters.
Further references to Avital:
Picture of Avital demonstrating http://www.congressionalgoldmedal.com/AnatolyandAvitalShcharansky.htm
[translation of the last section is computerized, from the German...]
This is how Avital looked in the film in 1980
Links on Avital Sharansky's campaigning overseas
The Sharansky exchange on Glienicke Bridge
Speech in Israel
Natan Sharansky, Biography
Avital's books are now out of print, but The Journey Home, co-authored by the couple, is still available.
Researched and compiled 2004, 2007
by Gila Ansell Brauner
for The eLearning & Resource Division,
The Department for Jewish Zionist Education,
The Jewish Agency for Israel ©