Farewell to a Radical Jewish Pacifist

Vivien Roodenko died on December 18 at a nursing home in Newtown, PA, at the age of 91.

She was one of the last of a generation of radical Jewish pacifists. Her brother Igal, who shared her views, was a conscientious objector during World War II, and was put to work in a Civilian Public Service camp. There, he organized against forced labor and the censorship of mail. After going on a hunger strike in protest, he was sent to federal prison for a year and a half.

After the war, he and Vivien campaigned for amnesty for conscientious objectors. As secretary of the Washington branch of the Committee for Amnesty, she helped engineer a letter-writing campaign to prominent people to get their endorsements. Albert Einstein, Eric Sevareid, and Dorothy Thompson agreed, among others.

Later she worked in the Washington, D.C., office of the ACLU and her brother became chair of the War Resisters League. She was also a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament.

Aside from issues of peace and civil liberties, Vivien Roodenko was also deeply committed to racial justice. In the 1950s, she tried to get the Palisades Amusement Park integrated, and she even posed as an apartment seeker so that James Farmer, the founder of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), could get an apartment in Manhattan.

For many years, she worked for the Pennsylvania State Department of Labor.

A devoted reader of The Progressive magazine for seven decades, she was fond of telling the following story. She had just moved in to assisted living and was falling down when she landed on a box filled with issues of The Progressive, which she had dutifully collected. “I could have broken my hip! That would have been the end of me. The Progressive saved my life.”

We will miss her at The Progressive, and the movement for peace and social justice in America will miss her, too.

Photo: "Angel," via Shutterstock.