Nora Levin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she lived for most of her life. She earned a B.S. in education from Temple University and an M.L.S. from Drexel University.
Early in her career, she worked as a research librarian and taught American and European history in high school. Beginning in the late 1960s, she was a professor of history at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Philadelphia, a position she held for nearly 20 years. She was the founding director of the college's Holocaust Oral History Archive, which contains testimonies by more than 700 Holocaust survivors, liberators and witnesses. Her research, writing, and teaching were intertwined with her activism in the Jewish community -- she served on the executive boards of the Soviet Jewry Council, the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society. Among her particular interests were Jewish partisans in Europe during World War II, the Jewish labor movement in the USA, socialist Zionists, and refuseniks in the Soviet Union. Her published works included The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, 1933–1945 (1968), which became a standard text; While Messiah Tarried (1977); and the two-volume The Jews of the Soviet Union Since 1917 (1989).