Tag Archives: history

Babi Yar

On September 29 and 30, 1941, over 30,000 Jews were slaughtered at Babi Yar. It was part of a broader mass killing action in Eastern Europe, though the sheer numbers of that day leave one without words. As a teen, I read Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem about Babi Yar – it never left me.

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.

It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.

I see myself a boy in Belostok.
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.

I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.

O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.

I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”

It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.

-“They come!”

-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”

-“They break the door!”

-“No, river ice is breaking…”

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.

And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.

No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.

There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!

More about the poet and the massacre here.

L’Appel du 18 Juin

I’m a day late with this, but ever since I lived in France – lo, those many years ago – I can never look at the calendar on June 18 without thinking of this speech, the magnificent call to resistance made by Charles de Gaulle to his occupied people. They didn’t really answer it, but hey, the guy tried. And regardless of his less attractive traits, he had honour here – as did his niece, who joined the fight and as a result of her courage was sent to a concentration camp. Mercifully, she survived.

My first exposure to this speech was when I was working as an au pair to two little boys in a snooty part of Paris. I remember making breakfast for them one morning in June, and they began reciting this appel, word for word. Remarkable! I was young and had not heard of it at that point, though I knew who de Gaulle was. I asked about it and they explained that it was the 18th of June, the day of de Gaulle’s great speech. They had memorized it in school. I believe, back then, all French kids did. I hope they still do. De Gaulle was an interesting fellow. I read this book last year and learned, among other things, that he was an adoring and gentle father with his mentally-challenged daughter. Such a contrast to the public belligerence. So very human.

Now have a listen and appreciate your goosebumps:

Painful History

[Update on post below – The verdict is not good. Though the historians do not have to pay damages, they have been ordered to apologize for writing about what they had discovered through rigorous study and research.]

This is very disturbing as to how it potentially affects the study and research of history – and for other reasons. (I have written about my own experiences in Poland as it pertains to the Holocaust.)

The case has its roots in the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, when terrified Jews took shelter in the forest and, according to a survivor cited in a recent Polish study of the Holocaust, were murdered there after the wartime mayor of Malinowo, a Pole, told the Nazis of their hiding place.

That horror, however, has now resurfaced, revived by a libel suit against two scholars who edited the study and who stand accused of besmirching the honor of the long-dead mayor and the Polish nation. A verdict in the case, which was brought by the elderly niece of the mayor with support from bodies funded in part by Poland’s government, is expected Tuesday.

The targets of the libel action are Jan Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian history professor at the University of Ottawa, and Barbara Engelking, a historian with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research. Together they edited “Night Without End,” a 1,700-page 2018 study on the role played by individual Poles in aiding Nazi murder.

I lived in France for five years and have spent a lot of time elsewhere in Europe, particularly Italy. No question that any discussion of the Holocaust brings up myriad emotions, sensitivities, anger and denials across the Continent and across the board. There are also, of course, those who are honest about the past, those who were heroic and paid the ultimate price for that heroism, as well. But the silencing of historians in Poland is worrying.

A propos, about five years ago, I read this book – along the same lines as the research of the two historians currently facing legal action, and about as cheerful. I seem to recall Grabowski figuring in Bikont’s book and I know Engelking has also written about Jedwabne. Highly recommend. Would be interested to know what Deborah Lipstadt thinks about this.

JFK

It has been said – I have said it, maybe even on this website – that the current Democratic Party would never select tax-cutting, hawkish, war hero, Cold Warrior JFK as their leader. Sadly, this is true. Say what you will about JFK, but once we had leaders, and he was one of those leaders.

November 11th

Remember to visit my other site. And please enjoy this A.E. Housman poem, relevant to the day. Really quite simple and profound.

Here Dead we Lie

Here dead we lie because we did not choose,

To live and shame the land from which we sprung.

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;

But young men think it is, and we were young.