So, today we are being treated to the latest effort by the fake news to drum up support for the deserving Ukrainians who are about the be crushed by the Russian bear. Too bad that I just can’t find it within myself to be all that worried about our Ukrainian ally, because as Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, “History also has its claims.”
And here’s a bit of history which still needs to be claimed.
My maternal grandparents were born, raised and married in a Ukrainian shtetl, Boyarkar, which was located about 15 miles from Kiev. They left the village, Or, better yet, ran away from the village in 1919, following a pogrom in which my grandmother saw her father, my great-grandfather, shot dead in the street.
They bribed a border guard who took them across the Dnieper River, then they snuck back to Kishenev where my mother was born, and finally made it to Odessa where they boarded a ship that brought them to the United States in 1921.
Their shtetl, Boyarkar, was the scene of a second pogrom in 1921, which was one of hundreds of savage, anti-Semitic massacres in Ukraine which first erupted in 1881. These assaults were endemic through Ukraine and were particularly deadly when this region became sort of a No Man’s Land during the Russian Civil War.
By the time the Bolshevik government could restore law and order to Ukraine, more than 150 Jewish communities had been partially or completely destroyed, and there has never been any kind of official or even unofficial count of the number of Jews who were injured or killed. I can tell you that in the village of Boyarkar, more than 50 residents, many of them either my relatives or kin, were killed in the two attacks.
Know why they were killed? Because they were Jews. Also, they often lent money to Ukrainian peasants to tide the peasants over in bad times since Jews were not allowed to own land.
The members of my shtetl family who made it to the States before immigration was restricted in 1923 (by a law which was almost exactly the same law that Trump wanted to enact in 2017) maintained contact with family and friends in Boyarkar until 1941. Then it was the Nazi war machine, particularly the SS mobile killing squads, that came in and tried to finish off what the Cossacks and the anti-Semitic Ukrainian gangs had started in 1881.
How many Jews were slaughtered by the German army between 1941 and 1944? Reliable estimates put the number at one million or more, most of these victims being murdered in Ukraine.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that when it came to wiping out the Jews, that the Nazis who invaded Ukraine didn’t have some local help. Au contraire. The Nazis quickly and easily organized battalions of both Ukrainian soldiers and civilians to help round up and exterminate Jews.
You don’t have to take my word for how Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazi invaders to ‘cleanse’ their country of Jews. Just take a look at Lucy Dawidowicz’s classic work, The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945.
Believe it or not, one of the loudest voices raising the issue of Ukrainian anti-Semitism these days is none other than Vladimir Putin, who has referred to Ukraine as a ‘hotbed’ of anti-Semitism engendered primarily by what appears to be the re-birth of some Fascist elements in the Ukraine.
I suspect that much of Putin’s argument is just another way to persuade his supporters that going into Ukraine to restore a ‘proper’ government may not be such a bad thing. On the other hand, the Ukrainian government has never charged any individual with war crimes against the Jews, or war crimes against anyone else, for that matter.
More than 30,000 Jews were massacred and dumped into mass graves in a ravine outside of Kyiv called Babi Yar. The Nazis ultimately slaughtered more than 100,000 Soviet POW’s, various political opponents and other undesirables, all of which happened with the aid of local ‘help.’
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like killing and I don’t think that violence of any kind is justified or good. But if the United States ultimately finds itself having to risk the lives of American troopers in order to preserve Ukraine, let’s at least spend a few minutes remembering whose ox has been gored.