A familiar story
Yesterday we visited out friend in Los Angeles. Her little girl is the same age as my older daughter, and she had a birthday party, so we went there. After the kids’ party we went to our friend’s house. Later in the evening her parents came over. We were sitting there and talking about life, politics, history etc. And in the course of the conversation my friend’s father told me a story, his story. It was a story I’ve heard before. No, not from him. But I’ve heard similar stories about members of my own family and about members of my wife’s family. I’ve read stories like this many times. Yet, when someone who lived through this and tells you about it is someone you know, someone sitting next to you at a dinner table, that tends to affect you much more…
My friend’s family is from Berdichev, a small town in Northern Ukraine. Her father, Mr. K., was 4 years old when the Nazis entered the city in the early July of 1941. The Jews comprised a very large percentage of the population, perhaps even a majority: the city was historically a shtetl and a center of the Jewish life in Ukraine. The city’s male population of military age was in the Soviet Army fighting the Nazis, including Mr. K’s father. The rest of the Berdichev’s Jews did not have time to evacuate and frankly did not think it was necessary. You see, Berdichev was already occupied by the German Army once before, in 1918. Back then the relationship between the Jews and the Germans was quite friendly. There were Jews in the German Army, and the Germans of 1918 preferred to deal with the Jews: Yiddish is close enough to the German language, so they simply could communicate easily. But in 1941 things were different.
According to Mr. K’s recollection, around mid-September of 1941 the Jews of Berdichev were rounded up and brought to the square in the center of the city, ostensibly to be moved somewhere. Mr. K was there with his mother, his 6 years old older brother and his 2 years old younger brother. His grandparents were also there. The rumor had it that those with the little kids would be left alone, and so Mr. K’s mom sent his older brother to be next to the grandparents. Soon Mr. K’s mom sensed that something was not right. She told her parents that she had a feeling they they were all going to be shot. So she decided to make a run for it. She picked her youngest one up, took Mr. K’s hand and told her oldest to keep running with her and not to stop no matter what happens. They ran. The Germans were shooting at them, but they kept running. Finally they got away far enough and hid in some orchard. Mr. K’s older brother was not with them. They have never seen him again. Perhaps he was hit while they were running. They were recaptured later that day, but by that time the Nazis were done with murder for the day. As they were recaptured, an auxiliary policeman from the locals hit Mr. K’s mom in the shoulder with his rifle butt. Ironically, a German officer intervened. They were brought to the market place and placed in a line with a bunch of other Jews they thought were recaptured like them. But it turned out that those people were the ones who had some skills deemed useful by the Germans: tailors, cobblers, jewelers, dentists etc. Amazingly, all those people were released for the time being. Mr. K with his mom and the little brother came back to their apartment. They hoped that the oldest kid might come there if he was alive, but he was not there. The apartment was already looted. The only thing left there was Mr. K’s father’s green army-style wool blanket. So, Mr. K’s mother said: "That’s it, we have to get out of Berdichev". They picked up the blanket and left. They figured that the further away from the city they get, the better chance they would have to survive. The Germans and the local collaborators would be further away: they tended to stay closer to the city. And the locals would be nicer.
They moved from one village to another for over 2 years, until the liberation. Mr. K’s mom could sew, and so they would stay with people in a village until she would sew clothes for them. Then the peasants would ask them to leave and go somewhere else. You can’t blame those peasants for that: hiding a Jewish family in occupied Ukraine was extremely dangerous. If discovered, the Jews had a chance of being sent to a camp: still some meager chance of survival. But people hiding them would likely be shot on the spot, the whole family. So, Mr. K with his mother and brother had to move around. In the summer they hid in the farm fields, and in the winter people hid them in their houses. They survived. When the Soviets came back, it was still a liberation: as bad as Stalin’s regime was, it was better than the Nazis. In 1944 they got that telegram dreaded by every soldier’s family: Mr. K’s father was killed in action.
So, there were only 3 people left out of a pretty large family: Mr. K, his little brother and their mom. They survived, thanks to Mr. K’s mother’s resourcefulness and her will to save her children. As for those Ukrainian peasants that hid them, there are no words to express my gratitude. Clearly, Mr. K’s mom’s sewing was very meager compensation for the risks they took. It had to be their simple humanity that prompted them to save this mother with her 2 young kids. I hope those people had long and happy lives.
In this country among Jews Ukrainians often regarded as universally anti-Semitic. There is some truth to it: from the time of Bogdan Khmelnytsky anti-Semitism was rampant in Ukraine. But there were people who were willing to risk their lives to save other human beings. They sometimes might bad-mouth Jews and even call them derogatory names, but they would still save them. In fact, I knew people like that.
This is history. But how is it relevant now? Well, for starters, there are some nuts that insist that Mr. K’s story never happened. And my and my wife’s family members were not murdered. Those nuts want the world to believe them, rather than Mr. K. They don’t want the world to believe the stories my grandpa told me. There is one nut in Iran that accuses Mr. K of lying, while he himself wants to acquire weapons to make it happen again. Look at this video that Judith Klinghoffer sent me:
While you are watching, pay close attention to those "salutes" so loved by Islamo-Fascists. And, to refresh what you saw, take another look at the pictures in this article of mine. There quite a number of people in the world that want to repeat Mr. K’s story once again, only this time ensuring that there are no survivors. To this I say:
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