Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Please remember me...20th of Sivan

Kolymaya, Ukraine 20th Sivan 5449 (1689)

Watching my Zeidie shuffle into the room on one leg and a stick settling into his favorite chair at the window. The room and house bare of food and provisions. His ever sad eyes staring into the distance..the steppes..rolling hills..tattered village.
Those eyes that have been witness to the greatest tragedy that has befallen us since the destruction of Jerusalem 1500 years ago.
The glorious communities of Poland, Galitzia, Volhynia, Ukraine and Lithuania. By invitation of Casimir The Great the Jews prospered here for 300 years. We enjoyed unparalleled freedom and peace. Our Rabbis organized a sweeping pseudo-government that enjoyed almost complete autonomy. The Council of the Four Lands made sure everyone was taken care of, settled all court cases and was led by the greatest leaders of their time including the Taz and the Shach.

All this came to a shattering and devastating end in 1648-1649. We’re still so stunned that it’s difficult to comprehend.
In the year 1648 Ukranian Cossacks organized a militia under the rabid anti-semite Bogdan Chmelniecki. They came sweeping in from the Eastern Steppes like a sudden dark thunderstorm in midday. The attacks against the Jews began almost immediately and thus 2 years of hell began. These years have been come to be known as Tach v’Tat.
The Cossacks were fierce warriors and were expert horse riders. They came thundering in to a town on their swift and powerful horses, swords drawn and overwhelmed the defenseless Jews. The drunken shouts, terrified screams
another child murdered
another girl raped

After 2 years the incomprehensible number stares us in the face.
300,000 men women and children killed. Every single one stabbed or pierced to death.
Tens of thousands of our sisters, mothers and daughters brutally raped.
Entire villages wiped out.
Entire regions reduced to poverty..starvation.
A lone violinist tries to capture the sadness the grief..the solitude.
How does one bury ones entire family?
How does one pick up the pieces?
With the joyful memories haunting us in the hollowness of the empty children’s room.

Sure during the crusades we’d suffered a few hundred here..a few hundred there...
During other troublesome times..there have been massacres.
But never on this scale...

The Council is meeting this week in Zhitomir down the road.
They’ve decided to institute a day of remembrance and prayer.
Every year on the 20th of Sivan Jews will gather and say special selichos composed for the occasion and fast.
There were those that were against it on the argument that who needs a special day..how can we ever forget what happened?
There were those that argued that it won’t help. It’ll be forgotten in another few generations anyhow. Perhaps a worse tragedy will befall us G-d have mercy.
So I sit and watch my Zeidy and wonder what’s causing that tear to slowly roll down his cheek.
Is it memories of his parents being killed in front of him?
Of his infant son?
Of his beautiful sister who committed suicide after 2 weeks of violation and humiliation?

40 years have passed since 1649 and the last survivors are passing on swiftly..on to a better place to rejoin the 300,000 that await them.
Who will bear witness to what happened?
Will future generations remember?
Remember our tragedy?


This Friday is the 20th of Sivan. Please spare one moment to remember Tach vTat.
Our grandparents and their tragedy.

Let’s hope in 200 years from now (if g-d forbid Moshicach hasn't come) our great-granchildren won’t be here pleading to spare a moment to remember the Holocaust.