Too many have denied the Holocaust. Even more have perpetuated the myth of passivity, the fallacy that six million Jews went docilely to their deaths, like lambs to the slaughter. It is important that future generations should know this to be untrue. In reality, wherever there was the slightest opportunity, Jews fought back. The Jewish people did their utmost to survive under unfathomably difficult circumstances in the forests, in the ghettos, and in the camps. We all fought for our lives and for the lives of our loved ones. Many fought with weapons in hand in the ghettos, as underground fighters in occupied cities and villages, as partisans in the forests, and simply as individuals who resisted those who came to destroy them.
Faye Schulman, part of the Jewish armed resistance against the Nazis, in A Partisan’s Memoir: Woman of the Holocaust (via anti-faschismus)
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Hecher von der Erd/Higher than the Earth, by Der Nister
I was a very hated kid. Remember, it was the years of Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech, all those movies: Red Dawn, Red Gerbil, Red Hamster… and I felt like I was the Big Red Kid. My parents had expected that after the anti-semitism of Russia that kids were going to love me because I was Jewish, but that’s not how it worked out at all. I was Russian in their eyes; I had a big fur coat and big fur hat and I was clearly the enemy.
So I decided to write a satire of the Torah. We were all being force fed the Torah and the Talmud and the kids had to chant and memorize this stuff that didn’t mean really anything to many of us. So I wrote my own version of the Torah which was called the Gnorah; Exodus became Sexodus, you know, all that kind of stuff. It was a very raunchy, horny kind of book that only an 11- or 12-year-old could write. And it became… I wasn’t popular exactly, but my first friends were made because of that. Other kids felt that there was a kind of, ‘Oh, this guy has something to show us.’
Gary Shteyngart, on arriving in Queens and enrolling in Hebrew school [x]
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Novelist Gary Shteyngart emigrated to Queens from the Soviet Union in 1979 at the age of 7. In his memoir, Little Failure, he writes about adjusting to life in a country he had been taught to think was the enemy. In his interview he talks to Terry Gross about his struggle to learn English:
My problem was that I didn’t know any English. So on top of not knowing any English, there was another language, Hebrew, which was even harder, that they were trying to teach me. It was too much.
… And at home we had no television so I couldn’t learn English from TV, so for the first years in Hebrew school I would sit apart from everyone at the cafeteria … and I would just have long conversations in Russian with myself … in this gigantic fur hat and fur coat speaking in a language that nobody understood. And all the kids would run up to me and do the crazy sign and laugh and laugh and laugh, but I wouldn’t stop because that was the only language that would make me comfortable. … In speaking it, I could pretend that the people I loved were around me.
image via townhall seattle
more Gary Shteyngart
I had fur coats and fur hats and [they] smelled of various woodland animal-type smells. The teachers would take me aside and say, “Look, you can’t be this furry. You can’t dress in these furs. Children won’t play with you if you have that much fur on.” … Basically what I was told in school every day was where we came from was wrong and where we were now was right. … It’s a lot for a sensitive 7-year-old to be told that everything he loved and believed in has to be replaced with something else.
Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure, speaks to Fresh Air about adjusting to life in America after leaving the Soviet Union when he was 7. (via nprfreshair)
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Photographs of Eastern European Jewish communities, taken between 1935-1938, by Roman Vishniac.
notes on the images:
photo two and three: Jewish labourers in Verkhneye Vodyanoye, Ukraine, Zakarpats’ka (then Vysni Apsa, Czechoslovakia, Carpathian Ruthenia).
photo eight: Portrait of the wife of Nat Gutman, a porter, Warsaw.
photo nine: Malnourished child eating a crust of bread in the TOZ (Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population) summer camp in Otwock, near Warsaw. The Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population (TOZ) was established in Warsaw in 1921 to unite the Polish branches of the Saint Petersburg–based Society for the Protection of Jewish Health (OZE). TOZ promoted preventive measures against infectious disease, such as smallpox vaccines, and also addressed the socioeconomic roots of disease, including pervasive poverty, malnutrition, and unsanitary living conditions. Vishniac photographed TOZ’s headquarters in Warsaw and summer camps in Slonim and Otwock to assist with their fundraising efforts and to promote the activities of the camp to Jewish donors abroad. With the support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), TOZ continued to operate after the German invasion of Poland, and attempted to continue its activities in the Nazi ghettos in Poland until 1942. Vishniac’s reflection, holding his Rolleiflex camera, can be seen in the young girl’s eyes.
photo ten: A Jewish boy with cattle, Carpathian Ruthenia.
more Roman Vishniac
(and more info on TOZ and OZE)
Jewish-Russian photographer Roman Vishniac’s daughter, Mara, as a young girl, poses in front of Nazi propaganda posters in Wilmersdorf, Berlin, 1933. The poster depicting Hindenburg and Hitler reads: “The marshal and the corporal: fight with us for peace and equal rights”.
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The forgotten Jews of the Red Army
About 500,000 Jews served in the Soviet Red Army during World War II. Most of those still alive today — about 7,000 — are said to live in Israel.
1) Boris Ginsburg joined partisans for two years and in 1944 he joined the Red Army as a combat soldier and fought till the and of the war.
2) Nahum Matovich, 87, poses for a portrait at his house in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. Matovich was an air force bomber pilot on Ilyushin Il-4 bomber in the Soviet 18th Air Army and fought in Japan and Korea. He immigrated to Israel from Kishinev, today’s Moldova, in 1994.
3) Yaakov Vilkovich, 90, poses for a portrait at his house in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Vilkovich joined the Red Army in 1941, served in the 31st Army’s infantry battalion and fought in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. He immigrated to Israel in 1998.
Members of the Jewish Defense League burn a Soviet flag to protest the treatment of Soviet Jews. New York City, 1972