Jews of the Ukraine Pre-World War II Excerpts

Click here to view excerpts from Dr. Kesler’s program “Jews of the Ukraine Pre-World War II”, which was presented at the East Brunswick Public Library on April 29, 2014:
(and please note that this program is scheduled to take place at Temple Israel Center in White Plains on January 21, 2015)

Regina’s Bat Mitzvah

My grandchildren are growing up.  In June 2012, we celebrated Regina’s bat mitzvah.  The occasion touched me in so many beautiful ways.  Regina is a beautiful young lady and her chanting of the liturgy touched me very deeply.  She has a beautiful, natural way of using her voice and her delivery of quite complex vocal music makes it sound so easy.  I also marveled at how the family has grown and how young cousins get along so beautifully together.  The celebration was a three-day affair, with the first one on Friday evening almost rained out by a heavy storm.  But we made up for it on Saturday and Sunday.  I’m so proud of the Kesler, as well as the Reed, clan.  Here are my greetings to her on that occasion, which we sang as well as we could:    Wishing Regina a happy birthday at 13, with her Bat Mitzvah  REFRAIN: She is a lovely one, She is a lively one Much pride and glory to her clan she brings. She’s got talent, she is bold, She can outrun a colt And sweetly like a nightingale she sings.   Amazing fortune favored her With poise, looks, a mind that’s rare And silken, long, windswept hair Kissed by sun.   She loves animals, and even when little, She cuddled dogs, frogs, and kittens Fed, groomed them, and shared with them Endless fun.   REFRAIN    At five she decided she’d like to paint, Causing her mom nearly to faint! As she plopped colored blots All over the floor.   But when her art won admirers From passersby and rock climbers Who thought it was Jackson Pollack’s, She heard complaints no more.   REFRAIN   Did you hear that she writes well? Yes, she finished a book that’s swell!

Never again? Hatred makes anything possible
3:49 PM, Apr. 23, 2014 | Comments

On April 27-28, Jews all over the world will be commemorating the Holocaust, also called The Shoah. What is the Holocaust? It is the systematic murder of six million Jews in Europe between 1939 and 1945. Stalin reportedly quipped “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” I want to put a familiar imprint on the six million number.
We all remember the tragic loss of 3,000 of our citizens, neighbors, and friends in the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, 2,000 days are just a bit more than five years. Consider the possibility, God forbid, of the 9/11 disaster being repeated every day for more than five years, with a total number of fatalities equaling six million. This enormity of the Holocaust catastrophe is unique in the annals of human history. In fact, it annihilated two-thirds of Jewry on the European continent.

Moreover, the Germans overwhelmingly singled out the Jews as targets of their heinous crimes. Paraphrasing Elie Wiesel: “Not every victim of the German’s killing machine was a Jew, but every Jew became its victim.” Even if you had been married to a Jew or descended from a Jewish grandparent, you were sentenced to die.

The near annihilation of a single people is commonly referred to as genocide. What else is unique about the Holocaust?

First, the industrialization of mass murder, the use of industrial management techniques, the latest technology and equipment to construct and operate killing factories, known as concentration/death camps. The Germans built hundreds of these camps, some of the larger ones capable of killing several thousand people in a day, in an assembly line of horrors. Three million Jews from central and western Europe died in those camps.

Another nearly three million Jews were killed by bullet in Eastern Europe, in somewhat more primitive assembly lines of murder that took place about two years ahead of the construction of the major death camps, leaving hundreds of mass graves.

The second unique feature is the identity of the mass killers. The main organizers and perpetrators of the Holocaust were the Germans, our cultural kin, members of our own western civilization. And where were most of the crimes committed? In Europe, the very center of that civilization.

The third singular feature of the Holocaust was the widespread cooperation of a whole continent in the mass murders. The collaboration took place both at the local and state levels in nearly every country of Europe, with the notable exceptions of Bulgaria, Denmark, and Finland. A 2012 exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington documented unspeakable crimes committed by state leaders at the highest level, as well as by ordinary citizens, against the Jews who had lived in their midst for hundreds of years.

The fourth distinct feature was the conspiracy of silence. A recent study reported 42,000 sites in Poland and in Germany where Holocaust atrocities were committed. But for decades the Germans and the Poles claimed that they had seen nothing and knew nothing. And the moral torpor invaded our shores as well. The New York Times, the newspaper that prides itself on publishing “all the news fit to print,” received thousands of pieces of verified and verifiable evidence, but chose not to print them, at least not in very noticeable places. Our own leaders knew well of the horrors, but did very little to intervene.

The long gestation of the catastrophe represents another unique feature of the Holocaust. The origins of the Holocaust date back to the birth of anti-Semitism and its rampant growth in the western world for nearly 1,500 years. After the Romans expelled the Jews from Palestine, they were forced to migrate from one European country to another, and became easy scapegoats for unscrupulous church, as well as secular rulers. Through the centuries, envy, jealousy, and hatred had rendered the unarmed Jew ready prey to unconscionable demagogues and unruly mobs. Indeed, the growth of that well-nurtured hatred formed the explosive mixture that became the basis for the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust.

Commemorating the Holocaust may help people of good will everywhere to become aware that hatred, like termites, is chewing the pillars on which we stand and have proudly built our culture, freedom, and lore. Hatred, unchecked and unchallenged, may eat those pillars to the core.

Michael G. Kesler

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