ABOUT POLITICS, RELIGION AND SOME HISTORY
David Kahana, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, met me in his modest but lovely villa on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. (The majority of countries, including the U.S. do not recognize the transfer of Israel's capital to Jerusalem. They still consider Tel Aviv the capital and maintain their embassies there). For half a day we had a lively discussion about politics, religion, history, and a few other topics. As a former Chief Rabbi of the Jews in the Polish Army, with the rank of Colonel, Rabbi Kahana speaks fluent Polish. Therefore, we conducted our conversation in Polish. He once knew the Ukrainian language but had forgotten it after forty years of not practicing it.
Already at the start he requested me to clearly pronounce and write his surname "Kahana", in order not to confuse it with the surname of New York Rabbi Kahane, vociferous both in the U.S. and in Israel:
"These are two different surnames, two different families, two different persons with very different characters, as well as political and religious views".
The purpose and goal of my visit were already known to him.
"Count Sheptytsky?" - The Rabbi stroked his beard with visible emotion. "He was the noblest person that I have ever met in my entire life. If I were to believe in Christian saints, then the saint I'd believe in would be Count Andrij Sheptytsky. I wrote about this in my memoirs, published in the Hebrew language. He saved my life, the lives of over ten other rabbis and their families, and hundreds of Jews - from purely idealistic motives, humanitarian ones, from a love for man although he was Christian and the ones he saved at the risk of his own life, were - Jewish. One can importune that everyone was doing it for money, a reward of some sort, or the hope of capitilizing on this if the situation changed. But nothing like this can even be thought about Count Sheptytsky. In the declining years of his noble life he needed nothing for himself anymore: neither rewards, nor money, nor fame, nor speculations 'in case everything changed'. Such spiritually ethical giants appear in the history of mankind once in a thousand years. From the Jews, he deserves not only the title of 'Righteous' but, 'Prince of the 'Righteous'. He deserves not just one tree in Yad Vashem but a whole park in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv and in all the holy cities of Israel. No one denies this. But - "The Rabbi stopped in his stream of honors and praises and rubbed his beard thoughtfully. - "But..." - he repeated".
"I want to hear from you about this "But", I urged.
"The point is, that Count Andrej Sheptytsky was the Metropolitan, Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and you want us to give our highest honor not to Count Andrej Sheptytsky but to Metropolitan Andrej, Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is that correct?"
"Yes, Rabbi! Did he not write protests against the Jews' destruction to Hitler, Himmler and others, not as 'Count Sheptytsky', but as the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church? He did not hide rabbis and other Jews as a 'count' in his noble estates but in the catacombs of St. George's Church and other Ukrainian monasteries; it was not as a 'count' that he commissioned Ukrainian priests, Ukrainian monks and nuns to save Jews, their wives and children, but as the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, their shepherd - and they gave their allegiance to him only as their churchly leader, and not as a 'count', and followed him, ready to give up their lives on the German gallows".
"I know, and this is the gist of the matter: we cannot acknowledge that the Ukrainian Catholic Church helped Jews. It helped the Germans. All the Ukrainians collaborated, even your own Metropolitan. He wrote pastoral letters with appeals for Ukrainians to give up their contingents of food and wheat to the Germans, to go work in Germany and thus help Hitler win the war. Your Metropolitan commissioned his assistants, the then-rector J. Slipyj, to greet Governor Frank with bread and salt, when he came to Lviv with orders for the extermination of the Jews. This is why we can never give the title of 'righteous' to the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Andrej Sheptytsky, and we can never plant a tree in Yad Vashem. Never, never, never!" The Rabbi stood abrubtly, overcome with emotion.
"Rabbi", I reminded him, "in this touchy question we must separate two issues: first, the thanks of the Jews to Metropolitan Sheptytsky for the rescue of hundreds of Jews, rabbis, men, women, children from death at the hands of the German Nazis; second - the question, of whether the Ukrainian Catholic Church and its Head, Metropolitan Sheptytsky, really 'collaborated' with the Nazis. Let us look calmly at the first question. To you, the Jews, it might seem that by bestowing the title of 'Righteous' on someone and planting a tree in Yad Vashem, you are doing him a favor and are granting him some kind of personal honor. But it seems to me, that it's a totally simple matter: do the Jews know how to thank someone, who at the risk of his own life saved the lives of Jews in terrible times? You, yourself, Rabbi, avowed at the beginning of our conversation that Sheptytsky saved Jews without regard for praises, honors, medals, diplomas.
"Yes, I said that, and say it again!"
"There, you see, he doesn't even need your 'Thank You'. But we, the Ukrainians, who obligated ourselves by the commission of our great Metropolitan, to respect a human being even when he is a Jew, and therefore saved Jews from their terrible danger - we want to know, if the Jews can tell him, 'Thank You'".
"What do you mean, 'even if that person is a Jew'? What do you mean to say by that?"
"Only this: You as a rabbi know very well, that in accordance with your religion, Jews are 'God's children', whom Jehovah created and with whom He made various agreements. And non-Jews, 'Goyem', are something less.
The rabbi flinched and wanted to say something, but I stopped him.
"Rabbi! I am very familiar with this question, thanks to those Jews with whom I awaited our turn to die in Auschwitz. And you as a rabbi know this even better than I, so let's not try to fool one another. So that is your attitude to the idea of a 'human being'. The German Nazis reversed this: They were 'Ubermenschen', and Jews were 'Untermenschen' of the lowest category, who ought to be destroyed. And our great Metropolitan Andrej Sheptytsky taught us, that all people are equal before God. All are his children alike and even the Jew, who 'was underrated and dishonored by the Germans, is also a person, whom he entrusted to our protection.
"I've already said it twice, and I say it a third time: Count Sheptytsky is the greatest humanitarian, for whom I have the highest praises and acknowledgements".
"And I tell you for the third time, that it was no Count, but the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church who revealed unsurpassed heroism in the salvation of the Jews. In Europe, as you know, there is an overflowing abundance of counts, barons, princes. Can you name at least one among them, who selflessly, at the risk of his own life, saved Jews? However, let us return to our second question: In your opinion, how did the Ukrainian Catholic Church collaborate with German Nazis?"
"I already told you. The Metropolitan, and following him the priests, enjoined all Ukrainians to obey German commands, surrender contingents, go into slave labor..."
"And didn't you, the rabbis, call upon all Jews to obediently perform the commissions of the German officials? Hitler, Himmler or Eichmann told you to create ghettos and you, the rabbis, called upon all Jews to obediently accomplish this. They commissioned you to herd all the Jews into the ghetto and you called upon all Jews to obediently go to the ghettos. They told you to create' Judenrats' and a Jewish Police, you created them. The rabbis enjoined all Jews to obediently perform all the commands of the Judenrat and Jewish police even when it meant going to the gas chamber or facing firing squads".
The rabbi shifted uneasily in his chair: "Oh, oh, and what were we supposed to do? We had to! Those were dreadful times. Death, everywhere death, what were we supposed to do?"
"And didn't death threaten Ukrainians for not obeying German commands? Ukrainians gave up contingents of wheat and went into slave labor to save themselves, other Ukrainians, and their own families from the gallows, and from firing squads. Who did you, the Jews, think to save by collaborating with the Nazis in the destruction of Jews? You knew very well that they would destroy even you, the rabbis. They weren't then yet destroying Ukrainians en masse".
"But they were destroying the Jews. All of them! Murdering them!"
"And you would have wanted Ukrainians to save you, and stand, unarmed, against German tanks, quick-fire, airplanes, exposing their families, themselves, the entire Ukrainian nation to death? Let the Ukrainians all die, just to save the Jews? We, the Ukrainians, created insurrectionary detachments who took up arms against the Germans. Why didn't you, the Jews, seize weapons to protect yourselves? From six million Jews in Europe, a Jewish army of a half-million could have been formed, and if Jewish girls were included, an army of a million".
"Where were we to get weaponry?"
"Where did the Ukrainians get it, then? At the outset, to take them from the Germans, as we did. And then the rest would be parachuted down by the English, Americans and Soviets. No one wanted to help us but the Jews would have received arms, ammunition and money. Jewish commanders would have come from America, for in America there were then five million Jews and many of them were colonels, generals in the American army..."
The rabbi grasped his head.
"Oh, oh, oh, don't talk like that! Nobody helped us, nobody wanted to. Nobody! Everyone was against us! In Europe all are Christians and every Christian wanted the Jews to perish..."