A MEETING WITH THE 'DVAZHDI GEROY'
(TWICE-OVER HERO) OF ISRAEL
The now-sixty-year-old Idel Cogan is an interesting person. He presently owns his own butchery in Tel Aviv. He was born and spent his youth, in Volyn, among Ukrainians. Living in a Ukrainian village, he met almost no Jews. He was always a part of the Ukrainian children, attending the same school, as well as various other village activities, the 'kolyada' (Christmas caroling), and even - when his father wasn't looking - attending church with his Ukrainian friends. Reminiscing about all that, he recited with reverence the 'Our Father' and 'Hail Mary' and sang 'Nova Radist' ('A New Joy' - a Ukrainian Christmas carol). He was eighteen or nineteen years old when the German entered Volyn, in 1941. Somehow they discovered that he was a Jew. Did one of the Ukrainians disclose it? No - no one alleges such a thing; everyone in the village liked him and was ready to shelter him. They must have discovered it through the registers, because in school and in the community office, he was clearly designated as 'Jew', under the Polish regime and by the Soviet regime, as 'Hebrew'. The mayor during the German regime was a 'Volksdeutsh', a descendant of the Volyn German colonists. He informed Idel that all Jews must leave for the city ghettoes and he went. One day a group was brought out for shooting. The young, well-built and hardened Idel quickly oriented himself as to the situation and upon entering the forest, he jumped off the truck and fled.
"Who guarded the ghetto?", I queried.
"Everything was directed by the Jewish Council, the 'Judenrat'. Order was kept by the Jewish police - and, oh!, was it mean! It even kept watch at work and spurred everyone on with sticks. Transportation to the firing squads was handled by the Ukrainian police".
"Ukrainian police? Hmm - how were they dressed?"
"In black uniforms. Everyone called them 'The Black Ones' and said that they were the Ukrainian police. They never entered the ghettoes, so there was no opportunity to inspect them from close"
Don't you know that black uniforms were worn by a faction of the notorious German police, known as the 'Einstazgruppe', while its divisions were called the 'Einsatzkommando'? It was that particular division which carried out Eichmann's plan, the 'final solution' to the Jewish question - that is, the complete physical liquidation of all Jews. It was composed of tried, blood-thirsty Germans, but on occupied territory it included the 'Volksdeutsch' from a given area, who knew the local language and situation well. These 'Volksdeutsch', the descendants of former German colonists, gave the impression that among 'The Black Ones' there were also non-Germans. In Ukraine they were regarded as Ukrainians, in Poland as Poles, and in France as Frenchmen. There were around seven hundred thousand of them living on Ukrainian soil at the start of the Second World War, so there were plenty to choose from to fill the quota for the 'Black Ones', as the bloody faction of the German police the 'Einsatzgruppe', was known. True Ukrainians were not accepted. Do you mean to tell me that you really were not aware of this?"
"No! As yet I've never heard such an explanation. Everyone said it was the Ukrainian police, and I never doubted it was true".
"I'll show you some facts. Recently in Chicago, a series of court trials took place against two supposed 'war criminals' accused of taking part in the mass shootings of Jews in Ukraine as members of the 'Einsatzkommando' in 1941-43. The very fact that this action occured in Ukraine sufficed for the American press, controlled by Jews, to begin a drumbeat refrain that the accused twosome were Ukrainians; and incidentally, that all Ukrainians were traditionally known anti-Semites. The names of the defendants: Albert Deutscher and Alex Lehman, both Protestants. Place of birth: Worms, in Ukraine. You were born and raised in Ukraine, and are familiar with Ukrainian surnames. So please tell me: could these names be Ukrainian?"
"Well, not exactly, they sound perfectly German or Jewish".
"Right, these are typical German names, and both of the accused were Germans, born and raised, in the German colony of Worms, in Ukraine. The name of the colony is also typically German, isn't it?"
"Without a doubt. Ukrainians would never have given their village such a name".
"There, you see. The defendants themselves revealed that they were 'Volksdeutsch', of German descent and therefore were accepted into the 'Einsatzkommando'. As Germans, they had the Gestapo's complete trust, and their knowledge of the Ukrainian language gave them the means, as members of the 'Einsatzkommando', to communicate with all those in Ukraine who spoke no German. These, 'Ukrainians', then, [only one or two, at that, for every hundred Germans from Germany] were the ones who transported Jews to be shot. Do you see that? The Ukrainian auxiliary police had light-blue uniforms, and served as a traffic-regulating police for Ukrainians".
"Yes, now everything is clear to me. I never saw Ukrainian policemen in blue uniforms either at the ghettoes, overseeing the Jews at work, or at the shootings".
"And when you fled from the shootings, where did you flee? To whom?"
"Straight to the village, among Ukrainians".
"And then what happened - the Ukrainians caught you and handed you over to the Germans? You recall, it had been publicly announced that the gallows awaited those who dared shelter Jews".
"I remembered, that, but there were people who knew me. They hid me, fed me, and sheltered me. The Ukrainian police were very good. I only reviled those Ukrainians who were in the German police, the 'Black Ones', and regarded them as Ukrainian renegades, because I believed that they really were Ukrainians. Now it's clear to me that they were German colonists, 'Volksdeutsch', who united with their own bloodthirsty criminals from Germany".
Hiding out was very dangerous. So, as soon as Bolshevik partisans appeared in the area, Idel joined them, and then went over to the regular army. He knew the German language, so they put him in a division that was to occupy Berlin. And how he repaid the Germans there! When the Germans had already capitulated, he induced his division to cross the Elbe River into the English zone, and before the English army came, he had a hundred German farmers shot. Later, he received recognition for this from Israel. He then left the Soviet army to train Jewish partisans; and finally he went with them to Palestine. There he commanded guerillas in their battles against the Arabs, and for this also he was accorded highest honors from the government of Israel.
"A hero twice over! ". Mr. Suslensky joked.
"Well, did you want me to be like yourself and hide in a mouse hole, and only play the hero?" Idel retorted.
"In 1963 he 'got a yen' to go to the U.S.S.R. But as soon as he arrived in Kiev and approached people in order to converse with them, he saw that the KGB was already awaiting him. He was arrested as an 'Izmyennik rodiny' (traitor to the fatherland) and a 'Zionist spy', and sentenced to ten years in prison and concentration camps. There he met the 'Banderivtsi'.
"Oh, and were there plenty of them! It was said that half the political prisoners in all Siberia were 'Banderivtsi'..."
"You know, the Soviets call every Ukrainian who is anti-Russian, or as they say, 'for an Independent Ukraine', a 'Banderivets'. In fact, everyone, who in any way did not approve of the Soviet regime was a 'Banderivets'. Immediately after the war there were hundreds of thousands of them in bolshevik concentration camps: those who actually were in the UPA or Bandera's organization, those who helped them in some way, and even those who could have become 'banderivtsi' simply because of their natural political inclinations. A great many of them perished there. After Stalin's death, the 'minor criminals' were freed, leaving only those who were sentenced to twenty or twenty-five years. United, strong, belligerent, the 'Banderivtsi' had a good name in Soviet prisons and concentration camps. There was a large criminal element, the 'blatni', that terrorized the other prisoners. They tried to 'make short shrift' of the 'banderivtsi', but instead received a good thrashing. The battle was a bloody one, but the 'blatni' soon learned that 'yesli eto bandyerovets, nye trogaj yego' (if it's a banderivets, don't touch him!'). It was the same with female prisoners. 'Banderivets' or 'Banderivka' (a female follower of Bandera) is a name pronounced with respect by every prisoner of the Soviet concentration camps".
Idel Cogan, during his ten-year stay in Soviet prisons and camps, was lengthily confined with Dr. Volodymyr Horbowyj, Evhen Pryshlak, Vasyl Dyshkant, Marchak, Mykhaylo Soroka, and other leading "Banderivtsi". He has an immense respect for the first five and is in the process of writing a book about them.
"May even the Jews, God-willing, have people like them and hundreds of other 'Banderivtsi'!"
He especially idolizes Dr. V olodymyr Horbovyj.
"Horbowyj (he often pronounced it 'officially' in Russian, as 'Garbavoy') is a unique individual, joining a profound knowledge of things with an insurmountable inner strength. I have to date never met such a walking encyclopedia. Whatever you may ask him, he knows the answer and replies immediately. He even speaks Hebrew and knows everything there is to know about the Jews. I would make him Supreme Rabbi of Israel. And how tough he is! He survived twenty-eight years of prisons and concentration camps without breaking. He was persistently being induced to 'repent' and condemn Ukrainian nationalism, in which case he would immediately be pardoned, freed and placed in a high position. But he stubbornly refused with his 'No!'. Emissaries of the NKVD and KGB came especially from Moscow to persuade me to influence him to 'repent'. But I told them: 'What can I do? You know that 'Garbavoy' is a 'banderivets', a rock. You won't crack it.'"
"The other five served their sentences and went free," - I said. - "Except for Mykhaylo Soroka, who died in 1971".
"I know! In 1973, I finished serving my sentence, and, though released, I still maintain ties with them. I have no kin, or children, since the inhuman Nazis sterilized my wife in Auschwitz. So from time to time I send them parcels".
He approached the shelf, took a letter from Dr. Volodymyr Horbowyj and showed it to me.
"See, he thanks me for the package. He lives in poverty... Tell me, are there many Ukrainians in America?"
"It's difficult to be precise. Some say there are two million, others - only a half-million".
"And are they doing something to help those in Ukraine? Take Scharansky for example. Well, what is he exactly? A fool! Did he fight, or direct some organization? Far from it! When the 'dissidents' appeared, foreign journalists began seeking them out for interviews. But the Soviet government warned everyone, 'Nyelza!' Well, then, 'Zaj nysht ah Koydym!' (Don't play the hero!') But not Scharansky- no, he went for a discussion with the Americans. So he was caught and sentenced. I would have given him a twenty-year sentence. Once they said, 'nyelza', then 'nyelza'. Take any newspaper in Israel or America: Nothing but 'Scharansky' and 'Scharansky': protests, letters, interventions in the U.S. Congress. And the Ukrainians? Did they do, or are they doing, anything similiar in Dr. Horbowyj's defense, Pryshlak's, Marchak's, Dyshkant's and thousands of others', who actually fought and voluntarily gave their lives?"
In previous conversations with Rabbi Kahana, Dr. Beysky and others, they said I spoke like a prosecutor in court driving them into the defendant's dock. Now a simple fighter without scientific degrees reversed everything: I perceived that suddenly he had become the prosecutor and I - the accused. What could I say to him?
I was saved by his garrulousness.
"Tell me, did you smack at least one KGB dog for the hundreds of thousands which those dogs killed in Ukraine?.. And there are plenty of them floating around New York".
I again began stroking my 'beard'. Fortunately, Idel didn't notice my confusion and continued talking.
"You must absolutely come and visit me in Tel Aviv for an entire weekend. You and I, are the same people. We'll have a heart-to-heart talk and remember our Ukraine. We'll sing 'Oi, ne chody, Hrytsiu', ('Oh, Do not go, Hrytsiu') and 'Myh Ukrainski partyzany' ('We are Ukrainian partisans')..."