"THE GRASS IS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE"
Ephem Wolf is the youngest member of the Association for Hebrew-Ukrainian Cooperation. He was born in Ukraine in 1932. During the German-Bolshevik war he lived, as a Jew, in the ghetto in Zhmerynka, under Rumanian occupation. After the return of the Bolsheviks he became a member of the illegal organization of Zionist youth, 'Einigkeit' and for this served five years (1949-1954) in the Siberian concentration camps. In 1973, he left for Israel, where he teaches mathematics in a high school.
Ephem Wolf is grateful to the Ukrainians for much. Life in the ghetto was very hard, and if it were not for the Ukrainians, his mother's friends, and their secret assistance of provisions, then not only his mother but he himself would have died of starvation. Did the Ukrainians covertly supply food for "business" money, or in exchange for something else?
For what money? That which Ephem's mother had been able to take with herself to the ghetto, quickly went in exchange for food. Ukrainian acquaintances, chiefly Ukrainian women, brought them groceries to the ghetto out of mercy, even though they themselves had little, since the Rumanians had imposed strict contingencies on the Ukrainians.
"Were the Ukrainians and the Rumanians allowed to deliver provisions to the Jews in the Ghetto? Wasn't it forbidden?"
"Oh, yes, it was strictly forbidden. If a non-Jew were caught supplying food to the Jews, he was usually publicly hung, although with Rumanians it wasn't quite like that. But the Rumanian police gladly hung Ukrainians for this".
"Did you meet Ukrainians during your stay in the Soviet concentration camps?"
"Did I meet them?! Was it possible to be in Soviet concentration camps and not meet them? The concentration camp administration scattered Ukrainian political prisoners throughout all the Siberian concentration camps. In fact, more than half of all political prisoners were Ukrainian. The Soviet concentration camp administration even calls non-Ukrainian political prisoners 'Banderivtsi'. Once someone protests against the Soviet regime, then he is - a 'Banderivets', even though he is Lithuanian, Lettish or Georgian".
"Where did you first meet Ukrainian political prisoners?"
"When I was sentenced to five years in a rehabilitation camp and taken there, I met a group of Ukrainian priests from Carpathian Ukraine. It consisted of a Ukrainian-Catholic canon - I can't recall his name - and twenty other priests who refused to "convert" to Orthodoxy and acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Russian patriarch".
"So these were religious prisoners".
"Both religious and political. They didn't want to yield to the Russian patriarch, an agent of the NKVD; therefore, they were also(at least indirectly) political prisoners".
"What was their attitude towards you?"
"Unexpectedly friendly. They would have become the unfortunate victims at the hands of the 'blyatny' criminals if it had not been for the 'Banderivtsi'. From the reports of old prisoners I know that immediately after the war, the 'blyatny' wanted to pacify the 'Banderivtsi'. Instead, they received a very painful lesson from them, and by the time I was brought to the concentration camp, the 'blyatny' feared to provoke them. The genuine 'Banderivtsi' immediately accepted the Ukrainian priests into their midst. They even took me under their protection as a 'Ukrainian Jew-Nationalist'".
"Do you remember any of them?"
"I'll never forget two of them: Alexander Khira and Stepan Harasymiv. I owe my life to them. Stepan Harasymiv, especially, was, as the Ukrainians say, my guardian angel, who saved my life".
"How did that come about?"
"My very affiliation with the 'Banderivtsi' protected me from the venomous outrages of the 'blyatny'. Khira and Harasymiv often helped me with food, sharing their meager portions with me, especially at those times when I received almost nothing for not fulfilling the 'work quota'. But Stepan Harasymiv helped even more. You see, I was ill and almost blind as a result of mal-nourishment and unsanitary conditions. The Soviet overseers are less merciful to sick prisoners than a normal person is toward a sick dog. Being led to work, I couldn't see the road, or rather, the path very well, nor could I see clearly at work. The savage overseers would have pitilessly crushed me, a blind man, to death. But Stepan Harasymiv protected me like his own brother. He led me by the hand to and from work and assisted me at work. Although he and Khira were both worn out themselves, they would finish their own 'quota' a bit sooner, and then work on mine".
"I see that you have great respect for Ukrainian political prisoners, not without reason. Do you respect all of them? Do you have any negative feelings or thoughts about them?"
"Well, the 'Banderivtsi' impressed everyone with their bearing in the Soviet concentration camps, especially me, and I have explained why. Yet, I was jarred by the harsh chauvinism of the 'true Banderivtsi', former members of the UPA and OUN, in relation to the Russian nation".
"Can you explain this somewhat?"
"Well, take this, for example. The 'Banderivtsi' never used the terms 'Russian nation' or 'Russia', but scornfully said 'Muscovy' and the 'Muscovites'.
"Why do you say 'scornfully'? Those are terms proper to that area, and used at the very beginning of that state and its people".
"I see that you are also a 'Banderivets'. How can you speak so disrespectfully about the great Russian nation? Have you never heard of the principality of Rus', that was the mightiest and most civilized nation of Europe a thousand years ago? Or about their kings, Oleg, Igor, Sviatoslav, Vladimir, Jaroslav?"
"Of course I heard about them, but... Tell me, what was the capital of ancient Rus'?
"Why, Kiev, the 'mother of Russian cities'".
"Does that Kiev still exist? Of which country is it the capital today?"
"Of Ukraine, naturally!"
"It would seem, then, that at some point in time all the Russians emigrated from Kiev and the Ukrainians moved in and settled there, somewhat as the Romans did when they expelled all the Jews from Jerusalem. When did this happen?"
"Hmm... I've never thought about it along those lines. But, it's common knowledge that ancient Rus' was destroyed by the Mongols, i.e., the Tartars, and those who survived this onslaught, emigrated from Kiev to Moscow, which, along with the surrounding territory, had been a part of ancient Rus'".
"Yes, Muscovy was a part of Kievan Rus', but in the same way that Judea and the other Jewish lands were once part of the Roman Empire. Does any Jew today maintain that the Roman Empire was a Jewish state?"
"Don't be ridiculous! The Jews were a Roman colony and had no influence on Roman culture and politics".
"The situation was exactly the same with the tribes that eventually created the Russian nation. They were subject to Kievan Rus', but took absolutely no part in the creation of the culture and politics of the Rus' ('Rusychi') who were the dominant people of Kievan Rus'. Their only relation to Kievan Rus' was that of paying tribute. They paid, acknowledged the supremacy of Kievan Rus' and lived their own lives, hating the Rus'".
"I don't understand. It was all one nation - Russian - which later subdivided into 'Great Russian', 'Little Russian', and 'Belorussian' peoples".
"You're repeating the myths of Karamzyn. Kievan Rus' was a continuation of ancient Scythia. Since time immemorial only one people has lived on the territory on which today's Ukraine is situated - a people having various names at different times: Scythians, Antes, Alans, Sarmatians, Rus' and today, Ukrainians. Different names - but one and the same people. To the north of Scythia-Rus' lived racially different tribes - Finnish, Chudish, Mongols, who were related to the Scythians or Rus' in the same way that Jews were to the Romans or the Greeks. After the fall of the Kievan-Rus' centralized state, the aforementioned tribes, which had earlier been under the rule of Kievan, but were now under Tartar domination, were united by Prince Ivan Kalyta into one, Muscovite principality. This is the origin of 'Muscovy'.
"How can you say that? What about the languages: Didn't languages evolve from one common Russian language from which evolved the Great Russian, or simply, the Russian language, the Belorussian, and 'Malorussian' - or Ukrainian".
"What was true about the state is also true about the language. The Ukrainian people never spoke a common language with the Russians. The Ukrainian language is that spoken by the Rus', and earlier by the Scythians. With the introduction of Christianity into Kievan Rus', however, the language used by the saintly brothers Cyril and Methodius in translating Sacred Scriptures and the Greek Liturgy began to be used more and more in Ukraine, especially in the areas of church, school and government. This language is called 'Staro-Bolharska' (Old-Bulgarian), or 'Church-Slavonic', and was a mixture of the old Bulgarian language, since Cyril and Methodius grew up in Macedonia, where this dialect was widely spoken, and old-Czech, since they were doing this translation for the Czechs. Granted, that language was easier for Ukrainians to understand than Latin was for the Poles or Germans. Nevertheless, the ancient Ukrainians - the Rus' and the Scythians - never spoke this language".
"From where, then, did the Russian language evolve?"
"As you know, the kings of Kievan Rus' converted the tribes inhabiting the territory subsequently known as Muscovy. With Christianity came the Church-Slavonic language, and from it in time evolved Russian, after having incorporated a great quantity of Mongolian, Finnish and Chudish words".
"Why, then, were the 'Muscovites' always caslled 'Russki', and their country, 'Russia'?"
"Not always. Check the old manuscripts - English, German, French chronicles, and you will find that until 1709, the land to the north-east of Ukraine was called Muscovy and it's inhabitants Muscovites. In that year, however, the Muscovite czar Peter the First decreed that hence forth Muscovy was to be called 'Russia', the perpetuation of ancient Kievan Rus', and its people, 'Russki'. This is somewhat akin to you, Jews, announcing that you are Romans, and that your present state is a successor state of the ancient Roman Empire. This is a shameless falsification of history a misappropriation of the Kievan-Rus' period of Ukrainian history, and Ukrainian culture".
"You're denying that the high culture of Kievan Rus' was the mutual culture of both the Russian and Ukrainian nations?"
"This 'mutuality' is contradicted by historical truth and reality. All foreigners who were in Muscovy and Ukraine, from Beauplan and Voltaire until the present, stress that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples were entirely different, culturally, in all aspects. Russian culture is essentially Mongol rather than Slavic. Why even politically, modern Russia's practices at every step are a continuation of the methods of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane".
"But wasn't all of Ukraine a part of Russia? Doesn't the very name 'Ukraine' come from the fact that it was a border area of Russia?"
"That's somewhat of a primitive explanation of a much more complicated issue - shared, to boot, by the Poles, who likewise claim that the name came from the fact that the land lay on the border lands of their state. But why apply the name only to one borderland? Why not call the others by the same name? And yet, have you ever heard of any other 'Ukraine's to the north, east, south or west of Poland or Russia?"
"No - but where does the name, 'Ukraine' come from, then?"
"This name is ancient and existed when there was no such country as Muscovy, and Poland never dreamed of occuping this territory. Originally, 'Ukraine' was used as a synonym to 'Krayina' which means 'land', 'country'. Thus, 'Krayina' (land) referred to Rus' Ukraine. And when Muscovy appropriated the name Rus' through czar Peter's decree, then our people began using only 'Ukraine', instead of 'Rus-Ukraine'".
"Then how did it happen that the majority, or at least a very large part of the modern figures of Russian culture comes from 'Malo-russia, that is, Ukraine?"
"Because while Ukraine was occupied by Muscovia, there was a considerable number of those who, for the sake of making a career, traveled to Moscow or Petrograd, and applied for service to Muscovy. Shevchenko calls them 'Dyadky otechestva chuzhoho' (uncles of other fatherlands, or uncles of strange lands). But tell me, why are there so many of these 'uncles' who are captivated by Russia's greatness and culture, and who toil for her, among yourselves, Jews, born and living in Ukraine?"
"Because all we were taught in schools in Ukraine was about the glory and greatness of Russia, Ukraine's 'older brother', and the need to serve her. In fact, this is the first time, I have heard such an explanation of ancient Rus' history - and I attended school in Ukraine".
"Don't you know that Ukraine is under the thumb of Russia and has no real schools of her own? All the schools are Russian, even if they use the Ukrainian language in some measure. From infancy, children are taught these Russian fabrications. But beyond school lies another reality. Didn't you notice that there were Ukrainians all around you? Didn't you hear the Ukrainian language spoken by them? Didn't you note at every step that there were two classes of people - the Russian oppressors and the oppressed Ukrainians? And why do you, Jews, so eagerly join this oppressor class?"
"Yes! How else can you explain the fact that, out of tens of thousands of Jews who presently emigrate from Ukraine to Israel or America, only a small number speaks Ukrainian, while the rest - mainly Russian? Why doesn't even the majority of the members of the Association for Hebrew-Ukrainian cooperation, including their leader, speak Ukrainian even though they lived in Ukraine all their lives? Why does the magazine for those who came from Ukraine to Israel and who do not know Hebrew, have a circulation of 10,000 in Russian, but is not even published in Ukrainian? Why are books in the Russian language distributed by the thousands throughout Israel, while even ten pamphlets in Ukrainian are impossible to sell?"
"Wait a moment! Aren't you aware that there is currently in Ukraine an entire group of Jews who have become Ukrainian writers and poets: N. Rybak, D. Smilyansky, O. Kurylo, L. Pervomaysky, Kopstein, Katznelson and many others. Aren't they - Jews - working for the Ukrainian culture, for Ukrainians?"
"Unfortunately, it's just the reverse - they do Ukraine a disservice; they write in Ukrainian, but only to spread poisonous Russian propaganda. They're worse than those who openly write in Russian - because they fool many people into thinking that Ukrainians are writing this. Take, for example, Ludmila Shevchenko. Back in the 40's, she ranted and raved against Ukrainian nationalists. The Ukrainian underground tried to meet with her, to find out how she, a kin of the great Taras Shevchenko, could thus serve the Russian despots. It turned out ultimately that she was a pure-blooded Jewess. You're a poet - right?!"
As a matter of fact, Ephem Wolf is a poet and he brought me his newly-published collection of poems, 'Put' (The Way). He asked that it be circulated among Ukrainians.
I looked through the collection. It had two poems in Jewish (Yiddish), eleven poems in Ukrainian, and twenty-seven in Russian. Two in particular impressed me with their content. For example one of them, 'The Mother's Command', tells how early one morning, young insurgents set out into battle, following the beaten path into unknown distances. Cannons are booming in the Carpathian mountains, fires are spreading. A mother sends her only one, admonishing him to fight the enemy for a free Ukraine, so that they would no longer persecute or oppress the Ukrainian nation and language. She tells him to be brave, even unto death, and manly without measure, since he is fighting for his Motherland Ukraine. Her final words to him are: "If you betray us, dearest son, then forget me, for the mother will curse her only child!"
I was particularly astonished by the date when the poem was written, which the collection gave as 1943. It would seem that Wolf wrote it when he was only eleven years old! So I asked outright:
"Did you really write this entirely by yourself or did you copy it from someone?"
"I wrote it myself, and ten more in Ukrainian".
Ephem Wolf speaks correct, literary Ukrainian.
"It's hard for me to understand you", I said, "This poem like the 'Partisan Song', is saturated with deep Ukrainian patriotism and a burning desire for the liberation of Ukraine. And yet, you are a fervent Russian, as well as Jewish, patriot".
"I wrote the Ukrainian verses during the German occupation when Ukrainian insurgents fought to liberate Ukraine from under the German yoke. In the 'Partisan', I clearly state: 'The German invaders are crucifying our Motherland, Ukraine.'"
"Didn't you hear from the Ukrainian political prisoners in the Russian concentration camps, or from the former members of the UPA and OUN how they fought both the Germans and the Russian invaders of Ukraine? You yourself state that more than half of the political prisoners in those camps allover Siberia are Ukrainians, who are fighting for a Ukraine free from Russian occupation. As a Zionist, tell me: Before the rise of Israel, would the Jews have been satisfied if the UN or the League of Nations had taken away England's mandate, and handed Palestine over to France, Germany or one of the Arab countries?"
"Clearly not. Jews in such a Palestine would still have been in the position of a colony, while transfer to the Arabs would have been tantamount to a complete destruction of Jews in Palestine".
"There, you see. And you, being born and bred in Ukraine, cannot understand that Ukraine, under Soviet Russia, is in exactly the same position, as the Jews in Palestine would have been under the Arabs. Russia is conducting genocide in occupied Ukraine. The Germans destroyed four million (you say six million) Jews, and the Russians decimated over ten million Ukrainian villagers through an artificially induced famine and murdered thou sands of activists of Ukrainian culture in the torture chambers of the CheKa, GPU, NKVD, KGB - and are persistently continuing these crimes. The Ukrainian nation faces a heavy battle for its existence".
"It seems to me that the trouble lies with the Soviet regime. The party that controls everything in the USSR is at fault. The Russian nation is blameless. The Ukrainian nation, together with the Russian, should destroy the regime, establish democracy and live in brotherly peace".
"Oh, that's a familiar tune! It's sung by the 'Trojan horse' in the U.S.A., sent there by the KGB strategists. But if you are advising Ukrainians to live in fraternal harmony with the Russians, why don't you, the Jews, want brotherly peace with Palestinian Arabs? They're also Semites, descendants of the same Abraham, as your people".
"You see, in the USSR I was a Zionist, devoted to the cause of Israel. For this I served five years in the Siberian concentration camps. I didn't meddle in local politics. And I don't want to meddle in them now either".
"You should. It's your moral obligation. I heard this from one of the Jews who came from Ukraine - 'How could we, Ukrainian Jews, have wronged the Ukrainians, when we are Ukrainians also?' So, if you are Ukrainian, then help the Ukrainian nation in its battle for freedom. And you, in particular, should have a sense of obligation to do this. You yourself told me that members of the Ukrainian Liberation Underground - Stepan Harasymiv and Alexander Khira - saved your life, helped you in a perilous situation, and completed your 'work quota'. Now, in gratitude, you should fulfill your 'quota' by at least informing Israel about the Ukrainian truth, i.e., the Ukrainian fight for liberation from the Russian tyrants. Write articles to Jewish magazines, give lectures to Israeli students about this. Dispel the malicious accusations that Ukrainians are 'anti-Semites' and that they cooperated with the German Nazis - propaganda conjured up by the Russians and supported by the KGB's falsified 'documents'. This will be your finest 'thank you' to Harasymiv and Khira".
Wolf listened, lost in thought.
"We-e-ll, I told you that I don't get involved in politics. I am a poet".
"All right. Then do this as a poet: Praise the heroic fight of the Ukrainian nation, of the OUN and UPA, against the German and Soviet Russian Nazis, revealing at the same time the crimes of the occupiers of Ukraine. Translate Ukrainian literature into Hebrew, beginning with Shevchenko, the prophet of the national rebirth of the Ukrainian nation".
"Shevchenko?" Wolf grimaced. "Shevchenko was a known anti-Semite. Every Jew knows from his school textbooks that the Ukrainian 'Hajdamaky' massacred, tens of thousands of Jews in the most awful manner, and Shevchenko wrote his first great historico-political ballad about these 'Hajdamaky', praising them. He called for a Ukraine where there would be no tyrants and no Jews?' That is anti-Semitism!"
"And would you want Shevchenko to call for a rebirth of Ukraine with Polish lords, Jewish money-lenders and Ukrainian serfs, as it was until Poland's fall? Read his poem, 'Hajdamaky', calmly, analyze it yourself and explain it to other Jews: for what reason did the Hajdamaky destroy Poles and Jews? Because they were Poles and Jews? Or because the Poles occupied Ukraine, turned free Ukrainian villagers into serfs and treated them with intolerable cruelty, while the Jewish tax-collectors/money lenders assisted them in various ways? As a poet who must have sympathy towards those unwarrantly persecuted and exploited, try to relive the fate of the orphan 'Yarema', hero of Shevchenko's epic poem, 'Hajdamaky'. A Jew buys the Cossack youth for serfdom from a Polish landlord, makes sport of him, calls him a boor, and then sells Yarema's fiance to some Polish soldiers. They rape her, rob and bestially kill her father, a church warden. Tell me: what did that Jew and those Polish degenerates expect from Yarema in return? Yarema's fate, and that of his fiance and her father, was often times the fate of all Ukrainians under Polish domination; what was done to them by the Poles and the Jews was done to all Ukrainians. This is why 'Hajdamachchyna' existed. The Hajdamaky didn't go into battle for the purpose of killing the tyrants and the Jews simply because of who they were, but to restore our national freedom and human dignity!"
"No, I'm not going to undertake explaining this to the Jews. It's not within my power..."
"Then translate Ivan Franko's epic 'Moses'. This is a poetic pearl about the creator of the Jewish nation".
"Even so, the problem is that Ivan Franko was an anti-Semite, also. Just look at his novels, 'Boa Constrictor', 'Hershko Goldmacher', 'Borislav Laughs', and even the poem, 'Lordly Jests'. There the Jews are presented as bloodsuckers who, with the help of whiskey and 'Lichva' (usury), drink the blood of Ukrainian serfs and even organize a band of robbers. And in the novel, 'For the Domestic Hearth', even the organizer of prostitution and an international trade in girls - is a Jew. This is acute anti-Semitic propaganda!"
"Why 'propaganda' - when every word in it is true? Your task is to show the Jews the truth about how they conducted themselves in Ukraine down through the ages, and what sort of repayment they could expect for this from the Ukrainians".
"It's not within my powers..."
"So begin with a translation of Lesia Ukrainka's works. No one can possibly put a tag of 'anti-Semitism' on her works. On the contrary, she readily took pages from the Old Testament as a theme in her dramatic works, such as 'On the Babylonian Rivers'. Translate her 'Forest Song' with its poetic rendition of the idealistic spirituality of the Ukrainian nation. Show the depth of thought in her dramatic poems. Interest the Israelis in Ukrainian literature. There are more Jewish poets who have recently come from Ukraine to Israel and the U.S. Why do all of you continue to be fascinated with Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Russia, but there's not a peep out of you about Ukrainian authors or Ukraine?"