The news which is lately coming out of Eastern Europe is anything but encouraging. Old nationalisms and hatreds which more properly belong to past centuries are popping up as if the blood soaked tragedy that was the twentieth century never happened. A person with no sense of history will find the events occurring in Ukraine unfortunate and confusing but will most likely decide that it is none of the West’s, and especially none of America’s, business. We should keep our focus on domestic problems and leave Ukraine for somebody else to worry about. Such a position would be understandable, and regrettable.
A person who is more familiar with the history of that region will instantly recognize patterns which played a prominent part in the horrors of the previous century. Adolph Hitler claimed that his aggression in Czechoslovakia and Poland was aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic Germans. The claim by Vladimir Putin that Russia just gobbled up the Crimean peninsula, which was sovereign Ukrainian territory, for the purpose of protecting the rights of ethnic Russians is virtually identical to the tactics of Der Fuehrer which unleashed the dogs of war in Europe and around the world seventy five years ago. Five years before the war began Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland with no response from the Allies. Three years later the ‘rights’ of the Austrians and Sudeten Germans provided the pretext for German annexation of Austria and western Czechoslovakia with only impotent acquiescence from the British and French. A year and a half after that the war was unleashed on humanity with all of its hideous cruelty.
Equally disturbing is the recent distribution of pamphlets in eastern Ukraine demanding that Jews register their names and property with the rebel ethnic Russian “government” there. Somebody may know who it really was that distributed these pamphlets, but the general public is not being told who that might be, nor the reason why. The import of the event is not lost on the Jewish population in Ukraine and everywhere else in central and eastern Europe however, as the intimidation and murder of Jews and the theft of their property is a European tradition that dates back to the ninth century, and there are Jews yet alive who remember the orgy of anti-Semitism that occurred in Europe just seventy five years ago. This pamphlet, which seems crass and perhaps a little silly to a modern American who is ignorant of history, is loaded with centuries of meaning to a Ukrainian Jew.
The saddest part of this to me is that the pamphlet could have come from either side, Russian or Ukrainian. Both countries have a sordid history of violence against their Jewish citizens, and in one essay in the book “Shatterzone of Empires” the author relates the story of a captain in the retreating German Army in WW II rescuing a group of Ukrainian Jews from an imminent and cruel death at the hands of a mob of “Christian” Ukrainians. The adjective merits quotation marks because these actions speak nothing of Christ and, in fact, are quite the work of Christ’s opposite. The point of this is that the anti-Semitism which drove Jews out of England and France in the thirteenth century and Spain in the fifteenth, which murdered and robbed Jews throughout Europe for a thousand years, and sought to exterminate them in the twentieth century is still alive and well in Russia, Ukraine, and anywhere else where such an event as the pamphlets is met with silence and inaction. Does anyone wonder why Jews in Israel will not budge one inch in defending the only place on the planet where a Jew need not feel threatened because of his or her ethnicity?
In summary, the actions in russia and Ukraine of the last month or two are carbon copies of the events which led to total destructive war and mass murder less than a hundred years ago. People with a sense of history and a determination to not let it happen again could stop it now if forceful measures were taken. Forceful measures, however, are not popular on college campuses, in hipster coffee shops, and wherever fun-worshiping Westerners gather. Nor are they popular with politicians who deny their own resemblance to English Prime Minister Chamberlain and his French counterpart Daladier, who gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler, while in fact their actions are identical. Bullies and dictators notice weakness and act accordingly. the world in the twenty first century looks as if it could be in for one hell of a ride.