Edited, translated and with an introduction by Polly Zavadivker. The translator would like to thank Robert Chandler for sharing the original version of this essay, and for his beneficial comments on an early draft of the translation.
Written soon after the Soviet Army liberated eastern Ukraine from German occupation in mid-1943, the original manuscript of Vasily Grossman’s essay ‘Ukraine Without Jews’ was thought to have been lost after the Second World War. It first appeared in 1990 in the short-lived journal Vek, and is translated here into English for the first time. ‘Ukraine Without Jews’ is a powerful and historically significant essay: one of the earliest public statements about the mass murder of Jews in 1941 and 1942 during the Nazi occupation of Soviet Ukraine, it is also one of the first attempts in any language to systematically explain the ideological and material motives behind the genocide that Grossman calls the ‘greatest crime ever committed in history.’ ‘Ukraine Without Jews’ was initially rejected for publication in 1943 by the military newspaper Red Star (Krasnaia zvezda), where Grossman had earned a huge following from his reports of the Soviet Army’s harrowing defense and stunning victory at Stalingrad. The essay was then translated into Yiddish and published in the weekly paper of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, Unity (Einikayt). It was published in two abridged sections and then discontinued. The Yiddish translation remained the only extant version of the essay after 1943, and was back-translated into Russian in 1985. In 1990, the original Russian manuscript (near three times the length of the back-translation) surfaced from Grossman’s estate and was published in Vek. The recovery of ‘Ukraine Without Jews’ in its original form allows us to trace the origins and development of Grossman’s historical, commemorative and literary writing about the ‘catastrophe’ (as the Shoah was known in Russian). Grossman expanded upon and modified many of the ideas in this essay in later writings, including ‘The Hell of Treblinka’ (used as documentary evidence of Nazi war crimes at the Nuremburg Trials in 1945), as well as his editorial work on the monumental anthology The Black Book, and his two greatest novels, For a Just Cause and Life and Fate. ‘Ukraine Without Jews’ also provides unique insight into Grossman’s initial reaction to the genocide as a Soviet Jew; in it he expresses both his pride in socialist principles and Soviet military power, and his desire to publicize and explain the exceptional nature of Jewish victimization at the hands of the Nazis, whose genocide had claimed the life of his own mother in the western Ukrainian city of his birth, Berdichev.
Ukraine Without Jews
When our forces enter the villages of Left-bank Ukraine under a volley of fire and the din of hand grenades, domestic geese rise up into the air. Flapping their enormous white wings, they circle above peasant huts, above lakes covered in water lilies, above fields and gardens.
There is something worrisome and strange in the heavy, arduous flight, and the sharp, alarming and sorrowful cries of these domestic birds. It is as if they are calling the soldiers of the Red Army to witness heartbreaking and frightening images of life, as if they are rejoicing at the arrival of our forces, simultaneously weeping with joy and lamenting, screaming of great losses, and of the tears and blood that have aged and salted the soil of Ukraine.
There is a long list of Ukrainian towns and villages where I found myself while working as a special correspondent for the paper Red Star. I was in Satrobel’sk, Svatov, Muntsisk, Tsapuika, Voroshilovgrad, Krasnodon, Ostro, Iasotin, Borispol, Baturin…I was in hundreds of villages, farms, settlements, and fishing outposts on the shores of the Desna and Dnieper, in steppe farms encircled by pastures, in solitary little tar houses existing in a constant shadow of huge pine forests, and in beautiful hamlets whose thatched roofs are hidden beneath canopies of fruit trees.
If one was to gather into a single place all of the stories and images that I witnessed during those days and months in Ukraine, it would amount to a horrifying book about colossal injustice: forced labor and secret beatings, children deported to Germany, burnt houses and looted warehouses, evictions onto squares and streets, pits where those suspected of having sympathy for or connections with partisans were shot, humiliations and mockery, vulgar cursing and bribes, drunken and erratic behavior, and the bestial depravity of reckless, criminal people in whose hands rested the fate, life, integrity and property of many millions of Ukrainian people for two long years. There is no home in a single Ukrainian town or village where you will not hear bitter and evil words about the Germans, no home where tears have not flowed during these past two years; no home where people do not curse German fascism; no home without an orphan or widow. These tears and curses flow like streams to an immense river of collective grief and fury; day and night, its troubles and pain roar beneath a Ukrainian sky that has been darkened by the smoke of raging fires.
There are also villages in Ukraine where one doesn’t hear any crying or see tear-filled eyes, villages that are ruled by silence and peace. I visited a village like this on two occasions—the first time on 26 September, and again on 17 October in 1943. This village, Kozary, lies on the ancient Kievan highway between Nezhiny and Kozelets. I visited Kozary once during the day, and another time on a heavy autumn night. On both occasions silence and peace ruled over Kozary—the peace and silence of death. The Germans burnt seven hundred and fifty homes here before Easter, and seven hundred and fifty families were burnt alive in these homes. No one, not a single child or old woman emerged from the flames. In this manner the Germans punished a village for having sheltered partisans. Tall, dusty weeds had sprouted from the ashes. Wells were filled with sand and gardens were covered in wild grass. A withered flower could be glimpsed among the weeds. There is no one in Kozary with whom one can mourn, no one to talk to, no one to cry to. Silence and peace hang over dead bodies buried in homes that have been reduced to rubble and covered with weeds. This silence is more horrifying than tears and curses; it is a silence more terrifying than moans and piercing lamentation.
And it occurred to me that just as Kozary is silent, so too are the Jews in Ukraine silent. In Ukraine there are no Jews. Nowhere—not in Poltava, Kharkov, Kremenchug, Borispol, not in Iagotin. You will not see the black, tear-filled eyes of a little girl, you will not hear the sorrowful drawling voice of an old woman, you will not glimpse the swarthy face of a hungry child in a single city or a single one of hundreds of thousands of shtetls.
Stillness. Silence. A people has been murdered. Murdered are elderly artisans, well-known masters of trades: tailors, hatmakers, shoemakers, tinsmiths, jewelers, housepainters, furriers, bookbinders; murdered are workers: porters, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, furnace workers, locksmiths; murdered are wagon drivers, tractor drivers, chauffeurs, cabinet makers; murdered are millers, bakers, pastry chefs, cooks; murdered are doctors, therapists, dentists, surgeons, gynecologists; murdered are experts in bacteriology and biochemistry, directors of university clinics, teachers of history, algebra, trigonometry; murdered are lecturers, department assistants, candidates and doctors of science; murdered are engineers, metallurgists, bridge builders, architects, ship builders; murdered are pavers, agronomists, field-crop growers, land surveyors; murdered are accountants, bookkeepers, store merchants, suppliers, managers, secretaries, night guards; murdered are teachers, dressmakers; murdered are grandmothers who could mend stockings and bake delicious bread, who could cook chicken soup and make strudel with walnuts and apples; and murdered are grandmothers who didn’t know how to do anything except love their children and grandchildren; murdered are women who were faithful to their husbands, and murdered are frivolous women; murdered are beautiful young women, serious students and happy schoolgirls; murdered are girls who were unattractive and foolish; murdered are hunchbacks; murdered are singers; murdered are blind people; murdered are deaf and mute people; murdered are violinists and pianists; murdered are threeyear-old and two-year-old children; murdered are eightyyear-old elders who had cataracts in their dimmed eyes, cold transparent fingers and quiet, rustling voices like parchment; murdered are crying newborns who were greedily sucking at their mothers’ breasts until their final moments. All are murdered, many hundreds of thousands, millions of people.
This is not the death of individuals at war who had weapons in their hands and had left behind their home, family, fields, songs, books, customs and folktales. This is the murder of a people, the murder of homes, entire families, books, faith, the murder of the tree of life; this is the death of roots, and not branches or leaves; it is the murder of a people’s body and soul, the murder of life that toiled for generations to create thousands of intelligent, talented artisans and intellectuals. This is the murder of a people’s morals, customs and anecdotes passed from fathers to sons; this is the murder of memories, sad songs, and epic tales of good and bad times; it is the destruction of family homes and of burial grounds. This is the death of a people who had lived beside Ukrainian people for centuries, laboring, sinning, performing acts of kindness, and dying alongside them on one and the same earth.
There are descriptions of Jews in the works of all of our great writers who have depicted life in Ukraine—Gogol, Chekhov, Korolenko, and Gorky. How could it be otherwise? Who among us born and raised in Ukraine did not from their earliest years absorb a living portrait of Jewish people in the cities, shtetls and villages of Ukraine? Remember Sabbath days when elders walked with their prayer shawls beneath poplar trees on quiet spring nights; remember old men standing on corners carrying on sly and clever conversations among themselves; remember self-important shtetl shoemakers, sitting on rickety stools in front of the rickety doors of their shops; remember naive, humorous signs hanging above the locksmith, hat-maker and tailor shops; remember bearded wagon drivers showered in bags of wheat flour tied up in their aprons; remember old ladies in dresses offering you candies and apples; curly-haired, black-eyed children running in the dusty streets, their curls and eyes sparkling next to the pale hair and eyes of their Ukrainian counterparts and mingling like flowers generously scattered upon the rich, soft Ukrainian soil. Our grandfathers lived here; our mothers, and the mothers of our sons were born here. So much sweat and so many tears have been shed here that no one could think to call the Jew a stranger, or say that he is alien to this land.
I travelled and walked this land from the northern Donets to the Dnieper, from Voroshilovgrad in the Donbass to Chernigov on the Desna; I have walked along the Dnieper and looked out at Kiev. And during all this time, I met one single Jew. This was Lieutenant Shloyme Shmilevich Kipershtein. He fell into German entrapment in September of 1941 near the city Iagotin. His wife Vasilina Grigorievna Sokur, a Christian, had tried to pass him off as a Moldavian. The Gestapo brought her in for interrogation several times and came to her home two different times suspecting that her husband was a Jew, but she insisted that her husband’s name was Stepan, and his family name Novak. I met him, spoke with him, spent an entire evening listening to his stories, and all of us—Kipershtein, his wife, his fellow Christian neighbors, and I marveled at the fact that Kipershtein is alive and has not been killed. I did not meet any other Jews in Ukraine. Acquaintances told me that they had seen one Jew in Kharkov and one in Kursk; the writer Ilya Ehrenburg told me that he had met a Jewish female partisan somewhere in southern Ukraine. But that is all.
Where is the Jewish people? Who will ask the twentieth century’s Cain that dreadful question: where are the Jewish people who once lived in Ukraine? Where are hundreds of thousands of elderly people and children? Where are millions of people who three years ago toiled and lived on this earth in peaceful friendship with Ukrainians?
The people have been murdered, trampled in the earth. It is neither meaningful nor possible to list the names of every victim, for all of them are equally innocent and must be counted, regardless of whether they were famous and world-renown scholars, or whether they were unknown, barely literate women living in quiet shtetls far from any railroads. Why name some of the victims but remain silent about others? But it is impossible to list an entire people by name. There is no sense in, and no possibility of naming all the places where Jews were murdered in great numbers during the fall of 1941 and summer of 1942. These executions took place in every large and small city and in every shtetl. The only thing that must be said is that if there were 100 Jews living in a small town, then 100 Jews were slaughtered, nowhere a single person less. If 55,000 Jews lived in a city, then in that city 55,000 Jews were killed, and never a single person less. These massacres, we must understand, were carried out according to finely detailed lists, lists that did not overlook hundred-year old elders or newborn babies. These lists ensured the death of every last Jew in Ukraine.
I travelled and walked this land from the northern Donets to the Dnieper, from Voroshilovgrad in the Donbass to Chernigov on the Desna; I have walked along the Dnieper and looked out at Kiev. And during all this time, I met one single Jew.
We must remember that mass murder was carried out uniformly, according to strict and elaborate instructions in which provisions were made for how to murder a person who was too senile to walk, and one who hadn’t yet left his mother’s arms or taken his first steps. It was announced in hundreds of towns that Jews would be sent to ghettos and were required to gather fifteen kilograms of baggage; and in hundreds of towns, they were then led to the outskirts and murdered with the latest automatic weapons. Even now, even a year or two after the event, people who happened to see these executions still weep and lose their ability to speak upon recounting the images of horror and madness to which they became witnesses.
It is impossible to recount the names of all the colonels, generals, majors, captains, and lieutenants in the German army who assisted the Gestapo by organizing the execution of a people. It is impossible to recount the names of all the soldiers, lance-corporals, senior lancecorporals, non-commissioned officers, security guards and policemen who carried out this murder.
How is this murder different from the hundreds and thousands of people that the Germans executed elsewhere in fascist-occupied Europe? There is a difference, and it lies in the fact that the fascists execute French, Dutch, Serbian, Ukrainian, Russian and Czech people for violating fascist rules and laws—hiding a switchblade or an old revolver, accidentally uttering an angry word, a young man refusing to abandon his elderly parents for a German labor camp, or offering a sip of water to a partisan. But the Germans execute the Jews only because of the fact that they are Jews. In their view, Jews have no right to be alive. To be a Jew is the greatest transgression, a crime that can be punished only by death. That is why all the Jews in Ukraine were murdered, and that is why they were killed in many countries in Europe. The majority of those killed were old women, the elderly, sick people and children. The reason for this is that able-bodied men, women and youth were able to retreat along with the Red Army and are now either fighting in its ranks or working on its behalf. Those who stayed behind in Ukraine did not have the strength to leave. It was these people—old people, sick people and children—whom the Germans killed in cold blood, annihilating all of them to a man.
As long as humanity has existed on earth, there has never been a murder of innocent and defenseless people as organized, massive, and as cruel as this one. This is the greatest crime ever committed in history, and history has known many crimes; it is written with blood. This is a matter of the murder of an entire people, the slaughter of millions of defenseless children, women and elders. The Jews of Ukraine are no more.
Human consciousness is built in such an unfortunate, though perhaps also fortunate way that when people read or hear about a tragedy that has claimed millions of peoples’ lives, they are simply incapable of understanding the horrifying profundity of what took place. This limitation is a fortunate attribute of human consciousness because it protects people from moral suffering and insanity. This limit of human knowledge is equally terrible because it enables people to be lenient, superficial and morally passive. But in this era, it seems to me, the life of individuals and entire peoples has been devalued, and the value of personal freedom has been trampled under the boot of Germanfascist dogma—and it is precisely now, as never before, that demands for moral purity and righteousness must be raised to unattainable heights, both with respect to our individual lives and to the State. It is not only Europe, but in fact all of humanity that stands on the threshold of extinction. This immense earth has been transformed into a wasteland, thousands of its great cities have been blown up and burned down. The world war has taken millions of people who like animals live in pits and trenches, and flung them backwards to prehistoric times. H.G. Wells’ most dismal fantasies about imminent global catastrophe seem like harmless folktales in comparison to present-day reality.
This seething, amoral force came from National-Socialist Germany.
It was born from a sense of German racial exclusivity, from the deep and heartfelt conviction held by contemporary Germans that they are the chosen people; that their happiness, tranquility and security are the only sacred things on earth. This is an ideology of exclusivity, of suspicion and indifference to the suffering of other nations, and of sentimental pathos for one’s own people. This consciousness is the scourge of present day humanity, and it was aroused in Germany. It has led her down a path of bloody crimes, and it shall bring her to the precipice of cruel defeat.
Do Hitler and the German fascist leaders all truly believe that Jews are Germany’s foremost enemies, or that their annihilation is necessary for Germany’s happiness? Of course not. These people consciously produced this bloody propaganda.
In our times, the equality of all people constitutes the highest moral principle of humanity. Racism is the exact opposite of this principle. People will ask me, ‘are the Germans a nation of murderers and criminals, then?’
No! For we believe in the great principle of equality of the world’s peoples. We know that the German people have not only produced Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Rozenberg; not just the Hohenzollern and Krupp dynasties; not only Stennes and Guderian, Ley and Ribbentrop, Horst Wessel and Nietzsche. This is the same people who produced Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Feurbach, Marx, Engels, and the great martyr Liebnekht. It produced the enlightened wisdom and pure soul of August Bebel, and has borne thousands of proletarian fighters, hundreds of humane and modest social and scholarly activists, and many kind women and sincere old workers. When the war is over, will we tell the German people, ‘You are murderers: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’? Will we avenge the murder of a people by killing another?
No. Democracy’s victory will not only be a victory of weapons. There will be a true victory when the dark force of racism is finally reduced to ashes. Germans will understand that the idea of racial exceptionalism is a criminal and false one, and that their happiness and peace are not the only sacred things in the world. This victor will endure because of the mighty power of weapons, which will force the Germans to always know that all people are equally entitled to life on earth. The raised sword is answered with the language of the sword. This is the sacred logic and morality of contemporary war. But today we are still at war, and Hitler’s obedient murderous gang, fascist Germany, is spilling innocent blood.
I had the chance to talk to dozens of German POWs. Our conversations took place amidst the smoky ruins of devastated cities and villages. We talked about mass murder, about executions of Ukrainian and Russian populations, and about the complete destruction of the Jewish people, and I did not once detect in them a sense of humiliation, despair, or desire to disavow the disgraceful crimes associated with the name of Germany. With extraordinary naivet., all of them espoused the view that ‘crimes against humanity’ are not really crimes because their purpose is to benefit Germany. These soldiers could explain every act in terms of its instrumental value, and many of them said that the execution of the Jewish people had in fact turned out to be useless, and that mass murder and the burning of hundreds and thousands of villages had not brought Germany the advantages that had been expected from these measures. It is from this point of view that they judged the massive crimes committed by Germany.
Why did National-Socialist Germany become the executioner of the Jewish people? I want to raise this particular question not only because I myself am a Jew, and not only because those closest to me were victims of fascist bloodshed.
The treatment of Jews expressed contemporary fascist German ideology and tactics in their crudest and most complete and final form. The Germans did not commit such bestial, inhumane violence, lacking all traces of humanity, against any other people on earth. For fascism, hatred for the Jews became paramount; it was the fuel for its fire. Anti-Semitism became the universal weapon of fascism.
The significance of anti-Semitism lies in the fact that a war against Jewry is a formula suited to the war that Germany wanted to wage against the world. Given present circumstances, Jews do not have their own state, and are scattered across all parts of the world. One finds Jews among American capitalists, English social activists, Russian communists, and French anarcho-syndicalists. This is very convenient for a state and people that have raised the black flag of war against all states and all peoples of the world. By selecting the Jews as victims of its demagogy, National-Socialism freed its hand against every nation and social class. It was able to declare war both on Marxism and the new structure of Russian society, and on plutocratic England, America and France; in a word, it was able to declare war against the world. This choice of victims constituted the first decision made by the criminal, jingoist National-Socialists.
Anti-Semitism has always been the banner, weapon and wool used by reactionaries to blindfold the masses. It has always been an opiate in dark times when ruling minorities sought to deceive the masses, and deflect the righteous anger of the oppressed. National-Socialism came to power in Germany during a period when reaction had gripped every stratum and class within German society. Reactionary politics won out in Germany after its defeat in the imperialist war of 1914. Blinded by national egoism, every strata of German society had invested different hopes in an eventual victory. But the war failed to resolve the conflicts of the modern capitalist world, and the Treaty of Versailles proved equally unable to resolve them. The solution to these conflicts lies in the great and sacred principles of brotherhood and equality of all peoples; it lies in the eradication of imperialistic conflict between states, the elimination of class structure in society, and in the creation of a collective means of production and a just distribution of goods.
But to its own misfortune, humanity did not have the strength to complete this task.
At that point, National-Socialism led onto the executioner’s block a universal and eternal, tried and true, defenseless and therefore desirable enemy: the Jew. With no law and no army to defend him, the Jew is an optimal target for the wrath of a weak underdog.
‘You fear proletarian revolution,’ the Nazis told Germany’s capitalists, ‘you fear communism, which is a hundred times more frightening to you than the Versailles Treaty. We too fear the proletarian revolution. Let us unite against the Jews. They are, after all, the eternal origin oftrouble and bloody rebellion; it is they who as orators and authors of revolutionary books inflame and agitate the masses; they who created the idea of class struggle and proletarian revolution!’
To the toiling German masses the Nazis said, ‘You suffer the consequences of the Versailles Treaty; you are hungry and out of work. The heavy burden of reparations has fallen on your weary backs. But just look at whose hands turn the wheel—it is the hands of Jewish tycoons, Jewish bankers, kings without crowns in America, France and England. Your enemies are our enemies; come, and let us fight together.’
Addressing the German intelligentsia, the Nazis said ‘You are humiliated, your ideals have been shattered. No one needs your talents or knowledge. You, salt of the earth, are doomed to become waiters and taxi drivers. Don’t you see the cold and merciless eyes of world Jewry gazing at you like a fog encircling Germany? Let us fight on behalf of our national honor and trampled earth, let us together extinguish the decaying world of Jewry.’
Having reached this dead end, Germany blindly followed National-Socialism. It was pushed onto this path by defeat and reaction. But not by these things alone, no. Germany had been prepared for this path over the centuries by a culture of national and political egoism. Germany had never lost faith in the strength of its clenched fist to knock the world flat. It had always continued to believe in the sanctity of righteous war, and regarded the strategic plans of its military as its highest social ethic. And so, ten years ago Germany finally became wedded to National-Socialism. The explosive interaction of historical factors and a reactionary atmosphere became the second reason why National-Socialism felt compelled to choose the Jewish people as victims of its criminal demagogy.
And the final reason: fascism is profoundly opposed to the idea of equality among nations, of the brotherhood and unity of all peoples of the world. The foundational principle of fascism, after all, is a belief in the master German race. Fascism therefore decided to construct a great ladder of forced labor of nations. It resolved to poison each nation against all others: to place the Dutch and Danes on the highest rungs of the ladder of punishment in order to show them that they are better off than the Norwegians and French; to poison the French with an awareness of the petty privileges they have over the Czechs and Greeks; to place the Serbs further down, and appease them with the fact that Ukrainians and Belorussians stand below them on the bottom rungs. And finally, fascism resolved to frighten this whole entire colony of peoples, its ladder of oppression, with the horrible abyss of non-existence it had prepared for the Jewish people.
But for fascism it was not enough to scare the Ukrainians with the destruction of the Jewish people, or to placate their fear with the notion that they had at least been granted existence on the ladder of forced labor. Fascism hoped for more than this; it hoped to infect Ukrainians with hatred for the Jews and to deceive them by spreading the idea that Jews were to blame for all the poverty, misfortune and burdens that had devastated Ukraine. The principle to divide and conquer, and to poison enslaved and doomed nations with hatred for one another was the third factor that compelled Adolf Hitler to embark on a bloody provocation, and to lead millions of defenseless women, elderly people and children to the executioner’s block.
Do Hitler and the German fascist leaders all truly believe that Jews are Germany’s foremost enemies, or that their annihilation is necessary for Germany’s happiness? Of course not. These people consciously produced this bloody propaganda. They are unprincipled by the very fact of their existence, and people without principles do not possess and are not capable of possessing any beliefs. Their actions are guided solely by temporary circumstances and pragmatism. While I may disagree with President Roosevelt on several issues, I am absolutely certain that regardless of how much circumstances might change, Roosevelt’s principles would remain the same. There is infinitely greater integrity, honesty and room for partnership in this persistence of values (even regarding matters where there are great differences of opinion), than there is in the conformism, deceit, and sudden shifts of sham ideology that constitutes the extremes of German National-Socialism.
At this point I wish to express some ideas about the inner essence of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism exists in every country in the world and has existed throughout human history. It can be found even in contemporary democratic states. Its character changes in different times and places, of course. Anti-Semitism in England and anti-Semitism in tsarist Russia are not the same thing. Its appearance depends on reactionary forces, such as deceitful attempts of ruling powers to explain and ameliorate social and ideological discontent. Anti-Semitism is a paradigmatic conflict with no solution. The period of post-revolutionary reaction in Russia between 1905 and 1911 has become known for bloody Jewish pogroms and charges of ritual murder. But the great Russian Revolution was a period of history that did not know anti-Semitism. Here I am speaking of state anti-Semitism, that is, of the willful incitement of anti-Semitism by a government apparatus.
In addition to state anti-Semitism, there is also so-called ‘ideological’ anti-Semitism. Ideological anti-Semitism is a phenomenon born of a physiological need to explain human and global problems by examining them in a looking glass rather a mirror. One finds ideological anti-Semites primarily among educated people. When the great Dostoevsky blamed the Jews for impoverishing the masses in Russia’s borderlands, he merely substituted the invisible and mysterious historical process that had produced bourgeois, feudal Russian society with the idea that Jewish commercial circles had supposedly invaded Russia. Mid-nineteenth century Russia experienced an intense growth in capitalist relations. Petty buyers and sellers, small factory owners, and contractors began to appear everywhere, destroying the old means of production to benefit themselves, and ruining idyllic relations between feudal lords and their serfs.
Anti-Semitism became the universal weapon of fascism….A war against Jewry is a formula suited to the war that Germany wanted to wage against the world.
Dostoevsky saw the new relations, but he did not, or perhaps could not see the new qualities and types of Russian people—the plundering buyers, merciless leasers, and greedy factory owners—who accompanied them. He did not sense that Russian people had changed at all, and this meant that some other people who were not Russians had introduced the new qualities into life. These were the Jews: people who had no love for the system of Russian patriarchy, and no connection to the soil; people who were driven only by a hunger for profit, and who regarded the toiling masses with cold indifference. Dostoevsky saw these features in the Jewish merchant and developed a profound hatred for him. But the one thing he failed to understand was that by looking at the Jewish trader, Jewish leaser, and Jewish middle-man, he was only gazing at a mirror that showed him a magnified image of the new Russian bourgeoisie, frantically evolving in hundreds and thousands of Russian villages, provincial cities, capitals and far-flung hamlets.
This phenomenon has repeated itself throughout all of Jewish history. The medieval Spanish inquisition that burned Jews at the stake did not grasp the fact that it held up the Jews as a mirror of its own rigid intolerance, orthodoxy and backwards prejudice; that by burning Jews, it was contending with flaws that had grown up inside its own heart. When Russian reactionary thinkers perceived the Jews as the source of a revolutionary epidemic, they did not and perhaps could not know that they were seeing a reflection of a Russia that was unconsciously birthing a revolution in thousands of its factories, plants and mines, and in its universities and army barracks. Ideological anti-Semitism cannot and does not want to understand this. One can put it this way: ‘Tell me what you blame on the Jews, and I will tell you what you are guilty of yourself.’
What did the Nazis blame on the Jews? They accused them of the seven deadly sins. The paradoxical, remarkable thing is that the portrait that the Nazis painted of Jews—their supposedly fanatical racism, thirst for global power, hunger to enslave and recklessly rule over humankind—was in fact a self-portrait. By endowing Jews with the traits, flaws and criminal intentions that were raging in their very own hearts, National-Socialism fatefully repeated what previous anti-Semites had done throughout the ages.
The Germans are now being expelled from Ukraine. Every day the glorious, weary earth is being liberated, as if a flood of muddy, filthy German hatred is receding and in its wake, bread is once again beginning to rise, hunched black trees, bushes and forests are straightening themselves out, and the sun and wind are drying out soil that is soaked with blood and tears. People are speaking in normal voices again and looking at the world with open eyes. Millions of people have been freed from slavery.
Ukraine was one of the fascists’ most important prizes. Its discussions about Ukraine had begun as early as 1933. And now, it is in the process of losing—it has already lost—Ukraine. Fascism failed to understand (how could it possibly understand?) the strength of our people’s resistance, their great spirit and undying sense of human worth. Fascism did not understand the power of the Soviet system! A system that endured trials of adversity in the Revolution, Civil War and period of great construction. Fascism misunderstood and underestimated the friendship of nations among the peoples of the Soviet Union, and crudely dismissed the Union as a ‘geographic concept.’ Fascism was incapable of fathoming that the Soviet Union is the noble, triumphant and courageous soul of liberated humanity.
Fascism did not gauge the strength of our Red Army; its powerful reserves, courage, technical power. It failed to see that this army is immortal, that its generals, soldiers, tanks, guns and planes are the creations of an immortal people. With its boorish, small and primitive mind fascism attempted to change the march of history. German fascism understood nothing and was mistaken in everything.
By endowing Jews with the traits, flaws and criminal intentions that were raging in their very own hearts, National-Socialism fatefully repeated what previous anti-Semites had done throughout the ages.
The Germans failed to deceive Ukraine because its people cannot be deceived. The senseless and horrifying murder of elders, women and children transformed Ukraine into a nightmare. In Ukrainian towns and villages, people speak with profound empathy for the victims, and with repulsive hatred for the butchers who committed a mass murder of Jews in the fall of 1941 and summer of 1942.
Khristia Chuniak, a forty year old peasant from the village Krasilovka, in the Brovary district of Kiev oblast, described to me how the Germans led a Jewish doctor named Feldman to be executed in Brovary. This Feldman was an old bachelor who had adopted two Christian boys and was loved by everyone. A group of weeping and lamenting peasants went to appeal to the German commanding officer so that he would spare Feldman’s life. The women’s tears moved the commander, and he agreed. This was in the fall of 1941. Feldman continued to live and work as a doctor in Brovary, and he was executed in the spring of 1943. Khristia Chuniak described how the old man had to dig his own grave; apparently he had to die alone, for by the spring of 1943 there were no longer any living Jews. As she came to the end of the story, she sobbed and openly wept. The sorrow-filled words of this simple story expressed with astonishing clarity Ukraine’s relationship to its murdered Jewry.
No one believed the fascist propaganda that Jews were preparing to enslave Ukraine and take over the world. Ukrainians were familiar with Jews after generations of working, growing old and dying beside them on the same earth, and working people have always been free and estranged from anti-Semitism in all of its forms. Towns with large Jewish populations like Berdichev had never even known anti-Semitism. Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Jews always lived and worked together in friendship in these towns.
And so a great people, simple and wise, figured out the eternal tragedy of the Jewish people, and understood something that many educated reactionaries could not: they understood the inner essence of anti-Semitism. The people knew that the Germans were themselves guilty of whatever crimes they had blamed on the Jews, that the concepts of world domination, bloody racism, suspicion, and hatred had been imported by the fascists themselves. The people knew who had tormented, humiliated and robbed them; they understood why the Germans shouted day and night about the criminal Juden. Once they understood this, they bowed their heads in sympathy and grief for the executed Jews, and with silent contempt, they clenched their teeth and glared at the Nazis.
The people understood the inner essence of fascist anti-Semitism, and with their simple and wise vision, they saw through a mirror of lies and looked deep into the eyes of the butchers of modern humanity. This is how they defeated the goal of National-Socialism, a goal that led Germany to put an entire people on the executioner’s block, and commit a crime unprecedented in all of human history.
In gullies and deep ravines, in anti-tank ditches of sand and clay, under heavy black soil, and in swamps and pits, there lie hastily flung bodies of professors and workers, doctors and students, old people and children.
No sound of tears or moaning; no sight of faces drawn from suffering. Jews are silent with the dreadful silence of the village Kozary on the old highway to Kiev. The wind carries sand onto enormous common graves. Grass has grown on the fields of death. Tall poplar trees flutter above the earth, like dark flags folded in a sign of mourning.
Silence and peace.
Oh, if the murdered people could be revived for an instant, if the ground above Babi Iar in Kiev or Ostraia Mogila in Voroshilovgrad could be lifted, if a penetrating cry came forth from hundreds and thousands of lips covered in soil, then the Universe would shudder.
The Yiddish version ‘Ukraina on yidn’ appeared in Einikayt on 25 November 1943 and 2 December 1943; for the Russian back-translation from the Yiddish, see ‘Ukraina bez evreev,’ trans. Rokhl Baumvol’, in Vasilii Grossman, Na evreiski temi, ed. Shimon Markish ( Jerusalem: Biblioteka Aliya, 1985) vol.2:333-340. The complete Russian version of ‘Ukraina bez evreev’ on which the present translation is based may be found in VEK: Vestnik Evreiskoi Kultury, no. 4 (Riga, 1990): 1-8
Published with the kind permission of the Grossman Estate, courtesy of Andrew Nurnberg Associates Ltd