Monday, September 14, 2009
Doing it, Russian Style...
We talked about the Polish and Hungarian/Romanian, and how they did or didn't pass on what happened to them during the Holocaust, resulting in their descendants often having no knowledge of the matter. I promised those who disprove me that I'd bake them an Hungarian kugel, and so far I got two requests - rather, two people telling me that I owe them one. One of them tells me in a private e-mail that his zeide - a very, very proud Socialist - spent 5+ years under occupation and in prison and concentration camps, and it was his steadfast belief, in SOCIALISM/COMMUNISM, that carried him through. Among other things he was a human mine detector for one of the armies. It may have been for the Soviets, I don't remember now. Not what one expects to hear, that a non-Torah ideal can keep you strong, but whatever. That zeide did tell his grandkids, maybe because he saw himself as some kind of hero, or he believed in a strong Jewish identity. So we need to discuss the Russian Jew, frum Jew, and see what his descendants know, and if they don't, why that's the case. Me not being of Russian descent, despite my e-mail address, I'll do the best I can under the circumstances, and base it on what I've seen, read and heard from people.
When the Nazis stormed the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 hundreds of thousands of our brethren were stuck. Before they realized what was happening they were trapped under the Nazi jackboot and were basically resigned to their collective fates. The areas that were immediately occupied were Lithuania, "Litvish Peylen," Western Belarus, and the Western Ukraine. Those living further East or North had time to make plans to get out of Dodge. Most headed to East to the Asiatic Republics. Most Lubavitcher families that made it out were either in Samarkand or Tashkent, and there, for 3-5 years, the cities thrived with activities; learning davenen, farbrengen, despite the terrible conditions there and despite the Communist regime, albeit not like in Russia and the other European Soviet Republics. After 3-5 years in Bukhara most of the Lubavitcher families made it out in 1946 when they were able to escape with Polish passports, due to Stalin allowing all Polish citizens trapped in the CCCP to return home. The end result is that for the SURVIVING families there often was no Holocaust, not in every case, but in many cases.
There WERE many great Chassidim, towns and families that were completely wiped out. Great ones like Reb Itche der Masmid, Reb Chatshe Feigin, Reb Berel Kurenitzer, Reb Yaineh Poltaver, some of whom died a horrible death and weren't zoyche l'kever yisroel, and some who died of starvation and managed to have a place where their descendants could come and daven. But at least as far as survivors are concerned it wasn't Poland and Ger or Aleksander or Radomsk. I also think that Russian are far lesser sentimentalists, at least they were. They had suffered enough under the Communists and were glad to get back to normal. Perpetuating the pain and suffering was not what they were looking to do. I'd venture to say that were it not for the Rebbe, nobody would have written their memoirs. It goes against the grain of what Chassidim were taught along; namely not to make too much of yourself or your deeds. The Rebbe was the one that recognized the need to record and remember what happened, so that their descendants and all of us would never forget (and revise) that chapter in Jewish History.