Growing up in post-World War II Paris, I remember my father telling me that during the German invasion of France, all Jews progressively saw their rights disappear and property being confiscated from them. He told me of his Jewish father Lucien Melnick who fought in the Great War of 1914-1918 as a French soldier very proud to serve his country. He also told me how his dad like all Jews in France was first asked to bring his radio receiver to the nearest police station, as the Nazis were cutting the Jewish community from any communication and /or news from the Allies. Then came the bicycle confiscations to force most Jews to be on foot and slow them down considerably. Of course all these went on alongside registration of who was a Jew on their identity papers.
My paternal grandfather went along with all these requirements because in many ways he felt as French as he was Jewish and wanted to obey the law, albeit a Nazi enacted set of laws. The stamped ID papers, yellow star and requisition of property considerably reduced the freedom of the Jewish community in the 1930s and 40s. While some saw the handwriting on the wall, many simply refused to believe that humanity could have become so corrupt as to completely seek the total eradication of the Jewish people. Even as a few escaped and returned from Eastern Europe with first hand accounts of the horrors of the death trains, Camps, Einsatzgruppen and other methods of execution, for the most part, people refused to believe their stories. It was believed that these stories were either false, exaggerated or if true, that there would be enough of an uproar to stop the carnage.
By the time the rumors were confirmed, it was too late and millions of innocent people had perished including six million Jews. Those were the dark years of WWII and the Holocaust. If only they would have believed that mankind could become so depraved and rotten to the core, maybe they could have done something!
Fast forward to April 2014 in a very shaken and fragile Ukraine. The eastern Ukraine town of Donetsk has been in the news as people are fighting to either remain part of current Ukraine or become part of Russia. Donetsk is the fifth largest city in Ukraine with almost 1,000,000 inhabitants and much of the country’s heavy industry. The greater Donetsk province comprises 4,3000,000 people, including about 17,000 Jews. As recently as last week, pro-Russian protesters took over some of the administrative offices and declared that the area was now known as “the People’s Republic of Donetsk”. The move was immediately rejected by Kiev. Needless to say that “tension” is a word that comes to mind when thinking of the region. Then the unthinkable happened!
On Monday April 14th, on the first night of Passover, some in the Jewish community of Donetsk were handed out leaflets by a group of three armed men who appeared to be pro-Russian activists. The leaflets were distributed as the Jewish people were leaving their synagogue after a Passover celebration. They contained a message eerily reminiscent of early Nazi Germany. The leaflets, written in Russian (translation here) on government letterhead, were ordering Jews to register their real estate, modes of transportation and family members over the age of 16. Jews were also asked to pay $50 to have that registration processed and were told that if they failed to comply, expulsion was inevitable.
The leaflets appeared real but their authenticity has yet to be confirmed. Time will tell, and even though most news agencies have picked up the story, I suspect that the flyers will turn out to be a forgery that was meant to discredit Denis Pushilin and the pro-Russian separatist movement. But being either a forgery or a reality, where will it leave the Ukrainian Jewish community? I believe that the end result while being different in each case, will still leave us with much uncertainty about the safety of Ukrainian Jews.
Assuming that the leaflets were authentic, the Jews of Ukraine have a very bleak future in Donetsk and the rest of the region. Confiscation of property, expulsion, ostracism, demonization, forced conversions and annihilation are very familiar steps that Jews have been forced to go through over the centuries. If indeed the decision came from higher up, we could even see some modern day pogroms in Eastern Europe. But I certainly do not want to be accused of being a sensationalist. So, let’s go with the idea that the distribution was not government sanctioned.
If the leaflets end-up being a forgery, then…well I wish I could say that Jews shouldn’t fear for their safety, but I see it otherwise. The very fact that such an idea against the Jews would even cross the mind of any people group is evidence that humanity is not getting any better. The Jews continue to be the scapegoats of humanity for a myriad of reasons, each one more ludicrous than the previous. Yet, the Jews remain at risk. And if and when things heat up against my people to the level of the 1930s and 40s mass murders, it is clear that the new willing executioners will be ready, standing-by in the antechamber of anti-Semitism. See note below
Our postmodern world is concerned with social justice, equality and peace around the world, but when it come to the Jewish people, if there is no disdain or hatred, there seems at least to be a corporate boredom that leads to apathy. And that’s of course when people are even aware of world events taking place outside of their own “backyard”. For the most part, westerners will think that Donetsk is far enough not to pose any danger to their immediate community. But the weed across the street can and will grow to come to our side and choke our own yard. It is only a matter of time.
How sad that on the day when the Jewish community gathers to celebrate Passover and God’s redemption, they would have to face such an outrage. I can’t help but wonder if even the date of distribution wasn’t premeditated.
At Passover, we invite Elijah and set a place for him at the table, because we know that according to the Tenach, when he comes, he will usher in the coming of King Messiah.
Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. Malachi 4:5-6
So, every year we look outside with hope that Elijah is on his way and yet, another year goes by and he is a no show. But there is one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah and who indeed heralded a king (Luke 1:17). John the Immerser was that man, and he ushered in Yeshua the Messiah 2000 years ago. Elijah’s cup is empty because I believe that John the Immerser came to drink it and the only hope for the Jews of Donetsk and any other Jews for that matter, is in the one that John introduced to us.
L’Shanah Haba B’Yrushalaim…. Next Year in Jerusalem, if not sooner!
NOTE: As of 4/18/14: As it turned out, and as I suspected, the flyers were not sanctioned by any government and were created to create tension between to sides . Yet I want to reiterate that this doesn’t eradicate the problem. The flyers were still printed and distributed. The Jewish people are being used and it won’t be long before they will could be accused and abused.