Years ago, my much younger brother, Dr. Jack Green, started asking questions about my dad’s past, about his activities as a partisan in Belarus during the second world war. With an age gap of 15 years between us, our experience of the watchmaker Boris Green (formerly Grenimann) was different.
I knew him as a quiet introverted man who was smart, strong, tough, and proud of his past as a fighter against Nazi Germany, as well as quite engaged in Yiddish literature, himself writing often for the local Yiddish newspaper. Seeing his picture in the Jewish press or hearing him speak about that past inspired my imagination and led me to write two novels (Far Away From Where?, The Partisan’s Coat, Mazo Publishers) in which I used his partisan stories to create a character called Bora, a survivor involved in revenge killings of SS men after the war, who subsequently became a Mossad agent in Israel.
I always wondered why my dad had come out to Australia rather than join partisan friends of his, such Abba Kovner and Avrum Sutskever, in then mandatory Palestine, to fight for a Jewish State. These ex-partisans, and others, when they came out to Australia on speaking tours, made a point of visiting my dad in our family home. I remember well their camaraderie on such visits, as well as their Yiddish conversations about the Nazis who had got off scot-free in places like Argentina, Canada and Australia. They were clearly terribly angry about that.
Jack, on the other hand, knew Boris as an older man, who was in a sense beyond all that and more focused on business and family. He did not have the same exposure to Dad’s stories, social activism in the Melbourne survivor community or Yiddish literature. My Dad had mellowed over the years, but he had also become more distant and less communicative, though he always had a wry sense of humor that Jack inherited.
We both had a sense that he had secrets he was not sharing, that he would take to the grave with him.
The process of Jack’s later exploration of the past led us to make a roots trip together to Belarus, and that jogged my memory further. I remembered childhood rumors about a possible revenge killing of a Nazi war criminal in Sydney, the body dumped in the Parramatta River. Both my other brother, Sam, and my late only cousin on my dad’s side, Suzanne Bino, confirmed that something like that did happen.
When I shared that memory with Jack, he was shocked. He, in turn, shared the story at a party with a gatecrasher called Danny Ben Moshe, who turned out to be a documentary filmmaker. I still remember Jack’s call after speaking to Danny about help researching the past. Jack told me that Danny had asked him how he felt about making a film about the story. I was reluctant, so was Jack at the time, but we acquiesced.
Jack became enthusiastic after a while, but I remained ambivalent. I wondered whether digging up the dead past on film was wise.
Five years later the film Revenge Our Dad the Nazi Killer was screened in Australia and in the United Kingdom and then was on television in those countries. It has received good reviews. And now my brother is working on a book about Dad. Ever the scientist, he wants to know the facts and chronology of it all, to get at the truth.
I am proud of my father as someone who saved other Jews, fought the Nazis, and continued to be concerned with Jewish safety and justice in the diaspora, as well as a devoted supporter of a socialist Israel. The film strengthened those feelings but there is another side to the story for me personally. I am still not sure if glorifying revenge killings – even of suspected Nazi war criminals – is a good thing. And, although my Dad had a romantic side to him and wanted recognition, I doubt if the recognition he craved was for revenge killings after the war, rather than his actions to save and defend lives, in particular the lives of the Yiddish poets, writers and artists from Vilna he so admired. He was always especially proud of the crucial role he played in saving those lives and the culture they carried beyond the destruction.
We are at war here in Israel with Hamas and the northern proxy of Iran, Hizballah. It is a brutal and frustrating battle with evil foes. The shock of the events on 7th October are still with us and brutal, extremist Hamas still holds 132 hostages, including two children. There are calls for revenge reverberating through Israeli society and I have no doubt that that too motivates the government and military during this bloody war. But time is running out for those hostages.
Glorifying assassinations, revenge killings, is what fuels Hamas in their brutal terrorist activities, it does not lead anyone to a better situation here. God, forbid we allow such an approach to poison us as well. It is not revenge we need but sanity. Saving those lives, and the lives of innocents caught up in this maelstrom is more important than any possible political, strategic short-term gains in an unwinable struggle between the Palestinians and we Israelis.
There has been too much bloodshed already. We must do all we can to save as many lives as possible and break out of this cycle of hatred and war.
If I correctly remember something Boris told me as a child regarding revenge for the Holocaust, to quote my father, “the Nazi killer”: “you can’t kill them all, one must move on, keep living.” He practiced what he preached.
Life is precious and the preservation of life is, as we often claim in our apologetics, a basic Jewish value. Tzelem Elohim – the divine image in each person, even an enemy, certainly a hostage seized by an enemy, must be respected. He who saves a single life it is as if they saved all humanity, and he who destroys a single life it is as if they have destroyed humanity.