Last message from Myachka


I’m writing this week’s rant on Sunday evening, April 28, which this year was the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah in Hebrew).

I’ve been thinking about Myachka. I guess that’s how you would spell it. The truth is I have no idea how you would spell Myachka in English — or Russian or Ukrainian or Yiddish or Hebrew or any other language its name might have been written in. I’ve Googled “Myachka,” and several other variations of the spelling, from time to time, and nothing has ever come up.

Nor do I know with any real precision where Myachka was located. Somewhere around Kharkiv in the eastern Ukraine (or Kharkov as it used to be called when Ukraine was part of Russia), I think. 

Myachka no longer exists. It was wiped off the face of the earth and the map during World War II. I have no idea what became of the families who lived there. With one exception — mine.

Myachka was the town that my paternal grandparents, my father, and his two sisters came from.

They were not Holocaust survivors. My grandparents had the wit to get out of Myachka, and Russia, during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. By the time World War II started they had been safely in Chicago for nearly 20 years. My relatives — on both sides — who remained in Europe weren’t so lucky. After the war started, we never heard from them again.

The thing that got me thinking about Myachka on Yom HaShoah this year is that if Putin decides to invade Ukraine and if Myachka was where I think it was, it is possible his tanks will roll over it without even realizing that it had been there. That and the fact that on Yom HaShoah this year the stench of the 1930s hung heavy in the air.

Western leaders generally are behaving like Western leaders in the years prior to World War II — their timid, toothless response to Putin’s annexation of the Crimea being only the most recent example.

Pre-World War Two Europe saw the Rhineland remilitarization, the Austrian Anschluss, the Spanish Civil War, and the Munich Agreement and the subsequent dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, all of which were met with Western inaction, appeasement, indifference, fecklessness, or betrayal.

It is depressingly easy to find modern parallels. Putin’s Crimea grab, Obama’s unenforced Syrian redlines, the continued hollowing out of Western militaries, including the U.S. military, while potential adversaries are increasing theirs, the ongoing Western refusal to recognize that Russia and China are the major enablers of the nuclear programs of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, Obama’s decision to ignore Pakistani perfidy in providing sanctuary to bin Laden and in sustaining the Taliban — the list goes on and on.

And then there is the ugliest parallel of all — the rise of the new anti-Semitism. The most recent example comes from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donesk in eastern Ukraine, where on the eve of Passover, leaflets were anonymously distributed ordering Jews to register with the government and pay a fee. Such registrations were typically the first step the Nazis took toward implementing the Holocaust.

The Donesk leaflets were forgeries, and it is unclear who was behind them. Russian separatists, the Russian government, the Ukrainian government, and Ukrainian rightists are all plausible suspects. And that’s the problem — not that the leaflets were forgeries but that there are so many plausible suspects. The broader truth is that the old monsters are on the loose in Europe again, and no one seems to give a shit.

The Donesk incident is not unique. Anti-Semitic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, monuments, and synagogues, and unprovoked attacks on Jews are on the rise in Europe. Fascist political movements are springing up all over the continent, including Ukraine. On April 7 in Hungary, the neo-fascist and explicitly anti-Semitic Jobbik Party won almost 21 percent of the vote in the country’s April 7 elections and became the second largest party in the Hungarian Parliament.

Next week, Israel will mark its 67th independence day. In Israel, the day before Independence Day is the day it honors all those who have fallen in its seven major wars and in hundreds of small engagements and terror attacks since the dawn of the Zionist movement more than a century ago — 26,655 as of 2010. Israel is a dangerous place. Israelis know that every war they fight could be their last.

Outside of Kiev in Ukraine there is a ravine called Babi Yar. On Sept. 29 and 30, 1941, the Nazis shot 33,771 Jews in the ravine. In other words, more Jews were killed in two days at Babi Yar than in more than 100 years of warfare in Israel and Palestine.

I am not the descendent of Holocaust survivors. But I am the descendent of Myachka survivors, and as such I would like to offer the remaining Jews in Ukraine a few words of advice that should be self-evident but apparently aren’t:

Get out. Now! When the wolf is at the door it is too late.

If no one else will take you, go to Israel.


This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.