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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘First World War’

Poland And WWI

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

     Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

 

      Traveling around Poland, I would come across signs saying that a battle took place here or there. In some cemeteries there is a section for soldiers killed during WWI, from both sides, but facts are lacking.

 

     I recently came across a book called, The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I, by S. Ansky, which describes the situation of the Jews living in the Pale of Settlement, Galicia and Poland in great detail. S. Ansky, (1863-1920) whose real name was, Shloyme Zanvel ben Aaron Rappaport, was a Russian Yiddish, historian, journalist and writer, best known for the play, The Dybuk. Ansky started out life rejecting Judaism and the Yiddish language but in 1905 he became a champion of Yiddish culture.

 

       The early 20th century was a time of chaos for the Jewish community in the Pale of Settlement, Poland and Galicia. The pogroms, especially in Kishenov, were brutal with many Jews emigrating to try to escape rampant anti-Semitism. Ansky set out to preserve what he could of Jewish and Yiddish culture. He undertook an expedition throughout the Pale and Galicia in 1911, where he gathered books, manuscripts and varied artifacts of Judaica that were deposited in the Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg.

 

     At the start of WWI, Ansky took up the cause of the Jews that he had gotten to know so well during his trips. He traveled from town-to-town – shtetl-to-shtetl setting up relief committees distributing money and recording everything he saw.

 

     He described the atrocities he witnessed as the worst afflicted against the Jewish people since the destruction of the Second Bait HaMikdash.He writes about whole towns being burnt to the ground, with only the chimneys remaining.

 

     In Galicia that had been under Austrian-Hungarian rule for over a hundred years the Cossacks were especially brutal. They accused the Jewish population of being spies, using telephone signals, fires and other means of passing information to the enemy.

 

       Dressed as a Russian officer Ansky was able to travel in areas that were closed to civilians and often heard remarks not intended for Jewish ears. “Everyone knows all Jews are spies,” was the refrain he heard over and over again. Wherever he could he would adamantly deny these accusations and would at times come between the marauding Cossacks and their victims.

 

    Starting in St. Petersburg, Ansky traveled to Brody, then to the frontlines at Tarnow, then to Lvov, Preszmyl, and Sokol. He mentions trips to Rawa, Ruska, Bukovina, Kaminetzand Sadegura, where the Russian Revolution caught up with the Russian Army.

 

     The Russians attacked the Jewish population and they stole, beat up, and burned whatever they could find. While Ansky was not religious he shows compassion to the plight of the religious community. He would seek out the rabbi of each town he visited and would often report about the status of the synagogue. Passover food was one of his special concerns and he was even influential in getting matzah to frontline troops as well as a furlough for troops in the rear.

 

           In Sadegura he described the Rebbe’s court in great detail. “There was a 24-piece band that played at every meal and his carriage was drawn by six horses. His home and synagogue were like palaces and the Rebbe himself was a miracle worker.”

 

      The Rebbe’s home as well as the synagogue were used as field hospitals but when he entered the synagogue he found that someone had put a Christian icon in the Aron HaKodesh. He also discovered that the cemetery had been desecrated and the grave of the Rizhiner Rebbe had been dug up and the bones stolen.

 

      Just 25 years before the Holocaust, the Russians exiled approximately 600,000 Jews and over 100,000 were killed in a three-year time frame.

 

    In The Enemy at his Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War, Ansky gives a detailed first-hand report of all that happened to the Jews during WWI. The details are quite fascinating. The notes on every person he met, every town he visited, his personal reflections, small tidbits of history, along with his tremendous fervor to bring to light the subject of Jewish victims of WWI, are not found in any other book.

Even An Einstein Can’t Invent His Own Values

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

      It’s always a revelation when a world-renowned intellectual attacks religion as silly and juvenile only for us to discover that his or her own personal life might have greatly benefited from a commitment to the biblical values that they so casually dismiss.

 
      Such was the case recently when the news broke that Albert Einstein’s letter on God, in which he described the Bible as “pretty childish,” sold for more than $400,000.
 
      If history has taught us one thing about intelligent people, it is that even the most brilliant still need help when it comes to formulating and living with proper values. Paul Johnson’s 1990 book Intellectuals demonstrated just how warped were, and are, the values of some intellectuals.
 
      The principal purpose of the Bible is to impart values of right and wrong, to teach us of the infinite sanctity of human life, and to lend human existence spiritual purpose. This is something that is counterintuitive and often lost on intellectuals who can sometimes be such know-it-alls that they reject time-honored wisdom in favor of their own machinations.
 
      Such was, unfortunately, the case with Einstein, whose criticism of the Bible presupposes that he had such wonderful personal values that he did not need to receive them from some “childish” book. Sadly, though he was the smartest man of the twentieth century, his values were severely lacking. Readers of Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography Einstein: His Life and Universe will discover some of the dirty laundry of Einstein’s personal life that was already public knowledge – for example, his unfaithfulness to his wife and how he essentially left her to marry his cousin. What they will be shocked to discover, however, is a man whose personal failings were often justified by very questionable values.
 
      When, in 1917, his son Eduard got sick with lung inflammation, Einstein wrote to his best friend, “My little boy’s condition depresses me greatly. It is impossible that he will become a fully developed person. Who knows if it wouldn’t be better for him if he could depart before coming to know life properly.”
 
      As if this statement weren’t shocking enough, he then ruminated concerning Eduard to another friend about employing “the Spartan method” – leaving sickly children out on a mountain to die. One cowers in disbelief to witness a once-in-a-millennium intellect deliberating whether to discard his own child and allow him to be slowly devoured by the elements.
 
      If Einstein had instead looked to the values of the Bible, he would have discovered that every human life, whether healthy or diseased, beautiful or disfigured, is of infinite value and sanctity. Indeed, the Bible (Deuteronomy 12:30-31) attacks the ancient pagan practice of child sacrifice, in which children were seen as naught but the means by which to appease the angry gods, as an “abomination to the Eternal, which He hateth.”
 
      Einstein, for long periods of his life, was essentially a deadbeat dad. His son Hans Albert felt so neglected by his father – who when teaching in Berlin during the First World War visited only every few months – that in November 1917 the boy took to writing his father nasty letters telling him not to visit.
 
      Seemingly insensitive to the wounds harbored by a neglected eleven year old, Einstein followed the advice and stayed away. “The unkind tone of your letter dismays me very much. I see that my visit would bring you little joy. Therefore, I think it is wrong to sit in a train for two hours and twenty minutes” (the train time between Berlin and Zurich, where the boy lived with his mother).
 
      And Einstein, after getting his future wife Mileva pregnant, seems to have had the baby given up for adoption without ever having met her, a fact that did not come to light until approximately 30 years after his death.
 
      Personal life aside, an even greater indictment of Einstein concerns the misguided values inherent in the pacifism he championed through most of his life – until Hitler rose to power and it became clear to him that something had to be done to combat the beast, at which point Einstein not only dismissed his previous pacifism but actually wrote a famous letter to President Roosevelt in August 1939, encouraging him to beat the Germans to building an atomic weapon.
 
      Of course, the book Einstein dismisses as being so childish made it mandatory on all to fight evil and protect the innocent and oppressed even if it means going to war on their behalf. To be a pacifist when victims are slaughtered is to become passively complicit with evil.
 
      None of this means, of course, that Einstein was a bad person. What it does mean is that even Einstein would have to concede his morals were in need of serious realignment. You can be the smartest man alive but it doesn’t mean you will not do incredibly silly things based on seriously misguided ideas. Which is why Jews, however smart or learned, have always turned to the Bible as the source of their morality.
 

      Even Albert Einstein would be wise to remember the words of King David: “Never rely solely on your own understanding.”

 

 

      Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of many books, including “Judaism For Everyone.” Visit his website at www.shmuley.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/even-an-einstein-cant-invent-his-own-values/2008/05/28/

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