web analytics
January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Soviet’

A Belated Appreciation

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

As the Monitor is only too aware, having received a fair number of admonishing e-mails on the subject, this column has disappointed at least some readers with what one called its “shameful silence” on the subject of William Safire in the weeks since the former New York Times columnist passed away in late September.

Guilty as charged. Frankly, though, at this point there’s not much left to say that is either original or insightful about a man whose career has been so thoroughly assessed by both admirers and detractors.

Safire’s move from the Nixon White House to the op-ed page of the Times, where he perched for better than three decades as its token non-liberal, has been well documented, as has been the initial hostility he faced from his illiberal liberal colleagues at the Times.

His polemical skills were complemented by his grammatical dexterity; indeed, his weekly “On Language” column became a Times fixture, read, respected and happily argued with even by those who could not abide the views he expressed in his Pulitzer-prize winning political column.

His books – collections of his language columns, historical novels, a meditation on the biblical story of Job, and his magnum opus, Safire’s Political Dictionary – were all well received. He was a popular guest on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit.

While dealing with the dilemma of trying to come up with a belated tribute that would not merely repeat what had already been said, the Monitor stumbled upon some of Safire’s columns on the Middle East from the miserable Jimmy Carter years. The prescience of those columns – their surprising timeliness all these years later – stands as a tribute in its own right to the man who wrote them. A few examples will suffice:

In a column dated May 24, 1976 – a year before Israel elected its first Likud prime minister, six years before the first Lebanon war, eleven years before the first intifada – Safire was complaining about “Dovish writers and longtime liberals, including many Jews, who are uncomfortable with positions of strength, and who urge the beleaguered Israelis to adopt appeasement under the labels of ‘accommodation,’ ‘flexibility,’ and ‘risks for peace.’ ”

How things never change.

From the same column, thirty years before anyone would hear of Walt and Mearsheimer: “Hating individual Jews does not make you a bigot. Being anti-Israel does not make you a bigot. But undertaking a crusade to persuade the American people that they are being brainwashed and manipulated by a cabal of Jews who sit astride most of the channels of communication, and thereby encouraging an irrational hatred of Jews – that makes you a bigot.”

In October 1977, after Carter responded to critics of his administration’s decision to convene a U.S.-Soviet conference on the Middle East by claiming he’d accomplished a diplomatic miracle of sorts because the Soviet Union up till then had “never recognized the right of Israel to exist,” Safire, normally a man with little positive to say about the Soviets, took the ignoramus to school:

Not only has the Soviet Union repeatedly recognized the right of Israel to exist, the Soviets were the first to recognize the state of Israel…. Through two breaks in diplomatic relations, the Soviets have continued to recognize Israel as a state, and therefore its “right to exist.”… How, in light of 30 years’ continuous recognition, and with hundreds of Soviet restatements of Israel’s right to exist, could President Carter say “they have never recognized the right of Israel to exist”?Okay. Now the Official Correctors will explain that, um, you see, the president “misspoke.” But he does not misspeak; he misthinks. His foot is not so much in his mouth as in his mind. Mr. Carter really believes he has bargained the Soviets into recognizing Israel’s existence.

Despite his status as the Times’s House Conservative, Safire was politically unpredictable; his positions on social issues were significantly to the left of the Republican base and he supported Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election over the Republican incumbent, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Of course, Bush’s coolness toward Israel was a major factor in Safire’s defection. Safire never apologized for his support of Israel. Responding to criticism of his close relationship with former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, Safire once said, “I don’t feel the least bit ashamed or embarrassed about presenting [Sharon’s] views, because they are my views. Actually, mine are a little more hawkish.”

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Jason Maoz

The Anchor Who Fell For An Obvious Hoax

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Back in November 1991, Forbes FYI, a supplement to Forbes magazine, ran an article that, as had to have been clear to anyone of even piddling intelligence, was an obvious put-on, a joke, a hoax.

The article began with the notice that “It has come to our attention through private channels that the Soviet government is preparing to make a very unusual, indeed unprecedented, offering: the embalmed remains of [founder of Soviet Communism] V.I. Lenin.”

The piece went on to explain: “With its ruined economy fast approaching crisis point, and a severe winter food shortage looming, the Russian government is being forced to undertake some very drastic measures in an attempt to bring in desperately needed hard currency…. The Deputy Minister, Mr. Victor Komplectov, first proposed selling Lenin’s remains last April, pointing to the enormous profits earned by the British government when it sold London Bridge to an Arizona developer in 1962.”

If the analogy between a bridge and a corpse wasn’t enough to tip off even the most credulous of readers, the following should have been:

“In an attempt to save the significant commission that an auction house such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s would charge – as well as to discourage an extraordinary, and to the Russians, unseemly, public spectacle – the [Interior] Ministry has decided to hold a closed, sealed bid auction. Bids must be received by the Ministry no later than midnight (Moscow time) on December 31 of this year…. A condition of the sale is that the Lenin corpse not be used for any ‘commercial, or improper’ purpose, the deed of purchase to be administered by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, in the Netherlands, making the conditions of sale enforceable by that international legal community.”

And if, by chance, there breathed an individual so naïve or intellectually challenged that he still had no idea his leg was being royally pulled, here was the description of the Lenin corpse offered by Forbes FYI: “Mr. Lenin’s body was embalmed at his death in 1924, and stored in a sealed, climate-controlled glass casket. (Shades of Sleeping Beauty!) It has been periodically re-embalmed. Every five to ten years the skin, somewhat yellowish but by no means jaundiced-looking, requires a special application of preservative, or ‘waxing.’ Under the terms of sale, maintenance is to be provided only by qualified Russian mortuary specialists from the Interior Ministry, expenses to be paid by the purchaser. (Estimated annual upkeep: $10,0000-$15,0000; varies with climate.)”

Finally, there was this: “Obviously, the Lenin corpse is not for everyone. But as a conversation piece, it would certainly have no equal. You might have some explaining to do to the lady of the home, but the item is fairly compact and could be accommodated to fit most large dens.”

Several years after the article appeared, Christopher Buckley, the then-editor of Forbes FYI (which would be renamed ForbesLife in 2006) reminisced about the incident on C-Span’s “Booknotes,” describing to host Brian Lamb the transparently phony details of the story and how the piece had been faxed to news organizations at the precise time the day’s evening newscasts were being prepared.

Most journalists were a little too savvy to fall for the hoax, related Buckley. There was, however, one exception.

“I was on my NordicTrack cross-country ski machine that night watching Peter Jennings … and on came a photo of Lenin. And I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ I felt a little bit like, you know, the kid who puts the rock on the railroad track and the next day hears grownups talking about the train derailment. So that became a big story, quite a big story….”

How big? The interior minister of Russia, no doubt wondering why American networks employ morons as news anchors, had to make an appearance on Russian TV to reassure his people there was no plan to sell off Lenin’s corpse. Jennings subsequently apologized to viewers, saying “we were had.”

Why is the Monitor bringing this story up at this time? Well, August 7 marks the 4th anniversary of Peter Jennings’s passing, and the Monitor detested everything about Jennings – his smarmy demeanor, his skewed reporting, his pronounced anti-U.S. and anti-Israel bias, and the way his colleagues showered him with so many posthumous tributes you’d have thought he was a tribune of unvarnished truth and objectivity, a figure of unimpeachable trustworthiness, Diogenes’s Honest Man personified.

Jennings was none of those things, and apparently he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer either.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Jason Maoz

Yes, I.F. Stone Was A Soviet Spy

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Back in 1994 the Monitor marked the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of radical journalist I.F. Stone with an unsentimental look at the career of the detestable old commie symp. The column was picked up by FrontPageMag.com and generated comment on several other conservative websites and blogs.

The feedback to the piece was almost all positive, but there was one complaint that animated many readers who contacted the Monitor. What bothered them was that no mention had been made in the column of Stone’s employment by the KGB, allegations of which had been circulating for years after Stone’s death and that seemed to have been confirmed with the opening of KGB files following the demise of the Soviet Union.

As the Monitor saw it, however, the evidence based on those initial KGB reports seemed somewhat circumstantial, and besides, there was more than enough with which to damn Stone based on his own prolific writing.

But as Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev make clear in their new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), there can no longer be any doubt about Stone’s ties to Soviet spymasters.

Stone, born Isadore Feinstein, was praised in life and eulogized in death by mainstream journalists for his supposed independence and iconoclasm, and he remains an iconic figure to many in the media.

In 1953, after years of writing for liberal and left-wing publications, he started his own newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which by the time Stone closed it down in 1971 enjoyed a circulation pushing 70,000.

By then, of course, the tenor of the times was such that Stone, unemployable in the 1950’s, had became a regular recipient of awards and accolades from his peers. Forgotten or overlooked in the rush to lionize Stone was his history as a shameless apologist for Stalin.

Stone’s insistence on viewing the Soviet Union as worthy of support, even in the face of the Moscow Trials and Stalin’s purges and executions, led his otherwise sympathetic biographer Robert Cottrell to write that “there was something disingenuous in [Stone’s] willingness to suspend judgment or to refuse to criticize still more forcefully the terror that was being played out in Soviet Russia….”

Cottrell described how Stone came to be seen by anti-Communist leftists as “an apologist for the hammer-and-sickle”; how Richard Rovere, a writer during that period for The New Masses, a radical journal, viewed Stone as a Stalinist who played “fast and loose with the facts”; and how James Wechsler, a writer with The Nation and later an editor at the then-liberal New York Post, dismissed Stone as “a fairly regular apologist for the Communists.”

When a group of American writers and academics broke ranks with the pro-Soviet Left in 1939 to form the Committee for Cultural Freedom, Stone and other die-hards signed on to a vociferous public campaign lambasting “the fantastic falsehood that the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike” and commending the Soviet Union for “steadily expanding democracy in every sphere.”

Stone would not split with the Soviets until 1956, disillusioned by a visit he made to Moscow in the spring of that year and the Hungarian crisis a few months later. But he never lost his instinctive hostility to free market capitalism, nor was he ever inclined to extend to the United States even the slightest benefit of doubt in any international dispute.

(On Israel, Stone consistently toed the leftist line. Before 1948 he was opposed to the idea of a Jewish state, preferring a binational arrangement for Arabs and Jews, and his attacks on Israel became ever more frequent and shrill after the Six-Day War. By the mid-1970s the viciousness of his diatribes was such that the non-Jewish novelist James Michener termed them “palpably anti-Zionist, probably anti-Israel, and potentially anti-Jewish.”)

Talk of possible KGB ties, which began to circulate in the early 1990’s, was pooh-poohed by Stone’s defenders as nothing more than an attempt to smear the reputation of a fearless speaker of truth to power. And, as the authors of Spies acknowledge, those earlier reports “were suggestive but not conclusive.”

Now, however, the authors present new evidence, based on KGB files, indicating that Stone (codename: Pancake) did indeed have ties to Soviet intelligence.

“The documentary record,” they write, “shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.

“To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.”

Jason Maoz

It’s My Opinion: Missiles

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

   The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a frightening time.  U.S. President John F. Kennedy confronted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on the missile bases that Khrushchev was building in Cuba. The rockets were aimed at America. 


   American citizens, especially those who lived in South Florida, were quite alarmed.  We seemed to be on the verge of war. 


   I remember being a kid and looking outside to see tanks rolling down the street alongside my Miami Beach school.  We were all on red alert.


   Now, so many years later, there has been a revelation.  Deep in the Everglades of Florida, a secret missile base had been built to store and launch rockets if need be.


   The 40-acre facility included a missile assembly building, three barns where missiles were stored, a guardhouse and an underground control room.  Three of the four missile   sites have been dismantled.  The base is still intact.  It contains 22 buildings.   It had housed 130 military personnel.  Apparently, the United States of America took the thought of projectiles aimed at its citizens in a very serious way.


   It is quite ironic that the same U.S. government encouraged Israel, during the First Gulf War, to ignore scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv.  The theory was that Israeli retaliation would complicate the war effort.  Incredibly, Israel agreed.


   Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza thousands of missiles launched from Gaza have hit Sderot and neighboring Israeli cities.  Perhaps the coast seemed clear because of Israel’s precedent of non-retaliation to rocket attacks.  Terrorists were delighted.  They had nothing to lose.  Israel had established a policy of unilateral restraint.


   Finally, after years of constant bombardment, Israel did what any normal country would have done in the beginning.  They fought back.  The world was outraged.  Israel had created the idea that it was a giant punching bag and now the status quo had been upset.


   The U.S. government is now giving tours of the missile site in the Everglades.  It is, in essence, a museum documenting a historic period and the dangers that ensued.  Israel already has a museum documenting history and danger to the Jewish nation.  Its name is Yad Vashem.  

Shelley Benveniste

The Cousins Bielski

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Yehuda Bielski on the right with his ensemble (Novogrudek 1937)

“You survive for a purpose that’s bigger than yourself.”

– Lt. Yehuda Bielski

In September I attended a special screening of the movie “Defiance” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. The film attempts to depict the formation of the Bielski partisans and some of their early exploits in the dense forests of Belorussia during the Holocaust.

The daylong event was held for Bielski family members and hosted by Robert Bielsky (he spells his name with a “y” rather than an “i”), the affable son of Bielski partisan leader Tuvia. Some 150 people were on hand, while many others were unable to attend because of age, illness or distance.

Why the Bielskis? There were, after all, other Jewish partisan groups that fought bravely and heroically against their Nazi oppressors. And they too must be honored. Yet the Bielski name resounds.

Perhaps it is because their story of survival against all obstacles – slaughter, flight, hunger, fear, intramural rivalries, assassination, execution and murder, ambushes – provides an awesome inspirational message about Jewish resistance and hope.

The Bielski triumph is a moral victory of heroic dimension, and it is a testimony to the invincible human spirit in the face of monstrous evil and demonic barbarism. Extraordinary times create extraordinary people.

It was one of the darkest periods in human history, when European anti-Semitism – always hissing, spluttering and periodically bursting for over a thousand years – finally exploded. In 1933 Hitler established his dictatorship and a new Germany arose with a new kind of war. Europe was to be made Judenrein with not even the possibility of future Jewish life. The evolution of mechanized mass murder was expedited. Every single Jewish man, woman and child was in peril.

By the time the master race invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 in Operation Barbarossa, many of Poland’s 3,250,000 Jews were dead, dying or locked up in ghettos waiting to die. The combination of German deception, indifferent bystanders and ferocious hatred of local collaborators doomed the Jews.

Those trapped – like my mother, Lola Hudes, who escaped from German-occupied Lodz – fled eastward to the Russian sector. The Soviet-German non-aggression pact that divided up Poland and enabled Hitler to wage war on September 1, 1939 would afford some measure of safety in the still neutral Russian sector.

Drunk with power and conquest, the Nazis turned against their Slavic allies with frenzied ruthlessness, fury and savagery. In 1941 Hitler told his generals that the war against Russia “is one of ideologies and racial differences that will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.”

With the rapid advancement of German forces into Russia came a new policy against the Jews – the systematic destruction of every single Jewish person and community. No village, town or city was to be spared. No place was too far. No conditions were too difficult. And no exceptions were to be made.

In conjunction with the German army, four special mobile SS execution squads – Einsatzgruppen – were formed to follow the Wehrmacht into Russia to carry out the slaughter in which combat troops also participated. They were enthusiastically aided and abetted by local collaborators as well as Lithuanian, Latvian and Ukrainian militias and policemen who were noted for their sadism and brutality toward Jews.

Massacres began immediately and the killing was continuous. Most of the slaughter was done by mass shootings of people into trenches and pits. Sometimes little children were not shot – they were caught by their legs, their heads were smashed against trees and they were then thrown into the pits still alive.

* * *

There were hundreds of Bielskis living in the Belorussian city of Novogrudek and surrounding towns and villages. My father, Yehuda “Yudl” Bielski, was the youngest of seven siblings. His three brothers had immigrated to America long before World War II, when he was still a little boy. Two married sisters with growing families remained in Novogrudek.

A third sister had been killed as a teenager when her head was bashed in with a rock. The incident was hushed up, but Yehuda’s father wrote a letter to his sons in New York with the sensitive details.

Yehuda attended the Tarbut Zionist school and learned to play the violin and guitar. He was an excellent dancer and a superb athlete. Cleanliness and good grooming were important to him and he coined the term “malbushim” for those who neglected such matters. He was fluent in Yiddish, Polish and Russian, and spoke Hebrew and German.


In 1939 Yehuda was fighting at the front as a lieutenant in the Polish army. Badly wounded, he made his way to a Warsaw hospital. He had barely recovered when the good nuns there helped him escape the SS sweep. Yehuda returned home to Novogrudek, having witnessed many German atrocities along the way, and resumed a more or less normal life for the next two years.

And then, suddenly, the Final Solution arrived at Yehuda’s doorstep.

The Germans first bombed Novogrudek. Then German troops entered followed by the Einsatzgruppen. Violent assaults and shootings of Jews in the streets began immediately. They were taken into forced labor. The Germans confiscated their jewelry, money and goods. Killing and looting were widespread.

Two ghettos were established at each end of the city. They were surrounded by barbed wire and closely guarded by Lithuanians and Ukrainians. “Selections” were routine and people disappeared. They were usually taken to the nearby woods, forced to undress and shot. After one of the ghettos was liquidated, those who remained alive were transferred to the other one. The terror resumed.

Yehuda, a prisoner in the ghetto, received a letter delivered by a Christian friend from his older first cousin Tuvia, who had recently fled with his three brothers, sister and several relatives.

“We are hiding in the forest,” wrote Tuvia, “and we do not plan to submit to the Germans. Bring your wife, a few good men and we will build something together. Please do not hesitate. I hope to see you soon in the forest.”

Yehuda immediately began to plan the escape he’d been thinking about for some time. On a dark night, he led nine people to the ghetto fence surrounded by guards. Silently, fence boards were broken and the escapees crawled through a hole and then across an open field to the surrounding woods. They walked all night.

When Yehuda finally met up with his cousins, the development of the Bielski group took a new turn. It would now include non-relatives. The Bielskis decided not to turn away any Jew who came to them seeking refuge.

At a meeting held shortly after his arrival in the forest, Yehuda stood up – confident, daring, urbane – and spoke: “We have come here into the forest, my dear ones, not to eat and drink and enjoy ourselves. We have come here, every one of us, to stay alive. We must think only of one important thing: revenge and revenge again on the murderers.”

He then outlined his plan to secure weapons and attack the enemy. When it was agreed upon, Yehuda continued: “We must choose a commander and we must give our unit a name. For the responsibility of commander, I nominate my cousin, Tuvia Bielski.”

The group now included a definitive military focus. Thus the Bielski partisans emerged.

Led by the charismatic, courageous and cunning Tuvia, who had grown up with his large peasant family in a tiny rural Belorussian village, the Bielski partisan camp expanded as more and more Jews, ranging from young children to the elderly, arrived. A base camp was established surrounded by smaller camps.

People slept in camouflaged bunkers built underground. They dug wells, built a synagogue, bathhouse, makeshift hospital, school, theater, and workshops where tailors made clothes, cobblers resoled shoes and craftsmen repaired guns. A primitive forest village evolved.

People worked, quarreled, prayed, married, and conceived babies. A strict hierarchy existed and everyone knew his place. Challenges to the authority of the Bielski brothers were at times resolved through the end of a gun barrel. But despite hunger, exposure to severe winters, collaborators and German patrols, those who came under the orders and protection of the Bielskis survived while tens of thousands were massacred around them.

Meanwhile, the military unit of the Bielski partisans smuggled Jews out of ghettos; procured weapons, food and supplies any way possible; sabotaged German supply trains; retaliated against collaborators who turned Jews over to the Germans; and fought a guerilla war against German troops.

Yehuda Bielski, partisan (Belorussian Forest 1942)

Yehuda Bielski, partisan (Belorussian Forest 1942)

In Belorussia, Red Army partisan formations had also begun fighting in the forests behind German lines. Everyone was suspect to the paranoid dictator Stalin, and from the beginning these formations were put under control of the dreaded NKVD (secret police). The NKVD not only shot Russian officers suspected of disloyalty but actively targeted Polish officers regarded as enemies of the Soviet regime.

For the Bielski partisans, this presented another dangerous predicament. The necessity of cooperating with the Russians and being accepted as allies of the Red Army (which could supply them with weapons and ammunition) was vital. Though they were never Communists, it was crucial for the Bielskis to convince the Russians this was both a Soviet and Jewish struggle toward the same goal – victory over the Germans.

Subduing his quick temper and flying fists, Tuvia managed to persuade the Russians that the Bielski fighters were comrades essential to Soviet success.

Pro-German enemies surrounded them everywhere in the forest. Fighting against both the Russians and Jewish partisans were anti-Soviet and anti-Semitic Polish partisan units, the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army), Cossacks, and Belorussian soldiers. The appreciative Germans even allowed them to lead their own regiments.

In the vortex of this abattoir, Tuvia made it his business to shield Yehuda, the former Polish officer, from the NKVD. Though very different by education, experience and temperament, the two cousins worked well together in the forest. Both understood the nature of their enemies and the tactics required to deal with them. Tuvia also needed Yehuda’s military expertise.

And they shared something else in common. “The worst day in the forest was when we lost Ida and Sonya [the wives of Yehuda and Tuvia] in a German ambush,” a partisan tearfully recalled years later.

Yehuda became known as “the mystery man.” Somehow, he was never around when the Russians showed up. It was only after being liberated by the Soviets in 1944, when about 1,200 Jewish men, women and children walked out of the forest, that the NKVD finally caught up with him.

When Yehuda returned to Novogrudek he was summoned to NKVD headquarters, where he was interrogated. Afterward he was warned: “We know who you are. We know where you are. And we know what you did during the war. When we’re ready for you, there’s no place you can hide.”

That night, he and Lola (whom he married after she joined the Bielski partisans), wearing their darkest clothes and carrying a few meager possessions, climbed atop a coal train heading west. Hanging on for dear life to the slippery coal, they arrived in Hungary where Yehuda was recruited by the Palestinian Jewish underground.

Avoiding British patrols, he escorted 200 Holocaust survivors in a dilapidated vessel to British-occupied Eretz Yisrael. “We have to build a Jewish country,” he declared.

* * *

Once again Yehuda became “the mystery man” when he joined the Irgun underground, engaging in activities that could have ended with his neck in a British noose. About a year later Tuvia and his wife, Lilka, arrived in Palestine where they eventually moved next door to Yehuda and Lola. Both couples became parents of a daughter and two sons. Yehuda, the only Bielski to be commissioned an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, fought with distinction and honor for the creation of the new Jewish state.

Lt. Yehuda Bielski leading his men on parade (Israel 1949)

Lt. Yehuda Bielski leading his men on parade (Israel 1949)

The two families were close in form but not in substance. In some ways they could have been living at opposite ends of the globe. Lola had grown up in a cultured home with private schools, skiing holidays, doormen, and servants, and she could never reconcile herself to the profane language of the Bielski brothers, their affinity to vodka and their less positive pursuits during the war.

Underwear, for example, was a much needed and prized possession in the forest. Lola – who survived interrogation by Adolph Eichmann, escaped from the Stolpce ghetto and endured in three partisan groups – was shocked when the Bielski leadership demanded hers as the price of admission. “They gave the women’s underwear they collected to their wives and girlfriends. This was so ugly and low,” Yehuda lamented.

Lola had also witnessed the shooting of a Jewish partisan by Tuvia in the forest. And then there was the matter, mentioned earlier, of Yehuda’s dead teenage sister back in Novogrudek. According to Yehuda and the letter his father sent to his three sons in New York, Tuvia was involved in that heinous incident. So Lola and her family remained aloof, and contact was kept to a minimum in Israel and later in America.

With “Defiance” soon to be released, some Poles and Lithuanians have emerged to defame and diminish the Bielski partisans, claiming they were no better than bandits and thieves who roamed the Belorussian forests killing innocent civilians. Some people will believe almost anything about Jews, so long as it’s negative. The calumnies of anti-Semites are legendary, and in some quarters anti-Jewish prejudice remains unabated.

So as I watched my brother Y.E. Bell, an online columnist for The Jewish Press, and four generations of my Bielski relatives – lawyers, teachers, military officers, homemakers, rabbis, artists, doctors, businesspeople – enjoying themselves during that special Sunday screening, I thought about how the Bielski partisans, with all their assorted human strengths, frailties and social differences, had frustrated and ultimately foiled Hitler’s plans to eliminate them.

They survived them all – the Wehrmacht, Einzatsgruppen, SS, collaborators, Red Army, NKVD – and now it is up to their descendents, who number in the tens of thousands, to live up to their legacy and never forget or forgive.

Leslie Bell

The Liberator: Ronald Reagan and Soviet Jewry

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Jews have had a long and at times complicated relationship with the men who have served as presidents of the United States. Leaders like Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman cannot be summed up in a paragraph, especially when examining their thoughts and actions toward Jews.

Among our more recent chief executives, examination of Ronald Reagan’s relationship with the Jewish people has historically focused on the 40th president as an unflagging friend of the state of Israel. “He was unshakable,” stated Shimon Peres in a typical assessment, “a staunch supporter.”

Reagan had a special affinity for Jews, which stemmed from a multitude of factors – his personal ecumenical nature; his Catholic father’s impressive intolerance of religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination; his Protestant mother’s instruction that her son “love thy neighbor.” He learned these virtues at a young age.

As Bill Clark, a devout Catholic and Reagan’s closest aide, put it: “He was very tolerant of other faiths, especially the Jewish faith.”

One of the most instructive insights into Reagan’s connection with Jews relates to the man’s Cold War experience – what he saw as literally the fight of the 20th century.

Nothing animated Reagan more than his goal of undermining atheistic Soviet communism and thereby liberating millions. And it was the Jews behind the Iron Curtain who were a central part of that calling.

Perhaps the earliest documentable example of Reagan learning about the suffering of Russian Jews was an incident from November 11, 1928 at Reagan’s boyhood church in Dixon, Illinois. That evening, the First Christian Church on South Hennepin Avenue hosted a Russian Jew named B.E. Kertchman, whose speech offered a modern history of Jews and their relations with other people and nations. Kertchman was recruited by the enthusiastic church pastor, Ben Cleaver, who was like a second father to the young Ronald Reagan, and by Nelle Reagan, Ronald’s mother.

Clearly, young Reagan was not ignorant of the plight of the Jewish people.

That appreciation by Reagan would only intensify, particularly once he left his home state of Illinois for a movie career. That career brought him into politics, especially through his position as president of the Screen Actors Guild. While historians have rightly connected Reagan’s work at SAG with the start of his fight against communism, they have somehow managed to miss his first public confrontation with the USSR in this period.

As president of SAG, Reagan spoke on behalf of the so-called DPs – Displaced Persons. DPs initially were survivors of World War II fascism, primarily Jews. Once the war ended, the list of DP-designated peoples widened to include 1.5 million individuals escaping Soviet-occupied areas in Eastern Europe, though they still included numerous Jews who longed for the creation of a homeland in Palestine.

The DPs were held in camps in Britain, Canada, Belgium, and Latin America, at a large cost to the United States – at least $100 million annually. Soviet officials outrageously claimed that the U.S. was holding the DPs as a source of semi-slave labor – a charge dismissed by Eleanor Roosevelt as “utterly untrue.”

A bill was introducedin Congress by William G. Stratton, a Republican congressman from Reagan’s home state, to permit entry of 400,000 DPs into the U.S. Reagan fought for the bill, which faced stiff opposition in Congress. He did not shy from dramatic rhetoric, agreeing with UN official Herbert H. Lehman: “Apparently there are some people who would rather bury the Stratton bill in red tape and thus bury the DPs in a mass grave. They would be burying Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike.”

On May 7, 1947, Reagan, through the New York-based Citizens Committee on Displaced Persons, released a statement urging passage of the Stratton bill. This was probably his first open campaign against Moscow, and it involved defending people of all faiths, including Jews.

Reagan in the White House

As Reagan ultimately made his way to the White House, these issues came with him. They were close to his heart. As a citizen, Reagan had been painfully aware of the Soviet war on religion. The Soviet leadership was an equal opportunity discriminator, attacking religious believers of all stripes. In fact, communists everywhere assaulted religious believers: in the USSR, Romania, China, Cambodia, Cuba, etc.

As president, Reagan noted that Jews in particular had suffered cruel persecution under communism. Even the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, said Reagan, had used threats and harassment to force “virtually every Nicaraguan Jew to flee [the] country.”

Reagan would do his part for those Jews. In fact, he always kept on hand an updated list of people in prison in the Soviet Union, which he carried with him in his coat pocket. Each time Secretary of State George Shultz prepared to travel to the USSR, Reagan pulled out the list and directed, “I want you to raise these names with the Soviets.” Sure enough, Shultz would raise them and one by one they would be released from the gulag and often even allowed to leave the country. Many of them, of course, were Jews – individuals like Anatoly “Natan” Sharansky.

Reagan did not merely act through intermediaries. He personally took his request to the highest level, as was evident to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev soon after he pulled up to the White House on the morning of December 8, 1987, to commence the third summit in three years between the United States and the USSR.

After the welcoming ceremony, he and Reagan and their interpreters went to the Oval Office. Reagan seized on the one-on-one session to hammer the issue of Soviet human-rights violations. While he said he was pleased that some Soviet Jews were being permitted to leave the Soviet Union, he felt more should be allowed.

As he had at Geneva and Reykjavik, Gorbachev bristled when he heard the translation of Reagan’s remarks on human rights. Reagan recalled the general secretary’s sensitive reaction: “He replied that he was not the accused standing in a dock and I was not a prosecutor, and that I had no right to bring up domestic matters of the Soviet Union.”

Gorbachev was always perturbed by Reagan’s insistence on open emigration for Soviet Jews. Still angry a decade later, Gorbachev recalled in his memoirs how he snapped at Reagan: “Mr. President like you, I represent a great country and therefore expect our dialogue to be conducted on the basis of reciprocity and equality. Otherwise there simply will be no dialogue.”

Yet Reagan was confident the dialogue would continue, as it did into the next summit, six months later in Moscow.

The two leaders held their first one-on-one at 3:26 p.m., Sunday, May 29. It lasted an hour and 11 minutes. The conversation went back and forth, with Gorbachev going first. When it was Reagan’s turn, he immediately began speaking on religion in Russia. He spoke of Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and Ukrainian Catholics, and insisted all have a right to attend the place of worship of their choice.

Gorbachev responded by claiming there was nota serious problem with religion in Russia. The debate continued. Reagan then made a bold move, which was quite revealing of his priorities: he linked Gorbachev’s economic demands to his – Reagan’s – personal goal of religious freedom in the USSR.

“Gorbachev again expressed his desire for increased U.S.-Soviet trade,” recalled Reagan later. “I was ready for him.”

Reagan told Gorbachev: “One reason we have trouble increasing trade with your country,” he added, is “because of Soviet human rights abuses.”

Reagan singled out religious freedom: “I’m not trying to tell you how to run your country,” he said, “but I realize you are probably concerned that if you allow too many of the Jews who want to emigrate from the Soviet Union to leave, there’ll be a ‘brain drain,’ a loss of skilled people from your economy. But did it ever occur to you, on this whole question of human rights, that maybe if the Jews were permitted to worship as they want to and teach their children the Hebrew language, that maybe they wouldn’t want to leave the Soviet Union?…  [P]erhaps if they were allowed to reopen their synagogues and worship as they want to, they might decide that they wouldn’t have to leave and there wouldn’t be that problem of a brain drain.”

As to the effect of this on Gorbachev, Reagan later recorded: “Whether my words had any impact or not I don’t know, but after that the Soviet government began allowing more churches and synagogues to reopen.”

The Soviet government did indeed do so, but not without more persistent complaining about Reagan’s concern for Jews.

Typical was an October 6, 1988 statement from the Moscow Domestic Service, which accused Reagan of turning to the issue of Jewish emigration “whenever it has been necessary to open another anti-Soviet, anti-socialist campaign.” The Soviets were annoyed because Reagan once again had the audacity to decry the continued persecution of Soviet Jews.

“President Reagan said in his speech that there are tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews in the USSR who long for exit visas and are not getting them,” complained Moscow. “Who has felt this need to appeal to figures that have clearly been dreamed up and plucked from thin air and wrap them in tendentious rhetoric?”

“Why,” the Moscow Domestic Service went on, “is he once again trying to whip up passions and blow up nonexistent problems?” In the next line, Moscow provided an answer: “Perhaps this is to the advantage of the Zionist circles which are trying to distract the attention of the world public in this way from the genocide that they themselves are perpetrating against the Palestinians in the Israeli occupied Arab lands? It’s no accident that in the same speech, President Reagan allowed himself an outburst against the United Nations, which in his opinion ought to rescind Resolution 3379, passed in 1975, which describes Zionism as a form of racial discrimination.”

This, judged the Moscow Domestic Service, was another Reagan outrage, as there was “incontrovertible proof” that Zionism was both a form of racism and genocide. This October 1988 statement from the Moscow Domestic Service is a healthy reminder – “incontrovertible proof” – of what the Jewish people and the world once faced in Moscow only two decades ago, and even amid all the promise of Gorbachev’s glasnost: a group of shameless liars.

Victory – and Freedom

No matter, because in the end Ronald Reagan succeeded: the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the USSR imploded in 1991, and the Cold War was over. Liberation for countless millions was achieved without the horrible nuclear exchange we had all feared.

And Soviet Jews likewise were liberated, as hundreds of thousands subsequently now had the right at long last to leave, and did so, streaming into Israel in the largest exodus sice the founding of the modern Israeli state.

Reagan’s mind, which by the mid-1990’s was being consumed by another evil – the horrific disease called Alzheimer’s – mercifully lasted just long enough to observe the tremendous accomplishment.

By 1997, however, the former president’s mind was going fast. The White House, the Soviets, and all of those who suffered behind the Iron Curtain were mere flickering memories. And yet, in a poignant moment that summer, Ronald Reagan got a meaningful thank you.

As the former president strolled through Armand Hammer Park near his Bel Air home, he was approached by a tourist named Yakob Ravin and his twelve-year-old grandson, both Jewish Ukrainian émigrés living near Toledo, Ohio. They cheered Reagan as he drew near and briefly spoke to the retired president, who posed for a picture with the boy, which his grandfather proudly snapped.

“Mr. President,” said Ravin, “thank you for everything you did for the Jewish people, for Soviet people, to destroy the communist empire.” The slightly confused 86-year-old Reagan paused and responded: “Yes, that is my job.”

That was his job. And many longed to thank him. Most never did, at least not to his face. Instead, many came out in the immediate days after June 5, 2004, when Reagan died at the age of 93.

A pair of AP reporters interviewed Rabbi Velvel Tsikman – one of the upwards of 50,000 Soviet bloc immigrants living today in the greater Los Angeles area – who remembered a time when the only link he had to his Jewish heritage was a line in his Soviet passport that read: “Nationality: Jewish.”

In the USSR, Rabbi Tsikman was forbidden to wear a yarmulke. Now, he leads a vibrant Russian Jewish community in West Hollywood from his office at the Chabad Russian Jewish Community Center. And he credits his spiritual freedom to Ronald Reagan.

“[Reagan’s] doctrine,” said Rabbi Tsikman, “what he did, was very helpful to destroy the monster that was there in Europe.”

At the retirement center where he works, Rabbi Tsikman commented on the elderly people there who joined him late in life by leaving the USSR. “They are living in a paradise here,” he said. “It’s like God is paying them for a terrible life in Russia. These people were sitting home waiting to die. When they came here, they came alive again.”

If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be thrilled to meet them. He and they shared a long road together, all the way back to when he was an actor championing the DPs and, and even before then, when their ancestors, people like B.E. Kertchman, met people like Nelle Reagan and Ben Cleaver.

The battle against Soviet communism was present at the start and finish of Ronald Reagan̓s life, as was his kinship with the Jewish people.

Dr. Paul Kengor

Israeli Shul To Be Named After Hero

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

         The following article appeared shortly after Roi Klein’s death. We are reprinting it in order to reacquaint our readers with this heroic young man who sacrificed his life to save others.


         Major Roi Klein.


         It is a name that held no meaning to us. He was a complete stranger, about whom we had never heard and whom we had never met.


         Yet an image of the last seconds of his life won’t leave our mind.


         Roi was a son. He was a brother. He was a husband to Sara and a father to three-year-old Gilad and one-year-old Yoav.


         But most of all, Roi was a hero for all of us. He was a face and a name to the many Jewish heroes spanning the generations.


         Roi’s funeral was on Thursday (July 27, 2006), the day that would have been his 31st birthday.


         Major Roi Klein was a Golani brigade deputy commander. He was killed in an ambush among the houses of Bint Jbail, a large village in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah terrorists killed eight soldiers, including Roi, and injured nearly two dozen.


         There were other soldiers next to Roi. A hand grenade was thrown at them and Roi shouted, “Grenade!” He then threw his body over it, sacrificing his life for the sake of his soldiers, who later attributed being alive to his act of selflessness.


         In his last seconds of life, Roi mustered the strength to shout “Shema Yisroel,” the prayer that Jews have prayed for centuries, declaring our belief in G‑d and in a better world – the prayer that so many Jewish martyrs throughout the generations called out as they were being led to their deaths.


         It was for his loved ones that Roi served in the special units of the Paratroop and Golani brigades. It was for them, and for the ideals represented by the Shema Yisroel prayer, that Roi diligently and courageously pursued his army service, advancing to the point where he would have been promoted to battalion commander.


         What a colossal contrast between Roi and his enemy!


         Roi was there to ensure a peaceful existence of his people in their homeland. He was there to safeguard the innocent lives of his children and his nation; to ensure that people could live in their homes in peace and tranquility; to guarantee that they could continue their ordinary day-to-day activities – activities like shopping in a mall without being blown to bits, like eating a family meal together in a pizza shop without worrying about flying shrapnel, like praying in a synagogue without having to run for cover in a bomb shelter or like sending their children on a school bus without thoughts of bullets penetrating within.


         Roi was there to defend his people against those who vowed their destruction. Even in his death, he sacrificed his own life to ensure that his comrades could live.


         Roi’s enemy was willing to die to bring death and mourning to as many as possible; Roi was willing to die to ensure life and liberty for others, to preserve a world in which Jews could pray to G-d in their synagogues, perform G-d’s commandments and make our world a better, more moral and more conscientious place.


         This is the third time in this last century that the Jewish people have found themselves on the front lines against those who sought their annihilation.


         For the Nazis, the Jew was a racial impurity to be exterminated like insects. For the Soviet communists, the Jewish religion was a thorn in their sides to be eradicated. And for the Islamic extremists, the Jew and his state must be eliminated from the face of the earth.


         Less than a century has passed since Jews fell in the Soviet gulag with the chant of Shema in their mouths for the mere “crime” of observing kashrut or Shabbat in their private lives. Over 65 years have passed since the echo of the Shema resonated in the Nazi gas chambers where Jews were suffocated and then burnt to ashes in the crematoriums just because they were born as Jews.


         And now Roi Klein follows in the path of these martyrs, dying with the cry of Shema on his lips in the act of defending his people from those who, yet again, wish to destroy them.


         A new synagogue being built in Givaat Shmuel, Israel and will be called “Gvurot Roi.” Members of the congregation have already donated $500,000 but $500,000 more is needed to complete our project.


         Please send your tax deductible donations to P.E.F., 6 Bellcourt Place, Livingston, N.J. 07039 USA. Please mark on your check: In Memory of Major Roi Klein, z”l.

Chana Weisberg

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/israeli-shul-to-be-named-after-hero/2007/02/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: