The heroism displayed by Mr, Zelenksyy, the Ukrainian President in the war against Mr. Putin’s Russia, reminds me of a situation that I confronted as a teen-ager. While working at a summer job, I had been bullied by two older teens for no real reason except perhaps it had given them something to do while not working. Although not harmful, their obnoxious behavior, such as spraying me with water, I found extremely humiliating. I may have reinforced their ugly conduct by not responding to it with the wish that, somehow magically, it would cease. Another guy that had little to do with them told me in the past they had done similar things to him but he would respond to them in kind and suggested I do the same. My desire to appease, rather than risk what I thought might make things worse, steered me away from his advice. Besides, I reasoned because he was a lot bigger than I and as big if not bigger than the others, that his reaction may have dissuaded them. I thought if I put on a smile and greeted them with as much kindness as I could offer, this might cause them to treat me better. But as you already might have surmised, whatever good cheer I may have sent their way had no effect in mitigating their actions.
It only got worse. Toward the end of one day, I noticed that the more obnoxious of the two bullies was looking at me along with some others as I took my lunch pail from the truck where I worked. Because water was leaking out of it, I immediately understood why they were staring at me. At this moment, I was irate and what ensued, happened very quickly. Without contemplating the consequences, I hurled the water from the container at my agitator with some of it hitting him. My action took everybody by surprise. As he angrily dried off, a fellow that knew us both beckoned to me, unfurled a hose in the main station, where we would clock out at the end of the day, just in time as my nemesis entered the room. Taking the hose from the other’s hand I aimed it directly at my assailant–while he ran toward me–drenching him. We bear hugged for a moment, and then some of the full-time employees broke up the fight. The staff in charge of our assignments placed us on different teams, and I never was picked on or harassed after that occurrence.
What I learned from this incident was that I had received the support of others only after I was willing to stand up for myself. The remarkable and heroic gestures of Mr. Zelenskyy, the Jewish leader of the Ukraine, in summoning his people to resist the Russian attack on his country, has unified the West in assisting the Ukrainians in their struggle. Similar to what had happened to me, I don’t think the world would have acted in the manner they did if the Ukrainians had given in to Putin’s forces without fighting back. Mr. Zelenskyy has shown extraordinary courage and skill in remaining on the scene while rallying his troops. Moreover, he has utilized technology to show the world how the Russians are bombing civilian sites such as hospitals and buildings. These pictures send a message to the world of the ruthless and immoral actions of the Russian soldiers.
Putin’s call to his army to de-Nazify the Ukraine, as absurd as it is, brings up memories of Babi Yar, a ravine in Zelenskyy’s Kyiv where Jewish people suffered one of the worst massacres at the hands of the Nazis. Before he seized power in 1933, Hitler believed the Jews operating from Moscow were responsible for the spread of a communist conspiracy that threatened the existence of Germany. These were the underlying reasons why he invaded Russia in 1941, after signing the non-aggression pact with Stalin in 1939, and, subsequently, systematically oversaw the murder of 6 million Jews. Stalin, in fact, was said to be in disbelief when Hitler attacked his country. In Babi Yar, 33,771 Jews were killed in two days, September 29th to the 30th in 1941.
Twenty years later the Russian poet, Yevtushenko, memorialized this spot in his poem Babi Yar. In this famous poem, his concluding lines were the following:
There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated I a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew
And that is why I call myself a Russian.
What the poet is saying is that although he is not Jewish by birth, he can only call himself a Russian if he is recognized as a Jew. His poem conveys the need of the Russian people to drop any past hostilities (e.g. pogroms) toward Jews before they truly can call themselves Russian.
The idea behind these words, though beautiful, we know never came to fruition. Throughout his reign, Stalin believed, like Hitler, there was a Jewish conspiracy that stemmed from the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” a fabricated antisemitic text, first published in Russia in 1903. It described a Jewish plan for global domination and was translated into many languages. Later, according to the historian, Robert Wistrich, in place of the myth of Jewish Bolshevism, the Soviet Communists created the equally untruthful thesis of Jewish Nazism. Mr. Putin, a commander in the former KGB, I am sure heard this. Russian Jews that I have met all have told me how glad they were to emigrate to America. I’m afraid the hope expressed by Yevtushenko is far removed from the reality of past and present-day Russia.
Let us hope and pray that Mr. Zelenskyy and the Ukraine somehow will prevail. Many Russian soldiers have little idea what they are fighting about. Ukrainians know only too well what this war is about: Freedom and possession of their homeland.