A new 2018-19 series of articles shared on the roots and the prospects that unite Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Traditions to the realm of Jewishness and Hassidism, Compared semantics and exegetical “paysages” by archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Below the fourteenth article: “Alive Beyond The Crime Without Name”.
Tracing back to the twentieth century, we feel in awe and fright: hundred years of programmed mass murders, disdain, disregard, despise and renewed hatred that swallowed millions of inmates. Transgressive attitudes of those who would herald that humankind could be “good”, whether “savage and concealed in primitive tribes” or so “developed… up-to-the-civilization” that nature, beauty, love, assistance and societal care could be real.
Frankly, the Homo Sapiens is an in-born serial Killer. It creeps along thousands of years as we can guess. At times, indeed, humans help each others, definitely. They mirror the way they could act, both in raw violence and soothing feelings.
The annual “27th of January” anniversary was dragged of some United Nations’ executives. It took time. It required years of debates to show that living memory should correct the lethal project to exterminate some individuals, families, human societal groups because of their supposed racial identity, religious, cultural, linguistic heritage. This climaxed in the 20th century with the opinion that just their “being” could condemn some “under-human/Untermensch” and “seriously, with full consciousness “require them to be erased from the world of the living.
The survivors of the Vilnius Ghetto accounted how a learned nazi, well-educated and a scholar asked to play the piano. He used to play with a real touch of virtuosity. Suddenly, a Jew came out of a hidden place and faced him. The nazi stopped playing. He asked who the man was. The poor soul looked at him and begged him to spare his life. The nazi continued to play with one hand and shot the guy with the other hand ruthlessly.
As in a paradox, Jesus of Nazareth declared in the Sermon of the Mount: “But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: that your alms be in secret: and your Father Who sees in secret himself shall reward you openly” (Matthew 6:3-4). What is the reward? There is another striking pericope in the Gospel: the sheep and the goats, the Nations and the righteous who are not aware that the King had been in need, naked, in prison, hungry and thirsty and are not aware whether they did good or acted wrongly (Matthew 25:31-40).
Of course, the nazi desperately showed how culture and transgenerational education in religious areas of the world can lead to true apostasy of divine and human nature and essence… and still conquer regions for a certain period of history, whatever collapse and crimes concerned. It makes no sense to focus on the sole German-nazi drifting-away wreckage. Criminal acts are to be found in all cultures and at all possible layers of so-called civilization or completude, if not plerome of being.
In 2005, thanks to the tenacity of Silvan Shalom, who represented the State of Israel, the United Nations adopted the day of liberation of the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Red Army as the “International Day” of commemoration … of the Jewish Holocaust, but that it also includes all the mass-murders and genocides committed over the 20th century.
The planned extermination of the Jewish people, as inscribed in the Scroll of Esther, became a “firm purpose” and the project of the “final solution” (Endlösung).
Would one speak of a “divine choice”? Or a mythic or substantial pact between the Creator and Satan, this obstructor of life as described in the prologue to the Book of Job: “Be! says the Lord to Satan, all his goods (of Job) are in your power. Only do not put the hand on him (= do not drive him crazy), and Satan went forth from the face of the Lord / וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-הַשָּׂטָן, הִנֵּה כָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ בְּיָדֶךָ-רַק אֵלָיו, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ; וַיֵּצֵא, הַשָּׂטָן, מֵעִם, פְּנֵי יְהוָה. “(Job 1, 12).
Who came out of such an “unspeakable” period that sealed devilish instincts over Europe and ended, with regards to Auschwitz, only 74 years ago? Satan, castrator of the soul, of life-giving sources, DNA and all flesh animated by rational thoughts or insane animæ? Was it a divine eclipse (Tsimtsum / צימצום) as if the King of the Universe could be abstracted from what He created that none of humans have ever shaped or conceived? Things are so difficult to fathom, but, indeed, raw-minded nations and individuals may have lost the feeling of Divine Presence.
Nowadays, living memories fade, fall asleep in the silence of the after-world, which invites the survivors, the new and future generations to invites the slow training of a patience that would lead us to span the centuries without judging or being duped by ourselves or others.
Some people no longer believe in gods or laws. Maybe some basic rules … not quite certain or self-ruled regulations, perhaps. Others have “cursed with bones” (klule put Beyner / קללה מיט ביינער) as we say in Yiddish. At times, whispers can be softly heard, quite low-sounding in ultra-religious circles. During World War II, the pious Jew had given a special nickname to the Hauptsturmführer who was in charge of delivering and checking the identity papers. They used the Hebrew-Yiddish phrase for “excommunicating” someone out the society of the living, the most terrible injunction ever: “May his name be erased from this world / yemakh shmo vezikhro me oyl’m haze = ימח שמו וזכרו מעולם הזה“.
Still, over decades, others had the duty or the habit, the tradition to laud the sanctity of the Great Name and the Reign of the Master of the universe, beyond time and space, often without any reasonable understanding of what they chanted: “Yisgaddal veisqaddash Shmey Rabbo \ יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא = What is magnified and sanctified His Great Name” (Yiddish pronunciation). Who knows the true Name? How can He pronounce in the world that He has created according to His will and not ours … and the creation continues to exist beyond good and evil. True, the Devil preempts dawn and dusk. The combat goes on.
“Let the madman be erased from the records of the asylum so that you take his place … and live”, have we to smile sometimes because even nonsense seems more real than morals and decency.
The Orthodox Path or, at least the traditions born to the Fertile Crescent thousand years ago, have it. Struggle for life directly faces the acting poison and attractiveness beyond reason and faith of devilish impulses. The Devil? A joke or some sort of a-gendered Baba-Yaga whose broom intrudes the souls and break the bones, make them crack.
Sadly, Shoah’s memory also drowns into Alzheimer’s symptoms. A kind of “dementia senilia” raising from the immaturity of civilizations far too young and who did not know how to integrate the mysteries of creation. Don’t ever think of being updated. Skeletons, bones, muscles and brains are seal according to agendas unscheduled by human beings.
I met with hundreds, yes, hundreds of individuals who came out of some camps. They could not prove anything, not even that they had survived legally. Many could not even certify their place of birth. At times, they had a paper bearing the scheduled date of their assassination. They had survived and could take the sheet.
At the present, Israel has only 200 000 souls who have survived the extermination camps. They came out of true “extermination = Shoah\שואה”. Linguistics describe sounds that are canceled and mute… the “shva”. The sounds do not disappear. They are on hold, concealed. They will show up in new phrases. The word “Holocaust” has been used in the West, but who would dare say that the frightful process of extermination of the Jews and, subsequently, of so many other human beings could be an offering? It sounds distorted. Yiddish prefers “Khurb’n/חורבן = Churban in Hebrew” that relates to the destruction of the Temple(s) of Jerusalem. It makes sense. In the Pirqey deRabbi Nathan, it is said “You are a temple of the spirit”, which corresponds to St Paul’s words: “What? Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit / ܕ݁ܩܽܘܕ݂ܫܳܐ ܕ݁ܪܽܘܚܳܐ ܗܽܘ ܗܰܝܟ݁ܠܳܐ ܦ݂ܰܓ݂ܪܟ݂ܽܘܢ – haykəlā hū dərūḥā dəqūḏšā dəᶜāmrā [Aramaic]”.
The West thought of the hideous period of modern history in terms of a sacrifice, a sacrificium, with some hidden connections to Jesus’ suffering and disappearance from the tomb as if on a stand-by that the Christian faith expresses in the resurrection of the Son of Man. Greek and Russian use another word: in both languages, the Shoah is mentioned as “Catastropha/καταστροφή and катастрофа”. In Greek, the word means “an overturning, a sudden end” as when something tramples down, turns down (kata-). Cata-strophe implies that (the fight) strives down.
It is found in the troparion of the resurrection after the Byzantine tradition, as in English: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death/Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν, θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας”. In the hapax – the single occurrence in history of the Endlösung project to erase all the Jews from the world – the sudden end had been planned to be real and without repentance (in contradiction to Romans 11:29). But the murdered Jews never came back. Some survivors still expect them.
We are all Cain’s heirs. The heritage runs along the ages, constantly reinvigorated by a powerful instinct for life. Still, it continuously remains overshadowed by death and forgetfulness. Murders are called by awful series of thirst and fascination for blood that blur into deep blindness and mental opacity. This is the price for witnessing to the Unspoken and Invisible One, though He is present everywhere.
The Yiddish poet, Avrom Sutzkever, was born in Smorgon in the suburb of Vilna in 1913. Maybe one of the most expressive and talented writers of his generation who perished in the flames, absorbed by crematories. He survived. A good example of the blown-up patterns of Europe a century ago. Vilne was Yiddish for Vilna, the Jerusalem of the North for the Jews, i.e. the extension of Poland and Lithuanian ancient identity that ran over present-day Belarus and some portions of Great-Russia. A. Sutzkever never knew Vilnius as the capital of the independent State of Lithuania. In Yiddish, the country is “Lite/ליטע”. At this point, we reach to the monologued dialogue [Einsame Zwiesprache as the Swiss theologian Hans-Urs von Balthasar called it].
Who knows that, in Yiddish, no one ever wore a “golden yellow star of David” but a “Yellow patch = a gele late/א געלע לאטע, i.e. ” a yellow patch”? Leon Poliakov published a book with this title in 1952… Avrom Sutzkever, a Pole in a former Russian Empire, had clutches with the Austrian-Hungarian lands and lived in Omsk (Siberia). There, he got the strong influence of the Kyrgyz-Turkish language. A Vilno Jewish child could only see crystal stars in the sky and in the snow that later got confused and misunderstood as the prestigious Shield and Star of David of the glorious and divine sign of redemption. The infamy of the patch has nothing to do with the Star and the messianic King David. Minds and peoples were estranged from who they pretended to be.
In 1945, Avrom Sutzkever who had befriended with the Soviet Yiddish intelligentsia was asked by the URSS representatives to testify on behalf of Russian Jewry at the Nuremberg Trials. He asked to intervene in Yiddish. The Russian judges refused and he testified in Russian. The writer’s language that had been silenced in the flames of planned extermination and whose greatest known poet A. Sutzkever was cut a swathe away from the vast lands of the survivors.
When they entered Auschwitz-Birkenau, the officially “atheistic” soldiers discovered about eight thousand poor wretches in barracks in ruins. Such was and remains the grandeur of the Red Army solemnly remembered without humor or derision, by the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia when he laid a wreath of flowers on Yad VaShem in July 2013. He insisted on the salvific action of the Soviet Army whose multi-national soldiers liberated the camps, notably that of Auschwitz-Birkenau, with the help of some Jewish partisans “who then left the Red Army”… (for British mandatory Palestine…).
Could he say more? No.
The burden of history can only be measured by the density of silences. No one is able or allowed to compel reluctant souls to admit crimes.
Who can become aware of what really happened in those Polish lands branded with the Jewish blood of redemption?
So, true, there is the silence. In Hebrew, silence is “dom/דום” versus “dam/דם = blood”. Both are speechless. Still, they include and convey true memories of who we are. A silence that I have met all my life, – being myself a survivor of these and other tragedies – just like many other survivors of all generations. Silence is the treasure that links the living and the dead. Silence allows at times to make things very quiet. It scrolls down the veracity of history along the ages. There is the Word of God, indeed. Our task is to cope and manage His grammar and the lexicon. The Word is more explicit than those eventually uttered by human brains and the Lord passes beyond the places where scrutinize remainders, survivors and new technical or moral “toys = spiltzeyg/שפילצייג” (A. Sutzkever’s poem).
There is a special text supposedly written by Yossel Ben Yossel Rakover of Ternopol, written while the Warsaw Ghetto was on fire and he was about to die. It was published by Avrom Sutzkever in the wonderful Yiddish Tel Avivian review “The Golden Chain – Di Goldene Keyt/ די גאלדנע קייט” ]. It ascertained: “You God, you can take me my wife, my children, … I will die in a few minutes, but, well, in spite of You, despite You, I will continue to believe in You”.
That’s what we lived throughout the past 74 years whilst moral and physical stench spread throughout the world.
Auschwitz does not designate the Jews alone … There were Gypsies, Slavs, disabled and mentally ill, communists, gays and lesbians, transsexuals and others … including many very authentic Christians of all denominations and fervent communists.
This can be quite problematic. In 2018, we commemorated the centennial of the birth of the Literature Nobel Prize Awarded author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, born on December 11, 1918.
The 20th century has been marked by chains of progressive genocides. Mass-murders on long-distance culturally scheduled and programmed thirst of power and conquest. The madness of Shark Island where Nama’s and Herreros were trapped in the first concentration camps of Namibia.
South Africa where the Boers were parked, their farms destroyed by the tactics of the scorched earth, causing famine among the black populations (1902), then the mass murders against the Armenians, the Assyrians and the Pontic Greeks of the Middle-East (1915-1926), the Holodomor or the systematic hunger mass-murder of the populations of Ukraine that has politically been programmed extermination (1932-1935), the continuous assassination and hatred developed towards the Sinti, Gypsies, the Roma’s.
We entered the sophisticated technical era of “genocide” as defined by Dr. Rafael Lemkin, a prosecutor and lawyer, at the Nuremberg Trials. He had first described the Armenian mass-murder, he witnessed the Holodomor in Ukraine as the project of eradication of human beings. In 1941, he had heard on the radio the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill about the horrors of World War II: “Whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands – literally scores of thousands – of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police troops. We are in the presence of a crime without a name”.
The word “Genocide” was hardly accepted then. It spread with semantic swindling meanings. It became common, showing as reality can be blurred, considered as mean.
We are still in the presence of a crime without name. The eradication or jealous superseding of Jewishness traces back to most ancient wounds and memories retained in the Oral and Written Laws. Their specificity cannot be denied.
On the other hand, cruelty and maddening crimes “without a name” do question all the nations, faiths, creeds, civilizations because these mass-murders often attack those who believe in the Name, the Holy One.
The huge work and of Alexander Solzhenitsyn as described in his books, in particular “The Gulag Archipelago/Архипелаг ГУЛАГ”, firstly published in December 1973, accounted the lives of millions of demeaned inmates, enslaved and crushed destinies. The Russian author attempted to compile a literary-historical record of the vast system of prisons and labor camps that came into being shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia (1917) and that underwent an enormous expansion during the rule of Stalin (1924–53).
As seven decades have passed, silence makes living memories speechless. At this point, the question is similar to Avrom Sutzkever’s “shut-up” silence to speak his language as a true witness. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s language compels to enter the profundity of the Russian language, its in-depth creativity born of the Slavic treasury. As if the reality of servitude and murder could turn the language into some special secret tongue requiring heavy efforts to reach out to real understanding.
Avraham Sutzkever was a traveler. He visited South Africa and wrote poems showing connections between South African sceneries and European landscapes. His book “Helfandn bay nakht-העלפאנדן ביי נאכט\Elephants at Night, 1955) has it: beauty and wild animals, ancient trees and a spirit. This remained maybe unnoticed, but, down there at the Goeie Hoop/Cape of Good Hope, the Afrikaans language used by the descents of the Boers, a creolized African and Dutch isolated tongue, somehow expressed the loneliness and singularity of Yiddish in a context that sways between the hush of multitudes of tribes and the Don Quixotesque cloud-cuckoo-land.
The Orthodox Church has the task to review the theological dramas that stamped out millions of most diversified souls, humans of flesh and blood. The Orthodox Church cannot reduce the Catastrophe to traditional ethnicities tempted to drowning into processes of fragmentation. The immeasurable number of the martyrs over one single century obliges to consider how we all can act with decency and true faith.
The Orthodox Church brings a special word of hope beyond any hope in the Paschal celebration of the resurrection as the gate of the church is closed:
“Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee from before His face (Ps. 68:1) – As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire (Ps. 68:2a) – So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad (Ps. 68:2b) – This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps. 118:24).
As the gates of the church open, the voices roar with joy: “Christ is risen from the dead, / Trampling down death by death, / And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”.
These words do change our “human essence” to the point that we would never harm any soul, any animal, any plant and understand that these words are sealed in the ancient and new Jewish blessing (Amidah, 18 Benedictions along the day): “… He sustains the living with loving-kindness, and with great compassion revives the dead… He keeps His faith with those who sleep in the dust (i.e. of Hebron, the Tomb of the Ancestors)… Faithful to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Lord, Who revives the dead (mechayyeh hammetim/מחיה המתים)”. Human, humane companionship is revealed in how we trust that the Lord entrusts us the responsibility that “(you) can discover with all the holy, what is the height and depth and length and breadth of His love” (Ephesians 3:18).