THE FALL OF “MASADA” OF WESTERN UKRAINE (OCTOBER/2011)
Even before the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, the Germans needed armored vehicles to break the fierce resistance of unarmed Jews in one of the Ukrainian cities. They went to their death singing the Soviet hymns and the ancient prayers. About them, nobody in Israel, Russia and Ukraine prefer to remember …
Last week in Germany and in Israel were just two conferences about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust heritage. Berlin Forum hosted the World Congress of Russian-speaking Jews, under the chairmanship of Senator Russian Boris Spiegel. Jerusalem Conference included the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Participants in both events had many experts on the history of the Holocaust and World War II, from Israel, the CIS and the West. Among them were representatives of the memorial center “Yad Vashem”. Organizers of both forums, especially the Berlin conference, pre-stated desire to focus on the heroism of the Jews against the backdrop of the Holocaust. At the same Spiegel had placed particular emphasis on the glorification of official Kyiv of the Ukrainian nationalists who participated in the extermination of Jews.
But neither in Jerusalem nor in Berlin, no one even remembered that exactly 69 years ago, in December 1942, in the western Ukraine, there was one of the first rebellions, when the regular part of the Wehrmacht, the SS special forces and troops of Ukrainian Nationalists encountered fierce resistance of unarmed Jews. In the labor camp in Lutsk 500 Jewish men, whose parents, wives and children had already been assassinated, decided to die in battle, knowing that they have no chance, not to win, but at least survive. This happened four months before the start of the famous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
This was also an uprising, Soviet Jews raised in the western Ukrainian town of Lutsk in the Volyn region, and unfortunately, this fact was virtually forgotten by all. Even on the website “Yad Vashem” one of the first attempts of organized Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, are devoted to this historical fact only some six lines. Even less space was devoted to “Lutsk rebellion” in the monumental encyclopedic work “The Holocaust in the USSR”, published in 2009 in Moscow. So why the Volyn “Masada” was “unnecessary” for the Israeli and Russian heritage, not to mention the Ukrainian “epic poem”?
This is due to the geographic location of Lutsk, considering that in September 1939 were rejected by the Red Army from Poland, and the political views of the participants in the uprising, attacked with machine guns and defending themselves with Soviet hymns and a prayer “Shema Yisrael” on their lips …
Lutsk was one of the oldest and largest centers of Jewish settlements in the Western Ukraine. The Jewish community existed here as early as the 14th century. In the same city there was one of the first major synagogues of the Volyn region, built in 1626-28 years (the Nazis turned it into a storehouse of things stolen from the Jews, after the war the Soviet authorities – in the sports complex). By the late 19th century, Jews made up about 60% of urban population. As well as throughout Eastern Europe in the next few decades, young Jews of Lutsk overwhelmed the political passions. Jewish boys and girls were divided into those who dreamed of distant Palestine, and who raved about the world revolution. The latter was clearly more. In 1917 – 20’s Bolshevik underground of Lutsk consisted almost entirely of Jews. Then the socialists and the Zionists built their first units of the Jewish self-defense. Later, someone moved in Soviet Russia or in Palestine, joined other radical leftist groups in all sorts of Poland and western Ukraine. The remaining Zionists were repressed after the NKVD Soviet government in the autumn of 1939. Those who did not manage to exile in Siberia, were held in Lutsk prison. Part of it contains members of the Zionist organizations were destroyed during the mass executions of prisoners committed by the security officers June 22, 1941 the second, before going out of town. The rest at the same time managed to escape and six months later, some of them participated in the “Lutsk rebellion.”
June 26, before the Nazis came, Ukrainian nationalists began to destroy the Jews. At that time the Jewish population of Lutsk was about 20,000 people, including indigenous people, but there were many refugees from Poland and Lithuania. Moreover, much of the Jewish men trying to escape were mobilized into the army.
In August 1941, amid the frenzied propaganda of Ukrainian nationalists in Lutsk, were introduced draconian restrictions for Jews. In October, the Germans seized 500 Jewish workers and artisans, who were placed in a separate “work camp” located in a former Jewish school. In December, all the others were herded into the ghetto. In August-September 1942, the vast majority of Jews in Lutsk, 17,000 people were killed. 12 December of the same year, entered the order to eliminate “labor camp”. Germans and Ukrainians moved to the building of the former school to hold a regular everyday massacre of the helpless “Yids.” As it happened four months before the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, and they had no idea that the Jews were able to provide an organized resistance. Further events are recreated in the best memories of one of the few surviving participants in the uprising, Shmuel Shilo from Kibbutz Tseelim preserved in the Book of Memory of Lutsky Jews “Sefer Lutsk” (page 519, further translation from Hebrew):
“… When all the people seized by despair, rose tinsmith Moses, and his hoarse voice announced:” Tamut nafshi plishtim them! (The famous phrase of Samson, which are: die with their enemies). Jews do not go like sheep to the slaughter! Grab axes, knives, and everything that comes to hand, and die with honor! Anyone who tries to hide and would not support the uprising – will be killed! “. Most of the Jews, and the first – the members of an organized group, followed him. Courage, hidden in the depths of the soul, broke out. All joy swept the doomed. On the tables there were products that stored in a “black day” and started the last meal. vodka bottles were passed around the circle. Drunkenness before the fight sparked the heart, and the Jews, who only hours ago walked with bowed heads, now standing proud and ready to be a terrible fight. Only in one corner, a handful of Jews, dressed in a “tallit,” said a prayer …
Fences were erected near the door, everyone was working tools and a bottle of acid. Tables dismantled, and the legs of them were used as clubs. The inner wall was destroyed, erecting barricades of stone blocks …
Dawn heralded the beginning of a terrible day.
… Suddenly there was a cry of one of the guys: “Death to the Germans”, and wooden beams, stone blocks, bottles of acid thrown on the heads of the gendarmes, and with them the wild cries: “Blood! Blood for blood!”. Wounded policemen retreated. Acid deprived of their commander! The policemen are scattered around the camp, looked shocked and scared. Their fear hit! Joy illusory victory spread among the Jews, who as one rushed to the stairs – the fight. With great difficulty, Moses forced them to return to their seats.
The second attack was also repulsed.
Since the beginning of the third attack was decided to rush to the chain of policemen surrounding the camp, and perish in the melee. The brothers began to say goodbye to each other. Strong long handshake. Detached view.
“Shema Yisrael” – whispered many mouths before the last shot. Sounded team building and embraced the flames. With loud singing began throwing one after another before the distorted grimace in fear of the Ukrainians. Chain gendarmes wavered and began to retreat. And the guys covered madness, climbing to a high barbed-wire fence … In my ears the roar of machine guns rattled and the intermittent singing of the Soviet anthem. The mass of crazed guys climbed on the barbed wire and machine gun fire tore them to pieces …. “
According to information center “Yad Vashem” in suppressing the uprising, were not only Ukrainian police units, but the German units. To break the furious resistance of nearly unarmed Jews they needed armor. Several participants of the rebellion miraculously survived.
About the Volyn “Masada” there isn’t a single mention in any of Israeli books on the Holocaust, nor so popular in Russia, books on World War II. The memory of the “Lutsk rebellion” was for all others. The participants were “non-normative” fighters against the Nazis. For the Israeli, they are strangers – “Russian” infected with the bacillus of communism, which went to their death by singing the Soviet anthems before the fight and drank vodka. For Russians, they are also others – Jews “not native” Soviet territories, including the Zionists and religious Jews, who died not for the power and defend their own national pride. About the Ukraine’s opinion it is better to avoid commenting.