Wednesday, July 02, 2014

`A Shadow Upon the Sunlight'

“A crime has been committed so black that it casts a shadow upon the sunlight. When the world shall hear what has happened, humanity will sicken at heart, civilization will despair, liberty will vow vengeance.” 

These are the words of an anonymous survivor of the Easter 1903 pogrom in Kishinev, then the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire, now the capital of Moldova. The original was written in Hebrew, mailed to friends in the United States, published in the May 22, 1903, edition of the Minneapolis Journal, and cited by C.S. Monaco in The Rise of Modern Jewish Politics (Routledge, 2013). For two days, beginning April 6, Christians rampaged through the city’s Jewish quarter, robbing and killing. The newspapers, unapologetically anti-Semitic, had been accusing Kishinev’s Jews of ritually slaughtering Christian children, the familiar blood libel. Fifty-one people were killed, forty-nine of them Jews (thirty-eight males, eleven females), and 120 children were orphaned. Photographs of the victims, many of them children, are harrowing. In Easter in Kishinev: Anatomy of a Pogrom (New York University Press, 1992), Edward H. Judge makes clear the slaughter was not spontaneous or unplanned. The police did little to stop the rioting, and the following day was even bloodier: 

“…the crowds move from commercial into residential districts, attacking the homes, apartments, and residences of local Jews. And during that day the attacks against property turned into atrocities against persons, manifesting themselves in beatings, bludgeonings, and murders. Meanwhile, at least until late afternoon, local authorities did little to contain the violence or stop the terrible carnage.” 

In a statement delivered on Monday after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenage boys were found in the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited a line from one of the poems Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) wrote about the massacre, “On the Slaughter.” This is from the translation by Atar Hadari (Songs from Bialik, Syracuse University Press, 2000): 

“Such a vengeance, the vengeance for a small child’s blood
--Satan himself never dreamed—
And blood will fill all space!” 

As Mitch Ginsburg, the writer of the Times of Israel story, notes, this is the first line of that final stanza: “And cursed be he who cries vengeance!” In C.N. Bialik: Selected Poems (Overlook Duckworth, 2004), David Aberbach translates the same lines from the poem’s final stanza: 

“Cursed be he who cries: Avenge!
Such vengeance, of a child’s blood
Satan has not yet devised—
let the blood seep to the depth!”  

Within days of the pogrom, Bialik was sent by the Jewish Historical Commission in Odessa to interview survivors and prepare a report. Before returning to Odessa he wrote “On the Slaughter,” and the following year he published a poem of more than four hundred lines variously translated as “In the City of Slaughter” and “City of the Killings.” In Bialik (Peter Halban, 1988), Aberbach writes of the latter poem: 

“The publication of this poem in Bialik’s Hebrew and Yiddish versions and in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s superb Russian translation had a galvanizing impact on Russian Jewry. This poem, more than any other, cemented Bialik’s reputation as the national poet of the Jewish people.” 

Aberbach also puts the pogrom into the larger context of twentieth-century Jewish history: 

“By the time of the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, the Zionist Organization had found its main grass roots support in the Pale of Settlement. With over 1500 Zionist societies, the Russian Jews were by far the largest group in the movement. Their identification with Zionism was a gauge of their insecurity in Russia. Like the first wave of pogroms in 1881, the second outbreak set off a wave of Aliyah [Hebrew for ascent, referring to the immigration of Jews to Israel] which lasted until the start of the First World War. During this time about 40,000 highly motivated Jewish immigrants, mostly Russian, entered Turkish Palestine.” 

[See the Canadian poet David Solway on Bialik, Kishinev and, more than a century later, the uninterrupted murder of Jews.]

1 comment:

The Sanity Inspector said...

And I wept and said to myself: Away with the tears!
The sorrow will cease but the graveness will remain!
The graveness will remain, it will seep into the well of the world
like a prophecy, like holy scriptures -
Do not cry, do not weep ...
Eighty million murderers* will atone for one worried child in Israel!
-- Yitzhak Katzenelson, "The First Ones"

*i.e., Germany