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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 24, 200_n -Q By Adam Kirsch NEW YORK (NEXTBO()K)--A week be- fore Germany's invasion of Poland. Hitler reportedly urged his generals to slaughter civilians--Slavs and Jews. the two most hated groups in Nazi ideology--without mercy. "After all," he flippantly asked. "who remembers the Armenians?" In fact. the attempted geno- cide of the Armenians by the Turks during the First World Warwas verywell documented. at the time and ever since. Hen- ry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the massacres. wrote at length in his memoirs about this attempt to wipe an entire population off the face of the earth. The word genocide had not yet been coined, but that is clearly what happened in Armenia between 1915 and 1918; in fact. Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish activist who coined ttie term. had the Arme- nian example in mind. Yet it is true that the Arme- nian genocide has not entered into America's common cul- tural memory in the same way as the Nazi Holocaust. In part that is because it took place in the Ottoman Empire. from which few Americans come. rather than in Europe, where many Americans have their roots; in part it is because the U.S. never fought the Ot- tomans in World War I. as it did the Germans in World War II: in part it is because of the greater prominence of Jews than Armenians in American life. And sadly, it is also due to the continuing refusal of the Turkish government to acknowledge the crimes of its predecessor state, thus creating an illusion of con- troversy about a history that no historians doubt. (When the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk spoke publicly about the Armenian genocide, he was charged with the crime of"insulting Turkishness' and forced to flee abroad.) In 2007, the Anti-Defa- mation League was rightly embroiled in scandal when it supported the Turkish govern- ment's plea to the U.S. Con- gress notto officially recognize the Armenian genocide. (After much controversy, the director of the ADL. Abraham Foxman. tempered his stance.) For. as manywriters urged at the time. it is surely incumbent upon Jews. above all, to remember theArmenians, whose oblivion Hitler counted on. That is why the publication of "Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir oftheArmenian Geno- cide. 1915-1918" is especially noteworthy for Jewish readers. In this eyewitness account of the genocide, written in 1918 and now translated into Eng- lish for the first time, Grigoris Balakian offers an Armenian equivalent to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors like Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. Balakian, a priest of the Ar- menianApostolic Church. was deported from Constantinople inApri11915, alongwith a large group of Armenian intellectu- als and community leaders. For the next three years, until Turkey's defeat and surrender in September 1918, Balakian lived constantly under the shadow of death. Exiled, sent on forced marches, threatened by bandits and government officials, starved and sick. he managed to survive only by a combination of luck, daring, the corruption and inef- ficiency of Turkish officials. and the support of righteous non-Armenians who hid and fed him. As Balakian, along with his fellow deportees, was sent from place to place, he wit- nessed and heard about the unbelievable horrors inflicted on the Armenians of Turkey. The Ottoman state was far less powerful and organized than the Nazis' would be; it did not have the resources to build gas chambers, or even the railways to bring people to them. The mechanics of mass murder, then, were primitive and face to face. Armenian deportees were attacked by mobs and groups of bandits armed with axes and farm tools, much as in the Hutu massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda. Balakian records many scenes of Armenians being tortured, mutilated and decapitated, of babies torn apart by soldiers, of women raped dozens of times until they died; he shows us fields of decomposing corpses and hills of bones and skulls. Most of those who survived these organized attacks succumbed to starvation and illness. In total, an estimated 1.2 million Armenians died. The enmity between Chris- tian Armenians and Muslim Turks was of long standing, dating back to the Middle Ages, when Turkish invaders had conquered the ancient king- dom of Armenia in Asia Minor. . By the 20th century, most of the other Christian subject populations of the Ottoman Empire in Bulgaria, Roma- nia, Greece and ,Serbia had broken free of the sultan's rule. TheArmenians. however, lived in the heartland of Turkey and were deeply integrated into the region's economy. Rather like the Jews of Poland, they served as merchants and craftsmen to the mainly rural Mus- lim population; also like the Jews. they attracted envy and hatred. In one terribly ironic passage, Balakian notes that "German officers [stationed in Turkey] would often speak of us as Christian Jews and blood-sucking usurers of the Turkish people.'" One signal difference be- tween the Jewish and the Armenian cases, however, is that the Armenians had a comparatively recent history of sovereignty and strong hopes for regaining an indepen- dent Armenian state. Many Armenians lived across the border in Russia. the Christian power thatwas historically the greatest foe of the Ottoman Empire. When the First World War broke out. the Russian Armenians and some Turkish Armenian rebels took up arms against Turkey. This offered the pretext for the Ottoman government to undertake a "final solution" to the Arme- nian problem, by annihilating the entire population, men. women and children. (And it was a pretext: As Balakian notes, the vast majority of Turkish Armenians were to- tally uninvolved in the war.) Balakian writes that he was already worried about the in- tentions of the Turks before the war started and tried to alert his superiors in the Church. But "no one gave any credence to the possibility of such a huge political plan, because in hu- man l~istory from prehistoric times, there had never been a forced displacement of an entire nationality. But as we will unfortunately see, that which had seemed impossible to everyone at that time, and even became a subject of deri- sion, became possible during the world war. as did a litany of other tragic and criminal events." Like Hitler during the Second World War. the Turkish government used the First World War to cover and justify a scale of killing that was unimaginable in ordinary times. Readers familiar with the literature of the Holocaustwill read Armenian Golgotha with a combination of recognition and estrangement. Many of the events Balakian writes about could be taking place in Poland or the Ukraine 20 years late.r= Again and again, we hear about ~now Turkish policemen would tell the residents ofavillage to assemble for a long journey, herd people into carriages, then drive them to a remote spot, where they would be murdered and their posses- sions divided up among the murderers. Armenians were told that they were simply being relocated to the Syrian desert province ofDer Zor, just as Jews were told that they were being resettled in the East; the name of Der Zor takes on, in Balakian's account, the same aura of nightmare and death that "the East" did for Jewish victims. Balakian even wonders, as have some Jewish observers of the Holocaust. why more of the victims did not fight back. "They had the psychology of a herd of dumb sheep, go- ing to their death without complaint," he complains about one group of deportees who failed to seize the chance to flee. Yet as the title of "Arme- nian Golgotha" suggests, Balakian's story has a unique religious and political context. Victims of the Holocaustwere often brought to question the Library of Congress. Prints and Photographs Division, George Grantham Bain Collection "Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918" is an eyewitness account written in 1918 and now translated into English. existence of God. and even the possibility of meaning and order in the universe. Primo Levi famously wrote about Auschwitz as a place where "there is no why." But Balakian viewed even the worst trials of his people as a prelude to the rebirth of an independent Armenia--a crucifixion that would be followed by resurrection. In one astonishing passage, he remembers how he and some fellow Armenians, meeting secretly during the war, "got so excited that we started to draw the borders of tomor- row's liberated Armenia on a map.., and calculate the num- ber of surviving Armenians." This national faith went hand in hand with Balakian's un- broken Christian faith: "But no matter, for hadn't Christ suffered? Hadn't he been tortured? Wasn't he betrayed because he preached justice in this world, while perhaps justice could only be celestial and eternal, not worldly?" Moments like these make clear that even genocide did not destroy Balakian's faith or his belief in his nation's fu- ture. He was, after all, a senior clergyman in the Armenian Church, and throughout his wanderings he was treated by other Armenians as a leader. He writes movingly of the burdens of that role--having to remain rational and inspi- rational when he. too, was hungry and afraid. Yetwithout his sense of vocation, Balakian would doubtless never have survived to write this terrible, necessary book. "'Like many who were going to die," he recalls about one man he encountered, "the late Hamamjian often asked me to chronicle this tragic story of the Armenian Golgotha. And with this account, I think I have executed the will of those who are no more." Adam Kirsch is the author of "Benjamin Disraeli, " a new bi- ography in Nextbook's Jewish Encounters series. Reprinted from Nextbook.org, a new read on Jewish culture. \. courtesy ofj. the Jewish weekly of northern california Tad Taube (center) at the Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, Poland. By Dan Pine j. the Jewish weekly of northern California SAN FRANCISCO -Tad Taube assumes most people are familiar with the six years of Polish history when millions of Jews died in the Holocaust. Now he wants everyone to know about the preceding 1,.000 years, when Jewish life in Poland thrived. The founder of the Bel- mont, Calif.-based Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture recently launched Poland Jewish Heritage Tours. What trav- elers get is a 12-day taste of Poland's vanished Jewish past--it once was home to millions Jews, Europe's largest Jewish population-- and its reborn Jewish pres- ent. "The Holocaust was such an overwhelming act, it tends to blind people to ev- erything else," said Taube. "Most of the contributions by the Jewish people to philosophy, science, math. theater, every facet of human endeavor, actually developed during that 1.000 years in Poland. It's a huge contri- bution to the culture oLthe Western world." Tours will be scheduled year-round, but the first of- ficial Poland Jewish Heritage Tour departs this summer. Itineraries can be custom- ized, but most will include sites of Jewish historical significance in Polish cities, as well as day trips to the mountains. Participants also will engage in meetings with Jewish leaders, politicians and the media, and will go on outings to cultural events, synagogues, restored Jewish cemeteries and, yes, former concentration camps. But Taube insists the emphasis will not be on the Holocaust. new way "The emphasis of these tours," he said, "is to expose those that join us to the incredible changes taking place in Poland." He cited the govern- ment's sponsorship of the new $90 million Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. being funded in part by the Taube and Koret foundations. The Festival of Jewish Culture. which takes place every summer in Krakow and will be included on some tours, is one of the largest of its kind worldwide. Moreover. Poland remains a staunch ally of Israel. Shana Penn and Ron Wex- ler ar pl-aying key roles in or- ganizing the Poland Jewish Heritage Tours along with a team of Jewish educators, scholars and experts. Penn is the executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture who has done extensive research on modern Poland; Wexler is a scholar of Jewish history with 30 years of experience in the cultural tourism industry. "You don't really get to understand the dramatic and positive changes in Poland." said Penn. "unless you actu- ally go and see the places where these 10 centuries of Jewish life existed." With large numbers of American Jews tracing their ancestry, at least in part, back to Poland, Penn said'the tours will offer a genealogi- cal component, withtrained Polish genealogists on hand to help participants retrace the steps of their forebears. Working with distin- guished Polish educators and historians, Taube and Penn tried to make sure they did not launch a glorified travel agency. Rather, Penn said, "We look at this as a much-needed educational resource and a new kind of cultural tour experience." Early converts to the importance of such tours include Skip and Linda Law. a South Bay Jewish couple that traveled to Poland in 2005 on a Taube-organized trip. It was "a profound experi- ence," said Linda Law. She said highlights included "Theodore Bikel singing in the 900:year-old temple, conversations with partici- pants, small group digcus- sions--especially with Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.'7 The trip "gave me a deeper understanding of and con- nection to Judaism." That's exactly the type of reaction Taube hope others will experience on a Poland Jewish Heritage Tour. "It's very negative to have a disconnect in history that stops in 1945," Taube said. "So we've been working on putting back the pieces." For more information on Poland Jewish Heritage Tours. call 1-800-355-9994 or visit http://www.Polan- dJewishHeritageTours.com. Reprintedwith permission from j. the Jewish weekly of northern California, www. jewishscom.