It all started with words. Hitler declaring that German-speaking Austrians are thirsting to unite with Germany. After immense pressure on the Austrian government, Hitler got consent for the Anschluss (unification). Then followed Czechoslovakia, where allegedly the Sudetendeutschen expressed their desire to unite with Germany. Then followed the Munich agreement with Chamberlain, who accepted the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the most democratic country in Europe at that time. Said Chamberlain upon his return from Munich “I believe it is ‘peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.” I don’t know about the British, but I am sure that Hitler had a good night’s sleep after listening to this. And he woke up with an appetite to incorporate eastern Prussia into Germany, and for that purpose had to attack Poland, which had a corridor leading to the Baltic Sea.
We all know the rest of the story. Hitler’s pact with Stalin included a secret agreement to divide Poland. When Hitler attacked Poland in September, 1939, half of Polish Jewry fell under the control of the Nazis. Eighteen months later, in June of 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, and within a few days the Germans arrived in my hometown in the vicinity of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. This was the beginning of “hell on earth” for my family and for millions of other Jews, a time in which I witnessed acts of cruelty that are so inexplicable that when someone today says “I understand,” I can only respond that the experience of those who were witnesses is completely beyond human comprehension.
There are so many familiar words and sounds resonating in the present situation that I have become alarmed. I am in no way implying that the current Russian government can be compared to the Nazis. These are different times. But one would expect a member of the UN Security Council to avoid creating flashpoints such as the situation in the Ukraine. It seems to me that Russia is failing to live up to its leadership responsibilities and contribute to peace.
There is no substantive evidence that Russian-speakers are being harassed or discriminated against in Ukraine. Words of hate and fear lead to death and destruction. I hope and pray that sanity will prevail, that we will remember the lessons of history, and that there will be a truly peaceful resolution to this crisis.