—excerpts from an essay-requiem—
By Lev I. Libov

Translated by Ronald Bruce Meyer

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...The "Black Book" revealed to me one episode after another...

A line to the village well...

A teacher well known to me, who lived before World War Two at a different Jewish collective farm, disclosed the details of the death of those who weren't evacuated, believing in their neighbors' friendship and in the civility of the Germans. In the village, not far from a nice town, there were two old wells built in the atmosphere of mutual help, work, and festivities dedicated to the building of every new house.

"Civilized" Nazis (Germans), and their assisting collaborator-henchmen, forced all Jews to run to those two wells, and ordered to form two "lines." There were kids, teenagers, old men and women there. Then a command followed that was normal for such "purges": "Everybody get undressed, make accurate piles of your clothing, remove all jewels!" Then followed, "The first in line climb onto the edge of the well, the next on line push him in!" That way, one after another, live people pushed live people into wells out of which their ancestors once drew water.

I remember at a police station in the Caucasus, a shout, "Get down!" and it seemed to me not just a yelled command but a big, dark, terrible power ordering me toGet down to Earth! A husband was pushing his wife, a brother was pushing his brother, a sister was pushing her sister. Should somebody refuse, he or she was beaten, stepped over, and then they forced to throw a bleeding body on a pile of yet-living people. A teacher and a friend of mine found out about her friend, Ella. Ella decided to flee from the death line. Her boyfriend was standing next to her. A Nazi ordered him to fetch her. Ella used to sit with him at school at the same desk. She was thought to be his fiance. He got Ella and, beating and torturing her before the detached crowd, dragged her up to the well.

Again I imagine my dad and my mom. I remember them imploring their neighbor to trade their clothing for some powder, their sofa for some sugar. Those pieces of furniture I once brought for my parents from the remote village of Cherkasskoye.

And what about my books? What happened to them? What happened with the books I was carrying hundred miles in a cardboard case?

Again a story of our neighbor Kate and others who met me:

"Your dad took with himself to the ghetto nothing but his shoe repair tools and some negotiable bonds. He didn't have anything else."
"Bonds?" I asked in wonder.
"Yes," they said, "He believed that when the Red Army comes back they will pay their debts to the people."

My dad liked to look at his bonds. He trusted in the state and was sure that it would fulfill all its obligations.

When we fled from the Nazis, my dad shared part of his bonds with us. Those bonds were all Sarrah and I possessed.

* * *


After World War Two, I lived in Simferopol, Crimea, not far from a small railway station. Before the war, not far from that station, there was a prosperous Russian-Jewish farm where everyone declared mutual friendship, something that could only exist between people who had never done one other harm. It happened that at the very first days of Nazi occupation all farmers were forced to dig a ditch along the railway. The foremen, Russian Jews, were digging while Nazi collaborators watched over them, occasionally cursing the Jews. It would be untrue to say that there are a good many ambitious Jews, and that sometimes annoys people; Jews do not suffer cursing quietly.

Whoever articulated something in protest, nobody knows, though one of the farmers who survived the tragedy told me, "One word after another and all of a sudden one of the collaborators grabbed a shovel from a Jew, threw him on the ground and, infuriated, began chopping him into pieces. ... Roaring, screaming followed. Farmers and field police collaborators started fighting with each other. The policeman who chopped up the Jew became frightened at what he had done. Germans showed up at the scene, and everyone got quiet, as if nothing had happened."

* * *

What is the way tyrants smell?

I knew pretty well a Mr. Farber who ran one of the Simferopol manufacturing facilities. The stories he told begged to be included in my "Black Book." Farber was below-average height, with black hair and a big nose. Similar-looking people can be found among Ukrainians to this day. Farber was born in a Ukrainian-Jewish village, and could be easily identified as a Jew. Though he was not a poet, he spoke perfect literary Ukrainian. When the Nazis captured him, he claimed to be a Ukrainian, and neither the Ukrainians nor the Germans had any doubts about his Ukrainian origin. Many Jewish soldiers happened to be there at the time. Often all came from the same village. When the Nazis sent their captives to work, one German soldier said to Farber, "As your song goes, `young people are everywhere welcome, old people are everywhere honored.' Am I right?" Such words, uttered by a German in Russian, reinvigorated the people and triggered light smiles mixed with hope. "And you, man, are going to be a leader of the group, OK?!"

"He seems to be one of our Germans," said Farber in a low voice.
"Our or not our, doesn't matter," said the German on hearing his remark. "Everything belongs to the Third Reich! Only shit is yours! Get the johns cleaned right away!"

Farber asked him in Ukrainian about the shovels, a question that was on everyone's mind. The German laughed. A group of Jews from the village stood nearby and, pointing to them, said, "Your hands and the beards of those Jews are all the tools you are going to get! That's it! Sweep with your beards and wipe it out with your hands. Nice and clean! German-style clean!"

There exist people who realize what power they possess and always have ideas about how to humiliate others. When those who were oppressed get power themselves, they think only on revenge: not on those who tortured them, but on those who are weaker now, as they once were.

Farber wept, doing what that little tyrant had ordered. That same night he fled to the front line of battle.

When Farber told me that story I recognized the tears in his eyes, as he noticed mine. Maybe I was more sentimental than he. Since then, Farber said, there has been not a single night that I didn't experience the horror and suffocating feeling as I recalled the odors of that concentration camp toilet. Later, during the years of Stalin's tyranny, his good-looking wife sent him to an asylum to spare him from communist persecution...

In my "Black Book" there is the story of a Jewish girl who happened to live in the occupied territories. One of the Russian priests who knew that she was Jewish hired her as a maid in his home. He discovered her once, listening to the radio, which was strictly forbidden in wartime. She was listening to Moscow. He demanded that she leave the house immediately and forever.

Later, that same priest atoned for his sin. He didn't save his neighbor. Maybe he came to the idea that a Jewish girl still didn't fall into the category of `neighbor.' He wondered, how did she find a radio in my house? At that time I wasn't puzzled by those questions. Maybe he expelled her because he risked twice: saving a Jew and possessing a radio. He was afraid of the double risk.

She noticed how ardently he used to pray.

Assassins and a Procurator

Hardly were ever praying assassins from the village of Partizani, in the Simferopol province, where I happened to be after the end of the war .

The guerillas were executing a traitor. They carried out justice the way they understood it. The verdict was announced. Relatives and friends of the executed traitor, who were also Nazi collaborators, decided to take revenge on the entire village. A German Commandant seemed to be stymied on the issue of "a mysterious Russian soul." Maybe he was hesitating about his correct understanding of the instructions of his superior. Most likely he was overpleased with his power. The gang of traitors demanded blood and crucifixion in every house. They also demanded to set on fire all the houses where men had left to become guerrillas. The Commandant either was playing possum, or really didn't want to commit the sin of killing innocent women and children. Out of those conflicting feelings the following order was born:

Everyone must kneel at their window sills and loudly ask me to kill the villagers so that all can see how you are imploring me to kill everyone in the village. Everyone must hear you!
There was no man in the entire village who could have protected the people. All men had left to become guerillas. Only Nazi collaborators stayed. A horrible rumor immediately spread throughout the village. The villagers walked past the Nazi Headquarters and saw the collaborators with whom years ago they had sharing their food, their celebrations and their grief. They used to smile together at wedding celebrations, weep together at funerals. Now the same people were ready to murder their neighbors. Could anyone ever imagine that what was going on was even theoretically possible? It was impossible to fully believe that. People kept their silence. They were looking through their windows, maybe with the same fear as the victims whose bodies filled two wells at the end of another village in the neighboring Novoselovski region. They were calming themselves. No, imagining wasn't possible. The people were silent.

"Three days in a row," one of the survivors told me, "`revengers' implored `the Procurator' to let them execute the shitty `guerilla' bastards. The Russian people implored the Nazis for permission to execute Russians..."
Another witness brought me to a house with a coal stove. Into this, Nazi collaborators pushed a newborn baby, forcing his mother to watch it...

Many more true stories are in my scorched, blood-covered "Black Book," in which there is crying, wailing, weeping behind every letter. Somebody said that if speaking were based on logic without poetry, people would have had one and the same language.

I am holding in my hands a book entitled, Thirty Three Hundred Years of Jewish Poetry. It contains poems written from the conquering Hanaan era, and the formation of the Kingdom (13th - 10th centuries BC), until the 20th century, from "The Song of Debra" and "The Song of Crying" until the poem of Iona Vollah where "laughter sounded like crying." This is a book of sorrow, "because every cry on this earth could be compared with a Jewish fate."


Sweet, Naïve Dasha

My "Black Book" wouldn't be complete if I hadn't written how my classmate Dasha and her family perished. Dnepropetrovsk Medical School was evacuated to Krasnodar. Vladimir Gershtenkern and Dasha were students in this school. In 1946 Vladimir narrated to me that terrible story. When fascists rushed into the city, students and professors hid themselves in the school basements. They couldn't know what was going on outside. Dasha was nervous.

* * *


Dad. My Dad is over there! Dad! I cannot leave him. I have to be there.
However many times we asked her not to go outside, Dasha kept repeating, "I cannot leave him alone..." Having a perfect command of German, she did go to the German Military Headquarters. She knew the German language perfectly, but she failed to know fascists as well. Only Adam himself, who didn't belong yet to any nationality, could have failed to realize that she was Jewish.

The naïveté of every Jew, who up to the very brink of the grave couldn't understand what they were killed for, was concentrated in Dasha. These Jews failed to understand that the reason why they were eligible for killing was because they were Jewish.

Dasha came into the fascist den, came into the SS squad den, to plead for her father to be freed. She was kicked out the door and forced to walk between lines of fascists standing in two rows like a gauntlet. They pummeled her savagely; they tore her dress to pieces. Each time she fell down they would raise her and beat her again and again. And when there was no more dress, they tore her to pieces. "Papa, papa!" Dasha cried.

She also said something in the language of Goethe. Dasha spoke to those who had forgotten themselves. There were not only Fritzes and Hanses among them, mocked by the Russians, but also Wolfgangs and Friedrichs. Not one among them had ever read Goethe or Nietzsche. Not one...

That is how sweet Dasha perished...


A man is not jettisoned into history. He cannot define his life as a subordination, as a stoic-like and silent bearing of every burden his fate has placed on him. Not only the nature of a single man, but the nature of a state and, I believe, the nature of the entirety of mankind, consists of single actions or their absence — including partial or total indifference.

Could the Holocaust have happened without mankind's indifference? Whatever myths had existed in the past, mankind of the 20th century built a historic truth that is grounded neither in mythology, nor in philosophy.

The ship of German Jews that roamed all over the seas, never allowed harbor in any of the countries it approached, is a story both terrible and true. The giant ship Saint Louis sailed from Hamburg in May 1939. Aboard were 937 Jews trying to find refuge from Nazi Germany. They were seeking a new Ararat ready to accept refugees. It could have been the powerful United States of America, the noble Britain, the most tender France. There were so many civilized countries at that time in the world! These people were only seeking safety.

Cuba asked $453,500 for asylum on its territory. No other country would take them at any price: not Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Columbia, Paraguay, Argentina — not even the USA. None would allow the passengers of that ship to disembark on their land. The Ship Committee, a sort of refugee Jewish government, addressed renowned Americans with their plea by telegram. No one wanted to listen to them and the ship turned back toward Europe. France and Britain denied entry to the refugees.

There were some suicides on the ship. The shipmaster suggested setting the ship on fire close to the south coast of England, believing the British would feel compelled to save people from a burning ship. Could a Catholic church in the small town of Rogachev, where I wasn't allowed to go inside but was permitted only to stay outside, compare with this? Here entire nations forbade refuge.

For ten thousand miles the Saint Louis sailed the open sea. And still the world was not shocked! While fascists killed, "humanists" in all countries betrayed their ideals through total indifference.

The Jews disembarked at last in the only port that would accept them. Hamburg. They returned only to die.

This chapter of world history is not widely known, and there are few people who recall it. At the same time, without knowledge of that chapter, without thinking of what happened with that small Noah's Ark, the Work of Sorrow cannot realize itself in full. Without the Work of Sorrow mankind is doomed to utterly empty vows like "Never Again!"

In truth, it does happen again!


Only memory and public activity make us belong to our era. Genetic memory is responsible for continuation of life, for the present, and for immortality. Historic memory is responsible for the development of a man in a society. Biological memory transforms an animal into a man, a homo sapiens. Like Narcissus looking into the water, nations look into the Bible, into their epics, chronicles, the works of their poets, writers, painters, sculptors, architects. Maybe the fate and hardships of nations are reflected in the quintessence of the myth about Narcissus? The Chuvash people in Siberia have a legend that a mosquito once was an elephant.

All nations always were and always will be great. However big or small they were in the past, as long as they survived the struggle of gods and titans in creating their modern civilization, how can they be considered not great? The tiny Polyane tribe managed to lay the foundation of a great Russian nation, to Rus' (the real ancestor of Russia!), and later to Moskoviya! (the ancient Russian name of the Moscow Kingdom). Could a mosquito-sized Judea rebel against the Rome Empire and prevail against its mighty legions? May be that nation was also once a mosquito and later became an elephant.


There is no "Jewish question" in the same way that there is no "Russian question." There is, however, a Russian question about Jews; there is French question about Jews. Now there exists a Latvian question about Russians, a Chechen question about Russians, and Russian question about Chechens. The answer to htem all is not in who is a true Russian or a true Jew, but who is a true homo sapiens.


Once in a newspaper, I read about a German soldier who rode on his truck to Babii Yar in Kiev where Jews were executed. He was driving to pick up the clothes of the doomed. He saw other trucks being loaded and victims forced to proceed to the execution site. He heard the commands: "Undress! Remove your underwear! Remove and make a pile of your belongings!"

People were forced to the ditch, which was 15 meters deep. At its edge beastly fascist torturers grabbed one after another and ordered them into accurate woodpiles. Accuracy comes before anything else: Germans cannot work in a different way. The "woodpiles" looked very accurate; accurate and frugal. The gunman spent only one bullet on each person. Every "woodpile" was served by just two soldiers: one formed it; another shot it. It was like a conveyor belt.

Their approach was not only accurate but scientific. The efficiency of the German nation was used to end a part of that nation. Yes, Jews are a part of the German nation. Jews are a part of the Russian nation. Russians living in Latvia are a part of the Latvian nation. In the US, one is not supposed to inquire about the national origin of an individual because for that a legal punishment may follow.


The fascists formed accurate "woodpiles" out of thousands and millions. They conducted an investigation and found out that young people are burn worse than old ones, men burn worse than women, skinny ones burn worse than fat ones. They used these "scientific conclusions" — they didn't separate mothers from their kids because it took the same amount of time for them to burn.


Was Jean Paul Sartre right when describing the heavy atmosphere in France after Paris was conquered by the Germans? He noted that when French people were experiencing the depression of defeat, and their fate as a conquered nation, all of them kept silent. "We were silent, and never were so free," wrote Sartre. Then where is freedom itself? Is it in servility, in silence, in the absence of resistance when everything around is crying "Die! Die!" and all you can do, save suicide, is keep silent — or in actions that in any event will bring one to death?

Isn't that why, on the ship Saint Louis, when it became clear that there was no way their lives would be saved, a wave of suicides burst out? Does despair give birth to that? Does it give birth to sadness, to loss of all hope, to servility — or to courage and brevity? When one can fight a tank with his epée only, doesn't it look ridiculous?

Both crying and silence become expressions of that kind of freedom which torturers can never know. Maybe this is the only way to understand Sartre. If those who are atop this world — God and the powerful — doom the entire nation to death and refuse to save those who are at the bottom, who can then help them? Maybe Sartre repeated the words of Paul when the saint was in prison and yet felt freedom there? Both Paul and the French people were free in the sense that they were doing the Work of Sorrow from beginning to end.

Only this kind of work — the Sorrow of Pope John Paul II may serve as an example — can lead to the action which worthy of a better age. The Pope said to the world, "The Catholic Church is to blame for the Crusades! We are sorry for blaming the Jews in killing Christ! The Jews are not guilty!"


What's going on with man?

Philosophers and poets, historians and writers, state that at the border of the third millennium mankind faced the crisis of European Man. Prophets — poets and philosophers are prophets — are desperate. The search for a Man begun by Diogenes who was trying to find him with the help of his lantern in the daytime, four hundred years BC, hasn't brought positive results up to now. What is more — the crises followed, progressing with new force and depth. Is there no hope?

Maybe, in the daybreak of this new era, a New Man is being born? A man comprising intellect, information, and energy? Maybe this New Man is going to surpass the existing one in the manner that the existing one surpassed cows or bulls? Maybe a new, Nietzschean kind of man is coming?


Cry, soldier — you made a try at finding truth and justice; you made a try at finding a man amidst flame and catastrophe. But the 20th century remains in the history a century of killings, inhumanity and Holocaust.

Cry, the Jew no longer dressed in military uniform! Did you fight the Nazi only for it to be said in the aftermath that you stride not on you own land?

Cry, Diogenes, cry! You are still looking for an honest Man.

* * *


Alvin Toffler believes that everyone lives in his individual time, in his personal time capsule, lead by his biological clock. I would widen the very notion of clock. There exist physiological, historical, and philosophical clocks. According to my imagination, individual time is a phenomenon comprising not the present only, but also the past. This past is not reminiscence only. Neither it is a night dream. The past accompanies the present; it is reversible. It is reversible not in the sense that it can be resurrected. It, like everything else, experienced certain changes. It had been split into quanta of energy, and those changes still exist, still occur, today. Individual time can be reversed in spite of existing knowledge that it can't.

When I read Einstein's Dreams by Lightman, I saw those worlds, where he describes the perplexity of different variants of time regarding our Present. I see those worlds today, now, in the present. We keep living through them at different moments of truth as if we were there.

Everything around us consists of quantum particles. From this point of view, Einstein, Socrates, slaves of the Ancient Roman Empire, street panhandlers, the rich, the poor — all are immortal. Quantum particles are immortal, and my immortality is in them. And yours! And everyone's!

Unless you and your past have turned into ashes, you are here: you can listen to all the symphonies and see all the colors of the world which are concentrated in the word "Alive!" Our reward for the expulsion from Paradise is this life-bringing word. This is the beginning of the liberation, the beginning of the longed-for feeling of freedom. If it is so, if all of us are ontologically equal, them why is one Hellenic and another Jewish? There is only one fate for everything living on this earth. For everything, for everyone, there is only one life, a life given to him only. For each of us there is only one Eternity.

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