A Yiddish Journalist’s Rare and Honest Account of Stalin’s Brutalization of Ukraine

By 1932, Abraham Cahan, the editor of the Forverts—America’s most significant Jewish newspaper—remained a committed socialist, but was also a fierce opponent of Soviet Communism, having realized early on that not only Stalin, but also Lenin and Trotsky, were unscrupulous tyrants. Seeking accurate information about the situation there, he sent the Ukrainian-born Jewish journalist Mendel Osherowitch to the USSR. Osherowitch’s dispatches were collected into a book, which was published the next year and, at long last, has been translated into English. Mark Glanville writes in his review:

Osherowitch’s honest account in direct, no-nonsense Yiddish (he spoke fluent Russian and Ukrainian, as well), superbly translated by Sharon Power, complements the harrowing contemporary testimony of the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, whose reports of starvation and cannibalism in Ukraine were cynically dismissed. At the time, the New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty concluded that “conditions are bad, but there is no famine” after what he deemed “exhaustive inquiries.” . . . Duranty’s credulous reporting satisfied not only the Russian authorities but a Roosevelt-led American administration keen to maintain friendly relations with Stalin in the face of developing threats from Germany and Japan. It also won Duranty a Pulitzer Prize. Osherowitch’s account remained unread by anyone outside the Yiddish-speaking community until now.

Osherowitch’s book not only bore rare eyewitness testimony to one of the worst atrocities in a barbarous century; it did so from the vantage point of a brother of two of the perpetrators. While [one brother], Buzi, worked for the secret police, Osherowitch’s brother Daniel was a pistol-toting bully whose task was to force peasants to hand over their precious grain at gunpoint. Osherowitch described him as “strong as iron, hardened, armed” before making a devastating observation: “Only barely, at the corner of his mouth, did you notice a smile, betraying a small trace of the good nature our family was known for.”

When he returned to his hometown of Trostianets, he found Jewish life changed beyond recognition. The klayzl (study hall) was now a cinema, the beit midrash a school for modern languages, the kloyz (which Powers renders as a “small synagogue, prayer and study house”) a bottle-cover factory. Only on the High Holy Days did the old shul fill, but many of the pious avoided it, afraid their presence there would compromise children who were party members. Yet for Jews, Osherowitch was frequently informed, Bolshevism had been entirely beneficial.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Joseph Stalin, Judaism, Soviet Jewry, USSR

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law