A Poet’s Recollections of How Jews Hid from the Nazis

April 20 2023

Between 1944 and 1946, the great Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever produced a brief memoir of the Vilna Ghetto, which the Nazis created in September 1941 and destroyed two years later—after murdering most of its inhabitants or sending them to concentration camps, and letting countless others die of disease and starvation. In this selection from Justin Cammy’s translation, Sutzkever describes the malines (pronounced mah-LEE-ness), or underground hideouts, the inhabitants constructed to avoid the Germans and their local helpers. These makeshift bunkers were a testament to Jewish inventiveness and determination to live—and also, as Sutzkever relates, the locations of bone-chilling horrors all their own.

At the HKP concentration camp [just outside the ghetto], around 80 children managed to escape the killing. They were not allowed to show themselves in the camp [lest they be murdered]. Children’s skin was sought after for cosmetic operations. Their parents agreed to wall in a portion of a side room, behind which their offspring could live. Access to them was through a tin stove that was purposely pushed up against the wall. The stove was on all day so that it would not occur to German inspectors to check it.

A school was opened for these 80 walled-in children in the maline. In the morning, their teacher, Opeskin, would crawl through the stove in order to hold class for the young pupils until evening. He organized a performance with them. The stage was decorated in greenery, and they were dressed festively. There, in that walled-in room in a concentration camp, Opeskin’s children performed his song “The Maline Jew.” . . .

Food was often provided by those neighbors in whose cellars malines were constructed. From time to time, those in hiding would slip into town to purchase supplies. A synagogue and a cemetery were also created during the year spent underground. Six people were buried in a makeshift cemetery located in the maline at Glezer Street 9. Celebrations were also held in the sewers. They lit candles on Hanukkah, and ate latkes.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Avraham Sutzkever, Jewish literature, Poetry, Yiddish literature


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship