This week in 1903 Shalom Aleichem, the giant of Yiddish literature, wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy, the giant of Russian literature. It was shortly after the gruesome Kishinev pogrom. Shalom Aleichem planned to publish a modest compilation about the atrocity, to which he asked Tolstoy to contribute a short message to “Russia’s millions of distraught and disoriented Jews, who more than anything need a word of comfort.” Tolstoy never so much as bothered to reply.
The famed novelist, feted as the conscience of Russia, received dozens such letters urging him to speak out against the slaughters – then a seminal trauma in Jewish annals. The Holocaust was decades away. Nobody 109 years ago could imagine anything more bloodcurdling than the horrors of Kishinev.
But not everyone was moved – not even a renowned humanitarian like Tolstoy.
Not only did he not speak out, but he resented the entreaties.
He replied to one Jewish correspondent only, Emanuel Grigorievich Linietzky, to whom he caustically complained about being pestered. Tolstoy then blamed the Czar’s government, absolving the masses who bashed the skulls of babies, gouged children’s eyes, raped their mothers and sisters, eviscerated them, beheaded men and boys, quartered and mutilated them and looted all they could carry.
We hear much the same throughout Europe at each memorial to the Holocaust. Continue reading