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“A politician thinks of the next election.
A statesman, of the next generation.”

J.F. Clarke

“A politician thinks of the next election.
A statesman, of the next generation.”

J.F. Clarke

“A politician thinks of the next election.
A statesman, of the next generation.”

J.F. Clarke

Mikhail Krasnyansky

MY JEWISH FAMILY

…lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be
reckoned among the nations.

(Numbers 23:9 (KJV))

Brief Foreword

Happenstance is a fundamental property of the material world. It is the reason why we cannot foresee the all trials prepared for us by fate. But seeing that we are all decent folks here, we must be prepared for anything, for, as the Torah teaches us, it is not the sinners God tests, but the righteous. To be sure, man’s fate may well be divinely preordained, yet what is to befall each of us is written on the heavenly tablets not as a straight line, but rather as a matrix, which allows for plenty variation of fate. What we choose is entirely up to us. Indeed, we are always getting what we went for, consciously or not, having chosen one from the paths He laid out in front of us.

Naturally, what I am about to tell you is the truth and nothing but the truth even though truth is, quite often, merciless. It is also worth remembering that an anaconda’s truth may be very different from the rabbit’s, especiallyiftherabbit stands his ground rather than keel over and submit.

*****

Kislovodsk (USSR), 1950. Iam 8 years old.Kislovodsk (USSR), 1950
I am 8 yearsold.

I was born in October 1942, in Makhachkala (Norht Caucasus, USSR), to which my family fled from the then Stalino (currently Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine) where they used to live and work before the war. But by that time, the place had already been occupied by the Nazis, and the horrible stories of what they were doing to Jews were traveling fast and well ahead of the Hitler’s storm troops. My parents (or rather mom alone since dad already defended the Caucasus front by then) called me Moishe. Truth be told though, the Makhachkala township never heard of any such name as Moishe, so they put me down as Mikhail in their books.

Yet, originally, our family hailed from Odessa. My grandfather Moisey Krasnyansky was from the town of Ananyiev, now in Odessa Region, which was then the Kherson Governorate. Before the revolution, Ananyiev was one of the most affluent and noteworthy towns in the Russian Empire’s south—in no small measure because it was part of the Pale of Settlement, to which Jews were confined by Catherine the Great.

Incidentally, Odessa proper was not part of the Pale of Settlement and only highly educated Jews, such as doctors, 1st Guild Merchants or skilled craftsmen (mostly jewelers and tailors) were allowed to reside there.

My grandfather was one of Ananyiev’s most respected citizens—a 2nd Guild Merchant who owned several stores and warehouses, a photography studio and a large horse-drawn transportation company. He was also the head of the local Jewish school’s board of trustees.

Victims of Petliura’s pogrom in Ukraine (Z. Ostrovsky. “Jewish Pogroms of 1918–1921”, Мoscow, 1926)Victims of Petliura’s pogrom in Ukraine
(Z. Ostrovsky. “Jewish Pogroms of 1918–1921”, Мoscow, 1926)

My Grandpa and his wife Sofia, my grandmother, were murdered by Petliura’s henchmen in 1919 during one of those abominable Jewish pogroms (he was the Commander of the Army of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918-1920). About 50,000 Jews were killed in Ukraine as a result of these Petliura's pogroms. How about those among Ukraine’s historians who are now trying to white wash Symon Petliura answer a simple question for me: What was it that the industrious, enterprising Jews did to present such an awful menace to independent Ukraine of Mr. Petliura’s dreams?

Nazi executioners shooting young Jewish women to prevent our people from procreation (Rovno Region, Ukraine, 1941. Before being shot, victims were ordered to strip)Nazi executioners shooting young Jewish women to prevent our people from procreation
(Rovno Region, Ukraine, 1941. Before being shot, victims were ordered to strip)

And my aunt Rakhil who had some how survived the inferno of Petliura’s pogroms could not leave Odessa in 1941 when Hitler’s troops invaded thither and was executed by the Nazis in a Jewish ghetto not far from the Odessa. So here I am, wondering, whether, perhaps, the pogroms perpetrated by Petliura’s lieutenants were in fact but a dress rehearsal of the future Holocaust?

Shlomo Schwartzbard

But the truly amazing thing is that the misfortunes our big, extended Odessa family had suffered did get avenged in the end. During a Jewish pogrom in Balta, which is not far from Ananyiev, Petliura’s troops killed an entire family of local Jewish residents—the Schwartzbards, who were my grandfather Moisey’s distant relatives. There were 15 of them, including five children, and only Shlomo Schwartzbard survived. He had lived in France since 1910 and served the French Foreign Legion during World War I of 1914–1917. Like most of the educated Russian Jews, he disliked the Russian Tsar’s regime for its anti-Semitism and just wouldn’t settle for the Pale of Settlement. He fought well in the Foreign Legion and received a Croixdu combatant for Shlomo Schwartzbard his bravery. A Jewish poet and journalist, he returned to Odessa as an interpreter for a French military mission, and then, in 1918–1919, got drafted in to the Red Army and serve din Kotovsky’s brigade.

That was how he happened to be away from Balta during that fateful pogrom. In December 1919, disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, he fled to Paris again. In 1924, Symon Petlyura who had managed to escape from the Bolshevik onslaught also settled there, to his own future detriment. When Shlomo Schwartzbard learned about it from the papers, he tracked Petliura down, accosted him on a city street and, an experienced warrior that he was, emptied his Nagant revolver into him. Then he called “lesagen France”himself. This happened in May 1926.

Naturally, Shlomo was arrested and put on trial. Some French newspapers asserted it was a political murder and just calling Shlomo Schwartzbard an OGPU agent.But an experienced attorney (Mr. Torres) was supported by a group of well-known French intellectuals (including writers Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse, painter Marc Chagall and physicist Paul Langevin)managed to prove that it was revenge, pure and simple, and that the young man simply killed the murderer of his family. The jury sympathized and acquitted Shlomo Schwartzbard. According to my father, after those horrendous pogroms, there were old Jewish women clad in black walking down the streets in Ananyiev and Balta, tin mug in hand, soliciting donations “for vengeance”. They were all OGPU agents too, right? 

It should be noted that in 1917–1920, most of the Jewish intelligentsia supported the Bolsheviks. There is no surprise there since the Tsar’s regime, the White Guard and many of the Ukrainian nationalists were all rabid anti-Semitic, with quite a few of them having Jewish blood on their hands. The Bolsheviks, in the pre-Stalin times, were not. Misled by the new flags and the breathtaking new promises of equality and brotherhood, Jewish intellectuals joined in, for hope of escaping from the “Jewish question” into the radiant Communistic tomorrow. Alas, this was a dream that was never meant to be, and escaping from the “Jewish question” into communism was not in the cards. Not for Russian Jews anyway. But, however unfortunately, those of them that took to the streets with their red flags in October 2017 did not know that and couldn’t have known (as the poet A. Kushner wrote, “you don’t get to choose your time, you just live in it and die”.)

“Thanks” to Petliura, my father Efim Krasnyansky became an orphan at the young old age of 13. All alone, he had to endure the misery of an orphanage, then graduated from Odessa Architecture Institute (he had a real knack for drawing), fought on through almost the entire war in the Engineering troops of the Red Army, earned some combative decorations and then, in 1945; after defeating Hitler's Germany, got demobilized with a rank of Engineer Captain and sent back home to help restore his city that had been destroyed by the Nazis. Dad began his postbellum career as head of the construction department at the Stalino State Executive Committee and then headed the State Urban Planning Institute ("Giprograd"), of which he would serve as director for the last 20 years of his career. Almost 20 years, that is. The thing is that Mr. Degtyaryov, the all-powerful First Secretary of the then Donetsk Regional Committee of the Communists Party did not take kindly to my father and all Jews at all. In the last years of his directorship (1965–1967), that great local leader would often call the “Gosstroy” — the Central State Construction Management Authority of the Ukrainian SSR in Kiev—to ask them when they would finally “get rid of that kike”. My father’s friends at the Gosstroy would then tell him about it. The Gosstroy folks stood solidly behind my father, but there was no stopping Degtyaryov. In mid-1967, having gained no ground from the Gosstroy, the Donetsk Regional Communist Party Committee simply made a one-sided decision to fire my father. The work of my father’s entire lifetime collapsed in an instant. After the New Year, in February 1968, tragedy hit our family: my father suffered a massive coronary. I still remember the day of my father’s death very well. Suddenly, in the afternoon of February 16, he began to choke, and from that point on, it all happened very fast. Mom called the ambulance, which came in ten minutes. There were the white robes, oxygen, an intravenous shot of a strophan thin, an adrenaline shot in the heart… And then it was over. My father was 60 years old. He died leaving mom and I a small one-bedroom apartment only. There was no fat savings account like most of Soviet bosses. My father did not take bribes and did not steal money from the state budget. A straight arrow like many before him in our family, he had lived as he died — with honor.

My other grandfather Simkha (Semion) Odesskiy, led a group of interpreters and translators supporting Odessa’s merchant marina port. He was fluent in five different languages. G-d failed to save him, but saved mother and I from Stalin's executioners of Yezhov and Beriya. Grandpa was arrested back in 1929 as part of the campaign against alleged saboteurs among the intelligentsia and died under suspicious circumstances at the age of 47 while at the OGPU-NKVD pretrial detention facility. He never made it as far as the trial. In those years of “early Stalinism,” when the OGPU was headed by V. Menzhinsky, a graduate of the law school of the University of St. Petersburg, families of those arrested were not yet as badly persecuted as in later years. Had my grandfather survived until 1937, he would have inevitably been “exposed” as a “spy” for each of the five countries whose languages he spoke, my mother would have been arrested as a daughter of an “enemy of the people,” and I would have been born in Stalin's "KogalymLAG" somewhere.

My mother’s mother, my grandma Rosa, died during the evacuation. Mom told me that Hitler’s army occupied Stalino and completely installed their administration there in November 1941 only. At first, mom and grandma stayed behind in the city, but then the Nazis started mass arrests and executions of Jews. They would not even waste ammunition on that, and simply threw Jews down in vertical shafts alive to the depths of over 100 meters. The “4-4-bis Kalinovka” mine alone became the mass grave of over 70 thousand Jews from all over the area. According to the few survivors, the Nazis threw down entire families down there, including children and old people. That was the reason why in November 1941, my mom (Elka-Simkha, or Elena Semionovna, in its Sovietized version) and grandma Rosa fled Stalino, having got their hands on a cart somewhere and an old mare that barely moved. Barely able to withstand snow and cold, they managed to reach the neighboring Rostov region and somehow got on a jam-packed train. The train they were in had been bombed before, and the windows were all broken. It was so cold in the carriage that even water froze. Grandma Rosa died right there, on the way, and her body was taken outside at a nearby station. I still do not know where she is buried.

Stalino-city, working outskirts, 1945 (coal mine in the background)Stalino-city, working outskirts, 1945
(coal mine in the background)

I spent my early childhood in that thoroughly destroyed city. I still clearly remember the misery and ruins. We spent our days playing soccer, one courtyard against another. No one had any money for a real ball, so we made one out of one of mother’s old stockings filled with rags. The losing team would often try to drub the winners up as payback for the win. Occasionally, mom would give me 10 kopecks coin so that I could go see a movie. Those were really happy days. There were usually some of older bullies in front of the entrance to the movie theater who tried to take money from the little ones by force and we had to fight for our 10 cents.

After high school, I was admitted to the Department of Chemistry at the Donetsk Polytechnic and soon found myself the captain of the KVN team (sort of Comedy Club); KVN was and still is a popular amateur standup comedy competition in the USSR and modern day Russia. In the end, in 1972, we made it to the all-Union KVN competition, a show broadcast on Central Television, and apparently went a little too far while there. As it happened, what came out of the mouths of babes was real anathema to our city and regional party bosses. Like, for example, during a question and answer session, we asked: “What is the joy of Soviet labor”? Our answer: “This is what a poet feels while watching workers building a dam”. Or “What did you used to do at evenings when there was no television yet?” Our answer: “When we had no TV, the entire family would get together and watch spin of our home ventilator. There is really no difference in comparison with our Soviet TV.” Or, imitating a news broadcast, we would announce from the stage: “Today, after a long and serious disease, without regaining consciousness, Mr. So-and-So took over the reign of the USSR”. Or, “Due to the building of socialism in the Sahara Desert, they are now facing shortages of sand”. After that—first and last — performance in Moscow, at the Shabolovka TV studio, our university president, along with its university’s communistic party secretary were summoned to the Donetsk Regional Committee of the Communist Party for accusations, where one of the Donetsk's Communistic Party leader madam Radchenko, came to yell at them — something to the effect of “Who the hell authorized this Jew, what’s his name, Krasnyansky, to represent Donetsk Region on Central Television? Get rid of him right away!” So they did get rid of me, quickly. A 26-year-old Candidate of Chemical Science, I was fired by a decision of the University's Communist Party committee, and our KVN team was banned.

I am truly flabbergasted by the unwavering and consistent hatred the CPSU—the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—showed our Jewish family. Indeed, both my father and I were chased out of the workplace by decisions of respective Communist Party bodies. But let me say thanks to the USSR and its Communist Party. It is largely due to your valiant anti-Semite efforts that Soviet Jews have learned how to survive and thrive in extremely adverse conditions under which many a different nation would have gone under long ago!

When the Soviet Union fell apart and Independent Ukraine was formed (December 1991), I returned to my alma mater, Donetsk Technical University, as a professor at the Department of Industrial Ecology. Now I am the author of more than 100 scientific articles in Ukrainian, Russian, and English languages as well as five textbooks (in Ukrainian and Russian).

In second half of 2007, when it became clear that, despite our desperate efforts, democrat Yushchenko will lose the next presidential elections to bandit Yanukovych, my family emigrated to the United States. There my son got a MBA at Berkeley, and my daughter got a master of economics at NYU. My children work successfully and pay taxes, I help them in their life.

As a way of summary, of the eight people in our Jewish family (two grandmothers, two grandfathers, father, mother, aunt and me), six had been physically destroyed by the anti-Semites of some kind or other. The only two survivors were my mother (she died in 2000, at the age of 91) and myself—still alive, uneaten and undigested by anyone. At different periods of time, our family was being murdered by Petliura’s lieutenants, Stalinist and Hitlerite executioners, and the communistic steamroller. Yet, despite all that, the three generations of our family continued toiling away and were successful. We are still at it. And at the end of the day, all the why’s and how’s of it come down to our traditionally Jewish personal qualities: smarts, hard work, perseverance and faith.

My children and I, Los Angeles, 2001(we are visiting my American sister)My children and I, Los Angeles, 2001
(we are visiting my American sister)

I am 75 years old now but if one defines age by the number of ideals lost rather than years lived, I am still young. So, young and happy that I am, I am looking back at my life now, as if from the outside in, and see it as one exuberant, happy moment that has stretched awhile and is still going strong — my life, a small but integral part of my America and our Earth planet, that rotates under eternal Sun, moving unhurriedly through Time and Space, propelling the seven and half of billion its denizens into the future, where each of them in pursuit of his or her own happiness…

October 2017

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