The forgotten tragedy
from old blog with changes
Lviv, Galitzia, Poland 20th Sivan 5449 (1689)
Counting down the hours to the end of the fast I try to fall asleep but sleep won't come.
The sound of the door jolts me awake and I my Zeidie shuffle into the room on one leg and a stick settling into his favorite chair at the window.
The late afternoon sun was casting long shadows through the bare room, his sad eyes staring into the distance..taking in the familiar steppes, rolling hills and tattered village.
Those eyes that have been witness to the greatest tragedy that has befallen us since the destruction of Jerusalem 1500 years ago.
The destruction of the glorious communities of Poland, Galitzia, Volhynia, Ukraine and Lithuania.
By invitation of Casimir The Great the Jews prospered here for 300 years. We enjoyed unparalleled freedom and peace. Our Rabbis organized a broad pseudo-government that enjoyed almost complete autonomy. The Council of the Four Lands made sure everyone was taken care of, settled all court cases and was led by the greatest leaders of their time including the Taz and the Shach.
All this came to a shattering and devastating end in 1648-1649.
In the year 1648 Ukranian Cossacks organized a militia under the rabid anti-semite Bogdan Chmelniecki. They came sweeping in from the Eastern Steppes like a sudden thunderstorm in midday. The attacks against the Jews began almost immediately and thus 2 years of hell began.
The massacres began on the 20th of Sivan 1648 when the Cossach hordes entered Nemirov and slaughtered the entire community Including the Gadol Hador R' Yechiel of Nemirov.
The community had been hiding in the fortress under Polish protection. When the Poles fled the Cossacks used the abandoned Polish banners to trick the Jews into opening the gates.
These years have been come to be known as Tach v’Tat.
The Cossacks were fierce warriors and were expert horse riders. They came thundering in to town after town on their swift and powerful horses, swords drawn and overwhelmed the defenseless Jews. The drunken shouts, terrified screams of child murdered, girls violated and houses burned still echoing in our ears.
After 2 years the incomprehensible numbers stare us in the face.
Well over 100,000 men women and children killed.
Entire villages wiped out.
Entire regions reduced to poverty and starvation.
How does one bury ones entire family?
How does one pick up the pieces?
Sure during the crusades we’d suffered a few hundred here..a few hundred there.
During other troublesome times..there have been massacres.
But never on this scale...
in 1650 the remnants of the Council held a meeting and decided to revive the 20th of Sivan as a day of fasting and prayer already mentioned by Rabbeinu Tam in reference to a massacre that happened on that day during the times of the Crusades.
Every year on the 20th of Sivan Jews will gather and say special selichos composed for the occasion and fast. This goes without saying.
40 years have passed since 1649 and the last survivors are passing on swiftly..on to a better place to rejoin the 100,000 that await them.
Who will bear witness to what happened?
Will future generations remember?
Remember our tragedy?
Thank you for listening to my tale...
In 2011 I can re-visit that debate of so long ago. I can hear the Rabbis discussing whether or not to institute a day of fasting and davening.
Once the memories fade of these troubling times, will anyone stop and remember?
Will anyone still fast? Are we wasting our time.
I'm sure other Rabbis replied, but how can we ever forget such a traumatic event?
Will anyone 300 years from now pause and think about the Holocaust?