Mendel Letters 80 — War in Ukraine

June 4, 2022

Dear Mendel,

At your grandson Steven Jackson’s son’s Bar Mitzvah, my stepbrother Lennie and I were joking, morbidly and probably not funny, about volunteering to fight in Ukraine. The only thing holding us back was that we didn’t know which side to shoot at. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the bombardment and destruction of cities are war crimes and we join in condemning them. The problem for us is that during World War II, Ukrainians helped Nazi Germany exterminate Jews, including your grandfather, aunt and cousins. The Soviet Union, now Russia, was originally allied with Germany, but after Germany invaded it in 1941, Soviet armies helped defeat Hitler and liberate the concentration camps in Poland, saving Jewish lives. Hence our ambivalence.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been in the news for the last three months. Russian forces initially anticipated quick victory and being greeted as liberators. But this didn’t happen as Ukraine mounted intense resistance. Using weapons supplied by the United States and its NATO allies, Ukraine stymied what proved to be outdated Russian armed forces.

I am a little suspicious of United States motives in the region and the expansion of the U.S.-NATO alliance, especially as the armament of Ukraine has prolonged fighting and led to high casualties on both sides, including thousands of Ukrainian civilians, is being used to justify an increase in fossil fuel production, and has turned into a highly profitable boondoggle for the U.S. weapons industry. It’s nice to say NATO wants to defend democracy, but NATO member states Turkey and Hungary are definitely not democracies and the United States has kept dictators in power in a number of countries when it suits American strategic interests. Before he left office in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans to beware of the influence of the military-industrial complex.

I have former students who accuse me of blindly supporting Ukraine’s side of the story and ignoring Russia’s concern that U.S. efforts to draw Ukraine into NATO are a threat to Russia security. Maybe. Sweden and Finland, with long histories of neutrality between global military powers are now trying to join NATO as protection against Russian aggression. If they want into NATO, it is clear to me that Russia is the danger to world peace.

I think I told you before that the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish. I’m not sure how this will impact on how the world sees Ukrainian resistance. Both Russia and Ukraine has embraced support from anti-Semitic allies. In the United States there has been a wave of anti-Semitism from neo-Nazi groups who blame Jews for an imaginary conspiracy to replace white Christian Americans with African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants. Some people always find a way to blame us.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

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