Jewish Ukrainian Culture Growing Up in 1960 Essay

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Life in Post-War Ukraine

Before immigrating to the United States in 1996, I had lived my entire life in the Ukraine. I was born in 1960, only a decade and half since the Nazi occupation during World War II. As a Jew, growing up in the Ukraine was a difficult experience. Unlike most of the other countries under Nazi rule from 1939 until their liberation by the Allies in 1944 and 1945, large portions of the Ukrainian population actually welcomed the Nazis, particularly in connection with the persecution of the Jews. Entire towns of thousand of Jews whose families and heritage dated back many generations were rounded up and slaughtered, often being lined up over trenches they were forced to dig before being shot and disposed of. In many instances, the Ukrainian non-Jews were instrumental in identifying the Ukrainian Jews for the Nazis, even providing direct assistance as special units of civilian conscripts whose sole responsibility was to roust Jewish families from their homes and hold them at gunpoint while they were marched off to the outskirts of towns to be executed in cold blood.

In 1960, many of those non-Jewish Ukrainians were still living in the town where I grew up. My parents sometimes told me stories about how some of the same people who owned local stores and who were our neighbors when I was a child had helped the Nazis kill as many Jews as possible during the war. Instead of being ashamed of their actions, they still remained quite obviously intensely anti-Semitic.
Naturally, as a small child, it was very difficult for me to comprehend what racism and anti-Semitism were, or why people would hate other people enough to want to kill them for no other reason than their culture or their religion.

Psychologists know that our earliest experiences in childhood play a critical role in our development as human beings, our outlook on life, and on the way we perceive the word around us later. I know that my childhood was partly defined by the vivid awareness that many people in my town and throughout my entire country hated my family and me simply because we were Jews. My parents told me how the Ukrainian police, in particular, helped round up Jews during the war and as a result, I remember the fear that I had about the Nazis coming back to kill Jews again and that never felt safe around anybody in any kind of military or police uniform as a child. Today, of course, I understand, at least on an intellectual level, that the Nazis are never coming back. However, on an emotional level, I believe my exposure to the horrific stories about what happened to some of my family less than twenty years before I was born affected me deeply. During the Bosnian Crisis of the….....

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