It took two tons of metal

Ed Raymond


Tevye: “Oh, Lord, You Made Many, Many Poor People. If I Were a Rich Man...

Whenever Corky and I get a chance to watch Fiddler on the Roof we make some popcorn. The short stories about Jewish life titled Tevye the Dairyman and His Daughters were written in Yiddish by the Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem between 1894 and 1914.

They are about life in an area called the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia near Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine today, in 1905. The autocratic tsars were attacking and removing Jews from parts of Russia. If you have read Aleichem’s stories, one understands why the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof in 1964 set a record of 3,000 consecutive performances. Great human stories, heart-wrenching songs, horrific incidents and winning acting.

The movie followed the Broadway script to some extent, but a cruel, brutal Russian officer was morphed into a nice guy, and characters were alive at the end of the musical and movie, but in the original stories were mostly dead. Well, one has to sell tickets.  

There is civil war, pogroms against Jews, and the roles of the rich in society in the short stories, musical, and movie, and the song “If I Were a Rich Man” sung by Tvye is a constant theme: “Oh, Lord, you made many, many poor, I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor   It’s no great honor either, so, what would have been so horrible if I had a small fortune?   II were a wealthy man, I wouldn’t have to work hard, If I were a biddy biddy rich man,   The most important men in town would come to fawn on me,   They would ask me to advise them like a Solomon of the Wise. And it won’t make one bit   of difference if I answer right or wrong. When you’re rich they think you really know.”  

How Russia Created Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, Rasputin, and Catherine the Great     

Some Russian historians claim their history goes back two million years. In that Homo sapiens did not leave Africa until 65,000 years ago, that leaves some room for error. It’s a huge land mass covering eight time zones and I don’t have much space.

So, let’s say Moscow was formed in the 13th century and has been a power twice as long as the Divided States of America. The Soviet Union, led by Moscow, St. Petersburg,and Kyiv, Ukraine, has been filled with autocrats and liberals fighting each other for centuries, creating the best poets and prose writers in the world.  

It doesn’t surprise me that Kyiv, with three million people, is now fighting Moscow with 13 million, and Saint Petersburg with 5.5 million. Kyiv has been around for 25,000 years, in and out of power, destroyed several times, rebuilt several times, officially founded in 482, and has been the capital of independent Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. That’s what makes Russian history so fascinating—horrible to heroic.  

A French war crimes estimator has reported at least 1.5 million Jews were killed by bullets in World War II, with millions killed in the gas chambers, and thousands by every method known to man.   

The daily record of murder by bullet was probably set in a deep ravine known as Babyn Yar in Kyiv. On September 29 and 30, 1941, 33,771 Jews of all ages were stripped naked, lined up on the edge of a huge ravine, and machinegunned to death – except, some babies were simply tossed into the huge pit to be smothered by dead bodies. The first Jews to be killed were 752 patients from a large state-run psychiatric hospital in Kyiv. Another 70,000 were killed by bullets in the next two years. Nazis, like accountants of the wealthy, keep accurate records for their own use. Somebody figured it took 100,000 rounds of ammunition, (two tons of metal).

To save bullets near the end of the massacre, older children were thrown into the pits so they could be smothered and crushed by the weight of the dead. Local Nazis collaborated with the German military and acted as food vendors and sold sandwiches and drinks to shooters while they fired. To serve officers commanding at the site, they brought tables and served hot teas.  

If You Really Want to Understand the Russian Character, Study Gregory Rasputin    

When the Russian Army was advancing toward Kyiv near the end of WW II, Nazi commanders forcedf prisoners to dig up the bodies from the ravine and cremate them. This job was made worse by the fact that five cemeteries had been in the ravine for many years. As soon as the prisoners finished with a section of their work, they were shot on site. After war crimes trials after the war, only four German officers involved at Babn Yar (Babn is often spelled Babi) executed. My favorite Russian poet is Yevgeny  Evtushenko. Born in 1933, he was only eight years old when the massacre happened. He was 29 when he wrote “Babi Yar” in tribute to Russian Jews. Here are a few lines:     

“No monument stands over Babi Yar. A drop sheer as a gravestone, I am afraid.     Today I am as old in years as all the Jewish people, Now I seem to be a Jew.     Here I plod through ancient Egypt. Here I perish crucified on the cross,     And to this day I bear the scars of nails. Are they smashing down the door?     The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar. The trees look ominous, like judges.     Here all things scream silently, and baring my head, slowly I feel myself growing grey.     And I myself am one massive, soundless scream above the thousand thousand     Buried here. I am each old man here shot dead. Nothing in me shall ever forget!     ‘The Internationale,’ let it thunder when the last antisemite on earth is buried forever.     In my blood there is no Jewish blood. In their callous rage all antisemites     Must hate me now as a Jew. For that reason, I am a true Russian.”    

The word “putin” in the Slavic language means “road” or “related to road.” A few Russian leaders have come from poor families and traveled many roads to become dictators, although they have often been called presidents, prime ministers, or just leaders. 

Joe Stalin weas the son of a shoemaker. He was on the road again and again. Vladimir Putin traveled many roads from Saint Petersburg to East Germany and back to Moscow. He is often described as a nobody who has taken many roads who has risen to Tsar of Russia. The National Geographic magazine Classic published “The Death of Rasputin,” which is about the life and death of another Russian nobody who took very long roads (putins!) to get to be an advisor to another Russian Tsar.  

Gregory Yefimovich Rasputin was born in 1869 to Russian peasant farmers who lived in western Siberia, a long 1,600 miles from Saint Petersburg. At age 19 he married and had four children. He left his family in 1892, entered a monastery for three months, and then started to travel eastward, becoming a religious mystic and faith healer. He also gained attention from the elite by being a heavy drinker and sexual predator. He drew the faith of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra by healing their son Alexei of hemophilia, a blood disease, when he was 10 years old.

A fascinating character, he usually behaved himself and was wise and sober when with the Tsar and family or the elite of Russia. But, while away from them, he was a conflicted man who would run riot as a drunken, sexual degenerate. He was eventually murdered by Russian nobles who felt he had too much control over the Tsar. It makes for interesting reading—and revealing about Russian character. Vodka has always been a serious problem.  

No Matter: Climate Inequality and Autocratic Plutocrats Will Kill Us All Anyway    

I wonder if historians can tell us how many of the 100 billion Homo sapiens who lie dead on Planet Earth have died in wars between countries, factions, and political parties. Could it be 20%? 30%?  40%? With eight billion live people adding heat to natural functions, we have little hope of having a habitable planet. After reading about COP28 and its concluding pledges, the chances are slim to none—and Slim is busy checking out Musk rockets to Anywhere.  

At least 100,000 earthlings spent two weeks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, arguing about how to keep the earth’s temperature at an increase of only 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by 2030. (If we went to 3C, how would Phoenix be all summer at 115 F?  Thirty-four billionaires showed up because there’s lots of money in fossil fuels. They arrived by superyacht or private jet—and they ain’t nuclear. Billionaires have a new contest now. Who owns the biggest megayacht? The annual cost of owning one would fund a hospital or provide 10 million Africans a malaria shot.  

Modern-Day Pirates and the Sea Battles of the Superyachts    

The corporate press is trying to sell the idea COP28 was a success because countries agreed to “transition” to renewable sources. The president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber from the Emirates (also an oil executive), put a statement on the screen early in the morning and quickly said: ”Hearing no objections, it is so decided.” Delegates representing billionaires and fossil fuels companies lustily applauded. But Anne Rasmussen of Samoa’s Ministry of Natural Resources spoke to the delegates: “The course-correction has not been secured. There’s a litany of loopholes. We cannot afford to return to our islands with the message that this process has failed us.”

Her response got a long, standing ovation –f rom half the room. That tells the world everything about the success of COP28. The billionaires have won and the poor have lost – again and again.   \

European harbors are filled with superyachts. Owning a yacht is the most expensive and polluting activity a single person can possess. And it is a contest. Who has the biggest and most expensive – and how many does he own? Yachts are the most expensive “vacation” ever created. One of Putin’s oligarchs, Roman Abramovich, currently has the most expensive at $800 million. It has a helicopter pad so he can fly to his other yacht, the $475 million Solaris. His yachts emit 22,000 tons of carbon a year. That’s more than some poor countries! Anchored by his two is the Assam, a $600 million yacht owned by the former president of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. These yachts have swimming pools, submarines, numerous water toys such as jet-skis, and speedboats. Yachts are now being ordered with armor plate.

You know, sometimes the poor get angry about being poor. They start to “smash and grab.” Only five of the 94 billionnaire-owned fossil fuel companies have agreed to try to reach the goals of this climate change conference. At least, our climate change expert Bill Gates doesn’t own one. He rented a superyacht last year for a week. It cost him $2 million.