As we gather around our seder tables this week, we encourage serious discussion about the reported atrocities being perpetrated by the Russian war machine against defenseless civilians in Ukraine. According to reports, Russian forces have left a shocking trail of death in their wake. The Russian army’s retreat from the Kyiv area — and particularly from Bucha — left disturbing evidence and horrific stories of massive execution of civilians. Russian missiles have targeted hospitals, schools and places where civilians are known to shelter — including the graphic images we have all seen of the pregnant woman being carried out of a maternity hospital that had just been bombed. The woman and her baby both died. And last Friday, another missile struck a train station where thousands of people, mostly women and children, had gathered. The Russian war effort’s apparent careless disregard for human life is profoundly troubling.
If the reports are credible — and we have no reason to distrust them — they paint an ugly picture of atrocities that cannot be ignored.
Our government must continue to lead world outrage with meaningful action. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 — similar to the lend-lease act designed to help Britain against Nazi attacks before the U.S. entered World War II — which would enable the U.S. to provide military equipment and other resources that Ukraine could use now and pay for at a later date.
We support the ramping up of sanctions against Russia and the continuation of significant funding for military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. These efforts are the right thing to do, and prompt action will help us avoid anything similar to the painful guilt and recriminations many feel from knowing that the U.S. fell short in the 1930s and ’40s by not admitting more Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and from reluctance to bomb railways leading to Nazi concentration camps. So now, we are proud to see America’s quick and meaningful responses to Russia’s Ukraine outrages and U.S. leadership in the unification of our allies.
But we add a word of caution: In discussing the horror of Russia’s behavior and callous disregard for human life, be careful what you call it. What is happening in Ukraine is unforgivable. But it is too glib to label the war crimes being committed in Ukraine as “another Holocaust.” It isn’t. It is its own horrible thing, and the inhuman behavior deserves vilification and condemnation. But comparing Ukraine to the Holocaust is unnecessary, and doing so diminishes the unique suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and the Ukrainian people now.
During Passover, we imagine ourselves to be with our ancestors on the night of their redemption. We make their story our story. This year, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our brethren in Ukraine. And let’s be part of their salvation. PJC