Ukraine Then and Now: Prophetic Poem Written by Shalom Gershtein, Rabbi Liebowitz’s Grandfather

This is poem written by Rabbi Liebowitz’s grandfather, a Hebrew poet and teacher who escaped from Ukraine over 100 years ago. This poem could have been written today.

To my teacher Joseph and to my sister-in-law Mrs. Golda with eternal love, I send this picture. It is very difficult for me to bear the sadness of my separation.

Three years we were persecuted
Like sheep devoured by wolves were our own brethren. On Ukrainian soil our brothers’ blood was spilt like water And there was no one left with any spirit.

We were petrified
For we were led like sheep to the slaughter.
Everywhere. We fled from the sword.
We were wounded, no part of our body saved…
The wood and everything in it were filled with their greatness That was a delight for our foes
Children from their fathers were lost
Since with fear they used to run to find shelter.
They were trembling, often losing their minds.
In vain was there hope.
Meanwhile, every day our brothers fell like flies in a frosty weather.

Never had our souls found rest from hard labor.
Hunger and thirst caressed our souls.
Till they dropped to the ground-our little ones.
Our cry was a cry of the poverty stricken.
Our eyes were shedding tears like…after heavy rain and dew. We raised our eyes to the mountains
And there was no one to plead for us.
‘God, you have forsaken us.’
Neighbours and friends betrayed us.
Who is there for us to turn to for help?
Who will support us in time of distress?
We left our homeland, our clothes-and little money were taken by evil folk.

And here we sit doing absolutely nothing.
And there is no work to find, not even to earn some water.

Shopkeepers give their goods on credit hoping to receive good payment later.

Everything costs manifold more.
And since there is no work we eat double as much. And we play the tune…
Why do I live, what do I need it for?
A poor man is a dead man.

Shalom Gershtein  1899-1926