Author: the old contemptible PM
Two Jews find a dying Cossack. Will they take care of him or let him die? Read on...Rated: Fiction K - English - Drama/Angst - Words: 2,067 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 04-29-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2666677
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It was a wicked wind that blew through the forest beside the village, howling through the trees and through the chinks of the houses in the village. Snow was whipped up and traveled at fantastic speeds through the cold night air. And in the midst of this four ghostly figures struggled, slogging through the ankle-deep snow. But these were not ghosts, far from it. They were four Orthodox Jews of the shtetl (small town) breed, struggling to get home from shul, or synagogue, after their Sabbath was over. One held a lantern. The others held their big fur hats on with one hand and their long black coats closed with another. Their beards blew out behind them as they muttered prayers to the Creator, so they should not die. And then Yakov, one of the youngest, screamed over the howling wind "Look out there! I think I see a person!" Shloime, an older one, with more common sense, replied "Yakov, you must be seeing things! Nobody is out on a night like this unless they are a lunatic or, G-d forbid, have a death wish!" The Rebbe, squinting out into the dark, silenced them both with a loud exclamation of his own. "Quiet! I see something!" Sure, enough, a small black dot was weaving erratically through the snow, almost hidden by it. "Who will go to save this poor soul?" asked the Rebbe. "I will!" Portly Berel huffed his way next to the Rebbe. "Rebbe, huff, huff, I huff, huff, volunteer!" "You?" Shloime looked disbelievingly at Berel. "You couldn't run three feet in a storm, let alone three feet anywhere!" Berel glared at Shloime. "All right, Shloime.", the Rebbe said "You can accompany Berel to get the man". Shloime skulked for a few seconds and then, shrugging, went out into the storm.
Five minutes into the storm, the going began to get tough as the snow swirled around them. They slowly tired and were about to fall when they finally reached the man. Shloime and Berel only got a fleeting glimpse of the man as they picked him up and carried him back to the village, but when they got there they were able to see him clearly. His breathing was ragged and irregular, and his blond hair was matted with sweat and snow. He was rambling unknowingly and his eyes rolled. It was clear that he needed care, and he needed it now. Shloime, Berel, and Yakov carefully picked him up and carried him to the Rebbe's house. Finally out of the storm, they removed his ragged army-issue greatcoat and carefully laid him on a small couch in the front room of the Rebbe's house, combining a dining room and living room. A samovar with an inlaid Magen David (Star of David) stood on little corner table, and it was almost knocked down by Berel.
"You clumsy clod!" the Rebbe yelled. "I'm sorry", he apologized, in a softer tone. "I'm a little uptight from all this." "
"It's all right, Rebbe" Berel replied. Shortly after, the Rebbe went to get some soup from the kitchen, and Shloime and Berel stayed with the man. Yakov had long since left and the storm was dying down.
"You know, this fellow must have been pretty desperate to steal a soldier's coat. Some poor soldier is freezing tonight."
"You fool!" Shloime exploded. "Have you got eyes?! He is wearing a military uniform!" (The last sentence was said with great exasperation on Shloime's part. Shloime, although less generous than Berel, had a good deal more common sense.) Suddenly, the man moaned a discernable sentence, a mere bit of babble to you or me, but something of great importance to the two Jews.
"No! No! Cossacks never give up!" COSSACKS! The dreaded Jew-murderers! The killers who went on government-sanctioned killing sprees, murdering, raping, and destroying! And this was the man they had risked their lives for!?
"Rebbe!" Shloime called "Did you know our man is a Cossack?" The Rebbe rushed in.
"What? A Cossack?"
"Rebbe?" Berel asked "w-w-what should we do?"
"I say we throw him back into the snow!" Shloime shouted "But remember the commandment" Berel said
"'You shall not kill'. That would be murder!"
"What do we do, Rebbe?" The two looked at their sage for guidance. "I-I don't know" the Rebbe admitted, sinking into a chair.
"Rebbe, I think that in the case of a murderer the commandment is null."
"But Rebbe, the commandment must be obeyed in all situations."
"No, Rebbe, I―"
"SILENCE! I have made my decision. He stays with me. And you two—go"
Ten hours later
Slowly the Cossack awoke. The first thing he was conscious of was a cold so freezing that he trembled under his blankets. Slowly the cold dissipated into a blissful, warm tingling, and then it became warmth. He sat up and looked around, surveying the room. A small, shabby, table in one corner, with two chairs. A samovar, balanced on a small table next to the couch he was lying on. An overstuffed armchair. He stretched, feeling his muscles tighten and then relax. He then got up, and went into the bathroom for a wash. As he stood up, he noted that his uniform jacket, greatcoat, and boots had all been removed, and his small toiletry kit was next to the samovar. Whoever had taken him here was certainly considerate. He opened the toiletry kit, selected a straight razor and a small mirror, and went into the tiny washroom, wrinkling his nose at the smell of the chamber-pot. He straightened his undershirt, opened the razor, and began to shave. He had almost grown a beard in the four days his men had been on the march. And then it had happened. He was separated from his unit and hopelessly lost. How it happened, he preferred not think about. Once he had finished shaving he relieved himself, then, on impulse, removed his undershirt and stood in front of his mirror, examining his physique. He was impressed with what he saw. His body was well-roped in muscle, and why not? A good physique was healthy, and besides, it attracted the girls. (Here he grinned somewhat lewdly) Leaving the washroom, he went back into the room, and brewed himself a glass of tea, carefully inserting a metal spoon so the glass would not crack. As he waited, he mused over the intricate designs engraved on the samovar. Two lions, olive leaves, and… some kind of star. A Jew star? Of course not. He knew that Jews were murderers, Christ-killers, and swindlers, and would never stoop to help a fellow man. More likely it was a star of Bethlehem. Yes, that must be it. A star of Bethlehem, he thought, although the worry was still there. And then the front door opened. It was the Rebbe, just back from Minyan, the Morning Prayer. The Cossack's first thought was 'I must have slept through Mass'. His next thought: 'O my God!' The Rebbe, who had been walking home, enjoying the weather, when he walked into his home and saw that his house-guest was awake, and also had his shirt off! The Rebbe stopped short. The Cossack stood stunned. His benefactor was A JEW! The Jew must be planning to kill him! He had to get out. But wait! Perhaps this Jew wasn't supposed to be here; perhaps he was trying to steal something. He quickly dealt the Rebbe a blow to the jaw, knocking him down. The Cossack was an imposing figure, to say the least. His boots were on, and he looked contemptuously down at the Rebbe, who was rubbing his jaw. His blue eyes were cold and hard as ice, and when he spoke, his voice was the same. "What are you doing here, Jew?"
"This is my house"
"WHAT? Then this must be a Jew village!"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is" Shloime, who had seen all this, growled from the doorway.
"Well, well, another little Jew. Do your worst. I welcome the challenge"
The Rebbe stood up. His face was red, and he looked as if he was about to burst.
"Sit down, Anatoly Kahanovitch Petrov!" he yelled. This caught the Cossack, Anatoly, by surprise.
"H-how did you know my name?"
"These." The Rebbe held up two metal discs on a cloth string.
"My ID tags! Thieving Jew! You were probably going to melt them down and sell them! You Christ-killers will do anything for a kopek"
"I had gone to Minyan."
"Minyan?" sneered the Cossack "What is that, some kind of Christ-killing ritual?"
"Shut up! Shloime, leave."
"No buts. I said LEAVE!"
"Yes Rebbe." Shloime slunk out.
"Sit down, Anatoly." The Rebbe was at his wit's end. "Why do you think I rescued you?"
"To kill me!" was Anatoly's stubborn reply.
"Listen, Anatoly. If I tell you about me, perhaps you will tell me how you came to be in that storm." So saying, the Rebbe began: "I was born here fifty-six years ago, on a cold day in December. My father (May he rest in peace) was the Rebbe before me, and his father was the Rebbe before him. My destiny was preordained from birth. I was to be the Rebbe. Twelve years have passed since the last pogrom. I hoped that with the coming of the Twentieth century there would be peace between Jew and Christian. But now it is 1917, and we are embroiled in a bloody war. Yet even though Jews die by the thousands at places like Babi Yar, no one acknowledges their contributions. The Czar has never congratulated a Jewish soldier, and I know, for I was in the army for ten years. The Czar personally handed out medals to everyone in our unit, but the Jews he passed by without as much as a glance. I have been yelled at, called names, been hurt, been ignored. But I always thought I could be safe in my own home. Now I hope we will be able to come to an understanding here, and not be so frightened of the other." He finished and nodded to Anatoly "Now you." he said.
"I was born on a fall evening, twenty-four years ago. My father was a Cossack, so I was too. I had to go to a special facility when I turned twelve. They indoctrinated me with a fighting spirit, a hatred of Jews, and a strong sense of esprit de corps, comradeship. I wanted desperately to fight, but found myself assigned to a unit that would be making its way to section of the front eighty miles away. One night, during a terrible snowstorm, I offered to scout ahead. I stumbled on German patrol, and they shot my horse. I wandered until you found me, and I am rather grateful for that. But my position, Rebbe, does not allow me to come in contact with Jews. I will stay for another day and then leave." Anatoly finished. His clipped words implied that he had finished sooner than he would have liked, but someone was knocking on the door. It was a man, telling the Rebbe it was time for afternoon services. He bid Anatoly goodbye and left. When the Rebbe came back, he found Anatoly gone, with only a note left. It said:
I would have liked to have stayed, but my unit is on the outskirts of your town. I suppose they are camping overnight. Rebbe, I can now say I understand the differences between us and I hope that we will get along better in the future.
The Rebbe read it, and he shook his head, his eyes full of compassion. "You know, Anatoly", he mused "you just may be right".
Postscript: Anatoly Kahanovitch Petrov became a Bolshevik, but unfortunately, fought on the side of the Third Reich in WWII as a Nazi Cossack. He had become a Gruppenfuerher-SS (Captain) before he remembered what the Rebbe had taught him.
The Rebbe died in 1968 in Lubyanka Prison, for teaching religion to ("poisoning the minds of " ) young children. Details surrounding the circumstances of his death are still sketchy; however he will always be fondly remembered.