I first encountered hatred as a Jew in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, when I was 11 years old in 1969. Without provocation, two boys called me a dirty Jew in the hallway of my school. Sneering, they punched me in the face and body and knocked me down. I cried going home.

Incidents like these led me to begin investigating my heritage. My parents were secular Jews who never mentioned our past. They never celebrated Passover or attended synagogue. My father died when I was 10.

While researching my family roots, I made a sad discovery in a book of remembrances that listed victims of the 1941 Babi Yar ravine massacre, which happened near Kiev. Nazi death squads took more than 30,000 Jews (including children), stripped them naked, and led them to the bottom of the 50-foot ravine, where they were slaughtered with machine guns. My grandfather, aunt, and two cousins were among the dead. Thousands more died the same way through 1943.

Ukraine’s Communist government suppressed details of the massacre. For a long time, even acknowledging the Holocaust was taboo. Finding that millions of Jews were murdered in Nazi concentrations camps during World War II shocked me.

The government was well known for its anti-Semitic attitude, and it treated us as second-class citizens. We always knew rejection. Officials stamped “Jew” on my identity card and student records. The KGB monitored Jews attending Sabbath services.

As a teenager, I heard about a group of young toughs beating up someone I knew, yelling, “Hitler should have killed all of you!” Hatred against Germans poured into my heart.

Peace with God

Because universities in Ukraine only accepted a small number of Jews, mainly for scientific or engineering studies, I decided ...

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