August 15, 1999
Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich
29 Shchekavytska Street
Dear Rabbi Bleich:
In two of my previous letters to you, namely those of 26Sep97 and 27Sep97, I enquired whether the Khmelnytsky prayer that you insist you recite every Saturday in Kyiv might not really be more of a Khmelnytsky curse, and asked you to furnish me with a copy of this prayer, but you have not as yet done so. I also raised a number of issues with you concerning Bohdan Khmelnytsky, to which you have not as yet replied. In the present letter, I add to the questions concerning Bohdan Khmelnytsky which I would like to see you answer.
Specifically, I bring to your attention that the chief source of information which Jews rely upon concerning the Khmelnytsky uprising of 1648 is Nathan Hanover's Abyss of Despair, where they laud Hanover's account as being "objective," "realistic," "reliable," and "trustworthy," and where they laud Hanover himself as being a "gifted historian":
Hanover attempt to give us an objective account of the events which led to the massacres as well as a realistic description of the bloody attacks. So popular did Hanover's chronicle become that in some communities it was customary to read it annually during the "Three Weeks." Historians like Heinrich Graetz and others regard his account as reliable and trustworthy.
The Yeven Metzulah is not a dull and monotonous record of ghastly incidents. It is a graphic delineation of a great tragedy that came to pass to an unsuspecting Polish Jewry. Hanover was a gifted historian who knew the intricate workings of history.
Abraham J. Mesch, Translator's Introduction, Nathan Hanover, Abyss of Despair (Yeven Metzulah), Transaction Books, New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.), 1983, pp. 7-8, emphasis added.
However, when one actually reads Nathan Hanover, one comes across reason to not go along with the Jewish adulation of him. Take the following passage in which Hanover describes the Khmelnytsky siege of Zamosc, and where the "enemy" referred to is Bohdan Khmelnytsky:
And it came to pass when they had been there a long time, that the enemy contrived a scheme. By the use of witchcraft they let a viper soar in the sky, and they took unto themselves as a sign: "If the viper will turn his face toward the city, we will subdue it before us, and if he will turn his face toward us we will flee before them. And it came to pass at midnight, when they saw the viper ascending skyward, and he remained suspended for about a half hour with his face toward the city. After that he turned toward the camp of the Cossacks and the Tartars. They realized that this was an evil omen for them and that evil was before their faces.
Nathan Hanover, Abyss of Despair (Yeven Metzulah), Transaction Books, New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.), 1983, pp. 90-91.
I leave you with three questions:
(1) Would you not agree that by contemporary standards, anyone capable of authoring the above narrative would be judged to be not merely unreliable, but more a writer of fairy tales than a gifted historian?
(2) In view of the possibility that much of Hanover's writing is as fictional as his account of the flying snake, would you not agree that there is some justification for viewing his work as Jewish hate literature directed against Ukrainians?
(3) Would you not agree that it is inappropriate to spread hatred against Ukrainians — particularly in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv — when that hatred is justified by evidence supplied by someone as unreliable as Nathan Hanover?