11 Tishrei 5781 / Tuesday, September 29, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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“You are a murderer of children, and I am not afraid of you," said the little girl. That girl was Anna Burda - my very special sister…


It was a hot and happy summer of the year 1960 in Odessa. Sunshine was dancing with little girls playing outside hide and seek in the courtyard of Moldavanka – the heart of the Jewish neighborhood in Odessa.  Suddenly, one big girl with red braids screamed loudly, “Watch out, ugly Baba Irishka is coming”. Scared girls ran away, but only one tiny five-year-old girl did not move. She was standing, playing with her chestnut curly hair, her wide open brown eyes filled with all the pain of her people's suffering.


Baba Irishka was a 90-year-old hunchback, who was a carbon copy of the wicked witch of the north in children's stories. She covered her head with a black scarf, wore a long black satin skirt and a brown shabby jacket with long sleeves. Everyone knew that she was hiding scary skin rashes under those long sleeves. Some girls said that her arms were covered with mold. She had a heart of stone and a soul of a black-widow spider.


With her toxic black blood, Baba Irishka never smiled.  She was slowly approaching with her bucket to fill water from the public well. When she saw a little girl standing next to the well-faucet, she turned her head with a piercing icy look and said “Hi”. The little girl did not respond, so Baba Irishka grabbed her by arm and yelled in her face, saying, “Why are you not saying Hello to me?”


“Because you are a murderer”.


“What? Can you repeat?" the old witch said.


“You are a murderer of children, and I am not afraid of you," loudly said the brave little girl to the witch. Her name was Anna Burda, and she was my very special sister.


Eighteen years before, in the frozen December of 1942 during the occupation of Odessa by the Nazis:  In the same courtyard of Moldavanka, two little Jewish girls: five-year-old Rivka, and three-year-old Betya were hidden from the Nazis by a Russian neighbor, Katya. 


On one of those bitter cold December 1942 mornings, three Nazi soldiers were knocking at the door of Katya’s house. When Katya opened the door, her face was pale as her whitewashed walls, for she knew why the Germans had come. One Nazi was tall with a narrow face and thin lips like a caterpillar; he shouted, “Where are you hiding the Juden?” Katya was trembling, trying to block the entrance with her body. Another stout Nazi with small eyes and a porcine face pushed her hard with his rifle and yelled, "Jew lovers? Do you want to die with your children for Jews' sake?"  The more he yelled the more his face turned red and he looked like a big fat hog.


Katya stood frozen; at that moment, the two little sisters Betya and Rivka appeared holding hands: “We are here, don’t hurt anyone”, said Rivka, and the oldest, Betya in a soft, shaking voice said, “We are not afraid of you.”


The thin Nazi with the ugly caterpillar face turned to the girls and took candy out of his pocket, singing, "Sweet candy for sweet girls." When Betya and Rivka reached to take the candy, the Nazis shot them dead. It was a deadly silence, broken only by the two tiny icicles that fell off the roof of the house. All the neighbors gathered and froze in horror, except for Baba Irishka who had a big smile on her face while one of the Nazis gave her an approving look.


Eighteen years later in Odessa, 1960:


All the neighbors knew that Baba Irishka worked as an informer for the Nazis and that many Jews were killed by her information. It was a big mystery how Baba Irishka got away with this terrible crime. She had never been arrested or persecuted by the Ukrainian authorities.


The only slap on the face she received was when a brave five- year-old looked her straight in the face and said, “You are a murderer!”


"What did you say?" asked Baba Irishka, grabbing Anya by her shoulder and screaming in her face.


“You are a murderer of children! I will never talk to you, and I am not afraid of you!"


Baba Irishka stared at Anya with her steely, faded eyes, “Dirty Jew”, she said with rage on her face, dropping her bucket and walking away.


When Anya ran home and told Papa what had happened, he slapped her on the face. Why? With tears in her eyes she asked. There was no answer, just fear on his face.


Next day, while girls were playing outside, Baba Irishka came out, limping, bowing her head and eyes. Girls, ignoring her, continued to jump rope, laughing under a baby blue sky filled with a golden sunshine smile. No one stopped, no one ran and no one was afraid of ugly Baba Irishka anymore.


During all this time Anya never said hello to Baba Irishka nor talked to her. Anya was the only one who told the truth to Baba Irishka, like a silver bell sounding the ultimate victory of Judaism.


Years later, Baba Irishka’s daughter died. She lived a lonely, long and miserable life until she died at 99 years old.


This sister Anya told this story. All names are real and not changed, because we are not afraid of Baba Irishka.


Unfortunately, my dear, beloved sister Anna is not with me anymore; she passed away on December 5, 2015.


This essay is in her cherished memory. Thank you, Anechka, for being a blessing in my life.

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