Shouting for Justice
The Journey of a Jewish Journalist Across the Century of Hitler and Israel
by Herb Brin. Copyright © September 2002. All rights reserved.
Chapter Nineteen: Jews in the Soviet Union
A journalist who finds himself on the firing line of freedom rarely has a personal chance of altering human events. Generally he reports on the news and readers react with a subliminal "gee whiz." If at all. It was a far different ballgame in December of 1960 when I reported on Jewish events from Moscow.
I had long prided myself on the warmth of my relationship with the Jewish Labor Committee, of which Adolph Held was chairman.
Held worked out of New York. Harry and Lucy Lang, key leaders of the Jewish Labor Committee, worked on the West Coast.
Lucy, a girlhood chum of Paula Ben-Gurion, had been an inspiring leader of the American labor movement. Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, was proud of his highly vocal and amazingly activist secretary, Lucy Lang.
Lucy's husband, Harry Lang, was Sunday editor of the Jewish Daily Forward (known to Yiddishists as The Forverts). Both Harry and Lucy were especially dear friends of mine and of the late Harry Golden. Remember Harry Golden's monthly Carolina Israelite newspaper and the sensational book that came out of it -- Only in America?
Harry Golden would write a weekly column for Heritage and I would write occasional pieces for his Israelite.
Harry flew out to California one day to insist that I take over the Israelite.
"You are the only one in America who understands the paper and can write its copy," he insisted.
"But how am I going to keep Heritage afloat, also?" I asked. "Time is doing a killer job on both of us."
It wasn't long that Harry Lang organized a gala luncheon at Andre's Restaurant in Beverly Hills.
"I'm having 15 editors coming out from New York, plus Isaac Bashevis Singer. I want them to meet you. They want you to become English editor of the Forverts."
I was impressed.
The English edition would be weekly.
That's the nicest tribute to a Jewish guy in journalism that I can imagine.
"Now, Harry -- How the hell could I do it?"
"You tell them," Harry countered. "they'll be out here on Sunday."
Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize winner, came out a couple of days early. I tried to explain to him that there is a limit to a man's capacity to edit a Jewish journal in English and then to take on a similar task for the Jewish Daily Forward in New York. I'd go dizzy flying back and forth.
It was a great luncheon at Andre's. They got the point.
I was honored beyond anything that came to me in life. But this was not possible.
§ § § § § § § § § §
But I did accept an assignment firm Adolph Held, chairman of the Jewish Labor committee, an offshoot of the Workmen's Circle, a creation of the Jewish Daily Forward.
I got a call form Harry Lang to meet with Held at the Beverly Hilton. Lang made it clear that the meeting was of critical importance.
Indeed it was. Perhaps one of the most important in modern Jewish history.
Held said: "There seems to be great trouble for Jews living in the Soviet Union. They appear trapped and can't get out. We must find somebody reliable to check this story out. Somebody who can get a visas from the Soviets."
"Would you try for a visa?" Held asked.
No Eastern Jewish journalist seemed acceptable to the Soviet government. But maybe one from California?
A visa came through for me only days before travel hopes would have fallen apart. I didn't believe it. The visa allowed for a two-week visit to the Moscow area -- as a tourist.
Not much time for serious coverage of an important story.
Oh, they knew in the Kremlin that Herb Brin was a Jewish journalist. Would Herb Brin be able to cause them problems during the regime of Nikita Khruschev? All he writes for is a small Jewish newspaper based near Hollywood. Where could there be any harm?
For two weeks in Moscow, to avoid touring the region with an Intourist guide, I arranged for a series of colds and chills and much-needed medical attention.
I took advantage of my malingering by visiting Moscow's chief rabbi, a man named Levin, and attending services at the Moscow synagogue.
§ § § § § § § § § §
Worshippers had been alerted that I had arrived and from all directions they came to me at the synagogue, thrusting pieces of paper into my coat pockets. There were some 18 to 20 invitations to visit them in their homes.
If I could get there.
Taxis made it a simple task. Everywhere, when I asked in fragment Yiddish or in English, "What happened to Jewish life here in Moscow?" in almost one voice they responded: "Shrei gevaldt!"
The Soviets had been doing a job on the Jews of the Soviet Union -- never mind that many wore the highest of Soviet medals won in the fierce battles against the nazis.
I assured the Jewish families that I would scream from the rooftops. I haven't stopped hollering after all these years.
Saturday morning I walked over to the Israeli Embassy, hoping to hear the views of Ambassador Golda Meir. I had known Golda from her Chicago and Milwaukee days. Golda would be away for the week, I was told.
Her deputy said to me: "Let's take a walk." His eyes scanned the walls. A warning that the walls had ears.
We walked in the nearby park for a considerable distance before the Israeli diplomat would say a word.
"Now, we talk..."
Word had come to him that a journalist from California would be out as a visitor.
I asked: What shall I make of reports I'm receiving from the Jewish families I am visiting?'
The Soviet are clamping down on the Jews.
Jewish students are being hampered in the colleges.
Jewish military heroes are being rousted.
Jobs are being denied to the Jews... all this after Hitler.
I am being asked to shrei gevaldt when I leave the Soviet Union.
Even Aaron Vergelis, the so-called "commissar for the Jews," was a badly frightened man when I met with him briefly during my sojourn in Moscow.
Was a terrifying new truth emerging for our people?
"When you leave, remember everything," the diplomat said. "Shrei gevaldt!"
That night I flew out to Rome, landing there at around 3 a.m. to await a night flight via El Al to New York.
Suddenly, I heard a loud speaker announcement for "Mr. Brin, go to a white telephone," in the huge airport lobby.
"You are being asked to return to Israel on a waiting El Al plane," I was told.
Before going to Moscow, I'd visited Israel. Was picked up in Warsaw for my flight to Moscow by Soviet jet -- a flight singular enough, distinguished by attendants who served black bread and black beer. Sure enough clue that I had entered another world!
§ § § § § § § § § §
The El Al plane back to Israel was all but empty of passengers. Landed at about 4 a.m. and was told we were headed for Jerusalem.
Short of 5 a.m., in the dark, I was led to a maze of government offices -- then into the private office of the prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
Awaiting my arrival also was Tom Tugend, my senior associate editor. Tom was toying with a cheapie camera.
Ben-Gurion turned over a corner of his desk to me so I could fill him in on my experiences in Moscow. I spoke slowly in English to a prime minister who took lengthy notes in Hebrew. Tugend shot several photos of the historic scene. Fortunately, one of the photographs came out well enough to be of use to a newspaper.
At one point in my presentation, B-G looked me in the eye and said that what I was reporting to him would be one of the most important projects that Jewish people would have to perform -- the saving of Jews out of the Soviet Union.
The notes made by the prime minister were collected and are included in the archives of Ben-Gurion's historic documents.
Ben-Gurion was right. My visit to Moscow had been credited with launching the campaign to free Jews from entrapment by the Soviet Union.
§ § § § § § § § § §
Often I wonder whether there was a higher plan for my beautiful mother to flee the pogrom that struck her family in Pietrikov along the Dnieper River -- and caused her to flee to the Statue of Liberty, to Castle Garden, and then to Chicago to await my father who would flee from the degrading army of the Czar.
Chapter Twenty: Trials of the 1980s
For much of the 1980s I was teamed up with David Rose, one of America's leading courtroom artists.
We covered Jewish National Fund projects in Israel during the early 1980s and then were accorded the first press credentials of the French government to cover the Klaus Barbie trial when the "Butcher of Lyon" was found guilty of killing Jewish children.
I was shocked to 1earn that Barbie had later been hired by the U.S. government as a spy against the Soviet Union and France. Paid in cigarettes and candy bars.
Rose and I spent several months in Germany where I obtained material for a book, Where are the Children? Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel joined in offering a section, "Reflections in Epilogue," for that book.
Hymie Brin had come a long way from the City Press days when a rewrite man insisted that he was "too soft" to be a successful journalist.
Brin and Rose were asked by Israel's Zim Container Ship Lines to cover highlights of Jewish commerce in the Pacific. We spent months aboard Zim container ships, visiting ports of call in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
We came back to Heritage to cover the trial in Denver of a dozen members of the Aryan Nations. They were charged with killing Denver's radio talk show host, Alan Burg. Pumped 13 bullets into him, in cold blood. That was followed by our coverage of federal charges directed against the entire Aryan Nations and leaders in California of the Ku Klux Klan.
This was at a trial held in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Federal charges were dismissed.
It was inevitable that David Rose and I would need a vacation from each other.
I took mine by way of a visit to Lake Louise in Canada's glaciers country where I launched a new circle of nature poems. Example:
I Hear the Bluebird Cry
In the dull morning of the mountains
The swift highway to Banff
Is silent beneath the tires
Of my LeBaron.
Of a sudden the sun explodes
And the summer rain
Of the essential colors
And shamelessly I sing a childhood song
Alone in my LeBaron
As a rainbow sharpens an eyebrow arch
Above a traffic-yellowed ice cap
Where the sky is blue
Enthralled, I search for bluebirds
Which always fly, do they not
Higher even than the ice fields of Banff.
But I really find no bluebirds
Nor pots of gold
In this rainbow reverie
Seeking sources of my bedazzlement.
Somewhere over the rainbow
And the colors follow me
Along an undulating river of highway
Amidst these glaciers of Alberta
Where I embrace the mysteries
Of long forgotten melodies.
A scraggly mountain squirrel
Leaps out across the roadway
Then is halted by indecision
As I screech the brakes of my LeBaron
To spare the tiny animal
Which then flies against the wheel
Of an oncoming car
Selecting another to be the killer.
Life, as it must, ebbs
For frightened animal
Now making circles in the roadway dust,
Its body hurtled into concentrics
By the impact
As traffic races on.
Across the icefields is still the rainbow
Arching above the glaciers
But now I hear no childhood singing
Over this rainbow
Nor does the bluebird fly, this day
Over the mountains to Banff.
Yet it seems, in softest tone
I hear the bluebird cry.
August 31, 1989 Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
For my return to California, I noted that the route would take me through Coeur D'Alene, not very far from the Hayden Lake compound of the Aryan Nations Ku Klux Klan gang.
I telephoned Dan Brin, our Heritage senior editor and my right arm:
"What do you think about my trying to make it inside the Aryan Nations compound? Ever hear of a Jewish reporter doing a piece about a visit to a Kluxer killer compound?"
"Sensational idea," Dan said, excited but concerned about his old man. "But dangerous as hell!"
Drove to Couer D'Alene and made it to the sheriff's office. I wanted his staff to be aware that I was on my way to Hayden Lake and that if I didn't call him within four or five hours, please to look for me in the compound.
And so I drove somewhat bravely, if not fool-hardily into a private dirt road leading to the training grounds of one of the most savage anti-Semitic operations in America.
Only to be met by eight or nine savage, snarling dogs.
I let the dogs snarl and bark for a considerable time. Then I got out of the car and headed angrily for the most savage of the dogs, waving my arms and snarling back at him. The dog, a German Shepherd, turned away and fled into a nearby wooded area. The other dogs followed.
I sauntered over to the compound's small office building. I asked a woman in the office for Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations.
"You're out of luck," she said. "He's away at court."
I handed her my card with its Ten Commandments logo above which was proclaimed: Heritage, Southwest Jewish Press.
I explained that I'd met Mr. Butler at the Fort Smith trial and that he suggested for me to come and visit the Hayden Lake compound.
Which was true enough.
Figuring that I didn't have the guts to show up.
The woman proved to be Butler's office manager. She agreed to show me around.
She went into another room to make a telephone call. Left me with a bookcase full of KKK literature. Mostly how to organize a Ku Klux Klan kaboodle.
The Klan literature and an Aryan Nations coffee mug caught my eye. Wouldn't the West Coast director of the Anti-Defamation League love to have a coffee mug souvenir from the Aryan Nations compound?
"You want it? You can have it," the woman said, returning from her somewhat excited phone call. "Come, I'll show you around."
Took me next door to a rather large wooden church building marked with hanging swastikas.
We had a church service here this morning," she said.
Inside the church were huge nazi banners, three or four photos of Hitler and an occasional cross.
Beside the church building was the compound's KKK parade ground, littered with charred wooden crosses.
"This is where you burn the crosses," I observed.
"We never burn crosses," she corrected me. "We light crosses."
"There was a cross lighting ceremony here last night," the woman observed.
Ten or twelve Kluxers took part in the ceremony she said. It was conducted by Rev. Butler.
She agreed to photograph me amidst the burned crosses -- using my own camera.
She appeared nervous as she showed me around, apparently unsure that she was doing the right thing. There were a number of youthful male voices coming out of shacks where visiting Kluxers were put up for the night. Nobody came out to assist Butler's office manager in the decisions she was making.
These were the grounds where an aide to Butler, Robert Matthews, had organized the group of killers called The Order. This subgang would ride herd on the Pacific Coast Highway, seeking targets for highway robberies that netted them in excess of $4 million.
When the FBI got too hot on their trail, Matthews would lead his gang to Whidby Island, off the coast of Seattle. It was on Whidbey Island that the FBI caught up with the gang. In a violent shootout, Matthews was shot to death.
It was to Hayden Lake that Butler moved the notorious Wesley (Shifty Legs) Swift's Church of Jesus Christ, raising the proposition that the northwest states ought to become the homeland for the "True Israelite" nation because it was to this country that the true Lost Tribes of Israel had come to fulfill all the visions of prophecy given to the Jewish people, who are now irrelevent.
As I left for my car, the pack of snarling dogs snarled away, but at a distance.
P.S. - I walked out of the Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake with a beautiful, somewhat, coffee mug and an armload of literature on how to start a Ku Klux klavern.
I donated these items to David Lehrer, Pacific Region director for the Anti-Defamation League.
"You walked in on the Aryan Nations?" David observed. "I don't believe it."
He sipped slowly on his very own coffee mug.
"Sonuvagun!" he said.
Chapter Twenty-One: War Correspondences
Dear readers - If you're still around, you'll perhaps want to know that this is being written on a Hermes 3000, a manual typewriter sitting on my desk beside an iMac computer with all kinds of gadgets etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
I can't seem to find a typewriter mechanic who can fix the tape-advancing dealeeoh on my beloved Hermes. And so I've got to fiddle around with its wheeleeoh every couple of lines.
O.K., don't ask me why I'm not using my spanking new blue iMac. But I'll tell you. Would you believe -- my son Dan installed the iMac for me some 8 months ago, and I'll be smitten, I still don't know what an Internet is. Dan teaches me in one ear and suddenly ideas for a chapter bounce out of the other and plaintively I reach for my Hermes.
This whole friggin' book's been banged out on the Hermes.
Come on, you Silicon Valley bums. Have a heart ... flying mice on TV screens -- click, click.
I'll be 87 in February, two months hence. He gets me an iMac!
O.K., back to the story. I'm tempted to call it: "If your mother says he loves you -- CHECK IT OUT!" Damned good title. Am checking it out.
If Dan will let me. Ah ... youngsters are kings these days!
NOW back to the story...
It's still Chapter 21, remember?
§ § § § § § § § § §
I missed being in Israel to cover the War of Independence for the Jewish state. But I did manage to be there for most of the others wars, including the savage War of Attrition that followed the Six Day War of 1967.
The War of Attrition actually was a showdown air war between Israeli and Soviet pilots. There were numerous Soviet planes that were shot down over the Negev Desert. I wondered, were the Israelis heading to a war with the Soviets?
Both Egypt and Syria were in huge propaganda campaigns against the Israelis and there was a question mark: How would the tiny state of Israel be able to survive another combined effort by Syria, Egypt and Jordan?
When the 1967 showdown came, I was with a group of American publishers of Jewish newspapers on a tour of Israel.
The tour ended as President Nasser, of Egypt, began moving his armies into the Sinai Desert. At the same time, Nasser informed the Israelis that the Straits of Tiran would henceforth be closed to Israeli shipping out of the Port of Eilat.
Ominous, but hardly a shooting war.
Our tour was leaving for Rome on June 6 and the Israelis insisted that all members of the tour leave together. Which meant Herb Brin, also.
I loaded my taxi outside the Tel Aviv Hilton and we were about to move out when a young (40-ish) man came up and asked to be given my cab. Had a flight to catch out to Rome.
"Come on in," I said. "We're headed for the airport also. For Rome. You're welcome to climb aboard."
He had a rather large suitcase, which the driver fastened to the roof of the taxi, and we were off.
As we pulled away from the Hilton, I offered my name: "Herb Brin."
He took my hand and said, "Winston Churchill."
Said he was headed back to England where he was a member of Parliament. "There won't be a war," he said. "If war breaks out, I'll be on the next plane back to Israel."
If war breaks out, will Herb Brin be able to get back as easily as the grandson of Britain's wartime prime minister?
While we were in the air, war broke out.
I saw Winston Churchill leave the plane, racing for an El Al counter to get him back to Israel. He made it. He made it.
It took me 18 hours to get back to Israel.
§ § § § § § § § § §
But I got there.
The Israeli pilots devastated the Egyptians. I headed for the Syrian front, and from the shores of Lake Tiberias one could look up into the barrels of Syrian tanks. This was now a struggle for the Golan Heights.
An Israeli truck took me up to a hillside fortress on the slopes of Mount Hermon. This was a point only 14 miles or so from Damascus.
Firing away by mortar were Israelis, many still in civilian garb. "The war came on too fast for our unit," one of the mortar men explained. The Syrians needed no explanation.
Higher up, near the crest of Mount Hermon, Capt. Motti Yonay was killed. Motti was the brother of Ehud Yonay, one of our Heritage editors. Motti had visited my home in Malibu. I didn't learn of his loss until later. Later. Broke my heart.
§ § § § § § § § § §
There is no heroism in being assigned to cover the theaters of war as they come along.
In the Middle East conflict, the theaters of war seem always to be there. Waiting.
By time I got back from the Mount Hermon outpost confronting Damascus, the Western Wall was back in Israeli hands. Hopefully forever. I joined a group of Israelis that stormed their way to Mount Scopus, with its once-great educational and medical facilities.
I shudder when I think of explosions that shattered the walls and ceilings of the Hadassah Hospital. The nearby Hebrew university was also hardly spared the many years of occupation by Jordanian forces. Must admit, though, that I was thrilled to see the view of the Dead Sea from the crest of Mount Scopus.
But the now-free Western Wall was a magnet for me. Wrote my heart out on these stories.
§ § § § § § § § § §
I covered only the aftermath of 1973's Yom Kippur War -- which came with unpredictable suddenness. This was prelude to Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat's greatest moment, later, as he and Menachem Begin clasped hands at Camp David and created a dream of infinite possibilities for peace between Egypt and Israel.
A dream that ended all too soon for Anwar Sadat.
To Begin's credit, Israel kept all her promises made to Sadat, including the dismantling of an Israeli city in the Sinai Desert which I felt ought to have been maintained as an outpost of democracy.
Then came Operation Peace for the Galilee in 1982.
It was Israel's tremendous victory in the 1973 War which enabled me to join with an American Broadcasting unit that was crossing the Suez Canal heading for Suez City at first and then to Kilometer 101 in the Egyptian Desert. Here Egyptian forces surrendered en masse to Israel's Gen. Ariel (Arik) Sharon.
The 1973 War was a classic in military daring.
At one point I was with an advanced Israeli unit that allowed large containers of water to be ferried across the canal and thus save the lives of thousands of Egyptians stranded on the Israeli side.
I still have my press card that was issued in Switzerland, which I carry to commemorate the conclusion of the war between Egypt and Israel.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Where Are the Children?
This section must be included in any writing that I do in relation to my own understanding of events that transpired in Europe -- in Germany! -- during the terrible years in which I was a reporter at large, preparing my book Where Are The Children?
It came out during an interview with Dr. Klaus Kinkel, Germany's foreign minister. I asked him for an explanation of Germany's Hitlerian madness.
"I still cannot, as you cannot, understand how it was possible that intelligent people, intellectuals, university people, judges, church people, all failed to stop the coming up of the nazis," he said.
I promptly took the occasion to suggest the following:
"A million and a half children were murdered by the state. The judicial system of Germany did not protect one child at a public trial. We have the names of nobody who went through the gas chambers. Nobody was put on trial by the German government. A million and a half children were manufactured to death by government. They went nameless and ageless to their deaths. Not one child was asked whether he pleads guilty or not guilty. Where was the great judicial system of Germany?"
Dr. Kinkel, who was then the state secretary to the Ministry of Justice of the Federal Republic, said sorrowfully: "I understand you. I understand you..."
Dr. Kinkel said the sending of children and their mothers to the gas chambers, "was all done in secrecy"... not known to the population at large.
"It was all done secretly and the people didn't know about it."
"Dr. Kinkel, may I suggest that thousands of SS soldiers, officers and leaders of the nazi regime didn't exactly disappear from the face of the Earth. Members of the SS are still here in Germany. I mean, the people who controlled the camps. Is it really possible that it was all a massive secret, that nobody knew?"
"In saying that people didn't know, I don't want to relieve anyone of the responsibility concerning these terrible acts. Of course there are people who knew, responsible people. And they also knew why they put the camps in Poland and not in Germany. But the majority of the people did not know.
"This does not mean that they would have tried to prevent matters from happening. They probably would still have remained silent and probably would have said, 'We can't do anything about it'."
§ § § § § § § § § §
Dr. Bruno Heck, secretary general of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, was asked: "What happened to a million and a half Jewish children? Why were they slaughtered?"
"In March 1941, Hitler gave a secret speech to his officers and generals explaining why the Germans must invade Russia. Then he talked about the enemy number one, the Communists and the Jews. He said we must destroy them in our historical mission and not only in the first generation but even in the second generation. Because if you don't kill the second generation you will have people of revenge. They will find you. This is a terrible understanding of let's get rid of the Jewish children."
Brin: Through it all, the educated community of Germany went along with the killings.
Heck: Yes, it is what I call the historical guilt of a higher educated generation of Germans, and we must somehow repay what I say is a historical mortgage owed to the Jewish people.
Brin: I sat quietly for the longest moment of my life. I wanted no part of that mortgage.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Andrija Artukovic
For more than 35 years I dogged a guy named Andrija Artukovic. He wanted to live freely in America. I wanted to have him sent back to Croatia branded a killer. Which he was.
He was sent back.
A complicated, complicated story. But heartbreaking.
Andrija Artukovic was brought out of Europe by the Catholic Church. He was dressed as a priest in Ireland where he and his family were picked up and somehow secreted to America. To a luxurious home in Seal Beach, California, prepared for them by Artukovic's brother, a prominent paving contractor.
Each year, U.S. immigration authorities would hold a hearing in Federal Court, seeking to order the return to Zagreb, of Artukovic who was charged with being wartime Croatia's interior minister and Hitler disciple.
Artukovic was founder of the notorious Ustasha murder gang, credited with playing the key role in the slaughter of some 700,000 Serbs and an estimated 65,000 Jews and Gypsies.
After one immigration hearing at the federal building in Los Angeles, a gang of Ustasha thugs surrounded me. One snarled that he would personally nail down the cover to my casket.
Suddenly, a well-dressed young man pushed to the center of the courthouse melee and ordered the gang to back away.
"This is not what we do in America," he said sternly. The Croatian gang pulled back.
The young man offered me his hand. "My name is Radislav Artukovic. I've been reading what you've been writing about my father..."
"Nothing I write about your father may be visited upon you," I said.
I congratulated Rad Artukovic for his courage in standing up to a home grown Californian gang of Ustasha members. Rad later visited me at our Heritage office. A deeply troubled young man.
It wasn't long after that that his father was deported back to Croatia, where, in his 80s, he was placed on trial in Zagreb charged with countless heinous crimes against humanity.
There, in prison, Artukovic died.
Immigration officials credited Heritage with playing the key role in bringing Andrija Artukovic to justice.
§ § § § § § § § § §
The Serbian community of California noted our efforts to have Artukovic returned to Zagreb for trial.
A delegation of California Serbs came to my office near the University of Southern California.
I was invited as guest of the Serbian Orthodox Church to visit Serbia and meet with the church patriarch, who had learned of my role in having Artukovic returned to Croatia in the cause of justice.
A war between the Croats and Serbs was steaming up. It was 1993. Croatia was still using Ustasha methods in confronting Serbs.
I agreed to accept the invitation on condition the delegation receives approval, also, from two of my sons, Dr. David Brin, an astrophysicist, and Dan Brin, Heritage editor. They agreed, provided that the Serbian Orthodox Church would provide me with a full-time attendant and keep me out of the way of bullets. (Mind you, I was 78 and heading for a war zone. Still, it seemed overprotective of an old news hound!)
I was already beginning to rely on a cane to get around.
§ § § § § § § § § §
I flew from New York to Budapest, then by bus to Belgrade. There I was met by a representative of the patriarch of the Serbian church and by a Jewish woman who said she represented the Jewish community of Serbia. Actually, she represented the government of Slobodan Milosevic. She was surrounded by a bodyguard of soldiers wherever she went.
The church had sent along a tall, English-speaking young priest with a beautiful sense of humor. And he loved American poetry. Indeed, he quoted lines from my own poems, which he said were very good indeed.
Darn tootin', I said, agreeing with him that he was an excellent judge of poetic genius.
He took me to dinner with the Patriarch. I assured the Patriarch that the young man would go far in the Serbian church.
The woman guide said she would work with the young man of the Serbian church and thus avoid an embarrassing conflict over my availability. She asked whether I could attend Sabbath services with her and I said I would be proud to accept.
With this as backdrop, I toured all of Serbia and Kosovo, meeting with church elders and suggesting that Serbia faced a dangerous situation by remaining in Kosovo without a huge influx of Serbs into the area.
The Serb population of Kosovo had become a minority. and the immigrant Albanians who now dominated its population were being handed a historic section of ancient Serbia.
My Jewish guide told me that Serbia was occupied with seeking to hold off a large Croatian army in the Bosnian-Herzgovian sector of former Yugoslavia and that Serbs were lacking in manpower.
"The handwriting is on the wall," I told her.
A Serbian contingent took me to what they described as a quiet section of the front with Croatia. It was not very quiet when we got there.
A Croatian battle force on the other side of the Sava River began firing away at the Serbian party I was with. We all hit the ground, and when the shooting halted, we managed to flee the district and head for Sarajevo, Bosnia.
On the way there, our party visited Jasenovac, the burial grounds for thousands upon thousands of Ustasha victims.
There were huge burial mounds at Jasenovac and a museum explaining how the Ustasha made short shrift of its victims.
Gypsies were used to slit the throats of victims, using a curved kama knife. A horrendous physical task.
Sarajevo was the Bosnian city where an assassin killed an archduke to launch World War I. It also contains many important Jewish memories -- a Jewish cemetery on a hilltop and a facility that contains the original Sarajevo Haggadah, a medieval masterpiece referred to by Jews everywhere on the Passover holiday. A prized sacred relic.
Soon, Sarajevo would be engulfed in the full savagery that happens when men fall for their hatred of others in groups, calling whole families and peoples less than human, deserving of death.
I took a bus from Sarajevo to the Mediterranean coast and wrote some poems, one of which is contained in this volume. Thus ended my coverage of the great wars of Europe during a terrible 20th Century.
What more can a man say?
That question always nags you. What more could I have said, to help make things better?
Better for those I loved across a long life.
Better for a nation that my parents came to and that -- despite hardships -- was truly wonderful to all of us.
Better for a people who have suffered unimaginable cruelty... and have a long journey ahead, to find peace.
How I wish I could say more! Keep on shouting and writing and crying out for justice!
But here we are. One small human chapter rounding up. As Heritage moved on to new owners, taking on new challenges. As my sons and their children face yet another century of wonders and perils.
As you must now turn your faces ahead...
Do it with hope. Face the future with love and courage, and always with an unblinking eye to spot injustice, challenging the evils that men do.
Above all, face it with hope.
Dateline LOS ANGELES...
Herb Brin, pugnacious journalist, editor, poet and dogged campaigner for liberal and Jewish causes, died of congestive heart failure on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003, at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda. His death came 11 days shy of his 88th birthday and shortly after he completed his autobiography, pecked out with two fingers on a manual typewriter.
On the flight that took him Aliyah to his resting place, in Jerusalem, overlooking the Temple Mount, Herb was accompanied in the hold of the El Al 747 by another Jewish hero, the astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died as the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart in the sky over Texas, sixteen minutes from home.
Herb must have arranged an exclusive.
No doubt, that was only the beginning of their voyage together, on wings of awe.
Where skis slalom
Their Olympian memories
And skaters will forever race
The frozen lakes
Reliving lost chances
Where 19 year old Javrilo Princip
Pointed pistol at an archduke, crying:
"For Serbian freedom!"
And a world enmeshed darkness
Discovering trenches, poison gas
And lost chances by the millions.
Where German defeat
Festered a twisted cross
And a new order
And new terrors named Ustasha
New gases, new rockets, new atoms
And more lost chances
Than humankind can fathom.
At the bus stop
Where we waited for hours
Freezing in the new winter
Her eyes glistened discovery.
A student in the faculty of literature
That I, poet of my winter years,
Would be at her side
The medieval castle city
On the Adriatic.
We spoke of books and legends
(Every people must weave its legends)
The poet must celebrate life
The other will be soon enough coming.
Suddenly it was Dubrovnik
Her eyes searched mine
And I, chilled of my winter years,
Found another lost chance
Rooted in Sarajevo
Which I dare not take.
Nov. 20, 1985 Dubrovnik
It was the worst of times.
Oh, it was the worst of times!
Everything else in my life experiences as a reporter is commentary.
The German lost his song it's said.
As warfare ended.
Oh Wagner me not Wagner
Beethoven me not Beethoven
Where do they sing the Lorelie
In the folk halls of a people?
Oh where have the Kurt Weill's gone
And the twinkle eyes of a Lotte
Or Marlene and her Blue Angel
Underneath a lamp post
Beside a darkening sea?
The German lost his song
As warfare ended.
His eyes aglow
Nathan held me in his thrall:
Write me a poem, just for me...
His hand clutched mine
Walking with me to our IHOP
I felt his embrace
His tender hand-embrace
While my eyes struggled to clear
Mightily struggled to clear.
I write you your poem
For it is now the secular millennium
And you are eight
And there is hardly telling
The days I've got To clasp your hand
In embrace of love.
May your years shine, my child
On your pathways to forever
And may all the children you know
And do not know Celebrate the possibilities
Always in friendship.
Nate It was not always so
As you'll come to know
For I give you a legacy
Of troubled children on railroad cars
Savage railroad cars.
Take heart my child.
In your studies
Seek out the ways to human kindness
You will find new meaning
Even as you are eight Nate.
At the home for the aging Aging
Waiting our turn.
Surrounded by wrinkled
Distortions of time
So many, many memories
And dreams forgotten
It's not exactly fear
Of what we await
Accepting the power and the magnitudes of pills
Oh how they mesmerize
And to be kept alive beyond our time --
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Never thought I'd make it
But then, the octogenarians among us
Are the young ones
Stalking their nineties
Some concerned with the arts
While waiting for nickel and dime games
Of bingo in the library.
For the irreverent
Irreverence is part of aging
The couthless stories
Remain without couth
As we wait.
And we are embraced
By the power and wonderment
Stored in those magical pills
Of many, many colors
To be kept alive
To be kept alive.
While centenarian women
Cuddle plastic baby dolls
Seeking to revive motherhood
Long, long gone.
It is the same melody once sung to me
By my beautiful mother
Who fled Russland
For a dream of freedom.
And who among us encountered the German
The German, the German, the German
He of the heart of savagery
In our time?
The reverent among us are concerned
With being handled kindly
When wrapped in our final prayer shawls
And have we outlived our Kaddish?
Who will recite the Kaddish?
The civilized prayer that sings of life
Oh, one assumes the final car
Will be black enough
Elegantly black for all our memories.
Alone, alone with our televisions
Fears set in amidst wonderments
Of the world we are leaving
As we await improbable tomorrows
Leaving our yesterdays of horses and wagons
For rockets to the stars
And the dot com society of computers
To think of jet propulsion
And of Mars In an aura of exotic dreams
Or songs of love still desired.
At the home for the aging
We wait Aging
Waiting our turn, the call of "Next!"
Embraced by the history
Of the most savage, the most creative
And the most melancholy Of times.