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My first thought is that this isn’t real; wasn’t actually carved by Nazis; was instead inscribed later, by some punk. This is reinforced by my remembrance that Odessa was occupied mainly by the Romanians during World War II, with Nazi Germany being involved only sporadically after the initial victory. And it’s further reinforced by something else I’ve run into, which is the unbelievable amount of neo-Nazi graffiti in Eastern Europe. And it wasn’t just on the street: I found it in the underground, too, in hillside drainage tunnels in Kiev and in a utility network in Moscow.
On all my travels, everywhere, I’ve held open the possibility that I’ll run into, as us American Semites put it, fellow “members of the tribe.” My favorite thing about being Jewish is the internationalism, the sense that you’re part of some vague worldwide crew. It’s difficult even to put that on paper, as it brings up images of old anti-Semitic canards of secret cabals and quests for global domination.
But there is something to the bond that’s shared simply by being Jewish, even if you don’t otherwise share a country, language, ethnicity or really even a religion. Jews are the most internationalistic people in the history of humanity, which is the primary reason they have always been among the first targets of nationalist movements, turning to nationalism themselves only in a last-ditch attempt at survival after almost 2,000 years of rejecting it.
It’s not just the fact that there have been settled Jewish communities in almost every nation on earth, although history, and the 20th century in particular, has seen the extinction of dozens of them. During my travels, expatriates I’ve run into — or even random backpackers — have all seemed to be disproportionately Jewish. It seems like my people are just comfortable being on the road, rarely averse to rolling into new and unfamiliar locales. I have always wondered how much of my wanderlust was in the blood, part of the tradition passed down ever since Moses, my eponymous predecessor, led his 40-year migration.
Compounding this possibility, Odessa is one of the most Jewish cities in Eastern Europe, despite the community being decimated during the Holocaust, and with most of the surviving community immigrating to the United States after the fall of communism. And many urban explorers, as a rule, have much of that same wanderlust, that same curiosity, that I’ve noticed in my brethren. I always half expect there to be this overlap when I meet new explorers abroad. As such, I would not have been at all surprised to hear a few Yiddishisms escape from the mouths of any of the people we were with.
But here there’s also a strange inversion to this possibility. In my time in Eastern Europe, I gathered that being a neo-Nazi might be something that’s extreme, sure, not in the mainstream, yet not so entirely beyond the pale that it’s a social death sentence, something that you just aren’t allowed to espouse in public.