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Book Review: The Shoah in Ukraine – History, Testimony, Memorialization

Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, professor in the Department of Politics and Economics at the Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, Ont.

From Book Reviews in Canadian – American Slavic Studies 47 (2013) 61–121 pp.86-87 Source –

The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization. Edited by Ray Brandon and Wendy Lower. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2008. xii, 378 pp. $35.

Where Europe edges into Eurasia there lies Ukraine, a country invaded and savaged repeatedly, especially in the Twentieth Century, when the genocidal fury of the Soviets and Nazis turned this otherwise fertile land into a Golgotha, where Timothy Snyder baptised as “the Bloodlands.” Recently (2012), France Mesl and Jacques Vallin, editors ofMortality and Causes of Death in 20th Century Ukraine, calculated a loss of 13.8 million people between 1939 and 1948 – a consequence of war, Gulag deportations, theShoah, forced migrations, the 1947 famine, and the exceptional birth deficit associated with these crises.

For Ukrainians, the Second World War commenced 15 March 1939, when Hitler’s Hungarian allies overwhelmed the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine. The fighting and kill­ing that began that day raged across their lands for over a decade, well after V-E Day signalled peace. The cost in human life was staggering. During the Nazi occupation alone between 5.5 and 7 million perished, an estimated 1.4 million of Jewish heritage or faith.

As this book’s eleven contributors focus on the harrowing experience of Jewish Ukrainians, largely neglecting the many millions of ‘other victims’ of the Nazis – who are mentioned primarily in reference to their reputed complicity in the Holocaust – an almost unremittingly negative caricature of non-Jewish Ukrainians macerates this col­lection. [The book title refers to the ‘Shoah,’ a Hebrew word describing the catastrophic mass-murder of Jews orchestrated by the Nazis, yet most contributors use ‘Holocaust,’ a term often taken to include all victims of Nazi oppression, Jews and non-Jews alike. The word ‘Shoah’ is not even found in the Index].

Collaboration existed throughout occupied Europe, more common in Vichy France or Quisling’s Norway than in what is today’s Ukraine. Ukrainians who worked for the Germans – under duress, out of prejudice, or greed – constituted but a tiny fraction of the population, exponentially smaller in number than those who fought the Nazis, whether in the Red Army or nationalist formations. Most Ukrainians were not collabo­rators, nor were all collaborators Ukrainian, and even Ukrainian collaborators were not necessarily anti-Jewish. If Simon Wiesenthal’s 1967 memoir, The Murderers Among Us, is truthful, it was a Ukrainian policeman named Bodnar who rescued him from a Lviv jail in early July 1941. Unfortunately, even Tom Segev’s (2010) telling biography, Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends, omits Bodnar’s good deed.

The introduction and several papers, such as Deletant’s on the Romanian regime in Transnistria and Angrick’s on ‘Thoroughfare IV,’ are useful contributions. Others are more contentious. Whether ‘sons bear the sins of their fathers’ is for theologians to muse (although the Christian answer is no). But since Nazis (subsequently aped by Communists) erased Galicia’s Jewish cultural landscape, it is presumptuous to demand Ukrainians restore the vanished presence of a people who rarely identified with the nation (vide p. 2) or supported its independence movement.

And what prevents Jewish (and Ukrainian) heritage sites from being rebuilt or protected today is not racism, but corruption (vide “Preserving centuries of Jewish heritage in Ukraine,” Ukrainian Weekly, 20 May 2012). Ukrainians are actually quite tolerant, even with the Soviet legacy. In the hamlet of Yavoriv, for example, stands a Communist memorial bearing Sholomo Kaganovich’s name. Along with his relative, Israel Shtadler, he was first hidden by vil­lagers and, after 1943, secreted in the bunkers of the supposedly anti-Semitic Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). After the Soviets ‘liberated’ this region, in late summer 1944, Sholomo and Israel enlisted in a ‘destruction battalion,’ hunting their erstwhile sav­iours. Before a sniper fatally wounded him in the spring of 1946, Kaganovich had betrayed more than a few nationalist hideouts. So he was killed – but for being a turn­coat, not because he was Jewish. Meanwhile, Israel surreptitiously aided the under­ground, survived, and lived contentedly in nearby Kosiv until the early 1970s.

Given Kaganovich’s treachery, what is remarkable is that his name was not expunged. Other Soviet monuments throughout Ukraine have likewise not been defiled, unless adding a Christian cross constitutes desecration. Instead, after 1991, dozens of memori­als and even small museums sprung up, funded by public subscription, reflecting a popular understanding of who wartime Ukraine’s heroes were, whether others agree or not. Some don’t. One contrary sculpture recalls the “Soviet people,” (sic) allegedly vic­timized by “the OUN-UPA and other collaborators.” But it appeared only in 2010, in Simferopol, where the underground hardly existed. Impugning Ukrainian nationalism as a fascist variant reflects a contemporary political agenda, aimed at undermining con­tinuing Ukrainian resistance to ‘Great Russian’ revanchism.

The jeremiad of contributor Omar Bartov, who bemoans monuments honouring nationalists like Stepan Bandera, whose two brothers were killed at Auschwitz, who was imprisoned in Saxsenhausen concentration camp, and ultimately felled by a KGB assassin in Munich, in October 1959, is singularly partisan. Similarly, few authors of Jewish heritage protested the 1967 reburial in the Heroes’ Acre at Natanya (Israel) of Sholom Schwartzbard, the assassin of the First World War-era Ukrainian leader Simon Petliura, presumably believing the cutthroat acted justly. Nor was there any outpouring of righteous indignation over the 26 September 1985 destruction, in Jerusalem, of a monument hallowing the 1.5 million Jewish Ukrainians and 3 million others murdered by the Nazis and 10 million Ukrainians starved during the Holodomor, the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine (vide “Vandals destroy Ukrainian monument in Jerusalem,” Ukrainian Weekly, 3 November 1985; recently demographers have calculated a total loss of at least 4.6 million people, making this politically-engineered famine one of the worst genocides to befoul twentieth-century European history).

Recalling the many millions of Ukrainians extirpated by the Nazis and Communists apparently remains verboten in some circles. And, more recently, those who were quick to criticize how historical memory is being shaped in post-Soviet Ukraine remained mum when Israel declared officially (ITAR-TASS, 28 January 2009): “We regard the ‘holodomor’ as a trag­edy but in no case do we call it genocide. . . . The Holocaust is the only genocide to us.”

An inclusive history of the Holocaust in Ukraine remains to be written, one that identifies all victims, all perpetrators, and all their collaborators – whether they served the Soviets, the Nazis, or both – and then explains what they did, to whom, and, most critically, why.

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