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Howard Aster and Peter J. Potichnyj

Ukrainian–Jewish Relations
A Twenty-Five-Year Perspective

This essay cannot be viewed as more than a personal road map of a very complex subject. We have been involved personally, academically, and culturally in this subject for some decades now and we take particular pleasure in seeing its development and evolution. The bibliography of this field today is enormous and growing quickly. Most satisfying for us is to witness the growth of the field in many languages and the engagement in the field by numerous scholars from many backgrounds, generations, and countries. Our essay is, necessarily, incomplete and limited by these factors. What we have tried to do is to provide a personal perspective on how we became engaged in the problems of Ukrainian–Jewish relations and how in broad intellectual terms we view its evolution over the past twenty-five years. It is very difficult, of course, to anticipate how intellectual end eavours may evolve in the future. This is particularly difficult with regard to this field, because we are not just dealing with an intellectual, cultural, or historical topic, but the subject is also a pawn in the realpolitik of more than just two nation states, namely Ukraine and Israel. The presence of Russia continues to cast a shadow on the Ukrainian–Jewish relationship with regard not only to its history but also to its contemporary evolution.

Broaching f “taboo” subject!

Ideas have strange ways of seeping into one’s consciousness and of lodging there and remaining for many years—often for a lifetime. Sir Karl Popper remarked that in one’s lifetime, a big idea may intrigue one and lodge itself in one’s mind at a young age, and the rest of one’s intellectual life remains an elaboration of that big idea. For both of us, as friends and colleagues, the matrix of Ukrainian–Jewish relations was and remains a big idea. The problem seems to have haunted us through our youth and adolescence and into our mature academic lives. Over a period of many years, as colleagues in the 1970s and early 1980s, our conversations and research on this matter evolved and became focused and, finally, we felt comfortable enough to venture into writing about it. In 1983 we published a volume entitled Jewish–Ukrainian Relations: Two Solitudes, and in the preface we stated: ‘The simple fact is that the topic of Jewish–Ukrainian relations is one of those intellectual problems which has not attracted much research or academic energy.’1 We went on to suggest that When we first approached the topic, we faced a variety of significant problems—the relative paucity of research sources, the incoherence of almost any methodological approach which could provide a focus for research activity, the intellectual skepticism with which our colleagues viewed our efforts in this area, the apparent ossified layers of prejudice and confused meanings which tainted the ability of two researchers, one Ukrainian and one Jewish, to approach this massive problem and finally, the inter-disciplinary skill required to make sense of the topic.2 To our surprise, the first edition of the book sold out and we soon received intriguing enquiries provoking us to go deeper into this topic. Little did we know that it was also a minefield. In 1987, as the book went into a second, revised, edition, we were able to state: ‘In the few years since the publication of our monograph, a range of academic inquiries have been launched into this area. Clearly, the topic is of deep concern and preoccupation mainly to Ukrainian scholars and academics, less so to Jewish scholars and academics. The reasons for this “uneven development” . . . are complex.’3 The topic continued to haunt us and clearly it began to haunt other scholars, colleagues, and friends. We boldly concluded that we had to delve deeper into the topic. However, we decided that this time our intellectual adventure would be done not alone, but in collaboration with other colleagues—if we could find them! A conference format appeared to us to be the most likely solution. We quickly recognized that it would not be easy. But we were totally dedicated to the enterprise and convinced that it was extremely important. Aside from the funding issue, we recognized that we were dealing with an explosive topic where deep wounds would be exposed and explored, where the outcome would not be apparent and the dangers could be immense. Could we find a complement of dedicated scholars and seek the correct balance that is so important in academic discourse? Could we delineate the correct range of topics to undertake this exploration? As we worked towards this conference objective, we found both encouragement and scepticism among many academic colleagues and, yes, we also faced not just our own doubts but also a certain measure of fear. The conference ‘Jewish–Ukrainian Relations in Historical Perspective’ was held on 17–20 October 1983 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and the papers were first published by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies in 1988; they were reissued in 1990, and a third edition appeared in 2010 with a brief new preface and a bibliography.4 In the preface to the original volume we stated: Every idea has its time. Thought that may be unthinkable or heretical to one generation may become commonplace and acceptable to another. At least among intellectuals and in an academic community, one hopes that there is enough courage to take on unusual ideas and to consider them carefully, dispassionately and with self-critical candour. One such idea is Jewish–Ukrainian relations.5 It is not coincidental that we dedicated the volume of papers to ‘The late Professor Shmuel Ettinger and Professor Omeljan Pritsak, whose spirit of collaboration permeates this entire volume.’ Both their contributions exude scholarship and a devotion to detail, but also a recognition that the task at hand was not easy. Frank Sysyn captured the spirit of the conference when he concluded his essay by stating that ‘the time has come for specialists in the history of each group to expand their horizons and research in order to provide a better understanding of the complex events’ that constituted the subject of the conference.6 Shmuel Ettinger also reminded us in the opening sentence of his essay that ‘The assessment of the role of Jews in any of the major developments in European, and particularly East European history is a very difficult task.’ He went on to say, in a typical Ettinger understatement, that he did not perceive the historian’s role as ‘one of sitting in judgment over quarrels of past years’.7 These same sentiments were expressed by others. The scope of the conference and the resulting published papers were ambitious and extensive. The topics followed a trajectory from the tenth century until the later years of the twentieth century and included ‘The Early Period’, ‘The National Awakening’, ‘The Revolution and After’, ‘Literary and Social Reflections’, ‘The Holocaust’, and ‘The Contemporary Period’, and even included a section on ‘Jews and Ukrainians in Canada’. There were twenty-five papers presented by scholars from Canada, the United States, and Israel, and by one lonely exiled Ukrainian. There are only a few of us ‘survivors’ who participated at that conference some thirty years ago. We do not believe, of course, that the departure of so many of our colleagues from the 1983 group had anything to do with a ‘contagion’ from the topic. However, 1983 is a long way back! It is worth reflecting on and considering the response to the conference and to the publication of the papers in 1988. A couple of reviews will provide us with a sense of the atmospherics surrounding the conference and its participants. According to Robert S. Newman, ‘Though the subject may seem dry as dust to some, this conference was loaded with tension. A dialogue among the professors at the end of the volume crackles with the emotions of oppression, mass murder, accusations and counter-accusations; with trying to come to terms with anger, prejudice and misunderstanding.’ 8 For Michael Stanislawski, ‘This interesting and frustrating volume . . . this collection is particularly afflicted by an extra-scholarly problem: the heavy burden of mutual distrust and enmity between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities . . . some of the most gripping, if painful, reading in this volume.’9 For the few of us who remember vividly the conference, these reviews provoke many mixed feelings and emotions. Especially for those whose only access to the original conference is through the reading of the papers, we think it is well worth studying section 7 of the volume, ‘Round-Table Discussion’. The atmospherics do come to life! The charged atmosphere and tensions surrounding the academic conference, we later learned, were also reflected in a wider political context. As we have discovered since the opening of KGB documents from the former Soviet Union, the issue of Ukrainian–Jewish relations was of considerable interest to the KGB and the Soviet political leadership. The evidence indicates that, beginning in 1947, the Soviet political police followed any attempts by Ukrainians and Jews to begin a constructive dialogue with each other, and any meetings or conferences were carefully watched and reported upon to the highest authorities in Moscow. Here are just a few examples. In a document dated 7 October 1969 sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine by Borys Shulzhenko, the Deputy Director of the Ukrainian KGB, various provocative actions and objects are listed, including: A leaflet in the name of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) which was prepared and sent to prime minister Pierre Trudeau in Canada requesting that the Province of Manitoba be granted independence. The aim was to cause a ‘negative reaction by the Canadian government to any appearances of Ukrainian separatism in Manitoba’; An ‘OUN’ leaflet in German which criticized the Germans and encouraged Ukrainians ‘independently to safeguard Christian-humanitarian traditions’ in order to repay Germans for their past offences; In the name of persons of Jewish nationality living in the Federal Republic of Germany, a leaflet in Yiddish and English calling for revenge on Yaroslav Stetsko for the thousands of innocent victims of genocide was sent to London, New York, and Paris to various OUN(b) newspapers; A leaflet designed to cause greater conflict between the OUN(m) and the OUN(b);10 An anonymous letter supposedly from the OUN(m) to Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Kornylak in Munich requesting him not to celebrate a commemorative service for the late Stepan Bandera (assassinated by the Soviet agent Stashynsky); A special brochure disclosing supposed secret decisions of an OUN(b) conference with respect to other nationalist organizations.11 A second document, dated 27 December 1973, sent by the head of the Ukrainian KGB, Vitaly Fedorchuk, to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (and delivered to Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, on 17 January 1974) is directly pertinent to Jewish– Ukrainian relations. This document states that a special brochure in English entitled ‘Lest We Forget’ was prepared under the supposed authorship of a certain Michael Hanusiak with the aim of ‘inflaming animosity between Ukrainian nationalists and Zionists’. In the United States the League of American Ukrainians, a ‘progressive organization’, together with ‘progressive Jewish activists from New York’ helped in this effort. The brochure became ‘very popular’ and a second edition was prepared. About 25 per cent of the print run was sent to Canada.12 In addition, the activities of the Interdepartmental Committee on Communist and East European Affairs (ICCEEA) at McMaster University were carefully monitored. A Pravda correspondent by the name of Geivandov was sent as an observer to one ICCEEA conference. In 1974 the Ukrainian magazine Perets. published a critical article about the ‘Innocent Lambs of McMaster’. No names, however, were mentioned. Roman Serbyn reports that our book Jewish–Ukrainian Relations: Two Solitudes caught the eye of the Soviet ambassador to Canada, Aleksey Rodionov. In a confidential letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine dated 16 April 1984, Rodionov characterized the brochure as an example of the current discussions between ‘the Ukrainian bourgeois-nationalist and Zionist ringleaders and ideologues with the intention of overcoming the traditional discord in the Ukrainian-Jewish community (v ukrainsko-evreiskoi obshchine) and to knock together an alliance with an anti-Soviet agenda’. The ambassador suggested that the booklet be used in Ukrainian educational institutions specializing in ‘criticizing and exposing the theory and practice of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism and international Zionism’.13 The sensitivity to the conference also reached out, as we just recently discovered, to discussions in Israel. It was indicated to Peter Potichnyj by Professor Mordechai Altschuler at the October 2010 Ukrainian–Jewish Encounter Conference in Jerusalem that there was some concern about the possible participation by Israeli scholars in the McMaster conference, most likely because of the ramifications of any dialogue between Ukrainians and Jews in the Soviet Union. The changing geopolitics of the world over the past decades have had a deep impact on the discourse of Ukrainian–Jewish relations. Times have changed dramatically since the second half of the twentieth century. The Soviet Union is gone, Ukraine is an independent state, Israeli foreign policy now embraces Ukraine, the dynamics of the Jewish and Ukrainian diaspora communities are different today from what they were decades ago. It is worth remembering that not too long ago, attempts at Jewish–Ukrainian talks or dialogue usually took place in the most unlikely of places, in the Gulag or in the diaspora, both the Ukrainian and Jewish diasporas, certainly not in a Jewish or Ukrainian nation state! Or they took place in obscure locations such as university conferences in Canada! The discourse which we attempted in the early 1980s has clearly widened and deepened. New generations of scholars have become engaged by the topic, new historical research is being conducted based upon the opening of previously embargoed archives, new research tools are being utilized. In addition, the pervasiveness of interdisciplinary approaches has deepened and widened much of the research. It is vital to recognize the enormous transformations taking place in Ukraine itself and the investment that has been made in the discourse and research on Ukrainian–Jewish relations. There are many institutions with extensive research programmes exploring aspects of Ukrainian–Jewish relations, including Holocaust studies. For example, one can mention the extensive activities of the Tkuma All-Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies (Ukrayins.kyi instytut vyvchennya HolokostuTkuma’) in Dnipropetrovsk and the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies (Ukrayins.kyi tsentr vyvchennya istoriyi Holokostu) in Kiev; the fact that between 1991 and 2008 Anatoly Podolsky, Feliks Levitas, Faina Vynokurova, Oleksy Honcharenko, O. Surovtsev, and Nataliya Suhatska wrote dissertations about the Holocaust in Ukraine; the existence of the journal Yi edited by Taras Voznyak, and the numerous books edited by him and published in Lviv. It is well worth noting that the history and exploration of Ukrainian–Jewish relations is now being written in Ukrainian and published in Ukraine, not just in English or Russian or Hebrew.


Coming to grips with the past

Over the past two decades, there has been a significant growth both of interest in the topic of Ukrainian–Jewish relations and also in the numbers and varieties of approaches that have emerged in this exploration. Many scholars and public figures from many countries are now engaged in this exploration. One of the scholars who has been persistently engaged in this topic for almost three decades is Leonid Finberg. He argues that Ukrainian–Jewish relations as a research concern consists of three elements: ‘inter-nationality relations, built up over centuries on the territory of Rus-Ukraine; interstate relations between Ukraine and Israel; the relations between the larger Jewish and Ukrainian diasporic communities— particularly in the USA, Canada, Germany, Latin America, Australia, Poland, and a number of other countries’.14 However, Finberg argues that while the topic itself is extensive and very deep, there are enormous gaps and unresearched areas. He asserts that ‘In the history textbooks of schools in the USSR, on which several generations of Soviet people over a span of 50 years were raised, there was no data on the 1000 year history of the Jewish communities, or on the role of Jews in the history of Rus-Russia-Ukraine.’ He goes further and claims that ‘it is completely obvious: Ukrainian–Jewish relations for a long period of time . . . were outside the framework of the social and humanitarian sciences’.15 Because of this fact, Finberg argues that myths, stereotypes, and misunderstandings permeated the topic of Ukrainian–Jewish relations. Yet he is not pessimistic. He claims that one must begin to unearth those myths, stereotypes, and misunderstandings and he has become a significant individual in and contributor to that process. To Finberg’s list one may well add another element which stands clearly as a major concern in Ukrainian–Jewish relations, and that is the history of the first fifty years of the twentieth century and, more specifically, of the Holocaust period. This field of research has expanded dramatically in the past few decades. Anatoly Podolsky has explored this topic and, most significantly, he has done so in the context of contemporary research within Ukraine. In the section of his essay entitled ‘Ukrainian research on the Holocaust’ he asserts that ‘The works of Ukrainian historians who research the Holocaust are largely ignored by official scholarship in Ukraine. At the same time, they have been received with great interest in the West and are frequently cited.’16 He goes on to claim that there is a larger problem which appears to be endemic to contemporary Ukrainian research efforts. He defines this problem as ‘the idea of a mono-cultural or even mono-ethnic history of Ukraine, although there is widespread understanding in Ukrainian historiography that Ukraine’s culture and history were also influenced by minorities, including Jews’. Yet, he concludes that ‘in the “official” tomes published by the Academy of Sciences and financed by the state, national minorities, such as the Jews, are not to be found’.17 He counterposes this situation in Ukrainian historiography to what is characteristic of European historiography: ‘European historiography follows a multicultural approach. This approach is also widespread in post-socialist countries. In Poland, for example, the most delicate subjects . . . can be discussed . . . This shows that Poland is assuming responsibility for historical remembrance.’18 Podolsky is very critical of the situation in contemporary Ukraine: The omission of everything Jewish in official Ukrainian historiography cannot be explained solely by the continued existence of the mono-cultural Soviet approach to history. Ukrainian society seems incapable or unwilling to perceive its national history as a history of various cultures. The ‘other’ tends to be excluded and viewed as something alien. Apparently, it is more comfortable to talk about ‘us’ and ‘others’, for example about ‘our Great Famine’ and about ‘the others’ Holocaust’. A certain narrative is taking shape, in which the Holocaust does not appear.19 Podolsky’s very candid and critical assessment is extremely important, yet he does offer us some hope: Liberal historians in Ukraine and abroad, independent publications, non-government organisations are working to counter this simplification. They clearly understand the Holocaust in Ukraine as an integral part of Ukrainian history. But they are not supported by the state, or only insufficiently so, and therefore have only little influence on public opinion. With the subordination of academia to political interests, Ukrainian historiography as an institution is continuing the Soviet tradition.20 Podolsky goes on to provide us many important insights into ‘the Holocaust in the classroom’ in Ukraine and ‘the Holocaust in politics and society’ in contemporary Ukraine. He pessimistically concludes that ‘The overview of research and education policy has already demonstrated that the Ukrainian government has no interest in promoting a discussion of Jewish life and the Holocaust in Ukraine.’ Even more pessimistically, he argues that ‘The way Ukrainian historiography concentrates on the nation-state and the mono-ethnic concept of history is preventing the rest of the world from overcoming stereotypes and prejudices concerning the “anti-Semitic Ukrainians”.’21 Is there a way out of or a way forward from this apparent impasse in understanding the Holocaust in Ukraine? Podolsky refers to the German historian Wilfried Jilge: Perhaps Wilfried Jilge is right to assume that the sum of the different wartime experiences— those of the Ukrainians, Jews, the Crimean Tatars, Poles and others—would serve national consolidation in Ukraine more than official declarations that allow for only one reading of history. Unconnected, isolated histories lead to the expression of memories that are isolated from one another. Each is in and of itself biased . . . The only solution is to accept history responsibly and to promote the exchange and reconciliation of competing narratives.22 The problem of the ‘reconciliation of competing narratives’ is further complicated in Ukrainian–Jewish relations because of the word ‘genocide’. Words convey compacted meanings and in the context of both Ukrainian and Jewish history certain words are immensely meaningful. One such word, of course, is ‘genocide’. It is worth remembering that the word does not have a very long etymological past, because it was first used in its contemporary meaning by Raphael Lemkin in 1943. Almost single-handedly, Lemkin transformed the understanding and meaning of mass murder based upon ‘hatred towards a racial, religious or social collectivity’ as an international crime and he was able to persuade the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials to use the word ‘genocide’.23 His definition of genocide also includes the Holodomor. Norman Naimark tracks and elaborates on the use of the term ‘genocide’ in his recent book,24 and the culpability of Stalin with regard to the attempt at ‘genocide’ during the Ukrainian famine has now become a significant aspect of Ukraine’s narrative of its own history of the 1930s. The issue of competing narratives is at the heart of one of the major issues in Ukrainian–Jewish relations as it has evolved over the past few decades. The Holocaust remains a major if not the central issue in the narrative of Jewish history in the twentieth century. Jews have developed that narrative as the epicentre of their collective experience in the twentieth century and they have hitched it to the creation and interpretation of the State of Israel. In addition, the Holocaust is not just a unique historical period but is also the fundamental moral category by which to interpret many inter-ethnic dramas. Over the past few decades, the emerging central narrative of twentieth-century Ukrainian history is the Holodomor. Roman Serbyn has, indeed, brought the Holodomor and the German–Soviet war together as the great epic and also tragic story of Ukraine in the twentieth century. He asserts that The most destructive periods in modern Ukrainian history were the Great Famine of the 1930s and the German–Soviet war of the 1940s. Both disasters ravaged the country and destroyed millions of human lives. Stalin’s Communists perpetrated the first calamity. Hitler’s Nazis were responsible for the larger part of the second catastrophe . . . Both regimes elicited fear and hatred and were thoroughly detested by the population, particularly during the waves of mass killings. The crimes were concealed from the outside world and even obscured from that part of the native population that was not directly affected by them . . . Those turbulent and confusing times left deep impressions and conflicting memories.25 And Serbyn argues that the Soviets consciously attempted to hide the true nature and extent of the Holodomor from the outside world. It could also be argued that our knowledge of the massive scale of murder and destruction perpetrated during the German–Soviet war has also been obscured or partially hidden until recently. As Serbyn argues, the Holodomor and the German–Soviet war in Ukraine deeply affected Ukrainian–Jewish relations and has left a major scar on their inter-ethnic relations and their collective memories. The issue of the equivalences of the ‘holocausts’ or ‘genocides’ suffered by Jews and Ukrainians has affected Ukrainian–Jewish relations. Serbyn asserts that research on the Holocaust and diffusion of information about the Jewish genocide rapidly became a priority for the Jewish diaspora and the new Jewish state. By contrast, work on the Holodomor was slow . . . Both genocides had their deniers . . . The main struggle against the negation of the Holocaust took place in the 1970s; by the 1980s historical revisionism regarding Jewish genocide was pretty much discredited in the West. For the Ukrainian diaspora, the most dynamic years were the 1980s when the 50th anniversary of the Holodomor, the Chornobyl. catastrophe, and the ultimate recognition for the Holocaust galvanized the community into a renewed effort to make its genocide known to the world . . . Up to the 1980s, Jewish and Ukrainian diasporas explored and publicized their respective genocides in isolation of each other, while competing for the wider public opinion.26 Ukrainian–Jewish relations, clearly, were deeply affected by this competition for the sympathy and also the attention of the minds and the hearts of the Western world. Layered on top of this were the efforts to bring war criminals to justice in both Canada and the United States as well as the discussions on the culpability for the Holodomor. The question of language, historical fact and interpretation, and setting the record right increased the stress and exacerbated the possibilities of normalized relations between Ukrainians and Jews. While Jews seems to have managed to seize proprietary control of the narrative of their own Holocaust and integrated that into the story of Israel, as Serbyn asserts, Ukraine is a country with the unique task of having to integrate into its collective memory not just one, but two genocides committed on its territory . . . More than half a century has passed since the two most hideous crimes were committed on Ukrainian territory. Most of the survivors are gone and with them personal memories and recollections. What remains is what is being preserved by history, whose vocation is to preserve a truthful image of the past, and by the so-called collective memory, which is not a collection of individual memories, but a social construct made in the image of the collectivity’s interests, and as such is a reflection of its present future goals, [rather] than past successes and failures.27 The narrative of Ukrainian–Jewish relations has evolved in another and powerful direction over the past few years. Any history leaves many gaps open, missing links, a need for fuller understanding and deeper documentation. And, as Podolsky and Serbyn and others have shown with regard to Ukrainian–Jewish relations, the 1930s and 1940s remain a critical period in these relations. Timothy Snyder’s book Bloodlands may well be a very significant addition to the discussion of Ukrainian–Jewish relations. Snyder is quite deliberate in what he sets out to achieve. He wants to reconfigure the history of what he calls the ‘bloodlands’, to focus the attention of readers, scholars, and others on this part of the world during the 1930s to the 1950s. But he wants to do more. He asserts that For decades, national history—Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian—has resisted the Nazi and Soviet conceptualization of the atrocities. The history of the bloodlands has been preserved, often intelligently and courageously, by dividing the European past into national parts, and then by keeping these parts from touching one another. Yet attention to any single persecuted group, no matter how well executed as history, will fail as an account of what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945. Perfect knowledge of the Ukrainian past will not produce the causes of the famine. Following the history of Poland is not the best way to understand why so many Poles were killed in the Great Terror. No amount of knowledge of Belarusian history can make sense of the prisonerof- war camps and the anti-partisan campaigns that killed so many Belarusians. A description of Jewish life can include the Holocaust, but not explain it. Often what happened to one group is intelligible only in light of what happened to the other . . . This study brings the Nazi and Soviet regimes together, and Jewish and European history together, and the national histories together.28 Snyder’s work forces us to think through the history of Jews and Ukrainians and other peoples in the bloodlands in a more complex and difficult way. The Holocaust, for Snyder, is more than what has been stereotyped in images of concentration camps. He asserts that the vast majority of Hitler’s victims, Jews and others, some ten million, died in the killing fields of the bloodlands. They were shot, as Father Patrick Desbois is now able to document in his courageous research, individually. It was a Holocaust by bullets. Death was immediate—no names, no records, no traces. Bodies were thrown into pits and covered up. He also argues not only that Stalin perpetrated the killing of a million people in the Soviet Gulag between 1933 and 1945, but also that another six million people died because of politically induced Soviet famines and the Soviet killing fields. By bringing the Nazi and Soviet regimes together, Snyder forces us to reconsider the very nature of any singular national history during this period, whether it is Jewish, Ukrainian, Polish, or other. The bigger picture allows us to rethink how we are to understand any national history of this period. Snyder allows us to appreciate more deeply Podolsky’s comment that ‘Unconnected, isolated histories lead to the expression of memories that are isolated from one another. Each is in and of itself biased . . . The only solution is to accept history responsibly and to promote the exchange and reconciliation of competing narratives.’ 29 However, this objective is not easy to achieve, as Snyder reminds us: ‘Our contemporary culture of commemoration takes for granted that memory prevents murder. If people died in such large numbers, it is tempting to think, they must have died for something of transcendent value, which can be revealed, developed, and preserved in the right sort of political remembrance.’30 But Snyder recognizes that there is a serious danger in this exercise. He specifically shows that the ‘indulgence in quantitative exaggeration of victimhood’ can be used for nationalistic purposes and not for moral purposes.He reminds us that The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers, some of which we can only estimate,some of which we can reconstruct with fair precision. It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and to put them into perspective. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, but our humanity.31 Another very important piece of the perplexing puzzle of Ukrainian–Jewish relations during the Holocaust period is now being filled in most surprisingly by Father Patrick Desbois and the institute he founded, Yahad—In Unum. Painstakingly and deliberately Desbois and his colleagues are filling in the untold story of the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ in Ukraine. For him, ‘Every village [in Ukraine] is a different crime scene. Every case is particular.’32 But what is most terrifying in Desbois’s accounts of the story of mass killing in Ukraine, village by village, is his statement ‘I imagine that if we could open all the mass graves we would have to take aerial photographs of the whole of Ukraine. A mass cemetery of anonymous pits into which men, women, and children were thrown. Not a camp but a country of graves.’33 Desbois, a Catholic priest, claims that his work in exploring the Holocaust by bullets ‘is primarily an act of justice towards the dead, with the aim of creating awareness of the barbarity and wrong of what occurred, but also of preventing future genocides. Another purpose of my work is to convey the message that, even if decades go by, someone will eventually uncover and get at the roots of a genocide, whoever the perpetrator may be.’34 The mass cemetery of anonymous graves in Ukraine contains the bodies of Jews, Ukrainians, and others who were victims of the genocides during this period of deliberate madness. Desbois’s powerful message remains: ‘The blood of Abel will not cease crying out to the sky, and will continue to resonate in my conscience. As it is written in the book of Genesis: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground”!’35


We want to know how they lived!

Yehuda Bauer reminds us that we seem to know a lot about the end or demise of Jewish life in European shtetls—‘I know that they died’, he claims. The Holocaust is viewed as the termination of Jewish life in almost all parts of central and eastern Europe. But he also asserts that the task of the historian is more than understanding the Holocaust: ‘I want to know how they lived.’36 This is an important imperative with regard to understanding and deepening our appreciation of Ukrainian– Jewish relations. There is an emerging scholarship and literature which is providing us with a vastly more complex and fuller understanding of Ukrainian–Jewish relations over a long historical period. One can cite many such efforts. Taras Voznyak, for example, edits and publishes a journal in Lviv entitled Yi which, in some issues, focuses on the history of Jews in Galicia. The range of topics and the quality of research covered by the essays is very impressive indeed, and the periodical is a great source of information on the cultural history of Jews in this part of Ukraine. The articles include in-depth, historically based research on individuals, institutions, and intellectual currents and take us into the lives and activities of Jews in Galicia over many centuries. One of the 2008 volumes covers topics such as painting, architecture, street life in the Jewish districts of Lviv, and Jewish cemeteries,37 and a 2007 volume deals with the economic basis of the Jewish communities in Galicia, Jewish craftsmen, Jewish rights in Austria-Hungary, Jews in the Austro-Hungarian army, synagogues, clothing and fashion, the musical culture of the shtetls, Jewish printing and publishing, Jewish philosophy, and more.38 Voznyak has also produced a very useful guide to the Galician shtetls.39 Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern in an article on Ukrainian literature begins the process of clarifying the contribution of Jews to Ukrainian literature and also of explaining the relationships between Jewish writers who chose to write in Ukrainian and their Ukrainian literary colleagues. He begins by reminding us that Jewish Ukrainian literary creativity was uncommon: East European Jews generally sought acculturation into powerful imperial societies that had great literary traditions, such as Russia or Germany. Nonetheless, some Jews chose to identify with the colonial society of Ukraine, even though it was routinely represented not only as powerless, stateless, and oppressed, but also as uncivilized and backward. Most of the Jews who established themselves as Ukrainian writers or expressed sympathy for Ukrainian culture made a conscious anti-imperial choice; indeed, a decision by an East European Jew to integrate into Ukrainian culture was particularly striking because Jews for centuries viewed Ukrainians as perpetrators of anti-Jewish massacres, and Ukrainians perceived Jews as sycophantic servants of the Polish gentry, Russian landlords, or, later, the Bolsheviks.40 However, the evidence is that creative Jewish writers did begin ‘to turn to Ukrainian literature in the second half of the nineteenth century, at a time when Russian authorities forbade the Ukrainian language in scholarship, education, and liturgy and perceived Ukrainian literary endeavors as subversive and disloyal’.41 And Petrovsky-Shtern goes on to trace a continuous succession of Jewish writers who entered into the mainstream of Ukrainian literary life from the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth. These writers wrote in Ukrainian, they touched on major Ukrainian and also Jewish themes, and they left a major mark in Ukrainian literature. This long literary tradition continues today with Jewish Ukrainian writers such as Moisey Fishbein, Zynovy Antonyuk, Myroslav Marynovych, and Semen Hluzman. What is true about the role of Jews in Ukrainian literature is also true about Jews in other aspects of Ukrainian cultural life, from music and theatre to art. This exploration is now being undertaken by a wide variety of scholars. Myroslav Shkandrij shows in his pioneering work how Jews have been seen through modern Ukrainian literature and uses evidence found within that literature to challenge the established view that the Ukrainian and Jewish communities were antagonistic towards one another and interacted only when compelled to do so by economic necessity.42 The result, clearly, will be a more comprehensive and fuller portrait of Ukrainian–Jewish relations over the past centuries. Or, to make the argument in more general terms, the new narrative of Ukrainian–Jewish relations that is now beginning to emerge indicates that there was an inter-cultural reality, complex, no doubt, but a reality nonetheless. There is also another major thrust now in the study of Ukrainian–Jewish relations and that is the historiographical analysis of Jewish demography in Ukraine over many centuries. Yevhen Nakonechny, the head of the Ukrainian Studies Department at the Vasyl Stefanyk Library of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Lviv, has unearthed many intriguing statistics about Jews in Ukraine. He states: Without a doubt the Jews long ago took a fancy to the Ukrainian lands. How else can we explain the fact that, on the eve of the Second World War, over 3 million Jews lived in the Ukrainian lands, amounting to 20 per cent of the world’s Jews? (In 1887 it was even 30 percent.) Of all the cities in the world, Odessa had the third highest concentration of Jews after New York and Warsaw . . . Here Academician Yefremov’s opinion is confirmed: ‘Jews, as we know, live in the closest of ties with the Ukrainian people; they are not even neighbours to them in the way that most other peoples are, but form a component part of the population of that land, a land that is for all that Ukrainian’ . . . Almost 80 per cent of all tailors in Galicia were Jews. The main occupation of Jews in towns and villages was trade—trade from fixed premises, whether wholesale or retail.43 Jews were not only an important part of the economic life of Ukrainian society, but also contributed to the political life of Ukraine, as Nakonechny demonstrates. The portrait of the fuller and more complex relationships between Ukrainians and Jews is now emerging in other in-depth demographic, economic, and political historiography. There is, of course, increasing interest also in the possibilities of studying the Jewish community in contemporary Ukraine. Indeed, there is a burgeoning of Jewish communal activities in present-day Ukraine driven by a variety of factors. There is also a significant growth of activity concerning inter-ethnic relations, ranging from academic studies on antisemitism, to philanthropy, to the founding of Holocaust centres, and more. A valuable study to be noted is Dr Betsy Gidwitz’s work ‘Jewish Life in Independent Ukraine’.44 One of the important aspects of her article is the analysis of the demographic situation of the Jewish community in Ukraine today on the basis of reliable data and the work of expert demographers. The estimate is that there are five major centres of Jewish population: Kiev, 60,000–75,000; Dnipropetrovsk, 30,000–40,000; Kharkiv, 20,000–25,000; Odessa, 18,000–22,000; and Donetsk, 10,000–12,000. Interestingly, Gidwitz asserts that Perhaps 25,000 Jews remain in small Jewish population centers with fewer than 2,000 Jews. Such population centers are most numerous in western Ukraine, though they exist throughout the country. Almost all smaller Jewish population centers in western Ukraine are former shtetls; some of those in southern and southeastern Ukraine are remnants of Agro-Joint agricultural settlements organized by JDC in the 1920s.45 Obviously, there is some dimension of continuity between the past and the present in terms of a Jewish presence in Ukraine. Gidwitz, as well as Leonid Finberg, Anatoly Podolsky, and others, has analysed the issue of antisemitism in Ukraine today. They have identified the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (Mizhrehional.na Akademiya upravlinnya personalom; MAUP) as the prime source of the antisemitism that is perpetrated, and there is reason to believe that some of the funding for MAUP’s activities comes from Iran and Libya. Finberg has argued, however, on the basis of studies by the Ukrainian sociologists Nataliya Panina and Yevhen Golovakha and their employment of ‘measures of intolerance’ of Ukrainians towards minority groups, including Jews, that ‘toleration of Jews is high’.46 At the same time, he argues that when one studies the data on the attitude of regional leaders towards the development of national self-government of Russians, Jews, and Crimean Tatars in Ukraine, and specifically the attitude of the inhabitants of Ukraine towards Jewish organizations, the ‘measure of intolerance in the attitude towards Jews is sufficiently high’.47What is vitally important is to recognize that these sorts of academic studies now fill in a much richer and fuller portrait of inter-ethnic relations in Ukraine not just between Jews and Ukrainians but between other ethnic communities and Ukrainians. As Finberg and others argue, Ukraine and almost every other country in all parts of Europe have an obligation to find ‘reasonable accommodation’ between the majority community and the minorities present. The hope, of course, is that through an open and educated discussion and a responsible democratic leadership and electorate, such reasonable accommodation can be achieved. We also now know much more about the Jewish communal infrastructure of contemporary Ukraine. The portrait is provided and fully documented by Gidwitz. There appears to be significant competition and acrimony between the various interests which have established themselves in the Jewish community of contemporary Ukraine, for example between the local Jewish population and the influx of non-Ukrainian Jewish organizations, on questions ranging from the flow of foreign money, to the role of rabbis, to the role of leadership, to the role of philanthropy. The portrait is complex and beset with many difficulties. Gidwitz asserts that the outlook for indigenous Jewish organizations appears dim. Local Jews lack common goals, leadership skills, resources, and experience. Rabbis are helpful, but they also impose their own agendas on people who are more interested in Jewish culture than in the halachic status of participants. Some outside secular funding sources also introduce agendas that local Jews consider extraneous. Further, few Jewish organizations in the post-Soviet states appear to work well in collaborative endeavors. Distrust, a strong sense of turf, fear of competition, and inexperience in dialogue also contribute to a pessimistic outlook.48 In many ways, Gidwitz’s conclusions should not be surprising because her portrait of the Jewish community in contemporary Ukraine is a good reflection of many of the tensions and conflicts that beset Jewish communities all around the world. The Ukrainian–Jewish Encounter, established in Canada only quite recently, is also a highly promising initiative. With the help of conferences it brings together scholars from various fields in order to discuss the interconnections and mutual influences of the Jewish and Ukrainian communities over the centuries of their life together.



This brief essay has tried to provide a ‘road map’ of Ukrainian–Jewish relations over the past thirty years as we understand it, addressing what we think are the broadest currents or elements in the evolution of our understanding of this relationship. Much has already been achieved. No doubt, much remains to be com- pleted in terms of detail and a fuller, richer, and enhanced portrait and narrative of this unique relationship between Ukrainian and Jews. The increased energy now devoted to the exploration of the cultural interpenetration of Ukrainians and Jews, we believe, is very exciting and promising. While history may, at times, divide people, we also think that culture indeed conjoins people. Watching the human drama unfold within the arts, painting, music, theatre, literature, or whatever, teaches us that something about the human spirit endures even through violence, war, and turmoil. It is here, in these domains, that we believe a new understanding of Ukrainian–Jewish relations can be secured


1 H. Aster and P. J. Potichnyj, Jewish–Ukrainian Relations: Two Solitudes (Oakville, Ont., 1983), 7.

2 Ibid.

3 H. Aster and P. J. Potichnyj, Jewish–Ukrainian Relations: Two Solitudes, 2nd, rev., edn. (Oakville, Ont., 1987), p. vi.

4 P. J. Potichnyj and H. Aster (eds.), Ukrainian–Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective (Edmonton,

1988); 2nd edn. (Edmonton, 1990); 3rd edn. (Edmonton, 2010).

5 Potichnyj and Aster (eds.), Ukrainian–Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective (1988), p. ix.

6 F. Sysyn, ‘The Jewish Factor in the Khmelnytsky Uprising’, in Potichnyj and Aster (eds.), Ukrainian–Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective (1988), 52.

7 S. Ettinger, ‘Jewish Participation in the Settlement of Ukraine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, in Potichnyj and Aster (eds.), Ukrainian–Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective (1988), 23, 24.

8 R. S. Newman, review at <http://www.amazon.com/review/RML5B1G6QEUPE>.

9 M. Stanislawski, review of P. J. Potichnyj and H. Aster (eds.), Ukrainian–Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective, in Jewish Quarterly Review, 84/4 (1994), 529.

10 The OUN(b) was the Bandera faction of the OUN, the OUN(m) the Melnyk faction.

11 Archive of the Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti pri Sovete Ministrov Ukrainskoi SSR, f. 16, op. 1, no. 8, d. 2, t. 7.

12 Ibid., f. 16, op. 4, no. 2, d. 2, t. 2.

13 R. Serbyn, ‘Competing Memories of Communist and Nazi Crimes in Ukraine’, Holodomor Studies, 1/1 (2009), 7.

14 L. Finberg, ‘Ukrainian–Jewish Relations: Mythology Substituting for Reality’, Nezalezhnyi kulturolohichnyi chasopys ‘Yi’, 11 (1997): <http://www.ji.lviv.ua/pdf/11.pdf >.

15 Ibid.

16 A. Podol.s.kyi [Podolsky], ‘A Reluctant Look Back: Jews and the Holocaust in Ukraine’, trans. S. Lang, Eurozine, 28 Nov. 2008: <http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-11-28-podolskyien. html>. 17 Ibid.

18 Podolskyi, ‘Reluctant Look Back’.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 R. Lemkin, Qu’est-ce qu’un genocide? (Monaco, 2008); R. Serbyn, ‘Lemkin’s Conceptualization of the Crime of Genocide and his Analysis of the Ukrainian Genocide’, in Raphael Lemkin: Soviet Genocide in Ukraine. Article in 28 Languages, ed. R. Serbyn (Kiev, 2009), 11–20.

24 N. M. Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides (Princeton, 2010).

25 Serbyn, ‘Competing Memories of Communist and Nazi Crimes in Ukraine’, 9.

26 Serbyn, ‘Competing Memories of Communist and Nazi Crimes in Ukraine’, 14. 27 Ibid. 24.

28 T. Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York, 2010), pp. xviii–xix.

29 Podol.s.kyi, ‘Reluctant Look Back’.

30 Snyder, Bloodlands, 401–2.

31 Ibid. 408.

32 Fr P. Desbois, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews (Basingstoke, 2008), 81. 33 Ibid. 178. 34 Ibid. 124.

35 Ibid.

36 Y. Bauer, The Death of the Shtetl (New Haven, 2009), 178.

37 Hebreiskyi Lviv = Nezalezhnyi kul.turolohichnyi chasopys ‘Yi’, 51 (2008).

38 Hebreiskyi use-svit Halychyny = Nezalezhnyi kul.turolohichnyi chasopys ‘Yi’, 48 (2007).

39 T. Voznyak, Shtetly Halychyny: Intelektual.nyi putivnyk (Lviv, 2010).

40 Y. Petrovsky-Shtern, ‘Ukrainian Literature’, in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern

Europe: <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Ukrainian_Literature>.

41 Petrovsky-Shtern, ‘Ukrainian Literature’.

42 M. Shkandrij, Jews in Ukrainian Literature: Representation and Identity (New Haven, 2009).

43 Ye. Nakonechny, ‘Halychyna v chasy strakhu i pechali’, Postup, 3 Aug. 1999, p. 9.

44 B. Gidwitz, ‘Jewish Life in Independent Ukraine: Fifteen Years after the Soviet Collapse’, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 19 (15 Apr. 2007), 20 (15 May 2007): <http://jcpa.org/article/ jewishlife- in-independent-ukraine-fifteen-years-after-the-soviet-collapse-part-1/>,<http://jcpa.org/ article/jewish-life-in-independent-ukraine-fifteen-years-after-the-soviet-collapse-part-2/>.

45 Ibid. 19 (15 Apr. 2007).

46 Finberg, ‘Ukrainian–Jewish Relations’.

47 Finberg, ‘Ukrainian–Jewish Relations’.

48 Gidwitz, ‘Jewish Life in Independent Ukraine’, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 19 (15 Apr. 2007).