Coming to Terms With The Past

The Editor, New Pathway [[email protected]]:

Walter Kish has apparently decided ("Coming to Terms With The Past," New Pathway, July 19, 2001) that "Ukraine's and Ukrainians' guilt" requires confession and expiation "for the Ukrainians that assisted the Germans in the perpetration of the Holocaust." Otherwise, he warns, "we will all be held collectively suspect by others." Those suspicious minds, according to his thesis, virtually include "the rest of the world." Everyone, presumably, from soon-to-be indicted Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon to Hitler-spoofing slapstick comedian Mel Brooks, to the scores of nations now lobbying the UN to again equate Zionism with racism.

As for the degree of alleged Ukrainian guilt for the Holocaust, here too Kish is equally vague: "Estimates [of Nazi collaborators] range from the tens to the hundreds of thousands." "Estimates" being varying opinions, opinions that are mere convictions based on what may seem true but not necessarily founded on demonstrable fact. It is a fact, for example, that Ukraine's wartime population was 40 million; a fact that Ukrainians fell under harsh Nazi rule following two decades of genocidal Soviet rule. But it's merely to state an opinion to suggest Ukraine and Ukrainians bear a collective responsibility for the Holocaust, that Ukrainians, whose victimhood statistically far exceeds Jewish victimhood, are somehow more or less responsible for policies hatched in faraway Berlin, then implemented by German military authorities inside occupied Ukraine.

Certainly, two reasons Kish gives why some Ukrainians sided with the German occupying forces would tend toward their exoneration: The collaborators were "pressured by threats" or compelled by a Darwinian struggle for survival in a wartime setting; reasons that have routinely been accepted to excuse Jewish collaboration with the Nazis. As for what might have motivated those "willing participants," however many or few, to join in wholesale Nazi persecution of Ukrainian Jews, we are not told. Was it an impulse born of an irrational and gratuitous anti-Semitic malice? Or might there have been an historical context that would help explain such unconscionable behaviour?

By September 1939 the Soviet regime murdered over 20 million innocents, one thousand times the number that could then be charged to Hitler; the Gulag held 300 inmates for each one held by the Third Reich. [1] Stalin far out-Hitler-ed Hitler in evil tyranny. Nearly twenty years earlier, Sir Winston Churchill had already red-flagged the top-heavy Jewish representation in the highest rungs of the Bolshevik Party.

"There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews. It is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews." [2]

Many Ukrainians, like other people across Europe, indulged in a common human fallacy: If the majority of the leading Bolsheviks were Jewish, it followed that a majority, if not all Jews, must also be Bolsheviks. Animus toward Jews in Eastern or Western Europe was based in part on a damning perception that confounded Jews with annihilating Bolshevism; relentlessly reinforced, moreover, by Dr. Goebbels's black propaganda. It was a perception that conservative opinion-maker Barbara Amiel acknowledges was anything but fanciful: "Indeed, we [Jews] were at the leading edge of communist totalitarianism, one of the most murderous movements of the 20th century." [3]

Has this complicity with "communist totalitarianism" moved organized Jewry or the Jewish masses toward any public overtures of repentant sorrow and an offer of redress? Has any Jewish leader of stature stepped forward to urge Jews to come to terms with this one chapter of Jewish history? Regardless how Jewish involvement in Bolshevism is viewed, showcasing a display of collective shame and remorse is not part of any Jewish outreach and healing agenda I am aware of. On the contrary.

Once, Yuri Weretelnyk, then an executive director for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, had the bad taste to raise the non-starter of "Jewish war criminals" at a meeting which delegates from mainline Jewish groups attended. His offer to debate the issue was met with stares of blank incomprehension: "Jews at the meeting," it is reported, "looked at one another in bewilderment." [4] Jewish war criminals? An oxymoron.

In this regard, the case of Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel is most instructive. When Wiesel was invited to deliver a keynote address on the 50th anniversary of the Babyn Yar Massacre outside Kyiv, on September 29, 1991, he shoe-horned in scathing comments regarding the passive acquiescence of Ukrainians in the face of Nazi oppression of their Jewish brethren, remarks that are said to have visibly flustered President Kravchuk, who also attended. [5]

Go now to a time in the mid-1960s when Wiesel happened to be present at a street celebration in Moscow, where he melded with a boisterous crowd of his co-religionist Jews. In a passage in his memoir Legends of Our Time, he describes a very lively block party during which a young Jew in the crowd began to chant the names of many accomplished and celebrated Soviet Jews. With each name, the "crowd roared back its approval," Wiesel recalls. Among the names cheered was that of Stalin's henchman, Lazar Kaganovich.

"Unthinking, he chose the name of one long forgotten: 'Long live Lazar Kaganovich!' Someone near me asked jokingly whether Kaganovich was still alive. Yes, he is still alive, but only the Jews remember him [sic]. I wonder if it ever crossed his mind [Kaganovich's] that a day would come when his name would be trumpeted aloud outside the Jewish synagogue, while he himself was banished from the Kremlin walls." [6]

After which, Wiesel makes no more references to Mr. K, whether sentimental or otherwise. To be sure, he expresses no outrage of any kind that the name of a Jewish mass murderer of Ukrainians was cheered or had been the object of easygoing banter. Had the cheering section been a German one and chauvinist jubilation revolved around a Nazi mass murderer of Jews, Wiesel, of course, would have been the first to vociferously protest; no doubt, adding for effect his trademark anguished look. Ironically enough, a recurring motif in Wiesel's writings has been the callous gentile indifference to Jewish suffering.

Needless to say, Ukrainians should not be indifferent to the Jewish tragedy; but nor should we subscribe to the guilt-mongering Walter Kish is trying to peddle. Anyone so inclined might first wish to consider massive Ukrainian collaboration with Soviet authority, which was of far greater duration and destructiveness.

Before, during, and after the Second World War, Ukraine remained occupied territory. Whatever war crimes any Ukrainians may be guilty of were committed by them as individual cogs in the German war machine, not as men and officers answering to an independent Ukrainian national government. Such is the fairest point of departure for any inquiry into this issue.


1. Michael Hunt, Crisis in U.S. Foreign Policy: An International History Reader (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 74.

2. Sir Winston Churchill, "Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People," The Illustrated Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920.

3. Barbara Amiel, "Jews and Sunshine," Maclean's Magazine, September 27, 1999.

4. Harold Troper, Morton Weinfeld, Old Wounds, Viking: New York, 1988, p. 243.

5. Chrystyna N. Lapychak, "Ukraine remembers Babyn Yar," The Ukrainian Weekly, October 13, 1991.

6. Elie Wiesel, Legends of Our Times, Holt, Rinehart and Winston: New York, 1968, p.156.

Sincerely yours,

Orest Slepokura
Strathmore AB