Myths of National Consolidation, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust: A Response to Roman Serbyn

John-Paul Himka

First off, I would like to thank Roman Serbyn for his critique of my positions as enunciated in my text “Interventions” in its abridged version. I am glad to see the arguments of the other side presented in an articulate fashion. I will not be able to respond to all the points Roman raises in his “Erroneous Methods,” but I will pick those that I understand to be the most important. The text of mine that he critiques, “Interventions,” states my positions on the Holodomor and Holocaust only in condensed form, to provide the audience a context for my discussion of what it is like to challenge widely accepted and sensitive interpretations of national history. A much longer version of that text will appear later, but with the emphasis still on the experience of challenging rather than on the merits of my case. I have been making my case for the actual history and its interpretation in a number of publications1 and in conference papers that I have made available on the internet.2 In these other texts one can find references to primary sources and fuller explanations of my thinking. There are many other important publications on these same issues by other authors.3

Myths of National Consolidation

A major point of difference between Roman and me, one that may be irreconcilable, is our attitude to national myths. He writes that I fail to see the benefit of “positive myths of national consolidation” or “consolidation myths” or “a constructive, foundational national myth.” This is true. I look at myths, especially national myths and victimization myths, with profound distrust.4 I cannot even imagine one that I could endorse. Roman is in error to assume, stereotypically, that I accept Jewish myths and even their instrumentalization while denying Ukrainian myths. I hate to see the Holocaust used as a victimization narrative to build community or support for Israel and especially to justify Israel’s harsh policies toward the Palestinians (and I am no enemy of Israel). In the Israeli-Arab conflict I see the mobilization of competing myths and little room for rational discussion. I am for history – complicated, messy, honest history where, at least in theory, the underlying rationality in the acceptance of facts and in the investigation of causalities creates a space for the possibility if not of a shared narrative, then at least of a shared community of discourse. The problem with myths is that they are transcendent, in Popper’s terms: metaphysical, based on something other than rationality, ultimately irrational. Myths cannot “talk” to one another as histories can. They are closed systems that fall out of dialogic discourse. In Ukrainian nationalism – and I will be using this term to refer to the nationalism of the capital N nationalists, i.e., the ideological postulates of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists – myths have priority over history. History should, in its view, serve myths. This makes perfect sense for an ideology that embraces voluntarism and irrationalism.

In Roman’s view, good myths bring about national consolidation. Here I am also distrustful. Every consolidation is also an extrusion. National consolidation extrudes groups that do not fit the consolidated model. In nineteenth-century Galicia, the consolidation of the modern Polish and Ukrainian nations went hand in hand with the extrusion of Jews.5 In mid-twentieth-century Galicia and Volhynia, Ukrainian nationalists attempted to consolidate the nation by eliminating the national minorities (especially Poles and Jews, but also Roma and others), persecuting religious groups they did not approve of (Baptists, Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox, and Russian Orthdox), and executing fellow Ukrainians who opposed their policies.6 The logic of any particular national consolidation requires examination, since this logic can prove dangerous. At the same time, I cannot deny that deep divisions in a society, such as exist in Ukraine, or in the United States for that matter, also pose a danger. But here again, I would prefer to see the demobilization of the myths – the closed thinking – that impede dialogue or agreement on a set of future-oriented positive goals. I teach an undergraduate course on the History of the World in the Last Ten Years, and I assign readings from both The Weekly Standard and The New York Times. It is my view that an informed citizenry must take into account the arguments of all sides; it should not be constrained by the consolidation of one position, particularly not of a nationalist position.

Myths, Roman argues, should be judged by their usefulness and morality, not by their truthfulness. Why should we not believe that Jews fought for UPA if that myth promotes positive attitudes of Ukrainians toward Jews? The idea, and it has been formulated by some of my other critics as well,7 is that we can take the OUN-UPA myth and render it harmless and useful by only promoting the positive side of the heritage (struggle for Ukrainian independence, resistance to Soviet occupation) and downplaying the harmful side (antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, fascism). As long as we use OUN-UPA to promote Ukrainian patriotism and do not take up, for example, its idea that we should destroy Muscovites, Poles, and Jews, it is okay. To me, this looks exactly like the argument that we should honor Stalin as the man who led the Soviet Union when it defeated Nazi Germany; we do not have to agree with him about the need to deport and kill millions in order to consolidate the state, but it would be counterproductive to the goals of our good myth to harp on his unfortunate crimes. There are other arguments against this idea that I have made many times in the past, in other texts, and here I will only mention them concisely: denial of crimes against humanity inevitably leads to their justification and thus to the continuation of the crimes; admission of atrocities is inadequate to remedy them, but it is the least that is required of those who identify with their perpetrators; and Ukrainian nationalist thinking, even when partially excised of negative elements, has its own baggage which reinforces xenophobia and antisemitism, persecution of those who think differently, and a nostalgia for fascism.8

As to the idea of myths being judged by their morality: How does one reconcile with morality the glorification of organizations and military units that engaged in the mass murder of civilians? This has always been hard for me to understand. Roman expresses disappointment that Yushchenko did not also bring into his national consolidation project “the Waffen SS Division Halychyna and other units of the armed forces of the Axis powers.” What does he mean by these “other units”? Does he think that the Ukrainian Schutzmannchaften, which included a strong nationalist presence, should form part of the basis of our national myth? These units engaged in brutal actions against the civilian population of Belarus during their antipartisan warfare. They, including former members of OUN-M’s Bukovynsk’kyi kurin’, committed horrendous murders at Khatyn, immortalized in Elem Klimov’s film of 1985, Come and See.9 The members of the stationary Schutzmannschaften in Volhynia and elsewhere in the Reichskommissariat of Ukraine (popularly referred to as the Ukrainian police) were not only crucial accessories in the Holocaust, but they murdered the families of pro-Soviet partisans and enslaved hundreds of thousands of their fellow Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in Galicia was also a major instrument in the Holocaust. Are these part of the national project? Is there any line to be drawn anywhere?

I also find the idea to include SS Galizien in the national consolidation myth highly problematic. That the Deschênes commission cleared it is not, to me a serious argument, at least for historians. I cannot accept that judicial pronouncements or government authorities have the power to settle matters of scholarship. And judicial opinions in such matters are dependent on circumstances, particularly political circumstances. Nuremberg, of course, declared the Waffen SS a criminal organization. Like the Austrians for a long time10 and like some other East European nations today,11 Ukrainians claim that their Waffen SS unit was an exception. And to a certain extent this is true. Although OUN-M and some Ukrainian leaders with at least personal ties to that organization, such as Volodymyr Kubijovyč and Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, had been lobbying the Germans for a Ukrainian unit since the German-Soviet war broke out, a Ukrainian SS division was only permitted after the Holocaust was essentially over in Galicia. Hence, it did not, as a unit, play much of a role in that bloodbath. True, Dieter Pohl writes of the “high probability” that the division was used to round up Jews in Brody in February 1944.12 More important, however, many former Ukrainian policemen and Schutzmänner who had indeed been Holocaust perpetrators entered the unit, particularly as NCOs and particularly in the later stages of the division‘s existence, when it became the first division of the Ukrainian National Army. Also, all those who entered this unit were very aware of how the Germans had killed the Jews of Galicia, and the question therefore arises: How, after witnessing such a crime, could men voluntarily join forces with such an ally? Finally, we know that after the debacle at Brody, the Ukrainian SS was used primarily to suppress partisans in Slovakia and Slovenia. In Slovakia they worked hand in hand with Dirlewanger’s notorious unit composed of criminals. There are reports that the division liquidated whole villages, which was a typical method the Germans employed in antipartisan warfare. From my perspective, it does not seem that the inclusion of SS Galizien and other Ukrainian units in German service into a consolidation myth scores high on the usefulness or morality tests.

The last point I wish to make about national-consolidation mythology is its intolerance toward intellectual pluralism. As I have said, national consolidations necessarily involve extrusions. There are moments in Roman’s text which suggest that my taking a different stance may mean that I stop being a Ukrainian. This has also been suggested by Yurii Shapoval.13 Policing of what it means to be Ukrainian is rather ruder once I leave the company of scholars whom I have known for a long time. Ever since Askold Lozynskyj, a former president of the Ukrainian World Congress, declared that I was in the pay of the Jews, I have received some pretty nasty comments, including an email that hoped I would choke on all the money I’ve earned. On some internet sites you can discover that I am not only a “Ukrainophobe“ but a Russian Jew. A retired physician in Toronto has made a sculpture of a jackal called “John-Paul svoloch,” a photograph of which he has been circulating to various people in the community along with a blank-verse denunciation of my “incessant howling, in promiscuous pursuit of self-promotion” (cf. Roman’ characterization of me as one who “heads for the limelight of the public intellectual”). People coming to hear me speak in Winnipeg and Toronto have been leafletted by Ukrainian student organizations. This is all par for the course when you consolidate a national myth in a community and someone from that community actually begins researching the past to which the myth refers – the community undertakes to extrude him or her. Just a few years back Peter Borisow, a vocal Holodomor activist, took Alexander Motyl to task for an article that appeared in The New York Times, for which Dr. Motyl was a source. Borisov was upset that the article contained “a weak mention of ‘Genocide’”and too many references just to “famine”; moreover, the article suggested that the number of victims was three to six million. Here is what Borisow proposed: “If Prof. Motyl refuses to retract his statement and publicly apologize, he should be drummed out of Ukrainian organizations and be rendered unwelcome in the Ukrainian community.”14

Roman states that my positions strengthen “Russian World” myths. I do not share this binary thinking. In her comments at the 2011 meeting of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, Oxana Shevel said that it is more useful to think of three positions in the debate over memory: 1) those who focus on Soviet crimes and downplay the crimes of the national socialists and nationalists; 2) those who focus on the crimes of the national socialists and nationalist and downplay the crimes of the Soviets; and 3) those who attempt to treat all such crimes evenhandedly, using the same criteria and practices of investigation and interpretation. A much-discussed contribution to the third position is Timothy Snyder’s recent Bloodlands.15 From my point of view, the third position is best. Roman feels that to abandon position 1 is automatically to fall into position 2. His attitude is widespread in the Ukrainian community and in the Ukrainian studies community.16

Lemkin and Genocide, Holodomor and Holocaust

A number of passages of Roman’s “Erroneous Methods” take me to task for not sufficiently recognizing the importance of the work of Raphael Lemkin for understanding the Ukrainian genocide. Indeed, he is correct. I really do think that Lemkin’s work in this respect has nothing to offer but antiquarian interest.

To begin with, ever since the time of the scientific revolution, it has been a principle of science and scholarship that arguments, not authorities, are required to settle disputes. The invention of the concept of genocide did not automatically give Lemkin the historical knowledge necessary to determine whether any particular case fit his definition or not. Moreover, Lemkin’s thinking on genocide changed over time. At the time of Lemkin’s greatest influence, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the United Nations took up his definition, he was not yet thinking of Ukraine as an object of genocide; rather the fate of the Armenians during World War I and of the Jews during World War II were uppermost in his mind. His thinking about Ukraine came later in the Cold War, in the mid-1950s, at which time Lemkin was both marginalized and impoverished. He was, in fact, at that time dependent on the Baltic and Ukrainian communities for material support. Moreover, his definition of genocide expanded dramatically. Almost everything the communists did he now dubbed genocide, including the suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956. His new usage of genocide encompassed so much that it was growing increasingly meaningless.17 It was in this context that the work Roman so admires appeared.

As far as I can ascertain, Lemkin did not himself study the Ukrainian situation independently, but relied on information he obtained directly from émigré nationalists. Hence, it is not surprising that nationalists today resonate to the rediscovered ideas of this Polish-Jewish jurist. To me, Lemkin’s outline of the Ukrainian genocide is nothing striking. Since I was twelve years old I have been aware of the repression of Ukrainian cultural activists by Stalin in the 1930s. I have no doubt that this repression – even without the famine – can be classified as genocide even under the 1948 definition, if one simply matches the history to the words. The famine too can be classified as genocide, especially if linked with the cultural repressions. But I agree totally with Timothy Snyder that classification gets us nowhere and that juridical definitions do not belong in scholarship. My interpretation of the famine is very close, virtually identical, to Snyder’s, as presented in Bloodlands, and so is my reluctance to use the term genocide.18 (In fact, I do occasionally use the term genocide loosely in relation to the Ukrainian famine, something Snyder does not do in his book on principle.)

I think there are immensely more interesting and important questions about the famine of 1932-33 to research than whether or not it can be considered a genocide, even though that has consumed so much of the discourse around the Holodomor in the diaspora and in pronationalist regions and circles in Ukraine. One thing I find interesting and important is the study of memory politics and in this connection particularly the Ukrainian campaign for the recognition of the famine as genocide. I have written about this in the past and plan to write more. Here I will deal only with certain aspects of these memory politics which were mentioned in Roman’s text.

I have never questioned that it is appropriate to empathize with the victims of the famine. I would not use Roman’s formulation, however: “This right [to empathize]…belongs to the victim group of every genocide or mass atrocity.” I think the obligation to empathize is not restricted to the “victim group,” and I think that the term “victim group” is a problematic category. Roman’s stark formulation seems to free Ukrainians from the necessity to empathize with victims of the Holocaust and Jews from the necessity to empathize with victims of the Holodomor. I do not think this is what he means, however, or else he would not be part of the campaign to have non-Ukrainians recognize the Ukrainian genocide. The category “victim group” confuses me. Does anyone else constitute the ”victim group” of the Holocaust other than the Jews who actually suffered during the Nazi occupation? Do their siblings in North America belong? The children of their siblings? North American Jews who arrived in the 1840s? Yemeni Jews? Converted Jews? Anyone who identifies with Jewish suffering? In the case of Ukrainians, the “victim group” is obviously problematized by acute regional differences and the fact that Western Ukraine did not directly experience the famine. In every locality where collectivization and the famine occurred some Ukrainians were on the side of the perpetrators. Are they part of the “victim group”? Are their children and grandchildren? I prefer a more universal formulation about the obligation to empathize.

I believe, however, that what Roman is getting at is one of my problems with the Holodomor genocide campaign. It has been my belief that we should not embark on such a campaign until we deal honestly with accusations of genocidal actions perpetrated by Ukrainians. Probably Roman’s objection hearkens back to an older exchange, from February 2010, in which I debated with Zenon Kohut. Roman wrote at that time:

I did not intend to stray into this discussion until I read John-Paul’s flippant moralizing at the end of his letter:

“And what about the hypocrisy of demanding that the world recognize the famine of 1932-33 as a genocide at the same time as one refuses to give adequate recognition to what OUN and UPA did to Poles and Jews?”

This is a non sequitur. The recognition of one crime is not contingent on the recognition of another. Each crime is judged on its own attributes. Furthermore, these crimes are not related. And then what exactly does “adequate recognition” mean? I have been active for some time in promoting the recognition of the Ukrainian genocide of the 1930s in academic and political circles. Must I preface every communication with an “adequate recognition” of “what OUN and UPA did to Poles and Jews”?19

I did not respond to this at the time, so let me make my position clear now. I am looking for the same standards to be applied in evaluating both what happened to the rural population in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33 and what happened to the Jews under the German and Romanian occupation of Galicia, Bukovina, and Volhynia in 1941-44. I want to see the same level of empathy for victims and the same evaluation of perpetrators. I do not think it is right to remember only Ukrainians as victims without remembering those who were the victims of Ukrainians. I do not think it is right to bend all the argumentation to make OUN, UPA, the Ukrainian police, and other Ukrainians look as innocent as possible, while bending the argumentation to make the Soviets (or Russians or communists or whoever we blame) look as guilty as possible. The same kind of striving for objectivity must mark our understanding of both mass killings. We must give the same kinds of credence to the same kinds of evidence, to testimonies by NKVD or komnezam victims as to testimonies by OUN and UPA victims. The same applies to Soviet documentation. We cannot simply accept all Soviet documentation that reveals the criminality of those who condemned millions of Ukrainians to death while simultaneously rejecting any documents found in Soviet archives that incriminate nationalist organizations or leaders. Clearly, different kinds of Soviet documents demand differential evaluation; but similar kinds of documentation require similar evaluation. What I am looking for is a single standard, not a double standard, a more inclusive approach to replace national egoism.

Roman downplays my point about competing victimology, saying that only a fringe element engages in it. Here is an excerpt from a speech made in the provincial parliament of Ottawa by Yuri Shymko on 20 July 1985, the day that Holocaust denier James Keegstra was sentenced by an Alberta court: “Today we are united with the Jewish community in Canada in remembering the six million victims of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime. We are equally united with the Ukrainian community in remembering the seven million victims of the Soviet genocide by means of the great artificial famine in Ukraine.” I note also that the speech was made with the idea of defending Ukrainians against charges of war crimes.20 Or more recently, while raising money for their film about the Holodomor, Marta Tomkiw and Bobby Leigh put a trailer on the internet that declared the Ukrainian famine “exceeded” other tragedies they named – Darfur, the Armenians, and the Holocaust. In fact, they claimed: “History knows no other crime of such nature and magnitude.” These offensive declarations of competitive victimology were only removed from the internet after my public protest.21 The film was promoted in The Ukrainian Weekly, and Taras Hunczak joined the project as a historical consultant.

Roman also contests my point about Yushchenko suppressing the history of the Holocaust at the same time he was promoting the Holodomor. Let me remind him that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on his watch published both a falsification purporting to exonerate OUN from involvement in the Lviv pogrom22 as well as a totally arbitrary list of Holodomor perpetrators consisting about 40 percent of Jews.23 Yushchenko’s SBU also set up the Lonsky Street Prison Museum, where the NKVD’s murder of Ukrainian nationalists is commemorated but the nationalists’ subsequent violence against Jews at the very same site is passed by in silence. Yushchenko also changed the character of Babyn Yar commemorations. While under previous presidents, this site, so important in Holocaust history, was the venue for the annual commemoration of the tens of thousands of Jews murdered here, Yushchenko shifted the emphasis drastically to commemorate rather the hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists who were also buried here.24

The genocide campaigners do not spout anger at Russians and Jews? Some do not, to be sure, but some definitely do, and not just marginal elements. Some prominent spokesmen have blamed the Holodomor on Jews, including former ambassador to Canada Levko Lukianenko25 and former Ukrainian World Congress president Lozynskyj.26 There is a noticeable antisemitic tinge to the work of the Association of Researchers of the Holodomors in Ukraine, which Lukianenko has headed for a long time.27 I took a photo on Prospekt Svobody in Lviv in 2003 of a sign erected to mark the seventieth anniversary of the famine. The sign reads: “2002-2003. 70th anniversary of the Holodomor of 1932-1933. Russian occupants murdered by artificial famine in occupied Ukraine 10,000,000 peasants-Ukrainians. The land that was depopulated by the Jew-commissars was settled by Muscovites from the Russian Federation.”

The Holocaust and Ukrainian History

In his text, Roman relegates the Holocaust to “Jewish history.” I am going to argue that it is also a part of Ukrainian history. For one thing, the national approach is not the only legitimate approach to Ukrainian history. Some of the most prominent practitioners of the discipline proceeded rather from a territorial approach. I think particularly of Viacheslav Lypynsky and Omeljan Pritsak in the past and Paul Robert Magocsi in the present. When we consider that 1.5 million Jews perished on the territory encompassed by the present boundaries of Ukraine, i.e., a quarter of the Holocaust’s victims, it is hard to imagine that this was something separate from Ukrainian history.

The murder of the European Jews was initiated, sponsored, and largely accomplished by the Germans. But really it was pretty much an all-European project. Vichy France and Nazi-occupied France cooperated in the Holocaust. Slovakia paid Hitler to take its Jews to the death camps. Romania killed Jews partly on its own initiative. Poles, as Jan Gross has been reminding them for over a decade, also took part in the killing of the Jews. In Western Ukraine, the dominant Ukrainian political force, OUN, took an active role in the Holocaust; in numerous rural localities the inhabitants slaughtered their Jews spontaneously in the summer of 1941; and the Germans could rely on a steady stream of denunciation from the local population. Omer Bartov noted in an important recent article, “much of the gentile population in this region both collaborated in and profited from the genocide of the Jews.”28 And throughout Ukraine, not just in the West, Ukrainians were sucked into the destruction process, as Schutzmänner and civil administrators, as cooks for the German shooters or guards of victims slated for execution.29 To quote Bartov again: “Because the Holocaust in Eastern Europe was often experienced as a communal massacre, it left a deep and lasting imprint on all surviving inhabitants of these areas.”30 The Holocaust cannot be cordoned off from Ukrainian history.

The disappearance of the Jews resulted in a transfer of much of their property to Ukrainians. The newspaper Krakivs’ki visti took over the printing press of a Jewish newspaper, for example.31 In cities, Ukrainians took Jewish apartments; in the country, their former homes, their cows, their duvets. Jews gave gold, money, and jewelry as bribes to Ukrainian policemen. They traded valuables and furs to farmers in exchange for potatoes and flour. By all accounts, the Ukrainian cooperative movement flourished under the Nazi occupation. One of the reasons, of course, is the disappearance of Jewish competitors. Some of these economic gains were rolled back by the Soviets, but not all. Ukrainians (and Russians too) moved to the cities and towns where Jews had once constituted a third or more of the population. All this is part of Ukrainian history. It is also Jewish history, of course, but maybe it is not so wise to be apportioning historic processes to some imagined discrete ethnic histories.

Roman complains that I did not write about rescue in my “Interventions” piece. But I have written about it elsewhere,32 and I have a long piece coming out about the efforts of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky on behalf of the Jews.33 In my view, however, there are too few scholarly studies of Ukrainian rescue, and those that do exist must be regarded as preliminary.34 I hope that the new project on rescue undertaken by Orest Zakydalsky moves the scholarship forward. Rescue, it should be recognized, is a complex issue, anything but straightforward. I have a PhD student, Nina Paulovicova, who has nearly completed her thesis on rescue in Slovakia. She paints a picture that is almost entirely composed of different shades of grey. One of the large issues – and it affects also some aspects of Ukrainian rescue – is that perpetrators of various kinds (Hlinka guardists, civil servants with responsibilities vis-à-vis the Jewish population) are usually in the best position to rescue Jews, so they figure rather disproportionately high among categories of rescuers.

I do want to take exception, however, with the implication of Roman’s text – and I have run into it frequently – that somehow rescue balances out perpetration. Only nationalists think that there is some kind of accounting ascribed to nations as a whole – x number of Ukrainians did this, but they are balanced by y number of Ukrainians who did that. It is, of course, precisely this logic that leads to blaming Soviet crimes on Jews in general, whether in the only apparently harmless Lozynskyj form or in the decidedly deadly Stetsko form. Ukrainian nationalists often play the rescue card quite cynically, too, although I do not wish to suggest that this is the case with Roman. But it was the case with the Ukrainian feminist Olena Kysilevska. She contributed a long antisemitic article to Krakivs’ki visti in June 1943, just as the Germans were liquidating the last of Galicia’s Jews. Indeed, she endorsed what was going on, satisfied that there were no more Jews left in the Hutsul region. She published it under a pseudonym and received 187 zlotys for it. Until I found out all the details of this in my late father-in-law’s archive (he was editor of Krakivs’ki visti), no one knew that this leader of the Ukrainian women’s movement in Galicia and later America had written such an appalling piece. Yet she also had the nerve, once in America, to write an article to defend Ukrainians’ reputation during the Holocaust. She wrote that in spite of all that the peasants had suffered from the Jews through economic exploitation, they still helped and fed Jews during the war.35 In short, this collaborator in the Holocaust hid behind the deeds of good people who took risks to help the hunted Jews. To me, this seems little different than when members and champions of the Bandera faction of OUN refer to the rescue activities of Andrei Sheptytsky to whitewash the dirty deeds of pogromists, policemen, and murderers in the forest. Sheptytsky roundly condemned the Banderites, their involvement in the murder of Jews as militiamen and policemen, and their murder of Poles as members of UPA.36

In closing, I would like to put these Ukrainian memory issues into a comparative context. Many countries have gone through a reckoning with the dark past of the Holocaust, and it has always been difficult. In Germany, a real confrontation with Germans’ responsibility for the Shoah came decades after the end of the war, at the earliest in the 1960s, but only properly in the 1980s. It is still very difficult for Germans to accept that members of their own families – beloved grandfathers – took part in such evil.37 The French have been torturing themselves over Vichy for decades now, and the trials of Klaus Barbie and Maurice Papon shook French society to its foundations. Everywhere in postcommunist Europe, where the memory of the Holocaust was relatively frozen, it has been difficult to deal with this past. People still remember who took part in the killings in the villages; they still remember where the Jews are buried. And we need to bear in mind that the deeper horror of the Holocaust unfolded not in France and Germany, but in Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Romania. Then there is the whole layer of mass killings committed by the communists, which were sometimes also intertwined with the Holocaust. These are not easy things to sort out. In the postwar Ukrainian emigration to North America, Britain, and Australia, the proportion of nationalists and persons associated with German administration or military was very high. These are our fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends. All these layers and all these personal ties make it difficult for us to work through the dark past. But that is nonetheless what we have to do.


1. See especially: “Krakivski visti and the Jews, 1943: A Contribution to the History of Ukrainian-Jewish Relations during the Second World War,” Journal of Ukrainian Studies 21, no. 1-2 (Summer-Winter 1996): 81-95. “Ukrainian Collaboration in the Extermination of the Jews during the Second World War: Sorting Out the Long-Term and Conjunctural Factors,” in The Fate of the European Jews, 1939-1945: Continuity or Contingency, ed. Jonathan Frankel (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), Studies in Contemporary Jewry 13 (1997): 170-89. Review of Making Sense of Suffering: Holocaust and Holodomor in Ukrainian Historical Culture, by Johan Dietsch, and Holod 1932-1933 rr. v Ukraini iak henotsyd, by Stanislav Kul’chyts’kyi. Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8, 3 (Summer 2007): 683-94. Co-authored with Taras Kurylo, “Iak OUN stavylasia do ievreiv? Rozdumy nad knyzhkoiu Volodymyra V”iatrovycha,” Ukraina Moderna 13 (2008): 252-65. “Dostovirnist’ svidchennia: reliatsiia Ruzi Vagner pro l’vivs’kyi pohrom vlitku 1941 r.,” Holokost i suchasnist’ no. 2 (4) (2008): 43-73. Ukrainians, Jews and the Holocaust: Divergent Memories (Saskatoon: Heritage Press, 2009). “Debates in Ukraine over Nationalist Involvement in the Holocaust, 2004-2008,” Nationalities Papers 39, no. 3 (May 2011): 353-70. “The Lviv Pogrom of 1941: The Germans, Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Carnival Crowd,” Canadian Slavonic Papers, forthcoming December 2011. “Ethnicity and the Reporting of Mass Murder: Krakivs’ki visti, the NKVD Murders of 1941, and the Vinnytsia Exhumation,” in Shatterzone of Empires: Identity and Violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands, ed. Omer Bartov and Eric D. Weitz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, forthcoming).
2. I have posted them, as well as many of the publications, on my site at
3. In addition to those I will be citing below, some important recent works include: Heorhii Kas’ianov, Danse macabre: holod 1932-1933 rokiv u politytsi, masovii svidomosti ta istoriohrafii (1980-ti – pochatok 2000-kh (Kyiv: Nash chas, 2010). Joanna Michlic, “The Soviet Occupation of Poland, 1939-41, and the Stereotype of the Anti-Polish and Pro-Soviet Jew,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society n.s. 13, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2007): 135-76.Vladimir Melamed, “Organized and Unsolicited Collaboration in the Holocaust: The Multifaceted Ukrainian Context,” East European Jewish Affairs 37, no. 2 (August 2007): 217-48. Franziska Bruder, “Den ukrainischen Staat erkämpfen oder sterben!” Die Organisation Ukrainischer Nationalisten (OUN) 1929-1948 (Berlin: Metropol, 2007).Ray Brandon and Wendy Lower, eds., The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008). Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, “The ‘Ukrainian National Revolution’ of 1941: Discourse and Practice of a Fascist Movement,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 83-114. Christoph Mick, “Incompatible Experiences: Poles, Ukrainians and Jews in Lviv under Soviet and German Occupation, 1939-1944,” Journal of Contemporary History 46, no. 2 (2011): 336-63.
4. I am not alone. See, e.g., Charles S. Maier, “A Surfeit of Memory? Reflections on History, Melancholy and Denial,” History and Memory 5, no. 2 (Fall-Winter 1993): 136-52.
5. There is an excellent study of this process: Kai Struve, Bauern und Nation in Galizien: Über Zugehörigkeit und soziale Emanzipation im 19. Jahrhundert (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2005).
6. Alexander Statiev, The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 123-32. Marco Carynnyk, “Foes of Our Rebirth: Ukrainian Nationalist Discussions about Jews, 1929-1947,” Nationalities Papers 39, no. 3 (May 2011): 315-52. Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), 166-201.
7. See especially the article by Volodymyr Kulyk in Krytyka, no. 3-4 (2010).
8. On the latter point, see the torchlight parade in Lviv in 2011 to honor the heroes of Kruty:
9. Per Anders Rudling, “The Khatyn’ Massacre: A Historical Controversy Revisited,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, forthcoming November 2011. Per Anders Rudling, “Terror and Local Collaboration in Occupied Belarus: The Case of Schutzmannschaft Battailion 118,” Historical Yearbook, Nicolae Iorga History Institute, Romanian Academy, 8, forthcoming December 2011.
10. Heidemarie Uhl, “Of Heroes and Victims: World War II in Austrian Memory,”
11. See John-Paul Himka and Joanna Michlic, Bringing the Dark Past to Light:The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe (University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming).
12. Dieter Pohl, Nationalsozialistische Judenverfolgung in Ostgalizien 1941-1944: Organisation und Durchführung eines staatlichen Massenverbrechens (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1997), 365.
13. Iurii Shapoval, “Pro vyznannia i znannia,” Krytyka, no. 1-2 (2011): 17-20.
14. Peter Borisow, “A Subversion of Holodomor,” The Ukrainian Weekly, 2 March 2008.
15. New York: Basic Books, 2010. I have reviewed it in Krytyka, no. 3-4 (2011).
16. See for example: Peter Borisow, “The ABCs of Holodomor Denial,” The Ukrainian Weekly, 17 August 2008. (I understand that Borisow’s text is a response to my own, “How Many Perished in the Famine and Why Does It Matter?” BRAMA: News and Community Press, 2 February 2008 Jars Balan, “Gullible Leftists Play into the Hands of Putin’s Neo-Soviet Apologists,” Ukrainian News, 28 December 2009 – 19 January 2010.
17. Anton Weiss-Wendt, “Hostage of Politics: Raphael Lemkin on ‘Soviet Genocide,’” Journal of Genocide Research 7, no. 4 (December 2005), 551-59.
18. Snyder, Bloodlands, 21-58 (presentation of famine), 413 (objections to using the term “genocide”).
19. The Ukraine List (UKL), no. 441 (16 February 2010).
20. Yuri Shymko [MPP High Park-Swansea], “Statement on the Proposed Use of Soviet Evidence by the Deschenes Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes,” 20 July 1985. Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre (Winnipeg), “War Crimes removed from Archives Office G-3-5.”
21. Himka, “How Many Perished.”
22. Dmitrii Rybakov, “Marko Tsarynnyk: Istorychna napivpravda hirsha za odvertu brekhniu,”, 5 November 2009, (accessed 6 May 2011). John-Paul Himka, “Be Wary of Faulty Nachtigall Lessons,” Kyiv Post, 27 March 2008. John-Paul Himka, “Falsifying World War II History in Ukraine,” Kyiv Post, 9 May 2011.
23. The list was posted on 23 July 2008. It has since been removed from the website of the Security Service, but I have retained a printout of it. It was widely commented on in the press at the time.
24. Aleksandr Burakovskiy, “Holocaust Remembrance in Ukraine: Memorialization of the Jewish Tragedy at Babi Yar,” Nationality Papers 39, no. 33 (May 2011): 371-89.
25. Lukianenko’s position is presented in some detail in Per Anders Rudling, “Organized Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Ukraine: Structure, Influence and Ideology,” Canadian Slavonic Papers 48, nos. 1-2 (March-June 2006):90-92.
26. In the interests of accuracy, I will quote Lozynskyj’s exact words: “Some Ukrainians will perceive this excessive reaction by Jewish media as a self-preserving defense tactic since, statistically, a disproportionate component of the Holodomor’s executioners were Jews and an equally overwhelming amount of Soviet accomplices during the Soviet’s two years in western Ukraine from 1939-41 were Jews.” Askold S. Lozynskyj, “How Insensitive Bigots Continue to Play Ukrainians and Jews against Each Other,” Kyiv Post, 8 November 2010.
27. Lyudmyla Grynevych, “The Present State of Ukrainian Historiography on the Holodomor and Prospects for its Development,” Harriman Review, 16, no. 2 (1 November 2008): 17.
28. Omer Bartov, “Wartime Lies and Other Testimonies: Jewish-Christian Relations in Buczacz, 1939-1944,” East European Politics & Societies 25 (2011): 491.
29. On the varieties of tasks Ukrainians found themselves performing for the German executioners, see Patrick Desbois, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 97.
30. Bartov, “Wartime Lies,” 491-92.
31. John-Paul Himka, “Krakivs’ki visti: An Overview,” in Cultures and Nations of Central and Eastern Europe: Essays in Honor of Roman Szporluk, ed. Zvi Gitelman et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by the Harvard University Press for the Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, 2000), 251.
32. Himka, Ukrainians, Jews and the Holocaust.
33. John-Paul Himka, “Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky and the Holocaust,” Polin 26 (forthcoming).
34. Frank Golczewski, “Die Revision eines Klischees. Die Rettung von verfolgten Juden im Zweiten Weltkrieg durch Ukrainer, in Solidarität und Hilfe für Juden während der NS-Zeit, vol. 2, ed. Wolfgang Benz and Juliane Wetzel (Berlin: Metropol, 1998), 9-82. Zhanna Kovba, Liudianist’ u bezodni pekla. (Povedinka mistsevoho naselennia Skhidnoi Halychyny v roky “Ostatochnoho rozv”iazannia ievreis’koho pytannia”) (Kyiv: Biblioteka Instytutu Iudaiky, 1998).
35. Himka, “Krakivs’ki visti and the Jews,” 87-88, 90.
36. I also have a detailed study on this issue forthcoming in New Religious Histories: Rethinking Religion and Secularization in Russia and Ukraine, ed. Catherine Wanner (Woodrow Wilson Press and Oxford University Press).
37. I particularly recommend: Harald Welzer, Sabine Moller, and Karoline Tschuggnall, “Opa war kein Nazi,” Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust im Familiengedächtnis (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002).

Editor’s note: Roman Serbyn’s article was published on this site, August 7, 2011.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta


  1. Pavel

    This is an interesting point of view, however, I think the author’s argumentation is deficient in several respects.

    Firstly, grand narratives ARE an important part of ethically-constitutive stories that, in their turn, are conducive to constructing and reinforcing the political identity of a nation. Ethically constitutive stories are useful for inspiring allegiance to particular conceptions of identity and community that can endure through the bad times that all communities inevitably experience. If membership is considered ethically valuable, one has a great deal of allegiance to the political community of which one is a member. At this point in history, when Ukraine is trying hard to steer away from the distorted version of a political identity imposed on it by the Soviet assimilation and toward its original identity, the significance of a grand narrative cannot be overestimated.

    Secondly, the author focuses on the discrimination the Ukrainian nationalist movements of the past perpetrated against an ethnic minority, namely, the Jews, while ignoring the fact that even in the developed world discrimination against minorities and outgroups (e.g., African Americans and women in the US) was quite common at that time. Certainly, in retrospect it’s easy to see how morally wrong that was, but one has to take into account the historical context – agricultural and industrial societies have been characterized by cultural homogeneity and intolerance of outgroups and minorities, as opposed to post-industrial societies (the so-called knowledge societies) in which the emphasis shifts to diversity and tolerance because as their economies develop self-expression values take precedence over survival values.

    Thirdly, the author draws a parallel between the activities of Stalin’s troops and the activists of the Ukrainian nationalist movements, failing to see that the intention of the former was totalitarian expansion whereas the intention of the latter was to protect the way of life of the Ukrainians and to uphold Ukraine’s right to self-determination. I can certainly understand the author’s indignation at the oppression of Jews in Ukraine, but using that argument to conclude that Ukraine was no better than Stalinist Russia is similar to saying that the USA, too, was no better than Stalinist Russia because it oppressed blacks and women.

    • Sasha

      “Stalinist Russia”, “similar to saying that the USA, too, was no better than Stalinist Russia” — of course, it wasn’t.. Morally WASN’T!

      Pavel, you’re SO brainwashed! Think, Man! Think More!

  2. Pingback: Ukraine in EU? Yes or no? - Page 33 - City-Data Forum

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