Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Holo vs Holo

The Canadian Human Rights Museum, while built to fulfill a noble purpose, has found itself embroiled in controversy over its allocation of space.  As noted in this article from The National Post:
A debate over how the Canadian Museum for Human Rights balances the Holocaust and other genocides has a new flashpoint: a poll that purports to oppose giving the Holocaust primacy of place, though even the pollster himself says the poll has been misinterpreted.

The federally-funded museum, originally the dream of the late Israel Asper and set to open in about two years in Winnipeg, will have an area dedicated to the murder of six million Jews during the Second World War.
Other mass atrocities — including the Rwandan massacres, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the planned starvation and execution of at least 3.2 million Ukrainians in the 1930s under Stalin — will be housed together in an adjacent area.
It is a point that has angered many ethnic groups in Canada, particularly those from Eastern Europe, who feel their misfortunes will be placed on a lower rung on a hierarchy of suffering.
The one community that has been especially angered by this decision is the Ukrainian one.  The argue that their Holodomor, the Stalinist persecution in which millions of them died, is as significant as the Holocaust and that if the Jews get their own wing then so do they. 
One could easily argue successfully with them on this point.  First one should note that as far as mass atrocities go the Holocaust is unique.  Name any other major massacre in 20th century history and you will see the obvious differences.  The Rwandan and Cambodian slaughters were the result of a government turning on its own citizens in order to secure political control.  The Ukrainians were similarly killed by Stalin, y"sh, to prove a point: don't mess with Moscow or else.
The Holocaust was unique in that one national group, the Germans, made it their overriding policy to wipe out another national group, that would be us Jews, no matter where we were.  It wasn't about ridding Germany of its Jews.  It was about ridding the world.  The Holocaust was also unique in that the persecuted group was not a threat to the attackers.  Unlike the other massacres mentioned where civil war, tribal loyalites or the need to show political power were concerns the Holocaust was about killing Jews simply because they were Jews.  Finally, the Holocaust was unique in how not just the Germans but many other nations, including many allied with or occupied by the Nazis, y"sh, along with many actively fighting them otherwise cooperated to ensure that only a bare minimum of Jews could escape the horror being perpetrated against them.
Although in the decades since the war most of the countries directly involved in the Holocaust have expressed at least some statements of regret (even as many of them ironically make strong efforts to repeat the Holocaust in Israel through their open support of our enemies) one such nation that seems not to care about what happened on its soil is the Ukraine:

It seems parts of Europe are less tolerant now than they were in the 16th century. Last week, I watched as bulldozers began to demolish the adjacent remnants of what was once one of Europe's most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv. Most of the rest of the synagogue was burned down, with Jews inside, by the Nazis in 1941.
During the war, 42 other synagogues were destroyed in Lviv, which from the middle ages to the 20th century was known by its Austrian (and Yiddish) name, Lemberg, and then called Lvov after the Soviets annexed it in 1945. The remnants of the Golden Rose are one of the few remaining vestiges of Jewish existence in Lviv, the majority of whose residents, in 1940, were Jewish.
It is not only morally wrong for bulldozers to drill through the last traces of this vibrant past without first giving the handful of remaining Jews here a chance to restore this site, or turn it into a place of memorial. It is legally wrong too. Ukraine's own laws are designed to preserve such historic sites.
The Ukrainian authorities are not the only ones at fault. Where is the UN cultural organization UNESCO? The synagogue ruins were designated part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
And where is European soccer body UEFA? The Ukrainians are planning to build a hotel on the site to host fans and players at next year's European soccer championships, the world's third most-watched sporting event, which they are co-hosting with Poland. So much for UEFA's much-hyped campaign to "Kick racism out of football." (In addition to there being residual anti-Semitism in Ukraine, the authorities seem to be motivated by cultural and historical crassness and illiteracy, and denial of the past, as well as real-estate greed.)
During the Holocaust, 420,000 Jews, including over 100,000 children, were murdered in Lviv and its environs, more than in almost any other city in Europe. The killing was so efficient that the Nazis organized transports of Romanian and Hungarian Jews to be brought here to be killed once they were done killing the Polish and Ukrainian Jews. There were almost no survivors.
Yet you will hardly find any reference to this in the official guide books or in the museums of Lviv. There is no monument to the murdered Jews in Lviv's old town.
A few elderly people still remember. One Ukrainian woman who approached me last week as I stood at what used to be the ghetto entrance told me she remembered, as a child, seeing Jews whipped as they were forced to walk on their knees back and forth for hours until they collapsed, and were then shot while Nazis laughed.

In the end, this is why the Holodomor might deserve its own wing in the museum.  Like the Holocaust it too has a unique feature: its victims, when given the chance, did to the Jews what the Soviets, y"sh, did to them.  The idea that a people could suffer in such a way and then learn absolutely nothing moral about it, could remain as cruel as their oppressors, is certainly unique.
It should be remembered that the Ukraine has an extensive history of Jew hatred including the worst massacres of Jews between the destruction of the Second Temple (may it speedily be rebuilt) and the Holocaust, the Cheilmnitsky pogroms.  It should come as no surprise that Ukraine today has no interest in remember its enthusiastic participation in the Holocaust.  They can't come right out and wear it as a badge of pride but perhaps intentional neglect of history is a suitable substitute for them.


SJ said...

Self defense really wasn't a jewish value until the zionists came along.

Anonymous said...

"...a point that has angered many ethnic groups in Canada, particularly those from Eastern Europe, who feel their misfortunes will be placed on a lower rung on a hierarchy of suffering."

Some of these people were perpetrators collaborating with the Nazis!

Clarissa said...

"Some of these people were perpetrators collaborating with the Nazis!"

-But many more of them defeated Hitler and liberated people from concentration camps.

As a Ukrainian Jew, I am saddened that the author of this blog has bought into the lies about the anti-semitism of the Ukrainians.

Are you even aware that the moment when Ukraine gained its independence from the Russian Empire in 1918, Ukrainian politicians introduced laws that insisted that no Ukrainian parliament could open a session without a significant number of Jewish MPs being present? Are you aware that all of the foundational documents of the independent Ukrainian Republic were always signed by Ukrainian committee, the Russian committee, the Jewish committee, and the Polish committee? Have you missed the fact that Volodymyr Vinnichenko, the Prime Minister of the Ukrainian Republic was sent to the concentration camps by the Nazis for refusing to collaborate with them? That he spend his entire life tirelessly defending the rights of Jews everywhere?

In 1918-1921 (the only years before 1991) when Ukraine was independent, nowhere in the world - nowhere - were the right of the Jews so protected and cherished as in Ukraine.

The degree of willful blindness you need to practice in order to equate pogroms of the early XXth century with Ukraine is terrifyingly high.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Oh please. The Ukraine has been a cesspit of Jew hatred for centuries. The culmination of that hatred might have been the Holocaust but the Ukrainians had been doing practice runs for a very long time in order to get ready.

Clarissa said...

I just made you famous, Mighty:

But not in a good way.

I understand that ignorance is bliss, of course, but it is also likely to make one look ridiculous.

Baruch Pelta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baruch Pelta said...

In 2008, a book from the Holocaust Memorial Museum came out called The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization; it was one of two books I wrote a double book review for a forthcoming issue of Harvard Ukrainian Studies on. In the volume, Frank Golczewski had an essay in which he attempted to debunk the theory that "the Ukrainians were the worst;" he maintains that while "the stereotype indeed has some basis in remains as distorted as it is widely held." I thought he made a good case that "the extermination of the Jews was not the main reason Ukrainians collaborated," but I think he failed to debunk the stereotype that Ukrainians were the cruelest of perpetrators.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Not sure how famous you've made me but whatever.
I suppose the Russian empire and other consipirators invented:
Oh, oh, and this is contemporary:
And that was a 15 second Bing search.

I don't believe I said the Ukrainains were the worst. Certainly pretty much every country in Europe with the exception of Denmark collaborated with the Nazis to some degree in trying to eliminate their Jewish population even as they fought the German occupation. However, no other country in Europe had ever undergone an attempted genocide in its immediate past and then turned on its own population of Jews.

There is a tremendous effort to revise history in Europe. One wonders if the Holocaust even happens because every European who is old enough to remember the war can't seem to remember any of their compatriots assisting the Germans, can't remember the camps or the plumes of smoke, can't seem to remember anything about it. Except, oddly, for the Germans. Well and us, of course.

Brian said...

You'd do well to read “The Anti-Imperial Choice: The Making of the Ukrainian Jew” by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. Shtern describes the anti-Ukrainian sentiment encountered by the Ukrainian-Jewish poet Moisei Fishbein, who was forced into exile to Israel in the 1079s for his refusal to spy on his Ukrainian writer friends for the KGB. Petrovsky-Shtern describes the atmosphere that greeted Fishbein, a Ukrainian speaker:
“Moreover, Israeli fascination with Russian culture continued despite the state-sponsored antisemitism in the USSR. Russian propaganda successfully enticed one ethnicity against the other: from the 1940s on it had effectively convinced the population of Ukraine, Jewish veterans of World War II included, that all Ukrainian nationalists were vociferously antiemetic and that those who insisted on speaking Ukrainian were nationalists. The Israeli establishment strongly supported this vision.”

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

> Moreover, Israeli fascination with Russian culture continued despite the state-sponsored antisemitism in the USSR.

Well of course it did, just as it did amongst many secular Jewish groups in North America and Western Europe. That's because these folks were socialists/communists first and Jews second and they were prepared to overlook Russian Jew hatred in order to remain members in the Comintern.

> all Ukrainian nationalists were vociferously antiemetic

Me too! I can't stand vomiting!

Of, you mented SemItic, not emetic. Never mind.

Adam Zur said...

I agree with Clarrisa

Brian said...

Thanks for focusing on a typo almost entirely at the expense of the content I posted.

Insofar as you did respond to the content of what I posted, your comments were accurate. But you touched on something that is a painful truth that few ever care to examine. (One exception is Daniel Mendelsohn in his brilliant "The Lost: A Search For Six of Six Million," where he focuses on the fact that Ukrainian and Jewish interests were often opposed in ways for which neither group was guilty but which ended up pitting the two peoples against each other.) You note that many Jews "were socialists/communists first and Jews second." Another way of putting it is that Jews were disproportionately supportive of the Bolshevik occupation in (what is now known as) Ukraine. It made sense for Jews, as a minority group, to ally with those in power. They were acting out of preservation and advancement of their interests. Yet, those who point out the high representation of Jews in the Communist party as a way of explaining (NOT EXCUSING!) antisemitism among Slavic peoples during the war are accused of antisemitism or at least of pardoning antisemitism. (Yes, antisemitism existed among Slavs before WWII. But it often was rooted in the same things. Jews often sided with ruling power, whoever it was in a place and time, in order to survive or prosper as a minority group. This led other groups--Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, etc--to resent Jews. The ruling groups knew exactly what they were doing, and they exploited these inter-ethnic divisions.)

Conversely, while it made sense for Ukrainian nationalists to ally themselves with the enemies of the USSR in order to achieve their aspirations for independent statehood, their decision is condemned as "Nazi collaboration." There is a difference between being an ally and a collaborator. No one extends any benefit of the doubt to Slavic nationalists allied with the Nazis, but Jews who allied with the Soviets, who committed acts of mass murder against Slavic people well before WWII, are pardoned as those who just sympathized with socialism and or communism.

I'm sure I've written too much already, and I don't expect to change your mind or anyone's. But as a non-Ukrainian and non-Jew, that is, a disinterested party, who has spent years studying WWII in what Timothy Snyder calls "The Bloodlands," I'm dismayed by your reductive and prejudiced view of Ukrainians. I believe only three nations have more Righteous Among the Nations than Ukraine. So if there were many Ukrainians among the perpetrators of the Holocaust, there were thousands among those who, at great personal risk, tried to save Jews.

You expect everyone to accept your interpretation of the Holocaust as a singular, unique crime in human history, but you seem to have made almost no attempt to understand how other nations and people regard their history. If you can be dismissive of the Holodomor and other tragedies, why should the victims of those tragedies and their descendants pay any mind to the Holocaust?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Brian, thank you for your longer sponse. Let me start with your last point because it's relevant for Clarissa as well.
I do not expect you or anyone else to accept my interpretation. I am simply stating my opinion. What your opinion is your business. Why people read my essays and believe that I want them to agree with me is beyond me.
Yes, there plenty of righteous gentiles in the Ukraine. However I could turn that around and point out that there were no righteous gentiles in Canada. Ukraine was ground zero for many of the atrocities hence the proportionally higher number of objectors to those atrocities.
Yes, the Jews were often manipulated by various ruling powers. For example one of the grievances against the Jews that Chielmnistsky (I don't give a damn how you spell the bastard's name, BTW) had was based on the role Jews played as middlemen for the detested Polish overlords. However, if you look at all the various ethnic groups in that part of the world, only two were ever subjected to attempted genocides - the Jews and the Ukrainians. One only also participated, to a greater or lesser extend, in another genocide.

Anon1 said...

The Finns had a sort of alliance with Nazi Germany to ward off the Russians, but the Finns, unlike the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Poles, Croatians, you name it, did not try to be more savage than the Germans.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

The Holocaust was also unique in that many folks who were actively resisting the Germans still found time to betray Jews in their midst. The French, the Poles, etc.
At any rate, there is an ongoing effort to sanitize the history of Eastern Europe and remove as many traces of Jew hatred from it as possible. I recall reading an essay by a Polish "historian" purporting to claim that Polish Jewish history was, in fact, full of philoSemitism! Perhaps it's shame, perhaps it's wilfull ignorance. The Ukrainians are no worse that some others in that part of the world but they are unique in that a similar event happened to them to just before many of them helped out the Jew killing during the war.
And if your'e doubting those creditials:

Brian said...

I appreciate your response to my last post. I confess I don't know much about the Cossack/Hetman era. I've read and heard some defenders of Khmelnytsky (There are dozens of spellings;I'm not hung up on any.) say his forces were brutal toward all enemies, including Poles, and didn't single Jews out. Again, I have no idea whether this is so.

As for during WWII, I think there are many reasons for the particular brutality of the Holocaust in what's now Ukraine. A big factor is, of course, the substantial Jewish population in many cities there. I've also read a lot about how the brutality of the first Soviet occupation (Sept 1939-June 1941)inured the population to violence. Before the Nazis set foot in what's now Ukraine, it was already a brutalized, bloody place. For this reason, I think all violence that took place there after, whether antisemitic, Ukrainians against Poles, Poles against Ukrainians, took on a brutal character. Violence was sadly the rule of the day. I've interviewed dozens of veterans of the Ukrainian nationalist resistance, and I can tell you they reserve their harshest words for the Polish "occupiers." It was a divided place with immensely tragic consequences.

Yesterday, I happened to be reading Karel Berkhoff's "Harvest of Despair" about the Nazi occupation of Ukraine. For what it's worth, Berkhoff's view is that the vast majority of Ukrainians neither participated in nor resisted German efforts to kill Jews. Berkhoff also cites letters and journals by Ukrainians from the era in which the authors express profound sadness over what was done to their neighbors.

I respect your point of view, and I know you're not asking me or anyone to accept your interpretation. I understand your objection to the ways the history of WWII is being sanitized in Eastern Europe. My hope is only that, whatever our individual interests or even biases, that we try to understand other perspectives and interpretations. This, of course, excludes odious "interpretations," such as Holocaust denial. I suppose the debate about the extent to which Ukrainians, or even just the Ukrainian nationalist movement, was as a whole a party to the Holocaust is an area some perceive as outright denial, while others, including me, see it as a matter of debate and interpretation.

In complete sincerity, I thank you for this exchange. It's encouraging to me that we could exchange ideas and differing points of view while retaining respect for one another. As I said, I certainly have respect for your view.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Thank you Brian for putting up with me as well!
I checked out your blog. Your post on Ukrainians and Jews was very interesting. It's not something we like to think about but what we often forget as a people is that too many of us were so enamoured with communism that we became that philosophy's biggest fanatics and others suffered because of this.

Brian said...

Garnel, I enjoyed the exchange! I actually wrote a blog post about how the issues we discussed and the points of clarity, if not agreement, that we reached. Be well.