This is in response to an article by a former U.S. Department of State project officer, Josh Cohen which appeared recently in Foreign Policy and was linked in Kyiv Post. The article leveled accusations of impropriety against Volodymyr Viatrovych, the director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory and in part against Ukraine’s former Minister of Education Serhij Kvit. The article was entitled “The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past”.
I am an attorney by profession and, as such, prone to utilizing the easiest way to rebut Josh Cohen’s canard against Ukrainian historian and today Director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory Volodymyr Viatrovych by simply impeaching his sources. After all Mr. Cohen is not a historian nor is he particularly learned in the period of World War II. He relies on dubious Ukrainian sources like John Paul Himka and Marco Carynnyk, both of Canada. The best thing that one can say about Himka is that he is a historian. Carynnyk is not even that.
Cohen refers to at least three others so called experts, Jeffrey Burds who does not impugn the OUN-UPA but the methodology used by Mr. Viatrovych. My purpose is not to defend a man’s methods. Cohen also refers to little known Ukrainian historian Stanislav Serhiyenko who “slammed” Viatrovych for restricting access to archives and Jared McBride, a fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum who by virtue of his position is obliged to speak on the subject of the Holocaust and seek out possible demons who may or may not have been responsible. With all due respect to the victims of the Nazi atrocities and my father was an inmate for some three years at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, the Holocaust has become much more than the tragic killing of Jews during World War II. It has become an industry, a constant appeal for supporting Israel and it requires constant input and regeneration.
My problem with Josh Cohen is that he throws the anti-Semitic label around with such levity and with no personal research or knowledge, support or evidence, thus rendering the accusation itself almost meaningless. He also exposes a bias when he laments that Viatrovych, Kvit and others in Ukraine are involved in a “telling of World War II history that amplifies Soviet crimes…” No one in history except maybe Mao Tse Tung’s China killed more than the Soviets. Even the Nazis paled by comparison.
Ukrainian-Jewish relations have been and even now are afflicted with a mutual dislike and accusation. There is no need to cover this up, but mutual forgiveness today would be a good idea. Many Ukrainians in Ukraine disliked Jews because many Jews were the underpinning of colonial rule in Ukraine, under Poland, Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union. In fact Jews constituted the majority of the secret services of the Communist Party in Ukraine and those services were responsible for carrying out the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 when some 7 million Ukrainians starved to death.
During the Soviets’ initial occupation of Western Ukraine from 1939-41, they perpetrated heinous crimes and in many instances the perpetrators were young Jewish Ukrainians who joined the Soviet ranks in 1939. It was perfectly reasonable that when war broke out in 1941 between Germany and the USSR, the Ukrainian population of Western Ukraine sought a respite from Soviet killing as well as an opportunity to proclaim its freedom in the midst of the conflict. Yet prior to the Nazi’s invasion in June 1941, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists submitted a memo to the Nazis informing them that if they opposed Ukrainian independence Ukrainians would be their worst enemies.
When the Nazis entered the City of Lviv, the prisons were opened and all the massacres perpetrated by the Soviets and their accomplices were exposed. It would be reasonable to assume that the surviving families of those massacred would turn on those who were responsible. Since the Soviets had fled, only their accomplices remained. Many, unfortunately, were Jewish. There was a retaliatory action. The nationality of those who retaliated is very difficult to identify from photographs which is the only existing evidence. There were Ukrainians among them. But it is important to note that in the City of Lviv at that time Ukrainians constituted only a small percentage. The bulk of the population was Polish and Jewish. There were Poles and Jews among the Soviet victims. Similarly there were Poles and Jews among those who retaliated.
The OUN or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army were not anti-Semitic ”explicitly” as Mr. Cohen exaggerates. In fact there were Jews in both formations. Their mandate did not reference any activity against Jews in Ukraine. Some members on their own acted against Jews, or simply against an enemy who just happened to be Jewish. Other members tried to save Jews.
I can assume that Josh Cohen is not personally knowledgeable of the history of Ukraine during World War II. He is unfair in his treatment of that history, that unfairness being the product of his ignorance. Mr. Viatrovych is and should be dedicated to pursuing the truth in Ukraine’s tragic history, tragic mostly for the Ukrainian people. Other countries have institutes of national memory. Their purpose is to unearth and teach the truth about the history of their nation. No one, and, certainly, no American has the right to accuse them of wrongdoing and falsification unless he has evidence of such. Not surprisingly Cohen refers to several persons accusing Ukraine of falsifying its history and insisting that they possess evidence of this, but no one identifies the evidence itself. I am not a historian, but as an attorney, I know that without an identification of evidence there is no case.
May 3, 2016
Askold S. Lozynskyj