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Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence byPaul Robert Magocsi;Outstanding Overview Book, But Skirts Around All the Important Issues That Divide Jews and Ukrainians

jan peczkis|Friday, May 4, 2018

This picture-filled book can serve as an excellent introduction for the beginning reader interested in the shared Jewish-Ukrainian experience. It features history, culture, religion, and much more. A significant shortcoming of this book is its superficial treatment of controversial matters involving Jews and Ukrainians, as elaborated towards the end of my review.

I first focus on a few topics of particular interest:


With reference to immigrants, to Canada, in 1880s-1914, Magocsi and Petrovsky-Shtern comment, “In a sense, Ukrainians were ‘made in America’ and Canada. This is because when the immigrants first arrived from western Ukrainian lands, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they called themselves Rusyns, or in English, Ruthenians, with little or no sense of being Ukrainian. They had to learn this from some of their more nationally conscious secular and religious leaders through participation in secular and religious community functions.” (p. 234). The authors reproduce a cartoon in which arriving Ruthenians, when asked their nationality, stutter…Austrian…Russian…, I mean P- P--Polish. (p. 234).

The foregoing has unstated implications for Polish-Ukrainian relations. Since the Ruthenians, at the time, did not generally consider themselves Ukrainians, or even have a well-crystallized sense of nationality at all, Poles saw nothing wrong in wanting eastern Galicia, with its Ruthenian majority and large Polish and Jewish minority, to become a part of Poland. In addition, and not surprisingly, Poles reasonably thought that the Ruthenians could be Polonized, if not culturally and linguistically, then certainly politically [as GENTE RUTHENUS, NATIONE POLONUS]. The latter could be analogous to Switzerland’s Germans. Despite holding on to their language and customs, they consider themselves Swiss citizens, and do not particularly identify with either Austria’s Germans or Germany’s Germans.


The authors write, “…the jury, selected mostly from local Ukrainian peasants, found Beilis innocent but nevertheless upheld the view that the killing was an act of ritual murder.” (p. 42). People often forget the latter.


Authors Magocsi and Petrovsky-Shtern identify the cause of the HOLODOMOR as follows, “It was Kaganovich who was instrumental in bringing about the cultural revival connected with Ukrainization that was initiated 1924-1925 (people often forget this episode), yet it was the same Kaganovich who in 1932, together with other top-ranking Kremlin leaders, fostered the man-made famine in the Ukraine.” (pp. 288-289).

The authors then say that there was nothing more Jewish in Kaganovich and the HOLODOMOR than in Kaganovich and the construction of the Moscow subway system. This is an exceedingly (in fact, ridiculously) simplistic, exculpatory construct. To begin with, the construction of a subway system is not a matter of historical and moral gravity: Implementing a policy to starve millions of people certainly is. The “Kaganowicz wasn’t doing anything specifically Jewish” line is every bit as facile as saying that there was nothing “Polish” or “Ukrainian” about Polish or Ukrainian Nazi collaborators.

In addition to all this, we are dealing with two sets of the standard double standards. For one, Jews like to take credit, in a collective sense, for the many Jewish Nobel Prize winners, but are unwilling to accept liability, in a collective sense, for the crimes of leading Jewish Communists. Secondly, Jews constantly call on Poles and Ukrainians to accept collective liability for the acts of a few Poles and a few Ukrainians--to “face up to dark chapters in their history” and to “come to terms with the past” [now standard Holocaustpeak]--all the while exempting themselves from the same standard, as in the case of mass-murderer Lazar Kaganovich.


The authors, using two columns, contrast, in a side-by-side fashion, the various stereotyped opinions Jews have of Ukrainians with the various stereotyped opinions that Ukrainians have of Jews. (p. 3). So far, so good. However, Magocsi and Petrovsky-Shtern list, as a Ukrainian opinion, the statement that “Not only Jews were killed in Babyn Yar.” (p. 3). This is not an opinion: This is a FACT. Furthermore, it is a fact that most of the victims shot by the Germans at Babyn Yar were local Slavs, and not Jews.

One major issue omitted entirely by the authors is the increasingly German-less Holocaust in this part of Europe. In fact, Shimon Redlich, a Holocaust scholar, caught a lot of flak from his colleagues for criticizing the increasing tendency to shift the blame away from Germans (where it belongs) and unto Poles and Ukrainians. Click on [and read my detailed review] of Holocaust. Voices of Scholars.

Pope John XXIII
"We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognise in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know not what we did."

Pope John Paul II on the Holocaust.
"I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church … is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place," he added that there were "no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust." Leave a reply
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