Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 26: Jews and Ukrainians by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis / My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
The Largely Jewish NKVD Leadership in the HOLODOMOR.
This book spans ancient times to the present, and focuses on historical, social, political, and literary events. Owing to the profligacy of the topics presented, I focus on only a few salient topics. There are quite a few misconceptions and oversimplifications stated by the various authors, and I mention only a few of them.
Unexpectedly, this book goes beyond its stated purview of Jewish-Ukrainian relations, and has a few chapters on purely Polish-Jewish matters. I discuss one of them.
THE JEWS AND THE KHMELNITSKY UPRISING (1648)
The number of Jews slaughtered by Khmelnitsky’s hordes has been greatly exaggerated–to the tune of 100,000 or more. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern and Antony Polonsky cite a corrected death toll of 14,000 (out of about 40,000 Jews who lived in Ukraine at the time). (p. 8).
In Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue, blame for the Khmelnitsky Uprising is customarily placed solely on the Polish/Ukrainian magnates and their policies. There is a lack of candor about the conduct of Jews in provoking Cossack anger against themselves and the Polish/Ukrainian nobility. For a corrective, please see the classic work of an eminent Jewish historian, HISTORY OF THE JEWS. VOL. V. : FROM THE CHMIELNICKI PERSECUTION OF THE JEWS IN POLAND.
JEWISH-UKRAINIAN COOPERATION IN THE 1918-1919 POLISH-UKRAINIAN WAR
A fascinating account of the combat, notably in Lwow (Lviv), is provided by Yaroslav Tynchenko. (pp. 197-on). This article was translated from the Russian by Maria D. Olnyk. (p. 212). Tynchenko describes various Jewish combat units fighting on the side of the Ukrainians, and doing so throughout eastern Galicia.
Even after Polish forces gained control of Lwow (Lviv), the Jewish militia continued firing upon Polish troops. (pp. 201-202). [This, in part, led to the 1918 Lwow pogrom.]
THE HOLODOMOR, AND JEWS LEADING THE NKVD
Attention is now focused on the USSR in the 1930’s. It was a time of continued consolidation of Communist rule, and the brutally-forced collectivization of agriculture.
Myroslav Shkandrij, identified as a professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Manitoba (p. 557), has a chapter on the HOLODOMOR. He cites a recent figure for the death toll in Ukraine and the Northern Kuban region as 3-5 million. (pp. 259-260). [This number is situated in the middle of the low-end and high-end estimates of the number of fatalities from the Soviet-sponsored famine-genocide.]
Let us focus on what sometimes is called the Zydokomuna, specifically the dreaded NKVD–the Soviet secret police–and the very instrument of raw Communist terror. Shkandrij cites Ukrainian archival information to provide a breakdown of the NKVD leadership by nationality, (quote). Of the 125 leading figures in the Ukrainian GPU-NKVD in the years 1936-8, Jews constituted 43.2 per cent, Russians 33.6 per cent, Ukrainians 13.6 per cent, and Latvians, Belorussians, Armenians, Moldovans, and others made up the rest. The low number of Ukrainians among the leading cadres of the republic’s secret police, comments Vadym Zolotaryov, `to our mind can be explained only by the hidden anti-Ukrainian politics of the Soviet leadership at the time. Although there was many Ukrainians in the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR, they occupied in the main low-ranking positions.” These figures, it should be noted, already reflect the cadre purges that had been conducted by Genrikh Yagoda, the head of Stalin’s secret police from 1934 to 1936, and then by [Nikolay] Ezhov himself. In 1935-6, of the top ninety figures Jews constituted 66.7 per cent, Russians 15.5 per cent, Ukrainians 6.7 per cent. The changes brought about by Ezhov in 1936-8 were therefore an attempt to alter this make-up. (unquote). (p. 263).
WHY SO MANY LEADING COMMUNISTS WERE JEWS
It is obvious that Jews, even when they were not an absolute majority of the leadership of the NKVD, were massively overrepresented in its leadership. Shkandrij repeats the canned exculpation that this overrepresentation owed to the high urbanization rate of the Jews, and their desire for employment. This is a non-sequitur. To begin with, Jews were more strongly overrepresented in leadership positions of the NKVD than they were in urban areas. Second, if careerism is a valid excuse for Jews assuming positions of leadership in the NKVD, and committing crimes therein, then why should appropriately-qualified Germans not be excused for assuming leadership positions in the SS and Gestapo, and committing crimes therein? Finally, shouldn’t urbanized and educated people, if anything, be MORE aware of the hollowness of Communism, and the gravity of its many crimes, than the presumably-simple country folk?
There are more fundamental questions, not considered by Myroslav Shkandrij, that are raised by his Jews-are-urban exculpation. Shouldn’t Jews, likely having a cultural tendency to shrewdness and skepticism, actually be the LEAST prone to being captivated by the revolutionary slogans and utopian promises of Communism? Moreover, considering the traditional Jewish abhorrence of violence, and the Jews’ own victim-hood of the past, shouldn’t Jews, of all people, actually turn out to be the LEAST likely to support movements that demonize and target entire identifiable groups (the bourgeoisie in this case) for persecution if not annihilation? Finally, considering the commonly-voiced professed commitment, by both religious and atheistic Jews, to high standards of ethics, shouldn’t Jews be massively UNDER-represented in devious and murderous movements such as Communism?
The author avoids the real reason for the massive Jewish over-representation in Communism. It stemmed from a Jewish cultural elitism having replaced the earlier Jewish religious-based elitism. For more on this, see my review of: Jewish Radicals and Radical Jews.
THE OUN (ORGANIZATION OF UKRAINIAN NATIONALISTS)
There are two chapters on the OUN in Poland before and during WWII–one by Taras Kurylo (pp. 233-on) and the other one by Alexander J. Motyl. (pp. 275-on). Kurylo is much more candid about the fascist ideology of the OUN than Motyl, who tends to portray the fascism as a more-or-less passing fad in the OUN. In addition, Motyl accepts the professed 1943 self-transformation, of the OUN, from fascism into a democratic political philosophy, at face value. He does not even consider the possibility that it was a tactical move caused by the Nazi German defeat at Stalingrad and the impending defeat of Germany and discrediting of fascism.
As for Jews as victims of the OUN-UPA, this volume has a major omission. While it mentions the OUN and the initial massacres of Jews at the start of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, and the German-spurned attempts by the OUN to set up a Nazi-collaborating puppet government in 1941, it has very little information on the role of the OUN in ongoing Ukrainian-Nazi collaboration and the extermination of the Jews of Ukraine in subsequent years.
The genocidal program of the OUN-UPA was latent in its ideology well before WWII. Kurylo elaborates on the 1930’s works of Stsiborsky. One of them called for the expulsion of „alien ethnic elements” (i. e, Poles, Jews, and Russians) from large Ukrainian cities by the „most resolute administrative methods.” (p. 240). The OUN’s genocidal ideology culminated in the extermination of over 130,000 mostly-defenseless Polish civilians, in regions of mixed Polish-Ukrainian population, during WWIl. This genocide is glossed over by Kurylo and Motyl, and is minimized and distorted by Petrovsky-Shtern and Polonsky. (p. 50).
THE MUCH-MYTHOLOGIZED CAROUSEL AND THE WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING
The reader may do a double take. Here is a decidedly non-Ukrainian topic in this volume:
Tomasz Szarota updates and translates his earlier Polish-language work on the much-repeated tale that had perhaps first been mentioned in Czeslaw Milosz’s poem, CAMPO DI FIORI. This supposed incident has since become part of Polonophobic Holocaust lore–an indictment of the cruelty of Poles enjoying themselves, within sight of the burning ghetto, while Jews were dying. [Actually, it was common, during WWII, for people to try to preserve a semblance of normal life by enjoying themselves, even within sight of the suffering and the dying. Such behavior was natural, and did not, at least by itself, imply contempt or cold-heartedness to the victims and their experiences.]
What actually happened in the first place? It is hard to tell. Tomasz Szarota focuses on the multiple layers of contradictory accounts by professed eyewitnesses. These include whether the ride was even functional at the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943), and whether people did endanger themselves from stray bullets by riding on it, even if the carousel was operative. Assuming that Poles did ride, there are also contradictory accounts as to whether Poles were enjoying themselves on the ride. (p. 509). To complicate matters even further, there were two carousels, one not near the Ghetto, which have become conflated in various accounts. For more on all this, see: Okupowanej Warszawy dzien powszedni (Polska wersja jezykowa).
Published with the author’s permission.
Title image: Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda (Russian: Ге́нрих Григо́рьевич Яго́да, 7 November 1891 – 15 March 1938), born Yenokh Gershevich Iyeguda into a Jewish family, was a secret police official who served as director of the NKVD, the Soviet Union’s security and intelligence agency. [Source: en.wikipedia.org] / Selected by wg.pco