Discussing the Holocaust and the Holodomor: Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue in Israel

In December 2018, the Israeli Friends of Ukraine NGO continued its tradition of holding forums for Israelis which discuss problems of Ukrainian-Jewish history and critical moments in Ukrainian-Jewish relations. Based on the successful experience of holding such events in 2016 and in 2017, this year’s topic was very controversial: “Saviors and Executioners: Ukrainian-Jewish Dialogue Against the Background of the Holocaust and the Holodomor.”

As in previous years, all presentations and discussions were held in the spirit of an open and honest dialogue and featured the participation of interesting guests from Ukraine and Israel. The forum was held with the support of the Canadian foundation Ukrainian Jewish Encounter and the Embassy of Ukraine to the State of Israel.

The main lecturers of the forum included: Dr. Vasyl Rasevych, a historian and researcher at the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe (Lviv); Andriy Usach, historian and staff member of the Territory of Terror Museum (Lviv); Artem Kharchenko, historian and researcher of the Center for Ethno-Political Studies in Eastern Europe (Kharkiv); Shimon Briman (Israel), historian and journalist; and Victoria Trofimenko, a Ukrainian director and scriptwriter of the film Yakiv about a man who saved 2,800 people from the Holodomor in his village of Cherkasy region.

Vyacheslav Feldman, the organizer of the 2018 forum and the new co-chairman of Israeli Friends of Ukraine, dramatically expanded the technical possibilities for participating in the event. There were about fifty Israeli participants at the sessions, but all the lectures and discussions were broadcast online via Facebook and YouTube. As a result, each session of the forum was seen on the Internet by 300-400 people, and individual lectures by more than 500 spectators.

Vyacheslav Feldman.

A teleconference of forum participants in Israel with Dr. Anatoly Podolsky, the head of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies (Kyiv), sparked a heated discussion on the topic “Ukrainians and Jews: When History Opens/Closes the Future.” The audience of this online discussion was 820 people on Facebook!

Dr. Vasyl Rasevych’s lecture on problems in the policy of historical memory in modern Ukraine aroused great interest. There was a heated discussion about who can be considered a hero in the history of Ukraine.

Shimon Briman called the Jews in the NKVD [Soviet secret police] executioners and victims of the Stalin era and part of the tragedy of the Jewish people in the first half of the twentieth century.

UJE board member Professor Wolf Moskovich shared his views on the features of the Holocaust in Transnistria and noted that the survival and rescue of Jews always depended on the help of the local Ukrainian population.

Discussion during the seminar.

Israeli TV presenter Yevgeny Sova spoke about the hidden reasons why the Knesset of Israel does not want to recognize the Holodomor at the official level.

Andriy Usach said: “Through the efforts of the organizers, speakers, and participants, the seminar has succeeded in creating a forum for discussions on the most traumatic events of Ukrainian history in the twentieth century—the Holodomor and the Holocaust. On my part I tried to present the results of a study on local perpetrators of the Holocaust, based on work with archives and testimony of direct witnesses, to outline the variability and contradictory behavior of ‘ordinary people’ in conditions of extreme violence. A lively discussion immediately after the lecture and in the lobbies showed that this subject was important for the audience and capable of provoking questions that require further study.”

Artem Kharchenko stated: “A rethinking of the Holodomor through the ideas of ​​Raphael Lemkin helps the researcher to better understand the events of the 1930’s. During this period, the “new Soviet man” was raised through a massive network of orphanages. This policy towards the pupils of the system—a forcible displacement of children—can be regarded as a genocidal practice.”

Kharchenko also noted the compelling and content-rich format of the forum: “There was an extremely interested audience and coordinated work by the team of organizers. I think that the variability in the presentation of new themes and topical issues would help to maintain interest in the future”.

Seminar audience.

Natalia Medvinskaya from Jerusalem, one of the Israeli participants in the seminar, wrote about her impressions: “I just returned from “Ukrainian-Jewish Relations Against the Background of the Holocaust and Holodomor” with its main speakers Vasyl Rasevych, Artem Kharchenko, and Andriy Usach. I am glad for Ukraine that it has such sensible and intelligent people who are not afraid to tell the truth, no matter how hard it may be. This inspires hope”.

Text: Shimon Briman (Israel).
Edited by Peter Bejger.
Photo: Borys Podelko (Israeli Friends of Ukraine).