Monster and Savior: The Many Myths of Bohdan Khmelnytsky
“What do we do with this figure?” asks Amelia Glaser, professor of literature at the University of California, San Diego and editor of the UJE sponsored book, Stories of Khmelnytsky: Competing Literary Legacies of the 1648 Ukrainian Cossack Uprising, in this lively and informative interview.
“We wanted to look at the history of Khmelnytsky face on,” notes Glaser. “In Jewish stories it is just assumed that Khmelnytsky is an evil figure of biblical proportions, a precursor to Hitler. In Ukrainian stories Khmelnytsky carved out a Ukrainian territory and he is tantamount to George Washington. Is he a hero or is he a villain?”
Glaser explains that the book arose out a desire to try to hold these myths up against one another. The book addresses stereotypes in all directions. An esteemed group of academics—both historians and scholars of literature—examine early and contemporary portrayals of the controversial historical figure. The contributors recognized that each of their individual chapters had to speak to what is not usually their readership.
“We ask big questions,” says Glaser, who stresses that “the more we can integrate the very good histories that have been done of Jewish and Ukrainian relations, the more we can discuss the intersections between these two cultures rather than talking about each one in isolation.”
The book does not whitewash the troubled history between Jews and Ukrainians. “We need to be okay moving forward absorbing the complexities of the past,” underlines Glaser. “History needs to be probed in nuanced and sometimes painful ways before we can address a future relationship.”
Glaser points out however that national memory can sometimes be simplified for the purposes of group solidarity and that it is worth approaching national memories with a healthy skepticism in order to have the ability to think about those stories in broader terms.