Professor Shimon Redlich: “Sheptytsky repudiated racist thinking"

“When something nice is said in Israel about Ukrainians, people go on the attack right away. I have been attacked many a time. It’s the same with Poles, but Ukrainians get the worst of it. Yes, Ukrainians, too, killed Jews, but not everyone. I was saved by a Ukrainian woman.”

Professor Shimon Redlich was born in Lviv in 1935 and spent his youth in Berezhany. During the Holocaust, he was saved by a Ukrainian family, and in 1950 he immigrated to Israel. He obtained degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Harvard University.

He gave an interview to the Polish Roman Catholic journal Tygodnik Powszechny about his experience of achieving the historical truth about Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (1901–1944). With permission of the journal’s editorial office, Istorychna Pravda translated this material.

Professor Redlich, why did you become interested in Metropolitan Andrei?
In 1985 I was invited to prepare a paper for an international conference at the University of Toronto on the topic “Sheptytsky and the Jews during the Second World War.” That was when I discovered the problem of the relations among Jews, Ukrainians, and Poles in Eastern Galicia. Until that time, I had not worked on this topic, but from that point onwards, I returned to it constantly, and my paper was expanded, then translated and published in various countries.

Why this scholarly commitment to Sheptytsky?
I am engaged in the cause of granting him the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Sheptytsky saved—personally or through people of his church—approximately 150 Jews. Eight or nine of those people are still alive. I consider the fact that this title still has not been granted to be a great injustice.

Why has it not been granted to this day?
Because the commission that has been in charge of this for over twenty years met only thirteen times, and there were always votes against it. A negative decision was handed down at the last meeting in 1991. The people who were saved appealed many times to Yad Vashem [Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center—I.P.], but to no avail.

What about now?
When I was in Lviv, I spoke with a priest from St. George’s Cathedral, where Sheptytsky had served. He said that something is moving in the case of beatification [a recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church; evidence of a righteous life and confirmation of at least one miracle must be provided]. Documents repudiating the accusation that during the war, Sheptytsky had a negative attitude to people from the Polish Church have been found. But matters are moving very slowly.

Let us return to the rescuing of Jews.
Perhaps these issues are interconnected? If one side shifts, maybe the other one will follow suit? As a historian, I was unwilling to tackle public issues for many years, but today I look at these issues differently. I am retired now. I have more time and more freedom. I contacted everyone who was saved by Sheptytsky and is still alive

With my assistance, an appeal about reviving the work of the commission was drawn up and sent to Yad Vashem in December 2005. Then a professor (Gutman) and another historian, a member of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, and I wrote a letter that was handed to Avner Shalev, the head of Yad Vashem, on 27 April 2006.

The commission left the door open. The matter can be revisited if there are new materials. And I have found something that was not examined by the commission.

What is it?
Among other things, this is Sheptytsky’s letter “About Mercy,” similar to his famous letter, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It was published a long time ago in a Catholic journal in Canada, but the commission did not examine it.

The letter was written in June 1942, when the Nazis’ Jewish policy had become entirely clear. The decision about the Final Solution—we are almost 100 percent sure—was adopted between October and December 1941. I believe that Sheptytsky learned what the Germans’ real intentions were and what was happening only several months later. And it was precisely at this time that these two pastoral letters were written.

It is no accident that the letter “About Mercy” contains so many quotations from the Old Testament; from the Prophets and the Book of Wisdom, which were adapted to the actual tragic situation. In Point 48, he appeals to his people, to his faithful, to Ukrainians, asking them to be ready to sacrifice their lives to save their neighbor. Point 49 unambiguously condemns the killing of any person: “Every neighbor is a brother and part of the human family.” In the context of those times, this sounds strong and dramatic.

Because it talks not only about Ukrainians or Christians...
Yes, it talks about [all] people. This is a repudiation of racist thinking.

There are also Sheptytsky’s letters to the Vatican, which describe the Germans’ actions against the Jewish population. A few years ago, following the last meeting of the Yad Vashem Commission, an international Catholic-Jewish historical commission studied Vatican documents on the Holocaust.

That was when it was established that in late August 1942, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky gave the pope letters describing in detail the great tragedy of the destruction of the Jews and the local population. The historians on this commission are convinced that no other Catholic hierarch offered such a large number of direct testimonies or distinguished himself by such concern for the fate of the Jewish people, being at the center of German activity.

Then what impeded the granting of the title of Righteous Among the Nations to Sheptytsky?
A few years ago, Yad Vashem publicized a list of accusations. Today, I probably would not be receiving this material. Maybe they wanted to convince me. I don’t know. But what is interesting is how the people connected with Yad Vashem are fixated in their thinking.

The first accusation is that Sheptytsky supported the formation of an SS division. And everything that is connected with the letters “SS” sparks only negative emotions. My comment: There is no need to think logically here; it is emotions that play a role here.

Of course, it is a fact that it was formed, but support for the creation of the division did not mean support for Hitler, let alone National Socialism. All this was taking place in the spring and summer of 1943, after Stalingrad, when people already knew that things had come full circle and that the Germans were retreating. In my opinion, which is shared by other historians, Sheptytsky was afraid that the German retreat and the arrival of the Soviet army would be followed by anarchy and a total power vacuum.

Although initially he hoped that...
...that there would be a free Ukraine. In that situation, he was hoping that this Ukrainian military unit, even one that was organized by the Germans, would defend local people during the period of the power vacuum.

This was a naive belief. It is likely that he was expecting that after Germany’s defeat, some kind of agreement would be struck between East and West, between Russia and America, together with England, which would create conditions for Ukraine’s independence. He thought that it would be good if the people had their own army.

For him, the most important question after God was an independent Ukraine.
I would even say that this question was on par with God. I am a historian and a Jew, and I imagine all this approximately on the same level. He was a Ukrainian nationalist; I do not deny this. But at the same time, he was an extraordinary humanist.

This is a tragic figure, torn between two things. Therein lies his tragedy—not in the fact that he supported the Germans’ policy toward the Jews. He saved Jews.

The second accusation is that saving Jews was a secondary matter in Sheptytsky’s activity in its entirety. You have to be an idiot to think like this. It is understandable that, as the metropolitan, he had many other matters [to deal with].

The third accusation is that Sheptytsky was the most important political figure, a political authority, in Ukraine, a kind of super-politician, and therefore he is responsible for the Ukrainians’ amoral conduct. My response is this: He was never a political leader. He was a religious and moral leader, not a political one.

There is another accusation. Sheptytsky did not make any public appeals to Ukrainians not to kill Jews. They say: Why did he not write in his pastoral letters “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “About Mercy,” in black on white: “Do not kill Jews”?

I reply: Only someone who does not know the history of those times can think like that. If he had written “Do not kill Jews,” then all these letters would have been confiscated, and he would have been arrested.

There is another interesting point that demonstrates the stereotypical nature of thinking. People say that Sheptytsky hated the Bolsheviks and Soviet Russia; meanwhile, Soviet Russia was rescuing the Jews.

As a historian of Soviet Russia, I know full well how it was saving them and how it was not. This argument is absolutely false, in my view. The Soviet Union was not going to either save or kill Jews. Two hundred and fifty thousand Polish Jews were saved in Soviet Russia because, in the fall of 1939, they were deported to the distant reaches of the country as a “dangerous element.” They were saved not thanks to Soviet Russia’s sympathy for the Jews but because they were in exile.

For many years I myself had strong feelings for the Red Army because it had liberated me. But it did not come to liberate Redlich from the German occupation. It came because it was marching to conquer the West.

What about the claims about Sheptytsky’s antisemitic statements?
That is what Christian theology was like at the time. In other words, it was also part of this entire complex. The Rabbi of Lviv, David Kahane, whom Sheptytsky saved, recalled a conversation in the library of St. George’s Cathedral. Sheptytsky cited the well-known expression: “His blood be upon us and on our children.” The next day, as Kahane recalled, the metropolitan apologized for these words. He said what he said, but he thought about it and corrected himself.

People also accuse him of not intervening during the first days of the German occupation, when Ukrainians launched pogroms in Lviv. This is a fact. Crowds of Ukrainians killed several thousand Jews in Lviv and neighboring cities and towns. But let us try to put ourselves in Sheptytsky’s place.

I believe, although I cannot prove this, that Sheptytsky was absolutely stunned by what was happening on the streets of Lviv. The summer of 1941: Everything is going wrong; there is a maddened crowd of crazy people... What, concretely, could he have done in order to stop such a mob?

And the last accusation is idiotic, anyway: that Sheptytsky was Hitler’s ideological ally. The basis of this was a letter that was sent to Hitler in the summer of 1941. This letter was signed by several Ukrainians, including the metropolitan. They greeted Hitler as the liberator from the Soviet yoke. That was how it was understood at the time.

Sheptytsky was a multifaceted personality. He possessed both positive aspects and negative ones. In my opinion, the general finding is still positive. I can discuss this with Jews as well as Poles.

Communist propaganda always depicted him negatively.
Communist propaganda did a lot of bad things here. It influenced even people who were anti-Soviet. According to Rotfeld [Editor’s note: Adam Daniel Rotfeld was former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland and saved by Sheptytsky], documents pertaining to Sheptytsky were confiscated by the KGB and the NKVD. I have not researched this, so I cannot say anything.

Fortunately, the people whom he saved are still alive.
They adore him. For example, Mrs. Lili Polman from London recalls that upon arriving at St. George’s Cathedral, she was brought to the metropolitan’s office. He placed his hand on her head and said in Ukrainian: “Don’t be afraid little one!”

What is Yad Vashem afraid of, public opinion?
Yes. When something nice is said in Israel about Ukrainians, people go on the attack right away. I have been attacked many a time. It’s the same thing with Poles, but Ukrainians get the worst of it.

Because the “Ukrainians went with Hitler”?
Yes, and Ukrainians killed Jews. But not everyone. I was saved by a Ukrainian woman.

NOTE: Andrei Sheptytsky

Today, the figure of the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lviv, Andrei Sheptytsky (1865–1944), who is regarded by many Ukrainians as a spiritual authority, elicits various emotions. Work continues in order to obtain his beatification. At the same time, he is accused of nationalism and collaboration with the Germans.

Andrei Sheptytsky came from a family that lived on the Polish-Ukrainian border, the members of which chose different religious and political paths. His brother was a Polish legionnaire and general of the Polish army, and his nephew, who was an officer in the reserves and a Roman Catholic priest, died in Katyn Forest. [Editor’s note: Andrei Sheptytsky’s brother Klymentiy, archimandrite of the Order of Studite monks, was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1995.]

Count Roman Alexander Maria Sheptytsky was his secular name. He chose a Ukrainian identity and a spiritual career. During the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was a vice-marshal of the Galician Sejm [parliament].

During the First World War, he was imprisoned by the Russians, and in 1918, when the Polish-Ukrainian conflict began, the metropolitan supported the idea of an independent Ukraine.

In 1939, when the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact was signed, the metropolitan’s role increased in importance, and with greater frequency, he had to make a pragmatic choice directly connected with politics.

He condemned National Socialism back in August 1939. After Lviv came under the control of the USSR, he advised his priests to be loyal to the new authorities (and predicting that he might fall victim to the NKVD, he secretly ordained his successor, Yosyf Slipyj).

When war broke out between the Third Reich and the USSR, Sheptytsky, like many Ukrainians, backed Hitler, believing that he might facilitate the creation of an independent Ukraine. After German troops entered Lviv, he wrote a welcome message to the Wehrmacht, and in July 1941, he sent a declaration to Hitler, in his own name and on behalf of the Ukrainian people, about support for the building of a “new order in Europe.”

However, despite pressure from his surroundings, he did not urge young Ukrainians to join the Ukrainian division of the SS in 1943. He did not support—nor did he condemn—the activities of the UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army—Ed.]. However, in all his pastoral letters, he always condemned murder and murderers.

Then he created an organization to help Jews, thanks to which at least several hundred people were saved (the metropolitan hid two rabbis in his own residence). He also defended them in a letter to Himmler (February 1942), as well as to the occupation authorities—in vain, as we know.

Sheptytsky died in November 1944.

On two occasions, in 1958 and 1962, attempts were made to beatify him, but the Vatican rejected the request. In the past few years, the Vatican has been studying a new proposal for his beatification.

“Sheptytsky was a collaborator in his relations with the Nazis, but at the same time he saved Jewish lives," wrote the Galician Jew, Shevah Weiss, who called Metropolitan Sheptytsky the “Ukrainian Schindler." The Jews whom he saved during the war are issuing calls that he be granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

One of the people who is dealing with this question is Professor Shimon Redlich. He was born in Lviv in 1935 and spent his youth in Berezhany. Redlich was saved during the Holocaust, and in 1950 he immigrated to Israel.

Redlich graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a degree in History and Literature and from Harvard University with a degree in Sovietology. In New York University, he studied Jewish history. Today Redlich is Professor Emeritus, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel).

He is the author of numerous works, including the book Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919–1945, published in Polish [and English—Ed.], which reviewers frequently compare to the works of Jan Tomasz Gross.

Istorychna Pravda’s “Shalom!” media project, which explores the Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue, is made possible by the Canadian non-profit organization Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

Originally appeared in Ukrainian @ Istorychna Pravda

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.
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