UJE at BookForum 2021: Panel Discussion: "How Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Blessed the Jewish State"

[Editor's note: The theme of the 28th International BookForum, which took place in Lviv on 1519 September 2021, was "The Game of Growing Up." The Canadian charitable non-profit organization Ukrainian Jewish Encounter held several important discussions during the fair, which took place in a hybrid format, with some events held live and others online. Over the next few weeks, we will be screening video recordings of UJE-supported events and panel discussions that took place at this year's BookForum.]

During a conversation with translator and historian Andriy Pavlyshyn and the historian and journalist Shimon Briman, historian Liliana Hentosh, author of a monograph about the life of Andrei Sheptytsky, shared many interesting facts and new theories: "How Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Blessed the Creation of the Jewish State."

Liliana Hentosh
"Sheptytsky was a person whose views were more modern than other clergymen's. By the 1930s, he had already figured out for himself who one's neighbor was. Traditionally, the Catholic Church noted in official theological works of the Catholic clergy, even in 1938, that in the question about one's neighbors and love for them, we must, first and foremost, perceive the members of our family, our neighbors, and the members of the community and our national community, and then think about how we can treat others.

At the same time, this question was undeniable in the eyes of Metropolitan Sheptytsky. In his works dating to 1934, 1936, 1938, and those that were written later, during the war, he clearly wrote that our neighbor is every single person. Every person is a descendant of Adam and Eve. Thus, these views lead him to the idea that every people, each national community, has the right to the same benefits, to the same statehood, and to the development of its culture. From there, he also changes his political stance toward the Jewish people, toward questions of Jewish statehood because the change in his theological views led to changes in his views of political processes. Because of this, in 1934, he gives an interview to a young journalist, which Shimon Briman posted on the website Zaxid.net."

Shimon Briman
"Metropolitan Sheptytsky gave this interview to the young journalist Lieber Krumholz for a Krakow-based Zionist newspaper. But why not to a Lviv one? The most influential Jewish newspaper, Chwila (The Wave), was based in Lviv. I believe that the metropolitan did this deliberately because he wanted to say something to Polish Galician Jews. It is my sense that Metropolitan Sheptytsky wanted to convey a certain message, that is, a pastoral letter, to the Jews of Poland, Galicia, and Lviv. In the interview, he seems to be saying: "While it is still possible to travel, go build your country. Something is happening in the world such that this opportunity may come to an end." The metropolitan said that only there, in the Land of Israel, will you be able to uncover your talents, your abilities, and the like. I believe that Andrei Sheptytsky did this so that the Jews would hear him.

What is interesting is that I examined the archive of Lieber Krumholz, who had already become a distinguished Israeli journalist. That archive, which is held at Tel Aviv University, contains a manuscript in which Krumholz writes in Hebrew about his meeting with Sheptytsky. He writes that Sheptytsky made the following statement: "If you are able to restore your state of Israel, then this will be an extraordinarily important example for all of us enslaved peoples." He also had in mind the Ukrainian people; that's what I believe."

Andriy Pavlyshyn
"I don't agree completely with your assessment of Chwila because I deal actively with this milieu, and I know it well. The thing is that this Zionist newspaper in Lviv appeared only after the notorious Lviv pogrom of 1918. Its first articles were entitled "Documents of Chwila". This was a detailed report, an investigation into this pogrom. Zionist figures in Lviv constantly had to do a balancing act and avoid the accusations of local Polish nationalists who claimed that they were too pro-Ukrainian. They wrote a lot about Ukrainian culture, about the Ukrainian secular milieu, but Metropolitan Sheptytsky, who was often a thorn in the side of the Polish authorities, was a dangerous fellow from the standpoint of the local Lviv Zionists.

Nearly every year, anti-Jewish pogroms, bigger or smaller, took place in Lviv. That had to be reckoned with. A carelessly spoken and published word could lead to a pogrom, like the one that took place a few years before this interview, when the editorial offices of Chwila were completely ransacked, all the machines were smashed, and many people were beaten, but no one was killed. The reason was trifling: Young Christian students thought that female gymnasium students were shooting paper balls at them from small tubes whenever they walked past them. That is why people had to be careful. In Krakow, it was permitted to express oneself more freely about such things."

Liliana Hentosh
"I think that Metropolitan Sheptytsky, when he was still quite a young man, became interested in Jewish culture and history. We have his notebooks from when he was a student at the Jagiellonian University, several course outlines, and other materials, like work outlines. There is also a note on sources on the history of Israel, as well as exercise notes indicating that he was trying to learn Hebrew. In other words, from the outset, he had these intellectual interests. Besides that, he was always seriously interested in history, for example, the history of China, and, strange as it may seem, he focused attention on the histories of various religions, for example, Zoroastrianism in Persia. Thus, we have a person who possessed an all-around education. All these interests made him think.

Very early on, Metropolitan Andrei had a negative attitude both to intolerance in politics and to orthodox ideas, even in religious life. He believed that any such pursuits, whether those of traditionalist-modernists or modernist-traditionalists are incompatible. The breadth of his views and convictions led him to become more interested in other things. We know that he was in contact with the members of the Jewish community.

The metropolitan had private Hebrew lessons. His family contacted a rabbi from Pidhaitsi. When I was studying his financial and economic activities, the metropolitan's advisors and counterparties regarding financial questions were representatives of the Jewish people. These were people who owned wood-processing businesses; the largest earnings in the Lviv archeparchy came from wood processing.

The story of Andrei Sheptytsky's encounter with the artist Leopold Kretz, a young Jewish man who was a pupil of the Novakivsky school, makes me happy. His family was against his taking up art. So, Kretz went to the metropolitan for advice about what to do next, asking him if he could go against his parent's wishes or should he abandon art altogether. The metropolitan advised him to take up sculpting and gave him the funds to pay for a trip to Paris. Kretz traveled to the capital and became a well-known sculptor. It is fascinating to learn that throughout his life, he regarded the metropolitan as his heavenly protector, and in his studio, he kept a photograph of the metropolitan decorated with flowers. In other words, such moving stories demonstrate that Sheptytsky, as the head of the Greek Catholic Church, did not live in an ivory tower. Indeed, as long as his health permitted, he remained open and sincere in his contacts and conversations, whether with a budding journalist or a young artist.

Andriy Pavlyshyn
"I am not surprised by the metropolitan's steadfastness in insisting on one's calling, on what a person wants to achieve in life. He had a similar experience because he, too, had to overcome the resistance of his parents, who wanted him to have the secular career of a count, a military man, or a lawyer. But Andrei Sheptytsky wanted to become a monk, and he became one. Then he fell ill for a long time and lived in Zakopane for nearly a year, and during this period, he studied Hebrew, as his mother mentions in her memoirs. I know this because a book entitled Dwa światy [Two Worlds], which I am translating, by Magdalena Nowak, a professor at the University of Gdańsk, will be published by the end of this year."

Shimon Briman
"It is noteworthy that in 1900 the still-young Sheptytsky, who had already become the head of the church, received a letter from a tiny Jewish community somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains. This community asks him to help finance the repairs to its old synagogue. This is no trivial situation. Sheptytsky's letter, in which he replies to this community in exquisite Hebrew, contains the following words: "The biblical prophet Moses was responsible for 600,000 adults. Here in Galicia, I am responsible for three million Ukrainians. This is why I cannot help you out very much, but I am sending you 20 crowns as my contribution to the repairs of your synagogue." This letter shows, first of all, that Andrei Sheptytsky wrote in literary Hebrew, and second, that he considered himself the Ukrainian Moses.

As regards the future, I believe we have to apply the maximum amount of effort so that the Yad Vashem committee, our The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, will examine the Sheptytsky case once again. It is necessary to submit new documents, and I very much anticipate that Dr. Liliana Hentosh will be of great assistance here and will find something new and sensational in the Vatican archives. Ukrainians and Jews together, both here in Ukraine and in Israel, must pursue this matter in order to prove to Yad Vashem that Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky has a full right to the title Righteous Among the Nations."

Liliana Hentosh
"I have written several articles, and the most recent one concerns Ukrainian statehood, specifically, how Sheptytsky viewed Ukrainian statehood in December 1941. I revealed his views in the context of the mainstream that existed at the time. Andrei Sheptytsky defends the position that in Ukrainian statehood, all beliefs and confessions have equal rights. The state cannot interfere; it is only supposed to guarantee that everyone can practice their faith freely. It was a big step to speak about this in 1941. Metropolitan Andrei held many similar views, in particular, that Ukraine should be a parliamentary democracy.

Of course, we must, on the one hand, search for new documents, and on the other, to look very contextually at what we already have, even Andrei Sheptytsky's texts. Many of his texts have been overlooked and not studied and thus have never been presented in the proper context.

I would very much like the Vatican archives to provide us with new documents. There is some hope for this, but it's also a question of searching and a question of the preservation of these documents. We are hoping that we shall see fascinating, new documents or addenda to those letters of Sheptytsky's with which we are already acquainted.

Also, in order to present his case in Yad Vashem, what is important is studying the context, that is, studying surrounding documents. This is necessary in order to demonstrate correctly what Sheptytsky's deeds or words actually signified. For example, the well-known greeting to the German army. It is treated as proof of his collaboration with Nazism, but in fact, this was a routine practice whereby Catholic Church figures had to pay their respects to the civil authorities. He wrote the same thing to Stalin or to Nicholas II: 'We greet you as those who have come to our land.'

We need to understand what Andrei Sheptytsky did and how he later explained this in context. During the war, the metropolitan also formulates an approach whereby it is not obligatory to implement any decisions of the government that are anti-Christian and anti-humane. He proclaims this. This is an important step in the modernization of Catholic doctrine in its attitude to state power. We can do much with regard to this question in order to reveal the activities and personality of Metropolitan Andrei, so that his deeds will be recognized."

Panel discussion: "How Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Blessed the Creation of the Jewish State" Lviv, 28 BookForum, 17 September 2021 (in Ukrainian)

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.