Ukrainians and Jews: problems of historical memory and manipulations in the politics of memory

Dr. Vasyl Rasevych is a senior academic researcher in the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv, Ukraine. Rasevych has become a very popular historian in the field of Ukrainian-Jewish historical memory. He was the main speaker at conferences in Israel on the theme of Holocaust and Holodomor memories, which were held by the public organization “Israeli Friends of Ukraine” in September 2016 and in September 2017.

Dr. Rasevych was invited to speak at a seminar of Israeli and Ukrainian volunteers held 10-12 December 2017 in Kyiv with the support of UJE. The main points of his lecture and discussion are highlighted below.

00:30 – 19:00
History is not Memory, it’s academic research. Memory is what we get from different sources—the media, family, and ancestors.

Historical politics is a field for manipulation, to turn people away from modern problems. For our state, a more urgent policy would be memory, taking into account the antagonism of memories in different regions and segments of the population.

Historical politics affect domestic and international relations, and instead of creating allies, creates tension and conflict.

The bill on the recognition of the Holodomor as genocide by the Knesset – genocide of whom? A nation, social group, or class? There is a political manipulation: “it was a genocide of villagers, but since they were the basis of the Ukrainian nation, it is the genocide of the whole nation.” There are manipulations with the perpetrators of this crime: “foreigners,” Russians, the disclosure of the pseudonyms of Jewish communists, to emphasize that they were Jews. This repeats the accusations against “zhydokomuna” [a pejorative term for “Judeo-communism”—Ed.] and also tries to justify the murder of Jews during the Holocaust as a “punishment for the organization of the Holodomor.”

19:00 – 28:00
The installation of the monument to Honta and Zalizniak in Uman is a provocation against Jews and the glorification of their killers. Similarly with Koliivshchyna Square in the heart of the old Jewish quarter of Lviv.

28:00 – 30:00
The pogrom of the Jews of Lviv by the Poles in November 1918 has also become a manipulation. They write that the pogrom was revenge by the Poles for Jewish support of Ukrainian independence. In reality, the Jews chose neutrality.

30:00 – 35:00
Another example of propaganda manipulation is the topic of Jewish doctors in the UPA. However, they left no memoirs because they were almost all killed before the arrival of the Red Army. 

35:00 – 42:00
Ukraine’s vote against Israel in the United Nations. Ukrainian diplomats need to understand, along with historians, the level of support of Arab terrorism by Russia over the past dozens of years.

42:00 – 54:00
The total glorification of the OUN (b) divides Ukrainian society from within. The Second World War for Ukrainians is not only and not so much a collaboration with the Third Reich. More than 100 thousand Ukrainians fought in the Polish army against the Wehrmacht, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians served in the Red Army.

Ukrainian nationalists lost twice, following both the First and Second World Wars. You cannot make them the main heroes of Ukrainian history. The main narrative should be that the Ukrainians, together with their allies, defeated Nazism. But it is necessary to take into account the heroic narrative in relation to the UPA among the inhabitants of Western Ukraine.

The hope for a mobilization effect of such historical manipulations in the contemporary struggle against Russian aggression is ephemeral. There must be a reconciliation of memories throughout Ukraine, and not the imposition of local memories for the entire country.

54:00 – 1:06:00
Pavlo Zubiuk and Vasyl Rasevych: There is a contradiction between the imposition of historical memory on the state level and real memory among ordinary people. There is “double truth”: one concept is imposed on society, and another truth is told in the family circle. “The cult of ancestors” is characteristic of right-radical movements.

1:06:00 – 1:24:10
Shimon Briman: “Do you need to make heroes from murderers and losers?” Vasyl Rasevych: “The Soviet model: Ukrainian history is the story of the socially marginalized and losers.” Bohdan Khmelnytsky: the opposite view on him in Polissia, Volhynia, and in Lviv. “Historical schizophrenia” among modern schoolchildren: whom to count as heroes? Heroes should be people who did not kill but saved other people. Today they are the ATO soldiers who defend Ukraine.

1:24:15 – 1:41:00
Vladislav Hrynevych-Junior: searching for a national identity. Unite not on the basis of a heroization of individuals. Vasyl Rasevych: In the Second World War the anti-Hitler Coalition won, and the world will not allow Ukraine to heroize those who were collaborators with the Nazis.

Miroslava Barchuk: “National catastrophes and spilled blood as a glue for the creation of national identity.”

Text: Shimon Briman (Israel).
Edited by Peter Bejger.

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