Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm Not Ready to Applaud Ukraine

Have you been following the extraordinary, tingling news from Ukraine? Sounds like the good guys won, at least for now. Yet I am ambivalent. You see, the Ukrainians who have seemingly toppled a government are from the western portion of the country, the descendants of anti-Semitic beasts who aided the Nazi extermination of Jews, including my father’s family in Ottynia in the Galicia region, once considered a central concentration of Jewish life and culture in Eastern Europe.

According to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, 1,200 Jews were killed by Ukrainians in the nearby Szeparowce Forest on July 7, 1941, just days after Germany occupied Ottynia on July 1. On August 3, Wiesenthal reported, 45 Jews were shot by Ukrainians in the town. 

Ingmar Oldberg, an associate researcher in the Russia program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, wrote in August 2011, “According to Jewish scholars and organizations, the Ukrainian Nachtigall battalion, together with German troops and local Ukrainians, massacred Jews in the first days of July before continuing their march. At the end of the month a new pogrom was carried out in the city (of Lviv), known as the “Petliura Days”, named for the Ukrainian leader who instigated pogroms during the 1919 struggle for independence. Even after Nazi troops retreated toward the end of the war, incidents of persecution by the Ukrainians against the remaining Jews occurred throughout Galicia.”

He concluded his essay thusly: “The Holocaust of the Jews and Ukrainian complicity are still rarely addressed ... The world is still waiting for Ukrainian historians in general to admit that Ukrainians were not only victims, but also executioners. The Jews are waiting for their rightful place in Ukraine’s history and contemporary life” (

My Uncle Willy, a survivor of the extermination in Ottynia who hid from the Nazis for several years before being enlisted by the Russian army, related his own story of fear of Ukrainian anti-Semitism. When assigned to a battalion to be shipped out to fight the Germans, he asked for a transfer to a different unit. Why? Because, he told his commandant, his original unit was composed of Ukrainian soldiers. He feared being shot by them because he was Jewish. He asked for a transfer to a Russian battalion. His request was granted.

So no, I am not ready to stand up and cheer just now.

Speaking of Nazis: How’s that for a segue into my next topic, taking a small round of applause for correctly predicting Downtown Abbey’s Lady Edith’s lost-in-Munich-lover had a run-in with Brown Shirted bullies in the Bavarian capital. 

Okay, I suggested he embedded himself with the Nazis to get a scoop for his paper, instead of being assaulted or worse by them, as Lady Edith told her family, but let’s not quibble about small details, nor about my prediction he’d return in time for the birth of their love-child. 

More Kudos: For those who watch CBS Sunday Morning, yesterday’s edition featured a profile of an old-fashioned Colorado newspaper produced by Linotype machine, just as I explained to you the other day how my college newspaper, Calling Card, made it into print.