Poles and Jews, Ukrainians and Jews

Far from symmetry

Polska i Ukraina

„The Jewish problem” as a Polish problem

Stanisław Krajewski, "Więź" 1998 (in Polish - "Spotkania" 1985 and "Więź" 1992)


This essay is a survey of the issues in Polish history in which there exist clearly diverging views among average Jews and average Poles. The very fi rst version of the essay, meant for the Polish intelligentsia, was pub-lished, under my penname Abel Kainer, in an underground periodical “Spotkania” 29/30 (1985), pp. 32-64. A version close to the present one was published in Catholic monthly “Więź” in 1992, and the English ver-sion in 1998 in a special issue of “Więź” entitled Under One Heaven. Poles and Jews., pp. 60-81, together with an addendum, omitted here. Many footnotes explaining Polish history are by William Brand, who added them for “Więź”.

Jews continue to be important in Poland as an issue, an issue that is sig-nifi cant for everyone, and an obsession for some (in fact, for surprisingly many). Jews are now important only as an issue, although many Poles imagine that the Jews are numerous and infl uential. In the meantime, the Jews hardly exist in Poland as a group. There are, of course, individu-als here and there, although the Jews who are important and visible in various fi elds are usually the people to whom the term “Poles of Jewish origin” is most appropriate. It is hard to say what a given person feels, yet it is easy to ascertain that almost none of the better-known individuals belong to any Jewish institutions, religious or secular, and that they do not meet other Jews in any specifi cally Jewish forum.
Jews are hardly numerous in Poland, but the attitudes toward Jews are far from indifferent, almost as it was before the war, when the Jews consti-tuted a minority of over three million. One no longer encounters “the Jewish problem” on the street, but this does not mean that it has been consigned to history. Obviously, the “problem” is not as pronounced and in any case, certainly not only associated with the presence of Jews, but also with the attitude to Jews. In this sense, it has been and continues to be a Polish problem.
Antipathies and resentments dominate relations between Poles and Jews. This is mutual. They lead to harmful stereotypes on both sides. It is dif-fi cult, however, to treat them as fully symmetrical. One can cite prejudices or point out false judgments on either side – a point here, a point there – but the actual consequences differ. It was Jews who suffered because of Polish attitudes, and not the other way around. Furthermore, although each deserves censure, antisemitism and antipolonism are different by nature. The roots of European antisemitism are incomparably deeper and stronger. They include the beginnings of the Church, the place of Jews in Christian Europe and afterwards in the Europe of nation-states, and also embrace the psychological need for a personifi cation of evil. The psychological needs are similar among Jews. Antipolonism, however, does not result from an overall vision, but rather from a generalization of the Jewish experience in twentieth-century Poland and from the com-plexity of Jewish history in the Polish lands, where fate – or God – once assembled such a numerous Jewish people.
It is difficult to avoid a certain simplifi cation that appears at once in the very terminology, including that employed by me. Namely, speaking of “Poles and Jews” suggests two separate groups standing beside each other, or even in opposition to each other. This is partially true, but in reality there existed – and still exist – many spheres of interpenetration: Polonized Jews who are active in Polish life and among the Polish émigré community, as well as Poles who live and work with Jews. At times, a division between “Christians and Jews” would be far more accurate: we would then have Christian Poles and Jewish Poles or, as people once preferred to say, Poles of the Jewish faith. I belong to this last category.

Ukrainians and Jews

Symposium 1964. Published: New York 1966 by The Ukrainian Congress Comittee of America


Viewed in historical perspective the question of Ukrainian-Jew-ish relations is an extremely important one, not only as regards the Ukrainian and Jewish peoples, but also in the light of world peace and international well-being.

First of all, a substantial part of Europe's Jewish population lived in Ukraine for several centuries. There they shared the lot ofthe Ukrainian people in their misery and the ongoing struggle for freedom and national emancipation. Relations between Jews and U-krainians were clouded at times by mutual accusations that followed upon bitter conflicts affecting both peoples adversely.

During both World War I and World War II the interrelations of Ukrainians and Jews reached the highest point of tension. It wasat these times that the Ukrainians were making supreme efforts to attain freedom and national independence. They had to wage along drawn out and desperate struggle, at times against two or eventhree aggressive neighbors who had designs on the natural resources of Ukraine. With that in view, these neighbors opposed the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to freedom and national statehood.

As one of the largest and most active minorities in Ukraine, the Jews often found themselves between hammer and anvil. They endeavored to maintain an unlikely neutrality, or else found themselves associated with forces that the Ukrainians came to opposeas they reached for independence. This situation, unhappily for bothgroups, occasioned tension and recriminations. Jews charged that Ukrainians were anti-Semitic, while Ukrainians maintained that the Jews en masse were supporting Russian policies and were providing personnel for the Russian communist police apparatus in Ukraine.

Fortunately for both peoples, these charges are greatly exag-gerated. While anti-Semitic excesses occurred in Ukraine during therevolution, and especially during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in1941-44, these oannot be charged to the Ukrainian people as suchAll the historical evidence proves the opposite.

The Ukrainian community rejected the anti-Semitic pogromsas inconsistent with the Ukrainian democratic traditions and way of life. During the short-lived Ukrainian independent state (1918-1920) the Jews were granted national-personal autonomy in Ukraine. Jewish ministers were appointed to the Ukrainian government. The Hebrew language was on the currency of the Ukrainian government.

In the time of Hitler's barbarous rule in Ukraine hundreds of Ukrainians were executed by the Gestapo for giving help and shelter to persecuted and hunted Jews. The late Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church issued two notable pastoral letters in defense of Jews. Subsequently Himmler is said to have ordered his arrest. It was only the Nazi debacle at Stalingrad thatdissuaded the Nazi police from arresting Metropolitan Sheptytsky.

On the other hand while some Jews occupied prominent positions in the NKVD and MVD before and during World War II andserved in Ukraine in the generally oppressive apparatus of Communist Russia, the rank and file of Jews in Ukraine suffered just as much from Moscow's totalitarian rule as did the Ukrainians.

Today the situation has changed to an appreciable degree. The Jews have succeeded in establishing their own state of Israel; there thousands of Jews, including a great number from Ukraine, have found a new life in freedom. But the Ukrainians are still enslavedand persecuted. And some 900 0OO or 1 0OO 0OO Jews still in Ukraine experience with them the ruthless oppression and persecution di-rected by the Kremlin.

Moscow has always played the classic game ofdivide et impera (divide and rule). It has been using anti-Semitism as a powerful weapon against Jews and Christians alike. The notable example wasthe publication in 1963 in Kiev of Judaism without Embellishment,by Prof. Trofim K.Kichko, under the auspices of the Academy ofSciences of the Ukrainian SSR. This understandably created worldwide indignation and protests. Some Jewish leaders unthinkingly ascribed the publication of the book to "Ukrainiasi anti-Semitism", failing to discern that the true culprit was the Soviet government itself. Today Prof. Kichko's book has been withdrawn from circulation and he himself is said to have been assigned some obscure postin the Soviet admistration.

But damage to the Ukrainian name was done with tening effect.Such was the intention of Moscow in ordering the publication of Prof. Kichko's book in the first place.

The approach to a positive solution of the Ukrainian-Jewish problem should not be obscured by either hatred or emotion. The fact is that the future of Ukrainian-Jewish relations very much depends upon the leaders of these two peoples on this side of the Iron Curtain. They should exercise judicious wisdom in appraising and analyzing the relations which have bound the two peoples for centuries.

With such an aim in mind) thisSymposiumis being publishedby the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. It includes anumber of Jewish writers: Leo Heiman and Dr. M. Broida of Israel; Dr. Judd Teller and Eugene Sanjour of the United States. There also are articles by outstanding Ukrainian American writers: Dr. Matthew Btachiso, Prof. Roman Smal-Stocki, Dr. Lew Shankowsky, Dr. Lev E.Dobriansky and Walter Dushnuck. There are historical testimonies of several Ukrainian and Jewish witnesses about the assistance given to Jews by Ukrainians during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in 1941-44. There are included official statements and pronouncements of the Ukrainian government regarding Jewish autonomy and the pogroms in Ukraine, statements of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Ukrainian Canadian Committee denouncingthe anti-Semitic publication in Kiev, and other important statements.

It is sincerely hoped that this Symposium will provide important source material for those interested in the plight of Jews in the Soviet communist empire, and also for those who study the history of the Ukrainian people and their aspiration to freedom and independence.