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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: 2018 Summer Reading Round Up

What is summer without reading? I can imagine no greater pleasure than sitting down with a good book—or two—on a lazy summer afternoon at the beach or by the pool, on a shady deck, or sprawled out on a lush green lawn.

Here on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio, we have been fortunate to learn of and review many excellent books on our series Ukrainian Jewish Heritage. The books cover a wide range of topics involving Jews, Ukrainians, and their interactions over the years.

These interactions have not always been amicable, and it is a testament to the authors for broaching controversial topics and examining them with sensitivity, empathy, and a sense of fairness.

The books on this list cover a myriad of topics over a broad time frame spanning centuries of Jewish presence in, and contributions to, Ukraine.

Stories of Khmelnytsky

Stories of Khmelnytsky features provocative essays by distinguished scholars from throughout North America, Europe, and Israel. It takes an honest look at one of the most contentious historical figures plaguing Ukrainian Jewish dialogue.

This book carefully addresses, without attempting to resolve, the fundamental questions Khmelnytsky’s image provokes.

Whether viewed as a hero or a villain this 17th century historical figure bolstered national solidarity among Ukrainians and other nations. Surprisingly he actually inspired some early Jewish radical Zionists and served as a model for Jewish pioneers building a new homeland in early 20th century Palestine.

One essay notes that this volume on Khmelnytsky drives home the fact that history itself is made up not so much of facts as of stories.

Cultural Dimensions

Cultural Dimensions is another collection of essays. These explore how cultural interaction between Jews and Ukrainians unfolded over centuries through diverse and daily encounters, and how that interaction had a profound impact on both communities.

The essays in this collection open doors for new research that can help create a joint narrative for Jews and Ukrainians.

This collection of essays was co-edited by Wolf Moskovich, Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Alti Rodal, Co-Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, who also wrote the introduction to the volume.

The richly illustrated book appears as volume 25 within the series Jews and Slavs published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem since 1993. The book was published in 2016 and can be acquired by contacting Wolf Moskovich at

A Prayer for the Government

A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917-1920  explores an ill fated attempt at rapprochement between Ukrainians and Jews a century ago.

The author, Dr. Henry Abramson, calls it a “bright chapter” in the long history of the Jewish people. One in which Jews were emancipated into a free state, with privileges as a minority that exceeded even those in Western Europe and America.

However, by the spring of 1919 Ukraine was submerged by a wave of violence that became one of the darkest chapters of Jewish history, only overshadowed later by the Holocaust.

Abramson’s meticulous account traces how the attempt by both Jews and Ukrainians to achieve a working political relationship was betrayed by less enlightened attitudes among the general population as well as by the political and social instability of the time.

Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence

In their book Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence, two distinguished academics, Paul Robert Magocsi and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern produced a parallel narrative of two peoples in 12 thematic chapters in the book outline the rich history of Jews and Ukrainians.

They cover geography, history, economic life, traditional culture, religion and language as well as literature, the arts, music, the Diaspora, and contemporary Ukraine.

With over 300 full-color illustrations, over two dozen maps, plus several text inserts, the book is extremely reader friendly.

Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence won a Special Recognition Award at the Lviv Book Forum in 2016.

The Great Departure

The Great Departure: Mass Migration From Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World explores the devastating human toll of migration.

Author Tara Zahra examines one of the largest migrations of human history… 50 million Europeans who moved to the Americas between 1846 and 1910. These included Ukrainians, Poles and Jews of Galicia.

The western Ukrainian city of Brody, then on the frontier of the Russian and Austrian empires, became the gateway to the New World. Albeit not without all manner of exploitation enroute, not least of all human trafficking.

The policies that shaped this great migration set a template for future tragic, events in the 20th century. The resulting bureaucratic “paper walls” doomed Europe’s Jewish population from escaping the Holocaust, the closing of the Iron Curtain, and ethnic cleansing.

The author places the current refugee crisis within the longer history of migration.

Sheptytsky from A to Zed

A remarkable children’s book—and a book that will delight not only children—created a stir at the 2015 Lviv Book Forum.

Sheptytsky from A to Zed
offers a delightful yet thoughtful account of a renowned figure’s life through the letters of the alphabet.

Andriy Sheptytsky, became Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the early to mid 20th century. He risked his life and those of his clergy hiding Jews in his palace, and throughout Ukrainian Catholic monasteries in Galicia.

Sheptytsky’s achievements as a scholar, philanthropist, patron of the arts, and leading public figure in Ukrainian society are also covered in this charming and engaging book.

Yiddish-Ukrainian dictionary

On the theme- sort of- of alphabet and languages, is an astonishing discovery in the world of dictionaries.

Dr. Dmytro Tyshchenko is the son of a Jewish mother and a Ukrainian father from Donbas, and the creator of a massive and highly acclaimed Yiddish-Ukrainian dictionary.

After discovering his Yiddish roots In 1988, Tyshchenko devoted his life to learning the language of his ancestors, and making it accessible to others. Especially a younger generation that has embraced the study of Yiddish.

Now living in Frankfurt, Tyshchenko is developing an online version of his dictionary.

East-West Street

Much of the world has no idea of the origins of the term genocide, which like the holocaust is in danger of becoming an empty cliché instead of a metaphor for the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man.

East-West Street
tells the story of two jurists from Lviv who were instrumental in shaping the precedent setting Nuremberg trial. This book is a gripping account of the origins—in effect, the invention—of the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”

These two concepts became the centerpiece for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

The author of East-West Street, Phillipe Sands, brings together the stories of his grandfather and these two jurists, Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht.

All three men had the misfortune of having their entire families sent to their deaths by the Nazi governor of German-occupied Poland Hans Frank, who visited Lviv in 1942.

In an astonishing twist, Sands, got to know the son of Hans Frank while working on this book. Sands also met the son of another Nazi, Otto von Wachter, who was in charge of Lviv during the Second World War.
What the reader will find in this fascinating book is that in the face of horror it is possible to find the courage and strength to achieve extraordinary goals.

City of Lions

City of Lions is a story about Lviv, the western Ukrainian city often referred to as the Vienna of the east.

The book consists of an essay by Polish author Josef Wittlin who waxes eloquent about an early twentieth century Lviv still glittering with an imperial Austrian splendor. It was a city that ceased to exist by 1945.

A matching essay My Lviv by Philippe Sands, echoes the Wittlin text but brings Lviv into modern times.

Sands calls out the failure of those in today’s Lviv to fully acknowledge all its history. Nonetheless he admits the ineffable spirit of the city ultimately seduces him.

The Dead Man in the Bunker

In Martin Pollack his book, The Dead Man in the Bunker, a man is found murdered in 1947 in the mountains between Austria and Italy.

He was not just any man. He was a highly ranked SS officer who commanded death squads in Eastern Europe and was head of the Gestapo in the Austrian city of Linz. And he was the author’s father.

Pollack developed an interest in Galicia after he was barred from Poland by communist authorities from 1980 to 1989. His first book cemented a lifelong passion for the subject: It’s title is To Galicia: Of Hassidim, Hutsuls, Poles, and Ruthenians. An Imaginary Journey Through the Vanished World of Eastern Galicia and Bukovina (in German and Polish only).

Galicia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire up to 1918. It was an enlightened empire that provided emancipation for the Jews, and institutionalized nation-building for both Poles and Ukrainians. But, as Pollack points out, elsewhere Galicia was generally considered foreign, distant, almost hostile.

It was also the poorhouse of the empire. Grinding poverty sent massive waves of Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian migrants to distant shores in a desperate search of a better life. Pollack relates this story in his book Emperor of America: The Great Escape From Galicia (in German and Polish only).

Poverty provokes pity, but also contempt. Pollack reminds us that Hitler first met Galician Jews in Vienna before the First World War and expressed his hatred in Mein Kampf.

The Second World War destroyed Galicia as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. While Pollack laments the fact that Ukrainian Galicia still remains too little known among Westerners, his readers will not be among them.

Babyn Yar: History and Memory

Babyn Yar is one of the most notorious sites which became symbolic of the Holocaust to the world beyond Ukraine, although to Ukrainians it symbolizes many tragedies that took place during the Nazi occupation.

Over 100,000 victims of Nazi tyranny lie at the bottom of this ravine, including 34,000 Jews who were slaughtered over the course of just two days.

Babyn Yar: History and Memory,
is a bilingual collection in Ukrainian and English of scholarly essays dedicated to the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of this atrocity.

This book is the result of the collaborative effort of scholars working with the editors Vladyslav Hrynevych and Paul Robert Magocsi. The scholars are from various disciplines in Canada, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and the United States.

At the center of the book of course is the history of a Nazi crime. But this book also covers the politics of memory and forgetting through the soviet era and up to the present day.

The essays provoke questions for further discussion, especially since the various authors may raise the same questions but do not always arrive at the same answers.

As the editors remind us, to know and remember the Babyn Yar tragedy means not allowing such a crime to be repeated. And in the Ukrainian experience, Babyn Yar is also a symbolic farewell to empire and its mythological legacy.

Courage and Fear

Courage and Fear is a devastating account of both the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Lviv in the Second World War.

The author, Polish scholar and diplomat Ola Hnatiuk, focuses on the daily life and dire choices faced by Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian writers, artists, musicians, academics, and medical community of the city. This cultural elite outwitted, compromised with, or was destroyed by the barbarians in the garden.

The author weaves in the story of her own family, depicting the demoralization and psychological shock afflicted by totalitarian techniques.

The historian Timothy Snyder praises the human dimension expressed in this book, a richer dimension than the usual ode to tolerance or nostalgia for a long lost past. In Polish and Ukrainian only. Author interview (English translation) here.

In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine

While war drives wedges between people, the aftermath can bring them together. Perhaps the effort to understand how those wedges were created can one day create a strong and hopefully unbreakable bond.

Today Ukraine again finds itself at war, as usual one provoked by an outside force coveting the rich resources of Ukraine and its inhabitants.

Tim Judah is a reporter for The Economist who covered the war in Ukraine for The New York Review of Books, looks at wedges.

His book, In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine is a portrayal of today’s Ukraine for the Western reader.

Judah traveled far and wide throughout Ukraine. He witnessed some horrifying scenes on the front lines of the war in Donbas. He talked with people … impoverished refugees, elderly villagers, city sophisticates, and wealthy businessmen.

Judah was covering and writing about Ukraine in a period of traumatic transition. And he reminds us that these traumas often arise suddenly. The long-established order can vanish overnight.

Black Square: Adventures in Post Soviet Ukraine

Black Square: Adventures in Post Soviet Ukraine reveals a world not often seen by foreigners.

Author Sophie Pinkham plunges into the chaotic harm reduction world of sex workers, junkies, and other lost souls in contemporary Ukraine.

Her adventures in what she calls “post-Soviet punk delirium” include an encounter with the Last Jew in Stalindorf who recounts how once upon a time the Jews, Ukrainians and Russians there had gotten along, more or less, until Stalin starved them.

She also encounters klezmer music, a Yiddish teacher and Babyn Yar.

These books were reviewed on Nash Holos over the past few years. They remain timeless and we hope to add to them in the near future. Meanwhile if you would like to read any of them this summer, look for them in your nearest public library. Or, if you’d like to support the authors (and this show) by purchasing your book(s), please use the links provided. You can also find the audio files and transcripts of the full book reviews at our website as well as at Ukrainian Jewish Encounter dot org. Happy summer reading!

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