• You are here : » ZUSTRICH » NewsBack
News: Prejudice Against Ukrainians in NY Times
Prejudice Against Ukrainians in NY Times | Ukrainian World Congress responds | Letters to editor
"What Happened to Uncle Shmiel?" - Daniel Mendelsohn repeating his story on CNN
E-POSHTA July 14, 2002
JOIN the list: [email protected]
TopPrejudice Against Ukrainians in NY Times

Read the New York Times article then write letters to the editor:

[email protected]

Many points can be raised, e.g., the defamatory nature of the article; that it incites prejudice against Ukrainians; that the author offers no examples of how the Ukrainians were "the worst." The author actually paints a thoroughly positive picture of Ukrainians, while showing himself to be so riddled with prejudice that he is desperate to affix blame.

"The Ukrainians were the worst. How would Stefan and Ulyana have treated us during the war? It was impossible not to wonder about it. And how would they treat us now, if given a chance--the chance, as we couldn't help thinking, that seemed to be lurking yet again in the resurgence across the continent of the old hatreds? The Ukrainians of Bolechow had lived once before in harmony with the town's Jews, before turning on them. Or before some of them did."

The 14 July 2002 issue of the New York Times Magazine contains a lengthy article entitled "What Happened to Uncle Shmiel?" by Princeton classics lecturer Daniel Mendelsohn about his and his siblings' fruitless visit to Bolekhiv, Ukraine, in order to find out what happened to their uncle during WWII. Although he states several times that the Jews of Bolekhiv were destroyed by the Germans in two sweeps--Aktion--in October 1941 and December 1942, the fact of the Jews' destruction by the Germans is overshadowed by the author's obsession with Ukrainians, among whom he wishes to find the "betrayer" of his Uncle Schmiel. Indeed, throughout the article Mendelsohn repeats ad nauseam his grandfather's pronouncement that "the Germans were bad...the Poles were worse. But the Ukrainians were the worst of all." Even though all the Ukrainians whom the Mendelsohn family interviewed in Bolekhiv rolled out the red carpet for the American visitors ("Some Ukrainians aren't so bad"), Daniel Mendelsohn distrusts their openness, graciousness, and hospitality and "remembered what we had been told about the Ukrainians." What exactly?

This is the one of the key points in the article: the dissemination from generation to generation of apochryphal horror stories about Ukrainians. The other is his admission that he was "disappointed because we didn't find anything to confirm the stories I had been told."

You are urged to visit

You will be asked to subscribe but the subscription is FREE. Read the article then write a letter to the New York Times Editor (see sidebar).

TopUkrainian World Congress responds to "Uncle Shmiel" item in New York Times
E-POSHTA July 18, 2002
JOIN the list: [email protected]

Ukrainian World Congress
295 College St., 3rd Floor
Toronto, ON M5T 1S2 CANADA
TEL. (416) 323-3020
FAX (416) 323-3250

[email protected]

225 E. 11th Street
New York, NY 10003
TEL. (212) 254-2260
FAX (212) 979-1011

[email protected]

Via e-mail: [email protected]

Letters to the Editor,
Magazine The New York Times
229 W. 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036

Dear Editor:

Reading "What Happened to Uncle Shmiel," I was struck, in particular, by Daniel Mendelsohn's statement that "thanks to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact," the Soviets took over western Ukraine in 1939 and "the Jews there had two years of relative security." While the statement lends credibility to Mendelsohn's overall diatribes, it needs further clarification.

The Soviet occupation of western Ukraine in 1939 brought about the arrests and internments of tens of thousands of Ukrainians accused of patriotic activity. When the Soviets were forced to retreat from the invading Nazis in June 1941, they slaughtered their prisoners. This was accomplished with the assistance of local Communists, primarily of Jewish ethnicity. Unfortunately, this slaughter was not an aberration of Soviet activity in Ukraine. Earlier in 1932-33 in eastern Ukraine, the Soviets murdered some 7 million Ukrainian men, women and children through a strategically planned forced famine-genocide. The man entrusted by Joseph Stalin to carry out this crime was a Jew, Lazar Kaganovich.

Norman Davies, the renowned British historian has concluded that no nation lost more people in the 20th century than the Ukrainian. To a large degree this was a result of both Communist and Nazi activity in Ukraine. The Russians and the Germans were savage. But the Jews were the worst. They betrayed their neighbors and did it with such zeal!

Askold S. Lozynskyj
President, Ukrainian World Congress

TopLetters to editor

Dear Sir:

Daniel Mendelsohn's article ["What Happened to Uncle Shmiel?" 14 July] is a perfect illustration of how easy it is to instill prejudice in someone, particularly a child. The author, who grew up hearing his grandfather say that the "Germans were bad, the Poles were worse, but the Ukrainians were the worst of all," then sets out with his siblings to the fourteenth-century town of Bolekhiv in western Ukraine to find out who "betrayed" his uncle. It's not enough for him to know and state unequivocally that it was the Germans who destroyed the Jewish population of this ancient town in two major sweeps in 1941 and 1942. No, he has to find a Ukrainian culprit for his uncle's disappearace so that it will tally with his grandfather's vile pronouncement. In Mendelsohn's view, one fictitious Ukrainian "betrayer" is worse than the Germans conducting two Aktion to liquidate the Jews of Bolekhiv. Despite encountering only friendly, open Ukrainians of all ages willing to help provide what little information they have about his family, Mendelsohn repeats his evil mantra, "the Ukrainians were the worst," without ever providing any examples of their supposed misconduct. His vendetta against Ukrainians is so irrational that he fails to see that he is at best nothing more than a spiteful churl when he accepts the sincere hospitality and generosity of the Ukrainians he met in Bolekhiv, all the while secretly wondering how they would treat him "if given a chance."

Mendelsohn's failure to find any "information that corroborated the stories we had heard" frustrates him. I wonder if his frustration will lead him in his turn to instill his rabid prejudice against Ukrainians in his own children and grandchildren. This seems to be a multi-generational phenomenon.
-- Marta D. Olynyk


It was with great joy that I read Daniel Mendelsohn's story regarding his uncle Shmiel. Mr. Mendelsohn travelled to Ukraine, expecting to find monsters. For many years Jews have labeled Ukrainians as such. The voices of accusations were so loud that Jews couldn't even bring themselves to acknowledge the fact that Ukrainians and Jews actually lived relatively harmoniously together for centuries and that many Ukrainians risked their own lives to save their neighbors during WW2. The leader of the Ukrainian Catholics, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky saved thousands of Ukrainian Jews. Rabbi Dr. David Kahana also survived thanks to the Metropolitan's intervention. Later he drew up a list of over 240 Ukrainian Catholic priests who saved Jews. Even though statistically Ukrainians are in fourth place at Yad Vashem, Metropolitan Andrey is not one of them.

People like Simon Wiesenthal know these historical truths, however many Ukrainians cannot be forgiven for welcoming the Nazis as their liberators from the Soviet killing machine and the repressive Polish regime. A Ukrainian saved Mr.Wiesenthal's life during WW2!

The genocides before 1939, during which well over 10 million Ukrainians died under Lenin and Stalin was all too fresh in their relatives' memories. Ten million Ukrainians paid with their lives for their "participation" in WW2. Another 2 million were killed after 1945. It was a messy war with many fronts and much confusion. Ukrainians and countless others had to contend with the Soviet, and for a brief but also bloody period, Nazi reality.

Genocides and crimes against humanity were committed by the Kremlin leaders, which have been ignored by the West.The Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine is not a very well known historical fact, for example. Nazi atrocities are better documented than those committed by the Soviet regime. Many were drafted and forced to work for the Nazis or Bolsheviks under threat of death to family members. Ukrainians have not been in control of its people's destiny for most of the 20th century.

During its brief period of independence after the Russian revolution of 1917, the leader of the Ukrainian government, Symon Petliura, put out an edict forbidding inciting pogroms against its Jewish population, which was punishable by death. Pogroms took place on Ukrainian territory, because Jews of the Russian Empire were not permitted to live in Russian proper. A ministry of Jewish affaires was created and the currency included Yiddish among other languages. Considering the degree of animosity directed towards Ukrainians, it is surprising that the "disease" of anti-Semitism has not consumed them. Mr. Mendelsohn experienced generous Ukrainian hospitality towards Jews first-hand. Nobody made themselves scarce when he presented himself - doesn't that say something?

The question begs to be asked, if the Ukrainian is not the enemy, who is?

-- Simon Kouklewsky
Pierrefonds, Quebec

From: Bohdan Vitvitsky
To: [email protected]
Sent: Sunday, July 14, 2002 12:42 PM
Subject: Uncle Shmiel

To the editor:

Call me crazy, but I suspect that if you had received a story written by a gentile of Ukrainian ancestry in which the author relayed his grandfather's opinion that "the Jews were the worst," and then repeated that statement in the form of the author's own musings, you would have rolled your eyes and tossed that submission into the garbage. Yet you ran as your cover story Daniel Mendelsohn's "What Happened to Uncle Shmiel?" (July14) in which he repeated his grandfather's view that "the Ukrainians were the worst" and then, in italics, repeated his own musings to the same effect another four times.

Is it that your editorial sensitivities are on vacation, or is it that you share the same shameful prejudices?

-- Bohdan Vitvitsky

From: "Andrei Boris"

Dear Sir,

I was born and past over 30 years of my life in Ukraine. My grandfather was a soldier in a Red Army and perished in 1944 fighting against Nazi. My uncle was a soldier in Ukrainian Insurgent Army and perished 17-years old in 1945 fighting against Communists. I was soldier too, from 1980 to 1982. I did not perish. Russia did not attack USA, U.S.A. did not attack Russia so we survived: you and me. I am surprised you publish such stories as Mr. Mendelsohn's article. Who needs to know what exactly his grandfather told, repeated at least 10 times?

And who was his grandfather?

I suspect such horror stories belonged to writers of NKVD, which needed the support of powerful Jewish American organizations at earliers 20s. I have interesting reading between my hands - the memories of Pavel Sudopatov, former KGB general. Would you like to publish them? You can believe me, he was not a friend of independent Ukraine.

Sorry, if I am not too polite. First, I do not like such hateful articles. Second, I missed some education - I have never seen my grandfather.

Andrei Boris,

From: Mykola Kulishov
To: [email protected]
SUBMITTED: Sunday, July 14, 2002
To the editor:

Dear Sir,

Don't you think that publishing an article (the story of Daniel Mendelsohn "What Happened to Uncle Shmiel?" (July 14th)) in which a whole nation is accused for uncommitted crimes is racism? Following the same logic, I could blame all Jews for the atrocities committed to Ukrainians (7 millons only in famine of 1933-1934) in Soviet times by the KGB-NKVD and by the Communist Party leaders of Jewish descent, such as Kaganivitch. However, I do not make the error of blaming a whole nation for the bad actions of some of their criminals.

Mykola Kulishov

Top"What Happened to Uncle Shmiel?" - Daniel Mendelsohn repeating his story on CNN

Call for action continues.

You are strongly urged to write a letter to the editor:

[email protected]

There are many points that can be raised. You don't have to touch on every troublesome aspect of his article: just choose one and stick to it. No matter how incensed you are, make your letter brief (no more than 150 words) and polite.

Excerpts from CNN Interview with Daniel Mendelsohn, aired Saturday, 13 July 13, 18:18 ET

Catherine Callaway, CNN anchor: Let me ask you about when you were there in the village where he lived, where your uncle lived, along with his daughters, and you were meeting these Ukrainians who really just opened their homes to you. What was that like for you?

Daniel Mendelsohn, New York Times Magazine: Well, it was peculiar because it's one of the facts of the history of the Holocaust is that quite a number of Ukrainians had turned on their Jewish neighbors with terrible ferocity. And what -- one of the problems in a sense, that I had, was reconciling that knowledge with the very warm welcome that we got from the Ukrainians who still live there, who were trying to help us in our search. And it was a very peculiar and moving experience.

Callaway: And, did you wonder -- I know you did because you wrote it in the article, which is amazing to me -- that when you were meeting these Ukrainians, you wondered twenty years ago, what would have happened. Would they have been this nice, would they have ratted on you? Would they have turned you in? All those thoughts.

Mendelsohn: It was impossible not to think about and it's one of the peculiar aspects of making a trip like this. You have to balance what you know about the past with your own place in the present, and it was that sort of strange balance that I wanted to write about. It was a very peculiar experience for us to have.

DISCLAIMER : This website does not represent implicitly or explicitly the official or unofficial position of Association «Zustrich». It is not responsible for any content, off this site, to which it links. Any suggestions, propositions, materials send to webmaster : [email protected].