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Falsifying World War II history in Ukraine

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May 8, 2011, 4:26 p.m. | Op-ed — by John-Paul Himka
In his defence of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Marco Levytsky relied primarily on two documentary deceptions (Kyiv Post, “Open letter villifies freedom fighters, minimizes Holdomor, May 6). To deny OUN’s active participation in the Lviv pogrom of July 1, 1941, Levytsky refers to a document originally found by the NKVD and released by the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) on Feb. 6, 2008. This is the so-called “For the Beginning of ‘The Book of Facts.’”

One page of it, the page Levytsky cites, is available on the SBU website, but more pages are available on the website of the Embassy of Ukraine. The SBU announced that the document was “essentially a chronicle of the activities of OUN during March-September 1941.”

But even the one page that the SBU placed on its site raises doubts. It says that representatives of the Gestapo came to Lviv 4-7 July 1941 and offered Ukrainian circles the opportunity to stage a three-day pogrom against the Jews. According to the document, OUN rejected this as a provocation. What’s odd is that the pogrom occurred days earlier, on 1 July. So is this indeed a chronicle?

If one checks the next page of the document, which is accessible off the SBU website, one finds the following passage: “The German Gestapo arrested in the first half of July the head of the Ukrainian State Administration, Yaroslav Stetsko, and some of his closest co-workers. They were later held, along with many thousands of other outstanding activists of the Ukrainian independence movement throughout the entire war in prisons and concentration camps.” I call attention to the phrase “throughout the entire war.”

This demonstrates unequivocally that the document is no chronicle from 1941 but rather a postwar product. All it can prove is that after the war, OUN did not want to be associated with the pogroms.

In fact, it makes the most sense to link the production of this document with a special directive issued by the OUN Leadership of the Western Ukrainian Lands in October 1943. It ordered the preparation of “a special collection of documents, which would maintain that the anti-Jewish pogroms and liquidations were conducted by the Germans themselves, without the help of the Ukrainian police.”

The second deception on which Levytsky relies is the autobiography of Stella Krenzbach, who supposedly fought in the ranks of UPA and then became prominent in Israel. This text was first published in the Ukrainian diaspora in 1954 and in Ukraine in 1993. It has been circulated on the Internet in recent years by Moisei Fishbein.

Very soon after the original publication, Bohdan Kordiuk, who was one of those Bandera nationalists incarcerated in a concentration camp (Auschwitz), repudiated the memoirs as fake in the newspaper Suchasna Ukraina (no. 15/194, 20 July 1958). He wrote: “...None of the UPA men known to the author of these lines knows the legendary Stella Krenzbach or have heard of her. The Jews do not know her either. It is unlikely that anyone of the tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees after the war met Stella Krenzbach.” He concluded: “It seems to us that until there are proper proofs, the story of Dr. Stella Krenzbach has to be regarded as a mystification.”

Philip Friedman, who had been a specialist in Galician Jewish history before the war and one of the fathers of Holocaust studies after the war, also rejected the authenticity of the Krenzbach text. According to the promoters of the text in the 1950s, its alleged author went to Palestine after the war, where she was later employed as a secretary in the foreign ministry. Supposedly, she had first published her memoirs in the Washington Post, and then a few weeks later she was shot and killed under unknown circumstances.

Friedman checked the biography. He searched the Washington Post from that period and could not find the memoirs. He had inquiries made about Stella Krenzbach in the Israeli foreign ministry. They had never had an employee by that name, and they knew nothing about the supposed homicide. “Moreover,” wrote Friedman, “a careful analysis of the text of the ‘memoirs’ has led me to the conclusion that the entire story is a hoax.” (Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust, 203-04.)

Neither Kordiuk’s nor Friedman’s critique has ever been answered by those who uncritically rely on or disseminate the Krenzbach text.

That OUN and promoters of OUN and UPA like Marco Levytsky have to resort to falsifications to defend their innocence vis-à-vis the Holocaust indicates that they lack real evidence for their possession. No one grabs for fig leaves when they are wearing clothes.

John-Paul Himka is a professor of history at the University of Alberta specializing in the history of Ukraine.
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