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World Affairs Journal: Ukrainian stereotypes in Holland's 'In Darkness'

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April 9, 2012, 2:06 p.m. | Op-ed — by Alexander J. Motyl

Alexander J. Motyl

Alexander J. Motyl is professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark, as well as a writer and painter. He served as associate director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University from 1992 to 1998. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of Pidsumky imperii; Puti imperii; Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires; Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities; Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism; Sovietology, Rationality, Nationality: Coming to Grips with Nationalism in the USSR; Will the Non‑Russians Rebel? State, Ethnicity, and Stability in the USSR; The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929; and the editor of more than ten volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism. Motyl’s novels include Whiskey Priest; Who Killed Andrei Warhol; Flippancy; The Jew Who Was Ukrainian; and a work in progress, My Orchidia. His poems have appeared in Counterexample Poetics, Istanbul Literary Review, and New York Quarterly (forthcoming). He has done performances of his fiction at the Cornelia Street Café, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Ukrainian Museum in New York. Motyl’s artwork has been shown in solo and group shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto; his art is represented by The Tori Collection.

Go see Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness, both because it’s an excellent film about the Holocaust in wartime Lviv and because it demonstrates just how deeply rooted some ethnic stereotypes can be.

The story is simple: an anti-Semitic Polish sewer worker and part-time crook, Poldek Socha, finds himself in the unexpected position of hiding a group of Jews in Lviv’s sewers. At first, he does so only for money. In time, he abandons his anti-Semitism and acts with altruism. The film ends with the liberation of Lviv by the Soviets and the emergence of the surviving Jews from the sewers. “These are my Jews!” Socha beams. “These are my Jews!”

Read the story here.
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