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Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17.2 (2003) 380-382
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Trophies of War and Empire: The Archival Heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the International Politics of Restitution, Patricia Kennedy Grimsted (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 2001), xlvii + 749 pp., $19.95.
As I write this review, the weekly Ukrainian-language newspaper Svoboda, published in New Jersey, carries an article, "Arkhiv Iu. Kosacha peredanyi v Ukrainy" (The Archive of Iu. Kosach is Transferred to Ukraine). 1 As with many similar cases, this example (involving the work of a lesser-known writer transplanted to the United States from the Ukraine after World War II) is uncontroversial: all parties appear to have agreed that the archive belongs to Ukraine, where the writer was born and which interested him throughout his life. Yet where and to whom artifacts of cultural heritage should belong is often a bitterly divided issue.
The question is complicated by numerous factors, not least political and emotional ones. Ukraine is no stranger to the battle for possession of objects of cultural and historical worth. Recently, for example, wall paintings by Bruno Schulz were removed and smuggled out of Drohobych, Ukraine, to Israel, which some claim to be the murdered artist's legitimate heir. Art may not need to reside in its birthplace ("Paintings and sculpture may appropriately serve as cultural ambassadors in museums throughout the world" [pp.493-94]). With regard to archives, Patricia Kennedy Grimsted explains in this massive volume (the index alone is more than fifty pages) that the international norms and conventions have been relatively clear. "Archives always deserve restitution to the countries where they belong as the official record, and the inalienable heritage of nations that created them" (pp. 493-94). Even though the international community frequently has fallen short of its stated goals and agreements, many countries, especially following the collapse of empires, have honored international restitution [End Page 380] conventions. In the aftermath of the recent breakup of Czechoslovakia, the issue was handled professionally and properly. The dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, has not led to any substantive restitution of archives to newly independent states. Grimsted focuses on Ukraine as a case study to explore this disturbing problem.
Grimsted maintains, correctly in my view, that locating and defining Ukraine's archival heritage is part and parcel of building an independent state. The task is particularly onerous for Ukraine, for it has, until recently, been a divided and subjugated nation. If Ukraine is to reclaim its archival heritage fully, it will have to do so from at least eight countries that at one time or another ruled over Ukrainian ethnolinguistic territory (Russia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Turkey). The most important partner here is of course Russia, the power under which much of Ukraine lived for centuries. Yet Russia now considers as its own property virtually all archival documents on its territory, with the result that, at the completion of the present volume in May 2000, hardly any archives had devolved to the newly independent states, including Ukraine. A number of thorny issues are involved, such as the distinction between the "provenance" and "pertinence" of individual archives, and questions regarding archives that can be considered the "joint heritage" oftwo or more independent states. Grimsted contends that Russia's position ignores or violates internationally accepted norms and customs.
Russia's claims are equally if not more indefensible, according to Grimsted, when it comes to World War II trophy collections. For example, until 1990, the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union, no one knew that much of the archives plundered from Germany by the Red Army was stored in the Soviet Union. These included a vast amount of documents as well as archives originally taken by the Nazis from France, Poland, and elsewhere. Although aware of the international norms for preserving and eventually returning such archives, Moscow hid them, used them exclusively for operational purposes (for example, for identifying foreign intelligence agents), and sometimes dispersed them...