- Świat w mroku and Its Reception in Ukraine
This memoir describes the experiences of a Jewish family in Lviv during the Holocaust, a tale of violence and deprivation that has recently also been portrayed in Agnieszka Holland's movie In Darkness. This film has attracted a lot of attention to the Holocaust and the life stories of its survivors in Lviv (although it should be mentioned that the film itself is not based on Ignacy Chiger's memoir, but on that of his daughter, Krystyna). 1 Chiger described his Holocaust experiences after World War II in four notebooks, but lost them while moving to Israel. He wrote the memoir under review only thirty years after the war at the instigation of his daughter. He finished writing it shortly before he died in 1975 (P. 11). 2 [End Page 445]
Chiger's memoir is one of several memoirs written by Lviv survivors, including Kurt I. Lewin, Eliyahu Yones, Alizia Rachel Hadar, Jacob Gerstenfeld-Maltiel, David Kahane, and Edmund Kessler. 3 In addition to these memoirs a number of Jewish survivors left their testimonies in the Archives of the Jewish Historical Museum in Warsaw. Yad Vashem and the Shoah Foundation Institute have also collected a number of testimonies of Jews who remained in Lviv for all or part of World War II. Although these documents are some of the most important sources for studying the Holocaust, for a long time historians did not pay sufficient attention to them, operating under the assumption that the personal nature of such documents rendered them unreliable. 4
Chiger's manuscript did not appear for over four decades and its publication is undoubtedly related to Holland's famous movie. The memoir was published in Poland by Literatura faktu, a publisher of nonfiction for general audiences. The memoir does not have an appropriate academic apparatus elucidating exactly when and where the memoir was composed and answering several other important questions concerning the provenance of the manuscript.
Unlike in Poland, in Ukraine the genre of Holocaust survivors' memoirs is of interest primarily to historians. This evidently reflects the different status of the Holocaust in Polish and Ukrainian historical cultures. After Świat w mroku appreared in Polish, the Lviv historian Iaroslav Hrytsak wrote a review of this memoir and published it in Ukraina moderna. However, this review left out some important information that is included in the memoir. And it also did not explain the context and meaning of several important observations made by Chiger. By these omissions, Hrytsak's review manifests some characteristic features of [End Page 446] the contemporary perception of the Holocaust in Ukraine, and therefore it deserves a brief discussion in the second part of this review essay. 5
Similar to other survivors, Chiger began his memoir with the Soviet occupation of Lviv. His personal experience with the Soviet forces was harsh and it refutes the stereotype of "Jewish-Bolshevism" (P. 25). He also described the reactions of other national and social groups to the new authorities (P. 28). The material deterioration of life in Lviv was very noticeable after the coming of the Soviets (P. 29–33). The greatest losers at the hands of the new economic system were, of course, the wealthy inhabitants of Lviv. This category included Chiger's wife, who owned a prospering enterprise. After the Soviet nationalization of property, his wife stayed at home with the children. Chiger himself was forced to take two jobs to support his family. Another huge burden for Chiger, just as for many other inhabitants of Lviv, was the adjustment to the new cultural, social, and political circumstances (P. 37). The NKVD arrested and deported many people around him and its permanent surveillance and intimidation terrified him (Pp. 34–36, 39).
Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union was a turning point in Chiger's life. He remembered the subsequent events similarly to other Jews in Lviv. Chiger remarks that Ukrainian nationalists tried to use the moment of political vacuum to establish a Ukrainian state, but...