- My Response to Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe
I am not a specialist in the history of the Holocaust and, most probably, never will be. My interest in this topic is threefold: (a) as a historiographer who observes and analyzes developments in historical studies on Ukraine; (b) as a practicing historian who is trying to contribute to these developments by, among others, publishing a peer-reviewed journal Ukraina moderna [Modern Ukraine]; and (c) as a public historian who is cajoled into discussions on historical memory in Ukraine. In these roles I attempt, to the best of my abilities, to read everything that is related to the history of the Holocaust in Ukraine and to make this literature known to Ukrainian historians and readers, who for a variety of reasons – mainly their lack of both knowledge of Western languages and access to the latest publications – may not be aware of it. 1 [End Page 451]
I am doing this in full awareness of the fact that the Holocaust figures as one of the central events in modern Ukrainian history, and that a virtual absence of research on this topic by Ukrainian historians attests to the structural deficiency of Ukrainian historical studies. This deficiency goes hand in hand with the general state of historical memory in Ukraine or, more precisely, the competing models of historical memory. In each of them – national(ist) and (post-Soviet) – the Holocaust has been and remains a large "black hole." How these two are connected; which is the cause and which is the result; what other reasons exist – are beyond this discussion. However, suffice it to say, that the poor state of historiography and historical memory are scandalous and cry out for action. To address this need, in collaboration with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ukrainian colleagues, I am engaged in developing Jewish Studies in two leading Ukrainian universities – the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and the Ukrainian Catholic University. In my public statements I have consistently stated that Ukrainians must first acknowledge their role in the Holocaust before embarking on any sensible discussions about the Holocaust. This concurs with, among others, the formula suggested by Tony Judt: "Holocaust recognition is our contemporary European entry ticket," 2 and would be testimony of our seriousness about European integration. 3
At first glance, Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe should be our ally in all these endeavors. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Despite his – as I may suppose – noble intentions, his intervention into Ukrainian professional and public debates proves to be counterproductive. To make myself more clear, I would like to extend the context of our discussion. Holocaust recognition in this or that European country has never resulted only from inner debates. Some outside factors were at work. More often than not, a decisive role was played by monographs written [End Page 452] abroad and then "imported" into the country – such as Robert Paxton's Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order (1972–1973) or Jan Gross's Neighbors (2000). 4 Something similar, I believe, is bound to happen in the Ukrainian case. Given the rather weak sensitivity of Ukrainian historians to this issue, inadequate training in and poor knowledge of Holocaust studies, and – last but not least – a lack of healthy distance from their own national history, the chances that today's Ukrainian historians in the nearest foreseeable future could come up with such a book are rather slim.
Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe might have become a Ukrainian analogue of Robert Paxton or Jan Gross if he had treated his studies with much more academic rigor. His recent visit to Kyiv and presentation of his forthcoming book, Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Fascist, 1909–2009, turned into a scandal. One of the reasons was an attempt by Ukrainian nationalists to wreck this presentation; moreover, while in Kyiv, Rossolinski-Liebe had received threatening phone calls. These are lamentable facts that reflect the current state of the Ukrainian political situation. Another reason for the scandal was, however, his failure to make strong...