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Reviewed by:
  • Courage and Fear by Ola Hnatiuk
  • Joseph W. Moser
Ola Hnatiuk, Courage and Fear. Translated by Ewa Siwak. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2019. 534 pp.

Ola Hnatiuk's Courage and Fear starts out as Holocaust memoir by a second-generation Holocaust survivor, chronicling her mother's survival in hiding in Lemberg/Lwow/Lviv during the German occupation, 1941–1945, but the book is actually a large intellectual history of artists and the intelligentsia of Lemberg/Lwow/Lviv, meticulously researched and carefully translated from Polish into English by Ewa Siwak. After a few pages, it becomes clear that the book is much more—it is a work of literature, as Hnatiuk tries to tell the interwoven stories of various people in Lemberg/Lwow/Lviv between 1918 and 1944, and the book intentionally does not proceed chronologically. Reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, the reader gains an insight into the historical, political, and ethnic upheavals in this fascinating city between the end of Austrian rule in 1918 and the second Soviet liberation in 1944. [End Page 126] The book was writt en for a Polish audience by a scholar who is an expert in Ukrainian Studies.

The author, carefully navigating Polish-Ukrainian relationships in this period, writes against the ethnic prejudice that both groups have of one another, while also chronicling how such nationalist prejudices profoundly influenced decisions in this Eastern Galician city. She uses the Ukrainian terms of the cities that are now in Ukraine; thus she refers to Lviv by its Ukrainian name, no matter who was historically in charge of the city. Of course, this immediately shows how charged a topic like Lemberg/Lwow/Lviv can be, because identifying the city by its German name either refers to the Austrian period (1772–1918) or the German period (1941–1945), Lwow refers to the city's Polish (1918–1939) or Russian (1944–1991) period. The three large ethnic groups of the city in the period covered by this book were Polish and Ukrainian non-Jews and Jews who were mostly Polish-speaking. Despite the Austrian rule in the nineteenth century, Lviv retained its significance as a Polish-speaking city, where the elite spoke Polish, while the people in the surrounding rural areas where primarily Ukrainians and Ruthenians. The Jews assimilated from Yiddish to Polish, and German became the most important secondary language, as the Austrians allowed the city to operate in Polish primarily.

With the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century, Lviv was situated at the fault line of ethnic conflict between Poles and Ukrainians, both of whom harbored varying degrees of antisemitism. German (during the Austrian period and the Nazi occupation) and Russian after 1944 were also important languages, whose speakers exerted influence over the city. Hnatiuk exposes the ethnic prejudice that the various groups had against each other. The Poles oppressed the Ukrainian intelligentsia during the interwar period. The Soviets elevated Ukrainian and suppressed Polish in 1939 to divide and conquer the city, though they were not thrilled by Ukrainian exceptionalism that threatened to undermine the Russian hegemony prevalent in the Soviet Union. In 1941, the Germans elevated the non-Jewish Ukrainians over non-Jewish Poles while the vast majority of Jews in the city were murdered in pogroms in the city or through deportation to the Belzec extermination camp. Yet, non-Jewish Poles and non-Jewish Ukrainians helped some Jews survive in hiding or assisted in procuring false papers identifying Jews as either Poles or Ukrainians. After World War II, the Soviets expelled the Poles from Lviv, ensconcing the city firmly in the Ukrainian SSR. [End Page 127]

The many stories in this book about artists and intellectuals who survive, and many who die, in the Holocaust, as well as the complex and constantly changing relationship that non-Jews had with the German Nazi occupiers as well as with officials during the periods of Soviet rule in the city illustrate how difficult it is to make any generalizations about this part of Eastern Europe. Instead, the book demonstrates how chaotic these times really were in Lviv and how individual survival hinged on luck and the on chaotic nature of the changing rulers...


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pp. 126-128
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