Saturday, December 23, 2017

War Criminality: A Blank Spot in the Collective Memory of the Ukrainian Diaspora

history war crime Ukraine diaspora nazi fascism accountability

This paper tackles the touchy question of atrocities committed by Ukrainians during the Second World War as a component, or rather its absence as a component, of the identity consciousness of the Ukrainian diaspora. The paper goes very much against the grain of that diaspora’s current consensus. In fact, I am trying to write here a text that is indigestible for that consensus, that is aimed at dissenting from it and creating a space for dissent. I have not conducted an exhaustive study of the relevant texts of the diaspora, but that is hardly necessary for a paper such as this. Instead, I have concentrated on current electronic media and recent years of The Ukrainian Weekly, supplemented with a retrospective sampling of articles from Svoboda and the volume on Ukrainian-Jewish relations that came out of an important conference held in 1983.

Anyone who consults the media, especially the electronic media, of the Ukrainian diaspora in North America cannot but be struck by how much attention it devotes to the issue of suspected war criminals. This has been going on for some time. The press, and Ukrainian-diaspora scholarship as well, followed with concern the workings of the DeschĂȘnes Commission, which was struck in 1985 to investigate war criminals in Canada. The press also closely followed the American and Israeli legal proceedings against Ukrainian-American John Demjanjuk, who was suspected of being the sadistic camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.” Diaspora press accounts depicted the trial as a travesty of justice. It has also portrayed the search for war criminals more generally as a witch-hunt, harming almost exclusively innocent people and tarnishing the reputation of Ukrainians as a whole. There has been almost no attempt on the part of the Ukrainian diaspora to confront the issue of war criminality in a less defensive and more soul-searching manner. (The few exceptions will be mentioned below.)

Instead, there persists a deafening silence about, as well as reluctance to confront, even well-documented war crimes, such as the mass murder of Poles in Volhynia by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the cooperation of the Ukrainian auxiliary police in the execution of the Jews.  (more...)


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