O P I N I O N
by Alexander Gogun
An emotional review written by the PhD candidate Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe and published in this journal, is devoted to a popular scientific article written by me in collaboration with Olexandr Vovk. Our text about the presence of Jews in the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) was written seven years ago and published more than six years ago by the Moscow Jewish magazine Korni (“Roots”). It was later reproduced on an amateur history website about Ukrainian nationalism.
Today, using new archival discoveries and the works of colleagues that have appeared recently or that I have read in the past few years, I would have written that article a little differently. The text was designed for a Russian audience. It therefore contained a reference to Soviet propaganda myths and stereotypes, many of which, sadly, prevail in Eastern Europe to this day.
But that is not so important, as the level of criticism is what really takes one aback.
Let’s start with minor points – the review refers to my positions incorrectly (and Vovk’s position is not mentioned at all). At the time of writing and even publishing this article I was neither an associate professor at the University of Potsdam, nor a PhD candidate at Humboldt University. At present, I also do not hold these posts. I am a doctoral student at the Free University in Berlin. I can’t say whether revealing these facts now allows the reviewer to refer to my publications as academic, a description he placed in quotation marks with irony. Or perhaps it no longer makes sense to discuss my findings?
More importantly, the relatively short text of the review of our article contains a great number of odd errors. For some reason it states that my monograph “Between Hitler and Stalin. The Ukrainian Partisans (more correctly – “Insurgents” or “Rebels” – A. G.) (Mezhdu Hitlerom i Stalinom. Ukrainskie Povstantsy)” is available on the abovementioned website. This book is not available on that portal, although my thesis, defended in St. Petersburg, is indeed there.
The review categorically states that “The article … gives the impression that Jews served and fought willingly and enthusiastically in the UPA”. It is not clear how this critic got this impression about the enthusiasm of the Jews who fought. However, our article does offer a documented case of voluntary participation of several Jews in the UPA. This fact is not disputed by the reviewer, who instead enters into a heated debate with his own impressions.
The following passage is entirely inexplicable: “From the very outset of their article the authors claim that there were no pogroms in Ukraine in 1941, that Ukrainian nationalists never had a negative attitude toward the Jews, and that Ukrainians who served in the German police during World War II did not participate in the Holocaust”. First of all, our article not only mentions participation of Banderites in the pogroms of 1941, it also offers information, unknown in Russia until 2004 and in the West until 2007, about the murder of Jews near Vinnytsia by the nationalists from the “Nachtigall” battalion. Secondly, the text clearly indicates the antisemitic position of the OUN at the Second Congress of the party (1941) and the fact that their anti-Jewish sentiments decreased after the USA entered World War II (1942: “…[our] negative attitude toward Jews…”). Thirdly, our material was not dedicated to the question of the Ukrainian police; it is therefore not clear why the article should have been obliged to investigate this type of mass collaboration. Moreover, my book, which Rossoliński-Liebe mentions but which he evidently did not take the time to read, clearly identifies participation of the Ukrainian police in the Holocaust. At present, this monograph can be easily and instantly found online. Its amended and supplemented editions in Russian and Ukrainian are planned for the end of this year.
The reviewer continues by saying: “But first, they (Gogun and Vovk. – A. G.) do not explain how the OUN-B violently took control over the actual UPA by force in early 1943, and unleashed a campaign of terror in which many of the leaders of the original UPA were killed; and second, they diminish the OUN-B’s antisemitism, do not mention its fascist nature and its collaboration with Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1941 and again in 1944 and 1945”.
I repeat: the article was devoted to a particular issue; it set out to introduce an interesting, little-known fact to the reader, namely, participation of Jews in the Insurgent Army. What connection do the following issues have to the question: relationship of the Banderites with the UPA-PS (Polissian Sich) of T. Bulba Borovets (renamed as UNRA on 20 July 1943), cooperation of nationalists with the Third Reich, or the radicalism of the OUN ideology? Again, all these issues received detailed coverage in my monograph, which Rossoliński-Liebe mentions. Moreover, these facts are detailed in another of my books, which was published in Polish (i.e. easily accessible to the author). The same applies to the anti-Polish ethnic cleansing and the killings of civilians of Russian and Ukrainian nationality. Is is implied by the critic that Vovk and I were expected to fit all this and more into eight pages of narrative.
In any case, it is unclear why this particular publication, published, let us be frank, in not the most famous of journals, was taken to be reviewed?
But most importantly: how can one clearly formulate the main complaint of Rossoliński-Liebe with regard to our text?
If one is to judge the author’s professionalism by the review, one can assume that the knowledge of the diligent PhD candidate of the subject of our article (and also of his own research) leaves room for improvement. His skill in interpreting sources also requires further perfection. Towards the end of the review, the author expresses his gratitude to three experts in the field for their cooperation in his review. However, it seems that the reviewer failed to take advantage of this sincere help. Or was the support so competent?
At the moment, I am familiar with two internal documents of the Ukrainian nationalists on the killing of Jews by the UPA-OUN(B). Both of them have been published and refer to 1943. Yet, these particular documents are not mentioned by Rossolinski-Liebe, and instead he generously cites indirect testimonies of politically biased third parties.
Everything I wanted to write about the UPA I have now written, and currently I am working on another topic. Nevertheless, I continue to monitor and review noteworthy publications about Ukrainian nationalists.
All that remains is to wish the reviewer success, i.e. the advancement of his qualifications. After all, Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe is writing a whole book about Stepan Bandera. And if the level of the monograph will be of the same quality as that of his review of our article, then years of work will be in vain, and the book will not receive even the criticism of the organised academic community.