Timothy Snyder off the mark on post-WWII Ukraine

Ukrainian Jewish reaction to academic/author Timothy Snyder’s recent presentation in Geneva.


Добрий день!

This is Renata Hanynets, at the Faina Petryakova Scientific Centre for Judaica and Jewish Arts, a branch of the Jewish Heritage Museum in Lviv, Ukraine.

Recently, our executive assistant at the Jewish Heritage Museum, Volodymyr Valkov, travelled to Geneva to hear a world famous historian speak about the Holocaust. Volodymyr had hoped to enlist his cooperation in our work to deepen understanding of what happened in Eastern Europe, and particularly Ukraine, during the second world war. His hopes, unfortunately, were in vain.

The speaker was Timothy Snyder, a Professor of History at Yale University and author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Snyder delivered this year’s Pierre du Bois Annual Lecture organized in partnership with the Graduate Institute in Geneva. It was titled: The Holocaust as a Global History.

Here is Volodymyr to share his experience.

I was quite excited at the prospect of attending Professor Snyder’s presentation and hearing his analysis of Hitler’s global view of the world, including Ukraine. He did shed new light on the dictator’s ruthlessness… but he fell short of shedding any on the world in which Hitler’s victims lived.

According to Snyder, Hitler regarded Ukraine as key to his plan for creating a massive land empire, similar to the United States and Britain. Hitler believed that with its vast agricultural resources, including its remarkably fertile black soil, Ukraine would provide Nazi Germany with a higher standard of living. As well, it would allow Nazi Germany to break free from the international political and economic order of that time.

Hitler considered that Ukrainians did not deserve such a resource-rich land. Therefore most of them would have to be either starved, or used as forced labor. Snyder pointed out that this attitude was typical of colonialist thinking. Wherever you need to steal the land and resources, you start by arguing that the people who have them are inferior.

In the Q&A session, Snyder talked about the importance of considering the existence of other states besides Germany in order to understand Holocaust. After all, the execution of Hitler’s plans depended on the successful destruction of other states.

While this is certainly true, the premise of his argument is not. Snyder claimed that the Holocaust goes beyond Hitler’s intentions and German institutions, and that most of the perpetrators of the Holocaust were actually not German.

There is no question that there was collaboration with the Nazis, and that we have to condemn it. However, it is outrageous to shift the blame for the Holocaust away from the Nazis. There is no question that the Nazis were the principal orchestrators of the Holocaust. And there should be no question that the Nazis both created and exploited conditions for any collaboration to happen … inside and outside of Germany.

In the case of Ukraine, Nazi Germany exploited the Ukrainian people’s burning desire to achieve sovereignty, and used all its nefarious means to foment discord between the Jewish and Ukrainian peoples. Obviously, it would be much easier for the Nazis to occupy Ukrainian land if the people living on it were fighting each other instead of them.

As a resident of Ukraine I find it alarming that Holocaust scholars rarely if ever consider these circumstances, much less explore them.
I certainly appreciate and respect Synder’s revelations about Hitler’s views on Ukraine. However, I came way from his presentation profoundly disappointed that he supported them by perpetuating entrenched and erroneous stereotypes. Given his stature as a historian and author, I expected better scholarship and deeper insight regarding Ukraine.

Thank you, Volodya. Clearly, we still face a steep, uphill battle to deepen understanding of events in second world war Ukraine, and their effect on our present, and our future.

This is Renata Hanynets, at the Faina Petryakova Scientific Centre for Judaica and Jewish Arts, in Lviv, Ukraine. Until next time, Shalom.

Link to the Pierre du Bois Annual Lecture here:

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