Why Ukraine refused to publish world famous novel about Holocaust?

Author : Iryna Shostak

Source : 112 Ukraine

Bestseller "The Kindly Ones" by the American-French writer Jonathan Littell has already been translated into 20 languages ​​of the world, and this year its Ukrainian version was to appear. But it didn't work out. Starlev, which announced a partnership with Littell in 2020, recently announced that it would refuse to publish a novel about the Holocaust. The reason for this was the divergence of opinions on the final product - the publishing house considered it necessary to add an explanatory "Ukrainian" point of view to the afterword. The author was strongly opposed
13:20, 11 May 2021

Jonathan Littell, Benevolent
112 Agency

One of two things: "Holocaust pornography" or a masterpiece. Such an aftertaste leaves a poignant novel "The Benevolent" by American-French writer Jonathan Littell

A gay SS man, often diving into his sexual fantasies and indulging in perversions in the bosom of nature, speaks in the first person about the massacres of Jews in Ukraine, the Nazi crimes at Stalingrad, and the horrors of the death camps. It was this extraordinary look at the realities of World War II that brought Littell worldwide fame.

But to reflect on this topic, holding the domestic version of the bestseller, Ukrainian readers will not be able to soon: the author refused to publish the book in Ukraine because of the edits of the Starlev publishing house.

“We agreed with the author and the copyright holder to renounce the rights to this text. The reason for this decision was that we did not manage to come to an agreement with the author regarding the inclusion of an afterword from a Ukrainian historian in the Ukrainian edition. He was categorically against it. For us, as a publisher it is fundamentally important that the afterword, which explained the context of the events of the novel from the Ukrainian point of view, was nevertheless included in the publication," the publishing house notes.

The Ukrainian perspective on the Holocaust is something new. But we will not be able to find out this point of view so far, since the publishing house categorically refuses to provide the text of the afterword. The question also arises – why is it? Really, without him, readers would not be able to independently analyze the work of fiction and come to their own conclusion? Obviously, in the opinion of the publishers, the conclusion would be incorrect, or, on the contrary, so "correct" that it is already undesirable.

Related: Installation dedicated to commemoration of Holocaust victims opened in Kyiv

Facts or the author's view?

In Littell’s novel, Ukrainians are often portrayed as brawlers, pogromists, and, ultimately, murderers. For example, the main character, an SS man, at the sight of the "savagery of the Ukrainians" even begins to torment his conscience - he regrets that he cannot resist such atrocities. The hero watches with horror as the city of Lviv, which did not have time to exhale from the NKVD shootings, begins to choke in national hostility.

“The streets are restless…. The NKVD, before getting out, shot three thousand prisoners. And then all the Ukrainian and Galician nationalists left the forests, God knows where they were hiding there, but now they are somewhat agitated. The Jews are not worried now. the best moments of its life ... The Wehrmacht does not interfere? ... An order from above ... The population takes revenge on traitors and collaborators, this is not our business. Internal conflict ..."

(fragment of "The Benefactors" novel)

The bodies of those shot by the NKVD during the retreat of prisoners in Lviv prison
Open source

"Small groups of armed men with yellow-blue armbands talked with civilians; entered houses, and soon there was noise, sometimes shots ... A woman in the mud, almost naked, in torn stockings, jumped out with a howl from behind the church ... Her white skin was covered bruises, but almost no blood flowed. Two brave young men with bandages on their sleeves calmly walked in. One apologized in bad German ... Another lifted the woman by the hair and punched her in the stomach. She hiccupped and calmed down, foam came out on her lips ... Koch took off his cap, once again wiped his forehead, I put the overturned table in place. "They are just savages," I said. Koch agreed and added: "In the AOK, as far as I know, they are sure that the SD ordered to print posters and in every possible way kindle the national discord. They launched the so-called Operation Petliura..."

(fragment of "The Benefactors" novel)

Ukrainian nationalists during World War II who beat Jewish men and women is a bit different from what most of us were told about the Holocaust at school. But if fragments of the novel seem dubious to you, it is worth turning to historical research.

Ukrainians, like any other nation, were on both sides: rescuers and murderers. For example, according to the German historian Dieter Pohl, there were at least 30,000-40,000 people in occupied Ukraine who, with weapons in their hands, helped the Nazis to exterminate Jews. But it is obvious that there were more of them because someone completely dispensed with weapons - produced anti-Semitic publications and plundered Jewish property.

In particular, the historian noted that since the Germans were poorly guided in Ukrainian cities and did not know the language, local informers and translators pointed out the victims to them.

The Jewish question in Ukraine has been acute for a long time. Jewish pogroms were recorded even during the national liberation war of Bohdan Khmelnytsky in the 17th century. During World War II, the negative attitude of some Ukrainians towards Jews increased due to the fact that the German authorities forced Jews to take the bodies of Ukrainian political prisoners (shot by the NKVD before retreating from Western Ukraine) from prisons into the courtyard, where they were presented for identification to the inhabitants of Lviv. So the Jewish population was associated with the crimes of the NKVD.

There is another version - "blood redemption". In order for the inhabitants of Lviv to be able to move from a society spoiled by the Bolsheviks to a new and "clean" society, they had to prove their anti-Soviet beliefs - to sacrifice a Jew. In particular, this is what the historian Wendy Lauer writes.

The works of Canadian historian of Ukrainian origin John-Paul Himka about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, in particular in Lviv, have repeatedly caused a flurry of criticism in Ukraine. In its conclusions, Himka also says that the nationalists took an active part in the pogrom of 1941.

Related: World commemorates victims of Holocaust: Tragedy that claimed millions of lives

Unlike deliberate collaboration, many were simply forced to switch to this "dark side". French priest Patrick Debois noted that living in Ukraine during the Holocaust and not witnessing it was virtually impossible. In 2004, Debois founded the organization "Yahad-in Unum" (which means "Together"), whose work, in particular, is devoted to identifying the places of mass executions of Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. His research formed the basis for the book Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth About the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, in which Debois first documented the tragedy based on wartime documents, interviews with local residents, and the application of modern forensic practice to old mass burials. In general, it was possible to obtain certificates from about 8,000 people.

Lviv residents at the bodies of prisoners
Open source

Also, in the course of the organization's activities, it was possible to identify a special group of Holocaust eyewitnesses - "mobilized" (more often men, but also women who were forced by the Nazis to various jobs directly related to the process of massacres). Debois and his team counted more than two dozen such works. Among them - digging graves and burying corpses in places of mass graves, transporting Jews to execution sites, selling clothes and other property that remained from the murdered.

Speaking about those who, for one reason or another, took part in the extermination of the "objectionable", it is worth mentioning the "bright" side. According to the statistics of the Yad Vashem organization (dedicated to the study and commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust), Ukraine ranks 4th in the world in terms of the number of only officially recognized Righteous Among the Nations (after Poland, Holland, and France).

Yes, Littell in his work focuses on the worst manifestations of the Holocaust, including in Ukraine. But this is his right as an author, especially since the material of the book is based on eyewitness accounts in the cities where the events of the book take place.

"The author has done a great job. I am telling you this as a person who is well aware of the topic. When I read the book, I got the impression that it is not a fictional character who is telling this, but an eyewitness - the fact is so well conveyed," director of the Ukrainian-Jewish Committee Eduard Dolinsky comments.

Related: World-class memorial: Holocaust Memorial Center presents concept of Babi Yar Synagogue

And the French historian Pierre Nord calls Littell’s book one of the five most truthful historical novels about World War II.

Many people have a question - why did the VSL publishing house decide to add to the afterword explaining the novel from the "Ukrainian point of view"? And what does the "Ukrainian point of view" about the Holocaust mean in general?

"Ukrainian version" of the Holocaust

The afterword as the final part of the book is always additional text that should be summed up after reading the main text.

In Russia, by the way, the second edition of the book was also published with an afterword (the publishers simply threw out several dozen pages from the first, which caused a scandal) by the literary critic Sergei Zenkin. But in his results, Zenkin reflects not on the veracity of the novel, but on the richness of Russian literature, from which the author drew many references, describes the artistic moments and red threads of "The Benevolent", sums up the image of the protagonist.

Starlev refused to provide with the text of the afterword planned for publication, arguing that it was incorrect "to make public the details of the termination of the contract." Littell did not respond to requests to comment on the situation in more detail.

Despite this, the "Ukrainian point of view" about the Holocaust still exists. It is promoted by the state itself through the Institute of National Memory. In short, it looks like this - Ukrainians took part in the Holocaust, but this was caused by the influence of the Soviet occupation of Ukraine. They say that in most cases Ukrainian Jews were handed over to the Nazis for extermination by residents of the Ukrainian SSR, who "lost their national, cultural and humanistic code under the influence of Soviet atheistic propaganda." At the same time, the Ukrainian Institute for National Remembrance (UINP) insists that the nationalists from the OUN-UPA cannot be associated with the Holocaust.

"Thousands of Jews found their salvation in the Greek Catholic monasteries of Galicia. The apostles of the salvation of the Jews were the ideologists of the Ukrainian liberation movement: brothers Clement and Andrey Sheptytsky, leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army," Olena Ishchenko reported during a conference.

Related: Israel plans to provide free Covid-19 vaccines to Holocaust survivors worldwide

The ideologist of the bleaching of the OUN-UPA nationalists was the former head of the UINP Volodymyr Viatrovych. In 2006, Volodymyr Viatrovych published a monograph "The attitude of the OUN towards Jews: the formation of a position against the backdrop of a catastrophe." This work was sharply criticized by both international and Ukrainian experts for its attempts to justify the crimes of the OUN members against Polish and Ukrainian Jews.

Volodymyr Viatrovych claims that in 1942, "when the Holocaust unfolds, the OUN dissociates itself from the German action of exterminating the Jews of Ukraine." However, many other historical studies say that members of the OUN took part in the extermination of Jews, including before 1942.

The point of view of Volodymyr Viatrovych and the UINP has been repeatedly criticized not only in Ukraine, but also in the West and in Israel.

In 2017, Western historians and Jewish organizations in Ukraine protested against Viatrovych’s participation in a conference on the history of the Holocaust in Ukraine.

“Viatrovych’s pseudoscientific activity has one goal - the praise of Ukrainian nationalist organizations, not limited to the OUN-UPA. To achieve this goal, he repeatedly manipulated facts and stooped to lies when it came to the participation of Ukrainian nationalists in the Holocaust ... He denied the participation of Ukrainian nationalists in ethnic purges of the Volyn Poles and worked tirelessly to justify the crimes of the OUN-UPA against the Polish civilian population,” historians Jared McBride, Tariq Amar, and Helen Jul noted in an open letter of protest.

Since Littell's novel presents Ukrainian collaborationism, it is possible that the publishing house (independently or under pressure from the state) wanted to soften this page of Ukrainian history.

“It is very childish to talk about who we were then: bad or good. This is a text about the Holocaust, about the mass murder of Jews. And attempts to submit an afterword that would explain the author's intentions are inappropriate. This humiliates the Ukrainians,” Eduard Dolinsky notes.

Having put forward such demands, Starlev not only postponed for an indefinite time the acquaintance of the Ukrainian reader with the work noted all over the world, but also confirmed the vitality of the censorship and the book inquisition, which has been preventing the Ukrainian book market from breathing deeply for several years.

Littell's "ban": when the history repeats

Several years ago, the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting prohibited the import of the book "Stalingrad" by English historian Antony Beevor into the territory of Ukraine. In one excerpt, the author tells how the SS forced Ukrainian law enforcement officers to kill 90 Jewish children in August 1941.

"New book inquisitors have appeared in Ukraine. Earlier this function was performed by the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, and now Starlev publishing house has voluntarily assumed this shameful responsibility," Dolinsky notes.

Related: Unprecedented evil: Holocaust as a deep bleeding wound on humankind

Then the expert council of the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company argued that the source of history was Russian propaganda. We did not have a scandal as such, which cannot be said about the situation in the West. There, Beaver wrote that he did not expect this from the Ukrainian government, especially 20 years after the first publication of the book.

Beaver also notes that the source of his notes were reliable German reports, eyewitness accounts of the murders and much more.

A few years ago, the so-called Book Inquisition did not let the Ukrainian version of Stepan Bandera's scientific biography written by the German scientist Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe in print.

"The biography was published about 10 years ago. It was published in English, German, Polish. But there is still no Ukrainian version of it," Dolinsky adds.

Such an outright suppression of, albeit not a very pleasant past, is an out of the ordinary case in world practice. In neighboring Poland, where they also react extremely nervously to reminders of cooperation between Poles and the Nazis and where the positions of local nationalists are strong, they did not dare to ban the novel by the American historian Jan Gross "The Golden Harvest". In it, the historian tells how many Poles profited from the Holocaust in Poland, extraditing Jews to the Nazis.

In his book "Neighbors - about the extermination of Jews in the town of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors" Gross noted that the inhabitants of Eastern Europe took advantage of the German occupation for personal revenge on Jews and robbery with impunity.

At the same time, Poland ranks first in the world in terms of the number of only officially recognized Righteous Among the Nations.

By the way, Poles can buy Littell's book in their native language.

The Holocaust in all its manifestations is a blind spot in Ukrainian history. At the beginning of the year, the book "Life and Death in the Era of the Holocaust in Ukraine" was presented at the Cologne National Socialism Documentation Center. A Kyiv historian, professor Borys Zabarko, who himself, as a child, survived the occupation in the ghetto of the city of Shargorod, Vinnytsia region, took a direct part in its creation.

Related: Holocaust Forum: International scandal instead of mourning

During its presentation, one of the creators, Werner Müller, said that he met Borys Zabarko in 1996. Then Boris saw that in Poland there are many books about the Holocaust, but in Ukraine, there are almost none. And he began to collect the memories of the survivors, their testimonies of what they experienced.

Every year, losing eyewitnesses, and with them the threads that could lead any inquiring mind in the traces of history, the blind spot becomes more and more.

Which exit? Follow the example of foreign colleagues and "let go" of history, giving books such as the novel "Benevolent" and many others the right to freely go out and tell people about different moments of our past.

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