|Stepan Bandera monument in Lvov|
April 17, 2015
Originally written on October 7, 2014
Translated by Alexey Tatu
I visited Lvov for three days, from the 26th to 29th of September in 2014. Off the bat, lest there be any doubt, I am Jewish, who has been living in Israel since 1991, by ideology – a Zionist. I have no sympathy for Vladimir Putin. I don’t like what he did with Russia.
I thought at first, that fascism had a place in the Ukraine, but that it was a marginal phenomenon and its scale was greatly exaggerated by Russian media. When I was recently visiting Kiev and Odessa, I did not see any fascism at all. But my visit to Lvov strongly changed my beliefs.
Given that I had three free days, I decided to visit Lvov. There were holidays in Israel, and I did not have much to do. I am a divorced man, and I met a lonely young Ukrainka from Vinnytsia on the Internet. Why not go there, and get acquainted? I often fly to Ukraine for this reason. I had already visited Odessa and Kiev. I had invited her for a walk in Lvov, I heard that Lvov and Transcarpathia are very beautiful places. I decided to see it with my own eyes.
Besides, my grandfather was born in Gradiska(a village town), which used to be a Jewish town 25 km from the city, and now a part of the city. There he owned a kosher butcher shop. In 1939, when the Bolsheviks occupied Eastern Poland, or liberated Western Ukraine, call it as you feel, he as a socially alien element, was deported to Tomsk Region, and this saved his life. The rest of my family awaiting the year 1941, perished in the Holocaust that followed. So you could say this this trip to Lvov, was for me also an attempt to get in touch my ancestral roots.
What I saw there:
Lvov is a beautiful city, and Transcarpathia indeed has very beautiful nature. But this beauty did not occupy my heart. My thoughts were occupied by other things.
My hotel was in the historic center of the city, and in the morning, going out on my first walk, I stumbled upon a huge memorial to Stepan Bandera and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fighters. I knew that in Lvov this monument was opened, and I was mentally ready to see it. At the end of the day, I treat the graves of German soldiers as normal, as they are scattered throughout Europe. This is history. History is difficult. People didn’t know, didn’t understand, were constrained by fear. It is very difficult for us the distant descendants to judge the generation of those who lived during that terrible time. Not everyone can be heroes, some lacked the strength. Some stumbled by mistake, stupidity, or cowardice.
I was ready to see the modest burial cross: “oh my Lord accept the soul of Stepan Bandera and all the fighters of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, forgive their sins, human weaknesses, for they knew not what they did.” But there was no smell of repentance at that memorial. I saw a huge 20-meter statue, in the style of Stalin’s Empire (photo above). Looking directly at me, was a winner, a father of the land, a hero. Next to the major memorial, there weren’t any graves of the confused, meek individuals, who lost their way in a complex time. These were the graves of the heroes. The pillars of the Motherland, the saints, the memory of which nurtures a new generation. And the slogans on the memorial, ‘Glory to the Heroes’! And main street of the town wears the name you may be able to guess by now, Stepan Bandera! [This part is pretty straight forward, the description of the memorials and the pushing of this ideology to the people through memory and history, is on display here. If doubts existed that fascism was not on display in Ukraine, than the people who keep seeing it must be peddling propaganda, and this author is clearly not engaged in that if you read any of his story. – AT]
For a moment I was filled with fear, but when the fear was gone, it became mostly unbearable vile and disgust. I felt so disgusted that I wanted to come and spit on the grave of this ghoul.
In 1991 I came to Israel, and in the preparatory courses to a University I had to take a course, and pass exams on the History of the Jewish People. There I was told that the German Nazis carried out the genocide of the Jewish people, using the hands of soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, an Organization of Ukrainian nationalists (OUN/UPA), headed by Stepan Bandera. They showed me pictures, documents, and memories of survivors who testified that the guards at Auschwitz were the fighters of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, that Jews were marched to Kiev’s Babi Yar under the convoy of Ukrainian nationalists, which together with the Germans, shot all of them dead in that massacre. And even more than the Germans, Ukrainian nationalists headed by Stepan Bandera did all of the unorganized, dirty work that the German Nazis did not want to do. I was told this not by the Soviet Communists, but the Israeli Zionists, I was told and showed the photos by the tour guides in Jerusalem’s Institute on the Holocaust, “Yad Vashem”.
KGB, FSB, and Putin I do not trust, but Yad Vashem, I believe. So, what heroes are these?! Invaders, murderers, jackals!!! If we were comparing bad apples, I would have more respect towards the German Nazis. But these are just bloody wolves, vile jackals. The German Nazis at least shed their blood outside of Stalingrad for their crazy ideas. These instead decided to become punishers and invaders when presented with a choice. And they receive glory! Glory to the heroes?! What kind of heroes, are these people!?
Further more, we were taken on a three hour tour around Lvov. There was no option of Russian or English language, the travelers had to listen to Ukrainian. In the words of our tour guide, the Bandera movement was the highlight of city’s history. We were taken to the prisons, where on the 27th July 1941, before the Red Army was pushed out by Germany, the Soviet security forces also known as the NKVD arrested and shot dead the fighters of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The guide told me, how a day following the departure of the Red Army, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) declared an Independent Ukrainian State which existed for 7 days, until the city was taken by the German army. All this, was presented as a heroic page in Ukrainian history. In the same breadth, as something like the 100 days of the Paris commune.
I myself after attending the lessons of the “History of the Jewish People” knew what exactly occurred in Lvov during those same 7 days. There was a mass murder of Jewish civilians, women, and children. Massacres, tortures, rapes, there was looting. There have been preserved photos, newsreels, recollections, and documents. During the ‘7 day Pogrom of Lvov, (we call it a pogrom, not a rebellion) some ten thousand Jews were killed. However, the killing was not only of Jews, but also of Poles, Hungarians, and Russians. The massacre was halted, upon the arrival of parts of the Wehrmacht, and German Army. This is for several reasons:
First of all, an independent Ukrainian state was not in the plans of Germany.
Secondly, the massacre of civilians would demoralize the Army. The Wehrmacht (combined German, Fascist military forces) did not like to participate in these activities, such activities were delegated to certain departments. This was done by the SS, Einsatzgruppen, and volunteers from the local population who were trained for this occasion, such as the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.
Thirdly, the element of mayhem produced by the Banderites, was actually an interference to the German way of dealing with the Jewish question, that is with precision, thoroughness, and accuracy.
I asked our Guide, whether he knew anything about the Lvov pogrom that took place in those days. He said that all this, is Putin’s propaganda. At the end of the tour, I asked him to tell me what he knows about the genocide of the Jewish population of Lvov, during the Second World War. And at the same time I asked him to show us the monument to the victims of the Lvov Holocaust, or a plaque on the site of the Lvov ghetto. [Another quick, key moment here. As whole sloths of unfavorable history are quickly discarded as propaganda or omitted altogether – AT]
In response, the guide said that all of this could be blamed on the Germans, and he was himself not too familiar with these pages of Lvov history, and that visiting these places is not included in the program of sightseeing tours.
One only needs to imagine that before the war, out of the 300 thousand of people living in Lvov, that 130 thousand of them were Jews. When the curtains opened back up, there were only 300 Jews left. All of the others were burned in the flames of the Holocaust. This would normally be a rather big tragedy. The city could have been generous enough to erect a sizable memorial. But I guess all that money was spent on the memorial to Stepan Bandera. Where there are memorials for the executioners, there is no place to remember the victims. In fairness, I later found online, a monument to the victims of the Lvov Holocaust, judging by those pictures it is a much more modest monument than the one dedicated to Stepan Bandera, tours do not stop there, and the streets are not named for the memory of those who perished in the Lvov Holocaust.
Two months after this, I went to Odessa to meet a lonely young Ukrainka. On a sightseeing city tour, a Russian tour guide talked a decent amount about the extermination of the Jews of Odessa, and brought us to the memorial dedicated to them. He even drove us to the catacombs, to the memorial of the Odessa partisans who not only fought the Nazis, but also saved some of the Jews in those same catacombs.
The fact that I am an Israelite was unknown to anyone during all of this, because I was quietly sitting there and didn’t ask any questions. So it is unlikely, that they made that tour especially for Israeli guest.
Two Ukraines, but what seem like two different worlds. People speak the same language, but I think if during the war, the partisans of Odessa would encounter the Banderites, their meeting would not have been peaceful. And if you want you can call me a Pro-Russian Communist, but personally, I much prefer the red star of the partisans of Odessa, than the reversed swastika of the Banderites. Although I repeat, I am a Jew and a Zionist from Israel.
What else happened? At shops and also in restaurants, people refused to talk to me in the Russian language. In response to my: “We could speak English or Russian, whatever you want”, they would turn red, and try to squeeze out a few words in English, and then out of respect to an American they would revert back to Russian. “Yikes, turns out that we can talk Russian perfectly if we want to.” I said. But its a small impoliteness.
Then we went to the Museum of Folk Architecture “Shevchenko’s grove”, during a Ukrainian folk festival. There were huts and rural churches, collected from all parts of Ukraine. Next came the Cossacks with their elegant embroidery. They sang folk songs and carols. In improvised stalls, sellers in folk costumes, offered people homemade food, honey and bacon, dumplings, kvass, sbiten, soup with mushrooms, and soup with fish.
The Cossacks are taught during their youth to wield a sword, throw a spear, and shoot arrows. 5 shots, cost 10 hryvnias. And as a target, there was a portrait of none other than Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Personally, I was not that upset about this, perhaps slightly jarred. Despite my antipathy to his policies, even this was a big too crude.
Suddenly, it was like a current pulled me away. On all the necks of the Cossacks, there hung a neck amulet, with what looked like a… swastika. I asked, what is this? They replied to me, and old Cossack amulet. I bought and photographed one, it is in the attached photo. If this is not a swastika, than what is?
I had that feeling like I was walking in a film, namely “Cabaret” with Liza Minnelli. In the scene where the characters are on a Sunny Bavarian meadow, dressed in folk costumes and drinking beer with the peasants, and suddenly the blond boy with an angelic face and a clear voice stands up and begins to sing, “Tomorrow belongs to me”. And suddenly all these picturesque Bavarian peasants stand up, raise their hands, and in unison shout “Heil”.
Walking through the streets of the old town, brought another shock. Well alright, some of the walls were covered with slogans “Come Stepan Bandera, make order here” (in rhyme), “Ча мова, та Влада”, “Whose language, those power”, “Muscovite on the Guillotine”. I walked further without really getting too upset. Well, in the souvenir shops the t-shirts that were sold had slogans, “I am a Banderist”, “Putin is a D%ckhead”.
I was shocked when I went into the bookstore on the main Market square. At the window of the store I was again struck by that same current, when I saw this collection of books: “The Aryan Path”, “Nationalist”, and horror of horrors, Adolf Hitler’s, “Mein Kampf”. Everything fell into one place, there.
I will not pretend to be a virgin, I am sure that “Mein Kampf” is not incredibly hard to find both in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, and London, and in Paris, and in New York, and even in Tel-Aviv. But never in all my life of 45 years, have seen this book in a store window, and never mind on a central square! I only saw this once, in Lvov.
I left that city with an eerie feeling. The pavement of this town is watered by the blood of my ancestors, my unborn brothers and sisters (literally, not figuratively), blood of 100+ thousand Jews, some of which the inhabitants of this city drove to Auschwitz. And those things are not part of the city’s history. In this city, the executioners did not repent. They lingered around in a warm bed, surrounded by love and honor. And when they die, they put up monuments to themselves and bring candles.
The executioners have grown grandchildren, who are proud of their grandfathers. My feeling is possibly shared with the wanderer, who found himself in the castle of count Dracula, and saw how the dead Vampires rise from their coffins. It turns out the world did not end, and not all of the Nazis were destroyed. Here they participate in new parades, rebuilding their old form, re-deploy, and honor their past flags and salute their stone idols.
As an Israelite I had formed a question. This question would be addressed to the Israeli government, to the Museum “Yad Vashem”, and to the fund of Simon Wiesenthal. You who are still looking for the righteous among the nations, to give them honor for fighting fascism, you, who are still persecuting Nazi criminals around the world, you, who brought to Israel, and tried and hanged the number one Nazi executioner, Adolf Eichmann, HOW COULD YOU MISS THE LVOV REVIVAL OF FASCISM?!!. Why am I paying you my taxes? Don’t you know who the Banderites are? So why do you act like your mouth is full of water? Why not scream about it, from the highest mountain and for all to hear? Why not demand the international condemnation, and the boycott of the Ukraine?
[This is indeed the point, the double standards are flagrantly on display here. Fascism does not really matter as long as it serves ones purposes, it becomes a tool and not any sort of terrible ideology, and no one really opens their mouths about any cruelties as long as their interests are served. Or it is only mentioned when there are immediate gains to be won. The author rightly calls out Israel on this specific instance of double standards and of the need to be way more vocal if they intend to have any sort of legitimacy on the issue of the Holocaust, and fascism. – AT]
Remember how in the year 2000 Israel recalled its ambassador from Austria, because the Governor of Carinthia was named a known neo-nazi Jorg Haiger. While one could mention that Haiger only allowed himself a couple of words about the fact that not all under Hitler was so bad: “In the Third Reich there was a decent employment policy, something that could benefit the current government in Vienna.” But the point is, no one in Carinthia erected a 20 meter statue of Goering, nor were there hero memorials of the SS members. No one was pushing their history in the right direction. But then we organized an international boycott of Austria, and forced Haiger to withdraw from politics forever.
So why in light of this, is there such blindness to what is happening in Ukraine? Not to notice the memorial of Stepan Bandera in Lvov, is impossible. I will express a serious thought. For the Israeli establishment, for all these officials who make money on the Holocaust, is it ONLY a profitable business? Is it possible that Haiger just stepped on a competitors toes, and was ordered to take the fall? And is all this anti-fascist pathos only a way to eliminate the competitor, and the Banderites are the best allies in this battle because they are for the entry of Ukraine into the EU and NATO, which are against Russia? To quarrel with the Banderites, is to quarrel with America. An order was issued. So their fascism should be overlooked!
[Another interesting analysis by the author, where this question becomes serious enough to be posed over and over until it is answered – AT]
If so, then I hate you!
I believe that morality should be above politics. And no political dividends should justify a deal with the devil. I love the people, this land, Israel. This week, I will go to Jerusalem, “Yad Vashem”, and give them my gifts from Lvov, the swastika, “Mein Kampf”, and the photos. And ask them, why are you silent? This is something I have to do for my people, and to make sure these same Banderites do not sleep comfortably at night.