Ray Brandon, Wendy Lower (eds.)  The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization.  Bloomington  Indiana University Press, 2010.  392 pp.  $25.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-253-22268-8.

The volume originated in a workshop at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1999. As explained in the introduction, the book aims at contributing to a shift in the scholarly discourse from the Holocaust in the Soviet Union to the Holocaust in Ukraine, following the example of research on the Shoah in Poland, Romania, and Hungary. The introduction thus discusses the Jews of Ukraine without forgetting to stress that they did not constitute a homogeneous  community. Jews are included in a Ukrainian framework, which should hinder the characterization of Jews as ‘external’ victims, which is quite common in the Ukrainian context, as in most national contexts. A reason for this focus is that ‘large numbers of the co-perpetrators, the rescuers, the bystanders and of course the fellow victims were Ukrainian’ (p. 2). The view of the Shoah as an industrial process should gain more dimension from this focus on agency in the confines of a concrete territory, although the borders of this territory have changed quite arbitrary over time. From this perspective, the pogrom in Lviv 1941 and the slaughter at Babi Yar seem to be ‘singular episodes’ or ‘most extreme examples’ of the pogroms of 1941 and the wave of mass shootings (p. 5). The introduction gives a comprehensive sketch of the topic, including a nod to Ukrainian rescue efforts, reflected in the recognition of 2,185 Righteous among the Nations from Ukraine by Yad Vashem by January 1, 2007.

Dieter Pohl begins the series of contributions by giving a survey of the Holocaust under German military and then civil administration as well as the involvement of Ukrainian police, concentrating on the upper strata of the actors. He shows how the mass killings in the framework of German military planning and the wish for stability behind the front developed into the expansion of the pool of victims. The pretexts for shootings changed from immediate local contexts to indiscriminate extermination in late August 1941.

Timothy Snyder elaborates with individual examples the relationship between the ethnic groups in Volhynia under Polish, Soviet, and Nazi rule, using memoirs as well as contemporary documents. The microcontexts were not independent of the policy of the Polish government or from propaganda broadcast by the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Several important Ukrainian intellectuals from different fields, as a consequence, preferred cooperation with Nazis over both Poles and Soviets.

Frank Golczewski sketches German-Ukrainian relations during the Holocaust in Galicia, concentrating namely on the voluntary collaboration of Galician Ukrainian men as camp guards and policemen. As he argues, they often collaborated less because of nationalist ideology than the potential to survive. Nevertheless, the ideological closeness of Ukrainian authoritarian and antisemitic intellectuals was important for encouraging the volunteerism. Dennis Deletant examines the annihilation of Romanian Jews in the Romanian-held borderlands of Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Transnistria in the framework of Ion Antonescu's plans, in cooperation with German officials, for ‘ethnic purification’ rather than outright extermination. The final destination of the Jews should be in Russia. Jews held in Transnistria as well as thousands of prisoners of war were exploited in Ukraine, as is shown by Andrej Angrick, who gives insights into ‘the largest forced labor project in Ukraine,’ which consisted of road construction. Several Nazi institutions as well as the Wehrmacht implemented this project with bureaucratic fervor, establishing a network of coordination involving several levels of civil and military organs of the German occupation apparatus.

Wendy Lower shows how low-level German civil administrators pushed through mass murder on the ground around Zhytomyr, believing themselves to be legitimized by colonialist German Lebensraum ideology. The coordination of the partially rival or competing groups posed problems, in some situations. But the anti-Jewish actions found widespread support among more than the representatives of the German administration.

Martin Dean makes clear how pivotal the roles of Ukraine's ethnic Germans became in the implementation of Nazi policies. The Nazi leaders tried to integrate local Germans into their occupational system in key positions. To cover for these crimes after the war, they commonly portrayed themselves as victims both of Stalin and Hitler, as Dean shows with help from evidence from war crimes trials held in the 1990s.

Alexander Kruglov gives an important and detailed up-to-date account of data on the Shoah in Ukraine. As in Ternopil, 98 percent of all Jewish inhabitants were killed, while in eastern cities far more Jews survived; his argument that western Ukrainians were ideologically closer to the Germans than eastern Ukrainians and thus more involved in the local perpetration of the Holocaust gains significance. Karel Berkhoff takes a close look at the dozen testimonies of Babi Yar survivor Dina Pronicheva and offers insight into these types of sources. Her accounts are the most frequently cited sources on the killings at Babi Yar. Although used in various political and legal contexts after the war, her story remained mostly unchanged.

Omer Bartov points out how present-day Galicia deliberately minimizes the past of others by memorializing a national Ukrainian history even at the very places of formerly Jewish presence. His range of examples reaches from Lviv to Ivano-Frankivsk, Drohobych, Kosiv, Ternopil, and Zhovkva. In this discursive framework, the Ukrainian people appear only as victims, which is, of course, not appropriate, for example, for the members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), remembered and honoured today as pivotal for the conception of a Ukrainian national state. While synagogues remain in ruins, monuments to the OUN dominate the sites of ghettos.

The introduction to the volume asks several open questions and makes clear that the intention of the book is to lay the ground for further research on the Shoah in Ukraine within the framework of Holocaust studies. Although the book includes the term ‘memorialization’ in its title, practices and discourses of remembrance are only investigated in some contributions. This reflects both the circumstance that research on the Shoah in Ukraine as a whole is still only beginning, and the marginalized status of Holocaust remembrance in Ukraine, too. A look at the remembrance of the Holocaust in Kiev during the government of President Yushchenko could show the limited but prominent efforts to memorialize the victims within a European and NATO context and, as a rule, without a hint at Ukrainian collaboration. To give the memory of the victims and the acknowledgement of collaboration on Ukrainian soil a future frame, a Ukrainization of the discourse, the aim of the volume being discussed here, is definitely appropriate. Yet, to achieve this goal, publication of volumes such as this one in Ukrainian, too, is also indispensable. On the other hand, a larger contextualization well beyond national borders should be preferred. As exemplified recently by Timothy Snyder, the uniqueness of the Shoah can be stressed in such a broader context, too.


Stefan Rohdewald
Justus-Liebig-Universität, Gießen

This review first appeared on H-Net Reviews and is reprinted with permission.