Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 1   08-Dec-1994   Just One Key to the Church
December 8, 1994

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Vienna, Austria

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

One does not have to read far in your biographies to find you propounding your favorite stereotype of Ukrainians as unscrupulous, improvident, stupid, brutish, alcoholic, violent, anti-Semitic, and Christian.  To a reader unacquainted with your views, "Christian" might stand out in this list as the only non-pejorative; as such a reader begins to delve into your writings, however, he quickly arrives at the realization that you view the entire list as pejorative.

Here is the instance that I have just been reading:

Galicia ... was traditionally the land of pogroms: "Nowhere else have the Jews suffered so much for so long."  His own father used to tell him how a village priest, who loved his schnapps, but couldn't always pay for his drinks, left his church key as security with a Jewish tavern-owner one Saturday night, promising to settle his debt out of Sunday's collection.  Next morning, when his Ukrainian parishioners couldn't get in to attend mass, he told them: "The dirty Jew at the pub has locked you out.  Go get the key from him!" They did by beating the Jewish pub-keeper within an inch of his life, smashing or drinking everything in his tavern, celebrating mass, and then extending the celebration with a little local pogrom, amen!  (Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, 1993, p. 24)

This story, like other of your stories, resembles a children's "What's Wrong With This Picture?" illustration that contains a large number of gross incongruities.  Those who share your orientation become like children able to look upon the grossest incongruities without noticing anything wrong; those who do not share your orientation find themselves playing the role of adults pointing out one detail after another that falls somewhere between implausible and impossible:

(1)  You report of your home town of Buczacz that "of the town's 9000 inhabitants, 6000 were Jews, 2000 Poles, and, at the bottom of the local ladder, 1000 Ukrainians, mostly poor and of peasant origin" (p. 24).  The Ukrainians, it would seem, are outnumbered eight to one, and the status, the money, and the power lie in the hands of the Jews and the Poles.  Thus, the municipal government, the judiciary, the legal profession, the police the army even would all be oriented in the direction of protecting the wealthy, powerful, and numerous Jews and Poles from the pocket of Ukrainians living on the wrong side of the tracks.  How does it happen, then, that the Ukrainians are able to beat a Jewish tavern owner within an inch of his life, smash his property, and commit a pogrom all at will and with impunity?

(2)  You say that the priest left the church key as security, promising to settle his debt out of Sunday's collection.  But wouldn't the tavern owner have realized that if the priest was locked out of his church on Sunday, there would be no collection?

(3)  Wouldn't the priest have realized the same thing?  Wouldn't he have realized that he was eternally trapped in a Catch-22 you can't have the key until you pay up, you can't collect money to pay up without the key?

(4)  You portray the Ukrainian parishioners as exercising as much reflection upon being incited to attack a Jew as a dog would exercise when a stick was thrown for it to fetch: "The dirty Jew at the pub has locked you out.  Go get the key from him!" and away those Ukrainians do run! Almost human is their ability to understand simple verbal commands, though possibly the bulk of the communication takes place by means of hand signals.  One wonders whether the key will be brought back gripped between some Ukrainian's teeth and dropped at the feet of the priest.

But if one posits for a moment I ask you here to stretch your imagination that Ukrainians are endowed with some rudimentary power of reasoning, then wouldn't they have first asked their priest how the tavern owner had gotten the key and why the tavern owner felt he had a right to keep it?  And then wouldn't the priest have had to confess his intemperate drinking, and then wouldn't the parishioners have directed their disapproval at the priest instead of at the tavern owner?

(5)  Why would the tavern owner accept a key as collateral?  A key has negligible market value while at the same time, the priest does have access to objects that do have substantial market value things perhaps like icons or crucifixes.

(6)  Or, why wouldn't the tavern owner simply have had the priest sign an IOU?

(7)  Every church that I can think of has a back door, and I would imagine that for a lock as important as the one on the front door of a church, there would be several keys in the hands of several people.  This would be because even Ukrainians would realize that a single key could be lost.  Also, cleaning and maintenance staff would need to get in.  Then too, the church might be used for other than religious functions.  That giving up a single key would prevent the priest from getting into his own church, therefore, does not seem credible.

(8)  A Jewish tavern owner who was offered as collateral the only key to the only entrance of a church would have anticipated that if he took the key and denied Ukrainians their Sunday services, he would be faced with a public relations setback, and for this reason he would have declined the offer.  He would have preferred to keep peace with his neighbours.  He would have realized that he had more to gain by not alienating his tavern clientele than by securing the priest's trivial debt.  A mounting debt that was not being pressed would even bring the tavern owner the advantage of increasing control over the priest.

(9)  Isn't your depiction of Ukrainians as ever ready to throw off their thin veneer of civilization and revert to brutishness just a little heavy-handed?  The Ukrainians come prepared to attend a mass I would have imagined dressed in their Sunday best with their wives beside them and their children in tow and a heavy representation of grandparents and yet upon the most tenuous of provocations, they instantly degenerate into life-threatening violence, destruction of property, drunkenness.  Then presumably panting and sweating from the exertion of having beaten the tavern owner within an inch of his life, bleeding from cuts from flying glass during the smashing up of the tavern, reeling from having drunk everything they could lay their hands on they sit through the mass that they had come for in the first place.  After the service, another switch of roles, and it's off to a pogrom.  Then, presumably, it will be Sunday lunch.  That's a pretty full Sunday morning, with some startling mood swings.

(10)  Wouldn't the priest have anticipated that if he incited the beating of the tavern owner and the destruction of the tavern, then the tavern owner would as a result deny him credit would even deny him entry into the tavern and that this would limit his drinking?

(11)  I would have expected a priest to have stood for honesty, tolerance, sobriety, non-violence.  Even if the occasional priest may himself stray from the path of rectitude, we still expect him to exhort his parishioners not to.  You, in contrast, portray a priest who is alcoholic who even drinks in a tavern! who does not pay his debts, who conspires with the Jewish tavern owner to swindle the church of its funds, who incites violence, who acquiesces to the destruction of property, who is content to conduct mass in front of parishioners who are drunk.  Do you, Mr. Wiesenthal, think that this priest typifies Christian values? If not if he is at variance with the teachings of the Christian church then how would you account for his superiors not having relieved him of his duties?

(12)  You describe the Ukrainian parishioners as "celebrating mass, and then extending the celebration with a little local pogrom."  Do you mean by this that a pogrom can be viewed as an extension of a mass and therefore that a pogrom is a continuing expression of sentiments that are encouraged during a mass or doctrines that are expounded during a mass?  Do you mean by "little" that in the eyes of the Ukrainians, a pogrom is a commonplace event which registers in their consciousness as insignificant?  As you portray the initial beating of the Jewish tavern owner as being incited by the priest, and as you portray the pogrom as an extension of the mass, would it be your position that anti-Semitism is instigated by the Christian church?

(13)  And what a perfect touch was that final "amen!" how succinctly it captures the contempt for Christianity that your father was bequeathing to you when he taught you that story, what a sympathetic guffaw it is sure to elicit from those who share your orientation.

Your stories, Mr. Wiesenthal, are childishly transparent.  They have passed unchallenged this long only because your provocation was being overlooked.  But your 60 Minutes appearance was too much, it was a career mistake because it brought you to the attention of too many people and connected you with positions that were particularly erroneous and exceptionally inflammatory.  You are now being read with a critical eye, and your stories are not passing scrutiny.  They will not stand the test of time.

At the very moment, however, I must admit that your stories live and continue their corrosive work Alan Levy's The Wiesenthal File from which the above quotation was taken is currently on sale at my local bookstore.  No comparable spewing of hate from Ukrainians toward Jews can be found.  No correction of your misstatements is anywhere on the shelves.  You continue to do great damage to Ukrainians.

And not only Ukrainians are being hurt by your stories, Mr. Wiesenthal, but Jews as well, and they are being hurt even more, for your misrepresentations will ultimately be recognized by all and will be seized upon by neo-Nazis and Jewish-Holocaust deniers alike to strengthen their causes, and may even contribute toward the alienation of those who were initially predisposed to be sympathetic toward Jewish interests.

I must ask you, Mr. Wiesenthal, whether upon reflection you would not prefer to follow the path of righteousness, to admit your errors, to begin healing some of the wounds that you have inflicted, and to start this process by retracting or disowning at least this one fantastic and inflammatory tale of the church key given up by a Ukrainian priest to a Jewish tavern owner as collateral for drinking debts?

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak