Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 14   04-Sep-1997   The forgotten Bodnar
September 4, 1997

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Salztorgasse 6
1010 Vienna

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

In your testimony on the 60 Minutes broadcast of October 23, 1994 "The Ugly Face of Freedom" I notice a startling omission:

MORLEY SAFER:  I get the impression from people that the actions of the Ukrainians, if anything, were worse than the Germans.

SIMON WIESENTHAL:  About the civilians, I cannot say this.  About the Ukrainian police, yes.

That's all you said!  You just left it at that!  But in that case, there is something very big missing from your statement, isn't there Mr. Wiesenthal something very interesting, very important, very relevant?  Something that the 60 Minutes viewer would have found to be quite remarkable?  Do you know what it is?

It is the story of the Ukrainian policeman with the surname Bodnar the one who saved your life?  Remember him?  Don't you think that this forgotten Bodnar is someone who should have been mentioned in your statement?  And doesn't the story of the forgotten Bodnar somewhat contradict your unqualified statement that the Ukrainian police collectively were worse than the Germans?  And if among what you say is the worst of the Ukrainians (the auxiliary police) some are saving Jews, then what heroic acts can we expect among the rest of the Ukrainian population?

To refresh your memory about this story which seems so forgettable to you now, I may remind you that you were about to be executed, but:

The shooting stopped.  Ten yards from Wiesenthal.

The next thing he remembers was a brilliant cone of light and behind it a Polish voice: "But Mr. Wiesenthal, what are you doing here?"  Wiesenthal recognized a foreman he used to know, by the name of Bodnar.  He was wearing civilian clothes with the armband of a Ukrainian police auxiliary.  "I've got to get you out of here tonight."

Bodnar told the [other] Ukrainians that among the captured Jews he had discovered a Soviet spy and that he was taking him to the district police commissar.  In actual fact he took Wiesenthal back to his own flat, on the grounds that it was unlikely to be searched so soon again.  This was the first time Wiesenthal survived.  (Peter Michael Lingens, in Simon Wiesenthal, Justice Not Vengeance, 1989, p. 8)

But the story of the forgotten Bodnar is even better than that Bodnar not only saved you, not only risked his life to save you, but possibly gave his life to save you.  I say that because Bodnar must have known that the punishment for saving a Jew from execution and then helping him escape would be death.  And how could he get away with it?  In fact, I ask you now, Mr. Wiesenthal, whether the forgotten Bodnar did get away with it, or whether he paid for it with his life, for as you were tiptoeing out, you were stopped, Bodnar offered his fabricated story, and then:

The German sergeant, already a little drunk, slapped Bodnar's face and said: "Then what are you standing around for?  If this is what you people are like, then later we'll all have troubles.  Report back to me as soon as you deliver them [Wiesenthal along with a fellow prisoner]."  (Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, 1993, p. 37)

These passages invite several pertinent conclusions which a man of integrity and conscience would have insisted on bringing to Morley Safer's attention:

(1) You yourself, Mr. Wiesenthal, can see a Ukrainian police official having his face slapped by a German sergeant, which serves to remind you that Ukraine is under occupation, to show you who is really in charge, to suggest that the German attitude toward Ukrainians is one of contempt and that the expression of this contempt is unrestrained.

(2) You yourself see also that Bodnar's flat is subject to searches, indicating that although he is a participant in the anti-Jewish actions, he is a distrusted participant, and a participant who might feel intimidated by the hostile scrutiny of the occupying Nazis.

(3) But most important of all, you see that the German sergeant is waiting for Bodnar to report back.  Alan Levy writes that "Bodnar was ... concerned ... that now he [Bodnar] had to account, verbally at least, for his two prisoners" (p. 37).  If Bodnar reports back with the news that you, Mr. Wiesenthal, escaped, then how might Bodnar expect the face-slapping German sergeant to respond?  For Bodnar at this point in the story to actually allow you, Mr. Wiesenthal, to escape is heroic, it is self-sacrificing, it is suicidal.  And yet the forgotten Bodnar does go ahead and effect your escape, probably never imagining that in later years this will become an event unworthy of notice during your blanket condemnation of Ukrainians.

What I urge you to do now, Mr. Wiesenthal, is the following:

(1) Conduct a search to determine the fate of the forgotten Bodnar, and bestow upon him the recognition that he deserves for his heroic action.  Hopefully, Bodnar is still alive, so that the recognition will not be posthumous.  Hopefully, Bodnar did not sacrifice his life to save yours, as then your ingratitude would be truly black.

(2) Bring the forgotten Bodnar to the attention of Morley Safer at 60 Minutes, and ask for some correction of the negative image created of the Ukrainian police.

(3) Search your memory long and hard and determine a version of the story which appears to be closest to the truth, and then publish it as the official account, because at present, the wildly different versions in your several biographies create the negative image of someone who just spews tall tales off the top of his head, without any consideration for making them consistent with earlier versions of those same tales.  For example, Mr. Wiesenthal, what impression do you imagine is created in the mind of a reader who is told in Justice Not Vengeance that Bodnar saved you alone and took you to his apartment, but then is told in The Wiesenthal File that Bodnar saved you together with another prisoner and took the two of you to the office of a "commissar" which office the two of you spent the entire night cleaning?  I will tell you what impression is created, Mr. Wiesenthal it is that of a person lying so clumsily, that one almost imagines that he does so in order to be caught and exposed so as to finally be able to confess and to purge his conscience.

Sincerely yours,

Lubomyr Prytulak