Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 15   08-Sep-1997   The elusive Lviv Massacre
September 8, 1997

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Salztorgasse 6
1010 Vienna

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

According to your testimony on the 60 Minutes broadcast of October 23, 1994, "The Ugly Face of Freedom," in three days following the evacuation of the Communist forces and before the arrival of the German troops, Ukrainian police killed between five and six thousand Jews:

SAFER: He [Simon Wiesenthal] remembers that even before the Germans arrived, Ukrainian police went on a 3-day killing spree.

WIESENTHAL: And in this 3 days in Lvov alone between 5 and 6 thousand Jews was killed.


SAFER: But even before the Germans entered Lvov, the Ukrainian militia, the police, killed 3,000 people in 2 days here.

Now before going beyond what was actually said in the broadcast, we already see a discrepancy which I ask you to comment on.  Specifically, you are the expert on the Holocaust who is testifying on 60 Minutes, and more than that you are the eyewitness to the Lviv pogrom the only eyewitness and you tell Morley Safer that 5 to 6 thousand Jews were killed in three days but then Mr. Safer turns around and changes it to 3 thousand killed in two days.  This does not seem fair after all you were there and Morley Safer wasn't, and whereas for Mr. Safer, this is just a story that he is covering, for you it is the pivotal experience which determined the course of your life, the experience which in the words of Mr. Safer, "compelled Wiesenthal to seek out the guilty, to bring justice."

So I wonder why Morley Safer changed your numbers?  As you are the only witness adduced, Mr. Safer seems to have lowered your figures on his own initiative.  I wonder if you have contacted Mr. Safer concerning his revision of your estimate, or if in your subsequent discussions with Mr. Safer, you might have by now arrived at a mutually-agreed estimate?  If you have, I wonder if you would be able to tell me whether Mr. Safer has agreed to raise his estimate, or if you have agreed to lower yours?

Be that as it may, it must surprise you to learn that when I consulted Leni Yahil's The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, Oxford, New York, 1990 for further information on the Lviv pogrom, I found nothing.  There is no indication in Yahil's book that such a pogrom ever took place.  If Yahil's book were cursory or carelessly researched, then the oversight of the single largest pogrom of the War might be understandable, but if we are to believe the book's dust jacket, then it is one of the best works on the Jewish Holocaust ever written:

When The Holocaust first appeared in Israel in 1987, it was hailed as the finest, most authoritative history of Hitler's war on the Jews ever published.  Representing twenty years of research and reflection, Leni Yahil's book won the Shazar prize, one of Israel's highest awards for historical work.

Well, in my continuing quest to learn more about the Lviv pogrom which you describe on 60 Minutes, I turned next to Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews, Holmes & Meier, New York, 1985.  This work too cannot be accused of being either cursory or carelessly researched.  For example, the publisher's promotional material claims:

This landmark work, now substantially revised and expanded, is destined to remain the foremost source to which historians and others must turn in any exploration of the most infamous crime in history.
This definitive edition of THE DESTRUCTION OF THE EUROPEAN JEWS is the most complete, comprehensive, and authoritative account of the Nazi Holocaust.

As well, this same promotional material cites critical acclaim for Hilberg's work in Michael R. Marrus's review in The Times Literary Supplement which ends in the words:

No single book has contributed more, even to its critics, to an understanding of Nazi genocide.  In its originality, scope, and seriousness of theme, this is one of the great historical works of our time.

But what does Hilberg say about the Lviv pogrom, this most massive pogrom of the Second World War; what does he say in his "most complete, comprehensive, and authoritative account of the Nazi Holocaust"?  Why he says ... exactly nothing!  He too seems to be totally unaware of it.

Worse than that much worse Hilberg makes statements to the effect that no such pogrom ever took place.  I reproduce below three quotations from Hilberg, the last of which is particularly troubling, as it is his summary of all anti-Jewish activity in Ukraine, and it flatly contradicts the possibility of the pogrom that you describe:

From the Ukraine Einsatzkommando 6 of Einsatzgruppe C reported as follows:

Almost nowhere can the population be persuaded to take active steps against the Jews.  This may be explained by the fear of many people that the Red Army may return.  Again and again this anxiety has been pointed out to us.  Older people have remarked that they had already experienced in 1918 the sudden retreat of the Germans.  In order to meet the fear psychosis, and in order to destroy the myth ... which, in the eyes of many Ukrainians, places the Jew in the position of the wielder of political power, Einsatzkommando 6 on several occasions marched Jews before their execution through the city.  Also, care was taken to have Ukrainian militiamen watch the shooting of Jews.
This "deflation" of the Jews in the public eye did not have the desired effect.  After a few weeks, Einsatzgruppe C complained once more that the inhabitants did not betray the movements of hidden Jews.  The Ukrainians were passive, benumbed by the "Bolshevist terror."  Only the ethnic Germans in the area were busily working for the Einsatzgruppe.  (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 1961, p. 202 in this case, I am quoting from the 1961 edition)

The Slavic population stood estranged and even aghast before the unfolding spectacle of the "final solution."  There was on the whole no impelling desire to cooperate in a process of such utter ruthlessness.  The fact that the Soviet regime, fighting off the Germans a few hundred miles to the east, was still threatening to return, undoubtedly acted as a powerful restraint upon many a potential collaborator.  (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 1985, p. 308)

First, truly spontaneous pogroms, free from Einsatzgruppen influence, did not take place; all outbreaks were either organized or inspired by the Einsatzgruppen.  Second, all pogroms were implemented within a short time after the arrival of the killing units.  They were not self-perpetuating, nor could new ones be started after things had settled down.  (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 1985, p. 312)

It would seem, Mr. Wiesenthal, that you were an eyewitness the only eyewitness to the largest pogrom of the war, and that at the same time, at least two of the foremost chroniclers of the Jewish Holocaust have quite overlooked this program, and in the case of Raul Hilberg, flatly deny that any such pogrom ever took place.  According to Hilberg, all Ukrainian pogroms took place after the arrival of the Germans, were instigated by the Germans, were small in scale, and had no momentum of their own.

In view of this oversight on the part of the historians, Mr. Wiesenthal, shouldn't you get in touch with them and recount your experiences to them so that the story of the Lviv pogrom is not lost to future generations, and so that Jewish hatred of Ukrainians is not diminished by the loss?

Sincerely yours,

Lubomyr Prytulak