Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 17   10-Sep-1997   Unique Ukrainian perceptual skills
September 10, 1997

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Salztorgasse 6
1010 Vienna

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

In The Murderers Among Us, you make the following claim:

In France, where the Germans were often unable to distinguish Jews from Frenchmen, the Gestapo imported Ukrainians, who found the French Jews for them (p. 272).

This claim puzzled me because my impression had been that genetic studies had demonstrated that Jews resemble the people that they live with in various countries more than they resemble other Jews living in other countries.  If my impression is correct, then Jews living in Ukraine would have resembled Ukrainians, and Jews living in France would have resembled Frenchmen both of these more strongly than Ukrainian Jews would have resembled French Jews.

Thus to the degree that ethnic membership can be determined from a cursory examination of appearance I would have supposed that Ukrainians would have been best able to identify Ukrainian Jews, and that Frenchmen would have been best able to identify French Jews.  And so I would have expected that to a Ukrainian taken to France, the physiognomy of both French Gentiles and French Jews would have appeared unfamiliar, which would have made him of limited utility to the Nazis.

I suppose that if your claim were true, then one consequence would be that Ukrainians would be forever unable to view Gentiles and Jews as merely humans, but rather would be doomed by their hypersensitivity to be forever conscious of the difference between Gentile and Jew.

It seems to me that your claim portrays a Ukrainian playing a role like that of a police dog the beast has a limited intellect, and yet has this one gift of olfactory hypersensitivity which more intelligent forces are able to harness.  Furthermore, as the typical Ukrainian would have been unable to speak French, his role would even more closely resemble that of a police dog pressed into service for his one unique skill, he would be expected to give some signal of assent or denial, but to be otherwise dumb, unable to ask questions of any suspected Jew, uncomprehending of any conversation about him.

With reference to your claim, Mr. Wiesenthal, I would like to ask you the following questions:

(1)  What evidence can you adduce for the veracity of the hypothesis that Ukrainians are uniquely gifted in identifying Jews by appearance?

(2)  What evidence can you adduce for the veracity of the hypothesis that the Nazis recognized this Ukrainian gift and utilized it as you describe?

(3)  Do you think that Ukrainians are equally hypersensitive to other ethnic or racial characteristics, such as those possessed by Russians or Poles?  If Ukrainians were equally hypersensitive toward many such characteristics, then perhaps they might find employment in situations in which ethnic or racial identifications needed to be made?

(4)  Do you know of any other peoples gifted with a similar hypersensitivity?  I take it, for example, that Jews are not so gifted, or else the Nazis might have found it more convenient to employ French Jews to identify other French Jews, instead of importing Ukrainians.  The Germans themselves were the ones particularly motivated to make the identification, and yet from what you say it would appear that they realized that they were not themselves very good at it.

And so, your position seems to be that Germans are adept at harnessing the unique capacities of lower animals when they need to sniff out drugs, they have learned to bring in a German shepherd; when they need to sniff out Jews, they know to bring in a Ukrainian?

Sincerely yours,

Lubomyr Prytulak