Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 23   23-Sep-1979   The pious executioners
September 23, 1997

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Salztorgasse 6
1010 Vienna

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

I wonder if you are aware that during the German occupation of Lviv, the Greek Catholic church, headed by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, was courageous and outspoken in defense of Jews?  Here are four quotations which provide some details as to the role played by Sheptytsky, and which demonstrate that this role is widely acknowledged:

There is little doubt as to the almost saintly role of Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.  Sheptytsky, Archbishop of L'viv and head of the church, was widely known as being sympathetic to the Jews.  ...  The elderly metropolitan wrote directly to SS commander Heinrich Himmler in the winter of 1942 demanding an end to the final solution and, equally important to him, an end to the use of Ukrainian militia and police in anti-Jewish action.  His letter elicited a sharp rebuke, but Sheptytsky persisted even though the death penalty was threatened to those who gave comfort to Jews.  In November 1942 he issued a pastoral letter to be read in all churches under his authority.  It condemned murder.  Although Jews were not specifically mentioned, his intent was crystal clear.

We can never know how many Ukrainians were moved by Sheptytsky's appeal.  Certainly the church set an example.  With Sheptytsky's tacit approval, his church hid a number of Jews throughout western Ukraine, 150 Jews alone in and around his L'viv headquarters.  Perhaps some of his parishioners were among those brave and precious few "righteous gentiles" who risked an automatic death penalty for themselves and their families by harbouring a Jew under their roof.

The towering humanity of Sheptytsky remains an inspiration today.  (Harold Troper & Morton Weinfeld, Old Wounds, 1988, pp. 17-18)

He [Sheptytsky] dispatched a lengthy handwritten letter dated August 29-31, 1942 to the Pope, in which he referred to the government of the German occupants as a regime of terror and corruption, more diabolical than that of the Bolsheviks.  (Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, 1992, p. 267)

One of those saved by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky was Lviv's Rabbi Kahane whose son is currently the marshal commander of the Israeli Air Force.  (Ukrainian Weekly, June 21, 1992, p. 9)

Sheptitsky himself hid fifteen Jews, including Rabbi Kahane, in his own residence in Lvov, a building frequently visited by German officials.  (Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, 1986, p. 410)

However, despite the widespread agreement that the Catholic church headed by Sheptytsky was outspoken and courageous in its defense of Jews, you have consistently portrayed Christianity in general, and the Catholic church in Lviv in 1941 in particular, as being virulently anti-Semitic.  I refer, for example, to your fable of the alcoholic priest in Western Ukraine who incites a pogrom (Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, 1993, p. 24), which fable I have already brought to your attention in my letter to you of December 8, 1994; and I refer as well to your story of the Ukrainians who you say almost executed you:

As the shots and shouts of the boisterous Ukrainians drew closer to Wiesenthal, he heard a new sound: church bells.  The Ukrainians heard it, too.  Good Orthodox Catholics all, they laid down their arms for evening mass.

Wiesenthal and his friend had stood five or six bullets away from extinction.  (Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, Constable, London, 1993, p. 36)

Now if it is the case as we have just seen above that the Catholic church unambiguously and unequivocally stood for the defense of Jews, then we would expect devout Catholics to not be among the executioners of Jews.  Conversely, given that someone is among the executioners of Jews, we would expect him not to be a devout Catholic.  Your portrayal of sadistic executioners as being simultaneously devout Catholics is incongruous and elicits incredulity.

But your story goes beyond the incongruous to the grotesque.  You portray a team of executioners who have been repeatedly drinking vodka and may therefore be depicted as drunk.  You say that they have also just been shooting prisoners in the back of the neck, and then lifting the bodies from the floor and placing them into makeshift coffins therefore, the executioners are also covered with blood.  Assuming that these executioners did not have a place to shower and had not brought with them a change of clothing, and assuming that the church bells are signaling the imminent commencement of mass so as not to leave time for showering and changing, then I have trouble conjuring up a credible image of these executioners arriving at the church for mass.  To accept your image requires us to accept that the appearance of drunk and blood-spattered executioners at a mass would not attract notice and repugnance a supposition which is erroneous and offensive.  And it requires us also to accept that the mind set of executioners engaged in genocide is so similar to Christians engaged in devotion, that they make the transition instantaneously and seamlessly another supposition which is erroneous and offensive.

Mr. Wiesenthal, I entreat you to either explain and defend your bizarre story, or else to withdraw it.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak