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Sol Littman   Letter 10   06-Oct-1999   Improving your Khmelnytsky coverage
"What is the attitude of progressive French historians towards the great slave revolution in Santo Domingo, where many French women and children were butchered? To ask the question is to answer it." Israel Shahak
  October 06, 1999

Sol Littman
Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center
8 King Street East, Suite 710
Toronto, ON
CANADA,  M5C 1B5

Tel: (416) 864-9735
Fax: (416) 864-1083


Sol Littman:

In your Tryzub and Swastika speech of 31Aug97 delivered at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, you encourage the creation of a false image of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion of 1648:

Now, it's not unusual in the Ukraine for Jews to be the victims.  There's a long history of pogroms in the Ukraine.  Some of you know the history.  You may have heard of the name Khmelnytsky, who in the middle of the seventeenth century, in the 1650s, slaughtered some 200,000 Jews.

Below are ten things that you neglected to tell your audience, and that would have surprised them to hear, and that, indeed, would have entirely shattered the false image that you were encouraging.  To extend the list beyond ten, you have only to read the materials listed on the Ukrainian Archive's Bohdan Khmelnytsky page.

(1) The underlying cause of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion was extreme Polish-Jewish oppression.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that the Ukrainian people had motives for rebelling other than the anti-Semitism which some contemporary Jews gratuitously ascribe to them.

[There was a] debasement in the position of the Polish peasants (who had been free in the early Middle Ages) to the point of utter serfdom, hardly distinguishable from outright slavery and certainly the worst in Europe.  [...]  The situation in the "eastern" lands of Poland (Byelorussia and the Ukraine) [...] was worst of all.
Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Pluto Press, London and Boulder Colorado, 1994, p. 61.


(2) Within this system of extreme oppression, Jews held life-and-death powers over Ukrainians.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that the role of Jews in Ukraine went beyond that of harmless and inoffensive shtetl-dwellers wanting nothing more than to live in peace with their neighbors.

[L]easeholding was frequently linked with the exercise of certain legal powers: the right to adjudicate the people of a given estate or town and to pass even a death sentence was sometimes transferred from the owner to the leaseholder.  This served to identify the Jew with the Polish landlord whom he represented.
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, pp. 158-159.


(3) Even the original Hanover Calumny itself recognizes oppression as the underlying cause of the rebellion.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that even the original Hanover Calumny recognized that severe oppression was the underlying cause of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion.

Hanover was the only Hebrew chronicler to analyze the reasons for the Ukrainian Cossack revolt.  He believed that these were two: the oppression of the Greek Orthodox Ukrainians, and the role of Jews as tax-farmers and estate managers.  The latter, he claimed, "ruled in every part of Rusia [the Ukraine], a condition which aroused the jealousy of the peasants and resulted in the massacres."  He believed that religious oppression was responsible for the impoverishment of the masses: "they were looked upon as lowly and inferior beings and became the slaves and handmaids of the Polish people and the Jews."  Hanover wrote that, except for the Cossacks, "the Ukrainians were a wretched and enslaved lot, servants of the dukes and the nobles.  The nobles levied heavy taxes upon them and some even resorted to cruelty and torture."  His assessment of the causes for the Cossack uprising is, of course, very similar to what others were saying, including the Ukrainians.
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, pp. 170-171.


(4) The immediate cause of the rebellion was injuries inflicted on Bohdan Khmelnytsky.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that Bohdan Khmelnytsky had motives for rebelling other than the anti-Semitism which some contemporary Jews gratuitously ascribe to him.

But a typical case of magnate acquisitiveness and arrogance completely altered Khmelnytsky's life and with it the course of his country's history.  In 1646, during his absence from [his estate] Subotiv, Daniel Czaplinski, a Polish nobleman backed by the local magnates, laid claim to Khmelnytsky's estate, raided it, killed his youngest son, and abducted the woman that the recently widowed Cossack captain [that is, Khmelnytsky himself] intended to marry.  When numerous appeals to the court brought no satisfaction, the infuriated Khmelnytsky resolved to lead a revolt against the Poles.
Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History (2nd ed.), University of Toronto Press, Toronto Buffalo London, 1994, p. 126.


(5) A rebellion of the oppressed led by the injured is not legitimately viewed as a genocidal slaughter.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that the typical Jewish portrayal of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion is at variance with accepted historical interpretation.

After all, revolts of oppressed peasants against their masters and their masters' bailiffs are common in human history.  [...]  What is the position of true progressives and, by now, of most ordinary decent educated people be they Russian, German or French on these rebellions?  Do decent English historians, even when noting the massacres of Englishmen by rebellious Irish peasants rising against their enslavement, condemn the latter as 'anti-English racists'?  What is the attitude of progressive French historians towards the great slave revolution in Santo Domingo, where many French women and children were butchered?  To ask the question is to answer it.  But to ask a similar question of many 'progressive' or even 'socialist' Jewish circles is to receive a very different answer; here an enslaved peasant is transformed into a racist monster, if Jews profited from his state of slavery and exploitation.
Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Pluto Press, London and Boulder Colorado, 1994, p. 73.


(6) The most credible and reliable witness of Jewish fatalities happened to be a 17th-century Stephen King.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that Nathan Hanover provides the most detailed and credible account that Jews base their Khmelnytsky calumny on, and yet that Nathan Hanover was essentially a writer of horror fiction, the horror lying in his tales of sadism, and the fact that he is writing fiction being demonstrated by such accounts as the following (in which the "enemy" referred to is the Ukrainian Cossacks):

And it came to pass when they had been there a long time, that the enemy contrived a scheme.  By the use of witchcraft they let a viper soar in the sky, and they took unto themselves as a sign: "If the viper will turn his face toward the city, we will subdue it before us, and if he will turn his face toward us we will flee before them.  And it came to pass at midnight, when they saw the viper ascending skyward, and he remained suspended for about a half hour with his face toward the city.  After that he turned toward the camp of the Cossacks and the Tartars.  They realized that this was an evil omen for them and that evil was before their faces.
Nathan Hanover, Abyss of Despair (Yeven Metzulah), Transaction Books, New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.), 1983, pp. 90-91.


(7) None of the statistics cited by Hanover can be trusted because he used numbers casually and impressionistically in the same way that you do and because he was unschooled even in basic arithmetic.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that Nathan Hanover's statistics are worthless.

Also, most rabbinic writers of that time were unaware of the scientific developments among their European contemporaries.  For example, Hanover, apparently the most well-informed of the six chroniclers, knew no mathematics.  Hence, it is not surprising that in referring to groups of people the chroniclers used biblical metaphors such as "thousands and tens of thousands" or "as many as the grains of sand on the seashore," and that the figures they do mention are often meaningless.
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, pp. 153-177, pp. 165-166.

In all this sort of material the large figures may not have been meant as exact numbers, but rather as a metaphor for such phrases as "a great many" or "a large amount" (as in Turkish 40,000 until recently meant "a large number" generally, rather than the specific figure.)  The exaggerated figures of the Hebrew chronicles seem to be symbols of the "great calamity" or "tremendous affliction" to which the writers reacted in the different ways indicated here.
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, pp. 153-177, p. 176.

It seems that Hanover was generally inexperienced in handling large numbers: for him 18 times 100,000 became 18,000,000, rather than 1,800,000.
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, pp. 153-177, p. 175.


(8) You go beyond repeating the Hanover calumny you inflate it.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been just a little astonished to hear you admit that your estimate of 200,000 inflates Jewish fatalities by a factor of twenty.  According to Weinryb, whereas the Hanover Calumny places Jewish fatalities in excess of 80,000, you pump your own number up to 200,000!  However, if historian Jaroslaw Pelenksi's estimate below of 10,000 Jewish fatalities is to be trusted, then Hanover's is a gross inflation, and yours is a grotesque one:

Hanover centered his account on the massacres in various communities and offered concrete figures, always in round and even numbers.  One example will suffice to illustrate Hanover's approach.  In the case of Polonne, Hanover proposed a figure of 10,000.  According to a contemporary official Polish source, 2,000 Jews were killed in Polonne.  While working on similar problems in Slavic-Turkic relations (particularly on the problem of captives), this author has concluded that there was an in-built mechanism to exaggerate the number of captives and those killed by five or ten-fold in order to magnify the sufferings of the victims and the dangers that beset them.  Therefore, on the basis of comparative analysis, I wish to suggest that the number of Jews killed in the Khmelnytsky revolution amounted either to a minimum of 6,000 to 7,000, one-tenth of the figure offered by Hanover, or to a maximum of 12,000 to 14,000, approximately one-fifth of the figure claimed by Hanover.
Jaroslaw Pelenski, The Cossack Insurrections in Jewish-Ukrainian Relations in Howard Aster and Peter J. Potichnyj (editors), Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, 1990, pp. 31-42, pp. 35-36.

I invite you to disclose the source of your remarkable estimate of 200,000.  Some sort of documentation on your part will be needed to dispel the impression that you are here too indulging in your inveterate habit of pulling big numbers off the top of your head.

(9) The warfare was two-way.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that the Khmelnytsky rebellion was against the full military might of a ruling empire, and that the massacres inflicted by this empire upon Ukrainians were, in Israel Shahak's words, "even more horrible":

This typical peasant uprising against extreme oppression, an uprising accompanied not only by massacres committed by the rebels but also by even more horrible atrocities and "counter-terror" of the Polish magnates' private armies, has remained emblazoned in the consciousness of east-European Jews to this very day not, however, as a peasant uprising, a revolt of the oppressed, of the real wretched of the earth, nor even as a vengeance visited upon all the servants of the Polish nobility, but as an act of gratuitous antisemitism directed against Jews as such.  In fact, the voting of the Ukrainian delegation at the UN and, more generally, Soviet policies on the Middle East, are often "explained" in the Israeli press as "a heritage of Chmielnicki" or of his "descendants."
Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Pluto Press, London and Boulder Colorado, 1994, pp. 64-65.


(10) The chief defender of the Jews was a Ukrainian.  Your Simon Wiesenthal Center audience might have been astonished to hear you admit that in the course of the Khmelnytsky rebellion, the chief defender of the Jews was the Ukrainian, Iarema Vyshnevetsky, parading under his Polonized name of Count Jeremi Wisniowiecki:

Hanover's account of Count Jeremi Wisniowiecki's activities at this time must have been an exaggeration, for he gives the impression that Wisniowiecki made rescuing the Jewish population his principal endeavor:
Count Jeremi Wisniowiecki was a friend of Israel ... with him escaped some five hundred Jews.  He carried them as on the wings of eagles until they were brought to their destination [reported as Wisniowiecki left for Lithuania].

Later we are also told that after the Nemyriv onslaught Wisniowiecki set out with a command of 3,000 men to revenge the Jews.  Clearly, Hanover considered Wisniowiecki the greatest of generals, one who should have become commander of the Polish army.
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, p. 168.


Thus, by including at least the above ten pieces of information in your future discussions of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion, you will not only be enlivening your talk by disclosing facts which your audience finds astounding, but you will also be replacing hate propaganda with history.



Lubomyr Prytulak


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