Magocsi   Letter 01   12-Dec-1997   I question your suitability for the position that you occupy
December 12, 1997

Robert Paul Magocsi
Department of History
University of Toronto
Toronto, ON M5S 1A1

Dear Professor Magocsi:

I have recently begun to read your A History of Ukraine (1996), and so far I am disappointed.

Take your treatment of the Khmelnytsky uprising of 1648, for example.  If I had been handed this section to read without knowing the author, I might have guessed Simon Wiesenthal, grand calumniator of Ukraine.

The Hannover Calumny

What is the salient image that a reader of your description of the Khmelnytsky uprising will come away with?  It is the graphic details of the tortures supposedly inflicted by Ukrainians upon Jews.  You highlight these in a gray box occupying a page and a half (pp. 201-202), and in this box you feature the writing of Nathan Hannover.  As part of that box you provide three direct quotations from Hannover, with the quotations alone occupying some 408 words.  There is no other gray box in this chapter, and there are no other direct quotations approaching anything like this length, or indeed requiring to be presented with block-quote indentation.  These quotations of Hannover depict tortures than which it is impossible to imagine anything more brutal and sadistic.  So gut-wrenching are these descriptions that they may be the most vivid and indelible in your entire book.  As memory fades in the years after studying, or merely reading, your book, students or readers may be left ultimately with only the single image of Ukrainians savagely torturing and murdering Jews.  This may be the chief legacy of your work.

If we knew the events described by Hannover to have occurred, then there might be some justification for depicting them at such length and in such detail and with such prominence.  However, Hannover is universally recognized as being unreliable.  You yourself admit that "almost without exception, today's specialists on the period reject what they describe as the grossly exaggerated figures in the chronicles."  It must be your assumption, then, that while Hannover's statistics are to be rejected as gross exaggerations, yet his depiction of events is to be accepted as accurate — an assumption for which you provide no justification and for which some readers may find it difficult to imagine any justification.  Hannover wrote, furthermore, in a credulous age when the most fantastic statements were capable of being believed — much more so than even today — and yet you ask us today to accept his words as if they were those of a modern writer with an unimpeachable commitment to accuracy.  However, our best guess would be that Hannover's work is not faithful history, but is, rather, a partisan polemic, the work of a hysterical, Ukrainophobic Jew bent on writing the strongest piece of hate literature that his fevered imagination, put into hyperbolic mode, was capable of creating.  Most plausibly, Hannover had heard second-hand of a great deal of violence, may even have witnessed some, and as a result was now so incensed against Ukrainians, and so determined to incense all Jews against them, that he piled one wild, incredible image upon another, unrestrained by the fear of ever being contradicted.  In his curses against Khmelnytsky alone ("may his name be blotted out, may God send a curse upon him"), Hannover reveals that he is in the throes of venting his strongest emotions and unlikely to be able to calm himself enough to write a truthful narrative.  As a case history in abnormal psychology, Hannover's work might be without parallel, but why do you give it such deferential prominence in a history text?  Why have you allowed this unreliable source to implant what may be the most powerful and unforgettable images in the entire book?  Why in a history of Ukraine do you feature so prominently and so trustingly calumnies concerning Ukraine?

Below I repeat a portion of the Hannover calumny that you have included in your book.  I do so to demonstrate exactly what sort of material it is that you chose to include — indeed, to feature — in your book, and that I am objecting to.  That is my reason for quoting it.  But what was yours?  The only reason that I can imagine is that you chose to ingratiate yourself with the enemies of Ukraine.  When you quoted from the Hannover calumny as below, it was the favor of the enemies of Ukraine that you sought to win, and their applause that you anticipated hearing:

Whoever failed to escape or was unable to flee was killed.  These persons died cruel and bitter deaths.  Some were skinned alive and their flesh was thrown to the dogs; some had their hands and limbs chopped off, and their bodies thrown on the highway only to be trampled by wagons and crushed by horses; some had wounds inflicted upon them, and [were] thrown on the street to die a slow death; they writhed in their blood until they breathed their last; others were buried alive.  The enemy slaughtered infants in the laps of their mothers.  They were sliced into pieces like fish.  They slashed the bellies of pregnant women, removed their infants and tossed them in their faces.  Some women had their bellies torn open and live cats placed in them.  The bellies were then sewed up with the live cats remaining within.  They chopped off the hands of the victims so that they would not be able to remove the cats from the bellies.  The infants were hung on the breasts of their mothers.  Some children were pierced with spears, roasted on the fire and then brought to their mothers to be eaten.  Many times they used the bodies of Jewish children as improvised bridges upon which they later crossed.  There was no cruel device of murder in the whole world that was not perpetrated by the enemies.  All the four death penalties; stoning, burning, beheading, and strangling were meted out to the Jews.  Many were taken by the Tatars into captivity.  Women and virgins were ravished.  ...  Similar atrocities were perpetrated in all the settlements through which they passed.  Also against the Polish people, these cruelties were perpetrated, especially against the priests and bishops.  (Nathan Hannover, Abyss of Despair, in Robert Paul Magocsi, 1996, 201-202)

Further to your focusing on Ukrainian atrocities during the Khmelnytsky rebellion, it would seem that any balanced presentation would have pointed out that atrocities were committed by both sides.  Thus, Israel Shahak, who I quote more fully and cite below, states that Khmelnytsky's was "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."  It would seem, then, that if your goal was only to arouse your students' morbid curiosity with graphic scenes of torture and killing, you could have presented descriptions also of atrocities coming from the Polish-Jewish direction which Shahak describes as "even more horrible" than those coming from the Ukrainian direction.  But you do not impartially describe atrocities from both sides, but only from the Ukrainian side, and so you thus leave your reader with the mistaken impression that the Ukrainian side was the only one to commit atrocities.

The fact that atrocities were committed by both sides — and that the Polish-Jewish atrocities were worse — also bears on our evaluation of Hannover's credibility.  Hannover, if I am not mistaken, describes no Polish-Jewish atrocities against Ukrainians.  This alone helps us to mark his book not as history but as polemic.

The Czaplinski Raid

Other details of your coverage of the 1648 uprising similarly suggest that your orientation is anti-Ukrainian, and that your writing is not objective, but rather echoes Ukrainophobic themes dictated by political correctness.

For example, here is your description of the Czaplinski raid:

Just before Czaplinski won the hand of Helena, he raided Khmel'nyts'kyi's estate at Subotiv, appropriated its movable property, and at some point flogged the Cossack leader's son, who as a result of his injuries died soon after.  (p. 197)

It may surprise you to know that I view this sentence as expressing prejudice against Khmelnytsky.

To begin, why the neutral term "appropriated"?  Why not "stole" or "looted" or "plundered" or "despoiled"?  If you returned home one evening to find that burglars had driven a moving van up to your house and gutted it, would you call 911 with the complaint that your furniture had been "appropriated"?  If the Czaplinski raid was conducted suddenly, and was effected by force of arms, then surely any impartial observer would judge that "looted" or "plundered" would be the appropriate and accurate descriptions, and "appropriated" would draw attention to itself as unduly straining to avoid expressing disapproval of the act.

Furthermore, was it really only the "movable property" that was plundered? — I had the impression that the entire estate was confiscated.  By omitting mention that the Czaplinski raid was not merely a single incursion, but rather a permanent despoliation, you belittle Khmelnytsky's grievance.  You do outline Khmelnytsky's attempts to win redress from the Polish courts and from the Polish authorities, but you never specify what wrong it is that Khmelnytsky is attempting to redress:

In response to the raid on his estate, Khmel'nyts'kyi sought justice in the local court but was unsuccessful.  He then journeyed to Warsaw and put his case before the Polish Senate.  There, too, he received no satisfaction.  While in the capital, he even turned to King Wladyslaw, who, though he sympathized with Khmel'nyts'kyi, admitted that he was powerless to intervene....  (Paul Robert Magocsi, 1996, p. 197)

The vagueness of describing Khmelnytsky's seeking redress as occurring merely "in response to the raid" indicates either an absence of historical information as to the purpose behind Khmelnytsky's efforts, or an attempt on your part to hide behind a wall of vagueness the magnitude of the wrongs committed against him.

And why include the phrase that Khmelnytsky's son had been flogged "at some point"?  What does the phrase "at some point" add to your statement?  What alternative does it exclude?  If you had omitted the expression "at some point," would you have left your reader in danger of erroneously concluding that the flogging had occurred "at no point" or "at all points"?  Surely every event that occurs does so "at some point," so that including the expression conveys no information.  If you are going to add it here, you might as well add it to every other event mentioned in your book.  But although the expression "at some point" carries no useful information, I think I can detect that it does invite an attitude — it invites the reader to view the flogging of Khmelnytsky's son as unplanned and incidental to the chief purposes of the raid — and for that reason less culpable — and also invites the reader to not linger over this detail too long or attach much importance to it.  This event, you imply, is not of sufficient importance to locate accurately in time, or within the sequence of events, so that "at some point" conveys "at no particular point that need concern us as the event is trivial."

And then too there is your statement that the son "as a result of his injuries died soon after."  The causal chain has several links: Czaplinski giving the command for the flogging, perhaps some underling performing the flogging, injuries being inflicted, time passing, the son dying as a result of the injuries.  By not following the links back to the first, you invite your reader to forget that Czaplinski himself is the first link in that chain, and that he bears full responsibility.  Thus, it might have been more accurate to skip mention of some of the intermediate links, and state that the son died not as a result of his injuries, but as a result of his beating; or better still to go back all the way to the source by saying simply that Czaplinski murdered Khmelnytsky's son.  The presence of an intermediate person carrying out Czaplinski's command does not in the least diminish Czaplinski's culpability, nor does the fact that death was not immediate, but delayed for a few hours or even a day or two.  In law, and in common parlance, Czaplinski murdered the son, and this is imperfectly captured in a wording that suggests that Czaplinski was guilty of no more than "flogging" and that the son died "as a result of his injuries."

Thus, a more accurate statement would have been that "the Polish nobleman, Czaplinski, raided Khmelnytsky's estate at Subotiv, plundered it, murdered the Cossack leader's son, and ultimately confiscated the estate itself.  The only effect of Khmelnytsky's appealing for redress of his grievances to the courts and to higher authorities was to get himself arrested, and it was only after his escape from imprisonment that the long-beleaguered and greatly-forbearing Khmelnytsky was finally incited to rebellion."  This would have been more accurate but less politically correct, as standing up for Ukraine is considered politically incorrect, and not all historians have the courage to do it.

I do not make much of the fact that other accounts of the Czaplinski raid also have Czaplinski abducting Helena, the woman whom the recently-widowed Khmelnytsky intended to marry.  This would have been one more heavy blow added to all the others that were being rained down by the Polish nobility upon Khmelnytsky's head.  Your account, in contrast, has Khmelnytsky still married during the raid, with Khmelnytsky's wife dying only afterward, which leaves Khmelnytsky with a smaller loss in the abduction of Helena — the abduction being now of someone more of a friend than a betrothed.  Perhaps you are right on this point.  Perhaps also Czaplinski did not (as Ukrainian legend would have it) abduct Helena, but rather (as you portray it) "won the hand of Helena" (p. 197).  Whether we have here an abduction of Khmelnytsky's betrothed, or the winning of the hand of a Helena to whom Khmelnytsky — being married — could lay no legitimate claim, I do not venture to guess.  I am concerned, however, about there being two such contrasting versions of the story, and I note that the alternative that you prefer is the anti-Ukrainian one.  I might add that if there is any doubt as to what really happened, then an impartial account would have had to acknowledge both possibilities.

I am puzzled, finally, by your presentation of the sequencing of the Helena abduction — or "winning" if you will — and the Czaplinski raid:

Just before Czaplinski won the hand of Helena, he raided Khmel'nyts'kyi's estate at Subotiv....  (p. 197)

Your wording makes it seem as if the raid was an incidental precursor to the winning of Helena's hand, as if the winning of Helena's hand was the more important event of the two.  But I wonder if it was, and I wonder if a more conventional wording would not throw a new light on the relation between the two events.  The more conventional wording would be "Just after Czaplinski raided Khmelnytsky's estate at Subotiv, he won the hand of Helena."  And just what new light does this more conventional wording throw on the relation between the two events?  Why it suggests that there may have been a causal connection — that following the raid, Khmelnytsky was dispossessed of his estate, was shown to be impotent in the face of Czaplinski's plunder of his estate and murder of his son, was preoccupied with his appeals to win back his estate and obtain redress from Czaplinski.  Helena, in turn, was faced with a Czaplinski who at the moment was arrogant, ruthless, and triumphant.  Under these stacked circumstances, and assuming that Khmelnytsky did want Helena for himself, would it be correct to describe Czaplinski's appropriation of Helena as a "winning of Helena's hand."  Even if Helena had not been physically carried off on horseback, the severe duress under which she found herself might have led another author to describe Czaplinski as having "intimidated" or "compelled" or "coerced" her into an alliance with him — a view supported by the observation that once Khmelnytsky's circumstances had improved, Helena came to him instead of staying with Czaplinski.

The Underlying Causes of the Rebellion

You must be aware that the typical Jewish view — and thus the prevailing popular view — of the Khmelnytsky rebellion was that it constituted a gratuitous outburst of anti-Semitism.  A historian writing about the rebellion, therefore, should have in mind the correction of this prevailing — but incorrect — view.  That is, the historian has an obligation to stress that the Khmelnytsky rebellion had as its foremost immediate cause the Czaplinski raid, and as its foremost underlying cause the extreme oppression of the peasantry.  It is in accurately depicting the nature of that extreme oppression of the peasantry that your work is most defective.

The closest that you come to describing this oppression is not while discussing the Khmelnytsky rebellion itself which begins on page 199, but long before that on page 144:

On magnate estates in Volhynia during the 1620s, however, the requirement was 4 to 6 days and, in some places, even 7 work days per week for a standard unit of land.  In a typical serf household, the husband and older sons spent most of their time fulfilling the ... requirement of the landlord, and the wife and younger children worked the small strips allotted to them in what was at best subsistence-level agriculture, that is, the raising of just enough food to support the family.  (Paul Robert Magocsi, 1996, p. 144)

My first objection is to your specifying work requirements as being "even 7 work days per week for a standard unit of land."  This statement is at best ambiguous, and at worst incorrect.  Specifically, I am experiencing difficulty with the meaning of "for a standard unit of land."  What land, whose land?  What I had expected was "even 7 work days per week for each adult Ukrainian male" — this being a statement that conjures up a concrete image.  But what does "even 7 work days per week for a standard unit of land" mean?  Does that somehow mean that in a family of 7 adult males, each is required (at most) to give a single day of labor to his landlord, this summing to the required 7 work days, and yet leaving each individual the remaining 6 days of the week for himself?  I think not — and yet that is a possibility that the wording you have chosen leaves open.

And in other places, you do make mention of tobacco and alcohol monopolies held by Jews, but your reader is not reminded of any of these things — neither of the labor requirements or of the monopolies — during your discussion of the Khmelnytsky rebellion.  The bare facts as stated by yourself are nowhere elaborated, and their weight and significance are never emphasized.  In fact, you repeatedly demonstrate that you do not view the Khmelnytsky rebellion as being caused by oppression, but only by the perception of oppression — as if you yourself could not bring yourself to agree that there had been any oppression.  For example, you say:

Not surprisingly, because they served as middlemen for Polish landlords, Jews became symbols of oppression and exploitation in the eyes of the Ukrainian peasant masses.  (Paul Robert Magocsi, 1996, p. 147)

As middlemen in the arenda system between the Polish landlords and the Ukrainian peasants, the Jews before long were perceived by Ukrainians as their oppressors.  (Paul Robert Magocsi, 1996, p. 337)

The impression that such a statement leaves in the reader's mind is that Jews were not oppressors, but only "symbols" of oppression, and that Jews did not truly oppress, but were only "perceived" to oppress, or only seemed to oppress "in the eyes of the Ukrainian peasant masses."  And your limiting of this perception of oppression to "Ukrainian peasant masses" is gratuitous and anti-Ukrainian — by this qualification you seem to imply that other Ukrainians — that is ones that did not fall into the category of "peasant masses," perhaps ones who were better educated and more objective — perceived no oppression, a possibility which at least some of your readers might like to see documented before crediting.  The possibility that your phrasing gratuitously excludes, though, is that most Ukrainians — whether belonging to peasant masses or not — perceived a very real oppression, as perhaps also did many Jews and also Poles.

Thus, the impression that reading your history leaves is of an author who shies away from taking a stand.  As a historian, you are in a position to judge whether the Ukrainian perception of oppression was accurate or inaccurate, reasonable or irrational — but you typically avoid venturing an opinion of your own, and in this avoidance you bow in submission to anti-Ukrainian forces.  Anybody who reads your work will be able to walk away from it with his Ukrainophobic prejudices undisturbed — that is, he will be able to continue believing that in truth the Khmelnytsky rebellion was primarily an outburst of irrational anti-Semitism, and the fact that the Khmelnytsky rebels perceived there to be oppression does not contradict this anti-Ukrainian view — of course the pogromists would have justified their violence by appealing to some imagined, some hallucinated, oppression.  Your historian's role in correcting popular misconceptions of the Khmelnytsky uprising, then, seems timidly played.

One has to turn to scholars unafraid of violating prohibitions of political correctness to find the truth expressed starkly and bluntly.  Here is one example of the sort of description of the Khmelnytsky uprising that I hoped to find in your book, but could not:

All over Europe the Jews enjoyed the greatest tranquillity during the eighteenth century.  In Poland alone they fared badly for having once lived too well.  They had been prosperous there up to the middle of the seventeenth century.  Rich, powerful, they had lived on an equal footing with the Christians, treated as though of the people amid whom they lived; but they could not help giving themselves up to their usual commerce, their vices, their passion for gold.  Dominated by the Talmudists they succeeded in producing nothing beyond commentators of the Talmud.  They were tax collectors, spirit-distillers, usurers, seigneurial stewards.  They were the noblemen's allies in their abominable work of oppression, and when the Cossacks of Ukraina and Little Russia had risen, under Chmielnicki, against Polish tyranny, the Jews, as accomplices of the lords, were the first to be massacred.  It is said that over 100,000 of them were killed in ten years, but just as many Catholics and especially Jesuits, were killed as well.  (Bernard Lazare, Antisemitism: its history and causes, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1995, p. 80.  Originally published in 1894 as L'Antisιmitisme, son histoire et ses causes.)

It is not enough that you merely mention the word "oppression" as a perception in the eyes of the Ukrainian serf — when in fact what is called for is a starker statement that the oppression was more than perceived, and that the oppression was of an unusual severity:

[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, 1994, p. 61)

Notice that Israel Shahak above shows no confusion concerning whether the oppression was real or only imagined by the serfs.  Notice too what a different light is thrown on the one hand by the mere mention of "oppression" as in your work, and on the other hand by the characterization of that oppression as "utter serfdom, hardly distinguishable from outright slavery and certainly the worst in Europe."

And here is Israel Shahak's depiction of the Khmelnytsky rebellion, so markedly different from your own:

Perhaps the most outstanding example [of rebellion against Jewish oppression] is the great massacre of Jews during the Chmielnicki revolt in the Ukraine (1648), which started as a mutiny of Cossack officers but soon turned into a widespread popular movement of the oppressed serfs: "The unprivileged, the subjects, the Ukrainians, the Orthodox [persecuted by the Polish Catholic church] were rising against their Catholic Polish masters, particularly against their masters' bailiffs, clergy and Jews."  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, 1994, pp. 64-65)

Jewish culture in Ukraine.  You point out how images of shtetl life in Ukraine gave birth to the musical Fiddler on the Roof (p. 340).  I would venture to suggest that the causal direction is occasionally reversed, and that Fiddler on the Roof sometimes gives historians their view of shtetl life, and also of Jewish culture, religion, and ideology in Ukraine, and that this view is inaccurate.

The closest that you yourself come to describing Jewish culture in Ukraine is to state that:

The shtetl had an atmosphere of its own that was governed by two basic values: (1) humaneness ..., which made it an environment in which economic and psychological support could be found in times of crisis as well as on an everyday basis; and (2) Jewishness ..., a religious environment, both at home and on the streets, that provided daily spiritual sustenance in the midst of an otherwise alien Christian world.  Daily life in the shtetl revolved around the synagogue, the home, and the market, which was also the place where Jews interacted with their non-Jewish neighbors (goyim).  (Paul Robert Magocsi, 1996, p. 340)

This rosy picture of a wholesome and inoffensive Jewish culture in Ukraine, however, is incomplete.  By itself, without elaboration or qualification, it is not history, but rather the transposition of a Broadway musical onto the pages of a history textbook.  The chief defects of your picture are that it ignores the vast amount of oppression that was practiced within the Jewish community, and that it ignores also that the humaneness was reserved for other Jews, so that very little was left over for Ukrainians.

In reality, Jewish culture in Ukraine during the time of Khmelnytsky and right up into the 19th century was oppressive, coercive, totalitarian, and founded more than anything else upon an incessant inculcation of hatred toward Ukrainians, and toward all gentiles.  Although there must have been much rosiness, and the humaneness and benevolence that you describe must have also been prevalent, other tendencies within the culture are also worth noting, and may be of higher historical concern.

First I will give you a quotation indicative of the oppression that rabbis exercised against their own people, and I ask you to tell me whether this picture is in harmony with the benign picture that you have painted above, or whether it clashes.  The conclusion to which this statement leads is that it was not until the 19th century that Jews began to experience some emancipation from the ruthless and totalitarian control of their own religion:

[Just before 1832] Rabbi Moshe Sofer of Pressburg ... laments the fact that since the Jewish congregation in Vienna lost its powers to punish offenders, the Jews there have become lax in matters of religious observance, and adds: "Here in Pressburg, when I am told that a Jewish shopkeeper dared to open his shop during the Lesser Holidays, I immediately send a policeman to imprison him."
  This is the most important social fact of Jewish existence before the advent of the modern state: observance of the religious laws of Judaism, as well as their inculcation through education, were enforced on Jews by physical coercion....
  However, once the modern state had come into existence, the Jewish community lost its powers to punish and intimidate the individual Jew.  The bonds of one of the most closed of "closed societies," one of the most totalitarian societies in the whole history of mankind, were snapped.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 15)

The second passage from Shahak below echoes the same theme, but is more relevant to our discussion, as the two incidents it describes both took place in Ukraine:

Nicholas I of Russia was a notorious antisemite and issued many laws against the Jews of his state.  But he also strengthened the forces of "law and order" in Russia — not only the secret police but also the regular police and the gendarmerie — with the consequence that it became difficult to murder Jews on the order of their rabbis, whereas in pre-1795 Poland it had been quite easy.  "Official" Jewish history condemns him on both counts.  For example, in the late 1830s a "Holy Rabbi" (Tzadik) in a small Jewish town in the Ukraine ordered the murder of a heretic by throwing him into the boiling water of the town baths, and contemporary Jewish sources note with astonishment and horror that bribery was "no longer effective" and that not only the actual perpetrators but also the Holy Man were severely punished.  The Metternich regime of pre-1848 Austria was notoriously reactionary and quite unfriendly to Jews, but it did not allow people, even liberal Jewish rabbis, to be poisoned.  During 1848, when the regime's power was temporarily weakened, the first thing the leaders of the Jewish community in the Galician city of Lemberg (now Lvov) did with their newly regained freedom was to poison the liberal rabbi of the city, whom the tiny non-Orthodox Jewish group in the city had imported from Germany.  One of his greatest heresies, by the way, was the advocacy and actual performance of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, which had recently been invented.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, pp. 16-17)

The rabbinical opposition to heresy was not limited to the occasional attack upon a lone heretic — rather, it suppressed all independent thought and all non-religious learning:

The Jews of Europe ... were dominated, before about 1780, by a supreme contempt and hate for all learning (excluding the Talmud and Jewish mysticism).  ...  Study of all languages was strictly forbidden, as was the study of mathematics and science.  Geography, history — even Jewish history — were completely unknown.  The critical sense, which is supposedly so characteristic of Jews, was totally absent, and nothing was so forbidden, feared and therefore persecuted as the most modest innovation or the most innocent criticism.
  It was a world sunk in the most abject superstition, fanaticism and ignorance, a world in which the preface to the first work on geography in Hebrew (published in 1803 in Russia) could complain that very many great rabbis were denying the existence of the American continent and saying that it is "impossible."  (Israel Shahak, 1994, pp. 18-19)

Although the Broadway musical view may be that the surrounding gentile culture from which the Jews chose to isolate themselves oppressed them, the politically-incorrect reality is that the surrounding Gentile culture fought — and ultimately won — the emancipation of Jews from the oppression of their own rabbis:

In the countries of east Europe as well as in the Arab world, the Jews were liberated from the tyranny of their own religion and of their own communities by outside forces....  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 17)

These are not thoughts and images that anyone will find in Fiddler on the Roof; but it might be advisable for historians to describe in their work just such thoughts and images because they are true, and to eschew the Broadway and Hollywood stereotypes because they are false.  That the Slavic culture in which the Jews of Russia and Ukraine were immersed was responsible for the emancipation of these same Jews from the stark oppression of coercive and totalitarian rabbis has not, as far as I know, been taken as a fit subject for a Broadway musical, and perhaps for this reason has not as yet made its appearance in many history texts.

But the discussion immediately above touches on the topic of how Jews treated each other, and our interest here is more with how they treated the Gentiles who surrounded them or over whom they ruled.  What was the Jewish orientation toward non-Jews?

Judaism is imbued with a very deep hatred towards Christianity, combined with ignorance about it.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 97)

Everywhere, classical Judaism developed hatred and contempt for agriculture as an occupation and for peasants as a class, even more than for other Gentiles — a hatred of which I know no parallel in other societies.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 53)

The following statement holds particular significance:

The peasant suffered worse oppression at the hands of both landlords and Jews; and one may assume that, except in times of peasant uprisings, the full weight of the Jewish religious laws against Gentiles fell upon the peasants.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 63)

The particular significance to which I refer lies in the words "Jewish religious laws against Gentiles."  What were these "Jewish religious laws against Gentiles" and just what does it mean that the "full weight" of these laws "fell upon the peasants"?  Israel Shahak details some of these Jewish religious laws against Gentiles whose full weight fell upon the peasants, and I reproduce below a sampling of these laws.

Jewish religious laws against gentiles.


A Jew who murders a Gentile is guilty only of a sin against the laws of Heaven, not punishable by a court.  To cause indirectly the death of a Gentile is no sin at all.
  ...  When it comes to a Gentile, "one must not lift one's hand to harm him, but one may harm him indirectly, for instance by removing a ladder after he had fallen into a crevice ... there is no prohibition here, because it was not done directly."  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 76)

As for Gentiles, the basic talmudic principle is that their lives must not be saved, although it is also forbidden to murder them outright.  The Talmud itself expresses this in the maxim "Gentiles are neither to be lifted [out of a well] nor hauled down [into it]."  Maimonides explains:
As for Gentiles with whom we are not at war ... their death must not be caused, but it is forbidden to save them if they are at the point of death; if, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued....
(Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 80)

For example, suppose nine Gentiles and one Jew live in the same building.  One Saturday the building collapses; one of the ten — it is not known which one — is away, but the other nine are trapped under the rubble.  Should the rubble be cleared, thus desecrating the sabbath, seeing that the Jew may not be under it (he may have been the one that got away)?  The Shulhan 'Arukh says that it should, presumably because the odds that the jew is under the rubble are high (nine to one).  But now suppose that nine have got away and only one — again, it is not known which one — is trapped.  Then there is no duty to clear the rubble, presumably because this time there are long odds (nine to one) against the Jew being the person trapped.  Similarly: "If a boat containing some Jews is seen to be in peril upon the sea, it is a duty incumbent upon all to desecrate the sabbath in order to save it."  However, ... this applies only "when it is known that there are Jews onboard.  But ... if nothing at all is known about the identity of those on board, [the sabbath] must not be desecrated, for one acts according to [the weight of probabilities, and] the majority of people in the world are Gentiles."  Thus, since there are very long odds against any of the passengers being Jewish, they must be allowed to drown.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 82)


A Jewish doctor must not treat a Gentile patient.  Maimonides — himself an illustrious physician — is quite explicit on this ... that it is forbidden to heal a Gentile even for payment....  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 80)

In order to avoid any transgression of the law, there is a legally acceptable method of rendering treatment on behalf of a gentile patient even when dealing with violation of Biblical Law.  It is suggested that at the time that the physician is providing the necessary care, his intentions should not primarily be to cure the patient, but to protect himself and the Jewish people from accusations of religious discrimination and severe retaliation that may endanger him in particular and the Jewish people in general.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 86)


Sexual intercourse between a married Jewish woman and any man other than her husband is a capital offence for both parties....  The status of Gentile women is very different.  ...  According to the Talmudic Encyclopedia: "... although a married Gentile woman is forbidden to the Gentiles, in any case a Jew is exempted."
  This does not imply that sexual intercourse between a Jewish man and a Gentile woman is permitted — quite the contrary.  But the main punishment is inflicted on the Gentile woman; she must be executed, even if she was raped by the Jew: "If a Jew has coitus with a Gentile woman, whether she be a child of three or an adult, whether married or unmarried, and even if he is a minor aged only nine years and one day — because he had wilful coitus with her, she must be killed, as is the case with a beast, because through her a Jew got into trouble."  The Jew, however, must be flogged....  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 87)


Taking of interest.  Many — though not all — rabbinical authorities, including Maimonides, consider it mandatory to exact as much usury as possible on a loan to a Gentile.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 89)

Lost property.  If a Jew finds property whose probable owner is Jewish, the finder is strictly enjoined to make a positive effort to return his find by advertising it publicly.  In contrast, the Talmud and all the early rabbinical authorities not only allow a Jewish finder to appropriate an article lost by a Gentile, but actually forbid him or her to return it.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 89)

Deception in business.  It is a grave sin to practice any kind of deception whatsoever against a Jew.  Against a Gentile it is only forbidden to practice direct deception.  Indirect deception is allowed, unless it is likely to cause hostility towards Jews or insult to the Jewish religion.  The paradigmatic example is mistaken calculation of the price during purchase.  If a Jew makes a mistake unfavourable to himself, it is one's religious duty to correct him.  If a Gentile is spotted making such a mistake, one need not let him know about it, but say "I rely on your calculation," so as to forestall his hostility in case he subsequently discovers his own mistake.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 89)

Fraud.  It is forbidden to defraud a Jew by selling or buying at an unreasonable price.  However, "Fraud does not apply to Gentiles...."  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 89)

Theft and robbery.  ...  Robbery (with violence) is strictly forbidden if the victim is Jewish.  However, robbery of a Gentile by a Jew is not forbidden outright but only under certain circumstances such as "when the Gentiles are not under our rule," but is permitted "when they are under our rule."  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 90)


At the root of this religious obligation [to keep a Gentile slave enslaved for ever but to set a Jewish slave free after seven years, is the fact that] the Jewish people are the best of the human species, created to know their Creator and worship Him, and worthy of having slaves to serve them.  And if they will not have slaves of other peoples, they would have to enslave their brothers....  Therefore we are commanded to possess those [Gentiles] for our service....  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 95)

Anyone who lives in Israel knows how deep and widespread these attitudes of hatred and cruelty towards all Gentiles are among the majority of Israeli Jews.  Normally these attitudes are disguised from the outside world, but since the establishment of the State of Israel, the 1967 war and the rise of Begin, a significant minority of Jews, both in Israel and abroad, have gradually become more open about such matters.  In recent years the inhuman precepts according to which servitude is the "natural" lot of Gentiles have been publicly quoted in Israel, even on TV, by Jewish farmers exploiting Arab labour, particularly child labour.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 96)


A pious Jew must utter a curse when passing near a Gentile cemetery, whereas he must bless God when passing near a Jewish cemetery.  A similar rule applies to the living; thus, when seeing a large Jewish population a devout Jew must praise God, while upon seeing a large Gentile population he must utter a curse.  Nor are buildings exempt: the Talmud lays down that a Jew who passes near an inhabited non-Jewish building must ask God to destroy it, whereas if the building is in ruins he must thank the Lord of Vengeance.  ...  It became customary to spit (usually three times) upon seeing a church or a crucifix....  There is also a series of rules forbidding any expression of praise for Gentiles or for their deeds....  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 93)

What we have seen farther above, then, is that in the time of Khmelnytsky, Jews were given near-absolute powers over Ukrainians, and that through the exercise of these powers they ruthlessly reduced Ukrainians to conditions described by Shahak in such words as "utterly enslaved peasantry" or "utter serfdom, hardly distinguishable from outright slavery."  And what we have just seen in the above sampling of Jewish religious laws is that the all-powerful Jew lived and breathed an ideology that permitted — and more typically even commanded — him to kill Ukrainians, deny them medical treatment, work them like animals, rape them, defraud them, curse them.  The Ukrainian was little better than a beast of burden and had small protection from whatever abuse his Jewish overlord chose to heap on him, or whatever extortion he chose to practice upon him.  And so it is particularly the existence and implementation of such Jewish religious laws against Gentiles in general — and thus also against Ukrainians in particular — as those mentioned above that justifies Shahak's describing Jews at the time of the Khmelnytsky rebellion as being superstitious, fanatical, stifling, exploitative, and oppressive:

In the period of 1500-1795, one of the most superstition-ridden in the history of Judaism, Polish Jewry was the most superstitious and fanatic of all Jewish communities.  The considerable power of the Jewish autonomy was used increasingly to stifle all original or innovative thought, to promote the most shameless exploitation of the Jewish poor by the Jewish rich in alliance with the rabbis, and to justify the Jews' role in the oppression of the peasants in the service of the nobles.  (Israel Shahak, 1994, p. 63)

The above picture of Jewish culture in Ukraine, then, has been entirely banned from your book and replaced instead by a buoyant Broadway-musical stage set which is unreal and whose presentation serves to obscure the chief underlying causes of the Khmelnytsky rebellion, and thus serves also to perpetuate the popular view that the rebellion was a spontaneous outburst of anti-Semitism.


In conclusion, I am disappointed to find that a history of Ukraine written by a faculty member at Canada's most prestigious university shows unmistakable signs of being anti-Ukrainian.  The anti-Ukrainian perversion of history, it seems to me, is already broadcast far and wide in our society, so that it needs no reinforcement from the halls of academe, and being wrong, it deserves none.  Surely the one place that the Ukrainian view should at least be given a rare hearing would be from the lips of an academic teaching Ukrainian history in the most prominent academic forum in the nation — but instead, that forum is used to echo, and thus to inculcate even more strongly, calumnies concerning Ukraine.

Thus, I question your suitability for the position that you occupy, and I urge Ukrainians generally to recognize that the role you have chosen to play is both hostile to truth and harmful to Ukrainian interests.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak