I am writing in connection with the photograph in Time of February 22, 1993, p. 28, captioned: "Traditions of atrocity: A Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians in Lvov, Poland, in 1945." I note, first of all, that Lvov is a Russian name and that the Ukrainian name is Lviv. Lviv is a city which is predominantly Ukrainian, which in 1945 was part of Soviet Ukraine, and which today is part of independent Ukraine. This point is not of great moment, but it already begins to suggest that the caption was not prepared by a scholar concerned with historical accuracy.
It is all the other information in that caption that is of considerable moment, and we are asked to take all of it on faith — the photograph itself confirms nothing. From the photograph, we cannot tell that it is 1945, that the location is Lviv, or that the girl is Jewish — for all we know, she may be Ukrainian. The photograph does show us a girl in a situation that was probably imposed on her by force or threat of force — still, we cannot be sure that she has been raped. And if raped, then who she has been raped by is certainly not evident from the photograph.
Assuming that this girl has been raped, who could have raped her? It is daylight, and she is sitting in the gutter in a street. There are people about. Question: who is able to rape a girl in broad daylight out in the street on which there are pedestrians? Who would have felt at sufficient leisure to first strip the girl of all her clothes except for her shoes? In its audacity and its assumption of impunity, this is a most unusual crime. Even though rape is commonplace in the United States, I venture to guess that you would have a hard time finding anything comparable to this, or a photograph of an American rape victim comparable to this photograph. In fact, the only conceivable way such a crime could have been committed is if the girl had been raped by a gang of soldiers — and for them to have done it in broad daylight in the gutter of a city street with people about, one would venture to guess that they must have been drunken soldiers.
Next question: what soldiers? Now that is an easy question to answer — the only soldiers in Lviv at that time were soldiers of the Red Army, predominantly Russians. The Red Army captured Lviv on July 27, 1944. From the way the onlookers in the photograph are dressed, we infer that it is cold, so if this is 1945, then it is either the early spring or late fall, which would mean that at the time of the photograph, the Red Army had been occupying Lviv from perhaps eight to fifteen months. Among the first acts of the Soviet occupiers had been to arrest large numbers of Ukrainians and to begin large-scale executions and deportations. The Ukrainian population was in a state of terror, its leadership decimated. Any Ukrainians who had been under arms (as the Ukrainian Revolutionary Army or UPA, or the Ukrainian units within the German armed forces) had long ago retreated before the advance of the Red Army, and if captured would have been executed.
And so the caption does not hang together, does it? If this girl had been raped by anybody, it must have been by a gang of soldiers, and yet the only soldiers in the area were those of the Red Army. In your own article, you point out how the Red Army condoned or encouraged the rape of German women, and that Stalin took a permissive view toward rape. Ukrainian women, furthermore, would have been in the same category as German women, because Ukrainians fought the advancing Russians, even to the point of having Ukrainian units among the German forces; and following the occupation, Ukrainians continued to resist Russian occupation. Jewish women were not, however, in the same vulnerable category at all — under Soviet rule, Jews were an especially-protected group, the penalty for any act of anti-semitism, let alone rape, being death. The Jews predominantly welcomed the Soviet occupiers and under them reassumed positions of dominance. In 1945, then, it is not the case that Jewish women in Lviv were being raped by anybody, let alone by Ukrainians. If anybody was being raped, it was Ukrainian women by Russians. If that had been your caption, then at least it would have had some historical plausibility.
There are other small peculiarities. The assisting woman seems to have a skewer passing through her right thigh just above the knee. The victim has a line which looks like it might be a necklace or the top of a slip above her breasts and continuing behind her outstretched fingers — and yet a necklace doesn't seem plausible and neither does a slip, as she seems to be naked. The large black shape on the upper-right is not recognizable. I repeat that these do not strike me as being material points — but they do indicate that it is far from the case that this photograph is clear and that its interpretation is straightforward.
There are several things about this photograph that are incongruous. Picture a naked young girl who has been raped sitting in a gutter. Passersby approach her, and some begin to help. What is the first thing they would do? Let us recollect that it is cold out, that this girl has been naked for awhile, perhaps forced to lie on the cold stone while being raped. The feel of the stone would be like ice to her. She would be shivering uncontrollably. Her nakedness would be humiliating. ... Do you get it?
Yes! The very first thing anybody would do to help her is to wrap her up in his or her coat! That would serve to cover her humiliating nakedness and it would begin to protect her from the cold. So here is a lady beside her that seems to be helping her, and yet she has not offered her coat. Nobody has offered a coat. This makes no sense.
And then again, where is the victim's coat? It is a cold day, and other people are wearing coats, so we would expect her to have been wearing one too. If she has been accosted and stripped and raped right on the street, then her own coat should be lying nearby and would have been available to provide protection. Did the drunken soldiers make off with it? This seems unlikely. A young girl's coat is not a great item of booty. The soldiers have no use for it themselves — they are big and this coat would be small, they are men and this would be a woman's coat, they are in uniform and this would be a civilian coat. Looting soldiers would be on the lookout for cigarettes, alcohol, money, jewellery — but not a girl's coat. In any case, if clothing is scarce and has value, then why wouldn't they also have taken the girl's shoes? Or, if that is a necklace across the victim's chest, then why wouldn't the soldiers have taken that?
And just what is the helping lady doing? My first impression was that she was helping the victim on with her underpants, but upon reflection I realize that this would not be a sensible thing to do. Imagine in the United States that a girl runs naked out of a burning house, say, and is sitting hysterical in the cold in the gutter — would we think that it was natural that someone should come along and rather than getting her up out of the gutter and wrapping something around her, would instead leave her sitting in the gutter and begin helping her on with her underpants? No, we would not. This would be a strange and unusual way of rendering aid. And on top of that, if we look more closely, this thing that the lady has hold of and seems to be pulling upward does not look at all like a pair of underpants — it looks more like a kerchief. And if it were underpants, then the lady would have had to get the girl's feet into them and to have slid them up the girl's shanks and past her knees, and so the girl would not have been sitting like she is with her feet folded under her and with this cloth — whatever it is — jammed tightly between her shank and her thigh. Perhaps it is her own dress that the victim has been clutching to her front and which the helping lady is trying to disengage so as to be able to use it to re-clothe the victim. In fact, this cloth that is trapped and that the lady is pulling on may continue under the victim's right thigh and then may continue in what can be seen as some cloth coming up between the girl's thighs and over the top of her left thigh — but this supposition leaves us with the incongruity that the cloth is so tightly wound and trapped that the helping lady has no chance of extricating it by pulling on its end as she is doing, and would have been better off to pull upward at the main part of it that is between the girl's thighs so as to force the end that she is presently tugging on to slip back down and so release the whole. I don't have any good interpretation of what is happening here — I merely offer that this is another aspect of the photograph that strikes me as mystifying.
Imagine that you see lying on the street the victim of some violent crime. You are curious, but as the victim is already receiving assistance, you feel no need to render any yourself. But you do want to watch. Question: how close would you stand? In my own case, the very closest would be something like ten feet. More likely, it would be twenty or thirty or more. To come any closer would to be betray a sense of curiousity that was indiscreetly morbid or lascivious. To stand closer would be to gratify one's own curiousity at the expense of the victim's right to privacy. She has been traumatized, and one simply does not walk right up to such a person and add to her humiliation by staring down at her. To come too close would be encroaching on her personal space at a time when her personal space had justifiably shot out to about 30 feet.
Now look at how close the bystanders are standing in this photograph. There is a man whose toe is about six inches from the girl's foot! Try this — have somebody get down on the ground and then walk up to that person and place yourself so that your toe is six inches away from him or her, and ask yourself is this how close you would ever stand to get a look at a naked rape victim sitting in the gutter of a street? It is not. If you came that close, you would have to tip your head forward and look down at her from above, something that would be blatantly inappropriate.
And it isn't just this one man. In front of him we see the tip of someone else's shoe — not as close to the victim, but still well within the proscribed zone. And behind these two is a lady doing something strange — she is standing on the curb with both toes hanging over the edge, the right one by perhaps two inches, and the left one by perhaps five inches. Why anybody would sacrifice the stability of having both feet planted squarely on flat ground is unclear. As she is standing upright in a row of spectators, she is not rendering assistance, and so has no business standing that close, and yet instead of drawing back, she inches herself forward even to the point of having her toes hanging out over the edge of the curb. And behind her there are some shapes which might be — it is not absolutely clear — a man with one foot up on the curb and the other in the gutter — again seeming to strain to get obtrusively close. One almost imagines the photographer saying, "Would everybody move in please so that I get you all in the picture?" and then everybody shuffling forward into an inappropriate proximity in order to comply with his request.
Photographer? Yes — what's he doing there? Between the end of a rape and the time that a passerby offers some protective wrapping to the victim who is lying or sitting naked on a cold street should be no more than than a matter of a minute — and yet somehow we have a photographer who happens to be on hand to photograph this victim during that critical minute. A strange coincidence. If Lviv were in a state of war or insurrection, then yes, there would be many horrific things going on constantly, and so a photographer roaming around would be able to photograph many scenes of violence — but such is not the case here. Lviv has been at peace for some eight to fifteen months, and the streets are tranquil, and a broad-daylight open-air rape is a rare phenomenon, and so by what stroke of luck was the photographer able to be on hand immediately following its conclusion?
What of the girl herself? Even she is not behaving as one might expect. One might expect her to be cold and mortified by her nakedness, and so to be sitting huddled with her hands wrapped around her both to cover herself and as a defense against the cold. One might expect her to be stunned, in a state of shock, and therefore passive, head bent down. One might expect that she would be burning with shame and reluctant to meet anyone's gaze, and so to have lowered her eyes and to be shutting out what was going on around her. If she was aware that she was being photographed, then her natural reaction would have been to lower or turn away her face, or to raise a hand to cover her face. We would expect her to be subdued and defeated rather than belligerant and vociferous. We would expect, in short, that her attitude would be like that of the raped Bosnian woman shown on the previous page of the same Time article.
But this is not at all the Lviv girl's attitude. She seems, rather, to be addressing the photographer. She has her hand outstretched toward him, she is reaching toward him, fingers fanned out as if she wanted to take something from him — and yet hers is not a suppliant or tearful request, but more of an angry and indignant demand, as if insisting that something rightfully hers be returned to her. At that very moment in her life, what would it be that she wanted most? It would be one thing only — she would have wanted to cover her nakedness and to be protected from the cold. With this in mind, her gesture strikes me as being compatible with a statement such as "Give me back my coat! How could you have taken my coat away from me! I need it!" This is not a statement that makes sense to me or that I am proposing as true — it merely represents the sort of statement that strikes me as being compatible with her gesture and expression.
Could it be a plea for help? This does not seem likely. The girl already has a lady sitting down on the ground helping her to whom she would naturally address any requests for help, and it does not seem plausible that she would have singled out a photographer standing farther away as having an interest or an ability to help her greater than that of other bystanders. If the girl wanted another person helping her, then she would more likely have addressed one of the females among the bystanders, such as the lady standing directly behind her with her toes hanging out over the edge of the curb.
Could the girl be protesting that the photographer is taking a picture of her? Perhaps, but her reaction does not strike me as being plausible. As discussed above, we would have expected her to be stunned, subdued, withdrawn, in a state of shock, feeling impotent toward the world, and if she noticed a photographer at all, her natural reaction would have been to hide her face, use her free arm to cover her breasts, and to resign herself to the realization that the photographer's behavior was beyond her control. In any case, she would not necessarily have assumed that the photographer was from a tabloid which next day on its front page would show her naked for all of Lviv to gaze at — more likely she would have taken him to be some official photographer or a police photographer, whose work was necessary and not threatening to herself.
At the time of this incident, Lviv had been free of war for from eight to fifteen months. If the incident is as described in your caption, then there should be a police report on it, and perhaps newspaper accounts of it. Someone should know the exact date of the incident and the girl's name, at least. Now as both newspapers and police were under Soviet control, then if in fact this was either a Ukrainian or a Jewish girl who had been raped by Russian soldiers, we might still expect that the incident would be reported instead as a Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians. To the Soviets who had among other things apparently succeeded in pinning their own Katyn forest massacre on the Germans, the pinning of a single rape on Ukrainians would not have posed any insurmountable moral dilemma.
In any case, such documentation would be a place to begin trying to answer the many questions raised above. If the suppliers of this photograph cannot offer any such documentation, then we would be left free to suppose that some Soviet propagandist had come across the photograph, recognized its uniqueness, and jotted down under it an interpretation that suited the ideology of his employers without worrying too much about all the incongruities, and that this annotation was all that anybody was relying on today. In view of the many incongruities in the photograph, the possibility that it was staged should not be ruled out either.
One thing I expect never to see in Time magazine is a picture of a white woman with the caption that she has been "raped by blacks." You would not publish this because you would recognize that it aroused dangerous animosities, and that the crimes of individuals should not be placed at the doorstep of entire groups. And so in the case of the Lviv photograph, even if it were conclusively proven that the photograph was authentic and its caption was accurate, you might still have considered not using the photograph or at least of softening its caption — the event alluded to is almost half a century old, and it does not exemplify an instance of widescale rape the way that, say, the Russian raping of German women does.
But going even farther than that, I would certainly never expect you to publish a picture of a white woman with a caption indicating that she has been "raped by blacks" if that photograph and that caption had been supplied to you by the Ku Klux Klan — and yet that is the sort of thing you are doing when you publish a photograph accusing Ukrainians of crimes when that photograph and that information originate from a Soviet source. We should remember that the Soviets have a history of publishing disinformation about Ukrainians and of inviting animosity between Ukrainians and Jews, with the chief motive of undermining Ukrainiane's claim to independence.
Both Ukraine and Israel today stand in precarious positions, and they can either both be strengthened by the revival of old friendships or weakened by the incitement of old hatreds. Anyone preferring the path of inciting old hatreds does both nations a great disservice and benefits only Russia, the historical instigator of strife between Ukrainians and Jews.