The picture's somewhat murky past
Toward the bottom of the present page is a TIME magazine editorial which constitutes TIME's retraction and apology for publishing a photograph which I refer to as the Wallowing Photograph and whose caption read: "Traditions of atrocity: A Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians in Lvov, Poland, in 1945." This photograph with caption can be examined in any of three sizes by clicking on any of the three thumbnail images which appear on the WALLOWING page whose link can be seen at the very top and very bottom of the present page, or else by clicking on any of the following three links, which will take the user to images differing only in size: 136 Kb, 544 Kb, 1,393 Kb
When TIME's retraction and apology below were published, it was only after a long hard battle. My feelings in response to the retraction were that TIME had gone as far as it was going to go — that if so much effort had been required to budge TIME from a position that was blatantly incorrect, then a much greater effort would be required to budge it from its new position which was less blatantly incorrect. The energy required for a further victory in comparison to the magnitude of what that victory might be led many protestors, I think, to gladly lay down their arms. One could not forget, furthermore, that TIME magazine weilded great influence over world opinion, and so that if any opportunity for accomodation arose, it should be seized, even if some compromise was called for, or some disappointment felt. For such reasons, my impulse was to bury the hatchet and to commend TIME for its retraction, which I did in my letter of 21 Apr 93.
However, in view of my subsequent realization that TIME's was just one salvo in a barrage aimed at destroying Ukraine, and that this barrage would not stop, I have become less conciliatory, and now view TIME's retraction as having taken TIME merely from a gigantic lie to a big lie. Here is what I now find wrong with TIME's retraction.
(1) What "best efforts"? TIME gives the impression that it has made a serious attempt to discover the meaning of the Wallowing Photograph, and that it has failed to discover anything conclusive: "Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to pin down exactly what situation the photograph portrays." However, we are not told what these "best efforts" consisted of, and most particularly whether they included a visit to the U.S. National Archives in Washington. However, Marco Levytsky writes in the Ukrainian News that the Wallowing photograph is one of a series of 25 photographs taken during a Nazi propaganda event in Lviv in 1941, that a newsreel was shot at the same time, and that copies of both are available at the State Central Archives in Moscow and at the U.S. National Archives in Washington. Thus, it would seem to be a simple matter to have a TIME researcher examine these materials in Washington, and to determine conclusively whether the Wallowing Photograph was indeed part of an event staged and recorded by the Nazis, and whether the event included rape, and perhaps even whether the woman in the photograph was Jewish, and if there was any raping at all possibly even whether there was more than one rapist, and possibly even whether the rapist or rapists were Ukrainian. To "pin down exactly what situation the photograph portrays" may possibly require no more than a few hours labor for a single TIME researcher, and yet somehow TIME has not gone to the trouble.
TIME acknowledges guilt only for having misdated the photograph, and for having drawn possibly-erroneous conclusions from an ambiguous photograph. But it would have taken no more than a visit to the U.S. National Archives to evaluate the possibility that TIME had in fact been guilty of having drawn irresponsibly-erroneous conclusions from an unambiguous photograph. Our best information, and possibly TIME's best information, is that the photograph depicts a Nazi-staged "wallowing in the gutter," that the wallowing did not include rape, and that the woman in the photograph is more likely to be Ukrainian or Polish than Jewish. These are possibilities that were within TIME's ability to evaluate, but which TIME shrank from doing, or possibly did do but chose not to disclose the results. TIME lists a number of views concerning the photograph, but does so as if every view were just a matter of opinion so that any one was no better than any other, as if it was impossible to distinguish views that were backed by evidence from ones that were not.
(2) TIME indicted Ukrainians collectively. Suppose for the sake of argument that all the factual details of TIME's Wallowing Photograph caption had been true — that the girl was Jewish and that she had been raped by Ukrainians in "Lvov" in 1945. This still would not have justified the first three words of the caption: "Traditions of atrocity." From a gang rape by a few Ukrainians (which we are only hypothesizing for the sake of argument) one would not be justified in inferring a Ukrainian tradition. What TIME was saying was that Ukrainians are typified by painted Easter eggs, folk dances in baggy pants, and gang-rapes of Jewish girls in broad daylight in street gutters. Whether or not the latter activity exists as a Ukrainian tradition is an empirical question concerning which TIME failed to adduce any evidence.
(3) TIME does not apologize for its falsification of Professor Struk's letter. TIME's first attempt at atoning for the Wallowing Photograph was to publish Professor Danylo H. Struk's letter to the editor of TIME (15Mar93), but in doing so to gut it of its concrete accusations, and to falsify it so as to make it appear to agree with the Wallowing Photograph caption. This further demonstration of TIME magazine's lack of principle and contempt for Ukrainians has never been apologized for or acknowledged.
(4) TIME never acknowledged previous misuses of the Wallowing Photograph. As has been pointed out in a Ukrainian Weekly editorial, as well as in a letter to the editor of Ukrainian Weekly by Christina Milburn, the Wallowing Photograph had earlier appeared in at least three other publications with varying and discrepant captions, none of them being that the girl in the photograph was a Jew who had been raped by Ukrainians. This latter caption was a spontaneous and gratuitous creation of TIME magazine. Time never acknowledged the existence of these discrepant versions, and what is most reprehensible, never acknowledged that one of these discrepant versions was to be found in a Time-Life book. Thus, TIME's negligence consisted not merely of failing to notice that others had previously interpreted the Wallowing Photograph differently, but more importantly of failing to notice that its own corporate body had previously interpreted the Wallowing Photograph differently. A candid and sincere acknowledgement of wrongdoing would have published in TIME magazine a comparison of the several alternative captions that had been affixed to the Wallowing Photograph, particularly the one that had appeared in the Time-Life book juxtaposed beside the one that had appeared in the TIME magazine of 22 Feb 93.
(5) What does the picture illustrate? TIME's statement "We used this picture to illustrate the longtime use of rape as a weapon in warfare," would have been better re-written as "Our hope had been that this picture would illustrate the longtime use of rape as a weapon in warfare, but as the picture turned out to be unrelated to rape and as it had more to do with propaganda creation than soldiers in war, we admit that we were totally mistaken, and that the only thing that the picture in fact can be now seen to illustrate is how low journalistic standards are capable of falling."
(6) Are Ukrainian feelings the issue? TIME's statement that the photograph and caption "struck a nerve with readers of Ukrainian descent, who felt it unfairly singled out Ukrainians for committing acts of rape during World War II" draws attention away from whether the photograph was relevant to the TIME story, and whether its caption was correct, and draws attention to Ukrainian feelings. But Ukrainian feelings is not the issue. TIME's irresponsibility and duplicity is the issue.
Furthermore, did objections to the photo-with-caption come only from "readers of Ukrainian descent"? How can one tell? Are TIME letter readers trained in the detection of Ukrainian surnames? But some Ukrainians have non-Ukrainian surnames, or have changed to non-Ukrainian surnames. And some Ukrainian women have married non-Ukrainians and may be using their husband's surnames. Also, many Jews have Ukrainian surnames. Surely there must have been considerable ambiguity concerning the ethnicity of the "more than 750 readers" that TIME acknowledges having heard from. By giving the impression that oppostion to their photo-with-caption came only from Ukrainians, TIME distracts attention from the fact that the spreading of disinformation and hatred may be the concern of many TIME readers — whether Ukrainian or not — and indeed even of people who don't read TIME or don't write letters to the editor of TIME.
(7) NKVD murder of Ukrainians. TIME's statement that "The Germans spread rumors that Jews were responsible for the murders of several thousand political prisoners found in the cellars of Soviet NKVD buildings," gives the impression that the rumors were untrue and spread by manipulative Germans for consumption by gullible Ukrainians. The reality, however, is that there really were many thousands of Ukrainians who had been murdered by the NKVD immediately prior to the arrival of the Germans, that the NKVD was controlled by Jews, and that it would be less accurate to say that Germans spread rumors than to say that the local inhabitants naturally passed along information concerning the NKVD slaughter of their friends, relatives, and countrymen. The topic of the NKVD slaughter of Ukrainians is discussed under the heading What Happened in Liv? in my rebuttal of a later, and much more egregious, attack on Ukraine that was mounted by CBS television on October 23, 1994.
(8) What revenge? TIME passes along its off-the-top-of-my-head history of the German occupation of Ukraine with the same lack of reflection, and the same absence of grounding in fact, that characterized its passing along the original Wallowing Photograph caption. TIME's criterion seems to be that if something sounds approximately right to TIME staff, then it is permissible for TIME to proclaim it to the world as acknowledged fact. That Ukrainians should have taken revenge against Jews for the NKVD massacres and for Jewish dominance of the NKVD sounds about right, and so TIME slaps it into print in two statements: "The Germans spread rumors that Jews were responsible for the murders of several thousand political prisoners found in the cellars of Soviet NKVD buildings, thus fueling the hatred and the acts of revenge against local Jews that followed," and "The defenseless collaborators were then attacked by resentful residents for consorting with the Soviet enemy."
Unfortunately for TIME, things that sound totally plausible sometimes did not happen. In the case of Ukrainian revenge against Jews, leading Jewish-Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg flatly denies the existence of Ukrainian revenge, one inhibiting factor being that everyone feared the imminent return of the Soviet Army and the ensuing punishment for any attacks on Jews that had taken place. This topic is discussed under the heading What Happened in Lviv?, sub-heading Zero retribution, in my The Ugly Face of 60 Minutes. The historical surprise of zero Ukrainian retribution is another of the many things that TIME missed during the unveiling to the world of its off-the-cuff, sounds-right-to-me synopsis of events during the German occupation of Ukraine.
(9) The TIME disinformation originated in Israel. TIME's statement that "Except for the date, the information describing the events in the photo was obtained from an employee of a Holocaust museum in Israel," supports the interpretation that the photo-with-caption was not merely the mistake of caption-writer Eleanor Taylor, but was one attack in a much larger campaign originating from Israel. It is one of Ukraine's misfortunes to not grasp that TIME's was one small step toward the larger goal of undermining Ukraine's prestige, toward destroying its economy, and toward plundering its wealth, its brains, its talent, its women, its children, and even the very dead in its graves.
(10) TIME's inadequate retraction. TIME's admission of culpability is to be found in its final sentence: "But there is enough confusion about it for us to regret that our caption, in addition to misdating the picture, may well have conveyed a false impression." Therefore, in the end TIME does not admit to irresponsibility — and except for the matter of the date, does not admit even to error — TIME merely regrets that some readers may have gotten a false impression. The label "false" is not applied to TIME's caption, but only to the reader's impression — which strikes me as suggesting that if any error was made, it was made by the reader, by the touchy Ukrainian reader who was unable to restrain himself from arriving at a false impression.
TIME's apology and retraction, therefore, are pusillanimous and disingenuous. TIME did not do what it would have been forced to do had it been guilty of a similarly irrational and vituperative attack upon Jews, or Blacks, or homosexuals — and that is to disclose what disciplinary action had been taken, and what procedural changes had been instituted that would make a similar mistake less likely in the future. TIME's attack on Ukraine more deeply entrenched a precedent which is followed to this day — the precedent of irrational, unfounded, and hateful attacks on Ukraine. Where TIME's example is not followed is in its offering a weak and inadequate retraction — what has come to be characteristic of later attacks is the absence of any retraction. Whereas 750 letters prompted TIME to offer a limited and unenthusiastic retraction, 16,000 letters to CBS television some two years later protesting a much larger collection of falsehoods — among these yet another misuse of the same Wallowing Photograph! — failed to win any correction whatever.
In a more ideal world, a single letter with convincing evidence on its side should have been enough; but in our real world, that possibility is laughable. One person proclaiming the truth is a joke. What gets broadcast on the media, and what gets retracted, has little to do with truth, and much to do with power. Against certain powers, even 16,000 people with truth on their side is not enough. To score any but a rare and partial victory in the big game, one needs to be able to muster, in one way or another, hundreds of thousands of supporters — millions perhaps — or not get counted as a player.
In speaking of the Ukrainian "rare and partial victory," am I being too pessimistic? Not at all! Witness that more than a year and a half after the Wallowing Photograph had been misused against Ukrainians by TIME — and one would expect retired from this particular misuse indefinitely — there it appeared again, but this time on our television screens, and this time to support Morley Safer and Simon Wiesenthal's accusation that during the few days immediately prior to the occupation of Lviv by German forces, Ukrainians killed some 5,000-6,000 Jews. Now Morley Safer was using the Wallowing Photograph not to accuse Ukrainians of being right-in-the-street, down-in-the-gutter, broad-daylight-is-fine, who-cares-if-it's-freezing, who-cares-if-the-whole-street-is-watching, we-don't-stop-for-nobody gang rapists, but rather to support belief in the existence of something even more fantastic — the largest single pogrom of the war — one, however, which cannot be found in any history book or in any account of the Jewish Holocaust, as I pointed out in the What Happened in Lviv? section of my critique of the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast in which that particular accusation surfaced. So, maybe the Wallowing Photograph is not dead. Maybe it is impossible to kill it. Maybe expect to see it again. Maybe it's a Medusa's head that grows with chopping.
Had Ukrainians intent on retaining and strengthening their newly-won independence been more astute than they were, they might have raised the question on the occasion of the Wallowing Photograph incident, and also on the occasion of other, sometimes more egregious, incidents, of the wisdom of trusting as a supporter and protector a nation in which such calumny was being heaped upon their heads. What level of support could be expected from the American president, from his advisers, from Congress, from the media when the widespread, almost unbudgeable image had been inculcated in them of Ukrainians as gang rapists? The Ukrainian intelligentsia should have foreseen what in fact has come to pass — that American support has been what a nation of perceived gang rapists deserves — that is, Ukraine has received only nominal support combined with very real bullying, looting, pillaging, and plundering.
I had been a TIME subscriber for well over three decades, and I did not cancel my subscription to TIME in response to the Wallowing Photograph fiasco of 1993. I did, however, fail to renew my subscription just recently, not because of any particular TIME error as glaring as the one we are discussing here, but rather because of a more subtle, but nevertheless relentless, superficiality and bias that either began to pervade TIME, or that had always been there but that I finally began to notice.
And now here at last is the TIME editorial which is the subject of the present page:
More than 750 readers have written us so far about the photograph of the young woman that accompanied our story on rape and the war in Bosnia [Feb. 22]. We used this picture to illustrate the longtime use of rape as a weapon in warfare. The picture's caption, which said it showed a "Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians in Lvov, Poland, in 1945," struck a nerve with readers of Ukrainian descent, who felt it unfairly singled out Ukrainians for committing acts of rape during World War II. These readers also questioned how we knew the victim was Jewish. Except for the date, the information describing the events in the photo was obtained from an employee of a Holocaust museum in Israel. Subsequent research into the picture's somewhat murky past has turned up the following:
The photo was taken not in 1945 but in 1941 in Lvov (its Russian name), or Lviv (its name today), Ukraine, shortly after the Germans captured the city from the Soviets on June 30. Chaos in the form of pogroms, rapes and killings swept the town at that time. The picture is one of a series showing women being stripped, harassed and chased by civilians. One school of thought holds that the women were Jewish victims of the pogroms in Lvov. The Germans spread rumors that Jews were responsible for the murders of several thousand political prisoners found in the cellars of Soviet NKVD buildings, thus fueling the hatred and the acts of revenge against local Jews that followed. Other historians insist that the majority of the women pictured in the series of photographs were mistresses the Soviets abandoned when they fled Lvov to escape the German troops. The defenseless collaborators were then attacked by resentful residents for consorting with the Soviet enemy. Still another theory suggests the public humiliation of the women was orchestrated by the occupying Nazis in order to shoot an anti-Semitic propaganda film.
Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to pin down exactly what situation the photograph portrays. But there is enough confusion about it for us to regret that our caption, in addition to misdating the picture, may well have conveyed a false impression.