Editorial    Ukrainian Weekly   14-Mar-1993   Has previously been published

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Time warp

Three weeks ago in this space we informed our readers of the shoddy level of journalism practiced at Time magazine, which had just published a dramatic photo of an alleged rape victim.  The caption screamed: "Traditions of atrocity: A Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians in Lvov, Poland, in 1945."  At that time we questioned the accuracy of the information in the caption and the news magazine's judgement in using a photograph about which specific information was lacking, to say the least.

Since then, more information about the now infamous photo has come to light, thanks to the efforts of Prof. Taras Hunczak of Rutgers University and our readers, some of whose letters on this issue appear on the next page.

The very same photograph has previously been published in several books.  Following are two examples.

In "World War II," a 1990 book published by Little, Brown and Co. (Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., editor), the photo is dated 1941.  It appears in a chapter called "Rape of Russia" [sic] that covers the Nazi invasion of the USSR.  Reference is made to SS death squads roaming the countryside, killing people suspected of being partisans and demonstrating to citizens "what would happen to them if they lifted a finger to help in their own defense."  The photo here is captioned: "A Lvov rape victim screams as a woman tries to comfort her.  Such rapes were routinely committed in the streets."

A 1980 Time-Life book titled "World War II: The Nazis" (by Robert Edwin Herzstein and the editors of Time-Life Books), carries the photo in a chapter called "The First Atrocities after the Conquest."  The book notes that after the German Army arrived in Eastern Europe, "Jews suffered the worst horrors.  They were beaten and humiliated by German soldiers, by local anti-Semites and most often and most viciously by the SS."  It is also noted that SS men routinely raped Jewish women and girls in the streets and town squares.  The aforementioned photo is reproduced here as well, but the caption reads: "A rape victim in the city of Lvov cries out in rage and anguish as an older woman comforts her.  Anti-Semitic citizens rounded up 1,000 Jews and turned them over to the Germans."

Thus, the history of this photo is quite muddled.  It has appeared repeatedly in texts dealing with the second world war, but there appears to be no definitive information on the identity of the victim, or her attackers.  Nor is there a definitive answer on when the photo was taken.  And yet, Time magazine states with certitude that it shows a Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians.  Prof. Hunczak writes in his letter to Time: "Was it merely a lack of journalistic integrity or was it a real fraud perpetrated against the Ukrainian people and the readers of Time magazine?  I am inclined toward the latter view."

To us, also, the case appears to be one of fraud.  This one photo has been used and reused in a highly unethical manner; the facts of the incident it shows appear to be changed at whim to suit whatever context is desired.

In addition, there is a distinct feeling that Time is now attempting to cover its tracks.  For example, though the magazine has admitted in a letter to at least one reader that the date in the photo caption was wrong "... in rechecking our sources we find that the photograph almost certainly was taken before the entry of the Red Army into Lvov, in July 1944." it has not admitted its error on its own pages.  Furthermore, Time chose to print just one letter expressing the Ukrainian community's concerns about the caption, but, frankly, editors there did such a hatchet job on Prof. Danylo Struk's letter that it bears little resemblance to the original (which readers of The Weekly saw in our February 28 issue).  As it appears in Time, Prof. Struk's letter makes no mention of the factual errors in the caption, nor does it castigate Time for its shoddy research.

Time magazine, it seems, will not allow itself to be exposed.  We can only hope that, as the letters from Time readers keep coming, the magazine will eventually acknowledge its mistake and will issue a retraction and an apology.