In Background, Feature Articles, Nazism and World War Two, Ukraine

Exchange of views published on History News Network, April 5, 2015

Four items are published here: an original commentary, two responses to that by organizations named in it–the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES, housed in Pittsburgh) and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS, in Edmonton)–and a rejoinder by the two original authors.

1. What standards should be applied when deciding to accept funds?

By Tarik Cyril Amar and Per Anders Rudling

Currently, ASEEES, the main organization of Slavicists in the USA, is divided due to a decision of its board to, in effect, not accept a substantial fellowship donation by Professor Stephen Cohen, an eminent expert on Russia, and his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel. Cohen’s career has combined academic achievements and outspoken public involvement. The process which has produced this ASEEES decision, already protested by over a hundred scholars, has not been transparent. What seems to be clear is that some board members strongly objected to Stephen Cohen’s recent public comments regarding the continuing crisis in and over Ukraine. The association suggested to Cohen that it could only accept the money but not his name. He refused to agree.

Full disclosure, we are opposed to this decision by the ASEEES board; one of us has signed the protest letters organized by Professor David Ransel. While not always in agreement with Stephen Cohen’s views on the Ukraine-Russia crisis and sometimes in strong disagreement, we see no conceivable justification for treating him in this manner – and through him principles of fair, open, and, last but not least, civil conduct among scholars – and hope that the current ASEEES leadership will not stay this disappointing course. Whoever disagrees with the arguments he has advanced in public, should challenge him openly and in public – and only.

Yet this article is about a different issue that this conflict has brought to mind: Given that the tension in ASEEES has been linked to Professor Cohen’s public positions on Ukraine, what is really striking is the silence around other endowments also touching on the representation of Ukraine and its history.

Thus, since 1986 the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) at the University of Alberta administers the Volodymyr and Daria Kubijovyč Memorial Endowment Fund, matched two-to-one by the government of Alberta. Currently amounting to 436,848 Canadian dollars, it has helped fund the Encyclopedia of Ukraine and other projects.

The Roman and Halia Kolisnyk Endowment Fund, and Levko and Marika Babij Memorial Endowment Fund were both established in 2011, in the names and to honor the memory of two of the most prominent Ukrainian Waffen-SS veterans in Canada.* There are thematic conditions: the latter is earmarked for “the study of twentieth-century Ukrainian history, especially Ukraine in World War II.” Recently, the field of endowments and donations in the name of Waffen-SS veterans has expanded with two more such endowments. Together, these five endowments named after intriguing donors are worth over 750,000 Canadian dollars. The endowment in Kubijovyč’s memory is the largest.

“An exceptional organizer and statesman”

As leader of the “Hauptausschuss”, also referred to as the Ukrainian Central Committee, functioning in the Generalgouvernment, i.e. parts of German-occupied Poland, Kubijovyč (1900-1985) was the most senior Ukrainian collaborator with Nazi Germany. An abundance of sources shows a committed and persistent liaison between Adolf Hitler’s chief representative in the Generalgouvernement, Hans Frank, and Kubijovyč. In 1940, he suggested to the Germans to consolidate the “autochtonous [bodenständige] Ukrainian element by breaking the influence” of Poles and Jews, while he thanked Adolf Hitler for the “victorious onslaught” that “annihilated the Polish state and thus did away with the Polish yoke.” Kubijovyč was not acting merely under duress. He was also not merely afraid of the Soviet Union. The archival record shows him as a committed ethno-nationalist, eager to make the most out of German occupation for his own agenda. He welcomed and sought opportunities for Ukrainians to take over Polish and Jewish property. Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 Kubijovyč proposed that Ukraine be set up as an “authoritarian, nationalist one-party state.” He complained that the private trade in the cities of “the Ukrainian ethno-area [Volkstumsgebiet] of former Poland was almost exclusively in Jewish hands” and advocated establishing a Ukrainian Army, to help fight an enemy which he defined as a combination of Communism, Russian imperialism, and Jewishness. Kubijovyč also explained to Frank that “Ukrainians had been pro-German for decades, even centuries. They see in Germany a powerful vanguard against their eternal enemies, Poles and Russians.” He co-initiated the establishment of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician).

Kubijovyč may also have been an opportunist. He may have “spoken Nazi” to please the occupiers. Like many collaborators, he may have begun to have second thoughts once German victory started looking less likely. While French collaborators, for instance, could try to rationalize their collaboration as somehow serving their reactionary perception of the needs of an existing French state, Kubijovyč was driven by the aim of bringing a nationalist-authoritarian state into existence. While motivations are open to some debate, there is no source-based reason to doubt his genuine joy at the destruction of Poland and his substantial investment in Nazi power. As with many other collaborators in Nazi-occupied Europe, he was not without agency or his own, brutal aims. Perhaps he was wielding the weapons of the weak. If so, he often did so against the weaker.

After the war, safely in the West, Kubijovyč led the Shevchenko Scientific Society, edited the Encyclopedia of Ukraine under the auspices of the CIUS. His encyclopedia contains no entry for “Holocaust,” while the entry on Kubijovyč himself describes his wartime past as him having “revealed his exceptional ability as an organizer and statesman.” The entry on anti-Semitism tells us that “there has never … been a Ukrainian anti-Semitic organization or political party” and that “it is difficult to identify major instances of anti-Semitism, in the specific sense of prejudice and not simply hostility that have a demonstratively Ukrainian character.” Contorted as this logic may be, it is not far-fetched to suspect that it had something to do with his own actions during the war.

Clearly, ASEEES has no influence on the endowment decisions made by other organizations. Yet the current controversy over the treatment it has meted out to Stephen Cohen does raise larger issues. Are we really content with the prospect of an overall academic environment that won’t accept his name but raises no concerns over that of Volodymyr Kubijovyč? Is it desirable to contribute to a cumulative outcome where future graduate students and researchers will find no problem in financing their work with funds named after the latter but might – if they remember – recall that Stephen Cohen’s name would not be acceptable? In our view, it is time to face the fact that this is an absurd and sad prospect.

*The Waffen-SS Division “Galicia” underwent complex name changes and its historical record has been subject to politicized reconstruction. Yet the facts are clear.

Tarik Cyril Amar is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History of Columbia University. He has worked and lived in Ukraine for five years. His book “The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A European City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists” is scheduled to come out this fall. Per Rudling is a member of the ASEEES and an ​A​ssociate ​P​rofessor of ​H​istory at Lund University, Sweden. His book “The Rise and Fall of Belarusian Nationalism, 1906-1931” was published in January​.​ 

Further background on the issue of Professor Stephen Cohen’s fellowship donation to the AEEES is here: The troubling case of Professor Stephen Cohen and the American Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, by Hank Reichman, Jan. 30, 2015

* * *

2. Response of ASEEES 

By Catriona Kelly (President, ASEEES), Padraic Kenney (Vice President, ASEEES), Stephen Hanson (Immediate Past President, ASEEES), and Lynda Park (Executive Director, ASEEES)

The discussion of Second World War crimes, and those who perpetrated, abetted, concealed, or retrospectively honored these, places a significant burden of ethical responsibility upon all those involved. Tarik Cyril Amar and Per Anders Rudling, in their contribution to HNN, make allegations of the greatest significance against a number of named individuals. They proceed from this to a denunciation of the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies for naming awards after individuals who are accused of serving in the SS. Amar and Rudling do not reveal whether they have communicated their serious concerns to the Institute officials. Responsible campaigners would at least give those they criticize the chance to amend matters before resorting to a public denunciation.

When it comes to another strand of their argument – that the naming of these awards is somehow connected with recent events in ASEEES – even Amar and Rudling recognize that “ASEEES has no influence on the endowment decisions made by other organizations”. Precisely: so why even mention ASEEES in this discussion?

We would not wish to dignify this exercise in guilt by association with further comment. Those who wish to read a full discussion of the ASEEES case can consult the materials on our website, which include letters of protest from the historians mentioned and from Stephen Cohen as well as a detailed statement by the Executive Committee of the organization.

 * * *

 3. Response of CIUS

By Volodymyr Kravchenko, Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

A few days ago, I received an e-mail addressed to me as Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, from Mr. Rick Shenkman, publisher, History News Network, associate professor of history at George Mason University and elected fellow of the Society of American Historians. The letter informed me that “We are planning on running an article about CIUS. As is our policy in cases like this, we are giving you an advance look at the article. Should you wish to respond we’ll happily post your response in full on our website in tandem with the main article so readers have the opportunity to see your response.”

Having thanked the author of the e-mail for this opportunity and read the “article about CIUS” written by Professors Amar and Rudling, I saw that it consisted of two distinct parts—a shorter one concerning the issue of Stephen Cohen and his dealings with ASEEES and a longer one about the Ukrainian scholar, community activist and political figure Volodymyr Kubijovyč, who died in Paris, France, in 1985. Readers unfamiliar with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta should be advised that it was established in Edmonton in 1976 through the joint efforts of Ukrainian Canadians and the government of the province of Alberta. The Institute is an integral part of the University of Alberta and belongs to the Faculty of Arts along with other academic institutes concerned with the social sciences and humanities. What relation Stephen Cohen, ASEEES, and Volodymyr Kubijovyč might have to CIUS becomes apparent only in the context of the article, whose text and subtext I shall address below.

The person and activity of Volodymyr Kubijovyč (1900–1985) have long been part of history and bear no relation to current politics. An active community figure, professional geographer and organizer of scholarship, he left a great scholarly legacy including, notably, the multivolume Encyclopedia of Ukraine in both Ukrainian and English. His role in Ukrainian history now is open to interpretations from various perspectives. A reader wishing to learn something about Kubijovyč would do better to turn to more authoritative and easily available sources than to the article of Professors Amar and Rudling, such as a special issue of Nationalities Papers [1] or online encyclopedic works in which his life and activity are treated in historical context.

The noted American political scientist John A. Armstrong, author of the classic Ukrainian Nationalism (2d ed., 1980), who was well acquainted with Kubijovyč, gave the following assessment of his wartime activity: “A geographer by education, he had already attained scholarly recognition before accepting the post of head of the Ukrainian Central Committee established by the German Generalgouvernement in Poland, eventually including all of Galicia. Nominally Kubijovyč’s job was to provide minimal economic and social welfare support for the Ukrainian population. In practice, he became an indispensable link between the general population, the nationalist leaders, and the German authorities. Since the top Nazis in the Generalgouvernement were responsible to the ruthless dictates of Hitler and Himmler, Kubijovyč’s position was not only extremely perilous (his counterparts in occupation administration in Europe often disappeared without a trace) but deeply humiliating. No Ukrainian leader during the war deserves the maxim (I paraphrase a French revolutionary) “que mon nom soit flétri, que la nation soit libre” [Let my name be defamed so that the nation may be free] more than Volodymyr Kubijovyč.” [2]

I ask the reader to compare these lines with the tone and style of the article, whose authors can manage nothing better than to accuse Kubijovyč of anti-Semitism, chauvinism, and collaborationism. They find him even worse than the French collaborators, who were able “to rationalize their collaboration as somehow serving their reactionary perception of the needs of an existing French state,” while Kubijovyč did not have the backing of a nation-state and only aspired to create one. So much for “Hegelian” logic. Of course, Kubijovyč will never be able to respond to such accusations, but then, his replies would be of no interest to the authors of the article, who have assigned him the role of moral antipode of their contemporary, the American Stephen Cohen.

Unlike Volodymyr Kubijovyč, Stephen Cohen is in a position to respond to his opponents. The statements of this emeritus professor in support of President Putin and his policy in Ukraine have scandalized public opinion far beyond the borders of the United States. Cohen has his political and ideological sympathies and antipathies, which are his own business. I only wish to point out, contrary to the authors, who consider him a noted specialist in Russian studies, that most of Cohen’s publications are devoted to the history of the USSR, not of Russia. Western public opinion and mass media have long considered these terms synonymous, but experts find such conflation embarrassing. Cohen cannot figure as an objective expert on questions of Ukrainian-Russian relations, either as a political publicist or as a historian hitherto unknown in Ukrainian studies. I shall not comment on the moral aspect of his public activities.

I must confess that it would never have occurred to me to compare Stephen Cohen with Volodymyr Kubijovyč in academic or moral terms. Amar and Rudling take a different approach: if such an outright “fascist” and collaborator as Volodymyr Kubijovyč has an academic endowment named after him, why should Stephen Cohen be denied a similar privilege? If this sort of logic does not shock Cohen himself or his supporters, then why not extend the comparison in a broader historical context? Suppose we compare the Third Reich with the Third Rome? The problem of collaborationism might then take on not only a historical dimension but also a contemporary one.

Digging up the history of the Second World War, attacking Ukrainian nationalism, and assaulting the dead serves one purpose only—that of discrediting the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. This mudslinging also besmirches the reputation of the University of Alberta, of which CIUS is an integral part. I wish to emphasize that all CIUS endowments have been accepted by the University of Alberta under terms of reference that provide for full freedom of research and inquiry. CIUS supports projects on controversial problems of the Second World War, Ukrainian nationalism, fascism, and Ukrainian-Jewish-Polish relations; all of them are carried out within the terms of academic discourse and are open to discussion. The authors claim that the Holocaust is passed over in silence, as an entry on it does not appear in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine. I invite the readers to familiarize themselves with the article titled“Holocaust” by Dieter Pohl in CIUS’s Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. [3]

Finally, I shall permit myself a few personal observations. As a former Soviet citizen as well as a historian, I recognize stylistic and substantive elements characteristic of Soviet “counterpropaganda” in the Amar/Rudling article. It is impossible to hold a discussion with practitioners of such “counterpropaganda”: their purpose is to conduct an information war in which the opponent is not convinced but destroyed. To what extent such principles corresponds to the “principles of fair, open, and … civil conduct among scholars” mentioned in the article, I leave it to the reader to judge.

God only knows why the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies has to be dragged through the mud so that Stephen Cohen and his wife can establish a fund named after them in the United States. In the words of a classic of Ukrainian and Russian literature, “It is a depressing world, gentlemen!”

[1] Stephen M. Horak, John A. Armstrong, Basil Dmytryshyn, Kenneth C. Farmer, George Kulchycky, John S. Reshetar Jr. and Orest Subtelny, “Ukrainians in World War II: Views and Points,”
Nationalities Papers 10, no. 1 (1982): 1–39.
[2] John A. Armstrong, “Heroes and Human: Reminiscences Concerning Ukrainian National Leaders During 1941–1944,” Ukrainian Quarterly 51, nos. 2–3 (1995): 223–24.

For additional information, see the website of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies,, which was established in Kyiv in 2002.

 * * *

4. Response of Tarik Cycril AMar and Per Anders Rudling

In their response, our colleagues Catriona Kelly, Padraic Kenney, Stephen Hanson, and Lynda Park present our commentary on the naming of endowments as a “public denunciation.” We beg to differ principally. In our view, an, open and public discussion of the standards for the naming of endowments is a legitimate pursuit which bears no resemblance to “denunciation.” Our reference to endowments named after Waffen-SS veterans is not gratuitous, but a statement of fact and our text has explained why this fact is relevant to the issue we discuss.

In a similar vein, if the essence of the “guilt by association” charge is to censure us for speaking about ASEEES and CIUS in the same text, then we would like to repeat that our argument is that, in reality, they exist in the same context. We have emphatically not claimed or implied that they are the same or that ASEEES is somehow responsible for decisions at CIUS. Our point was different, as, we think, a less defensive reading of our text could have revealed: we have argued that decisions about endowments and their titles at one institution inevitably exist in a context that is also shaped by decisions made at other institutions.

We think that it is sensible to recognize and consider this fact because the cumulative effect of such decisions, across various institutions, constitutes an important part of a reality we actually share: in this case, a North American academic environment where, at this point in time, Stephen Cohen’s name has become too problematic to name an endowment, whereas the use of that of Volodymyr Kubijovyč is not even discussed. We see this constellation, if unrevised, as a worrying sign of a potential “new normal” that, we believe, needs to be made explicit and addressed directly and openly. At the same time, we have, in a spirit of full disclosure, been frank about our own position.

We are told that ‘campaigners’ should raise their issues first with the object of their concern. Would it not make more sense to use the term ‘campaigners’ for those demanding that a senior scholar’s name should not be used for an endowment because of that scholars’ statements on current politics? What we have done is to make an effort to formulate our concern publicly (and without the benefit of anonymizing procedures). As their responses show, both ASEEES and CIUS were invited to read and respond to our text before its publication, a procedure which we fully endorse. It is therefore hard to understand the anger at our approach.

We welcome Professor Kravchenko making his and his institute’s position on this matter public. Unsurprisingly, we have to disagree with Professor Kravchenko on important points: A call for a fuller reflection on standards and their shaping (including unintended but foreseeable consequences) has nothing to do, we think, with disloyalty or “Nestbeschmutzung.” On the contrary: one of us is a graduate of the University of Alberta and takes pride in this fact. Thus, we reject Professor Kravchenko’s suggestion that open debate on endowments in the name of Waffen-SS veterans at the CIUS constitutes “mudslinging.” Neither does it “besmirch the reputation of the University of Alberta.” Open, transparent discussions can be challenging and uncomfortable. We do not see why they should be misunderstood or misrepresented as malevolent.

Professor Kravchenko also illustrates the phenomenon we have pointed out: he depicts Kubijovyč as, in effect, a national martyr, highlighting the contrast he sees between this “active community figure, professional geographer and organizer of scholarship [who] left a great scholarly legacy” and Professor Cohen, whose statements “have scandalized public opinion far beyond the borders of the United States.” We feel that we could not have pinpointed the strangeness of the current situation any more effectively.

Professor Kravchenko seems unable to imagine that Kubijovyč may have been both a postwar community leader and a wartime collaborator. Yet, generally speaking, after World War Two it has not been uncommon to find impressive postwar careers and highly problematic wartime activities in the same biographies; one simply does not exclude the other. More specifically, seeking to contest our characterization of Kubijovyč’s wartime motivations and loyalties, Kravchenko cites John Armstrong’s work. Not only did Armstong openly admire Kubijovyč, referring to him as a “heroic individual.” This is also a secondary text, written at a time before Kubijovyč’s personal collection was made accessible to scholars. It is, in short, pre-archival and in need of scholarly revision. In fact, it is accompanied by Armstrong’s explicit disclaimers that he “does not know the details of the things Kubijovyč accomplished in day-to-day administration of Krakow,” and that a later reevaluation may discredit him as a heroic role model for the next Ukrainian generation.

Since 1993 these files are open. Those who are interested in familiarizing themselves with the sources for Kubijovyč’s wartime activities and positions can consult the Volodymyr Kubijovyč Collection at Libraries and Archives Canada, in Ottawa, MG 31, D203, in particular Vol. 17, 18, 26, and 27. A reading of his letters to Hans Frank, Adolf Hitler, and Adolf Eichmann from 1940-1944 shows Kubijovyč in a different light than the tragic hero “defamed so that the nation may be free”:

Kubijovyč interpreted “autonomy for the Ukrainian ethnic group” under Nazi rule as preference in employment and local administration. He sought the “removal” of “Polish and Jewish elements” from areas he claimed for Ukrainians and “a complete separation” between Poles and Ukrainians, including population transfers to create “pure Ukrainian territories.” Kubijovyč argued that “it would be in the interest of Greater Germany to consolidate the autochtonous [bodenständige] Ukrainian element and to break the influence of the Polish and Jewish ethnic groups [Volksteile].” On other occasions, he complained that trade was in Jewish hands, called for an authoritarian, nationalist one-party state for Ukrainians, denounced a “Judaized English-American plutocracy,” and affirmed “unshakeable faith” in Nazi Victory. When Kubijovyč sometimes remonstrated with German authorities against their mistreatment of Ukrainians, he argued that the latter should be treated better than Poles whom he kept denouncing, like Jews, as inherently unreliable. The Kubijovyč active in World War Two – whatever his postwar recollections and career – was a committed ethnic nationalist, constantly probing German rule for opportunities for his own political agenda.

A selection of these materials, moreover, has been published by the CIUS itself in 2000. Even this limited sample, edited by another Waffen-SS veteran proud of his service, shows Kubijovyč’s enthusiastic endorsements of the New Order and his appeal to German occupiers to gain advantages over Poles and Jews.

We have explained that we understand very well that there is room for argument and interpretation regarding Kubijovyč’s motivations and constraints. What seems not plausible to us is to simply ignore, marginalize, or embellish his wartime record: collaboration was a complex phenomenon internationally. But complexity does not legitimize hero worship or obviate the need for a full reading of the historical record.

We have to simply reject comparison with “Soviet” propaganda as well as the charge that we lack respect for Ukraine or its sovereignty. In reality, it is possible to support Ukraine, as we do, and be critical toward World War Two nationalism. We also have not made any claim that French collaborators were somehow ‘better’ than Ukrainian ones. We do not really know what to make of Professor Kravchenko’s argument that Volodymyr Kubijovyč cannot personally reply to our text: taken to its logical conclusion, this approach would end most discussions of World War Two history.

Nowhere do we suggest that Professor Cohen deserves an endowment named after him because of the CIUS’ decisions to honor Kubijovyč and Waffen-SS veterans. We also do not seek to drag the CIUS “through the mud so that Stephen Cohen and his wife can establish a fund after them in the United States.” This is a rather astonishing misreading of our text. Professor Kravchenko’s response shows that, in reality, he finds it natural to compare Volodymyr Kubijovyč and Stephen Cohen. We do not. What we seek to query in their real context are decisions on naming endowments that, we think, reflect a worrying possibility in our shared academic environment and culture of memory.



EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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