In Berezhany, a town in the Ternopil region of Western Ukraine, a group of local students discover their history.
Jeremy Borovits: First off, thank you for your responses, and for watching the film. It has been interesting for me to hear all of your thoughts about the topic.
My first point is this: In no way, shape, or form was my goal to exculpate Ukrainian participation in the Holocaust. I have been living in this country for three and a half years, and I am well aware of the role some Ukrainians played. The goal was to try and get the students to realize that the history of what happened in Berezhany is a part of their history, whether it happened to Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Roma, or Armenians.
Judaism, as well as the Holocaust, is not taught very well in Ukraine. A part of this is certainly due to the role many Ukrainians play. But it is much more attributable to the fact that the Ukrainian education system is rife with corruption and is still based on the old Soviet model. All history taught in Ukraine is either Soviet-centric, Russo-centric, or Ukrainian-centric. This is a problem with how they approach history, not some deep rooted evil that lies within them.
Along that note, I have lived in Ukraine for three and a half years, and at least one conclusion I have come to is this: NOT ALL UKRAINIANS ARE ANTI SEMITIC. Are there anti-semites here? Yes, certainly. But in the time I have been here, I have never experienced any active anti-Semitism. This past Shabbat I was in New Jersey, and while walking home from synagogue someone yelled “Kike” at me from their car. And this was in New Jersey.
There were Ukrainians who participated in massacres during the war. There was a very small minority who risked their lives to save Jews. But the VAST majority was simply trying to survive. Their lives and the lives of their families were at risk. To hold all Ukrainians responsible for what happened is both historically inaccurate and morally wrong. In 1932-1933, Stalin exacted a famine on the Ukrainian people (as wel as some other nationalities.) Millions of people were starved to death (probably around 3 million). Lazar Kaganovich, a Jew, was one of the Soviet officials who executed the famine. To hold all Ukrainians as responsible for the Holocaust is to say that all Jews were responsible for the Holodomor (the name given to the famine.)
History is not, and will never be, black and white. We all have our own emotions that factor into the equation, the memories handed to us by our parents and grandparents and beyond. The challenge for all of us, and especially in projects like this, is to see the Grey.
No one had ever talked to these students before about Jews. They knew nothing. And now they know something. And they for sure, throughout the course of the project, got to know many Jews of various sizes, religious observance, and facial hair. I cannot guarantee that they have all changed. But I do get the sense that the next time someone says something about the Jews, these kids will stand up.
One last point to make: I am sure that all of you who have seen the film remember the man with the large mustache and the hat who spoke of the Jews drinking the Ukrainian’s blood. What didn’t make it into the final cut was the students arguing with him. How can you think that, they asked. How can you believe that? How can you not see that a person is a person.
I truly believe that hatred will breed hatred, and love will breed love. Teaching our children that we are all equal, that we are all individuals, and that every human life is sacred, is, for me, the best weapon against hatred, the best support for love.
This is a difficult topic, and the making of this film was a difficult process. I am sure some of will accuse me of naivety, or blindness, or perhaps of being a self-hating Jew. I can only tell you that it was while living in a Ukrainian village that I found Hashem, and my neighbors and students were there to support me.
If you have a response I welcome it, both via the forum as well as privately, if it makes you more comfortable.
All the best