Anti-Semitism. Until the 1940s Ukraine had for many centuries been the home of one of the world’s largest populations of Jews, who alternately thrived there and were the victims of prejudice as well as of intermittent, sometimes fierce, outbreaks of violence.
The first major outbreak of violence directed against the Jews of Ukraine occurred during the popular rebellion led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1648). In discussions about anti-Semitism (a-s) some writers, eg, Elie Wiesel in Jews of Silence, have tried to draw a parallel between the 17th-century massacres of Jews and Poles by the Ukrainians during the Khmelnytsky rebellion and the mass killings of Jews by the German Nazis. Such attempts at analogy have typically obscured more than illuminated, and they seem to originate in an inability to recognize a fundamental distinction, a shortcoming common to many writings about a-s, between hostile acts or sentiments directed at Jews that derive from prejudice (a-s) and such acts or sentiments that derive from other sources (eg, real and significant socio-economic or political conflicts rather than imagined or invented ones).
G. Allport’s classic definition of ethnic prejudice, of which a-s is a species, defines it as antipathy based on faulty and inflexible generalizations. Whereas Nazi attitudes and practices clearly instantiate such antipathy, those of the 17th-century Ukrainian peasant masses do not. Jews were the principal administrators of a system of economic, religious, and national oppression imposed upon the enserfed Ukrainian peasantry by the colonialist Polish nobility. Thus, the mass killings of Jews and Poles during the rebellion, when tens of thousands perished, were prompted by objective conditions of oppression and probably had little to do with ethnic prejudice in the sense defined above. A similar analysis applies to the killing of Jews during the bloody haidamaka uprisings of the 18th century.
Though more terrible in outcome than the expulsions and most other acts of persecution that Jews have had to endure over the centuries in, eg, Western Europe or Russia, the massacres of Jews and Poles by Ukrainians during the rebellions of the 17th and 18th centuries stand in important contrast to the many practices of persecution against Jews in the lands referred to above. The reason for this is that Jews constituted but a beleaguered and oppressed minority in Western Europe or Russia, while in Ukraine they were, vis-á-vis the Ukrainians, part of the ruling classes.
Unambiguous instances of widespread prejudice against the Jews of Ukraine appear at the end of the 18th century, a point by which Russia had consolidated control over most of Ukraine, with the institution of the Pale of Settlement by Russian tsarist authorities. Pale proscriptions not only forbade Jewish settlement in the ethnic Russian areas of the empire but also imposed various restrictions on Jews living in those areas of the Russian Empire that were open to them, ie, the Ukrainian, Polish, Belarusian, and Lithuanian territories. Classically anti-Semitic in motive and intent, the restrictions both served to discriminate against the Jews and to mark them in the eyes of the populace as an object class deserving of prejudicial treatment.
As is clear from the example of the Pale of Settlement, any attempt to provide an account of a-s in Ukraine must carefully distinguish between genuinely Ukrainian a-s, ie, a-s manifested by Ukrainians, and a-s manifested within Ukraine but either not by Ukrainians or not at their initiative. The need for this distinction is the result of Ukraine’s unusual political history, ie, its lack of sovereignty for centuries, and of the presence on its territory of large, politically and economically dominant colonies of non-Ukrainians (Russians and Poles) who inhabited the cities and towns. Thus, paradoxically, Pale restrictions, a paradigm example of a-s in Ukraine, were nevertheless a manifestation not of Ukrainian a-s but of Russian a-s.
The same holds true of the anti-Semitic pogroms of the 1880s in the Ukrainian and other Pale of Settlement territories of the Russian Empire, which broke out following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, insofar as these were the product of a campaign conducted by reactionary Russian circles, calculated to lay blame for the assassination upon the Jews. This state of affairs recurred between 1903 and 1906, when government provocateurs and protsarist groups and gangs such as the notorious Russian Black Hundreds carried out numerous bloody anti-Semitic pogroms, frequently under the rallying cry of ‘Beat the Yids, Save Russia,’ in order to deflect away popular discontent with tsarist absolutism by finding an alternate scapegoat for the empire’s ills, namely the Jews.
Still another prominent example of Russian a-s as practiced in Ukraine was the M. Beilis blood-libel trial (see Beilis affair), which was instigated and conducted by the tsarist police and judicial apparatuses in Kyiv between 1911 and 1913.
In contradistinction to the ready availability of examples of Russian a-s in Ukraine, examples of genuinely Ukrainian a-s are much more difficult to locate, though well-documented instances of specifically Ukrainian violence committed against Jews (the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion and Haidamaka uprisings) are, of course, not. One frequently alleged example of Ukrainian a-s is the pogroms carried out by the forces of the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1919. Another is the alleged widespread collaboration of Ukrainians with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews during the Second World War (see Holocaust).
Whereas there is little disagreement among historians that some units of the Directory’s army did commit pogroms, extant evidence does not seem to support the accusation, found in some of the literature, that the Ukrainian government ever promoted or condoned such excesses, although it is unclear whether or not, under the prevailing conditions of near anarchy, more could have been done to prevent them. What is, moreover, impossible to determine is why those units of the Directory’s forces that committed the pogroms did so. Possible explanations include a general condition of civil war and anarchy, in which all armed forces fighting on Ukrainian soil—Ukrainian, White, Red, and Polish—engaged in pogroms; the Ukrainians’ conviction that Jews were opposed to Ukrainian independence; or simply a-s—although even here it is unfortunately impossible to distinguish between an a-s with genuinely Ukrainian roots and one generated as the result of the cumulative effect of decades of officially sponsored tsarist Russian a-s prior to the Revolution of 1917.
During the Second World War a small number of individual Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazis in victimizing the Jews. This, however, cannot really be considered a conspicuous example of Ukrainian a-s for three reasons: (1) similar or more systematic collaboration took place throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, including France, Hungary, and Poland; (2) the number of Ukrainians who collaborated with the Germans, estimated by some sources to be 11,000, represents but a small fraction of the total population, estimated at 36 million; and (3) the number of collaborators is simply dwarfed by the number of Ukrainians killed by the Germans, whether as civilian victims of the Nazi holocaust (3 million) or as some undetermined portion of the total Soviet prisoner-of-war population killed by the Germans (estimated at between 2.5 and 3 million) or during combat against the Third Reich as members of the Soviet Army or the forces of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
In the time after the war the situation with a-s in Ukraine came to resemble that which had prevailed during the period of the Russian Empire, insofar as a central governmental authority outside of Ukraine, in this case the Soviet authorities in Moscow, determined the official position taken in regard to Jews living not only within the Ukrainian SSR but within the Soviet Union as a whole. And, similarly, the official posture not only showed itself to contain an endorsement of a-s but has also at various points included an active promotion of a particularly virulent strain of it, in some instances rivaling the a-s of Nazi Germany. A Ukrainian publication best representing this brand of especially vicious Soviet a-s is T. Kichko’s Iudaizm bez prykras (Judaism without Embellishment), a volume published under the official auspices of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in 1963.
Although it is difficult to identify major instances of a-s, in the specific sense of prejudice and not simply hostility, that have a demonstrably Ukrainian character, and although there has never, for example, been a Ukrainian anti-Semitic organization or political party, it is nevertheless reasonable to assume the existence of Ukrainian a-s. But its depth or extent cannot be gauged. Native xenophobia, ignorance, Christian a-s, frictions deriving from economic competition, and a profound and reciprocal cultural and political alienation would be likely sources. Some of the writings of the 19th-century Ukrainian historian and polemicist Mykola Kostomarov are a good example of Ukrainian a-s.
To date, the subject of a-s in Ukraine has not had the benefit of much careful and scholarly analysis. Extant discussions, of which there are a fair number, are usually of a popular or semischolarly character and more often than not are marred by conceptual confusions about the very nature of a-s, a failure to recognize that a-s in Ukraine is not synonymous with Ukrainian a-s, and a tendency to apply conclusions pertinent to Western European or Russian a-s to interpretations of friction or hostility between the gentiles and Jews in Ukraine, a land where such conclusions are frequently inapplicable because of the very different role and status that Jews held there in earlier centuries, when they were part of and aligned with the ruling and oppressing non- Ukrainian classes.
Dubnow, S.M. History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, 3 vols (Philadelphia 1916–20)
Allport, G. The Nature of Prejudice (Boston 1954)
Bilynsky, Y. ‘The Jewish Question in the Ukraine,’ in The Second Soviet Republic (New Brunswick, NJ 1964)
Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. Ukrainians and Jews: A Symposium (New York 1966)
Wiesel, E. ‘Babi Yar,’ in Jews of Silence (New York 1966)
Hunczak, T. ‘A Reappraisal of Symon Petliura and Ukrainian-Jewish Relations 1917–1921,’ Jewish Social Studies, 31, no. 3 (1969)
Szajkowski, S. ‘A Rebuttal,’ Jewish Social Studies, 31, no. 3 (1969)
Possony, S.T. ‘The Ukrainian-Jewish Problem,’ Plural Societies, 5, no. 4 (1974)
Gitelman, Z. ‘The Social and Political Role of the Jews in Ukraine,’ in Ukraine in the Seventies, ed Peter Potichnyj (Oakville, Ont 1975)
Margolin, A. Ukraine and Policy of the Entente (np 1977)
Weinryb, B. D. ‘The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Xmel'nyc'kyj and the Cossack-Polish War,’ Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 1, no. 2 (1977)
Hewko, J. ‘The Ukrainian-Jewish Political Relationship during the Period of the Central Rada,’ MA thesis, University of Oxford, 1981
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]