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In Search of a Soviet Holocaust

A 55-Year Old Famine Feeds The Right

Something therefore always remains and sticks from the most impudent lies…
The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed.

— Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

The girl is dying. She looks about five years old, but we know she may be older, dimin­ished by hunger. She leans wearily against a gate. Her long hair falls lank about bare shoul­ders. Her head rests against her arm. Her neck is bent, like a stalk in parched earth. Her eyes are the worst — large and dark, glazed yet still wistful. The child is dying, starving, and we feel guilty for our witness …

The Ukrainian émigrés who made Har­vest of Despair knew a gripping image when they saw one. The black-and-white still, played over an arching, minor-mode chorus, was chosen to close the Canadian documentary on the Ukraine of 1932-33. The same photograph was used to pro­mote the film, to symbolize a long-dor­mant cause célebre: a “man-made” fam­ine, “deliberately engineered” by Stalin to crush Ukrainian nationalism and cow a stubborn peasantry into permanent col­lectivization. Seven million Ukrainians were killed, the narrator tells us, as “a nation the size of France [was] strangled by hunger.”

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The result, intoned William F. Buckley, whose Firing Line showed the film last November, was “perhaps the greatest ho­locaust of the century.”

The term “holocaust” still burns the ears, even in our jaded time. As we watch the film and see corpses piled in fields, bloated bodies sprawled in streets, pale skeletons grasping for bits of bread, we wonder: How can such a terrible story have been suppressed so long?

Here is how: The story is a fraud. The starving girl, it turns out, wasn’t found in 1932 or 1933, nor in the Ukraine. Her picture was taken from a Red Cross bulletin on the 1921-22 Volga famine, for which no one claims genocide. Rather than an emblem of persecution, the photograph advances the most cyni­cal of swindles — a hoax played out from the White House and Congress through the halls of Harvard to the New York State Department of Education. Pressing every pedal, pulling all the strings, is a Ukrainian nationalist lobby straining to cloak its own history of Nazi collabora­tion. By revising their past, these émigrés help support a more ambitious revision­ism: a denial of Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews.

There was indeed a famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s. It appears likely that hundreds of thousands, possi­bly one or two million, Ukrainians died — ­the minority from starvation, the major­ity from related diseases. By any scale, this is an enormous toll of human suffer­ing. By general consensus, Stalin was partially responsible. By any stretch of an honest imagination, the tragedy still falls short of genocide.

In 1932, the Soviet Union was in crisis. The cities had suffered food shortages since 1928. Grain was desperately needed for export and foreign capital, both to fuel the first Five-Year Plan and to counter the growing war threat from Ger­many. In addition, the Communist Par­ty’s left wing, led by Stalin, had come to reject the New Economic Plan, which re­stored market capitalism to the country­side in the 1920s.

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In this context, collectivization was more than a vehicle for a cheap and steady grain supply to the state. It was truly a “revolution from above,” a drastic move toward socialism, and an epochal change in the mode of production. There were heavy casualties on both sides — ­hundreds of thousands of kulaks (rich peasants) deported to the north, thou­sands of party activists assassinated. Production superseded politics, and many peasants were coerced rather than won to collective farms. Vast disruption of the 1932 harvest ensued (and not only in the Ukraine), and many areas were hard-pressed to meet the state’s grain requisition quotas.

Again, Stalin and the Politburo played major roles. “But there is plenty of blame to go around,” as Sovietologist John Arch Getty recently noted in The London Re­view of Books. “It must be shared by the tens of thousands of activists and offi­cials who carried out the policy and by the peasants who chose to slaughter ani­mals, burn fields, and boycott cultivation in protest.”

Such a balanced analysis, however, has never satisfied Ukrainian nationalists in the United States and Canada, for whom the “terror-famine” is an article of faith and communal rallying point. For decades after the fact, their obsession was con­fined to émigré journals. Only of late has it achieved a sort of mainstream credibil­ity — in Harvest of Despair, shown on PBS and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and at numerous college campuses; in The Harvest of Sorrow, an Oxford University Press account by Rob­ert Conquest; in a “human rights” curric­ulum, now available to every 10th-grade social studies teacher in New York State; and in the federally funded Ukraine Fam­ine Commission, now into its second year of “hearings.”

After 50 years on the fringes, the Ukraine famine debate is finally front and center. While one-note faminologists may teach us little real history, they re­veal how our sense of history is pulled by political fashion until it hardens into the taffy of conventional wisdom. And how you can fool most of the people most of the time — especially when you tell them what they want to hear.

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THE FILM

Harvest of Despair was the brain­child of Marco Carynnyk, a Ukrai­nian translator and poet who lives in Toronto. In 1983, Carynnyk found a sponsor in St. Vladimir’s Institute, which formed a Ukrainian Famine Research Committee of well-to-­do émigrés . The committee raised $200,000 for the documentary, including a major grant from the Ukrainian Cana­dian Committee (a spiritual descendant of the fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), and a loan from the simi­larly right-wing World Congress of Free Ukrainians.

As chief researcher for the film, Caryn­nyk had two major functions — to locate and interview famine survivors, and to find archival photographs. Talking heads would not be enough to make a case for genocide. To gain its intended shock val­ue, the film would have to show what the famine was like. “There can be no ques­tion,” assessed The Winnipeg Free Press, “that without the films and photographs uncovered from the 1932-33 famine, the film would lose much of its authority.”

“I gave them two sets of photographs,” Carynnyk said. “I told them, ‘Here are the ones from the 1930s, and here are the ones from 1921-22.’ But in the cutting of the film, they were all mixed up. I said this can’t be done, that it will leave the film open to criticism … My complaints were ignored. They just didn’t think it was important.”

One problem, Carynnyk said, was that producer Slawko Nowitski faced an im­possible five-month deadline to ready the film during the famine’s 50th anniversa­ry. (In fact, Harvest of Despair would not be completed until late 1984.) But the researcher believes it was more than mere sloppiness at work. “The research com­mittee was more interested in propagan­distic purposes than historical scholarship,” said Carynnyk, who has sued the Famine Research Committee for copy­right violation. “They were quite pre­pared to cut corners to get their point across.”

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In October 1983, Carynnyk left the project — “relieved of his duties,” accord­ing to Nowitski, “because he did not pro­duce the required material.” Three years and seven awards later, the lid blew last November at a meeting of the Toronto Board of Education, where terror-famine proponents were pressing to include the film in the city’s high school curriculum. The show stopped cold when Doug Tot­tle, former editor of a Winnipeg labor magazine, stood up and declared that “90 per cent” of the film’s archival photo­graphs were plagiarized from the 1921-22 famine.

Tottle traced several of the most graphic photos, including that of the starving girl, to famine relief sources of the 1920s. (Some of these resurfaced in 1933 as anti-Soviet propaganda in Voelk­ischer Beobachter, an official Nazi party organ.) Other pictures were lifted from the 1936 English edition of Human Life in Russia, by Ewald Ammende, an Aus­trian relief worker in the earlier Volga famine. Ammende attributes them to a “Dr. F. Dittloff,” a German engineer who supposedly took the photos in the sum­mer of 1933. The Dittloff pictures have their own bastard pedigrees — three from 1922 Geneva-based relief bulletins, others from Nazi publications. Still other Ditt­loffs were also claimed as original by Robert Green, a phony journalist and es­caped convict who provided famine mate­rial to the profascist Hearst chain in 1935. Green, a convicted forger who used the alias “Thomas Walker,” reported that he took the photos in the spring of 1934 — almost a year after the Ukraine famine had ended, and in direct contra­diction of Dittloff.

Although Green was exposed by The Nation and several New York dailies by 1935, right-wing émigrés have used his spurious photos for decades. “It’s not that these pictures were suddenly discov­ered in 1983 and accidentally misdated” in the film, Tottle noted.

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Tottle had done his homework. Caryn­nyk confirmed that “very few” photos in Harvest of Despair could be authenticat­ed, and that none of the famine film footage was from 1932-33. But the Ukraine Famine Research Committee de­cided to stonewall. At first they insisted that any photos from the 1920s were used only when the film discussed the Volga famine — a blatant evasion, since that segment lasts a scant 28 seconds and uses only two still photos, neither especially potent. Committee chairman Wasyl Jan­ischewskyj recently softened that stance: “We have researched further and made discoveries that some photos we thought were from 1932-33 were not … We are now having further deep investigations of these pictures.”

In the main, however, the filmmakers have sought to justify their fraud. “You have to have visual impact,” said Orest Subtelny, the film’s historic adviser. “You want to show what people dying from a famine look like. Starving children are starving children.” A documentary, added producer Nowitski, must rely on “emotional truth” more than literal facts.

“These people have never attempted to refute my claims,” said Tottle. (His book on the subject, Fraud, Famine, and Fas­cism, will be published this fall by Toron­to’s Progress Books, an outlet for Soviet releases.) “They have tried to lie and cover it up, but they have not tried to refute it.”

Nor have the nationalists refuted Tot­tle’s contention that several “witnesses” in the film were Nazi collaborators, in­cluding two German diplomats who served in the Third Reich and an Ortho­dox Church layman who blessedly rose to bishop while the Third Reich occupied the Ukraine in 1942.

“Just because they’re collaborators,” countered Nowitski, “does that mean we cannot believe anything they tell us? Just because they’re Nazis is no reason to doubt the authenticity of what happened.”

This slant pervades émigré research on the famine. Soviet sources are rejected out of hand, while Nazi sources (or known liars like Walker and Dittloff) are accepted unconditionally. In the Goeb­bels tradition, the nationalists’ brief al­ways serves their anticommunism — no matter how many facts twist slowly in the process. Harvest of Despair follows unholy footsteps, and never breaks stride.

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THE BOOK

According to a 1978 article in The Guardian of London, Robert Con­quest got his big break shortly after World War II, when he joined the Information Research Department of the British Foreign Office. Staffed heavily by émigrés, the IRD’s mission was a covert “propaganda counter-offen­sive” against the Soviet Union. It was heady, hands-on work for a young writer, a chance to slant media coverage of Russia by adding political “spin” to Eastern bloc press releases and funneling them to top reporters. The journalists knew little about the IRD, beyond the names of their mysterious contacts. The public knew nothing at all, even as their opinions were being sculpted.

After Conquest left the IRD in 1956, the agency suggested that he package some of his handiwork into a book. That first compilation was distributed in the U.S. by Fred Praeger, who had previously published several books at the request of the CIA.

The shy and courtly Conquest has come a long way since then, from gray propagandist to éminence grise. He is now a senior research fellow at the Hoo­ver Institute at Stanford, as well as an associate of Harvard’s Ukrainian Re­search Institute. But his heart and his pen never left the IRD. The Soviet Union would be Conquest’s lifetime obsession. He churned out book after book on the horrors of communism: The Nation Kill­er, Where Marx Went Wrong, Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps. His landmark work of 1968, The Great Terror, focused on Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. But by 1984, his work had turned surreal; What To Do When the Russians Come was the literary equivalent of that politi­co-teen-disaster flick, Red Dawn. Yet he remained a mainstream heavyweight, coasting on reputation, his excesses ac­cepted as Free World zeal.

In 1981, the Ukrainian Research Insti­tute approached Conquest with a major project: a book on the 1932-33 famine. The pot was sweetened by an $80,000 subsidy from the Ukrainian National As­sociation, a New Jersey-based group with a venerable, hard-right tradition; the UNA’s newspaper, Swoboda, was banned by Canada during World War II for its pro-German sympathies. (The grant was earmarked for Conquest’s research expenses, including the assistance of James Mace, a junior fellow at URI.)

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The nationalists knew they’d be getting their money’s worth. At the time, famino­logy was virgin ground. There was little source material available, since the Soviet archives remain sealed. More to the point, most non-émigré historians viewed the 1932-33 famine as an outgrowth of collectivization, not a political phenome­non of itself, much less a stab at geno­cide. But Conquest was different. In his Terror book, he’d already concluded that more than three million Ukrainians were killed by the famine. Here, clearly, was the right man for the job, a man who once stated: “Truth can thus only perco­late in the form of hearsay … basically the best, though not infallible, source is rumor.” And with no one on record to dispute the issue, Conquest’s rumors could rule.

In The Harvest of Sorrow, Conquest outdoes himself. He weaves his terror­-famine from unverifiable (and notorious­ly biased) émigré accounts. He leans on reportage from ex-Communist converts to the American Way. He cites both “Walker” and Ammende. Black Deeds of the Kremlin, a period piece published by Ukrainian émigrés in 1953, is footnoted no less than 145 times.

Conquest can be deftly selective when it suits his purpose. He borrows heavily from Lev Kopelev’s The Education of a True Believer, but ignores Kopelev when the latter recalls Ukrainian villages that were relatively untouched by famine, or relief efforts by a Communist village council.

By confirming people’s worst suspi­cions of Stalin’s rule, The Harvest of Sor­row has won favorable reviews from The New York Times, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books. But leading scholars on this era are less im­pressed. They challenge Conquest’s con­tention that Ukrainian priests and intelli­gentsia — two major counterrevolutionary camps — were repressed more ruthlessly than anywhere else in the country. They point out that the 1932-33 famine was hardly confined to the Ukraine, that it reached deep into the Black Earth region of central Russia. They note that Stalin had far less control over collectivization than is widely assumed, and that radical district leaders made their own rules as they went along.

Most vehemently of all, these experts reject Conquest’s hunt for a new holo­caust. The famine was a terrible thing, they agree, but it decidedly was not genocide.

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“There is no evidence it was intention­ally directed against Ukrainians,” said Al­exander Dallin of Stanford, the father of modern Sovietology. “That would be to­tally out of keeping with what we know — ­it makes no sense.”

“This is crap, rubbish,” said Moshe Lewin of the University of Pennsylvania, whose Russian Peasants and Soviet Pow­er broke new ground in social history. “I am an anti-Stalinist, but I don’t see how this [genocide] campaign adds to our knowledge. It’s adding horrors, adding horrors, until it becomes a pathology.”

“I absolutely reject it,” said Lynne Vio­la of SUNY-Binghamton, the first U.S. historian to examine Moscow’s Central State Archive on collectivization. “Why in god’s name would this paranoid gov­ernment consciously produce a famine when they were terrifed of war [with Germany]?”

These premier Sovietologists dismiss Conquest for what he is — an ideologue whose serious work is long behind him. But Dallin stands as a liberal exception to the hard-liners of his generation, while Lewin and Viola remain Young Turks who happen to be doing the freshest work on this period. In Soviet studies, where rigor and objectivity count for less than the party line, where fierce anti-Commu­nists still control the prestigious institutes and first-rank departments, a Con­quest can survive and prosper while barely cracking a book.

“He’s terrible at doing research,” said veteran Sovietologist Roberta Manning of Boston College. “He misuses sources, he twists everything.”

Then there are those who love to twist, and shout — to use scholarly disinformation for their own, less dignified purposes. In the latest catalogue for The Noontide Press, a Liberty Lobby affiliate run by flamboyant fascist Willis Carto, The Harvest of Sorrow is listed cheek-by-jowl with such revisionist tomes as The Auschwitz Myth and Hitler at My Side. To hype the Conquest book and its ter­ror-famine, the catalogue notes: “The act of genocide against the Ukrainian people has been supressed [sic] until recently, perhaps because a real ‘Holocaust’ might compete with a Holohoax.”

For those unacquainted with Noontide jargon, the “Holohoax” refers to the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews.

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THE CURRICULUM

In 1982, the New York State Depart­ment of Education set out to blaze a new trail: a definitive curriculum on the Nazi holocaust. The department assembled a distinguished review committee, including such Holocaust ex­perts as Terrence Des Pres and Raul Hil­berg. It assigned the actual writing to three top-rated social studies teachers. The finished two-volume project, which went to classrooms in the fall of 1985, does credit to everyone involved. It is a balanced mix of archival documents, sur­vivor memoirs, and scholarly essays.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the high schools: The Ukrainian nationalists stole the show. Their point man was Bohdan Vitvitsky, a New Jersey attorney and author who was invited to join the state’s advisory council, which would steer the curriculum’s develop­ment. Vitvitsky’s first move was to gain inclusion of an excerpt of his book on Slavic victims of the Nazis. His second victory was to eliminate all but passing mention of Ukrainian war criminals.

“I took the position they should be dealt with,” said Stephen Berk, a Union College history professor and advisory council member, “but Vitvitsky insisted there should be no dwelling on [Nazi] collaborators.” (The Catholic lobby didn’t fare so well; over its protests, the curricu­lum includes a critical assessment of Pope Pius XII’s inaction.)

But Vitvitsky’s major coup, helped along by a nationalist letter campaign, was to install material on the Ukraine famine of 1932-33. In the curriculum’s second draft in 1984, the famine was treated as a 17-page precursor chapter to the second Holocaust volume — a plan which met heated resistance from Jewish groups. By the time the material reached the schools last fall, however, it had swol­len into a separate third volume, with 90 pages on the “forced famine,” and anoth­er 52 on “human rights violations” in the Ukraine.

A key player in the transition was As­semblyman William Larkin (Conserva­tive Republican, New Windsor), a retired Army colonel, assistant minority whip, and old friend of Gordon Ambach, then the state commissioner of education. Lar­kin had ample incentive to help; his dis­trict contains about 8000 ethnic Ukraini­ans. He arranged “four or five” meetings between the state education staff and 20 upstate Ukrainian nationalists in 1985. He also enlisted other Republican assem­blymen to press for the famine book, and says he spoke personally to Ambach. The commissioner “offered to do any­thing be could,” Larkin said. “But if we didn’t go up there in force, if we didn’t push it, it wouldn’t have happened.”

By most accounts, the political pres­sure was intense — enough to squeeze a department deemed relatively apolitical. The Ukrainians mounted “an enormous letter-writing campaign with the Board of Regents,” said Robert Maurer, the execu­tive deputy commissioner. “There were phone calls and visits. There’s not often that much interest in curriculum matters; it was very unusual.”

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The famine boosters found an especial­ly sympathetic ear in Regent Emlyn I. Griffith, then chairman of the committee that unanimously endorsed Volume Three in 1985 — a vote which ensured its future use. “As a member of a minority people put down by a majority govern­ment, I emphathized” with the Ukrainian nationalists, said Griffith, an ethnic Welshman. “There was a significant lob­bying effort … It was persuasive. It wasn’t threatening, it was positive.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who made the fatal decision on Volume Three. Griffith said his committee acted on a strong staff recommendation. Ambach failed to return phone calls for this story. Maurer lodged responsibility with Deputy Commissioner Gerald Freebome, who in turn pointed to Program Development Director Edward Lalor, who referred questions to a low-level official named George Gregory, the chairman of the Hu­man Rights Series advisory committee.

Shrouded by this corporate haze, Vit­vitsky ran in an open field. No one chal­lenged his basic premise. The famine “certainly does represent another exam­ple of genocide,” Gregory asserted. “It was a planned attempt by Stalin to elimi­nate the Ukrainian people.”

(“George is the consummate bureau­crat,” said one educator involved with the series. “His experience is mainly in grade-school curricula — like ‘Appreciat­ing Our Indian Heritage,’ or ‘The Impor­tance of the Finger Lakes Region.’ When I started up there, he really didn’t know anything about the Holocaust.”)

To write the famine material, Gregory hired Walter Litynsky, a Troy High School biology teacher and a local chair­man of Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine. For the job of principal review­er, Litynsky recommended James Mace, the Conquest protégé who also directs the Ukraine Famine Commission under a $382,000 congressional appropriation. Mace and Litynsky proceeded to stack the review committee with Ukrainian academics, the omnipresent Vitvitsky, and four upstate nationalists. “No contrary [review] letters were either solicited or received,” Berk acknowledged. “I’m sorry this came out, because it was distorted — ­but I felt it was a fait accompli.”

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When asked about contrasting view­points from such scholars as Lewin and Viola, Gregory was unmoved. “Quite frankly, we have not heard of any of them,” he said. “We tried to present a balanced point of view. We didn’t ask for the Soviet opinion, since the Soviet view was that the famine never happened. [In fact, the Soviets now concede that a fam­ine was “impossible to avoid,” because of drought, mismanagement, and kulak sab­otage.] We relied heavily on James Mace; he’s the leading historian of that time period.”

This paean would startle academe, where Mace’s work is infrequently read and rarely found in footnotes, the base­line of a scholar’s importance. He is wide­ly regarded as a right-wing polemicist, an indifferent researcher who has made a checkered career out of faminology.

“I doubt he could have gotten a real academic job,” Manning said. “Soviet studies is a very competitive field these days — there’s much weeding out after the Ph.D. If he hadn’t hopped on this politi­cal cause, he would be doing research for a bank, or running an export-import business.”

The Mace-Litynsky partnership yield­ed a predictable end product — the undis­tilled nationalist line. The state curricu­lum on the Ukraine famine apes both Harvest of Despair and The Harvest of Sorrow. (The education department now supplies the embattled documentary, as an audiovisual supplement, to any inter­ested teacher.) Like the film and the hook, the curriculum features faked pho­tos from Ammende, dubious atrocity tales (including 16 selections from Black Deeds of the Kremlin), and sections of the “Walker” Hearst series, all without caveat. Like Conquest and Nowitski, the famine volume red-baits anyone who challenged the genocide scenario, such as New York Times reporter Walter Dur­anty. It goes Conquest one better by re­ferring to the region as Ukraine, with no article, in deference to a sovereignty that exists only in nationalist fables.

The curriculum is most obviously ex­posed in its estimate of the famine death toll: “… it is generally accepted that about 7 million Ukrainians or about 22% of the total Ukrainian population died of starvation in a government planned and controlled famine.”

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How did Litynsky arrive at this talis­manic figure, cited over and over again in emigre literature? “I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject,” the biology teacher said. “This is not my field. I had a list of people who went from 1.5 million to 10 million. In my reading I saw seven million used more than any other figure, and I decided that was realistic. It got to the point where it was so confusing that you had to decide.” (Mace has opted for 7.9 million Ukrainian famine deaths in his own work, with an “irreducible mini­mum” of 5.5 million. Conquest fixes on seven million famine deaths, including six million Ukrainians, with no appendix to show how his numbers are derived.)

But the magic number, like the geno­cide theory it shoulders, simply can’t pass scrutiny. Sergei Maksudov, a Soviet émigré scholar much cited by Mace and Conquest, has now concluded that the famine caused 3.5 million premature deaths in the Ukraine — 700,000 from starvation, and the rest from diseases “stimulated” by malnutrition.

Even Maksudov’s lower estimates are open to challenge. Writing in Slavic Re­view, demographers Barbara Anderson and Brian Silver maintain that limited census data make a precise famine death count impossible. Instead, they offer a probable range of 3.2 to 5.5 million “ex­cess deaths” for the entire Soviet Union from 1926 to 1939 — a period that covers collectivization, the civil war in the coun­tryside, the purges of the late ’30s, and major epidemics of typhus and malaria. According to these experts, and Maksu­dov as well, Mace and Conquest make the most primitive of errors: They overesti­mate fertility rates and underrate the im­pact of assimilation, through which many Ukrainians were “redesignated” as Rus­sians in the 1939 census. As a result, the cold warriors confuse population deficits (which include unborn children) with ex­ cess deaths.

Which leaves us with a puzzle: Wouldn’t one or two or 3.5 million fam­ine-related deaths be enough to make an anti-Stalinist argument? Why seize a wildly inflated figure that can’t possibly be supported? The answer tells much ahout the Ukrainian nationalist cause, and about those who abet it.

“They’re always looking to come up with a number bigger than six million,” observed Eli Rosenbaum, general counsel for the World Jewish Congress. “It makes the reader think: ‘My god, it’s worse than the Holocaust.’ ”

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HIDDEN AGENDAS

Your husband’s courage and dedication to liberty will serve as a continuing source of inspiration to all those striving for freedom and self-determination.
— Letter from President Reagan to the widow of Yaroslav Stetsko, ranking OUN terrorist, murderer, and Nazi collabora­tor, read by retired general John Singlaub at a conference of the World Anti-Com­munist League, September 7, 1986.

In the panel discussion that followed Harvest of Despair on PBS last fall, Conquest addressed the issue of Ukrainian war crimes. “It’s not the case,” he said blandly, “that the Ukrainian nationalist organizations collaborated with the Germans.” Once again, the aging faminologist had tripped on the public record. It is one thing to suggest, rightly, that Ukrainian nationalism had little popular support among the peasantry. (It was actually a narrow, urban, middle-class movement.) Millions of Ukrainians fought with the Red Army and partisans. Many others can be accused of nothing worse than indifference, and a smaller number risked their lives to save Jews from the Ger­mans. But on the matter of the OUN, the principal nationalist group from the 1930s on, the record is quite clear: It was fascist from the start.

In its original statement of purpose in 1929, the OUN betrays a raw Nazi influ­ence: “Do not hesitate to commit the greatest crime, if the good of the Cause demands it … Aspire to expand the strength, riches, and size of the Ukraini­an State even by means of enslaving for­eigners.” This sentiment was echoed in a 1941 letter to the German Secret Service from the OUN’s dominant Bandera wing: “Long live greater independent Ukraine without Jews, Poles, and Germans. Poles behind the [river] San, Germans to Ber­lin, Jews to the gallows.”

As the authoritative John Armstrong, a staunch anti-Communist and pro-Ukrai­nian, has written: “The theory and teach­ings of the Nationalists were very close to Fascism, and in some respects, such as the insistence on ‘racial purity,’ even went beyond the original Fascist doctrines.”

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But the OUN storm troopers, like any terrorist group, prized action over theory. Their wartime brutalities have been am­ply documented (Voice, February 11, 1986, “To Catch a Nazi”). They recruited for the Waffen SS, pulled the triggers at Babi Yar and Sobibor, ran the gas cham­ber at Treblinka. During their brief inter­ludes of Nazi-sponsored “independence” (in the Carpatho-Ukraine in 1939 and in Galicia in 1941), pogroms were the order of the day, in the spirit of their revered Simon Petlura. They strove to outdo the Nazis at every turn.

And when the Third Reich fell, the nationalists fled — to Munich, to Toronto, and (with the covert aid of the U.S. State Department, which viewed them as po­tential anti-Soviet guerrillas) to New York and Chicago and Cleveland.

This is not ancient history. The Ukrai­nian émigré groups still contain more than a few former OUN members, and many of their sons and daughters. The nationalists still heroize their wartime past. On occasion their old passions sur­face as well — as in Why Is One Holocaust Worth More Than Others?, recently pub­lished by Veterans of the Ukrainian In­surgent Army: “In 1933, the majority of the European and American press controlled by the Jews were silent about the famine.”

From this perspective, the “conspira­cy” lives on: “In (February} 1986 the Jew­ish newspaper Village Voice … published one-and-one-half pages of accusations against a high-standing member of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, Mykola Lebed.”

And finally, most transparently: “Tens of millions of people have been killed since the Zionist Bolshevik Jews, backed by the Zionist-oriented Jewish interna­tional bankers, took over Russia.”

Not surprisingly, Ukrainian émigrés are among the harshest and most power­ful critics of Nazi-hunting. They have sought to kill both the Justice Depart­ment’s Office of Special Investigations and the Canadian Deschenes Commis­sion — and with good reason. Sol Littman, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto, recently presented the com­mission with the names of 475 suspected Nazi collaborators. He reports that Ukrainians were “very heavily represent­ed” on the list.

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It may not be sheer coincidence that faminology took wing just after the OSI was commissioned in 1979. For here was a way to rehabilitate fascism- — to prove that Ukrainian collaborators were help­less victims, caught between the rock of Hitler and Stalin’s hard place. To wit, this bit of psycho-journalism from the 33 March 24 Washington Post, in a story on accused war criminal John “Ivan the Terrible” Demjanjuk: “The pivotal event in Demjanjuk’s childhood was the great famine of the early 1930s, conceived by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as a way of destroying the independent Ukrainian peasantry … Several members of [Demjanjuk’s] family died in the catastrophe.”

Coupled with the old nationalist ca­nard of “Judeo-Bolshevism,” faminology could help justify anti-Semitism, collabo­ration, even genocide. An eye for an eye; a Nazi holocaust in return for a “Jewish famine.”

Just as the Nazis used the OUN for their own ends, so has Reagan exploited the famine, from his purple-prosed com­memoration of “this callous act” to his backing of the Mace commission. Faced with failing fascist allies around the world, from Nicaragua to South Africa, the U.S. war lobby needs to boost anti­-Communism as never before. Public en­thusiasm to fight for the contras will not come easy. But if people could be con­vinced that Communism is worse than fascism; that Stalin was an insane mon­ster, even worse than Hitler; that the seven million died in more unspeakable agony than the six million …. Well, we just might be set up for the next Gulf of Tonkin. One cannot appease an Evil Em­pire, after all.

As Conquest noted on PBS, after the starving girl’s image finally faded from the screen: “This was a true picture we saw … It instructs us about the world today.”

It turns out that the picture is far from true — that the purveyors of a famine genocide are stealing a piece of history and slicing it to order. It’s a brash bit of larceny for Conquest and company, even within the prevailing vogue of anti-Sta­linism. But if they say it loud enough and long enough, people just might listen. Lie bold enough and large enough, and — as the man once said — it just might stick. ❖

Categories
FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

To Catch a Nazi

“SUBJECT D” IS THE LABEL MOST RECENTLY used by the federal government to de­scribe a certain high-ranking Nazi collab­orator, an alleged war criminal whose co­operation with the Central Intelligence Agency allowed him to enter this country in 1949 and later become a U.S. citizen. Subject D’s history was supposed to remain hidden; indeed, he felt so secure that his telephone number is listed under his real name. Now, after nearly 40 years, his secret is out.

Last June, the General Accounting Of­fice (GAO) completed a three-year inves­tigation of the illegal postwar immigra­tion of Nazis and Nazi collaborators, and of the secret assistance they allegedly re­ceived from U.S. intelligence agencies. This sensitive federal study was ordered by the House Judiciary Committee to supplement a 1978 review of accusations that federal agencies obstructed the pros­ecution of alleged Nazi war criminals.

After reviewing voluminous files and conducting many interviews, the GAO found “no evidence of any U.S. agency program to aid Nazis or Axis collabora­tors to immigrate to the United States.” But among the 114 cases it reviewed — ­dealing with a small fraction of the sus­pected war criminals — the GAO did dis­cover five cases of Nazis or collaborators “with undesirable or questionable backgrounds who received some individual as­sistance in their U.S. immigrations.” Al­though the 40-page report said that three of them were already dead, it named no names, or even nationalities, and referred to the five only as Subjects A through E. Much of the information about them and their activities remains classified. In two cases, the assisted individuals were pro­tected by their intelligence contacts from authorities seeking to enforce immigra­tion laws that prohibit the entry of war criminals and other persecutors.

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The authors of the GAO report seem eager to justify the actions of the govern­ment, and regardless of bias, their effort hardly represents a comprehensive ex­amination of this historic problem. Yet despite its shortcomings, the report is a landmark — an official admission that Nazis and Nazi collaborators were assist­ed in entering the United States by the CIA.

The Voice has learned that the collaborator discussed in the GAO report as “Subject D” is a prominent Ukrainian nationalist. In 1934, he was imprisoned for attempting to assassinate the interior minister of Poland; he ran the security force of a Ukrainian fascist organization and has been accused of ordering the murders of many of his countrymen; he attended a Gestapo training school where Jews were murdered for practice. He was considered an extremely valuable intelli­gence asset by the CIA, which protected him from war-crimes prosecution by the Soviets, brought him to this country under an assumed name and concealed his true past from the Immigration and Nat­uralization Service. So important was his case that in 1952 Attorney General James P. McGranery, the director of Central Intelligence, General Walter Bedell Smith, and the commissioner of the INS, Argyle R. Mackey, secretly agreed to permit his residence here. In 1957, he became a U.S. citizen.

His name is Mykola Lebed, and he lives in Yonkers.

MYKOLA LEBED IS 75 YEARS OLD, AND HAS resided in this country for nearly half his life. Several years ago he moved from Washington Heights, a largely Jewish neighborhood, to a modest two-family brick house on a pleasant Yonkers hill­side. Short, wiry, and bald, with alert blue eyes, the retired Lebed spends most of his days at home, where he is working on his memoirs.

His recollections are likely to be cast in the heroic, patriotic light that illuminates most histories written by adherents and defenders of the Organization of Ukraini­an Nationalists (OUN) that he once helped lead. All that can be seen in these accounts is a fiery commitment to an in­dependent Ukrainian state and the resulting conflicts with both German and Soviet oppressors. Obscured is the more complex story of OUN collaboration with Nazi war crimes, and the OUN’s own fas­cist and racist ideology.

Details of Mykola Lebed’s involvement with the OUN have been pieced together from Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) files, other military archives, and immigration records; from interviews with Ukrainians; and from histories of the period, including an eyewitness ac­count in the files of the Holocaust docu­mentation center at Yad Vashem in Isra­el. Large portions of pages from the CIC file on Lebed, obtained under the Free­dom of Information Act, were “sanitized” (that is, obliterated) by the Army before being released to the Voice. To justify the withholding of certain facts, the Army cited FOIA exemptions pertaining to pro­tection of “intelligence sources” and “na­tional security.” One document was ap­parently withheld at the request of “another government agency,” and an­other document had been removed from the National Archives by the CIA.

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Four decades after the terrible events of the war, the history of fascism in East­ern Europe is no academic matter. In recent years, the U.S. government has finally begun to prosecute individual war criminals among the Nazi collaborators who found refuge on our shores. Most of the 45 cases brought so far by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investiga­tions (OSI), set up in 1979 to find and deport immigrants who committed war crimes, involve not German Nazis but collaborators from other nations.

The East European émigré communi­ties have reacted with a ferocious cam­paign to abolish OSI, though very few of their members are threatened in any way. (Only in the Polish-American community has the crusade against OSI failed to gain significant support, perhaps because so many Polish gentiles were also victims of Nazism.) Each prosecution of a Nazi col­laborator from Eastern Europe discredits the version of history upheld by some émigrés: that all the “anticommunists” of Eastern Europe were noble and free of any guilt for the crimes of Nazism.

Ukrainian leaders have outspokenly denounced the OSI, partly because the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists still exists and remains influential in the Ukrainian communities here and abroad. The OUN’s founders are revered by Ukrainian publications and groups, while their collaboration with Hitler is not discussed. The OSI has made such evasion far more difficult. According to Nazi War Criminals in America, the authoritative handbook published last year by Charles R. Allen Jr., about one-fourth of the 45 OSI deportation or denaturalization cases have been brought against Ukraini­ans; in at least two cases, the individuals accused of participating in Nazi persecu­tions and murders were proven to be members of the OUN.

The Ukrainian targets of the OSI have so far been minor figures — “policemen” in the service of the Nazi occupiers of the Ukraine, who don’t figure as individuals in any of the histories of the period. Most wartime leaders of the OUN are dead, and thus safe from the varieties of justice meted out in U.S., Soviet, Polish, or Is­raeli courts. Mykola Lebed is an excep­tion. For years he was the OUN’s third-­in-command, and he ran the Sluzhba Bezpeky, its reputedly murderous securi­ty force.

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Justice Department policy, which ap­plies to the OSI, strictly prohibits any comment about pending cases. But the Voice has learned that the OSI maintains an open file on Lebed, making him a potential defendant in denaturalization proceedings. Materials pertaining to his case from the GAO probe, gleaned from the files of military intelligence and the CIA, were turned over to the OSI last summer.

If the OSI determines that Lebed ought to be stripped of his citizenship and deported, the information in those files may become public. Although much of Lebed’s history remains murky, con­cealed in still-classified government ar­chives, there is little doubt that such a display would severely embarrass not only the OUN and its supporters, but the U.S. government as well — especially the CIA.

Under long-standing U.S. immigration laws, strengthened in 1978, those guilty of persecuting other people on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or politi­cal belief are barred from entering this country and are to be deported if they gain entry. Lebed escaped these sanc­tions because his sponsors mercifully cited Section 8 of the CIA Act of 1949. An obscure portion of the legislation that es­tablished the CIA, Section 8 permits the agency to bring 100 individuals a year to the U.S. for reasons of national securi­ty — regardless of their past. Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, who issued a seething critique of the GAO report, found this revelation about Subject D’s immigration “extremely dis­turbing.” As a member of Congress in 1978, said Holtzman, “the CIA… assured me in a meeting and in a Congres­sional hearing that it never used the 100 numbers provision to facilitate the entry of Nazis.”

Patti Volz, a spokeswoman for the CIA, declined to comment about Lebed or the GAO report. “We don’t get into details,” she said. “We don’t confirm or deny that someone has worked for us. We wouldn’t have any comment on him.”

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REPORTS FILED WITH THE ARMY Counterintelligence Corps in the late ’40s give various dates for the birth of Mykola Lebed, but his naturalization papers say November 23, 1910. He was born in the western Ukrainian province of Galicia, an agricultural area controlled at various times by Poland, the Soviet Union, and Germany. From his early school days in L’vov, the provincial capital, Lebed was involved in the right wing of the Ukraini­an nationalist movement, which from the early ’30s to the present has been domi­nated by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The secretive, authoritarian OUN has constantly overshadowed Ukrainian politics, despite incessant fac­tional strife in its ranks, both in the Ukraine and abroad.

Polish rule in the Ukraine during the ’20s had been harsh, and the OUN’s younger members included a number, who, like Lebed, were inclined to terrorism. Among them was the OUN’s eventu­al would-be führer, Stefan Bandera, who in 1934 joined with Lebed and several others in plotting the assassination of Polish interior minister Bronislaw Pieracki. U.S. Army Counterintelligence reports say that Lebed initially escaped from Warsaw but was captured in Stet­tin, Germany, and returned to Poland by the German authorities. Convicted in a mass trial, Lebed, Bandera, and several others were condemned to death; but their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

The most sympathetic, scholarly ac­count of the Ukrainian nationalist period is by John A. Armstrong, a strongly anti­-Soviet and pro-Ukrainian historian who now teaches at the University of Wiscon­sin. His Ukrainian Nationalism 1939–1945 notes that during the period Lebed and Bandera were imprisoned, the Ukrai­nian nationalist movement was solidify­ing its ties to the Nazi regime in Germa­ny.

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“For many years,” wrote Armstrong, “the OUN had been closely tied to Ger­man policy. This alignment was fur­thered by the semi-Fascist nature of its ideology, and in turn the dependence on Germany tended to intensify Fascist trends in the organization.” In fact, most historians regard the OUN as wholly fas­cist — and tied to German intelligence — from its inception. It was the Nazi inva­sion of Poland in September 1939 that allowed Lebed and the other convicted plotters to escape from Warsaw’s Swiety Kroyc prison after serving five years.

The xenophobic, antidemocratic, and anti-Semitic nationalism of the OUN meshed easily with Nazism. The compli­ment was not always returned, however. Within the Nazi hierarchy, opinions about the Ukrainians diverged. Powerful Nazi figures considered the Ukrainians an inferior people, unfit to govern them­selves. Lebed and the other OUN leaders hoped that they would be able to set up an autonomous fascist state, as part of Hitler’s “New Europe,” under a German protectorate.

Such aspirations congealed into a mili­tary, political, and espionage alliance be­tween the OUN and the Nazi war ma­chine. Even after 1940, when the OUN split into two feuding factions — the more extremist led by Bandera, Lebed, and Yaroslav Stetsko — both sought an ac­commodation with the German occupi­ers. Later in the war, the Germans alter­nated between courting and repressing the Ukrainians, but many OUN members served continuously in Nazi formations, from the Waffen-SS to the local police forces, which murdered thousands of Jews, Poles, communists, and socialists.

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DURING THE MONTHS FOLLOWING THEIR release from prison, Lebed and the other OUN leaders chafed under the temporary constraints of the 1939 treaty between Hitler and Stalin. According to Armstrong, they eagerly abetted the secret Nazi preparations for war against the So­viets, sending their young adherents for German military training in mountain camps set up as early as 1939. Sources friendly to Lebed — whose slanted ac­counts may be found in memoranda of the Army Counterintelligence Corps be­tween 1947 and 1948 — understandably pass over this period.

Only hints of what Lebed was actually doing in 1940 and 1941 appear in the CIC file. A September 30, 1948, memo does mention that “For a short time, [Lebed] attempted to get an insight into the tac­tics of the German State Police and suc­ceeded in joining the GESTAPO school in ZAKOPANE (District of Krakow), from which he ultimately fled.” And a card in the CIC file identifies Lebed as “a graduate of the Zakopane, Poland crimi­nal police school.”

A former OUN member, now dead, wrote in 1958 a different and more de­tailed eyewitness version of Lebed’s so­journ with the Gestapo. Retrieved from the files of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the declaration of Mykyta Kosakivs’kyy por­trays both Lebed and the OUN as eager pupils of the Gestapo.

Kosakivs’kyy joined the OUN in 1933, and after sojourns in Czechoslovakia and Germany, returned to the Carpathian Ukraine late in 1939. He was among the older OUN officers present when the “Ukrainian Training Unit” was estab­lished at the Gestapo school in Zakopane that November. According to his declara­tion, the Ukrainian unit was “organized by the OUN leadership and by permis­sion of the German Security Service.” It included 120 specially selected trainees, under the guidance of a Gestapo officer named Walter Kruger and his assistant, Wilhelm Rosenbaum, both Germans. “The Ukrainian commandant of the en­tire unit was Lieutenant Vil’nyy,” wrote Kosakivs’kyy, “whose real name was My­kola Lebid [another transliteration of Lebed].” The curriculum included drills, intelligence and counterintelligence training, and interrogation techniques, but emphasized “exercises in the harden­ing of hearts.”

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“At sundown,” recalled Kosakivs’kyy, “Kruger, Rosenbaum, Lebid and a few students would go to Zakopane, enter some Jewish home on the way, grab a Jew, and bring him to the Unit. One eve­ning, late in November or early in De­cember 1939, they returned with a young Jew. In the presence of Ukrainian seniors, including myself, Kruger and Ro­senbaum, fortified with alcohol, proceed­ed with their demonstration of the proper methods of interrogation.”

Seeking to induce the innocent Jew to confess that he had raped an “Aryan” woman, the German officers beat and tortured him, using their fists, a sword, and iron bars. When he was bloody from head to toe, they applied salt and flame to his wounds. The broken man then confessed his fictional crimes, but that was not the end.

“Thereupon,” Kosakivs’kyy continues, “he was taken to the corridor of the house and the ‘co-eds’ (three women members of the unit) were called in. In their presence, Rosenbaum beat the Jew again with an iron pipe and Lebid too assisted manually in that ‘heroic action.’ One of the senior Ukrainians and I with­drew from that spectacle to our rooms. We learned afterwards that the tortured man was stripped naked, stood up in front of the school as ‘a sentry’ and doused with water in heavy frost.”

Kosakivs’kyy and his friend protested to Lebed the next day, but the comman­dant told them bluntly that “it was the duty of every member of the OUN to show the Germans that his nerves are just as tough as a German’s and that the heart of any nationalist is as hard as steel.” Such “practical exercises” continued unabated, according to Kosakiv­s’kyy’s testimony, and he fled Zakopane in early January 1940. Others equally sickened, he learned, left later, but Lebed remained until at least March of that year, when the unit moved from Zakopane to the nearby town of Rabka, where the Gestapo’s depredations continued.

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When he finished his statement on De­cember 14, 1958, in Germany, the former OUN member already knew he was dying of heart disease, according to the intro­ductory note written by the late Dr. Panas Fedenko, a Ukrainian liberal and implacable critic of the OUN. “I owe it to my conscience to make this declaration public, to report openly the facts I wit­nessed myself,” Kosakivs’kyy concluded. “Mykola Lebid evidently believes that his infamous accomplishments in the Ukraine and elsewhere are forgotten and
so are the multitudes of his innocent vic­tims, that every witness of his torture activities is either murdered or dead. Only Lebid is mistaken right there.”

Kosakivs’kyy’s angry testament must be read in context, as the product of one man’s remorseful memory, and of Ukrai­nian émigré rivalries as well; obviously it was published to discredit Lebed and the OUN. Yet there is supporting evidence for his story in the historical record. The Zakopane school existed, according to Dr. Aharon Weiss of Yad Vashem, and was moved to the nearby town of Rabka in 1940. There was a Captain Kruger, men­tioned above, who commanded a Gestapo unit in the area, and helped lead a joint Nazi-OUN pogrom when the German Army’s Brandenburg regiment occupied the Galician capital of L’vov in late June 1941.

And there is also no question that a German officer named Wilhelm Rosen­baum was a commandant at Zakopane and Rabka during the training of Ukrai­nians. In 1964, that same Rosenbaum was arrested in West Germany and charged, among other crimes, with the murder of 200 Jews at Rabka between May 1942 and January 1943. According to Simon Wiesenthal’s 1967 book The Murderers Among Us, the unit was a “training cen­ter for future cadres of SS killers… SS men at Rabka were being hardened so they would not break after a few weeks of duty. They had to become insensitive to the sight of blood, to the agonized shouts of women and children. The job must be done with a minimum of fuss and a maxi­mum of efficiency. That was a Führerbe­fehl — the Fuhrer’s order.” Rosenbaum was convicted in Hamburg in 1968 and sentenced to hard labor for life.

Lebed declined to be interviewed by the Voice about Zakopane or any of his wartime activities. But in a brief conver­sation on the doorstep of his Yonkers home last month, he conceded that he had been at the Gestapo school, although he believed it had been during the winter of 1940–41, not 1939–40 as Kosakivs’kyy stated. “Oh yes,” he said. “I left after five weeks. I have exactly the dates. I quit.”

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LEBED’S TRAINING AT ZAKOPANE, HOWEVER cursory, was soon recognized by his fel­low leaders in OUN-B, whose acronym designated its domination by the nationalist führer Bandera. When their split from the old leadership became irrevoca­ble in 1941, Bandera commissioned the creation of a “security service,” the Sluzhba Bezpeky, under Lebed’s com­mand. Historians of the OUN-B agree that he ran the SB not only during the war, but long afterward. Armstrong, who interviewed Lebed at length, stated the facts with characteristic discretion: “In Lebed — small in stature, quiet, yet deter­mined, hard — the SB found a well-quali­fied leader, but one who was to acquire for himself and his organization an unenviable reputation for ruthlessness.” In an interview last month Armstrong was still sympathetic to Lebed, but more candid. “He grew up fighting against the Poles,” explained the historian, “and he developed a terrible terrorist complex. He killed other Ukrainians, rivals in the organization [OUN].”

Yet Lebed told the Voice that he had never commanded the SB. He claimed that the SB had instead been run by someone named “Artanych… He’s dead now.”

Such reluctance to assume the SB’s legacy is understandable. Even those Ukrainians who ignore the fascist brutal­ities against Jews and Poles are still trou­bled, and in some cases outraged, by the SB’s infamous assaults on Ukrainians who dissented from the OUN-B leadership.

Lebed’s direct responsibility for crimes attributed to the OUN-B is difficult to establish. Perhaps the lowest point of the Banderites’ alliance with Nazism was the occupation of L’vov in June and July 1941, when Yaroslav Stetsko and a large contingent of OUN-B troops entered that city along with the Brandenburg regi­ment and other German detachments. Several days of mass murder followed. L’vov’s Jewish population was decimat­ed, but Polish university professors and anyone who could be tied to the Communists were also killed. Survivors reported that the Ukrainians were even more bloodthirsty than their German patrons: According to German Rule in Russia, by historian Alexander Dallin, “Bandera’s followers, including those in the Nachti­gall regiment (a Ukrainian SS detach­ment), were displaying considerable ini­tiative, conducting purges and pogroms.”

Ironically, the alliance between the Na­zis and the OUN-B came apart that same week in L’vov, after Stetsko proclaimed an independent Ukraine. Loyal to the Führer, who was in their view creating a glorious new Europe, the Ukrainians still dreamed of their own state. Bandera, the Ukrainian führer, named Stetsko prime minister and Lebed minister of security. But the new regime didn’t last long.

By July 9 the Nazis would no longer put up with this “independent” charade, and arrested Bandera, Stetsko, and other members of the leadership. Lebed es­caped; the others were held under “house arrest” in Berlin but they were not mis­treated. According to Armstrong, the OUN leaders “were allowed to carry on their political activities in Berlin; Stetsko was even able to go to Cracow, where he consulted with Lebed, whom he had se­cretly delegated to take command of all activities in the Ukrainian lands.” Even pro-OUN writers admit that the German repression of the Ukrainian nationalists was mild, and cooperation continued on many levels throughout the war.

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There were periods when some of the nationalist Ukrainians, formed into guer­rilla groups, fought the Germans as well as the Soviet partisans, and there is evi­dence that Lebed took part in those ac­tions, especially after 1942. But by 1943, the Banderites were cooperating in the formation of a new Ukrainian SS divi­sion, and in 1944 Bandera himself — although he had been interned at Sachsen­hausen concentration camp — was still as­sisting the German war effort against the Russians.

Lebed, who had meanwhile adopted the nom de guerre Maxym Ruban, tried to seize control of all factions in the na­tionalist movement. Independent nation­alist bands were carrying out guerrilla actions in Volhynia and the western Ukraine under the name of the Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA). This was intoler­able to Lebed, who demanded that all the Ukrainian guerrillas come under his com­mand. The result was vicious internecine warfare among the nationalists, a period from which Lebed’s reputation did not emerge unscathed. Leading figures of the non-OUN forces were “liquidated,” ac­cording to a 1948 CIC memo: “As a result, the Ukrainians now have difficulty forgetting the fact that Lebed killed some Ukrainian partisans who were fighting for the same cause.”

Other writers, like the Ukrainians Panas Fedenko and O. Shuliak, con­demned Lebed in harsh terms for these killings after the war. Shuliak wrote in 1947 that Lebed’s SB men carried out the murders of dissenters from the OUN line. “It is perfectly evident that neither sol­diers nor officers of the UPA had anything to do with these atrocities. The doers were the Security men under the orders of Lebed.” Massacres and other acts of terror were also carried out against civilians, against Soviet prisoners of war, against entire Polish villages in the Ukraine, and against Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution.

In his own booklet on the history of the UPA, published in 1946, Lebed says its aim was “to clear the forests and the surrounding areas of foreign elements.” According to the late historian Philip Friedman, this meant not only Poles but Jews and Russian partisans as well. Friedman says that postwar OUN efforts to disclaim responsibility for anti-Jewish atrocities “cannot be taken seriously.”

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LEBED’S CAREER IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE war is difficult to trace. By then the OUN had established a new front-group, the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council­ — known by its transliterated initials, UHVR — of which Lebed became “For­eign Secretary.” Several CIC documents report that his wife and daughter were held in Buchenwald concentration camp by the Germans for several months as hostages against Lebed’s guerrilla activi­ties, but they were released in 1944, well before the war’s end.

After 1945 he mainly lived in Rome and Munich, seeking Allied support for the remnants of the UPA to fight against the victorious Soviets. A “political histo­ry ” in the CIC file says that he traveled illegally around Western Europe, orga­nizing the foreign offices of the UHVR. By the end of 1947, conditions in Rome were growing uncomfortable for Lebed, who was afraid that the Soviets might attempt to seize him there. He sought and apparently received the help of U.S. intelligence to leave Rome safely.

Lebed’s file also shows that around the same time, he and other OUN leaders began to proclaim the evolution of their politics in a more democratic direction. The motive behind such declarations is clear. In the cold war that was already taking shape, only self-styled democrats could partake of Uncle Sam’s largesse.

But whether Lebed actually converted to Western liberalism is unclear from the CIC file. Several reports note that when the OUN-B split at a Munich conference in 1947, Lebed gave a speech berating the “weakening and democratization of the party line,” which other members in turn denounced as redolent of fascism.

Regardless of his postwar political views, however, it is clear from the GAO report that Subject D was used as an American agent soon after the war’s end. (Bandera, too, obtained a post with a Western intelligence agency — the West German BND, run by the former Nazi Abwehr chief Reinhard Gehlen, who re­cruited scores of ex-Nazis and collabora­tors for his network. In his memoirs, Gehlen identifies Bandera as one of his men.)

“Because of fear for his personal safety and his familiarity with U.S. intelligence operations,” the section in the GAO report on Subject D explains, “the CIA brought him to the United States under an assumed name.” His naturalization papers, filed in January 1957, show that Lebed arrived in New York harbor on October 4, 1949. The truth about his identity and history was concealed from the Immigration and Naturalization Ser­vice. But two years later, the INS learned who Lebed was and opened an investiga­tion that, the CIA was informed, might lead to his deportation. “According to the CIA file,” says the report, “INS had learned that the subject’s conviction had been for involvement in an assassination and that allegations of terrorism existed against him.” To protect Lebed the agen­cy invoked Section 8 of the CIA Act.

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All this because, according to the GAO, “The subject was considered extremely valuable by U.S. intelligence.” And after Lebed had been employed by the CIA for a few years, it became impossible to let him go, because of “fear for his personal safety and his familiarity with U.S. intel­ligence operations.” Once he knew the CIA’s secrets, the Soviets couldn’t be per­mitted to capture him — so Lebed was smuggled into the U.S.

Lebed became a citizen on March 18, 1957. His application listed an address in Washington Heights as his home, and “journalist” as his profession. He had two witnesses: Bohdan Czajkowskyj, also a writer and a longtime friend of Lebed; and Alexander S. Alexander, who listed his job as “government employee.”

The new citizen was entitled to call himself a journalist because of his posi­tion as president of the Prolog Research and Publishing Association, Inc. Found­ed as a nonprofit publisher in the early ’50s, it has always specialized in Ukrainian-language books and maga­zines, many of them with anti-Commu­nist political themes. Prolog’s certificate of incorporation filed in New York in 1956 lists Lebed as a director and gives as its purposes “investigation of the history, economics, politics and culture of the Ukraine,” and “exposing to the public opinion of the world the true nature of communist dictatorship and the threat of international communism to freedom everywhere.”

Roman Ilnytzkyji, a longtime Lebed associate who worked for Prolog, says that Lebed was “completely absorbed” in his work at the Ukrainian publishing company’s tiny, cramped offices in mid­town Manhattan, although he was never an editor. Aside from keeping Prolog afloat, Lebed’s vocation until he retired in 1980 was to promote the views of the UHVR, the faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists which he headed. Prolog was, in fact, at least partly a front for the former Banderites grouped around the UHVR and Lebed.

The sources of its funding are mysteri­ous. Prolog’s current officers insist that it has always been financially self-suffi­cient, with adequate support “from the Ukrainian community.” Although the market for its books and magazines is tiny, Prolog is now a for-profit corpora­tion. It has at various times maintained offices in Munich, London, and Cairo as well as New York. During the ’70s Prolog published eight to 10 volumes annually, plus two or three small-circulation magazines on Soviet and Ukrainian affairs.

Ukrainians familiar with the workings of Prolog say that it could not have sus­tained itself solely from sales of its publi­cations — many of which were regularly smuggled into the Soviet-ruled Ukraine — and that it probably received help from a government agency. Two mentioned the CIA. Ilnytzkyji said he didn’t know whether Prolog had received any such subsidies. “They keep some things hidden,” he said. But he believes Lebed “has some connections with the American authorities. What kind of con­nections, or whether they included finan­cial help, I don’t know.” None of the other Ukrainians who discussed Prolog and its financing would let their name be used. As one put it, “People simply don’t talk about these things.”

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VERY LITTLE ABOUT SUBJECT D’S PAST ap­pears in the GAO report, although clues were present in the records available to government investigators; three years of research are boiled down to three vague paragraphs. Because it omits nearly all the significant facts, the report suffers from the same moral obtuseness that tainted the CIA’s relationship with Lebed.

Eli Rosenbaum, a former OSI prosecu­tor and now general counsel to the World Jewish Congress, recently examined the declassified CIC files and other docu­ments on Mykola Lebed. “I’m particularly dismayed,” he said, “by the absence of even the slightest indication that any of the government agencies cared to ascer­tain the truth of the damning and very specific charges against Lebed contained in these files. It’s as though they assumed the charges to be true, and proceeded to bring him here anyway.”

After 40 years, a government agency­ — the Office of Special Investigations — is finally examining the evidence against Lebed. But difficult legal and historical questions must be answered before the OSI can consider denaturalization pro­ceedings against Lebed: Did the 1949 CIA Act which permitted his entry allow him to become a citizen, superseding oth­er immigration laws which would forbid it? Can the allegations about his past be proved in court?

The confidentiality of the OSI’s opera­tions is so strict that if the case is dropped the public will probably never know why. Mykola Lebed is, and has been for 29 years, a citizen with constitu­tional rights. All we know for now is that the file on Subject D is still open. ❖

Research assistance by Ellen McGarra­han, Leslie Yenkin, and Kevin Coogan. 

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Paul Manafort Is Going to Jail. But in Ukraine, He Has Left Ghosts in His Wake.

On the morning of February 24, 2014, hundreds of Ukrainians streamed through the doors of the famed presidential palace of Mezhyhirya. The billion-dollar residence, finished in wood, as if to mimic a rustic cottage, was propped up by incongruous white columns; the crowd that flowed between them was witnessing, for the first time, the uses state coffers had been put to under the corrupt guidance of their ousted president. Viktor Yanukovych had fled overnight, vanishing into the depths of Russia, and his guards had deserted their posts. They had watched over the estate, its garages filled with luxury cars, a scale-model Spanish galleon bobbing in the manmade pond, on which Yanukovych had hosted guests for luxurious dinners, with sturgeon caviar served in golden dishes and libations from cellars stocked with priceless brandies; Now the place was left open for a crowd of ordinary citizens, whose average wage was less than $200 a month.

The crowd was awed, but relatively tame. There was no looting, just selfies in the five guesthouses, with the peacocks and pet ostriches and Burmese fowl, on the vast grounds a Washington Post reporter said reminded him “of Marie Antoinette’s idealized peasant village at Versailles.”

Days earlier, on February 20, 48 protesters had died in fierce clashes with Yanukovych’s paramilitary forces, the culmination of a months-long series of rolling street battles centered in Kyiv’s iconic Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square — site of the Ukrainian parliament. In 2014, facing pressure from his benefactor, Vladimir Putin, to crack down on civil unrest, Yanukovych had directed riot police to use live ammunition and snipers to fire into the crowd of thousands that had gathered to demand his resignation. The square, with its soaring pillar topped with a golden angel, was scarred with ash and littered with corpses.

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It was the climax of Yanukovych’s reign — and its end; he fled three days later, leaving his residence and all its trappings behind, as the protests continued to swell. In many ways, that bloody winter owed its tragic toll to the work of another man, one for whom Yanukovych had been one of many protégés: Paul Manafort.

Manafort began advising Yanukovych in 2004, the year Yanukovych became Ukraine’s prime minister. Manafort’s career had begun decades earlier as a shrewd and unscrupulous young Republican in the 1970s, and his star rose with the establishment of the firm Black, Manafort and Stone, a lobbying outfit Time magazine once dubbed “a supermarket of influence-peddling.” Notorious operative Lee Atwater, a Nixon-style dirty trickster for the ages, joined Manafort and Roger Stone in the business; together, they cleared millions nudging the levers of government on behalf of massive corporations. By the 1990s, Manafort’s appetite for luxury and excitement had outgrown domestic politics, and he turned his gaze abroad. He worked to soften the image of brutal Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos; Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, whose armies committed atrocities and conscripted women into sexual slavery; and Zaire’s infamous Mobutu Sese Seko, among others. The back-channel operations were wildly lucrative; moral lines meant as little as borders to the jet-setting power broker.

Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine in 2010, under Manafort’s oily guidance; a country that had been the first to break from the Soviet Union, ushering in its collapse, found itself drifting closer and closer to Moscow. The reforms brought about by a popular revolt against Yanukovych in 2004 dissipated under his renewed rule. Activists bridled against the appalling graft of the Yanukovych regime. In a country where women sell dill-flowers by the metro for kopeks, in which more than a quarter of the population was living in poverty, the capital was studded with exemplars of Yanukovych’s open corruption. From the long promenade at Mariinsky Park, Kyiv’s loveliest municipal garden, a breathtaking view of the banks of the Dnieper River was marred by the blocky gray bulk of a presidential helipad.

After Yanukovych’s ouster, evidence of Manafort’s activities — and the rich payments he received for them — were pieced together from drowned or half-burned documents in Mezhyhirya and the abandoned offices of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Manafort’s name cropped up again and again as the recipient of illicit payments. Manafort’s associate Rick Gates had boasted to friends, “in every ministry, he has a guy” in Ukraine, in what amounted to a “shadow government.” But the ledgers showed that even shadows sometimes leave receipts.

In 2016, investigative journalist and now-parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko received one such document anonymously: the infamous “black ledger,” which detailed, in chicken-scratch Cyrillic, some $12.7 million in payments to Manafort from 2007 to 2012. By the time Leshchenko made the document public, Manafort had stepped in to smooth the ascendance of another troubled and amoral politico: Donald Trump.

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Manafort is en route to a long prison term now, after a jury found him guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. For decades, Manafort gave guidance to murderers around the world. It was only in America, the country that had shaped his tactics, that he found a partial comeuppance. But in Ukraine — and Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Philippines — there are bodies in the ground that will never rise again.

The 2014 revolution, known colloquially as “Maidan” or “Euromaidan,” after Independence Square, was led by students and activists; it swelled to become a grassroots movement that encompassed hundreds of thousands of protestors. These days, a war with Russia still rages in the east of the country, as Putin seeks to reclaim by force the influence over Ukraine he once achieved with grease. Some ten-thousand Ukrainians, soldiers, and civilians alike, have died, while 4.4 million have been impacted by displacement, famine, and continual shelling. In Kyiv, the ash has been washed from the cobblestones of Independence Square, and the angel spreads her wings on the top of a pillar that is once again white, presiding over the city’s living and the revolution’s dead.

The ill-gotten mementos of Paul Manafort’s life have been used as exhibits in trial: his stiff legions of suits; his numerous residences; an infamous $15,000 ostritch-leather jacket. Just outside Kyiv, where once-awed protestors touched with hesitant palms the gaudy fripperies of a life sustained on loot, Mezhyhirya remains, unscathed. It’s available for commercial tours, for the curious, but its colloquial name now illustrates precisely what it is: the Museum of Corruption. Perhaps one day, if the era Manafort and his ilk ushered in ever ends, Mar-a-Lago will serve a similar purpose.

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Tribecastan

“Corned Beef and Sake,” “Night Train to the Ukraine,” “Persian Nightingale,” and “Bwiti” (a Gabon-ian religious ritual) are just four of the cross-cultural recuperations and mashups found on New Songs From the Old Country, the fourth (and best) album by a band specializing in making old and foreign music new again. John Kruth is the main composer behind this deft ensemble with a floating membership and a claim to being the best fake internationalists since Three Mustaphas Three.

Fri., Sept. 27, 7:15 p.m., 2013

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Hava Nagila: The Movie Makes Big Tzimmes About Being Jewish

Something like the doc equivalent of a Yiddish-humor bathroom book, vet TV-doc producer Roberta Grossman’s tirelessly glib little movie tracks the cultural trajectory of the eponymous song “from Ukraine to YouTube,” and makes a big tzimmes along the way about “being Jewish,” as if that required practice. The historical roots of the song in the nigunim of Eastern European shtetls are traced within the first 15 minutes; thereafter, Grossman relishes doodling on the American diaspora and the growth of affluent Jewish culture after World War II, when the ubiquitous party ditty got covered by everyone from Harry Belafonte (interviewed) to Bob Dylan (not), and grotesque bar mitzvah fetes were the defiant answer to memories of the Holocaust. Patronizing from toe to chin, the film opts continually for self-congratulation and cheesy aphorism, and could’ve-should’ve been comfortable slotted into a half hour of airtime on TJC (channel 528 on Time Warner Cable).

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The English Surgeon Prioritizes the Humanitarian Over Systemic Issues

The English surgeon is Henry Marsh, a British neuroscientist who has been traveling to Ukraine since 1992 to tutor, diagnose, and perform operations that the post-Soviet medical infrastructure is incapable of handling. Geoffrey Smith’s well-meaning documentary takes risks: Contextual setup aside, the film’s footage comes from a mere two weeks of shooting Marsh’s umpteenth visit to remove an especially risky tumor. Smith has the guts to shoot/show graphic brain surgery and the sense to avoid maudlin testimonies from friends and family, knowing that no adoring relative could explain why a world-acclaimed scientist would sacrifice his time and mental health to repeatedly do the right thing for no reward. But I wish more attention had been focused on Marsh’s Ukrainian friend Igor Kurilets’s struggles with the country’s proudly anachronistic medical establishment—The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu this ain’t. By focusing on Marsh without any real personal or structural insight, the effect is to prioritize the humanitarian over the far more interesting problem: the system. And the end—a tear-soaked, predictably bathetic visit to the family of a girl who died when Marsh made the wrong call on the operating table—succumbs to the easy sentimentality the film has shirked till then. That a young girl’s death is lastingly sad is the smallest revelation of all.

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‘Orange Winter’

In November 2004, controversy over electoral fraud erupted in the Ukraine, spurring on a series of demonstrations, since named the Orange Revolution for the color of the opposition. Parallels, schmarallels: While we simply cross our fingers for 2008, the Ukrainian people actually got a fair recount that named “good guy” Viktor Yushchenko the winner over “bad guy” Viktor Yanukovich (oversimplified distinctions courtesy of Orange Winter’s naivete). Andrei Zagdansky’s tedious time capsule of the event makes peculiar assumptions about audience familiarity with Ukrainian politics beyond what trickled into the headlines, blowing past potentially fascinating footnotes and story threads for 72 minutes of pure B-roll (panning over the orange-clad crowds, cutting to a Kiev Opera House performance of La Traviata ). It’s enough to drive anyone to revolution.

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‘Light From the East’

On August 7, 1991, members of New York’s La MaMa theater troupe arrived in Kiev to begin a historic collaboration on a piece about Ukrainian theater director Les Kurbas, an expressionist whose work ran afoul of Stalin’s mandatory socialist realism, leading to his murder in a 1937 purge. Of course, a different history altogether soon intervened, and the show’s final rehearsals transpired against the backdrop of the failed coup d’état that would bring down the Soviet Union. Directed by then La MaMa member Amy Grappell, Light From the East documents the trip, particularly the three surreal days following the arrest of Mikhail Gorbachev, when virtually no one knew who was running the country. Although her narration gets a bit self-aggrandizing (“I began to understand that our production was a realization of Ukrainian hope for greater freedom and democracy”), Grappell implicitly uses the juxtaposition with the martyred Kurbas to gauge her commitment to her own art. Light From the East drinks freely from the triumphalist cup of the glasnost era, but a closing dedication to the veterans of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution (the subject of Grappell’s next film) acknowledges that the struggle for democracy continues.

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The Orange Revolution’s Message

After the fraudulent November 2004 election in Ukraine, a mass democratic protest electrified the world and, in a second election, made Viktor Yushchenko—still recovering from being poisoned, allegedly after a secret dinner with the Ukrainian secret police—president of an independent Ukraine. Recently, Yushchenko said that the Orange Revolution—as it came to be called (see Andrew Wilson’s Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Yale University Press)—”proved that individual yearnings for freedom are universal and that abuse of public trust can be overcome anywhere.”

From November 29 to December 3, 2005, Congressman Linco ln Diaz-Balart (Republican of Florida) visited Ukraine to—as he says—”begin the process through which our south Florida community will offer assistance to the victims of the nuclear tragedy of Chernobyl in 1986 and other effects of the ecological destruction caused by the communists during their decades in power.”

Meeting with President Yushchenko, the congressman gave him a message from a Cuban physician, Oscar Elías Biscet (see my column “Castro’s Black Prisoner,” June 15–21, 2005). Diaz-Balart told Yushchenko:

“This Cuban physician was not able to give me his message personally because he is a political prisoner who at this moment suffers in solitary confinement in a cold, damp underground dungeon simply for believing in democracy and human rights. I received his message from his wife, Ms. Elsa Morejón. Dr. Biscet sends you and all of your colleagues of the Orange Revolution, for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, a message of friendship and solidarity.

He also expresses his deep gratitude, on behalf of all the political prisoners in Cuba, for your vote and your support at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva for human rights in Cuba.”

As Diaz-Balart gave this message to Yushchenko, Sylvia Iriondo, head of the Cuban American human rights group Mothers and Women Against Repression, presented the president of Ukraine with a photograph of Biscet and three other Cuban political prisoners (René Gómez Manzano, Jorge Luis García Pérez, and Normando Hernández).

“Thank you,” said the leader of the Orange Revolution. “I will never forget this message, this gesture of friendship. I will never forget the Cuban political prisoners.”

Meanwhile, as Castro’s mounting crimes against Cubans’ yearnings for freedom are seldom reported in the American media—except for Meghan Clyne in The New York Sun and Mary Anastasia O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal—Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights) reported on December 7:

“Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet is seriously ill and suffering from chronic gastritis and hypertension. The conditions in which he is serving his 25-year prison term—imposed after an unfair trial in 2003 for his nonviolent advocacy of human rights—are deteriorating.

Throughout much of his time in prison, Dr. Biscet has been held in substandard punishment cells, often in solitary confinement or with violent criminals. For long periods of time, he has been deprived of any outside communication, visits or vital medications sent by his family. He is currently being held in a windowless cell which lacks adequate water and from which he is infrequently taken outside.”

Dr. Biscet, a disciple of Martin Luther King Jr., has been especially tormented by Fidel Castro—who knows who this prisoner is and where he is—because Biscet refuses to wear the usual prison uniform. He has also protested the vicious treatment of other prisoners.

Castro, while not sensitive to the sufferings of his prisoners of conscience (as Amnesty International designated them), is, however, sensitive to criticism of his brutality from abroad, especially from his supporters in the European Union. Accordingly, 15 severely ill prisoners have been released on medical parole after international protests on their behalf.

Therefore, Human Rights First—which calls for Castro “to unconditionally release all those imprisoned on the basis of the peaceful expression of their beliefs and for their nonviolent promotion of human rights and democracy”—urges you to send a message on behalf of Biscet to:

Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz

Presidente de los Consejos de

Estados y de Ministros

La Habana, Cuba.

This is an excerpt from the sample letter (which you can get from Human Rights First, 333 Seventh Avenue, 13th floor, New York, NY 10001, Attention: Elena Steiger):

“The Cuban government is obligated by the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders—
a document that Cuba was active in drafting [emphasis added]—to protect the rights of all individuals to freely share information about human rights and advance fundamental freedoms. . . . I strongly urge the Cuban government to unconditionally release Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet. . . . Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.”

Meanwhile, as reported in the December 17 issue of The Economist, “this year, at the urging of Spain’s Socialist government, the European Union dropped the mild diplomatic sanctions it slapped on Cuba after the [2003] roundup of dissidents.

“An Ibero-American summit in Spain condemned the American embargo [on Cuba] but said nothing about Cuba’s lack of political freedom.” (Emphasis added.)

I too oppose the American embargo because it provides Castro a rationale for oppressing dissenters as he uses the U.S.’s hostility toward him. And I also oppose the cold and cruel Bush administration restrictions on Cubans here visiting their families in Cuba.

You can also say this, if you agree, in your letters to Castro while you remind him that you and many others around the world—socialists, libertarian conservatives, and plain believers in human decency—ask the presidente to act in the very name and spirit of human decency to release Biscet and the other nonviolent prisoners of conscience. Thereby we can all join Viktor Yushchenko in his message to Fidel Castro.

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Paper Clips

The author of six books about caring for the elderly, Marina Lewycka brings a rare elegance to her description of 80-year-olds. The geriatric hero of her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, is enchantingly annoying—spacey, ornery, and completely unrealistic about his sexual prowess. Like many men with failing hearing, vision, and bladder control, he happens upon a “Big Idea,” marrying a 36-year-old blonde from Ukraine (in need of an English visa) and horrifying his middle-aged daughters. They spend most of the novel tittering about their dad—like most sibling gossip-fests, the conversations never lack in humor.

The wife’s “superior breasts” quickly become the focus (“Man like tits. You papa like tits”), reducing the daughters to idly stealing her bras. Formerly “leftish,” the youngest sister, when tested, adopts a newfangled old-world snootiness, learning how to deport an immigrant and then writing letters of complaint to the British Home Office. Like a reverse tale of colonization, booby-wife accumulates all the necessary Western loot (Hoover vacuum, Rolls
-Royce, even bigger breasts) while the sisters watch in a state of ideological crisis. Their family problems become a cheery parody of the country’s political dysfunctions.