Canadian-Ukrainian Historian John-Paul Himka gave a lecture on his research of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s involvement in the Holocaust and the Polish-Ukrainian genocides during World War II to the Temple Slavic Association on Thursday, April 10.
Himka, a professor of East European History at the University of Alberta, was invited by the student-run Temple Slavic Association to fly to Philadelphia from Canada for the event.
Senior English major and club president Mark Wieczorek was the main organizer of the event. Wieczorek said he specifically asked for Himka to lecture because of his research and publications on the topic, including his fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“There are still people, young people even, who deny the massacre of Poles and Jews or trivialize what happened. To pile lies on top of murder seems to much to me,” Wieczorek said.
A Ukrainian himself, Himka said it’s important to educate people on what he said is the “forgotten truth” about the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army—both of which he said collaborated with the German army in the “ethnic cleansing against Polish people” during World War II.
“The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists was in collaboration with the Germans in the wave of very deadly pogroms that occurred in summer of 1941, when the Germans first invaded Ukraine,” he said.
“This turned into a minor Polish-Ukrainian war. But the Ukrainians, since they outnumbered the Poles so much, were the major perpetrators.”
The Temple Slavic Association paid Himka an honorarium to speak. Wieczorek said the club members’ reactions to the lecture were mixed, but those who disagreed with Himka’s studies refused to go.
“Their perception is that it will create a misconception of the people [in Kiev’s Independence Square],” Wieczoek said.
Senior political science major and club member David Gibbon agreed.
“It sounds like some of the figures from these movements are being idolized or held up as a standard of resistance or leadership,” Gibbon said.
“I’m not sure if the [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] is being used as a figure against Russian oppression or the previous Ukrainian government,” Gibbon said.
Both club members said the lecture was beneficial to the Temple Slavic Association.
“I think people are raised on national myths or narratives,” Gibbon said. “We have our own here in the U.S. and some people may not always be exposed to opposing viewpoints.”
The lecture was held in room 208 of Anderson Hall at 5 p.m. It was open to the public, lasted roughly one hour and was followed by questions from the audience.
Himka addressed what he said is a controversial topic amongst the Ukrainian immigrant population in Canada.
“Nationalist forces were idolized in the Ukrainian immigration, and they’re very popular also in certain regions in Ukraine, and there are some links with the government in power right now,” he said.
Himka said his lectures are frequently met with resistance in Canada.
“When I first started doing these lectures, they would send out fairly important people from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and some of those got fairly heated,” he said.
Himka said Ukrainian’s frequently praise the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists because of their call for independence.
“Everyone thinks they’re these angels of the past that never do anything wrong, and somehow when everyone else was sullying their hands during the Second World War, these guys were never doing anything wrong. But that’s not the case. My research shows that there’s more to the story than that.”
Despite previous controversy, the audience of about 20 students and a few staff members remained calm throughout the event. Himka said he choose to fly to Philadelphia for the lecture because he is rarely asked to speak on the topic, which is a point of much of his research.
“There’s a lot of Ukrainian writing that tries to deny this or justify it way one or another. To me, that’s problematic,” he said.
“I wanted to talk to students because it’s nice to hear from people who haven’t completely made an opinion on the topic and are open to attempting to better understand it.”