A Facebook friend posted a link to a story about a 94-year-old Jewish WWII hero being investigated for killing a Nazi collaborator in Ukraine decades ago. Someone responded to his post with a defense of Ukrainian nationalists, including this phrase: “the memory of the mass executions and starvation inflicted upon the Ukrainian People by the Soviets (largely led by Jews) is not forgotten.” I responded to the comment — with admirable self-restraint, I like to think — thusly:
The Soviets were “largely led by Jews”? This is a historically erroneous statement, although it certainly echoes a fertile line of propaganda down through the ages. Stalin and his henchman in charge of Ukraine, Krushchev, were the prime movers of the worst Soviet crimes and atrocities against the Ukrainian people; neither of them were Jews. Stalin, of course, was a notorious anti-Semite.
It is true that many Ukrainians viewed the Germans as liberators at first, and not without reason. Many came to regret it later, as the Germans made no differentiation between Slavic peoples, regarding them all as subhumans to be killed or enslaved in the Nazis’ Generalplan Ost, which called for the extermination of up to 40 million Slavs to make room for German colonists. Some Ukrainians did continue to collaborate with the Germans, despite the horrific Nazi atrocities in Ukraine. The history and nature of Ukrainian nationalism is indeed a complex subject — the post-war situation saw new layers and complexities added to the mix — and cannot be reduced to simplistic binaries, as you rightly note: “one man’s hero is another man’s villain,” which has been true throughout history. But there is no need to bring specious and unfactual assertions into the argument.
There were people of many ethnicities among the Bolsheviks, Jews included. But to say the Soviets were “largely led by Jews” — Stalin? Krushchev? Dzherzinsky, founder of the Cheka? Yezhov, head of the NKVD during the height of the Terror? Molotov? Lenin? (Lenin was not Jewish, despite fanatical propaganda to the contrary; his maternal grandfather had been a Jewish convert to Christianity; his father’s family were serfs.) — is false. For example, the Politburo during the worst period of Stalin’s repression, 1934-1939, had 84 members: 12 were of Jewish origin. The original Bolshevik central committee at the time of the Revolution had 21 members; 6 were of Jewish origin. (Of course, these Bolsheviks would not have considered themselves as Jews at all, but saw themselves as militant atheist internationalists.)
It is a plain historical fact that the Soviets were not “largely led by Jews.” Considering the kind of people who have made this assertion in the past — and the horrific uses they made of this falsity — it would probably be best to avoid it in any future debates about the nuances of Ukrainian nationalism.