FOR THE RECORD: Remarks by historian Dr. Orest Subtelny
Following is the text of remarks delivered by Prof. Orest Subtelny of York University as he introduced the film "Between Hitler and Stalin" at its premiere.
We are still fascinated by World War II. One look at our TV programming or Hollywood films or your presence here today is proof of that. Perhaps it is because of the way this conflict is presented in our media. Usually it takes the form of the ultimate struggle between, on the one hand, absolute evil - in the guise of Hitler and his minions - and with all the suffering, tragedies and disasters that it imposes and, on the other hand, the undoubted good, that is, our side, which, after heroic effort eventually triumphs. It is an appealing storyline. And no wonder that we repeat it so often and in so many ways. Unfortunately, it is far too simplistic.
All wars, and certainly World War II, are complicated, often ambiguous affairs. Distinctions between good and evil are not always clear-cut. All too often the real choices are between evil and lesser evil. And terrible actions often have the best justifications. War is hell because often what is good and what is bad does not matter.
Nowhere is the brutal, complex nature of World War II better illustrated than in Ukraine. Here two merciless totalitarian systems - the Nazis and the Soviets - clashed in some of their bloodiest battles. Here the rule of both was at its most exploitive, most inhuman. Perhaps it was because Ukraine was a land that both Soviets and Nazis believed that they had to have in order to expand further. Here Ukrainians had no easy choices. Here there was no clear-cut line between who was good and who was evil, whom to support and whom to resist.
As you will see in the film, for Ukrainians, especially western Ukrainians, World War II was a catastrophe in which all their aspirations were frustrated and all their options were bad. Caught between two brutal regimes, they experienced the war at its worst. How a people acts in such a hopeless situation, how they struggle to survive, how they strive to attain their goals - when there is no state to protect you, no friends or allies, when your fate depends on a Hitler or a Stalin - is an aspect of World War II that has been ignored all too often. And in ignoring this, many have failed to grasp an important and complex dimension of this horrendous conflict. As its title indicates, this film will go a long way in correcting this unfortunate gap in the standard perceptions of World War II and in explaining the uniqueness of the Ukrainian experience in this conflict.
We owe, therefore, our thanks to the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center and to Slawko Nowytski. Once before they produced a film - "Harvest of Despair" - about something that needed to be said. After years of dedication, effort and research, they have done it again.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, November 9, 2003, No. 45, Vol. LXXI
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