Academic journal article Kritika

Clean Sweep

Academic journal article Kritika

Clean Sweep

Article excerpt

Tarik Cyril Amar, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists. 356 pp. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015. ISBN-13 978-0801453915. $35.00.

The paradox at the center of Amar's study is, in fact, the elephant that stands triumphantly in the main square of countless East European cities: that the combined efforts of the German occupiers of World War II and the Soviets who came in their wake accomplished what local nationalists had dreamed of since the late 19th century--ethnic homogeneity. This was obviously not the goal of either great power: the Germans sought to transform these lands into an Aryan "living space," while Soviet power claimed for five decades to have made them into a socialist utopia, where old-hat ideas about race, nation, and religion no longer mattered. It was also not the goal of those other nationalists who lost out, such as the Poles of what became Western Ukraine, nor of those who could not claim a territorial nationalism in the region, such as the Jews. But when the proverbial iron curtain rose in the early 1990s, what emerged on the stage were ethnically homogeneous states of a kind that had never existed before in Eastern Europe, courtesy of Nazi genocide and Soviet population policies.

Amar traces this process in one of the most interesting sites of transformation; interesting, one might say, especially before that transformation occurred, ghastly while it was taking place, and almost inconceivably drab and dull afterwards. The city of Lviv, the capital of what had been Habsburg Austria's Eastern Galicia and the Second Republics Eastern Lesser Poland, has gradually picked itself up from the debris of communist rule in the last two decades, proudly displaying both its Central European legacy and strident Ukrainian nationalism. But this new phase of its existence is not the topic of Amar's book, which traces the history of the city from its prewar days, through the first Soviet annexation of 1939-41, the German occupation of 1941-44, the remaking of Lviv as a Ukrainian city with the return of the Red Army, and finally its peculiar Soviet modernization--which reinvented it both as an industrial hub and as a cultural wasteland, infected with the common flu of intellectual compromise, political complicity, and acute historical amnesia.

Based on extensive archival sources and a wide-ranging bibliography, Amar's book joins several other works on the fate of Eastern Europe's interethnic cities, such as Holly Case's study of Cluj-Kolozsvar-Klausenburg in World War II, Felix Ackermann's work on the nationalization and Sovietization of Grodno, Gregor Thum's book on the transformation of Breslau into Wroclaw, Emily Greble's study of Sarajevo under German rule, Theodore Weeks's history of Vilnius, my own forthcoming analysis of local genocide in Buczacz, and others. (1) The book also makes an important contribution to the growing literature on the manner in which the successive violence of the first Soviet occupation, Germany's genocidal war, and the brutal return of the Soviets, combined with local nationalist agendas and prejudices, fed each other in producing an extraordinary degree of violence, mass murder, property transfer, and population displacement. (2)

The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv is, for the most part, not a study of individuals but an analysis of policies and institutions. Although its title suggests that its focus is Lviv's Ukrainian aspect, almost half of it is dedicated to all that preceded the postwar effort to Sovietize it and the somewhat unforeseen consequence of creating a Ukrainian city. It is in this second part of the book that Amar reconstructs how a city emptied of most of its inhabitants--murdered Jews and ethnically cleansed or expelled Poles--was taken over by "locals," mostly Ukrainians from the surrounding countryside, and by "easterners," many of whom were Ukrainians from pre-1939 Soviet Ukraine. …

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