by Wendy Lower Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Wendy Lower’s forensic and archival detective work in Ukraine, Germany, Slovakia, Israel, and the United States recovers astonishing layers of detail concerning the open air massacres in Ukraine. The identities of mother and children of the killers and, remarkably of the Slovakian photographer who openly took the image, as a secret act of resistance are dramatically uncovered. In the hands of this exceptional scholar, a single image inlocks a new understanding of the place of the family unit in the ideology of Nazi genocide.
The places featured in this book have a multilingual imperial history, reflecting the rich mix of local cultures as well as the dominant languages spoken by Polish, Russian, and German rulers. The spelling of place names and the use of diacritics can connote a bias and have profound implications today. For example, Myropil’ (Ukrainian spelling) is now located in independent Ukraine; however historically the more common spelling of the town Miropol, is closer to the Russian (Miropol’). One spelling Miropolye, reflects the Yiddish pronunciation, which was heard prior to the Holocaust and is no longer in use because of the annihilation of the Jewish population there.
For the period covering the Ravine, the town of Miropol’ was controlled by Russia and within the Soviet Union. German rulers, during the brief but devastating occupation of the town (1941-44) used the spelling Miropol (dropping the Russian accent), but sometimes the Ukrainian spelling, Myropil', appears in wartime documentation. Since this book spans most of the twentieth century and draws on sources in German, Slovakian, Russian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish, the author decided to employ accepted English place names wherever possible, and for less well known localities, to transliterate them into English based on the most commonly used spelling and diacritics in the documentation of the time.
Over time, how did the family unit respond to extreme pressure and assaults that led to separation and eventually murder? There are traceable patterns. Families tried to survive together, but the stress also caused resentments and rifts and precipitated divorces. The German intellectual Mohr left for Shanghai in the 1930’s not looking back or securing transit for his gentile wife. In more stable families, when the head of household, the father, emigrated or was deported or murdered, mothers and children were left to fend for themselves.
This book is well written and thoughtfully researched. It is valuable to all who see the importance of history and understanding who and what went before us.