Ukrainians and Jews are two groups of people for whom historical traumas of destruction are common — Borys Khersonskyi
About Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s residence in Buchach for Ukrainian writers, the features shared by Ukrainian and Jewish peoples, and about the importance of cultural memory.
The guest is Borys Khersonskyi, poet, publicist, member of Ukrainian PEN, psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and head of the Kyiv Institute of Modern Psychology and Psychotherapy.
Borys Khersonskyi: The Shmuel Yosef Agnon Residence is a residence for Ukrainian writers. The latest was conditional and mostly virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, there was no war then. Buchach is a typical town in western Ukraine, where three communities once lived: Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian. I always wanted to visit this region because looking at images or reading about it is not the same as seeing it in real life.
Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Agnon, Hebrew) is a writer from Galicia and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966. He was the first winner of this award among Hebrew and Yiddish-speaking writers.
Tasks of the Shmuel Yosef Agnon Residence
Borys Khersonskyi: I would say that the main function of this residence is to restore memory. We know that it was not possible to talk about the Holocaust in Soviet times. I am familiar with the KGB documents, in which it was said that when the Jews wanted to honor the memory of those killed in Babin Yar, it was perceived as a Zionist rebellion.
- The Holocaust is an issue that has divided people into victims, executioners, and witnesses. It hurts to witness such a disaster as nobody could do anything.
Now many people are starting to talk about their relatives who saved Jews during the Second World War. In Soviet times, this could not be discussed, even within the family. My grandmother also saved Jews during the war, and I knew nothing about it.
The Holocaust destroyed the Jewish community in Buchach, as Stalin exchanged the Polish community for the Ukrainian one from Poland. Therefore, here we see a legacy of unacceptance. After the Second World War, only one building related to Jewish life remained in Buchach. This is very unfortunate. It was destroyed in the period of Ukrainian independence because no one needed it in the region.
Ukrainians and Jews have similar fates
Borys Khersonskyi: Over centuries, the Ukrainian people have had an equally tragic fate. Ukrainians and Jews are two peoples for whom historical traumas of destruction are common. I think when we realize this, we will become more tolerant towards each other. We cannot forget this experience. What Ukraine is going through now is terrible, but this is a completely different experience. This is war. We can both imagine and understand it. When millions of people are being exterminated because of their nationality, it’s a little different. It is impossible to understand.
Now, during this time of war in Ukraine, I would advise you to read Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s novel «A Guest for the Night». It was written during Agnon’s visit to Buchach during two wars: the First and the Second World War. One of the main themes of the novel is destruction. Not only the destruction of architecture, but also traditional life. Such destruction in Buchach began as early as the First World War. The Second World War, let’s say, ended this matter. Almost all the old buildings of the city were destroyed. When we see this destruction and the destruction that is occurring now due to the Russian invasion, we feel a connection. Until February 24, 2022, there was no such feeling. Then everything was perceived in a completely different way and now we view everything through the prism of war.