“We forget about heroes because they were Ukrainians”. Szabłowski reveals unknown side of the Volyn massacre”.

Witold Szabłowski depicted in his book the stories of Ukrainians who were saving Poles during the Volyn massacre.

– It is inconceivably unfair that nobody has never officially honoured and thanked the Ukrainians who helped the Poles during the slaughter in Volyn. That’s a shame. We only talk about the murderers and we forget about heroes because they were Ukrainians. I feel ashamed- said Witold Szabłowski, the author of “Sprawiedliwi Zdrajcy”, the book that may be inconvenient for many people in Poland. It recalls the Ukrainians who were saving Poles during the Volyn massacre.

You cannot say it is by chance. The premiere of your book coincides with the premiere of Smarzowski’s film about the events in Volyn in 1943.

I will not say that. The fact is that both Szmarzowski and I started working on Volyn at the same time by chance whereas the premiere was chosen by me and the publisher deliberately, few weeks before the premiere of the film. I wanted to show the other side of the events in Volyn. I wanted to show not only the Poles- victims but also the Ukrainians who helped some of them. There were many more of them than it is commonly thought.

“Sprawiedliwi zdrajcy. Sąsiedzi z Wołynia”, the book I have been working on for the last three years is now in bookshops.

Why? To make the extent of the cruelty of Ukrainians relative? You do not want people to talk about the genocide?

Listen. 100,000 Poles died in Volyn and Galicia. However, a few thousands were saved by their good neighbours. Is it not enough? In my opinion that is a lot since UPA was killing people who were helping Poles. And they did not need to hide those Poles, although there were many such situations. One of these examples is the story of the priest from Kaszówka. He refused to conduct a mass and bless the force coming to kill Polish people. He was shot. Jerzy Krasowski’s father-in-law was tortured to death because he saved his daughter’s husband. I can list many more.

Are you going to the cinema to see “Wołyń”?

Yes, I am. Though I am afraid.

Of what?

Knowing Szmarzowski’s films there will be a lot of blood. I am afraid that after the film the only thing people can do is to grab a gun and take revenge. I think that art- cinema, literature- should appeal to people to make them better. They should not lie; I do not lie in my book. I included the cruelty of those events but it is not soaked with blood.

But these events were soaked with blood. The description is enough. 11 July 1943, “Bloody Sunday”, the highest point of inhumanity. 80 Poles died in church in Kosielin. They were killed with bayonets. Have you heard about cutting with a saw?

One of the chapters is about Kosielin. Please, listen to this story. The mother of the famous composer Krzesimir Dębiński, Mrs Aniela, came from the Sławiński family. This family were neighbours of the Ukrainians named Maciuk. Ukrainians knew that anti-Polish event was about to start. Poles did not know. At night grandpa Maciuk came to their Polish neighbours and warned them that his children and grandchildren were coming to kill them. Another similar case is the Hermaszewski family, parents of Polish astronaut, who were warned by their grandfather’s friend, Taras Nowaczok. He was killed in retribution for helping Poles. I wanted to write about him in my book.

In Israel, trees are being seeded for those who helped the Jews during the Holocaust. Do you think it is time for us to seed trees for the Germans or Ukrainians who helped the Poles?

Yes, I do. We can seed the forest on the Polish-Ukrainian border. I would like the heroes to receive medals.

Wait… so nobody has never officially thanked them?

You are kidding… Every acknowledgement is a private initiative. In my book I depicted the story of Lech Popek. He found the Ukrainian who had saved his grandmother. Popek wanted to thank but he had not got anything with him. He found two oranges and a bar of chocolate in his car. It is meaningful, symbolic, and priceless but when it comes to the government there is only silence. It is not about presents. Ukrainians just want to know if those whom they helped survived, hear some news, just as one of the characters in my book, Irina’a grandfather, was waiting but he did not live to see this day.

Why don’t we want remember the Ukrainians?

It is more convenient to see the victim’s point of view. It is difficult to admit that we owe something to somebody. They were only killing and betraying.

Maybe that’s a mechanism. One of your interlocutors remembers the faces of the murderers and not the faces of the Ukrainians who were helping.  

She went through the nightmare. She saw her family being murdered. During our conversation she recalled that some Ukrainians killed her family and others hid her in their house risking their lives. I can understand why she remembered only the bad ones. However, we as a country, a nation and society do not remember about them. And this is what I do not understand.

I think that some people would say: is it heroism? One Ukrainian hides a Pole from other Ukrainian and pretends that he or she is not a slayer.

Those people could be killed and the bullet was a luxury. Petro Parfeniuk’s family was killed in such a way. He saved several people, including his wife’s family so Ukrainians shot his brother, sister-in-law, their little daughter and their parents. His brother-in-law was the executioner.

Did you happen to cry while writing the book?

Hmm. I worked on the book for three years. I visited the witnesses of those events. They told me terrible things, they cried, sometimes they were silent for a long time but I did not cry. The defence mechanism set off. There was a situation after I had sent the book to the publisher that I was sitting in the car and I was crying.

The families of those who were killed are also crying and in their opinion the parliament made a good decision adopting the resolution that this was the genocide. Will you reject it?

The parliament has made a rapid turn in discussions with Ukrainians about the Volyn massacre. What is worse, the representatives who adopted it have no idea what to do next. How can we get Polish-Ukrainian relations right? The parliament did not prepare Ukrainians for such a turn. They are surprised.

Because they do not want to admit to those crimes…

I often go to Ukraine and there are not any problems talking about the genocide. It hurts me when I am on Kłym Sawur street in Równe too. He was a psychopathic murderer of Poles. It hurts me when I see reappearing banderists’ symbols. And we must speak of what hurts us but for God’s sake, we must speak, not scream.

I will ask you about another interlocutor from Volyn. How is Grandma Szura?

When I saw her last time she was picking blueberries, mushrooms and herbs as usual. She was helping the farmers. She was praying. For the Ukrainians and the Poles.

Why for the Poles?

She says that she cannot do anything without Poles. Her father was saving Poles and he was later ostracised for that. He felt guilty. They moved out. He is dead now and Grandma Szura listens to Radio Maryja. She says the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy together with other listeners. She asked her priest if she can say that prayer. He said that if the Poles pray she can pray as well. I am seeing her in a few days. I will give her my book.

fot.: Marcin Jończyk

Can she read in Polish?

Do you want to ask whether she will read this book?

Yes. Are you afraid of her reaction, response?

Why? She knows what is in my book. I described Grandma Szura as she is and only what she went through. She is ready to read “Sprawiedliwi Zdrajcy”.

Are the Poles ready?

I do not know. I hope they are. Although we commonly think “Go ahead and revenge” and there is a general hatred towards Ukrainians. We took over what Russian haters have been practicing for years. When somebody asks me how many Ukrainians helped Poles I say that a lot. It is not about numbers although they are big. Many Ukrainians helped Poles risking their lives. Sadly, politicians are focused on making conflicts and quarrels with Ukrainians. However, they get points in Kremlin. My book is a tool for politicians to act. Here you are. Make a good use of it. Give acknowledgement to those people and do talk with the Ukrainians and do not scream.


Author: Włodzimierz Szczepański

Translation: Daria Skrzypczak

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