Professor of European history at Brown University, Dr. Omer Bartov, visited CSUN on Monday to present his study of disappearing Jewish communities in Galicia, Ukraine. Dr. Bartov, an authority on the subject of genocide, was invited by the Provost’s office and the Jewish Studies Program to speak about his latest book called ‘Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine.’
The book, which chronicles Bartov’s personal investigation into his mother’s hometown of Buczacz as well as 19 other Galician cities, towns, and villages, seeks to illuminate the true history of a once multi-ethnic region whose inhabitants, over many years, expunged nearly all traces of Jewish culture.
‘Here you have an excellent example of scholarship that is personal, as it ties into his family and it allows you to see where someone comes from, using the tools of history, sociology, anthropology, and political science,’ said Jody Meyers, coordinator of the Jewish Studies Program. ‘But it is unique because he has lots of reasons to be furious about what he finds, but he doesn’t go there in his work. Instead he just explains why things are the way they are.’
Provost Harry Hellenbrand shared a similar view of Bartov’s work.
‘His dispassionate and detailed scholarship recreates the unimaginable and challenges us to convert sorrow and regret into foresight and education,’ said Hellenbrand.
Speaking to CSUN students, faculty, and members of the surrounding community, Bartov described seven of the 20 locations he visited during his time in the Ukraine. Each town or village he discussed had its own unique structure and historical development. Yet, each location suffered from the same self-inflicted and purposeful amnesia: the removal of Jewish history from both the public memory and the physical landscape.
Bartov described synagogues made into garbage dumps, Jewish gymnasiums ripped down to build shopping centers, and cemeteries paved over and turned into marketplaces. He recalled defaced and desecrated plaques and statues meant to commemorate notable Jewish locations and individuals. He also spoke of memorials erected to those killed by the Nazis that made no specific mention of Jews.
‘Few of the region’s inhabitants know about its complex, rich and torturous past,’ said Bartov. ‘They are engaged in creating a single national historical narrative, an undertaking of massive simplification and erasure.’
Bartov’s lecture placed significant emphasis on how the past is remembered, by whom, and for what reasons, noting that history is often written by those seeking to justify their actions in the present. Bartov spoke of the importance of recognizing historical failures and respecting accomplishments in order to move forward and avoid repeating past mistakes.
‘We cannot understand ourselves and build a secure and confident identity without acknowledging where we come from and how we got to where we are today,’ said Bartov. Bartov acknowledges that while unpleasant and controversial, accurate records of past acts of collective violence are important to the future.
‘It behooves us to reflect on the causes and consequences of previous atrocities and to finally understand that the origin of collective violence invariably lies in repressing memory and misconstruing the past,’ said Bartov.
In attempting to tell the history of eastern Galicia through the eyes of its past and present inhabitants, he hopes to create a personal and true account of Ukrainian and Galician history rather than a history created ‘from above’ by political and outside perspectives.’
Bartov believes that unearthing this violent and subverted history will be vital in preventing future atrocities.
‘Dr. Bartov not only studied something, he restored lost communities back into history. We cannot simply forget bad things that have happened in our past,’ said Meyers. ‘It has shaped us and it will be repeated if not exposed.’