The never-ending dissertation research trip has certainly taken its toll on blogging over the last month. When the energy level picks up, so will the posts. In the meantime, here’s more fun with Soviets and bicycles after an afternoon at the library in Kyiv.
Nothing more romantic than a bike trip. Photo from Molod’ Ukrainy (The Youth of Ukraine).
Coverage of a race from the same paper.
Little late for a best of list, no? That’s the nice thing about having your own blog — you make your own deadlines. Now here was a year defined by albums I didn’t like. Kurt Vile? Pass. Weeknd? Nope. M83? Nah. Wye Oak, Real Estate…not so much. Adele? Please. I’m even more surprised I wasn’t taken by some of my favorites like Wilco and Okkervil River. The albums weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. And I wish someone would politely ask My Morning Jacket to start making good country-rock albums again. Alas, here you have it:
1) Rural Alberta Advantage: Departing. From the opening lines, “Two lovers stuck in a sweet embrace” to the very last lines “maybe we might get back together, goodnight” I was mesmerized. Just the type of album I’ve been waiting for all year and I only found it last week. Actually, I did hear one track a month ago, but that was a mistake. This is an album you need to listen to in one sitting from beginning to end – preferably in a cold setting. The album has four key components: Tom Waitsian outlook sprinkled with Arcade Fire emotional integrity sung with a Jeff Mangum-like voice backed by some serious drumming. A chilly, touching album about embraces and what’s left in their wake. Key track: “Two Lovers.”
2) Antlers: Burst Apart. Dark, baroque, and hauntingly beautiful. Shades of Amnesiac. Quite a sophomore effort. Key track: “No Widows.”
3) Caitlin Rose: Own Side Now. Country’s new darling. Following her since her EP a few years back. Golden voice with plenty of attitude and song-writing skills to go along. Add Linda Ronstadt reference here. Key Track: “Own Side.”
4) Typhoon: A New Kind of House (EP). Did this guy just pick an EP as one of the best albums of the year? You’re damn right I did. Deal with it. Like with RAA’s Departing the EP works as one continuous thought — this one being a meditation on space and the idea of home. Bad-ass harmony to boot. Key Track: “The Honest Truth.” Also, watch this.
5) Bon Iver: Bon Iver. Guy who made awesome neo-folk album in cabin in the woods reinvents himself with his second album. Dreamy landscapes and plenty of lush vocals with a whole new sonic dimension and instrumentation you didn’t hear on the first effort.
6) Udo Lindenberg: MTV Unplugged: Live Aus Dem Hotel Atlantic. Yes, I just added a German album to my top 10. What can I say? I’ve got range. I admittedly knew nothing about Hamburg’s version of Bob Dylan until this year. The Unplugged set is a great introduction to the music with plenty of great guest appearances. And yes, it’s in German. Key track: “Cello feat. Clueso.”
7) Decemberists: The King is Dead. Erudite folk-rockers put out a solid sixth album. No epic Welsh poems or rock operas here — just good ‘ole country-folk tunes. Americana at its finest. Key track: “Don’t Carry it All.”
8) Beirut: The Rip Tide. Everybody’s favorite gypsy troubadour, who’s really just a white American middle-class guy, gets back to basics on his third album. Key track: “East Harlem”
9) Black Keys: El Camino. You might as well just pencil the Black Keys into every top ten list I do from now until the end of eternity. Perfunctory at this point. Key track: “Nova Baby.”
10) Dan Mangan: Oh, Fortune. Canadian singer-songwriter’s third effort. Folksy ballads that are good for the soul with plenty of sweet orchestration to wash it down. Key track: “Jeopardy”
Radiohead: King of Limbs. Just cause its Radiohead. Key tracks: “Codex.”
Middle Brother: Middle Brother. Alt-country superband – uneven, but enjoyable. Key Track: “Blue Eyes.”
Blind Pilot: We Are the Tide. Loved the first effort – this one is a little slick for my taste, but some strong tracks. Key track: “Get it Out.”
Papa: A Good Woman Is Hard To Find. Another great EP – what can I say. Key track: “Ain’t it So.”
Low: C’mon. Another good album from lo-fi royalty. Key track: “Nightingale.”
Alabama Shakes: Alabama Shakes. One last EP for good measure. A whole lot of soul going on here – can’t wait for the LP. Key track: “Hold On.”
Albums I honestly didn’t listen to yet that might end up on this list:
Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean
Bright Eyes: The People’s Key
Barton Hollow: The Civil Wars
William Tyler: Behold the Spirit
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Other Lives: Tamer Animals
And it goes without saying that my favorite music every year is produced somewhere deep down in the lungs of my girlfriend. Listen to her sing here (and please pass on to all of your Opera house-owning friends)!
See Best of 2010 here.
My interest piqued greatly while reading the following article on BBC’s website: “Russia row over Nazi massacre site in Rostov-on-Don.” In Rostov-on-Don, Russia a new plaque has been unveiled to commemorate the 27,000 people murdered at Zmiyevskaya Balka in 1942 by the Nazis. One might think that such commemoration should go off without a hitch in Russia (I mean it’s not Ukraine!), but that wasn’t the case. It turns out the plaque read: “peaceful citizens of Rostov-on-Don and Soviet prisoners-of-war”, despite the fact more than half of the victims were of Jewish origin and were killed as a part of the larger genocidal project we now call the Holocaust. As a result, the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), among others, is not happy.
What the article does not elucidate is that this phraseology has very specific historical roots. The Extraordinary State Commission (known as ChGK) was created in 1942 to document the Nazi crimes in the Soviet Union. The commission produced millions of pages of evidence of what happened during the occupation over a two-three year period. Much of the material was used in various publications about the war for the next fifty years and parts were even utilized during the Nuremberg trial.
In its various final products, ChGK is well-known for subsuming Jewish victims, who certainly had been singled out by the Nazis for unique extermination, into the ambiguous phrase: “peaceful Soviet citizens.” You will find this phrase ad nauseam in official ChGK documentation. You might ask: well weren’t they peaceful and also citizens of the Soviet Union; what’s the big deal? I’m sure many victims fit into both of those categories, but the phrase was consciously used by Soviet authorities to downplay, if not, outright ignore the Holocaust in Soviet publications. Some in the Kremlin felt it was dangerous to allot a special status of victimhood to the Jews, despite the fact everyone knew this was in fact true. The argument has been made they wanted to downplay Jewish victim status so as to not aggravate other ethnic groups and their sacrifices during the war, who might see the Soviets as being too sympathetic to the Jews.
In noting this tendency, some historians of Soviet and Jewish history, have therefore questioned the validity of ChGK as a research source and even some of my colleagues (the more hysterical among us) called it such things as a “tool of Stalinist falsification.”
While Jews and other victims were white-washed in final reports, publications (ChGK had a set of books), and newspaper articles, the commission’s holdings do discuss explicitly the Holocaust at great length for many places in Soviet Union. Local officials who were in charge of canvassing their own communities did not get instructions to ignore the Holocaust, therefore the picture presented in these local reports greatly differs from the later versions. Therefore, I believe, regardless of the final reports, the ChGK collection remains the single greatest resource we have on the Holocaust in the East. The collection of testimonies taken immediately after the war allow the historian to get incredibly close to ground zero of the occupation. It’s hard to imagine what our knowledge of the war in the East would look like without these documents. Read more…
This is what a revolutionary looks like:
I cannot resist the opportunity to present one more letter written to the Gebeitskommissariat in Lut’sk during the war that I found over here in Ukraine. For the first installment of “Dear Gebeitskommissar…” see here. Readers of the blog will know my endless desire to link a favorite hobby, cycling, to my scholarly interests in the second world war, as evidenced here and here, so this one should come as no surprise.
One, Liudmila Valenta, age 23, resident of the village Banasivka in Luts’k raion, wrote to the Gebietskommissar on July 6, 1942. The matter: her bicycle. As we know from my other entry on the diary of a young boy in Kremenets’, the Nazi administration forced the residents to register and turn over their bicycles to the authorities much to the consternation of Ukraine’s inhabitants.
Ms. Valenta was forced to turn over her “Indian” brand bicycle (nr. 99283) to the police on June 29, 1942. The problem was she taught at a “volkschule” (letter is in German) located 2km from her home. She also needed to travel to Luts’k to the head Schulabteilung (School Dept.) once a week as well.
Given her predicament, writing a letter was all she could do and then hope for the best. She wrote something I think most cyclists can agree with — even those of us not living through the Nazi occupation: “I cannot attend to these matters as well, nor as quickly as I can with my bicycle.” She ended with, “Please allow me an exception [and to keep my bike].” Whether or not that happened, is unknown, but I’d like to picture her taking many safe travels to and from school on her Indian bicycle along the bumpy Volhynian roads.
I swear I’m doing actual work when I come across this stuff. I present to you a Letter to the Editor printed in The Ukrainian Weekly, a diaspora newspaper in Canada, from 1994.
So in short, the sender thinks the character (watch for yourself) Taurus Bulba, from the Disney cartoon, Darkwing Duck, defames the Ukrainian nation, because he somehow resembles a Ukrainian and is a negative character on the show. As per background, Taras Bul’ba is a mythical Cossack hero from the Zaporizhian Sich, who was immortalized in Nikolai Gogol’s short story by the same name. The name Taurus Bulba (think “bull”) is obviously a play on words, since the character is a bull.
To start, if you don’t like ethnic stereotypes you probably shouldn’t watch any cartoons or read any comics (the list is endless). That said, how a child is going to connect a bull with a funny accent to the nation of Ukraine is beyond me. Most American adults don’t where or what Ukraine is – how he/she is going to grow up and hate Ukrainians is pretty confusing. Not to mention, the accent is generic and in no way specifically Ukrainian (sounds Hungarian to me). As for Taras Bul’ba – he was a “Cossack” (in make-believe land) and is not designated in the short-story as a “Ukrainian”, since that was a later national construct.
Ironically, the writer thinks that if children watch a bull with a funny accent it is going to incite “ethnic hatred” later in life, when the short-story “Taras Bul’ba” is likely to do more in that direction, as it contains negative, stereotypical depictions of Jews and Poles (though I’m doubtful this story will cause young people to start pogroms). Perhaps someone will include this cartoon into the very long and comical (pun intended) entry for Ukrainophobia on Wikipedia (note Daniel Mendelsohn and Everything is Illuminated are even included).
In the Luts’k archive (a city in western Ukraine), I recently came across a great file with letters written by Luts’k citizens to the local Gebietskommissar during the Second World War and Nazi occupation of Ukraine. The Gebietskommissar was a German civilian leader who ruled over an administrative parcel of land known as a Gebiet during the occupation of the Soviet Union. Gebietkommissars played an intimate role in perpetrating the Holocaust, not to mention countless other such crimes in the wild East. One Germany military advisor described the relationship between a Gebietskommissar and his citizens as a “lordship”, if that gives you an indication as how they ruled their territories.
The letters were written by local Ukrainians who were seeking help of some sort from the man in charge, Heinrich Lindner. One such letter was written by Kristina Pavlovska, originally from Stepan’ (a mid-sized town in neighbouring Rivne oblast’) and resident of Luts’k. In her first letter to Lindner on March 5, 1942, Pavlovska wrote that she was a Karaite-Jew during her childhood, but in her teenage years she was baptized with the help of some local peasants. At the present moment, she was a devout Orthodox Christian and had married an “Aryan” before the war. They both routinely went to church and are followers of Archbishop of Luts’k and Kovel’, Polikarp (Sikorsky). She writes the GK can check these facts with Polikarp himself. At the end of letter we learn the reason for its existence: at present, authorities are trying to take her from her husband, put her in the ghetto and force her to wear the Jewish star.
There is a lot going in this first letter. First, who are Karaites? The Karaites are a sect of Judaism that reject the Rabbinic tradition of interpreting scripture and instead believe in a strict following of Tanakh alone. What is important about Karaite identity in relation to the Holocaust is that the Nazis did not consider Karaites to be Jews and thus did not kill them. The Reich Agency for the Investigation of Families made the final decision on the Karaites and a letter from the Reichsstelle fur Sippenforschung provided the key ruling on the matter:
The Karaite sect should not be considered a Jewish religious community within the meaning of paragraph 2, point 2 of the First Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law. However, it cannot be established that Karaites in their entirety are of blood-related stock, for the racial categorization of an individual cannot be determined without … his personal ancestry and racial biological characteristics. (Source: YIVO archives, Berlin Collection, Occ E, 3, Box 100, letter dated January 5, 1939.)
The majority of Karaite Jews in Ukraine were Crimean Karaites, known as Karaim by locals. While they lived in Crimea for centuries, no one is entirely sure from where this Turkic speaking Jewish group originated. Some have argued they are Khazar by origin (of Koestler fame) who converted to Karaite Judaism when they arrived in Crimea, while others claim they are Jews in origin who left Levant before the canonization of the Talmud. The level to which members of this community self-identified as “Jews” and “Judaism” (sometimes they deemed their belief system the “Mosaic Religion”) fluctuated over the last two centuries, varied from town to town, and certainly was something influenced by external events. Read more…