How Metropolitan Sheptytsky blessed Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state

12.07.2021, 14:35
How Metropolitan Sheptytsky blessed Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state - фото 1
Eighty-seven years ago, in early July 1934, the representatives of two different worlds met at the metropolitan’s residence on St. George’s Terrace in the Lviv of the time.

Shimon Briman (Israel)

Count Andrei Sheptytsky, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who at the age of sixty-nine was the undisputed spiritual leader and moral authority of the Ukrainians in Galicia, agreed to meet with the little-known and very young Jewish journalist Lieber Krumholz, who at the age of twenty-one had just begun working as the Lviv correspondent of the Cracow-based Zionist newspaper Nowy Dziennik.

Krumholz was born into the family of the Jewish businessman and Ukrainophile David Krumholz, who expressly sent the journalist’s younger brother, Mark, to be educated at the Ukrainian gymnasium in Lviv.

The young journalist had to walk only seven hundred meters from his apartment at 29 Murarska Street (today: S. Yefremov Street) to the metropolitan’s residence. Krumholz was working on a series of interviews with Ukrainian civic and political leaders on such topics as their attitudes toward Jews, anti-Semitism, and Zionism. The interview with Metropolitan Sheptytsky was to be the fourth in this series.

However, after agreeing to meet with the Jewish journalist, Sheptytsky politely declined the formal style of an interview. All of Krumholz’s other articles on the topic of Ukrainian-Jewish relations were constructed according to the question/answer principle. With the metropolitan, everything turned out differently. Sheptytsky agreed to speak informally without being recorded and quoted directly.

Krumholz was enchanted after leaving the metropolitan, but he asked Sheptytsky’s assistants to send him a text containing the verbatim remarks of the head of the UGCC about Zionism, which could then be cited in the newspaper. Such a text was indeed sent to him; it was a detailed statement from Sheptytsky in support of Zionism and the revival of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

Krumholz published this statement in his article, in which he shared his deep, personal impressions of his dialogue with the metropolitan. This article was published on 16 July 1934.

Below is the complete [English] translation of Krumholz’s article, the first one in eighty-seven years.

“The Jewish Question in the Light of Ukrainian Political Thought”

Interview in Nowy Dziennik with the leaders of Ukrainian political forces

“The building of St. George’s Cathedral where Metropolitan Sheptytsky lives is a world unto itself. Sprawling courtyards, small palaces, chapels, and terraces prepare the visitor for an amazing sense of solemnity. A kind of majestic grandeur hovers over this place.

The broad courtyard opposite the palace of His Eminence Sheptytsky is always filled with people. Believers lie in the form of a cross on the stone steps leading to an open chapel. The sick, plunged into deep prayer, kneel next to the figures of saints. From the most distant corners of the land, they are led here by faith in search of a miraculous cure. People who have lost heart or are wracked by doubts seek solace and joy here.

His Eminence Metropolitan Sheptytsky lives and works in a small residence. Looking down at me in a modestly furnished waiting room are portraits of the metropolitan’s predecessors, the highest dignitaries of the Greek Catholic Church. Metropolitan Sheptytsky welcomes me in an adjoining office.

An astonishing emotion envelops one with the appearance of this noble, respectable, and majestic figure. A few minutes’ conversation with His Eminence leaves an unforgettable impression. Mysterious vibrations emanate from his person.

I present the goal of my visit: an interview on the topic of the Jews’ liberation struggle. His Eminence courteously declines to be interviewed. He has not granted interviews for many years.

So, we chat a few minutes about this and that. “Unofficially.”

At our parting, His Eminence says:

“My sympathy is on your side. I am also pleased to note the successes of Zionism. With sincere satisfaction, I am learning of progress in the matter of the rebuilding of Palestine, the flowering of the land, and the raising of a new type of Jew. I believe that your efforts will be crowned with victory.”

“Jaazor Adonaj lachem b’awodatchem ujewarech otchem b’darkechem.”

A heartfelt handshake concludes our conversation. Moved, I leave the office of the distinguished metropolitan, who several times declared his friendly and supportive attitude to the Jewish people.

However, a journalist cannot be satisfied by a brief, “private” conversation. A journalist would not be a worthy representative of his profession if the topic that interests him were not deep and researched in detail.

Therefore, I appeal to the closest associates of His Eminence, to the persons who are in steady, continuous contact with the metropolitan. These are the supreme spiritual dignitaries and the most distinguished Ukrainian political leaders. Some of them note down day-by-day extracts from conversations with His Eminence.

There are a lot of records that also concern Zionism. Having collected and organized them accordingly, I offer them to readers in a Polish translation, as literally heard.

“I was always a passionate supporter of the idea behind the rebirth of the Jewish nation and the restoration of the Jewish state in Palestine. I consider Zionism a natural and healthy popular movement.

Zionism offers Jews an opportunity for an open, unhindered return to Jewry. The Christian world sympathizes with Zionism as the liberation struggle of the Jewish masses. Zionism is a real idea based on the principles of the highest human ethics and therefore deserves full support. Through Zionism, Jewry becomes closer to us because we acquaint ourselves with a type of Jew who has been liberated from the shackles of servile habits. I view Zionism as the embodiment of Jewish messianic ideas.

In building their own state in the land of their Fathers, Jews bring blessings to the country. In transforming the desert into a blossoming land, Jews are carrying out an important historical mission. They become the carriers of civilization and prosperity in the Middle East, reviving the ancient cultural values of those lands.

Difficult are the liberation struggles of the Jews; many obstacles stand in their way. But the people who have given so much to the culture of mankind will yet amaze the world with the wonderful phenomenon of resurrection from the ruins of their Fatherland and entry into the family of free nations.”


[The original Polish text was translated into Ukrainian by Liubko Petrenko, Lviv.]

Prophesy 1934

Whereas in the Ukrainian translation, Sheptytsky’s quotations contain the words ievreї and ievreiskyi, the original text featured the words zhydy or zhydivskyi. We decided to publish the text іn keeping with current norms, which are a conscious violation of the norms of the Ukrainian language that was spoken in Galicia in the 1930s.

The provenance of the text of this article is a newspaper clipping that I found in the personal collection of Lieber Krumholz, who was known in Israel as Haviv Knaan (1913–1993). This collection is held in the archives of Tel Aviv University.

In the Knaan archival collection, I also found over 150 pages of a typewritten manuscript about Ukrainian-Jewish relations between the two world wars dating to 1976–1978. There he supplements his 1934 interview with Sheptytsky with the metropolitan’s following words: “The creation of a Jewish state will be one of the most wonderful examples for the enslaved nations. You will have a small state, but it will be entirely your own.”

Haviv Knaan (Lieber Krumholz) in Israel, 1976 - фото 75478
Haviv Knaan (Lieber Krumholz) in Israel, 1976


Unfortunately, the text of the metropolitan’s statement about Zionism was mistakenly dated 1939 during the publication of the collection Mytropolyt Andrei Sheptytsky: Zhyttia і Diial′nist′; Dokumenty i materialy 1899–1944 [Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky: Life and Activities; Documents and Materials, 1899–1944; vol. 2, bk. 2, ed. Andrii Kravchuk, Lviv, 1999]. Perhaps the numeral “4” in the manuscript of the original document was mistaken for “9.”

A crucially important aspect of Krumholz’s publication is the blessing bestowed on Zionism, which Metropolitan Sheptytsky expresses in Hebrew as he shakes the young journalist’s hand in parting.

The head of the UGCC sees his guest as a representative of the Zionist movement and therefore says: “Jaazor Adonaj lachem b’awodatchem ujewarech otchem b’darkechem”—May the Lord help you in your work and bless you on your path.”

I will note that this phrase uttered by the metropolitan is expressed in excellent literary Hebrew, with a Sephardic pronunciation, which in those decades was becoming the standard among the new generation of Zionists in the Land of Israel. It was not Ashkenazi pronunciation, which could be heard among ordinary Jews living in Lviv.

Incidentally, this Hebrew blessing of Zionism appears only in Krumholz’s article published in 1934; it is missing from the 1999 Ukrainian collection of Sheptytsky’s documents.

It is interesting that the Zionist newspaper published the Ukrainian metropolitan’s Hebrew blessing in relief font and without a translation, right in the middle of the Polish-language text, relying on the fact that all its readers know Hebrew.

How Metropolitan Sheptytsky blessed Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state_2

Dr. Liliana Hentosh, a historian from Lviv and a researcher and author of books on the life and activities of Andrei Sheptytsky, informed me that when the metropolitan was still a student, he studied Hebrew. In the early 1900s, he even wrote letters in Hebrew when he was corresponding with the Jewish communities of Galicia.

In 1935 he wanted to improve his knowledge of Hebrew and asked Rabbi Ezekiel Lewin to find him a tutor. Rabbi Lewin asked Naftali Siegel, the director of the Safa Brura Hebrew School, to give the metropolitan private Hebrew lessons. On 30 June 1941, Rabbi Lewin will come to the metropolitan’s residence and tell him about the start of the anti-Jewish pogrom on the streets of Lviv. The metropolitan will offer him sanctuary, but the rabbi will refuse. Lewin will be killed a few hours after his meeting with Sheptytsky.

When the head of the UGCC declares in the newspaper text published in 1934 that “the Christian world sympathizes with Zionism,” this was likely wishful thinking, considering the times. In reality, in the mid-1930s, the Vatican was at best indifferent to Jewish problems, and many Protestant religious societies in the Third Reich cooperated with the Nazis and were working on the “de-Judaization of Christianity.”

In this historical context, Sheptytsky’s public declaration in the press in support of Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state is a unique case in the history of the Church during this period. Not a single Christian hierarch on that level had ever issued such powerful and frank statements in support of Israel’s rebirth.

These thoughts of Andrei Sheptytsky’s predated by fifty to sixty years the position of the Vatican, which began gradually changing its attitude to the Jews and renouncing its old, anti-Semitic conceptions only in the mid-1960s.

Diplomatic relations were established between the Vatican and Israel only in 1994, during the papacy of John Paul II. It was only in 2014 that a wreath was laid by Pope Francis during his visit to Israel at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the visionary behind the idea of the revival of a Jewish state.

Krumholz’s series of interviews encompassed the entire spectrum of Ukrainian political parties and groups, with the exception of one: the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. In 1934 the OUN was outlawed and perceived more as a small organization of radical militants.

Nine days after the publication of his interview with Sheptytsky, one of these militants shot Ivan Babii, the director of the Ukrainian gymnasium that Krumholz’s younger brother attended. Sheptytsky condemned the OUN for killing Babii.

The metropolitan could have refused outright to speak with the Jewish newspaper; he could have simply replied, “Yes, I support Zionism.” However, he instructed his assistants to record in the most detailed way his thoughts about Zionism and to send them to Krumholz for publication. Why?

There is one answer: Because the metropolitan wanted Jews and Ukrainians and Poles to hear his thoughts about the rebirth of the Jewish state and his blessing of this process.

In every single word of his statement on Zionism, Sheptytsky seemed to be saying to the Jews of Lviv and all of Galicia: “Go build your country! Only there, in your land, will you be able to unleash your potential!”

Looking back at these words from the post-Holocaust age, we can see how wise and prophetic Sheptytsky’s words were. If Jews had hearkened a bit more to his words, then perhaps more Galician Jews would have been saved from the death that came seven or eight years after this interview.

It should also be recalled that 1934 was not only the second year of the Nazi persecution of the Jews but also a period marked by the intensification of state anti-Semitism in Poland, with street attacks on Jews, “Days without Jews” held at Polish universities, and the government’s economic sanctions against the Jews.

On 7 May 1934, two months before the interview, a Jewish Autonomous Oblast was created in the USSR. This was Stalin’s project aimed against the very essence of Zionism: Ship the Jews to the Far East so that they would forget about their ancient fatherland in the Middle East.

Against this backdrop, the statements of the head of the UGCC in support of the Jewish national movement and the creation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel stand out particularly vividly. No wonder, then, that the following year, in 1935, the Jewish community of Lviv celebrated Sheptytsky’s seventieth birthday, extending heartfelt good wishes to their great friend and protector.

For these seven interviews with distinguished Ukrainian figures, the newspaper Nowy Dziennyk paid Krumholz an honorarium of 105 złoty. This was half the average monthly salary in Poland at that time.

It is a bitter irony of history that the premises of the editorial offices and print shop of the most pro-Ukrainian Jewish newspaper Nowy Dziennik were confiscated from the Jews by the Nazis and handed over to Ukrainian journalists of Cracow, who were cooperating with the Nazi regime in the “capital” of the Generalgouvernement. The collaborationist newspaper Krakivski visti began its operations in 1941 in the former office of Krumholz’s Zionist newspaper, in close proximity to the dying Jewish ghetto of Cracow.


The editorial offices of Nowy Dziennik, renamed Krakivski visti in 1941. Photo: Pavlo Zubiuk - фото 75476
The editorial offices of Nowy Dziennik, renamed Krakivski visti in 1941. Photo: Pavlo Zubiuk
Photo source: Павло Зуб’юк

In my previous article for the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, I wrote about the subsequent fate of Lieber Krumholz in Israel and the tragedy that befell his family in Lviv.

A somewhat mystical finale

The entire story surrounding Krumholz’s interview with Sheptytsky has a mystical continuation for me personally.

My hobby is reading catalogs of online auctions selling Judaica in Israel. When I was getting ready to research the Krumholz archive, I happened to spot the catalog of a third-rate auction house that belongs to Hasidim from Vyzhnytsia, in Bukovyna. Looking through the catalog, I saw a small lot entitled “Jewish newspaper from Poland, 1930s.” I clicked my mouse and saw that this was an issue of Nowy Dziennik.

What were the chances of my coming across this newspaper? Very small. It is a miracle that even a single issue was preserved after the Holocaust. What were the chances that this would be an issue from 1934? Miniscule. Every year the newspaper printed hundreds of copies, so what were the chances of my seeing the very issue that contained one of Krumholz’s articles? One in a million.

My heart skipped a beat from emotion when I saw close up on my computer screen the first page with the headline “Interview with Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky.”

This simply could not be, yet it did happen. It was the very issue of the newspaper dated 16 July 1934. I submitted a bid at the auction and bought this newspaper for my collection.

How Metropolitan Sheptytsky blessed Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state - фото 75477

When I hold this newspaper issue in my hands today, I think that Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky and his young Jewish interlocutor, Lieber Krumholz, are sending us some kind of coded message to continue the Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue—but now, in the conditions of an independent Ukraine and the reborn State of Israel.

Photos: National Library of Israel; Facebook page of Sima Vidislavski, the daughter of Haviv Knaan (Lieber Krumholz)

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.