Kuropas maintains he is not an anti-Semite

DeKALB - Myron Kuropas wants people to know that he is not a Holocaust denier or an anti-Semite. At the same time, the part-time Northern Illinois University instructor and Ukrainian nationalist is not backing away from articles he wrote several years ago that for a time last week made him persona non grata in the Jewish community and gave fodder to critics of President Bush. In a wide-ranging interview with the Chronicle on Tuesday, Kuropas, 72, said he was sorry for the minor controversy that took hold after he returned from a White House-sanctioned trip last month to the swearing-in ceremony for new Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. News stories that appeared last week unearthed writings in which he appeared to agree that some Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust for their own gain and suggested Jews were at least partly responsible for Soviet atrocities against Ukrainians during the 1920s and 1930s. But many Jews maintain that the latter belief is common among anti-Semites. Told of Kuropas' statements, an unnamed Bush administration official dissociated the administration from Kuropas, according to news reports, saying that had they known about Kuropas' writings, they wouldn't have included Kuropas in the delegation. On Tuesday, Kuropas said "never in my life would I dream of denying the Holocaust," and he acknowledged that "no group has suffered historically as much as the Jews." He has made a trip to Israel, supports the country's right to exist and declared, "I love the Israelis." But he also said: "I favor a Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue, but it has to be between equals. ... It can't be where the Holocaust is the big elephant in the room." Central to many of the opinions Kuropas holds about Jews and the relationship between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities are hundreds of years of Eastern European and American history stretching all the way to 2004. As Kuropas sees it, some Ukrainians committed atrocities during the Holocaust, but some Jews were integral to the Soviet Union's Bolshevik Revolution, and, by extension, Soviet repression of Ukraine that included a famine that killed millions. He also thinks some Jewish groups were overzealous in hunting down John Demjanjuk, a former Ohio auto worker who was put on trial in Israel in 1987-88 for being the Nazi war criminal "Ivan the Terrible." "What started to happen was in the American press, as well as in the Jewish press - but mainly in the American press - there were articles about the 'Ukrainian Nazi John Demjanjuk,'" he said. He disputes that any Ukrainian could technically have been a Nazi, because he or she could not have gained entry to the Nazi Party. Demjanjuk initially was found guilty, but in 1993 was set free on appeal by the Israeli Supreme Court. Demjanjuk has since regained his American citizenship, but in 2004, an American court found that there was strong evidence that he served in Nazi death camps, although he was not accused of being "Ivan the Terrible." As of December, the U.S. government was trying to deport him. Kuropas pointed out in a guest column that ran in Tuesday's Chronicle that he has been active in government efforts to build relationships among ethnic groups, including as a special assistant for ethnic affairs to President Ford. And he referred proudly to an award he was given by the Illinois Ethnic Coalition, a group administered by the American Jewish Committee, in 1996 "in recognition of my continued service on behalf of ethnic bridge-building." The Demjanjuk case and a sense of rising anti-Jewish feeling among younger Ukrainians spurred him to seek a dialogue with the Jewish community through the American Jewish Committee, Kuropas said, although Maynard Wishner, the past national president of the AJC, said it was his group that initiated the dialogue. Kuropas became disillusioned with that effort, because in his view his Jewish counterparts were not willing to look objectively at the Demjanjuk case or at the full scope of Jewish-Ukrainian history. "Myron in that group tended to take positions that were scratchy," Wishner said. "He would disclaim anti-Semitism among Ukrainians more than anyone else." Still, Wishner said that at the time, Kuropas was a "gentleman," even a "friend," and he declined to characterize as anti-Semitic some of Kuropas' statements about the Holocaust that appeared in the press. Instead, "it is an angering utterance in the face of the pain that we are all still feeling," Wishner said. What Kuropas has said, in effect, and what he repeated Tuesday, is that it's in some Jews' "interest to continue the turmoil" of the Holocaust "because as (Norman) Finkelstein suggests, it's a money thing." Kuropas is referring to "The Holocaust Industry," a 2000 book by Norman Finkelstein, a Jew and the son of a Holocaust survivor. In it, Finkelstein argues that some Jewish organizations use the memory of the Holocaust to get money from wealthy alleged Holocaust collaborators. "It's their business to make sure there are anti-Semites out there because they get donations," Kuropas said. Michael Kotzin, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said that contrary to what Kuropas says about Jews' alleged unwillingness to have a frank discussion about how the memory of the Holocaust is employed currently, "you can have a conversation about it." But at the same time, some of Kuropas' writings on the subject can be considered anti-Semitic if they veer into hostility toward Jews or begin distorting reality. "We wouldn't necessarily call him a blatant anti-Semite," said Lonnie Nasatir, Midwest director of the Anti-Defamation League. But statements that some Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust for their own benefit are not accurate, he said, and he added that the ADL was satisfied with the White House's response to the revelation of some of Kuropas' writings. Lubomyr Luciuk, a Canadian college professor of Ukrainian descent, has known Kuropas for 20 years and wrote in an e-mail to the Chronicle that Kuropas "has never denied that millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. He has never denied that millions of non-Jews were also enslaved or murdered. Arguably, Ukraine lost more of its people than any other nation in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War." Luciuk also lauded Kuropas' efforts to further the dialogue between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities and said that the "Ukrainian Weekly," the newsletter in which some of Kuropas' controversial columns appeared, "does not publish anti-Semitic materials." Since stories about Kuropas appeared in newspapers last week, Democratic congressmen Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Henry Waxman of California have called on NIU President John Peters to "re-evaluate" the university's relationship with Kuropas. A spokeswoman for Emanuel said Friday that his office had not delved into what exactly was meant by "re-evaluate." On Tuesday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Rockford urged NIU to "end the university's association with Dr. Myron Kuropas" because of his past statements "regarding Jews and the Holocaust." Kuropas, a former school teacher and principal, teaches education courses at NIU. As of Wednesday, NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said the university has not changed its position on Kuropas' employment - which in general has been that Kuropas is a valued employee with good reviews from students and that he has never brought his personal political beliefs into the classroom. His supervisors also have expressed support for him. Kuropas said he has not received any negative feedback locally over the recent controversy, although the week since the first stories appeared has seemed more like a year. "It's as bad as being a child molester," he said about being called a Holocaust denier. "Once someone calls you a child molester or a racist, you're dead. There's no way that you can defend yourself. "I regret this very much," he said of the media attention he's received. "I don't regret writing what I wrote. ... On occasion I can be a little strident. Perhaps some of my stridency should have been tempered." Chris Rickert can be reached at crickert@ pulitzer.net.