THE MATTER OF THE METROPOLITAN
OF THE UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, ANDRIJ SHEPTYTSKY

Another matter to be clarified by a trip to Israel was that of Andrij Sheptytsky. Specifically, the question arises as to why have the moving forces behind Israel not yet acknowledged - and do not wish to acknowledge - Metropolitan Sheptytsky's title of "righteous" in order to officially express the gratitude of the entire Jewish nation for the fact that, in Europe during the time of the German occupation, the Ukrainian Metropolitan alone wrote separate letters to Hitler and Himmler, protesting the savage persecution and destruction of the Jews. Following this, at his residence in Lviv, in the underground of St. George's Cathedral, he saved the lives of over ten rabbis and their families and entrusted all Ukrainian priests, monks and nuns to help Jews and to save their lives.

The heroic stand of Metropolitan Sheptytsky, and his humanitarian actions on the behalf of the Jews is widely known even among the Jews themselves. The Jewish scholar, Leo Heiman, in his article published by the Ukrainian Quarterly, Winter, 1961, p. 325, draws on the evidence of Rabbi Dr. David Kahana:

"I am willing to swear on the Bible that Count Sheptytsky was one of the greatest humanitarians in the history of mankind, certainly the best friend the Jews ever had. And I am saying this not only because he saved my wife, my child and myself, and not only because he was instrumental in rescuing other Jews from certain death. Please understand me and examine not only Count Sheptytsky's deeds, but also his motives. When I met him, he was already an old man, broken in body but not in spirit. Well over 80 years old, paralyzed and on the verge of death, he certainly did not seek any "respectability insurance" or political gain. He was well past that. If the Nazis found Jews hiding in a church or monastery, they shot all the priests and monks and either burned the building or turned it into a barracks for their troops. And if the Metropolitan was willing to risk his priests, nuns and churches, he was moved by true undiluted Christianity, by love of our Jewish people, and by a sense of national responsibility".

The actions of Andrij Sheptytsky, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, are attested to by another Rabbi, Dr. Curt Levin, who also owes his life to the Ukrainian Metropolitan.


Andrew Count Sheptytsky (1865-1944)
Metropolitan of Halychyna (Galicia) from 1900 till 1944.

Of all the church leaders in Nazi-occupied Europe, only Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky openly spoke out in defense of the Jews. As the Primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, he sent an official letter to Hitler and Himmler protesting the destruction of the Jews. In a special Pastoral Letter addressed to his Ukrainian faithful, he strongly forbade them - under pain of excommunication - from participating or helping in the destruction of Jews. At the same time, he issued secret instructions to his secular and monastic clergy, ordering them to help the Jews by hiding them, feeding them and smuggling them out of the country. One of the rabbis whose life was saved by Metropolitan Sheptytsky, himself stated: "Andrew Sheptytsky deserves the undying gratitude of the Jews and the honorific title 'Prince of the Righteous'". But...

"Israel had few friends in its hour of need. The local people were indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Few showed any compassion, and even fewer made an attempt to help. But in their hour of need, the Jews did find a friend in His Excellency, the Metropolitan Andrea Sheptytsky...

"The Metropolitan's residence was a small baroque palace, opposite the Cathedral... The door was always open to anyone who cared to enter... Occasionally a Jewish delegation sent by one of the communities located near the Metropolitan's estates, sat waiting to ask for a donation to a Jewish charity. In fact the synagogues of some of these little towns were built with lumber donated by the Metropolitan...

"The Jews responded with respect and deep affection. Whenever the Metropolitan visited a township or village, he was met by the Ukrainian community led by its priest and by the rabbi and the elders of the Jewish community...

"Throughout the German occupation he helped and sheltered Jews, restrained members of his Church in the name of Christ. He published a pastoral letter pertaining to Jews, entitled appropriately "Thou shalt not kill"... The Metropolitan Andrea went so far as to send a letter of protest to the "Hangman of Europe" Heinrich Himmler...

"But most important of all, he gave moral support to those whom they (Metropolitan, Ukrainian priests, monks and nuns) hid, and hunted Jews deprived of every human right and stripped of any sort of protection, were made to feel wanted and thus allowed to regain faith in humanity. And those monks, nuns and priests kept faith by their silence. For two long years no outsider knew about the Jews who were hidden in each and every cloister and even in the Metropolitan's private residence".

On the basis of such testimonies given by the Jewish rabbis themselves about the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Andrew Sheptytsky, it would seem that when the Museum of the Holocaust, "Yad Vashem", was created in Jerusalem, and began to designate by name those "righteous" who saved Jewish lives during Hitlerian Germany's destruction of Jews, one of the first to be acknowledged would have been Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky, and those Ukrainian priests, monks and nuns, who, due to the charge of their great Metropolitan, saved the lives of hundreds of Jews, at the risk of death on the gallows for their aid.

Astonishingly enough, this has not happened. Although hundreds of saplings have already been planted in the "Garden of the Righteous" in Yad Vashem and many are planted daily, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky and the countless Ukrainian priests, monks and nuns in his charge have neither received the title of "righteous" nor have any trees been planted in their honor. On the contrary, a majority of Yad Vashem Commission members oppose this.

Why?

The answer to this question could be obtained only by a direct, personal meeting and exhaustive conversations with the Yad Vashem Committee members in Jerusalem. That is why I set out there on October 13, 1981, for three weeks.