Press summary, Darville Helen

B’nai B’rith District 21 (Australia and New Zealand)
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission
Research Division

Media summary of the Demidenko/Darville affair


Brisbane, Q. Born c. 1971; claimed to have a Ukrainian
father and an Irish mother (later shown to be false). Grew up in
Logan City, south of Brisbane, Q. Secondary schooling at a
Lutheran school. Initially studied law, but did not do her articles
and is not qualified to practise; went on to an honors degree in
English literature. Lecturer in English, University of Queensland.
Novelist; her first novel, The hand that signed the paper, won the
Vogel Literary Award in 1993; in that version, one of the
characters’ names was `Demidenko’; the author states that some of
the book’s content draws upon oral history. The winning of this
award included a contract to guarantee publication by Allen and
Unwin. In 1994, an edited version was published (with the name of
the `Demidenko’ character changed to `Kovalenko’; the book won
the 1995 Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s major literary prize.

The book
The novel’s central character, Vitaly, is a Ukrainian war
criminal now living in Australia. He is about to be tried for war
crimes; Vitaly sets out to explain his participation in the mass
killing of Jews by referring to Jewish involvement in Russian
domination of the Ukraine. Defenders of the novel argue that
novels are not history; critics argue that Ms Demidenko has
distorted the history of Ukrainian-Jewish relations and that the book
offers a justification of genocide. [There is no question that the
characters of the novel are expressing anti-semitic ideas. One
might want to question the author’s judgement in writing her book
in this way, but it is important to emphasise that this by itself does
not mean that Ms Demidenko is anti-semitic.] After the Miles
Franklin prize was announced in 1Jun95, the book generated
widespread controversy in literary and Jewish community circles.
Article by Angela Bennie, “Audacious debut is triumphant”,
reports the announcement of the award, noting the judges’
comments that the book “brings to light a hitherto unspeakable
aspect of the Australian migrant experience … Helen had to exercise
an extraordinary literary imagination in order to create some aspects
of this book” *Age (2Jun95)
Article by David Bentley, “Writing from the heart”, provides
biographical background, noting that her parents migrated to
Australia in 1950. Ms Demidenko states that in 1933, “9 million
Ukrainians starved to death. Stalin took the crops out and sowed
the fields with salt. He wanted to wipe out as many Ukrainians as
possible and settle Russian Jewish settlers”. She expresses
opposition to war crimes trials, calling them obsessively persecutory
because the finger of accusation pointed only at Ukrainians and
arguing that such trials merely perpetuate the vicious cycle of
brutality and revenge so evident in Bosnia and Rwanda [The logical
link between war crimes trials and the events of Bosnia and Rwanda
are not made clear.] The interview ends with a revealing point, her
anger at a joke that stereotyped Ukrainians as drunkards and killers
[Yet in her novel, Jews are stereotyped throughout the book]
*Brisbane Courier-Mail (2Jun95)
Article by Pamela Bone, “A harsh sting in the tale”, criticises
the book and its author: “Fairly or unfairly, the writer’s voice
to intrude into the mind of this reader. Is it the narrator or the
writer who talks of Jews and communists as if they are
synonymous? …If Helen Demidenko condemns the anti-Semitism of
her characters, I wish she had said so more clearly” *Age (9Jun95).
Letter by Dr Ben Haneman, a member of the NSW Jewish Board of
Deputies and the doctor who treated Miles Franklin), attacked the
book as an “apologia for an ethnic group accused of horrific crimes
against the Jews” and called it “highly offensive”. He said it
“besmirched” Miles Franklin and past and future winners of the
award *Courier-Mail(9Jun95)
Article by Judith Armstrong, “Swords cross over the terror of
words”, defends the book, arguing that it “comes out of a Russian
literary tradition in which the author is forced to use the novel to
say the things that an oppressive censorship would not allow”. Ms
Armstrong outlines the history of the period in ways sympathetic to
Ms Demidenko’s theme: “Ukrainians saw the Bolsheviks making
overtures to the Russian Jews and recalled that most of their own
businesses were in Jewish hands. … Demidenko poses this question:
by the time they performed the horrors that turned even Nazis’
stomachs like rounding up and exterminating thousands of Jews
and the infamous Babi Yar did the subjugated Ukrainians have
any option?” *Age (17Jun95). Response by Professor Stephen
Wheatcroft, director, Centre for Russian and Euro-Asian Studies,
University of Melbourne, questioning the historical accuracy of Dr
Armstrong’s arguments, and commenting sharply, “Dr Armstrong
may think she is hearing the voice of the great Russian literary
tradition but in fact she is hearing the voices of modern East
European fascism” *Age (21Jun95)
Article by Bryan Patterson, “Death threats haunt writer”,
reported Ms Demidenko’s statement that she had received death
threats *Herald Sun (18Jun95) [The source of these threats was not
Article by Jacques Adler, “The hand that hides an ugly
history”, notes that fiction and history treat truth differently, and
goes on to criticise the book for its failure to mention the long
history of Ukrainian anti-semitism, the 100,000 Jews killed during
the 1918 civil war, and the infrequency of any acts of compassion
during the holocaust, and argues that “it is the very lack of moral
clarity at the centre of this novel that offends surviving victims so
deeply”. He regarded the work as an “apologia for genocide” *Age
(22Jun95). Response by Stefan Romaniw, president of the
Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, pointing out that
Ukrainian Australians supported war crimes trials and condemned
individuals who collaborated with the Nazis; he objected to any
concept of “collective responsibility” of all Ukrainians. However,
he welcomed Ms Demidenko’s book as promoting dialogue which
could unite rather than divide communities, and expressed concern
over Dr Adler’s accusation that she was an apologist for genocide,
and asserted that were Ukrainians who helped Jews to escape the
Holocaust *Age (26Jun95)
Ms Demidenko was interviewed on TV by Caroline Baume;
the author conceded that her book was “faction”, i.e. part fact and
part fiction *ABC Bookchat Magazine (25Jun95)
Article by Gerard Henderson, “A fraction too much
`faction'”, opens with the blunt assessment that the book is
“loathsome”, and “regrettably (and no doubt unintentionally) this
book will give comfort to racists and anti-semites from
Australia’s Lunar Right League of Rights to the fascist wing of
Russia’s Pamyat movement”. Mr Henderson records some Soviet
history to rebut the thesis of the novel that the Bolshevik oppressors
of the Ukrainians were Jewish. One of them, Lazar Kaganovich,
was (he was a loyal henchman of Stalin); other Jews were purged
or demoted by Stalin; most Bolshevik leaders were not Jewish;
under Stalin, state anti-semitism was “a fact of life… it is nothing
but a myth, and extreme right-wing propaganda, to posit a link
between the Jewish race [sic] and the Bolshevik regime”. Nor was
it true that most Ukrainians acted as savages during the Holocaust;
in fact, several Jewish witnesses at the Polyukhovich war crimes
trial testified about sympathetic Ukrainians in Serniki. Mr
Henderson notes that one of the Miles Franklin judges, Dame
Leonie Kramer defended her decision to support the award by
telling the Brisbane Courier-Mail that the book did not involve
“racial vilification of the Jews or any other race” *Age (27Jun95).
In the same issue, Ms Demidenko replied to her critics with an
article, “Stories and stereotypes: critics miss the mark”. She denies
she was engaging in stereotyping, arguing that some Jews
collaborated with the Bolsheviks, and that this provided a motive for
some Ukrainians to act brutally. She defends her style of writing by
arguing that it is not the author’s responsibility to provide “ethical
signposting” or “to do the reader’s thinking for him”. She defends
her book as being a better way to expose the war crimes issue than
war crimes trials *Age (27Jun95)
Ms Demidenko was interviewed on TV together with Gerard
Henderson of the Sydney Institute. Mr Henderson criticised her
book and she responded by inquiring of him as to why, as a non-
Jew, he was speaking on behalf of the Jews; asked by interviewer
Andrew Olle why she had written the book, she stated that “I
experienced, as a Ukrainian-Australian person, a great deal of
personal unpleasantness as a result of the war crimes trials” *ABC-
TV 7.30 Report (27Jun95)
Article by Pamela Bone, “We must show war criminals that
all is not forgiven”, repeats the columnist’s view that the book is
“offensive because it comes close to arguing that the Jews deserved
what was done to them by the Ukrainians who collaborated with the
Nazis”. She attacks the left-liberal view that perpetrators of evil
the product of social conditioning, that “no-one is to blame”, that
understand all is to forgive all”. Ms Bone dismisses the argument
used against war crimes trials, namely that the perpetrators are now
“old and frail” by citing a murder case she covered as a reporter in
which an elderly woman had allegedly murdered her grandchild 20
years earlier: the woman was not old and frail at the time of the
murder *Age (30Jun95)
Article by David Greason, “Come clean on killers”, notes that
claim of Jewish dominance in the Soviet apparatus is an anti-semitic
folk myth, and that most Jewish communists were aligned with the
minority Menshevik faction that was liquidated by Stalin as the
1930s progressed. He also notes that one of the novel’s characters
is sickened by the murder of thousands of Jews and joins the
Ukrainian Insurgent Army; Mr Greason points out that although
this partisan group was anti-Nazi, it was also anti-semitic and killed
more Jews than Nazis. He concludes that we need to have books
which explore the darker side of our multicultural history, but not
books like this one which scapegoat entire people for the crimes of
a few *Herald Sun (30Jun95)
Article by David Bernstein, “The Demidenko book”, reviews
the controversy and media coverage of it, and adds his own opinion
that the book, if not a whitewash of Ukrainian brutality, is a
“spineless moral `greywash'”. Editorial in the same issue, also
headlined “The Demidenko book”, notes that the voices of leading
literary critics have been missing from the debate, and that the
judges have contributed little to the public discussion of the book
*Australian Jewish News (30Jun95)
Letters: Guy Boileau of Malvern, Vic., admitted he had not
read the book, and neither praised nor condemned it, but expressed
concern about the “politically correct and [the] anti-anti-semites”
that the author might find some of the criticism “oppressive and
unfair”; he advised readers that we should “as Australians, be proud
of her talent and look forward to more of her work”. K.W. George,
of Ipswich, Q., found the advice of Vogel judge Roger McDonald
that Ms Demidenko should be “counselled” on possible perceptions
of her work to be a “patronising suggestion”. John Cosgrove, of
Watson’s Bay, NSW, wrote that “one of the most powerful lobbies
in the world is presently engaged in telling Australians what they
may read” [utter nonsense: there has been no organised attempt by
the Jewish community to do any such thing; there have been
numerous critical responses by Jews and others about the book; it’s
called freedom of speech.] Cosgrove goes on, “Most letter writers
to newspapers who have had the audacity to mention critically the
word `Zionist’ can warn Ms Demidenko of what to expect a
flood of sick hate mail and threats. Whatever happened to freedom
of speech in Australia?” [It’s alive and well, Mr Cosgrove: it allows
Ms Demidenko to write her book, those who don’t like it to say so,
and people like you to write letters like this.] He criticises Alan
Dershowitz, calling him a “foreigner who does not know his
manners telling me what I may read and what I may not read”
[Professor Dershowitz did no such thing; he criticised the book.
Foreigners even Jewish ones also have freedom of speech in
this country.] B. Stankewytsch-Janusch of Belconnen ACT asked
rhetorically whether “a Gentile of German or East European
extraction” can ever “hope to debate publicly the Holocaust, the
State of Israel (including its policies and actions in the Middle
East)… without being labelled amoral, racist and anti-semitic?”
quite easy, actually: just avoid saying amoral, racist and anti-
semitic things] *Australian (4Jul95)
Article by Kate Legge, “We must not gag artistic freedom”,
reviews both the critical support for, and the attacks on the book.
notes that Roger McDonald, one of the judges of the Vogel Award,
had stated that he was disturbed by the book’s anti-semitic themes,
and its attempt to blame Jewish communists for Ukrainian anti-
semitism. Ms Legge argues that Demidenko’s book “explores
unpalatable human behaviour…[but it] does not strike me as anti-
semitic in its message or intent” *Australian (30Jun95). Article by
Michael Danby, “Deceptive libertarian face”, notes that although
many Jews were involved in the early communist movement, their
numbers “have been vastly inflated. And those that were involved
were not fulfilling some dark mission of Judaism, they were brutes,
just as others were brutes because they were communist
totalitarians…[they] were zealous in their destruction of all forms
Jewish alternatives to communism, whether they be socialist
Bundism), nationalist (various forms of Zionism) or religious.” Mr
Danby argues that the blame for the events in European history need
to be sheeted home where it really lies: “Not to the Jews and the
bicycle riders, but to communism and Nazism, the twin faces of
totalitarianism, the twin evils that consumed millions of innocents…
Australia is surely no longer an isolated provincial place where
intellectuals stand back from too difficult European history.” Mr
Danby compared the present case to David Irving’s revisionist
character assassination of Winston Churchill: “we shouldn’t adopt
the attitude that his history is `just another point of view'”. In
contrast, he praised the editors of the Melbourne University student
paper Farrago in criticising Noam Chomsky for his views on
Holocaust revisionism. People have a duty to “point to fraudulent
history” *Australian (7Jul95) [Reprinted in Australia-Israel Review,
US lawyer Alan Dershowitz attacked the book, and referred
to “widespread Ukrainian complicity in the Holocaust” *Age (date?)
*Australian Financial Review (date?)
Item, “Lawyer faces racial claim”, reported the response of
the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations to Mr
Dershowitz’s comments. A Federation spokesman claimed that Mr
Dershowitz had stereotyped Ukrainians and suggested that Mr
Dershowitz might have to face a legal challenge *Australian
(4Jul95). Article by Kendall Hill, “US professor defies threats by
Ukrainians”, reports Mr Dershowitz’s response, welcoming any
challenge as he was “not afraid of the truth coming out” *Age

Support from the League of Rights
On Target (7Jul95) predictably defends the book and
comments: “it appears that the powerful Zionist/Jewish lobby has
discovered that Miss Demidenko did not sufficiently condemn the
`antisemitism’ of some of her Ukrainian characters in the novel.
And she depicted the Ukrainian Communist Government during
World War II as containing a preponderance of Jews, which has
enraged the Zionists.”
Article by Anne Henderson, deputy director of the Sydney
Institute, “A book with echoes of unholy views”, opens by asking
whether “anti-semitism has become the only acceptable form of
racial vilification?”. The author compares the ideas in Ms
Demidenko’s book with those in an anti-semitic booklet she was
given by its author, a Catholic priest, Father Patrick Gearon, in
1969. Titled Communism: why not?, originally published in 1940,
the booklet contained “pure propaganda of the League of Rights
kind”, asserting that Jews ran the Communist Party in Moscow, and
were “part of a plot to run the world” *Age (6Jul95)
Article by Shoshana Lenthen, “Ukrainian, Jewish leaders to
meet”, reported that at the initiative of Mr Stefan Romaniw,
president of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, a
meeting would be held with Mr Isi Leibler, president ECAJ, to
discuss the controversy *Australian Jewish News (7Jul95) A
meeting was held on 11Jul95. Article by Shoshana Lenthen,
“Melbourne meeting hailed as `major step’ in better Jewish-
Ukrainian ties”, reports on the meeting, and notes that Mr Romaniw
endorsed the 1991 Babi Yar statement made by former Ukrainian
president Leonid Kravchuk, accepting Ukrainian responsibility for
participation in the Holocaust. Mr Leibler praised the AFUO’s
support for war-crimes legislation and for the proposed race hatred
law *Australian Jewish News (14Jul95)
Item, “Her story not History”, reviews media coverage of
reactions to the book *Australia-Israel Review (1-15Jul95)
Article by Peter Christoff, Department of Politics, University
of Melbourne, “Demidenko’s success reflects panel’s naivete and
ignorance”, notes Miles Franklin judge Jill Kitson’s comment that
the book was “a searingly truthful account of terrible war-time deeds
that is also an imaginative work of extraordinary redemptive power”,
to which Christoff responds, “Is it truthful, and who is redeemed?”
The article notes that other judges have not defended their positions
publicly, and goes on to comment that the book is “anti-semitic and
a distorted historical account” because of the way the characters and
plot are presented: “Resting behind her narrators, Demidenko fails to
offer a corrective view that is more accurate or morally reliable.
The novel ignores the centuries-long history of violent anti-semitism
in the region… The novel’s two-dimensional Jews also appear
contrived to support its Ukrainian characters’ factually inaccurate
belief that `Jewish Bolsheviks’ perpetrated the tragic events
including Stalin’s engineered famine of the 1930s”. Christoff
describes the portrayal of killers as victims as “a nauseating
manoeuvre”; there is nothing in the novel about why most
Ukrainians did not behave like the central character, Kovalenko.
The narrator of the story, Fiona, appears “devoid of profound
reactions and questions” about her family’s past. Although the
novel touches upon the war crimes trials issue, it avoids any serious
discussion of how justice is served by such trials: it “seems to pull
on every excuse for avoiding such issues”. Because of these
“uncorrected historical distortions, its silences, omissions and moral
relativism, [the book] serves as a subtle handmaiden to overt anti-
Semitism”. Christoff is scathing in his criticism of the book as “a
shallow, immature and ultimately anti-Semitic novel”, and of the
judges for their “naivete and ignorance, moral complacency and
Anglo-centrism” *Australian (14Jul95)
Article by Victor Kleerekoper, “Demidenko book `more
dangerous than any revisionist history”, reports the view of Mr Isi
Leibler, president, ECAJ, that the book was more damaging than the
Holocaust denial put forward by the Nazi lunatic fringe. He had
wanted the Jewish leadership to keep out of the public controversy
over the book, but stated that it was now necessary because the
leadership of the Ukrainian community had entered the debate. Mr
Leibler wrote an article in the same issue, “Rewriting history is not
multiculturalism”, which responds to an earlier article by George
Jaworsky, Association of Ukrainians in Victoria, (Age, 3Jul95). Mr
Leibler criticises the argument put forward in that article that
of Demidenko’s book were undermining multiculturalism and
exacerbating relationships between Jews and Ukrainians. He argues
that “multiculturalism cannot be sustained… by rewriting histoty or
by stifling legitimate debate on vital issues of public concern”. Mr
Leibler also points out that Jewish communal organisations and
leaders were not involved in initial criticisms of the book. He
argues against the view put forward by Mr Jaworsky [similar to the
thesis of the book] that the conflict between Ukrainians and Jews
occurred “between two equal communities, instead of a large nation
and a small ethnic community”, pointing out that Jews “were always
a defenceless minority in the Ukraine”. Singling out Jews amongst
the Bolshevik criminals and suggesting that Jews dominated the
Bolshevik party leadership, is to repeat a Nazi myth”. Mr Leibler
also emphasises, in rebuttal to the central theme of the book, that
Ukrainian anti-semitism predates the Russian revolution by
centuries. Letters: by Leo Cooper, advancing similar arguments to
Mr Leibler’s; and by Lyuba Melik and Bella Meylich of Hampton,
Vic., critical of the book for providing a “justification” of
participation in genocide, and critical of David Bernstein’s earlier
review which called the book “courageous” *Australian Jewish News
(14Jul95) [This focus on one word in Mr Bernstein’s review is
somewhat unfair: Mr Bernstein called the book a “spineless moral
Article by Kate Legge, “The Demidenko Affair”, notes that at
the time the unpublished manuscript was awarded The
Australian/Vogel award, one of the judges, Roger MacDonald, had
warned that ” here will have to be a lot more work on the roots of
the Ukrainian anti-semitism otherwise this manuscript will be seen
with justification as anti-semitic”. When the manuscript was
delivered to publishers Allen and Unwin, it was read by freelance
editor Lynne Segal (Jewish, originally from South Africa) who
considered it “horrible stuff… incredibly anti-semitic and
inaccurate”. Ms Segal did some research into the period covered by
the book and considered the book to be a rehashing of hatreds of the
1930s and 40s without a sufficiently strong voice of condemnation
or enough historical distance to give readers a proper, moral
perspective. She was later commissioned by the publishers to write
a detailed report on how the manuscript might be improved. Ms
Segal believes that the published version actually contains less crude
anti-semitism than the version she read. For the first time in her
life, Ms Segal refused to edit a book. The article then reviews the
controversy that erupted after the book was awarded the Miles
Franklin award, noting the criticisms of it based on claims that the
book recycles crude and classic anti-semitic propaganda. However,
Ms Legge also notes that other critics have commented that the book
also conveys “condemnation and shame”. The review reports the
comment by Marko Pavlyshyn, senior lecturer in Ukrainian studies
at Monash University, that the book does a grave disservice to Jews
and Ukrainians alike by presenting the actions of individuals as
typical. The reviewer also records that after her earlier article,
received a repulsive anti-semitic note from “the lunatic fringe”
*Weekend Australian (15-16Jul95)
Letter by Andrew Stafford (not seen), apparently defending
the position put in the book against war crimes trials that such
simply maintain a cycle of hatred *Australian (18Jul95). Response
by Blanca and Thomas Ryan, of Millaa Millaa, Q. rebuts this
argument, and criticises Ms Demidenko’s historical relativism which
seeks to equate the actions of soldiers in combat with individuals
who engaged in genocide. Another letter, by K. Siemiginowski, of
Albany WA, agrees with Demidenko that “many SS who worked in
the death camps were everyday people”, but also agrees with Jews
who maintain “that these same people were monsters… given the
circumstances, many [are] capable of diabolical behaviour”
*Australian (21Jul95)
Article by Victor Kleerekoper, “Wistrich slams `dangerous’
novel”, reports the opinion of visiting Professor Robert Wistrich that
the novel was more dangerous than Holocaust revisionism, and
called its thesis similar to the line used by Pamyat in Russia
*Australian Jewish News (21Jul95)
Column by Frank Devine praises the book: “…you are in the
hands of a writer of superior moral and intellectual acuity…
powerful and sophisticated novel”; the awards heaped on the book
“is a cause for celebration” *Australian (24Jul95)

Another prize
In Jul95, her novel was awarded yet another prize: the Gold
Medal of the Australian Literature Society. Letter by the judges,
Frances de Groen, Peter Kirkpatrick and Ken Stewart, pointing out
that they reached their decision prior to the announcement of the
Miles Franklin award. In their view, the book was a “powerful
narrative [which] explores the sources of hatred and violence in
early and mid-twentieth century Ukrainian experience in order to
understand how ordinary men and women collaborated with the
Nazis and committed unspeakable atrocities against the Jews during
the German occupation of Eastern Europe… its greatest success lies
in its disturbing evocation of the ordinariness of evil. It is not a
simplistically didactical novel, therefore. Through shifts in the
narratorial voice the reader is caught up in a tension benwteen
justice and mercy, between appropriate condemnation and due
human understanding and forgiveness…” *Australian (26Jul95)

Article by Michael Jackson, “Nothing heroic about life’s
ordinary heroes”, briefly refers to the book’s epigraph from Thomas
Hobbes, who stated that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and
short; the book reminds us “of the cruel sea in which we live”, and
that life is perilous and evil will be done if there is no common and
respected authority. (Mostly, the article is not about the Demidenko
book, but a highly positive review of Eva Fogelman’s book,
Courage and Conscience: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust
*Sydney Morning Herald (4Aug95)
Article by Darren O’Brien and Richard Tidyman (both at the
Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies, Macquarie University),
“Obscuring hatred in literature”, reviews the book. The opening
lines summarise their view of the novel: “Reading this book fills the
soul with bleakness. Not because of the prose, but because the
poison not only flows from the pen, but infiltrates those who have
decreed this work worthy of the highest literary accolades”. The
review proceeds to summarise the main themes of the novel, and
demolish the false view of history on which it is constructed. It
concludes: “This book has no redeeming qualities. That it could
have been considered for one Australian literary award is a tragedy.
That it has been awarded three is a manifold travesty. Historically,
it reinforces defunct stereotypes, belittles the destructive process
the Nazi regime and acts as an apologia for collaborator behaviour”
*Australian Jewish News (Sydney) (11Aug95)
Article by Peter Coleman, “Demidenko affair legacy of war
crimes push”, reviews the main themes of the novel and the history
of events since it was awarded the Vogel prize in 1993. Mr
Coleman notes the conflict between opponents and supporters of the
book (“political philistines” versus “arty fools”), and comments that
there is “true literary talent at work in the book”, but that there is
also an “affectlessness” which “undermines the literary
achievement… as if Demidenko’s idea of the banality of evil has
infected her own vision” *News Weekly (12Aug95)
Article by Peter Christoff, “Assassins of memory”, reviews
the Demidenko book. The title of his review article is taken from
the book by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, exposing Holocaust deniers and
their methods. Ms Demidenko “is not an assassin of memory like
Faurisson. She has nothing to do with Holocaust denial… And yet,
with its uncorrected historical distortions, its silences, omissions
moral relativism, the novel nevertheless serves as a subtle hand-
maiden to overt anti-semitic `revisionism’. As texts replace
individuals offering testimony, novels like Demidenko’s provide the
emotional foundation, apologia and justifications upon which
inaccurate views of the past and present are built”. The reviewer
goes on to criticise the novel’s “two-dimensional representation of
Jews” and its misrepresentation of Russian, Ukrainian and Jewish
history; he describes the novel as displaying “amorality and anti-
semitism” and questions the Miles Franklin panel’s judgement
*Arena (Aug-Sep95)
Article by David Bentley, “A life of brilliant fiction”,
provides background on Darville’s childhood, citing evidence from a
school therapist of early dyslexia who was a “loner” The article
asserts that she was “angry, frustrated and unable to communicate”;
however, some of the personality descriptions seem to be based on
statements made by Demidenko before her deception was revealed
*Herald Sun (19Aug95)
Article by Terry Aulich, “Breaking unwritten codes in
society”, includes an interview with Demidenko, described as “the
daughter of an Ukrainian immigrant”, in which she states that “The
flat, spare style is deliberate. I did not want the book to become
melodramatic like many other war stories. After all, when you are
faced with the horror of the Holocaust, the most likely response is a
kind of numbness. The style should represent that numbness”. The
article explains that the novel has raised a storm because it deals
with a highly sensitive issue in a multicultural society. It reports
criticisms by Alan Dershowitz that the book makes “Ukrainian
killers look like comprehensible, ordinary human beings rather than
monsters”. Mr Aulich asserts that Mr Dershowitz “takes the
dialogue of characters in the novel and insists they represent the
views of Helen Demidenko”. Mr Aulich does not agree; her prose
“does not justify, tries not to moralise”; he shares the author’s
that Jews had been “disproportionately represented in the Bolshevik
special forces. Anti-semitism, incipient in many parts of Eastern
Europe, now had an excuse” *Canberra Times (22Aug95) [Mr
Aulich is a former Labor senator who was involved in drafting the
War Crimes legislation.]
The Australian Book Review (Aug95) devoted 20 pages to
various reviewers’ opinions of the book. Helen Daniel’s editorial
focussed on the silence of the literary community, noting that most
comment had been concerned with political, historical and racial
angles. Robert Manne attacked the book as dealing with “two of the
most evil and horrible events in human history the Ukrainian
famine and the Holocaust with coldness, confidence, flatness and,
in the end, a curious kind of indifference. Peter Christoff
the Mile Franklin judges for their “ignorance or lack of
understanding of the historical events and literary traditions”
which the book must be interpreted. George Papaellinas defends the
novel by distinguishing between the offensive rationalisations of the
central characters and the purpose of the author, and criticises the
“self-righteous mouthings of critics of this novel”. Louise Adler
describes the book and the prizes awarded to it as marking “a new
new low point for this country’s literary establishment”. Maragert
Jones found the novel “powerful, savage and disturbing” but did not
agree that it was “loathsomely anti-semitic”, although she understood
“how it is possible to read anti-semitism into it”. However, it was a
novel, not history, and writers should not be held responsible “for
the words they put into the mouths of their characters”. Andrew
Riemer questions the “remarkably quixotic” manner of the literary
judges. Ramona Koval argues that Demidenko has failed in her
study of the anatomy of evil and wonders how the novel had gained
the prizes and attention that it has. David Bernstein states that the
novel has some literary merit, but is a “shallow, immature first work
by a young writer”, and is not about “redemption” [judge Jill
Kitson’s term] but simply revenge; the novel was “a travesty of
history and an apologia for genocide”. Jan Epstein sees the
“success” of the book against a background of “a world-wide shift to
the right. Demidenko’s mind-set, inherited one imagines from her
upbringing, is the result of anti-Communism running in tandem with
virulent anti-semitism. And the time is ripe for these attitudes to
flourish again”. The reviewer condemns the book for its crude
stereotypes of Jews and notes, “There is not one decent Jew in the
whole book. There is nothing new about blaming Jews for all the
evils of the world. What is new, is the alacrity displayed by
Australia’s literary establishment in rewarding someone for doing
so.” Thomas Shapcott comments on the “crucial confusion in
judging criteria” of the Miles Franklin award during the past three
years. The forum concludes with extracts from the Miles Franklin
Judges’ Report (Leonie Kramer, Adrian Mitchell, Harry Heseltine,
Jill Kitson): “…a multi-voiced novel of shifting perspectives which
renders, with great authenticity, both the inhuman horrors and the
human pleasures of her characters’ lives… a powerful literary
imagination coupled to a strong sense of history, and brings to light
a hitherto unspeakable aspect of Australian migrant experience”.

A fake persona
Article by Greg Abbott, “Writer’s claim seen as a work of
fiction”, reports that “Demidenko’s” parents were actually Harry and
Grace Darville, migrants from the north of England; it cites a
statement by Mr Robin Kleinschmidt, principal of Rochedale
Redeemer Lutheran College, that she attended his school for five
years as Helen Darville; University of Queensland records show she
spent five years at the university under that name; 1991 and 1992
policy statements for election to the University of Queensland Union
show pictures of her under the name Helen Darville. Ms
Demidenko last month denied any connection with the Darville
name, claiming that her father was Markov Demidenko, an illiterate
Ukrainian taxi driver, now living in Cairns [far north Queensland].
The article reported Mr Harry Darville’s statement that Helen
Demidenko was his daughter and that he and his wife were proud
that she had won the Miles Franklin Prize *Sunday Age (20Aug95)
Article by Jane Freeman and Rachel Buchanan, “Literary
storm brews over author’s tall tale”, reported her brother, Iain
Darville, who lives in Cairns, as stating that his sister’s use of an
imaginary family history as “a great marketing exercise” that gave
her novel credibility. He also claimed that her use of a pseudonym
was intended to protect her family because she knew the novel
would upset people. Writer David Marr, who presented Ms
Demidenko with the Australian/Vogel Award, commented that the
revelations did nothing to alter the quality of the story she told,
her claim that it was historically accurate because it was based on
direct family experience “appears to be complete bull—-“. Miles
Frankjlin judge Dame Leonie Kramer refused to comment on the
affair, and judge Jill Kitson said that that the surname of the author
was “not relevant” when judging a literary prize *Age (21Aug95)
Article by Kate Legge, “Demidenko: a crisis of identity or
savvy touch of exoticism?”, expresses uncertainty as to whether
Darville has an identity problem or was simply engaged in a “superb
marketing ploy” *Australian (21Aug95)
Article by Greg Roberts and Rachel Buchanan, “The truth
hounds Helen Darville”, noted that in 1990, suggestions of
plagiarism were raised when under yet another name she published a
humorous piece in a university magazine; the editor of the
magazine subsequently received a letter claiming that the piece had
been lifted from an earlier Bulletin article by Patrick Cook. The
article exposed as false earlier claims that she had gone from
Woodridge High School to Redeemer Lutheran College on a
scholarship; she had not attended Woodridge, and there was no
scholarship. Opinion column by Gerard Henderson, “The
deconstruction of Demidenko”, notes that there was a real
Demidenko, mentioned in Martin Gilbert’s The Holocaust as one of
the Ukrainian collaborators at Babi Yar; the name is mentioned in
D.M. Thomas’s novel, The white hotel. The column reviews the
novel, commenting that its central thesis was “the vilest ideological
propaganda, much loved by the Lunar Right. It notes her earlier
claims, now exposed as false, that she she had been researching oral
histories from members of her family, and that members of her
father’s family had been “killed by Jewish Communist Party
officials” *Age (22Aug95)
Article by David Greason, “Time for an apology”, comments
that Miles Franklin judge Jill Kitson’s defence that the author’s
background was irrelevant to a judgement of a literary prize was
“nonsense and contrary to previous statements”, since the judges has
lauded the book as incorporating “into the cultural memory first-
hand experience of the major historical events of the century”. He
dismisses Kitson’s judgement that the book was “a searingly truthful
account of terrible wartime deeds”, arguing that it was actually a
“highly partisan, historically dubious account of Ukrainian-Jewish
relations that would have been dismissed out of hand had it been
written from a German perspective”. He called on her to apologise
to both the Ukrainian and Jewish communities for the offence
caused by her “cavalier behaviour”. Editorial, “Read between the
lines”, discusses the embarrassment of the literary world over the
deception, and expresses doubt if the novel would have been
awarded prizes if the judges had known it had been writen by the
daughter of British immigrants *Herald Sun (22Aug95)
Article by Leisa Scott, Martin Thomas and Kevin Meade,
“Judges stand behind Demidenko award”, reports various critical and
supportive views about the novel. Mr Mark Leibler, past president
of the Zionist Federation of Australia, regarded it as “an anti-
semitic tract” and that her actions had undermined any claim to
historical accuracy. Thew article reports a statement by the author
admitting she used two names; `Demidenko’ referred to “my Ukrainian
ancestry: Demidenko is a family name on my father’s side”. The
director of Arts Management, Ms Virginia Braden, the organisation
which administers the Miles Franklin award, stated that
Demidenko’s heritage did not affect the worth of the work, and the
judges stood by their decision. Article by Gideon Haigh and Kate
Legge, “Helen Demidenko: why the whistle was finally blown”,
reports her Year 11 history teacher’s view of her as someone “very
interested in ideas and scholarship and history, and most outspoken
in that regard”, although fellow students considered her as “arrogant
and cold”; she was already interested then in Hitler’s Germany and
Stalin’s Russia. The article explores why she won prizes and
succeeded for a time in her deception. It notes that she was to have
been a guest speaker at the English Teachers’ Association of
Queensland annual meeting, but had withdrawn *Australian
Article by Rachel Buchanan, Jane Sullivan and Greg Roberts,
“Publisher rejected Demidenko’s `rehashed hatred'”, reports that a
former publisher at Allen & Unwin, Ms Stephanie Dowrick, had
read the manuscript and regarded it as anti-semitic and not well
written; she considered that its sentiments were “extremely
disturbing”. She chose not to work on the manuscript, and has since
left Allen & Unwin. Editorial, “An imaginary life”, opens with the
line, “Helen Demidenko is a work of fiction”, describes the author
as “an extraordinary teller of fantasies”. The editorial rebuts the
argument that the identity of the author is an irrelevant
consideration, pointing out that if the manuscript had been submitted
under the name Helen Darville, it would not have been considered
for a prize. It concludes, “There are two stories here, and neither
has reached its end. One is about a young woman who seems to have
no meaningful notion of the truth, dubious motives and a
pronounced instinct for what her family chooses to call `marketing’.
The other is about a poverty of intellect and feeling at the core of
the Australian literary culture which is truly shocking”. Article by
Guy Rundle, “`Tactical error’ a vile tragedy”, describes the affair as
“perhaps the most shameful literary deception of recent times” and
comments, “More disgraceful than the celebration of this anti-
semitic tract has been the hypocrisy and bad faith with which the
literary community have attempted to cover their tracks”. This
“somewhat unbalanced young author has wantonly used the pain and
suffering of millions to turn herself into a literary star. Anyone
with basic decency should be able to see that this is an immoral act.
… Those who have profited from this book should feel deep shame
as should those who have championed it. The whole affair has been
a vile episode in the history of Australian letters” *Age (23Aug95)
Article by Kate Legge, Kevin Meade and Fiona Kennedy,
“Call to strip Demidenko of gold medal”, reports the view of Ivor
Indyk, an academic at the University of Sydney and editor of the
literary journal Southerly, that she should be stripped of her
Australian Literary Society gold medal because of her “unethical
conduct”. The article also notes that she had been awarded a
Queensland government literary grant of $13,500 in Nov94 to write
a second novel; the aim of the grant had been to support “youth,
women and people from non-English speaking backgrounds”. A
spokesman for the Arts Department said that her application was
being checked for “anomalies” *Australian (23Aug95)
Ms Demidenko was scheduled to be one of a large panel of
guest speakers at the 20th anniversary conference and dinner of the
Australian Law Reform Commission, Canberra, 23Aug95. After the
exposure of her fake persona, she withdrew from participation.
Russell McDougall of the University of New England
answered those supporters who asserted that the name of the author
was not relevant in judging the merit of the novel by arguing that
her pseudonym was “invented to give authority to the book itself”.
He argued that even if the judges did not consciously pay much
attention to the name of the author, unconsciously the name
`Demidenko’ would influence them to believe that this was an
“ethnic” writer; he called this a “cynical manipulation of
multicultural sympathies”. He concluded by noting that she had
already been criticised for plagiarism in another of her published
writings, and raised the question of whether she was in fact the
author of the novel: “Could there be a hidden third person…?”. In a
similar vein, Noam Shifrin argued that her identity had “everything
to do with her work. For if she lies about her background then
what is to stop her lying in her work?” Mr Shifrin called on the
Miles Franklin judges to strip her of the award and to apologise to
the public for misleading them *Join-Talk (23Aug95) [Internet
Letter by Roger McDonald, one of the judges for the 1993
Vogel award, in which he releases his judgement of the novel:
“Bizarre, lurching, erratic in focus, and also I think naive in
believing that the great horror of the Holocaust can be understood in
this way. I feel ill at what this manuscript tells me and ill that it
leaves things out… there will have to be a lot more work on the
roots of the Ukrainian anti-semitism otherwise this manuscript will
be seen with justification as anti-semitic” *Age (24Aug95) [The
newspaper published eight other letters on the affair, some critical
of the literary establishment, others running the line that the
author’s background was irrelevant.]
Two articles: Bernard Freedman’s “Demidenko `no innocent
multiculturalist'” reports Mr Isi Leibler’s view that Ms Darville was
not an “innocent multiculturalist” but an “indigenous anti-semite in
her own right. The approach she has is undoubtedly the sort of
ideology the League of Rights is still peddling”. He said her
falsehoods destroyed the credibility of the book, which he said was
“more dangerous than much of the revisionist stuff that said the
Holocaust never happened”. The article noted that Ms Darville had
cancelled an appearance at a literary luncheon at the Australian
National University in Canberra that week. David Bernstein’s “The
Demidenko `hoax'” comments that while he thought the novel was
“deeply flawed”, he was prepared to concede that for a “young
Ukrainian novelist” (as he thought) to write in the way she did about
atrocities committed by her kith and kin took considerable courage.
He regarded the novel as “anti-semitic to the core”, but was
prepared to allow that its anti-semitism was “rooted in the twisted
folklore the author had imbibed…from her supposed Ukrainian
immigrant family”. With the hoax now revealed, he wondered what
a young Queenslander of English extraction was doing “retailing the
twisted, anti-semitic folk-hatred of another people”. Mr Bernstein is
deeply critical of the judges and their subsequent silence, or (in the
case of Jill Kitson) her “disturbing response”. He considered that
the judges may have been “duped by a bright, scheming and
possibly deeply disturbed Queenslander who…appears to have a few
very unsavoury axes of her own to grind”. Editorial, “The
Demidenko deceit”, comments that this is “a book about the
Holocaust that replays the Nazi myth of the `Jewish Bolsheviks’ and
then spins an endless tissue of lies to support that invention. This
is not a book that the Australian literary world should continue to
honour” *Australian Jewish News (25Aug95)
Author, “Alcohol & I”, a light-hearted piece in which she
admits her love of drinking. The article, obviously written before the
exposure of her claims to Irish-Ukrainian background as fake, is full
of references to Irish whisky and Ukrainian vodka, and refers to
Ireland as “her mother’s country” *The Independent Monthly
(Sep95) [published late Aug95]
Two articles: Rosemary Neill’s “Demidenko life fiction goes
too far” attacks the argument that the revelation of her false
identity means that the work is more clearly an imaginative one than
it was judged to be before. She refers to Ms Demidenko’s distraction
of the literati “with pretty folk dances” and her behaviour “like
Ukraine’s grown-up answer to Heidi”, and her fending off charges
of anti-semitism with the outrageous claim that most of her family
had been killed by Jewish Communists. The purpose of this was “to
validate the book’s dubious morality… Yet the minute her fakery
was exposed, we were told that the fact that she conned everybody
so thoroughly showed (a) how brilliant her fiction writing skills are;
and (b) how skilled literary prizes were at detecting genuine feats of
imagination.” On the same page, Frank Devine’s “Guilty of an
unseemly rush to demonise” presents an opposing view: he
considers the attacks on the author a “miserable, philistine treatment
of a young writer of talent. He opens the article by quoting Mr Isi
Leibler’s exultant exclamation, “So it’s all lies” on TV when the
deception was revealed, and asserts that Mr Leibler at that moment
“represented the unacceptable bullyboy face of anti-anti-semitism”.
He defends some of Ms Darville’s descriptions of hideous events in
the Holocaust as “a passionate act. Letter by Dr Don Castan,
formerly of the English Department of the University of
Queensland, in which he states that Ms Darville was a student of his
in a course on Multiculturalism and Literature (she acknowledges
his support in the novel). Dr Castan explained that she had told him
that she was of Ukrainian descent; he had supported her “rights as
an author and the integrity of her text against those within the
organisation [the publishers] who were attacking it”, but he had not
read the manuscript prior to publication. He concludes with the
hope that she can “profit from her present experiences and does not
allow them to destroy her career as a writer. She is very talented as
a fiction writer and the blighting of her career would be a great loss
to Australian letters” *Australian (24Aug95)

Short-listed for a fourth award
Article by Gideon Haigh and Scott Coomber, “Demidenko’s
novel on premier’s award shortlist”, reported that the novel was
being considered for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award; the
decision had been made prior to the revelation of the deception
*Australian (25Aug95)

Demidenko admits the hoax and apologises
Article by Michelle Gunn, “I am truly sorry: Demidenko
comes clean”, reproduces a letter in which she apologised for her
actions. She stated that while still at school she had met a
Ukrainian with “first-hand experiences of war-time atrocities” and
then became interested in the legal aspects of war crimes trials. She
began writing the novel at the age of 21 and decided to take the
name Demidenko “in empathy with the characters I was creating.
Part of my motivation was to protect my source. … The persona
adopted for my writing took over my life … It is open to people to
like or dislike my book as a piece of literature. There are as many
versions of my book as there are people who read it. I am truly
sorry if my book or my actions have been perceived in any way as
anti-semitic or degrading to the Ukrainian community. I condemn
without reservation the perpetrators of the Holocaust. It was never
my intention to condone those responsible for atrocities. I wanted
to show the obscenity of war… I sincerely regret any distress
caused…” Allen & Unwin announced that reprintings of the book
would be issued under her real name. Article by David Fagan and
Fiona Kennedy, “Wild child of the literary set”, notes that she had
adopted the name Demidenko-Darville officially and used it in
university records after 1992. The article also noted that in 1990,
using the name Helen Hidveghey, she submitted an article to the
student newspaper Semper Floreat and sought payment for it; the
article had been plagiarised and the paper carried an apology in the
next edition. She spent her late-teenage and university years as a
“political chameleon”, having been at various times “Young
National, Green and Australian Democrat”. Another article,
“Literature, lies and history”, is a symposium of the reflections of
three writers on her work. The paper’s literary editor, Barry
Oakley, was the most forgiving; he stated that he did not admire
the book, since there was too much horror and dull acceptance of
horror within it, but he argued that it was important to make the
distinction between the author and the characters in her book, who
“hate Jews and inhabit a stunted moral landscape”. Ivor Indyk,
senior lecturer in Australian literature at the University of Sydney,
roundly attacked the author for her “deceit”. Darren O’Brien and
Richard Tidyman, “Mythology supports hatred”, criticised the
historical distortions which underpin the novel. Letters section,
headlined, “The hand that threw a bomb into the literary world”,
contains six letters. Paul Tankard accuses her of “exploiting
multiculturalism”; Tom Shapcott found the anti-semitism of the
book “extremely distasteful”, but defended the right to present it.
Graeme Orr writes of the audience’s feelings of betrayal and
confusion; he found it difficult “to see the authenticity in lying”.

Editorial, “Demidenko still needs to explain”, comments that “if
Darville’s defence of her novel has been built substantially on a
fabrication about herself, then it can only damage the integrity and
ethical standing of her work”. It concludes, “For all its flaws, her
novel is bringing new attention to significant events which is a
worthwhile reason for writing any book” *Weekend Australian (26-
27Aug95) [Is the editorial writer really suggesting that it’s OK to
tell lies, as long as it promotes discussion?]
Article by Rachel Buchanan, “Darville apologises for her
literary lie”, cites and comments on her letter admitting the
deception. An introductory heading over the headline states, “A
welcome last word puts the Demidenko affair to rest”. [Maybe,
maybe not.] Article by Robert Manne, “The Great Pretender”,
provides one of the most detailed critiques of the content of the
novel yet to appear. He notes how in the novel, every communist
except one is Jewish. He comments that historical criticism of a
romantic novel set in Elizbethan England would be pedantic, but in
a novel that deals with two of the most catastrophic events in recent
history, such criticism is “not only appropriate but obligatory”. He
criticises her failure to provide any background to the history of
Ukrainian-Jewish relationships: “she has managed to despatch the
centuries of anti-Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine the most horrible
of which occurred just 10 years before the action of her novel
begins down the memory hole.” He states that he had thought
that the “standard interwar fascist proposition Bolshevism as an
expression of Jewish political power was no longer a topic of
discussion in civilised company”, but that with the publication of the
novel, this was no longer the case. He rebuts the central thesis of
the novel by pointing out that under Lenin and Stalin, 95% of the
Soviet Communist Party were not Jews. In the 1920s, 10% of the
CPSU Central Committee were Jewish; none of the Council of
People’s Commissars were; in the 1930s, Lazar Kaganovich was
the only Jew in the Politburo. Dr Manne describes the novel as
anti-semitic (“I do not see how this can seriously be doubted”), and
concludes that with her literary hoax, Demidenko has “inadvertently
exposed … the pretensions of academic post-modernism and
sentimental multiculturalism” in the current age. Article by David
Marr, “Dabbling with demons”, comes to Demidenko’s defence,
commenting that a novelist must “make evil live and breathe, give it
a human face”, although he had warned when presenting her with
the Vogel prize that she would run the risk of being accused of
endorsing evil. Mr Marr admitted though that he had absorbed the
fantasy of her “Ukrainian family” background, and that part of his
excitement when reading the book had been his “sense that this text
had some authenticity as a kind of oral history”. He counters
arguments that the book is anti-semitic by expressing his view that
the book is full of signals of the author’s disapproval of the novel’s
characters’ brutal actions against the Jews; descriptions of these
actions evoked in him “rage and pity for their fate. And I can’t
believe that Helen D. didn’t mean me to feel this”. Article by
Rachel Buchanan, “Darville finds truth stronger than fiction”, briefly
reviews the affair *Age (26Aug95)
Article by Natalie Sikora, “Author apology condemned”,
reports the view of the vice-president of the Australian Federation of
Ukrainian Organisations, Ms Marian Tkaczuk, that Ms Darville was
“a cold, calculating, cynical and deeply deceptive person. We will
not give her any support of any kind in the future and we condemn
her thoroughly”. Mr Isi Leibler also rejected the author’s apology,
noting that she had not conceded that the book was a “deliberate
distortion of history that caused unnecessary friction between the
Jewish and Ukrainian communities” and that she had not withdrawn
her allegations that the Communist Party apparatus was Jewish
dominated. Article by Annemarie Mitchell, “Kennett silent on
award listing”, reported the Victorian premier’s refusal to comment
on the shortlisting of the book for the Victorian Premier’s prize
*Herald Sun (26Aug95)
Article by Deborah Stone, “Novel hoax a question of fact or
fiction”, discusses the issue of whether the identity of a book’s
author is relevant in criticising the book’s contents, and presents
opinions by various writers and literary critics on both sides of this
question *Sunday Age (27Aug95)
Article by Peter Coster, “When fiction becomes lies”, reviews
various literary hoaxes, and quotes Thomas Keneally’s view that
although the characters in Darville’s book were anti-semitic, he did
not consider the author to be: “I don;t think it can be shown that she
agrees with her anti-semitic, Jew-killing characters. Indeed, there
are a number of signs that she doesn’t. There are suspicious aspects
in that just about all the baddies seem to be Jewish Soviets… There
are suspicious aspects to the narration of the characters but again
she has the defence that that that’s the whole damn point, that is
why they got involved in the Holocaust because that’s their view of
history” *Sunday Herald Sun (27Aug95)
Letter by Prof. Bill Rubinstein compares the author’s claim
that her grandfather was killed by Jewish Communists to medieval
accusations that Jews poisoned the wells and kidnapped Christian
children; the purpose of her false claim was to “give credence to
what is an anti-semitic lie of the most despicable kind”; he attacks
the failure of the Miles Franklin judges to condemn the deception as
soon as it became known, and describes them as ignoramuses with
“a gross ignorance of history” *Australian (28Aug95)
Article by Fiona Harai, “Making it by faking it”, reviews
various cases of people adopting false identities. Letter by Hal
Wootten of Glebe (a prominent Australian writer), stating that he
did not find the book anti-semitic; he asks, “How could anyone feel
but the deepest sympathy and outrage at the treatment of Jews
described in the book? How is the horror of pogroms or death
camps lessened by the absurd reasons of the persecutors, whether as
in the Middle Ages they blame Jews for the plague or in the 20th
century for the Ukrainian famine?”. Letter by John Nieuwenhuizen
of Potts Point, disagreeing with Prof. Rubinstein’s assessment of the
book as anti-semitic: “To make the leap from the fact that some
characters in this novel believe, for whatever reason, that some or
all Jews were Bolsheviks and did murder some or many Ukrainians
to the `fact’ of the book being anti-semitic requires the abandonment
of logic” *Australian (30Aug95)
Another response to Prof. Rubinstein in a letter from Mr R.
Siemienowicz of Mickleham, Vic. who was born in Poland in 1942;
he had visited Treblinka and seen the crematoria, and he also stated
that his uncles in Russian-occupied Ukraine and Lithuania had told
him that there were Jewish commissars among the members of
NKVD; he had personally witnessed UB agents (Polish equivalent
of the KGB) search his flat in Warsaw and asserted that “two of the
six agents were Jewish”; he concludes, “each nation has skeletons in
its cupboards” *Weekend Australian (2-3Sep95)

Is she a deliberate anti-semite?
Article by Jason Koutsoukis, “Helen Darville `set out to
distort'”, reports on an interview with Paul Gadaloff, a former
boyfriend who helped her with her research for the book. Mr
Gadaloff claimed that she had deliberately set out to distort “the
Jewish version of history”; she believed that Jews had caused the
Ukrainian famine; she used to talk about how she thought Jews
controlled things and conspired to control things. He had decided to
speak out because he was concerned about his own reputation as a
writer and researcher *Age (29Aug95)
Miles Franklin judge Dame Leonie Kramer wrote a letter,
stating that the judges were “not influenced by any fashionable pre-
occupation with multiculturalism, as some have alleged”; she
expressed the hope that “someone will analyse the reasons for the
sustained and vitriolic attack on the book and its author. The whole
episode calls into question our claims to be a tolerant and fair-
minded society” *Sydney Morning Herald (29Aug95)

Accusations of plagiarism
Article by Debra Jopson, “Did other hands sign Darville’s
paper?”, reports that some sections of the book appear to have been
plagiarised. The publishers have frozen supplies of the book
pending an enquiry. Miles Franklin chair Dame Leonie Kramer
broke her silence on the furore, saying the episode “calls into
question [Australia’s] claim to be a tolerant and fair-minded
society… When the dust has settled I hope that someone will analyse
the reasons for the sustained and vitriolic attack on the book and its
author”. Article by Les Carlyon, “The hand that made even the
Holocaust boring”, praises Sydney letter writer Stan Roseberg as
“our sharpest literary critic”. Mr Roseberg had written to the
Sydney Morning Herald that he had lost relatives in the Holocaust,
but that he didn’t find the book particularly anti-semitic. The major
problem was “the dull flatness of the narrative… shallow cardboard
characters. … Helen, you committed a cardinal sin: you made the
Holocaust a boring read”. Mr Carlyon comments, “We should not be
too hard on Darville. She is young; she probably deserved more
help than she got. How was she to know the Australian literary
establishment would bring her undone by taking her seriously?”
*Age (31Aug95)
Article by Rachel Gibson and Sian Watkins, “Call to sack
Darville award judges”, reports a call by Emeritus Professor Colin
Roderick, a founding Miles Franklin judge, to sack the judges.
Editorial, “Plumbing new depths”, comments that the book appears
to based on “literary theft”, attacks the credibility of the judges
who awarded prizes to the book, and recommends that they resign.
Article by Jane Sullivan, “Where there’s a judge there’s a jury”,
profiles Miles Franklin judge Jill Kitson, a staunch defender of the
book and the only judge to make public comments about it *Age
Article by Robert Magid, “The hand that wrote the lies”,
discusses the history of the Ukraine during the Stalinist period,
noting that millions died as a result of Stalin’s policies, but Jews
along with non-Jewish Ukrainians were the victims of famine and
summary execution. Kaganovich, whose name is cited by anti-
semites as a “evidence” for Jewish involvement in all this, was the
only Jew in a long list of Soviet apparatchiks responsible for
implementing Stalin’s policies. He is critical of the book, and the
judges, for their judgement of the work “in a moral and social
vacuum” *Australian Jewish News (Sydney) (1Sep95)

Further comment from the League of Rights
Item states: “Acting on legal advice, we refrain from making
any further comment on the `Helen Demidenko’ affair, with which
Mr Eric Butler and the League of Rights have been linked” *On
Target (1Sep95)

Article by Prof. Bill Rubinstein, “Australia’s most anti-
semitic book in decades”, asserts that the book is anti-semitic
because of its theme that “the Jews who perished got what they
deserved” and that the affair “reflects shame and discredit upon
everyone associated with it: the author, the publisher, and perhaps
most of all, the literary judges who have awarded it prize after
prize”. He praises the Ukrainian community which “has conducted
itself with considerable dignity in this affair. It has not sought to
explout the book, and appears embarrassed by its author’s
stereotyping of Ukrainians”. Letter by Debbie Masel, headlined
“AJN was soft on Demidenko”, criticises the paper for not exposing
the book earlier. [The editor responded that Ms Masel was engaging
in selective citation: the paper had carried critical reviews as
early as June.] Letter, headlined “Unanswered questions” by Malvina
Malinek, asks whether the publishers knew of the author’s real
name, why they had ignored initial advice against publishing this
“horror manuscript”, whether they would have published it if it had
been about some other ethnic group, and several other questions
*Australian Jewish News (1Sep95)
Article by Debra Jopson, “Darville in meeting over new
`sources'”, reported that the number of texts she had apparently
drawn upon to construct her novel was now up to five, and her
publishers were now meeting with her for “clarification”. One
passage appears similar to that in Deborah Dwork’s Children with a
star. [However, in two other texts mentioned in the article, the
quoted passages do not appear to be all that similar.] Letter by Vic
Alhadeff, associate editor, Australian Jewish News, denying a claim
by writer David Marr that he had “supported” Demidenko; he stated
that he had interviewed her in 1994 without having read her book
and had concluded at the time that she was “naive”. In the light of
the later revelations, he now regarded her as “pathologically naive”
and her book “little more than a virulent apology for Nazism” *Age
Article by Kate Halfpenny, “The story teller”, reviews the
whole affair, concentrating on Darville’s background and
personality, rather than the contents of the book. It quotes an
opinion by Norman Rees, a Sydney clinical psychologist, who
suggests that she is suffering from pseudologia fantastica
(compulsive lying), a condition in which people adopt the identity of
someone else in an attempt to get recognition. The article quotes
the opinions of school and university colleagues who describe her a
loner: “she didn’t really associate with anyone. She’s so
opinionated I think a lot of people felt threatened by that” *Who
Letter by Patrick Hutchings of Fitzroy, a wonderful satire on
post-modernism *Australian (4Sep95)
Letter by Geoff Muller of McMahons Point, wondering what
all the fuss is about: “certainly some of its characters are anti-
semitic and genocidal”, but one should not “confuse the motives of
fictional characters with the author’s opinions or the effect of the
book”; he comments that “lots of the early communists were secular
Jews and so were lots of the KGB; …Given the persecution that
afflicted Jews in Czarist Russia and the Ukraine and the communist
promise of racial equality, it would be exceedingly strange if Jews
were not over-represented in opposition movements like the
Bolsheviks”. Mr Muller found the national revenge theme of the
book “not implausible”; howvere, he could understand Jewish
concerns about the possibility of giving “comfort to the racist
loonies who propagate mystical conspiracy theories… but that does
not justify the misrepresentation of history or hysteria” *Australian
Article by Debra Jopson, “Darville lines likened to White
short story”, notes some similarities between a passage in the book
and a Patrick White short story, “Down in the Dump” *Age
Article by Andrew Stafford, “Darville’s silence is no victory”;
Mr Stafford knew Ms Darville, although not well; he is critical of
her for having “inexcusably appropriated a national group’s name,
symbols and heritage as her own and, worse, set herself up as a
spokesperson for that group under a false pretence”, but he still
considers the book “stands as a work of considerable moral weight”
and does not believe that the acts of futile revenge described in the
book make it anti-semitic *Australian (6Sep95)
Item, “Darville prize not in doubt”, reported a comment by
Ms Virginia Braden, administrator of the Miles Franklin award, that
the judges had no intention of asking Ms Darville to explain
possible plagiarism in her book. Ms Darville’s solicitor, Mr Andrew
Greenwood, stated that he did not think the similarities in the book
were plagiarism *Age (7Sep95)
Article by David Greason, “Publusher clears Darville”, reports
that the author had been cleared of allegations of plagiarism by her
lawyers, the publishers and the Miles Franklin judges *Herald Sun
(8Sep95). Article by Rachel Gibson, “Darville’s hand clear of
copying allegations” *Age (8Sep95)
Article by David Fagan and Carolyn Jones, “Franklin judges
are old fogies, says Bolkus”, reported Dame Leonie Kramer’s
statement that the Miles Franklin judges were not concerned about
Demidenko’s false identity, and did not agree with the claims of
plagiarism; she responded to critics of the history portrayed in the
book by stating that “These people have subjected it to a historical
test which literature does not need to pass”. Immigration Minister
Senator Bolkus made a general attack on the judges, stating that
they ought to feel embarrassed *Weekend Australian (9-10Sep95)
Letter by Dmetri Kakmi of Williamstown, aguing that the
affair could have a good effect on the Australian arts scene, as it
might help “white Anglo-Saxon, middle-class liberals realise just
how offensive, paternalistic and condescending their view of ethnics
and `the marginalised’ actually is… Demidenko would not have had
a look-in if she had called herself Darville” *Sunday Age (10Sep95)

Article by Gerard Henderson, “Taking Darville at her word”,
ridicules the decision-making process used to justify the dismissal of
allegations of plagiarism, and continues the columnist’s attacks on
the judges *Age (12Sep95)
Helen Daniel’s Double cover column reviews the affair,
noting people’s widely varying perceptions of it, and describing it as
a “cultural catalyst: a figure with her own purposes, who came
among us and her presence, like any good catalyst, brought to light
a multitude of hidden sins, contradictions, falsehoods and desires
that were lying just under the surface of contemporary Australian
culture.” Ms Daniel notes that two recent seminars on the affair
were held on the same day, one at LaTrobe University, the other at
the University of Melbourne. At LaTrobe, Colleen Keane had
prepared a timeline and summary of the unfolding of the affair in
the media. Ms Daniel argues that no single perspective is possible,
and that the affair is not “singular, fixed or finished. Its
implications and its cultural aftershocks will reach through into the
future in complex and sinister ways. It will affect the way we talk
about multiculturalism, racism, history and the teaching of history,
politics, morality, the media, the arts, the activities of English
departments, the role of academics in public life, authenticity,
literary awards and, indeed, literature for many years.” She goes on
to reject Dame Leonie’s description of criticisms of the book as
“vitriolic”, commenting that the judge “mistook outrage, anger, pain
and tribulation of racial, literary and cultural kinds for vitriol”.
Ms Daniel (who is the editor of the Australian Review of Books)
concludes with her own opinion: the Miles Franklin prize should be
withdrawn, and the judges should resign *Age Saturday Extra

Dr Paul Gardner,
Reader in Education, Monash University Clayton, Vic.
Australia 3168. Tel: Int+ 61 3 990 52854; fax Int+ 61 3 990 52779
email: [email protected]
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, 18 Sep 1995 21:12:14 CDT
Reply-To: History of Antisemitism List
Sender: History of Antisemitism List
From: Paul Gardner R313 x52854
Subject: The Demidenko/Darville affair