Meeting Magocsi

Meeting Magocsi

“[A]re not all scholars and writers by definition promoters of the subject that at some point in their careers has become close to their hearts?1” Paul Robert Magocsi

Paul Robert Magocsi holds the John Yaremko Chair of Ukrainian Studies at University of Toronto. A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and professor of history and political science, he’s considered the preeminent Western historian of Ukraine, as well as “the leading Western scholar of Carpatho-Rusyns.2

In his 2007 speech at the Association for the Study of Nationalities World Convention, he remarked,

“It is through schools that young people are best taught about their native culture, and it is in the educational sphere that the greatest efforts in the present Rusyn movement are now being made. Poland, Slovakia, and Serbia provide state funding for school instruction in the Rusyn language and culture. While Ukraine does not yet provide similar funding, the solution found there is to set up privately financed Rusyn-language and culture classes throughout that country’s Transcarpathian region. The first school year began in 2003/2004 with eight such schools; by the 2007/2008 school year the number of classes was 40. Funding comes from North America and, interestingly, not only from Rusyns. A Jewish Holocaust survivor saved by a Rusyn family and now living in Canada has consistently funded two to three Rusyn classes every year.3

The Jewish Holocaust survivor he refers to was my great uncle, Stefan Moldovan, my grandmother’s youngest brother.

Acts of Gratitude

Stefan funded classes, as well as various writing and translation projects, designed to promote the Rusyn cause: to preserve and promote the language and culture of a distinct ethnic group in the region of his birth (now in Western Ukraine) in order to empower them eventually to achieve political recognition and autonomy.

Stefan knew what it was to be the target of ethnic eradication. He had known devastating loss of autonomy, relationship, and circumstance. He had experienced degradation and violence. His support of the Rusyn cause was motivated by empathy for a people who have struggled under various powers to preserve their culture, language, and identity.

And, Stefan never forgot the unfathomable bravery, generosity, and righteousness of the Rusyn family that—at enormous risk to their own safety—had saved his life during the Holocaust. His gratitude endured throughout his life, and, I would argue, even beyond.

Magocsi, Stefan, and Me

I recently returned from Toronto, where I met Professor Magocsi, a warm and generous man. We met in his office in the Carpatho-Ruthenica Library at the University of Toronto, where we toasted Stefan. The professor shared a number of resources, and, over lunch at the faculty club, we discussed Stefan and his historical milieu.

I’ll reveal more about this meeting, and the process that led to it, in upcoming blog posts.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of me with the distinguished professor next to the stacks of the Carpatho-Ruthenica Collection.

Professor Paul Robert Magocsi and me, February 28, 2018, in the Carpatho-Ruthenica Library at the University of Toronto

Professor Paul Robert Magocsi and me, February 28, 2018, in the Carpatho-Ruthenica Library at the University of Toronto



1 Magocsi, Paul Robert. “The Scholar as Nation-Builder, or as Advisor and Advocate: Remarks Delivered by Paul Robert Magocsi (Chair of Ukrainian Studies, University of Toronto) for the Special Panel ‘Paul Robert Magocsi on the Scholar as a Nation-Builder’ at the ASN 2007 World Convention, Columbia University.” Nationalities Papers 36.5 (Nov 2008): 881-892.

2 Taras, Kuzio. “A multi-vectored scholar for a multi-vectored era: Paul Robert Magocsi.” Nationalities Papers 39.1 (Jan 2011): 95-104.

3 Magocsi. “The Scholar as Nation Builder.”


  1. judy wasinger on March 14, 2018 at 8:00 am

    A Toast to your great uncle Stefan Moldovan, Professor Magocsi, and you Johannah. What a wonderful and uplifting journey this must have been. Very much look forward to your next posts concerning your meeting with Professor Magocsi and what led you to Professor Magocsi. Were you previously aware that your uncle Stefan funded classes to promote the Rusyn cause/heritage? What a wonderful legacy your uncle Stefan has created from such a dark time in his life and history. Great photo of you two.

    • Johannah Knudson on March 14, 2018 at 11:11 am

      Thank you, Judy! I became aware only recently that Stefan had funded these classes. Professor Magocsi shared with me ten years of correspondence between the two of them, which gave me enormous insight into Stefan’s values, charitable activities, and inner world. I agree that Stefan left a wonderful legacy that helped support a structure for the continuation of a unique people, culture, and language. Knowing this and his motivations for it adds even greater depth to his story. Thank you for your comment and your continuing interest!

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My Great Uncle Stefan
My Great Uncle Stefan