Between Moscow and Berlin (IV)

KIEV/WARSAW/BERLIN (Own report) - Just a few days before the Soccer World Cup is scheduled to open, a reminder of massacres, carried out by Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, has created dissonance between the Ukraine and Poland. In Warsaw, government politicians are demanding that Kiev finally put a stop to public commemorations of Ukrainian militia fighting on Nazi Germany’s side. They were responsible for gruesome murders of Poles in World War II. One of those referred to, is the Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), whose militia, for example, attacked a total of 99 Polish villages, massacring countless inhabitants on July 11, 1943. Bandera is honored with numerous memorials, particularly in western Ukraine, where the imprisoned ex-Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko has her electoral backing. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, the OUN, founded with Berlin's support in 1929, evolved into the main Ukrainian nationalist political organization. On several occasions following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, it sought statehood for a secessionist Ukrainian nation under German dominion. The massacres were carried out against the Polish population, especially Jews. Most recently, the memory of numerous Ukrainians’ collaboration with the Nazis was re-awakened by the German trial against the former Ukrainian concentration camp guard, John Demjanjuk.

Massacre of Poles

As the governing PSL party's parliamentarian in the Sejm, Franciszek Stefaniuk explained, the Ukraine should face up to the commemorations of anti-Polish massacres by numerous Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in the Second World War. This is in reference to crimes, such as the murders on July 11, 1943, when Ukrainian militia engaged in a coordinated offensive against 99 Polish villages, killing thousands of inhabitants, says Stefaniuk.[1] Stepan Bandera, one of the commanders of the militia, is still celebrated today in the West Ukraine with numerous memorials. Warsaw demands that a stop be put to this. Declaring July 11, the day in 1943, when the Poles were slaughtered, an official day of commemoration is now being considered. This would refurbish the memory of Ukrainian collaborationist activities, for example, of the OUN, the most important of the organizations seeking Ukrainian statehood at the time.

The Spirit of the Leadership

The founding of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in Vienna in early 1929 had been prepared at a 1927 Ukrainian nationalists' conference in Berlin. The Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) was also a participant at the Berlin conference. The UVO had its headquarters in Berlin and had undergone several clandestine training programs provided by the German Reichswehr.[2] In the 1920s, it had repeatedly engaged in terrorist campaigns and carried out attacks in Poland. According to the Polish intelligence service, six German soldiers were also present at the OUN's founding conference.[3] Throughout the years of its existence, while, according to one of its commanders, "the democratic spirit" was replaced by "the spirit of leadership and the adulation toward the authority of the leadership,"[4] the OUN remained fidel to the Nazi government, even though the latter was occasionally forced to publicly distance itself from the former, for example after OUN terrorists assassinated the Interior Minister of Poland June 15, 1934. In any case, in 1939, the OUN had very close relations with the German Wehrmacht and organized a small unit of exiled Ukrainians for their engagement in the invasion of Poland. They were disappointed at not being allowed by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to march into Lwów (which had been Lemberg and later Lviv). The OUN began instead to repeatedly massacre Polish civilians throughout the war. These massacres are today the subject of Polish protests.

Hero of the Ukraine

Once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union June 22, 1941, OUN's Ukrainian militia, or at least its "Nightingale Battalion," could make good on not having been able to march into Lwów. Under the command of Theodor Oberländer,[5] who later was a West German minister, the Nightingale Battalion participated not only in the invasion of that town, but was also involved in the deadly pogroms against Lwów's Jewish community. That German/Ukrainian massacre left thousands dead. Nazi anti-Semites could count on the support of their collaborators. As soon as the Germans occupied Poland, the OUN declared "open season" on the Jewish population. "Alongside the German authorities, our militia is now arresting numerous Jews," the OUN propaganda office in occupied Lwów reported to Berlin, July 28, 1941. "The Jews are using all means to defend themselves from liquidation." The OUN and its troops continued anti-Semitic massacres in the following years.[6] The memory of the common front with the Germans in the war is still alive, at least in the western Ukraine. October 12, 2007, the pro-western president Viktor Yushchenko declared post-mortem the "Nichtingale" commander, Roman Shukhevych, a "Hero of the Ukraine."

Under German Protection

The veneration that the OUN continues to enjoy in sectors of the western Ukrainian population can be also explained by efforts to achieve Ukrainian statehood on the territory of the occupied Soviet Union under German hegemony - exactly as it was attempted back at the end of World War I.[7] OUN leader, Stepan Bandera proclaimed such a state's existence on June 30, 1941, which put him at odds with the Germans, who, even though they allow their Ukrainian collaborators some leeway, would not permit more comprehensive sovereign actions. Bandera was brought back to Berlin and incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. The OUN continued trying to establish structures in the German occupied areas - not without success - that would "serve as a basis for the creation of Ukrainian statehood," reported Frank Golczewski, an expert on the Ukraine.[8] The historian writes, "the local German rulers in the civilian administered Reich's Commissioner's Office Ukraine and in the outlying areas behind army lines were not unhappy about being able to rely on the support of German-friendly Ukrainians," who, from their side, could enjoy the protection of the Germans, "while they set up Ukrainian administrations."

"Master Race" Chauvinism

The Nazis' anti-Slavic "Master race" chauvinism had not prevented collaboration at the lower levels. The Germans readily accepted services in support of the occupation by the OUN and OUN dominated organizations. such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). However, the German strategic attitude toward Ukrainians left no doubt: "The Ukrainians must provide what Germany is lacking," declared Erich Koch, the German "Reichskommissar" in the Ukraine in August 1942. "This task must be fulfilled no matter what." What is important for the Germans, is the "standpoint that we are dealing with people, who are inferior to us in every respect." And, Koch continued "the Ukrainians' educational level must be kept low;" "everything must also be done to suppress the fertility rate in this region."[9] In the Nazis' plans, the Ukraine was, at best, a German colony. During the war, more than a million Ukrainians were deported as forced labor to the German Reich.

Against Bolshevism

However, before the end of 1943, the Nazis had recruited 80,000 Ukrainian volunteers for the war against the Soviet Union, of whom 17,000 were fighting for the Germans in the ranks of the Waffen SS Division Galicia. The last wave of Ukrainian recruiting followed in the fall of 1944. Leading Ukrainian nationalists were released from German concentration camps and dispatched to the Russian Nazi-collaborationist Vlasov army in the "war against Bolshevism." As late as March 17, 1945, a Ukrainian National Committee publicly introduced itself in Weimar.[10] Its leader Pavlo Shandruk surrendered to US troops in Mai 1945. After the war, he lived in exile in the Federal Republic of Germany and in the United States.

In Exile

Like Shandruk, many collaborators, especially OUN members, as well as members of other organizations, were able to hibernate in the period between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union in their West German or US American exiles, shaping the attitudes of many other exiles, who in turn, influenced the Ukraine, founded in 1991. ( will report next week.)

Further information on Germany's policy toward the Ukraine can be found here: Between Moscow and Berlin, The Boxer's Punch and Between Moscow and Berlin (III).

[1] Polen: Politiker wollen vor EURO Geschichtsaufarbeitung mit Ukraine; 02.06.2012
[2] see also Between Moscow and Berlin (III)
[3] Franziska Bruder: "Den ukrainischen Staat erkämpfen oder sterben!" Die Organisation Ukrainischer Nationalisten (OUN) 1929-1948, Berlin 2007
[4] Frank Golczewski: Die ukrainische Emigration, in: Frank Golczewski (Hg.): Geschichte der Ukraine, Göttingen 1993, 224-240
[5] see also Spuren der Geschichte
[6] Franziska Bruder: "Den ukrainischen Staat erkämpfen oder sterben!" Die Organisation Ukrainischer Nationalisten (OUN) 1929-1948, Berlin 2007
[7] see also Zwischen Moskau und Berlin (II)
[8] Frank Golczewski: Die umstrittene Tradition OUN/UPA und nation-building, in: Andreas Kappeler (Hg.): Die Ukraine. Prozesse der Nationsbildung, Köln/Weimar/Wien 2011, S. 319-333
[9] Andreas Kappeler: Kleine Geschichte der Ukraine, München 2000
[10] Frank Golczewski: Die Ukraine im Zweiten Weltkrieg, in: Frank Golczewski (Hg.): Geschichte der Ukraine, Göttingen 1993, 241-260