The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization

The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization
Edited by Ray Brandon and Wendy Lower
Indiana University Press/ US Holocaust Memorial Museum
392 pages; $35

This extensive collection of studies on the Holocaust in Ukraine originated in the summer research workshop held at the US Holocaust Museum in 1999. Since then, the editors – Ray Brandon, a historian based in Berlin and the former editor of the English edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Wendy Lower, of the Ludwig Maximilian University at Munich and the author of Nazi Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine – sought out additional contributions from international experts who were doing groundbreaking research on this subject.

They show how Hitler’s grandiose plan to settle 10 million Germans and establish his private paradise in Ukraine failed dismally, but more than 1.5 million Jews were robbed and murdered there.

Lower describes how the Nazis developed a sinister, utopian plan for exploiting Ukraine’s human and natural resources. They firmly believed that this was absolutely essential to secure the Reich’s future and the continued sustenance of the Wehrmacht, and since the largest population of Soviet Jews resided there, they had to be eliminated, and as fast as possible.

The plan put an end to Ukrainian hopes for independence, but this did not prevent them from cooperating with the regime, at least insofar as the robbery and the murder of Jews was concerned.

Hitler appointed the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg to be the minister of the Reich Commissariat Ukraine. Accompanied by top Nazis, Rosenberg had brought in commissars, or “the torch bearers of the German nation,” especially educated for this purpose. They were no bureaucrats, but dictators who ruled with the gun and a whip, which they placed on their desk in office hours. When one became “too soft,” he was quickly sidelined by others. Social outcasts, amateurs, adventurers and careerists became the colonial-style governors and decided who shall live and who shall die.

The detailed history of the district of Zhytomir provides an example of such a “settlement.” Dieter Pohl, of Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History, describes how the first mass killings by the Einsatzgruppen and the Wehrmacht, accompanied by Ukrainian auxiliaries, were followed by a planned, systematic murder, robbery and destruction of Jewish communities.

The Jewish existence in Western Wolhynia from 1921 to 1945 in general, and in the typical village of Kolky in particular, is described in depth by Timothy Snydor of Yale. There was not much love lost between the local Jews, Ukrainians and Polish settlers. Each community lived more or less according to its own agenda. Poles sought to “polonize” the area; Ukrainians fought for their independence and were largely responsible for violence. The Soviet occupation of September 1939 offered Jews comparative safety and new opportunities, but the German invasion of June 1941 turned their lives into burning inferno.

Frank Golczewski, of Hamburg University, presents Galicia as an important case study of mutual German-Ukrainian relations. Ukrainians knew that they were cheated by Germans, but this did not stop them from serving in various German military detachments, robbing and killing Jews, and being described as “the worst” by Holocaust survivors. The Ukrainian auxiliaries were often assigned the bloodiest tasks and their collaboration made a significant contribution to the Jewish genocide.

Dennis Deletant, of London University College, examines the deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukowina to Transnistria, which Romania occupied after the joint German-Romanian attack on the Soviet Union. Transnistria became the graveyard of more than 250,000 Jews, the principal victims of Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu and his deputy Mihai Antonescu. Both subscribed to the “ethnic purification” of Romania, free of Slavs and Jews, sharing a common border with Nazi Germany.

It was only after Stalingrad that Antonescu put a stop stop to the Jewish deportations and turned down the German request to send the remaining Romanian Jews to the extermination camps in Poland.

Andrei Angric, of the Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture, writes about the Thoroughfare IV, Hitler’s grandiose plan to build a highway across Ukraine, which was expected to support both the conquest and the German settlement. Soon, however, the Germans realized that the anticipated large numbers of Jews and Soviet POWs needed for the heavy labor had already been murdered. German civilian authorities, who badly needed slave labor, often vainly tried to persuade the SS that it would be more convenient to murder Jews by hard labor, hunger and exhaustion.

Martin Dean, a scholar from the US Holocaust Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, describes how the ethnic Germans settled in Russia before the October Revolution served Hitler rather well, with few exceptions.

Alexander Kruglov, a writer from Kharkov, provides us with detailed statistics of the Jewish losses during those crucial years of 1941-1944.

Karel Berkhoff, of the Center for Holocaust Studies of the University of Amsterdam, comments on the story of Dina Pronicheva, one of the few survivors of the Babi Yar massacre.

Omer Bartov, of Brown University in his “White Spaces and Black Holes” describes Galicia’s past and present. The “white spaces” illustrate the omissions and poverty of the Ukrainian Holocaust memory, while the “black holes” note the selective marginalization of the past.

An extensive index accompanies this well-edited, printed and bound volume. Ukraine has almost completely erased its Jewish past. In the town of Kosiv, for instance, where once 2,400 Jews lived, the house which belonged to a local rabbi was turned into a museum in memory of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which murdered Jews. We find almost no traces of shame or regret.

Bitter memories and the specter of the Holocaust continue to haunt Jewish-Ukrainian relations. However the fact that 1,200 Ukrainians were awarded the title of Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem testifies that there must have been many more Ukrainians who helped Jews in hiding. But only a full admission of the disturbing facts of the past and a full respect for the perpetuation of the memory of the former Jewish communities may at least partly exorcise the guilt and open a new page of the mutual relations. Perhaps this book may serve as one of the guiding lights in this direction.

"AXIS & FOREIGN LEGION MILITARIA" – Axis & Legion Militaria

European Waffen-SS Map issued by Amtsgruppe B of the Main Office on 1 February 1945. This map illustrates cloth insignia worn by foreign volunteers in the German Armed Forces.

During the early 1930s the Fascist and Nazi movements spread all over Europe. Almost each western and later eastern European country formed one type of Fascist or Nazi Party.

These pro-nazi groups made and issued numerous types of cloth insignia that represented their political party.

The purpose of this page is to illustrate some of the types of foreign volunteer legion cloth insignia that existed during those turbulent years. I would not attempt to describe each political party that existed but if your interested in learning more about it then I recommend you read the reference books listed in my “Bibliography” Section.

via “AXIS & FOREIGN LEGION MILITARIA” – Axis & Legion Militaria

COMBAT Magazine: Stalin’s Enemies

Between 1944 and 1947, over two million Russians who’d been living in the occupied countries of Europe, some voluntarily, some not, were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union. Many met death by execution immediately while others were literally worked to death in the hundreds of Gulags that dotted the largest slave society in history. Whether civilian or soldier, Joseph [Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili] Stalin, who was the Soviet government, reasoned that anyone who’d been living outside the borders of the Soviet Union was to be considered contaminated by anti Soviet ideology, and therefore could not be trusted. It mattered not that many had been forcibly removed from their homeland, by the German enemy.

Approximately one million of the expatriates were military men who for various reasons took up arms against Stalin and volunteered to fight with Germany. Most, but not all, were Soviet citizens. Never before in the annals of warfare had so many soldiers abandoned their own to fight for the enemy. The reasons for this say more about the horror of life under the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution, than Hitler’s Germany. Sadly, these happenings also say much about the English and to a lesser extent the Americans, many of whom were willing participants in the forced repatriation. It would not be until the nineteen eighties when the awful truth began to emerge, that the world would come to know about what has come to be known as — The Secret Betrayal.

via COMBAT Magazine: Stalin’s Enemies

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Don Cossacks by Gabby de Jong

The problem of the Cossacks

In September of 1944, the German authorities allocated Northern Italy to the Cossacks for resettlement. This region was chosen because it was far from the Soviet lines and was one of the small not-German areas that were still situated inside the territories of the decreasing Third Reich.

The Cossacks settled first in Gemona del Friuli, but quite soon they moved to Tolmezzo in the Carnic Alps. Already before their arrival, they had been promised land and houses, which of course extremely irritated the local inhabitants.

Again, the Cossacks tried to start a life as in a Don-stanitsa. They formed a settlement rather than a military force, though their ‘regiments’ waged war against the communists again.

In the winter of 1944-1945, the allied intelligence services in Italy received messages that a large Cossack group had settled in the far end of Northern Italy. Since Suvorov’s famous campaign in 1799, this was the first time that they showed up in the Alps, but it was no surprise. British and American troops had continually arrested little groups of Russians, mostly members of convict battalions.

via Don Cossacks

Ukrainian “Flakhelfers” in German Luftwaffe in 1944—1945.

The increasingly difficult state of affairs facing the German Reich’s military machine since 1943, caused by the heavy losses on the East front and bombings of German industrial cities by the Western Allies necessitated the shifting of focus on reinforcing the manpower pool with youth resources. In the sphere of anti-aircraft defence already in 1943 with the aid of Hitler-Youth (HJ) movement infrastructure the young Germans were employed for the needs of the armed forces in auxilary role on considerable scale. At the beginning of 1944, however, the non-German youth also entered the combat in similar capabilities. Ideological service of the SS system, co-ordinating the campaign of employing the foreign youth, defining foreign Waffen SS formations as “international European anti-Communist armed forces”, envisioned the SS-Youth as the reserve base for the elder comrades-in-arms and future “European youth front”, as gradually part of the German SS-Youth was transferred for frontline service in German divisions.

via 1.JmA – Ukranian Flak gunners in german service

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GSA 32nd Annual Conference, St. Paul, October 2-5, 2008

Panel 140: Perpetrators or Victims? Letters from German Soldiers at the Eastern Front, 1939-1945

Moderator: Gerhard Weinberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Lieutenant Peter Stoelten’s Letters: Loyal and not a Nazi”

Astrid Irrgang, Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes

“Through My Father’s Eyes: From Accomplice to Victim”

Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Wehrmacht Soldiers’ Choices: Between Enthusiasm and Reluctance”

Klaus Jochen Arnold, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

Commentator and reporter: Dirk Bönker, Duke University

This well-attended panel featured three thought-provoking papers that focused on the deeds, experiences, and agencies of Wehrmacht soldiers and their participation in the Nazi pursuit of war and racial empire. Two of the papers focused on the particular stories of two individual soldiers, based on careful analysis of large and extraordinarily rich surviving collections of personal correspondence. In contrast, the third paper offered general reflections upon the choices and complicities of the nearly 20 million male soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht.

Drawing on her monograph on the subject published in 2007, Astrid Irrgang offered a lucid study of Peter Stoelten, a young front soldier and junior officer. Born in 1922 into a protestant-bourgeois family, Stoelten joined the Wehrmacht after the completion of the Notabitur and served in army combat units on the eastern and western fronts throughout the war until he was killed in military action in the spring of 1945. Portraying Stoelten as a willing, enthusiastic soldier and engaged officer who eagerly participated and fought in the war, Irrgang argued that Stoelten kept his distance from Nazi ideology and was capable of engaging in humane behavior towards enemy soldiers that ran counter to the dictates of Nazi Vernichtungskrieg. His nationalist-protestant-statist outlook and bildungsbuergerlich aspirations combined with his sense of identification with soldiering and the military community propelled Stoelten, who remained, by and large, silent in his field postal letters on Nazi mass murder and the Holocaust in particular. Eventually, suggested Irrgang, Stoelten was ready to sacrifice himself in the face of impending defeat, consumed by despair over the course of the war and survivors’ guilt towards his fallen comrades.

Konrad Jarausch expertly explored the wartime pursuits of his own father, Konrad Jarausch, drawing on his new edition of the latter’s wartime personal correspondence. Born in 1900, Jarausch was drafted in 1939 and then spent his time in non-front units, eventually working at a camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war where he contracted typhoid fever and died in early 1942. A reluctant soldier, who attempted, for a while, to be dismissed from military service, Jarausch supported and participated in the Nazi pursuit of war after 1939 as a volkish nationalist, his historian son argued. The elder Jarausch did so even as he increasingly voiced misgivings about German brutality against civilians in German-occupied Poland and grew concerned about the prospects of ultimate German victory.

Jarausch argued that his father eventually began to undergo a process of reorientation, if not personal conversion, as he became complicit in the murderous treatment of captured Soviet soldiers in a Durchgangslager. This reorientation expressed itself in the recognition of shared humanity framed in stark Christian terms and subsequent reaching out to inmates on a personal level.

Klaus Jochen Arnold, the co-editor of the collection of Konrad Jarausch’s wartime correspondence, offered some thoughts on the agency and complicity of Wehrmacht soldiers in Nazi Vernichtungskrieg. Noting that the public and scholarly perception of the Wehrmacht has been dominated by those small groups of soldiers who either fully embraced Nazi ideology or engaged in active resistance, Arnold cast the vast majority of Wehrmacht soldiers as reluctant participants in the war who sought to fit in and avoid conflict with Nazi regime while identifying with the larger German national collective. These soldiers participated in, and knew about, Nazi mass murder to different degrees, with “tens of thousands” of Wehrmacht soldiers on the eastern front being personally involved in the Holocaust, even if often not directly as killers. According to Arnold, the average soldier lacked the information and imagination to recognize the scale and scope of Nazi genocidal and mass murder. Moreover, rank-and-file soldiers had little room to maneuver, let alone to openly counteract the regime, if they did not want to put their own well-being at risk, with some soldiers thus couching moral disagreement in strictly technocratic-utilitarian terms or engaging in small acts of resistance to protect potential victims.

These three engaging papers prompted productive debate among the panelists and the audience. The commentator, Dirk Bönker, praised the papers’ salutary emphasis on the complexities and diversity of individual experiences. He also identified three larger analytical issues that the papers drew attention to: how the Nazi pursuit of war and racial empire tapped into nationalist outlooks and desires, setting in motion continuous and open-ended processes of negotiation, convergence, and differentiations between nationalist Germans and Nazis; how the wartime history of Wehrmacht soldiers was a history of continuous individual choices and moral judgments involving the terms and meanings of the participation in the Nazi pursuit of war and mass murder, with (some) soldiers capable of acts of kindness or solidarity towards “the other” regardless of continuous participation in the Nazi machinery of war or comprehensive knowledge of the Nazi murderous pursuits; and, finally, how important it is to explore the complicity of Wehrmacht soldiers in the Nazi war and genocide in the wider contexts of military Vergemeinschaftung and the specific practices and experiences of war in the military killing zones.

Questions surrounding the use of field postal letters as sources were at the center of several contributions from the audience. Speakers from the floor asked about the importance of surveillance and self-censorship and their impact on the contents of the field postal letters. In addition, Doris Bergen, University of Toronto, asked to what extent the analysis of the letter exchanges between soldiers and their correspondents back in Germany could yield insight into the conflict-ridden relations between “front” and “home.” The nature and pervasiveness of war enthusiasm among Wehrmacht soldiers also attracted considerable attention as did the comparison to World War I and the issue of post-war memories. And, finally, Gerhard Weinberg, the chair, argued against the validity of the analytical distinction between combat units and rear units, between “Front” and “Etappe,” as a way of making sense of the varying complicity of Wehrmacht units and personnel in Nazi Vernichtungskrieg.

Uniforms V

Above left: Tank driver of the Russian Peoples Liberation Army (RONA)

Above, middle: A soldier of the RONA Storm Brigade

Above right: Colonel Sacharow, Deputy Commander of the Russian National People’s Army (RNNA)

Lower left: A first lieutenant of the RNNA, 1942

Lower right: Standard bearer of the 1st Russian National Brigade, 1943

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Uniforms IV

In addition to the ROA, there existed additional units of Slavic volunteers, such as the 1st National Russian Army (RNA), the volunteer regiment “Warjag” In the course of the war, most of these units joined with Vlassov’s forces.

Left: Private Lance Corporal and machine gunner in the Russian guard

Right: Lieutenant of Artillery in a guard regiment.

Middle: Major General Holmston-Smyslowskij, Commander of the 1st Russian National Army in 1945

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