Germany puts names of 700,000 captured Soviets online

German authorities put online Monday the names of 700,000 captured Soviet soldiers, most of whom died in horrific Nazi prison camps during the Second World War. 

The lists had previously been kept by German authorities who help people in former Soviet nations to discover how their menfolk died.

“Now people will be able to do the research all by themselves,” said Klaus-Dieter Mueller, chief librarian of the State of Saxony Memorials Foundation in Dresden, which manages several state-run concentration-camp memorials that expose Nazi crimes.

The twin websites, and, contain the full alphabetical list of men in German and in Russian, starting with the vital data of Erich Aawik, an Estonian born in 1919 who died in German captivity on November 24, 1943.
The German library has been digitizing the data since 2000 with help from the Russian, Ukraine and Belarus authorities. Officials said more names would be added as new information came to light.

Nazi Germany breached the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war in its treatment of Red Army captives, using them as slaves and confining them in near starvation and disease. Relatives often still do not know how the men disappeared of where their remains are. Internet:

Soviet Prisoners of War, 1941 to 1945

Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) constitute one of the major groups that fell victim to Nazi German mass violence. For territories under German military occupation, the Department of Military Administration, Quartermaster General in the Supreme Command of Ground Troops (OKH) was in charge of Soviet POWs, whereas in Germany and areas under German civil administration, responsibility lay with the General Administration of the Armed Forces under the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (OKW). Prior to the attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941, German military authorities had decided that international law would not apply to Soviet POWs (unlike Polish, French, or British prisoners), with minimal provisions made for their shelter, food, transport, and medical supplies. Later Soviet proposals that both sides act in accordance with the Hague and Geneva Conventions were refused by Germany. On OKW instructions, most Soviet POWs were not registered by name in the camps in Soviet areas under German military occupation (Durchgangslager, or Dulags), and consequently no lists were passed on from these camps to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Following the German invasion, huge numbers of Red Army soldiers were captured, especially in July, September, and October 1941. Crammed into camps of up to 100,000 men, poorly fed, often without housing or sanitary provisions, the prisoners soon suffered from debilitation. Certain groups of military personnel were denied POW status: On Adolf Hitler’s instruction, the OKW issued its “commissar order” on June 6, 1941, according to which political officers in the Red Army were shot in 1941 and 1942. Other groups killed by German troops included Soviet soldiers shot on the battlefield although they had surrendered, alleged Jews, in many camps so-called Asians, women in the Red Army, and in some camps Soviet officers. Orders for these killings originated from platoon to army command levels. More than 100,000 prisoners were handed over to the SS and police in 1941 and 1942; very few survived. In addition, an undetermined number of Soviet POWs, believed to be in the six-digit range, were shot by military guards because of their fatigue during marches or when unloading trains that had transported POWs. In certain German-occupied Soviet areas, Soviet military stragglers were killed instead of being taken prisoner, as were most Soviet partisan fighters. The Germans arbitrarily interned Soviet civilians in several POW camps in 1941.
The German capture of large numbers of prisoners in similarly short time periods had not led to mass deaths in the German campaign against France in 1940. The majority of Soviet POWs died as a result of the deliberate undersupply of food, consequent starvation, frost, and hunger-related diseases. Prior to attacking the USSR, German authorities had planned the killing of tens of millions of Soviet citizens in “food-deficient” regions and in urban areas through starvation and a policy of brutal occupation. Racist and anticommunist, that scheme was to make good the overall German food deficit and to relieve the critical shortage of supplies for troops at the Eastern Front, perceived as crucial for the success of the giant military campaign. Thus, the plan was backed and co-initiated by the military. As military supplies always took priority, Soviet POWs became one of the specific groups targeted for extinction.
In October 1941 food rations particularly for Soviet POWs considered “unfit for labor” were significantly reduced. On November 13 the German Quartermaster- General Eduard Wagner stated, “Soviet POWs unfit for labor in the camps have to die of starvation” (Notes of the Chief of Staff of the 18th Army, quoted in Streit, 1997, p. 157). In many camps those “fit for labor” were separated from those deemed unfit. Yet as guards often mistreated both groups equally and prisoners were worked to exhaustion with insufficient food, this intended distinction scarcely made any difference and initially fit prisoners perished, too. Death figures shot up to 2 percent daily, especially in the German-occupied Soviet and Polish territories. Nearly two out of three million Soviet POWs had died by the end of 1941. Measures to reduce the mortality rate, adopted from December on, only succeeded in the spring of 1942. However, hard labor, poor rations, and bad treatment continued to take their toll until 1945. Orders by the German leadership were countered with brutality, violence, or gross neglect on the ground. Military and economic considerations, racism against Slavs, Jews, and so-called Asians, and anticommunism were at the core of interrelated motives.
In total, out of 5.7 million Soviet POWs, about three million died in German captivity, almost exclusively at the hands of the German military. Serious calculations, based on the interpretation of fragmentary German documents, range from “at least” 2.53 million to 3.3 million (Streit, 1997), with death figures revised downward for camps inside Germany on the basis of German records discovered in Russia and Germany in the late 1990s. Adding to their suffering, Soviet POWs returning to the USSR encountered collective suspicion and many were imprisoned without proper trial, as about a million had been forced or agreed under pressure to work for the German army, with hundreds of thousands fighting for the German army or SS under arms.
Streim, A. (1981). Die Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener im “Fall Barbarossa.” Heidelberg, Germany: C. F. Müller.
Streit, C. (1978/1997). Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen, 1941–1945, 4th edition. Bonn, Germany: Dietz.
Streit, C. (2000). “Soviet Prisoners of War in the Hands of the Wehrmacht.” War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, 1941-44, eds. Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann. New York: Berghahn.


The Russian émigrés would certainly not be welcomed back. Not only had they done nothing for their homeland, but the simple fact was that ‘Russia had been conquered with German blood for the protection of Europe against Russia’. When shortly after the German invasion of the USSR the Russian Grand Duke Vladimir, then living in exile at St Briac in France, forwarded to Hitler a proposed proclamation calling on all Russians to cooperate with the Wehrmacht in their liberation from Bolshevism, he was immediately and sharply rebuffed. The proclamation, Ribbentrop wrote to Abetz, would hinder rather than assist the German war effort in that it would provide the Bolsheviks with an opportunity to claim that ‘Russia was now threatened by the return of the old Tsarist feudalism’.

There was of course never any question that the war Hitler unleashed in June 1941 was being fought for German ends and that the benefits accruing to other nations, though significant, not least the final exorcism of the red peril, were essentially incidental. During the 1930s Hitler had never portrayed Germany’s mission in Europe as anything other than a defensive bulwark against Bolshevism. Now, with his armies swarming towards Leningrad and Moscow, he was hardly likely to share his prize, particularly with states that had at best reacted with lukewarm support for the original Anti-Comintern Pact. When in mid-July 1941 a Vichy French newspaper suggested that the assault on the USSR was ‘Europe’s war’, and thus ought ‘to be conducted for Europe as a whole’, Hitler was appalled by this latest manifestation of Gallic impudence. In the course of the conference at which this issue was discussed, the Führer clearly outlined his intentions and the tactics he would employ to implement them. ‘In principle we have now to face the task of cutting the giant cake according to our needs,’ he explained, the order of priorities being ‘first, to dominate it; second, to administer it; and third, to exploit it’. In pursuit of these goals Germany would disguise its real aims in the Soviet Union through the simple expedients of avoiding superfluous declarations, emphasizing that the Reich had been forced to a military decision, and posing as a liberating force; it made no sense to ‘make people into enemies prematurely and unnecessarily’. The Germans would thus ‘act as though we wanted to exercise a mandate only’, but it must be clear ‘to us … that we shall never withdraw from these areas’.

These predatory designs soon brought the Germans into conflict with those who genuinely hoped for liberation from Bolshevism. In the Ukraine, for example, the establishment in September 1941 of the civilian administration under Erich Koch, who, according to a postwar account based on the experiences of both Germans and Ukrainians, demonstrated no intention of enlisting the help of the Ukrainians in the fight against Bolshevism, effectively destroyed the friendly relationship that had been established between the Wehrmacht and the indigenous population. As an early victory was expected, it was felt that Ukrainian participation in the struggle would serve only to complicate German aims in the Ukraine, especially in so far as these concerned its economic exploitation, for which the ‘most stringent measures’ were envisaged. Already by October 1941 the information that was reaching London about the nature of the German occupation led the Foreign Office to comment on the ‘grave psychological mistakes’ the Germans had made in handling the conquered population, for ‘their methods can only serve to rally the Russian people round the [Soviet] regime’. The thoroughly inappropriate nature of German policy and propaganda in the occupied territories was similarly highlighted by two collaborating Soviet officers who complained that it was simply not enough to stress the deprivations Bolshevism had inflicted on the Russian people. By late 1942 this repetitive and uninspiring message was becoming increasingly ineffective, not least as Soviet prisoners of war and the inhabitants of the occupied territories generally held that rule by Germany, far from being a liberation, was altogether a ‘bad bargain’. In contrast to the sterile monotony of German propaganda, Stalin, who had reintroduced religious freedom and curtailed the activities of the political commissars, had ‘taken the trumps out of Germany’s hands’.


Those in control of the Reich’s propaganda campaign in the east would not necessarily have disagreed with this diagnosis. Goebbels realized that the organizational chaos of German policy in the occupied territories was having a most detrimental effect on the battle for people’s minds. In April 1943 he commented on the failure to exploit Vlassov’s separatist army more effectively, which he held to be symptomatic of a fundamental flaw in the whole approach to the Russian war. ‘One is shocked at the absolute lack of political instinct in our Central Berlin Administration,’ he noted in this connection. ‘If we were pursuing or had pursued a rather more skilful policy in the East, we would certainly be further on there than we are.’ The Reich propaganda minister was certainly no friend of the Russian people, but he was not above admitting that mistakes had been made in the German conduct of the war; nor was he blind to the fact that a wiser occupation policy might have yielded significant results. Commenting on Vidkun Quisling’s observations on the German campaign in the east, Goebbels clearly agreed that it would be both possible and desirable to mobilize large sections of the Russian population against Stalin if only ‘we knew how to wage war solely against Bolshevism, not against the Russian people. Therein lies the only chance of bringing the war in the East to a satisfactory end.’

Goebbels’s’ colleague, Eberhardt Taubert, placed the responsibility for the hopeless conditions in the east squarely on the shoulders of Alfred Rosenberg, who had been appointed minister for the occupied territories shortly after the launching of Barbarossa. Taubert pointed out that Rosenberg had not only blamed the Jews for Bolshevism, but also the Russian people for tolerating it. Due to impurities of blood, the Russian had, in Rosenberg’s view, a ‘natural affinity to the destructive ideologies of Bolshevism’. It might be, Taubert continued, that Rosenberg had not fully thought out the consequences of his actions, but that did not excuse his whole notion of the Russians as Untermenschen being the product of a false conception. Moreover, Rosenberg had possessed insufficient strength of character to rectify his mistake once the detrimental effects had become apparent. Although Taubert’s diatribe against Rosenberg is understandable, if only for the obstacles the incompetent Reichsleiter placed before the German propagandists in the east, it might yet be a little harsh on a man who in March 1942 was warning against any reference to the occupied territories as German ‘colonial territory’, as this greatly annoyed the local populations and played directly into the hands of the Soviet propagandists.

Soviet POWS in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Although there were a large number of Nazi concentration camps, the one that since World War II has come to represent them all and act as a symbol of the atrocity of the Holocaust is Auschwitz-Birkenau, whose remains continue to be visited by many thousands of tourists every year. Situated just outside the Polish town of Oswiecim, near Krakow, Auschwitz-Birkenau is also the largest mass murder site documented anywhere in history. Established first in May 1940 on territory occupied by Germany at the onset of World War II, Auschwitz soon emerged as the central killing center for Jews murdered by National Socialism and its allies. In less than five years some 1.1 million victims perished, overwhelmingly Jews, but also 75,000 Poles, 25,000 Roma and Sinti travelers, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and thousands of others—including many clergy and other persons opposed to Nazism on conscientious grounds. Its sheer size, slave labor facilities, and its bureaucratic management of genocide have made Auschwitz a central—often exemplary—part of the Holocaust story.

Finally, Nazi population policy— especially following the invasion of the USSR in June 1941—grew more intense and ambitious toward “undesirable elements.” By the summer of 1941, Russian prisoners quickly outnumbered surviving Polish workers at Auschwitz, receiving even worse treatment and being worked to death at even greater rates: of nearly 12,000 laborers, only 150 Russian POWs survived their first year building Auschwitz. In a related development for “solving” Nazism’s “demographic problems,” Russian POWs were also the first group gassed by the pesticide Zyklon-B, in September 1941, at the initiative of Höss’s deputy, Karl Fritsch, in the infamous punishment cells of Block 11. Previous attempts at mass murder by the Third Reich through shooting, explosives, injections, and carbon monoxide tanks and engine fumes were all superseded by the efficiency and availability of Fritsch’s successful experiment with Zyklon-B.

Book Review: Der Weg zurück: Die Repatriierung sowjetischer Zwangsarbeiter während und nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg.

Ulrike Goeken-Haidl. Der Weg zurück: Die Repatriierung sowjetischer Zwangsarbeiter während und nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2006. 574 pp. EUR 39.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-89861-615-7.

Reviewed by Leonid Rein (International Institute for Holocaust Research Yad Vashem)
Published on H-German (July, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher

The Origins of the Cold War

The front cover of Ulrike Goeken-Haidl’s book is somewhat misleading. It shows happy Soviet citizens returning home after the years of experiencing forced labor, POW, and concentration camps at the hands of the National Socialists. But the story told in this book is anything but happy. It begins with the story of Lieutenant Jakob Dzhugashvili, the son of Josef Stalin from his first marriage, who was captured by Germans in July 1941 and committed suicide in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, knowing that at home in the Soviet Union, he and his comrades in misfortune, Soviet soldiers and officers taken prisoner by the Germans, were classified as “traitors of the Motherland.” This striking example opens a very interesting, quite readable study that makes an important contribution to research on the processes that followed World War II, the origins of Cold War, and especially the problem of repatriation, which is still insufficiently studied.

Using Soviet and American records, Goeken-Haidl shows in eight chapters of her voluminous study the origins of the problem of displaced persons and the entire process of the repatriation of the 2.3 million Soviet citizens who, for various reasons, found themselves outside the borders of the Soviet Union at war’s end. This problem dwarfed that of the 360,000 citizens of western Allied countries in similar situations, including some 50,000 British and American soldiers and officers captured by Wehrmacht and Japan strike forces. This huge displacement and its resolution stretched from the years when hostilities in Europe and the Far East were still in progress, through several decades beyond the end of World War II. The author places the repatriation problem in the broader context of the beginning of the Cold War. Paradoxically, the hardline position of the Soviet Union and its insistence upon repatriation of all its citizens outside its borders for any reason actually hindered the growth of the minority problem in Europe, which had been one of the main causes of the outbreak of the war.

In her study, Goeken-Haidl analyzes the reasons behind the decisions of all sides in the repatriation question. The United States adopted a mixed stance in response to the harsh Soviet position, which insisted on the return of all of its citizens, no matter the reason for their capture–including people with explicit or implicit reasons to avoid repatriation, such as Wehrmacht soldiers who had deserted the Red Army to fight against the Soviet regime or former residents of areas such as the Baltic states, which had been annexed in 1939-40 as a consequence of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. (The Soviet Union also insisted that Soviet repatriation personnel be accredited to work in U.S. or British DP camps.) Although the U.S. military had pursued what the author calls an “appeasement” strategy during the war, making every effort to meet Soviet demands and respond to complaints, no matter how absurd, in order not alienate their Soviet allies, the State Department had advocated a more rigid response to Soviet demands and pretensions right from the start. As Goeken-Haidl shows, the United States and Britain were quite vulnerable, as the Soviets held a number of British and American soldiers who had been held prisoner in German POW camps that were situated in the Soviet theater of war or its later zone of occupation. The USSR did not shrink from using these soldiers as hostages to forward its demands. Thus, although forced repatriation of Soviet or former Soviet citizens and side effects of this process–such as attempted or completed suicides by the affected parties–aroused public protest in both Britain and United States, the practice continued unabated until all of the British and U.S. soldiers in Soviet hands were released. Only afterwards was it revised.

Goeken-Haidl also analyzes the motives that defined the Soviet position on repatriation. According to her, from the very beginning, the Soviets viewed the policies adopted by the western Allies with great suspicion. The decision not to repatriate people from West Byelorussia, Western Ukraine, and the Baltic states, as neither the United States nor Great Britain had ever acknowledged annexation of these territories by the USSR, only enhanced these suspicions. The fact that many Soviet citizens did not rush back to the USSR after the war not only compromised the reputation of the Soviet state, it was also incomprehensible to Soviet authorities. From their point of view, if people did not wish to return to the victorious, “mighty” Soviet Union, their reluctance was attributed to the “intrigues” of the American and British imperialists. Moreover, the Soviet Union wished to conceal as thoroughly as possible the fact that quite a number of its citizens had defected to the enemy, instead of defending their “superior” system. Above all, the tradition of paranoid fear of the West and of its alleged destructive intentions toward the Soviet Union came to expression in the Soviet position.

Obsessive fear of the West was also expressed in the treatment of repatriates transferred to the Soviets. Throughout eastern Germany, the Soviet authorities established a complete system of gathering and filtration camps, at which returnees were to be checked for political reliability. Everyone who came in contact with the “capitalist world” in any way was seen with suspicion. Goeken-Haidl tells stories of humiliation, verbal and physical violence, and economic exploitation, all of which were prevalent in these camps. People who had been released from forced labor or liberated from POW or concentration camps only a short time before were now denigrated as “German lackeys” and “Nazi whores” by the personnel of the repatriation camps, most of whom had been recruited from the NKVD. In the absence of effective control from above, inmates of these camps were at the mercy of camp guards. The camps also possessed wide networks of spies, who came from the ranks of potential repatriates and had been promised advantages such as an acceleration of the repatriation process. Spies were supposed to uncover active Nazi collaborators and anyone critical of Soviet rule. Inhumane treatment of inmates led to a wave of escape attempts (many of them successful) and of suicides. On average, two repatriates escaped from each camp per week. Even for those who survived this process and returned home, reintegration into Soviet society was not easy. Many former forced laborers were dispatched immediately to various construction projects. Those who returned to their home villages and cities suffered from suspicious attitudes on the part of both local authorities and neighbors. Such attitudes lasted many years; in some cases, even to the present.

Goeken-Haidl has written a fascinating book, though the account sometimes sacrifices precision and thoroughness. For instance, she mentions only briefly the loophole created by the U.S. decision not to transfer persons from eastern Poland and the Baltic states, and mentions only one or two of the most spectacular cases of war criminals from among Nazi collaborators who exploited this decision to pose as anti-Soviet fighters and escape justice. I mentioned an example of this pattern in a recent article on the 30th Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS, or “1st Byelorussian,” many of whose members had been auxiliary policemen before entry into the SS, and had participated actively in the genocide of Byelorussian Jewry and in the so-called anti-partisan warfare, in course of which thousands of innocents were killed. After the bulk of this division’s soldiers found themselves in DP camps in the American zone, they posed as Poles, escaped transfer to the Soviet authorities, and were able to live in the countries against which they had fought during the closing stages of the World War II.[1]. At the same time, while depicting at length the hardline position of Soviets in questions of repatriation, Goeken-Haidl either omits or ignores the fact that during the Cold War, U.S. military intelligence did not hesitate to exploit the anti-Soviet sentiments of DPs and later, of non-repatriated immigrants, for strategic purposes, especially in view of the possibility of the transition from a “cold” war to a hot one. In such efforts, the authorities often ignored the problematic past of such people.[2] At the same time, while criticizing the study of Nikolaj Tolstoj, whose main focus falls upon the forced repatriation of Soviet citizens, Goeken-Haidl can be seen as moving too far in the opposite direction by focusing on unwilling returnees. A stronger treatment of voluntary repatriation might have created a more balanced picture.

Finally, Goeken-Haidl’s study is not free of some technical problems, inaccuracies, and omissions. Thus, for example, the Byelorussian city of Slonim is termed a village (p. 381), though during the Nazi occupation, it was large enough to be a center of German civil area administration (Gebietskommissariat). On the same page, she also mentions the activities of the infamous Latvian Arajs Kommando as a guard unit of Salaspils concentration camp near Riga, but omits mention of the role played by the same group in the extermination of the Latvian Jews. Konrāds Kalējs, a member of this commando, was accused not only of maltreatment of Salaspils’s inmates, but explicitly of participation in the execution of the “Final Solution.” It would have been appropriate, moreover, to include at least an index of names or locations in order to facilitate navigation through such a long book, and lengthy footnotes occasionally disturb the smooth reading of the book.


[1]. Leonid Rein, “Untermenschen in SS Uniforms: 30th Waffen-Grenadier Division of Waffen SS,” Journal of Slavic Military Studies (April 2007): 329-345.

[2] Thus, for example, Stanislav Stankevich, who occupied the post of mayor of Borisov during the Nazi occupation of Byelorussia and was directly involved in the murder of 7,000 Borisov Jews in October 1941, served for many years after the war in the Byelorussian service of Radio Free Europe and was never prosecuted for his wartime activities. The postwar fates of Stankevich and many other Byelorussian collaborators are tracked in John Loftus’s controversial study, The Belarus Secret (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

Traitors to the fatherland?


Posters in light-boxes in Lviv praised the SS Galicia, a Ukrainian unit that fought under Nazi Germany, as defenders of the nation against Soviet aggression. Nationalist politician Oleh Tyahnybok placed the ads.

The debate still rages over the SS Galicia, hailed by some as anti-Soviet nationalists.

They are either war criminals or national heroes, depending on who is telling their history.

In the annals of the still-heated debate over Ukraine’s tragic World War II experience, one is hard-pressed to find another 200 survivors who still stir more passions than the former members of the SS Galicia division. Their youngest known surviving member is 83 years old, but the controversy they inspire shows no sign of dying out soon.

The Nazi regiment was created in 1943. By then, the tide had already turned in favor of the Allies after Soviet troops ravaged the Nazi fighting machine in the epic Battle of Stalingrad. The racist Hitler had dropped his insistence on having only German soldiers of the “master race” go to war for him, a sign of his growing desperation.

The Ukrainians who joined the SS Galicia division – and who took battle orders from Nazi commanders – consisted of up to 20,000 men selected from 70,000 Ukrainian volunteers. Uniformed and trained by the Nazis in Germany, France and Denmark, the division won praise from Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo chief who was one the most feared men in Europe at the time.

How could Ukrainians join such an outfit?

The most benevolent description of the motives of the men of the SS Galicia division is that they were gambling on the defeat of Nazi Germany. According to this logic, they wanted to rid Ukraine of Stalin’s Red Army and secure Western support to reclaim national independence after the war.

The harshest description is that they betrayed their nation, committed war crimes and slowed the Allied Victory.

“This is what I ask myself, what made those people volunteer?” said Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda Party, which is currently gaining popularity in western Ukraine. “I can tell you what motivated those people. Before their eyes, the Communists destroyed their families, [and so] they didn’t care what flags they fought under against the Bolsheviks.”

Western Ukraine, and particularly the part called Halychyna or Galicia, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the empire dissolved after World War I, Ukrainians there seized the moment to declare independence in 1918. The freedom was short-lived. The western region fell under Polish rule, making Ukrainians chafe for a liberator. In 1939, after Stalin and Hitler signed their non-aggression pact, the Soviet Army invaded – claiming they were freeing the Galicians.

Although the Soviet soldiers were initially welcomed with bread and salt by the population, Stalin-ordered repressions and murders quickly turned the lives of western Ukrainians into nightmares.

“My grandfather was buried alive in jail by NKVD [the security service] because he was a priest,” said Tyahnybok, whose party recently paid for an advertising campaign to promote the SS Galicia, or the 14th Grenadier Division Der SS Galicia (Number 1 Ukrainian), as it was officially called by the Nazis.

Tyahnybok’s party purchased 20 advertising light boards on Lviv’s streets in April, advertising the SS Galicia as “defenders of Ukraine” who fought against Communist oppression. The campaign, organized to mark the division’s 66th anniversary, triggered an explosive reaction among public and politicians. The advertisements were commissioned for a month, but taken down a day early because of public pressure.

Mykola Posivnych, a historian at the Institute of Ukraine Studies, said volunteers of the SS Galicia had complicated motives for joining the military unit, including strong financial incentives by the Nazis.

“Everybody had different motivations, but most people went there because they needed to feed their family,” Posivnych said. In exchange, newcomers to the division had to pledge an oath to Hitler to fight Bolshevism.

Ukraine was World War II’s primary battleground, with Nazis and Soviets alternating control of the territory, which was coveted for its rich fertile land and ability to feed millions. An estimated eight million Ukrainians, including four million civilians, were killed during the war. The Nazis and Soviets practiced scorched-earth policies of burning or destroying everything they could – including factories and villages – when their armies retreated.

Those in western Ukraine had few options for avoiding the ruthless armies of the dictators from the east and west. Apart from the SS Galicia, they could join the underground Ukrainian Insurgent Army – known by its UPA acronym. UPA members, the military wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, fought against all foreign enemies of Ukraine and were primarily active in the western half of the country. Their guerrilla battles against Soviet power in Ukraine continued until the 1950s, despite Soviet assassinations of their top leaders in exile abroad.

Some Ukrainians, however, thought the insurgent army’s quest was futile. SS Galicia members “thought it was impossible to fight against four enemies: Poland, Romania, Hungary and Soviet Union,” Posivnych explained. “They had to choose allies.”

The SS Galicia’s military record was mostly brief and tragic. Some believe they were used as Nazi cannon fodder. Most were killed in a major battle in the western Ukrainian town of Brody in 1944. Soviet troops so overpowered them in battle that only some 5,000 soldiers survived the encounter.

After the Battle of Brody, the remnants were scattered and many reorganized into a different military unit. After the German surrender, the SS Galicia survivors also surrendered to the Western allies and were sent to a prisoner of war camp in Rimini, Italy. Apart from Ukraine, its members later resettled in Germany, Britain, Australia, Brazil, United States and Canada.

As a part of the Nazi SS force, the division was also investigated for its potential role in mass killings of Jews and Poles and the suppression of uprisings in Slovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and France.

Marcial Lavina, representative of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization (, said “there are indications that [the unit] might have committed war crimes at the end of the war in Poland, but this is still being investigated.” The organization, which has doggedly pursued war criminals responsible for the Holocaust, recently gave Ukraine an “F” grade in hunting down Nazis, citing a lack of political will.

But a number of other international investigations, including one by the Canadian Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes, also known as the Deschenes Commission, and another one led by Polish historians, cleared the Ukrainian group of accusations of participation in war crimes. “Commissions justified [SS Galicia] as soldiers, meaning they did not commit crimes against humanity or terrorist acts against unarmed population. Their function was solely to fight at war,” Posivnych said.

But many Ukrainians are unconvinced. Oleksandr Feldman, a deputy from Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, said SS Galicia members were “military criminals, whom current moral freaks are trying to rehabilitate, whiten up and present as victims of historical injustice.”

Leonid Mukha, an 84-year-old resident of Mykolaiv and a former member of the division, said many myths surround the SS Galicia. He witnessed two historical tragedies that he said the SS Galicia is wrongly implicated in.

One of them was the suppression of an uprising in Warsaw, Poland, in the autumn of 1944. “The Galicia [division] did not take part in this suppression,” Mukha said. “For 63 days, the Soviet army was standing on the right side of the Warsaw, watching Germans suppress that uprising. They did nothing because it was the uprising of people they didn’t respect, the Polish nationalists.”

The other tragedy he witnessed was the May 1944 massacre of an estimated 500 to 1,200 people in the Polish village of Huta Pieniacka. “The German punishing unit, like the Russian NKVD, came into this village, the fight began and Germans destroyed the village,” Mukha said.

Ukrainian historian Posivnych said that, “regarding mass killings, there is no black and white in this case. There are more politics here than real events.” Asked whether the men of the SS Galicia were patriots or traitors, Posivnych replied: “The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

Maryna Irkliyenko

Book Review:The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization

Ray Brandon, Wendy Lower, eds. The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. ix + 378 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-35084-8.

Reviewed by Jeff Rutherford (Department of History, Wheeling Jesuit University)
Published on H-German (April, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher

Perpetrators, Victims, and Memory: The Holocaust in Ukraine, 1941-2008

By mid-1941, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had the largest population of Jews in Europe. The addition of the eastern provinces of Poland in late 1939 as well as the seizure of sections of Romanian territory in June 1940 led to some 2.7 million Jews living within the borders of the newly enlarged republic. Some four years later, 1.6 million of these Jews had died at the hands of the Germans and their allies and auxiliaries. Unlike the majority of the Holocaust’s victims who died in the industrialized mass murder of the death camps, the overwhelming bulk of Ukraine’s Jews died in mass shootings during the initial stages of the war. This murder on a massive scale is examined from a multitude of perspectives in The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization, edited by Ray Brandon and Wendy Lower. The editors have assembled an impressive collection of international experts and, in conjunction with Indiana University Press and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, have advanced the existing state of the literature regarding occupation and genocide in Ukraine. Utilizing both broad overviews as well as case studies, the volume examines a wide range of issues. Some of the more important include German policy in the Soviet republic, the complicity of Romanians and Ukrainians in the murder of Ukrainian Jewry, and the ways in which the Holocaust has been erased from the collective memory of the Ukrainian nation-state that emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union.

Dieter Pohl’s opening chapter provides an overview of German military and civilian policies towards Ukrainian Jews. In his examination of military occupation practices, Pohl discusses the intersection of two different policies: economic exploitation of the occupied territories for Germany and its war effort, and the implementation of an “antisemitic and anti-Communist security policy of terror that required the murder of every person seen by the Germans to pose a potential threat” (p. 27). In order to ensure the first policy was carried out, the Germans planned on separating urban areas from the agricultural hinterland, keeping the surplus for themselves. Since some 85 percent of Ukrainian Jews lived in cities, it is clear that they would have been severely decimated even without a calculated plan to exterminate them root and branch. This indirect method of murdering Jews was complemented by a much more violent method based upon alleged security needs. Here, the Wehrmacht and the SS and its associated police units worked together, though it was the latter that drove the increasing tempo of mass murder. As Pohl makes clear, the frequent mass shootings (such as the 23,600 killed at Kamianets-Podilsky in late August 1941) took place under Wehrmacht rule of the conquered areas. In line with recent research, Pohl emphasizes the responsibility of the Order Police for carrying out the mass shootings in Ukraine. He notes that “the six police battalions [in Ukraine] … killed considerably more Ukrainian Jews than Einsatzgruppe C and Einsatzgruppe D combined” (p. 40).

Pohl then examines the civilian administration’s responsibility for the implementation of the “Final Solution” in Ukraine. While the newly established Reichskommisariat Ukraine (RKU) certainly continued the destruction of the Jewish community, they also attempted to maintain some sort of independence from the SS police forces in the area. This institutional conflict led the RKU to protect some Jewish workers during the final months of 1941; here, a pragmatic issue was used as a shield against the ideological cudgel of the SS. By spring 1942, however, the civilian administration had decided to exterminate the surviving Jewish population and urged the SS to finish the job. Pohl concludes that by early 1942, “the SS and police appear not as a separate center of power, but much more as an executor of RKU policy” (p. 59).

While Pohl looks at the upper echelons of the Wehrmacht, RKU administration and SS police forces, Wendy Lower investigates the actions of the county commissars for the General Commissariat Zhytomyr. Lower argues persuasively that the dual policies discussed by Pohl–economic exploitation and the implementation of ruthless security policies–created an “extremely unstable ruling apparatus that was in many ways inherently self-destructive” (p. 226). This fundamental problem, which plagued German occupation throughout the war, was only exacerbated by the men charged to rule the area. Lower scathingly describes these men as a “motley ensemble of middle-ranking bureaucrats, party hacks and marginalized officers of the Storm Troops (SA)” (p. 226). Of the twenty-five county commissars in the Zhytomyr district, thirteen fit into the category of “leftovers in the Nazi system” (p. 231), while the remaining twelve were graduates of an Ordensburg. Attending such an institution allowed individuals, such as one master baker who later became a certified teacher of racial hygiene, to ascend the Nazi hierarchy and become a county commissar who wielded wide powers over life and death in the East. Lower details how these commissars became intimately involved in the Holocaust in rather isolated rural areas through their cooperation with SS police forces and other organizations (such as Organization Todt) in the region. Such coordination between, at times, rival and competing institutions, constituted the county commissars crowning “achievement” in carrying out the Holocaust in Ukraine.

Andrej Angrick approaches German anti-Jewish policy from a new and intriguing perspective that implicates a wide number of German institutions and bureaucracies in the murder of Ukrainian Jews and challenges the predominant view of the SS as a single-minded, monolithic organization. Angrick focuses on the development of Thoroughfare IV, the major supply route for German forces operating in Ukraine. While Organization Todt was given the initial responsibility for maintaining the road, the SS soon became involved in its upkeep and it used Jewish workers in a “calculated system of extermination” (p. 194) for this purpose during the opening months of Operation Barbarossa. Following the failure of the initial invasion, the German leadership, particularly Heinrich Himmler, placed more emphasis on Thoroughfare IV. Negotiations between the SS and Organization Todt led to a division-of-labor agreement between the two institutions in constructing the route: while the latter provided the technical know-how, the former supplied the labor and provided security. By 1942, a high percentage of such labor was comprised of Jews who had somehow survived the first sweeps of the Einsatzgruppen and Order Police. Forced labor on the road, however, was in itself a death sentence. Angrick details the fate of those forced to perform back-breaking work amidst disease and hunger. The majority of Jews who died working on the road were murdered by the Germans in a series of routine killings designed to weed out laborers no longer physically capable of labor. Angrick claims that these deaths, however, falling as they do outside of the mass shootings in the Soviet Union, point to an internal division within the SS. While Heydrich staked out his claim of overall responsibility for the “Final Solution” at the Wannsee Conference, his RSHA had little control over the construction of Thoroughfare IV. Here, intimates of Himmler, such as Hans-Adolf Prützman, held the reins of power. Such a division within the SS suggests, according to Angrick, that the SS was not nearly as monolithic as it appears in the historiography and that personal encounters and relationships between Himmler and high-ranking SS officers in the East played an important role in jumpstarting various murder programs.

German institutions and individuals were the motor behind the murder of Ukrainian Jews; however, they received significant assistance from various national groups in the region. The largest state-level support came from Romania. Dennis Deletant’s contribution examines Romanian state policy in Transnistria. Deletant convincingly details the evolution of Romanian policy as it developed in Bucharest. This course of action was not simply a case of Ian Victor Antonescu aping German policy in an effort to appease Berlin; rather, it was part of the Romanian leader’s own attempt to create an ethnically homogenous empire. On July 3, 1941, Antonescu lectured his staff at the Ministry of Internal Affairs: “We find ourselves at the broadest and most favorable moment for a complete ethnic unshackling, for a national revival and for the cleansing of our people of all those elements alien to its spirit” (cited on p. 161). Such thinking formed the basis for Romanian actions towards Jews in both the reacquired areas of Bukovina and Bessarabia as well as in Ukraine. Jews were deported from the former provinces into the latter and these deportations were carried out with the usual brutality that marked such forced population transfers during the Second World War; the shooting of stragglers and the sick and elderly were interwoven into the process. Deportations and executions were carried out by both the Romanian Army and the Gendarmerie as they drove the Jews towards camps of unimaginable suffering in Transnistria. In the summer of 1942, however, Antonescu reversed track. Not only did he oppose pressure from Berlin for the deportation of Jews from Romania proper to the death-camps, he also halted the deportation of Jews into Transnistria. Antonescu did not make such momentous decisions based on humanitarian considerations; as Deletant points out, pressure from the Allies and the war’s changing fortunes were the most likely reasons for the shift in policy. Deletant also highlights the major difference between German and Romanian policy: while the Germans were determined to exterminate European Jewry and established an elaborate system to do so, Romania focused on ethnically cleansing its newfound empire, and the Jews who died during this process were primarily victims of callous neglect, administrative incompetence, and starvation.

Not only outsiders to the region murdered Jews; ethnic Ukrainians and Poles also participated in the Holocaust. Timothy Snyder provides a broad overview of the evolving relationship between Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians in western Volhnyia from 1921 through the end of the war. In the years before the German invasion, Jews managed to survive relatively unmolested by first the Polish and later the Soviet authorities, as they seemed to be a lesser threat than Ukrainians were to the former and Poles to the latter. In fact, Snyder quotes a former governor of Volhynia who claimed that the Jews were “cut off from the people and the world” (p. 77) and lived in relative peace with their Catholic and Orthodox neighbors. Certainly the situation changed with the imposition of Soviet rule in late 1939, but this was not necessarily viewed as a negative by Volhnyian Jews, as the alternative of Nazi rule appeared much worse. Snyder makes clear, however, that Jews were in no way over-represented within the new political hierarchy–only one local Jew actually served on the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet–and while they had achieved equality with other national and religious groups, this status made them “legal equals in a system in which all were subject to deportation and terror” (p. 88).

The German invasion of 1941 considerably aggravated the situation for western Volhynian Jews. The speed of the German assault, however, paradoxically gave these Jews some breathing space as the switch to a policy of mass-murder only occurred after the Germans had advanced into central Ukraine. German rule quickly restructured the social hierarchy; Ukrainian nationalists, who had been harassed by both Polish and Soviet authorities, utilized their newfound status and power to persecute Jews, whom they incorrectly viewed as stooges of the previous regimes. While such attitudes constituted the predominant Ukrainian perspective towards Jews, Snyder does discuss Ukrainians who saved Jews from certain death– either by allowing them to join partisan units or by hiding them in their homes. The near total breakdown of authority in western Volhnyia in 1943, as Soviet Ukrainian partisans, nationalist Ukrainian forces, Polish guerilla units, and German police units engaged in a multi-faceted dirty war that included ethnic cleansing, presented further challenges for Volhynian Jews. As Snyder makes clear, for those Jews who survived the German occupation and the subsequent Sovietization of Volhynia, their isolated and traditional communities were no more. The diverse, multi-cultural, multi-confessional society that had existed for hundreds of years became yet another victim of the war.

Frank Golczewski examines the question of Ukrainian complicity in more detail in his contribution. He provides a nuanced discussion of the relations between Ukrainians and Jews as well as Ukrainians and Germans in Galicia. In an attempt to explain why and to what degree Ukrainians participated in the murder of the Jews, Golczewski examines both “historical experiences over the centuries” and “contemporary events within the recent memory of the actors” (p. 115). He argues that despite temporary disturbances, relations between Ukrainians and Jews in Galicia were relatively amicable from the late sixteenth century up through the First World War. The crumbling of dynastic Europe and the birth of national states, as well the emergence of Bolshevism and the hardships caused by the Great Depression, however, led to a stridently nationalist Ukrainian movement determined to create its own ethnically homogenous state. Ukrainian perceptions of Jews in Galicia were especially aggravated following the Soviet annexation in 1939. Golczewski argues that Jews suffered as much as ethnic Ukrainians during this period, but perceptions overwhelmed this reality and this turned nationalist movements solidly against Jews. The Germans exploited this nationalist feeling, especially in regards to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). While the OUN has shouldered the brunt of the blame for Ukrainian participation in the Holocaust, Golczewski argues that Ukrainians who joined German-sponsored units rarely did so out of nationalist feeling; rather, they were attempting to escape prisoner of war camps or deportation to Germany for forced labor. They were, in effect, trying to survive and make a living, and not waging an ideological war in the German sense. Nationalist partisan units, however, were largely led by the OUN and they did try to ethnically cleanse Galicia of both Jews and Poles. Golczewski concludes that “historical predispositions worked against a more human stand against the Holocaust” (p. 147). A bit more specificity on this point would help, as it would seem that short-term developments–from 1917 on–played a much larger role than those in the pre-World War I era.

Ethnic Germans, on the other hand, “made a particularly conspicuous and potent contribution to the effectiveness of the regional and county-level SS and police forces … which were charged with the murder of Ukraine’s Jews” (p. 250). Martin Dean examines a rather neglected aspect of the Holocaust in the occupied East by examining the actions of this group. Neither the Wehrmacht nor the RKU had enough manpower to effectively rule the area and both were forced to utilize native manpower to fill out their administrations. Ethnic Ukrainians were used to a large extent, but ethnic Germans were given the overwhelming majority of leadership positions at local levels of power. Within the Ukrainian militias established by the Germans, ethnic Germans occupied the bulk of the NCO ranks. They also served as the link between the occupiers and the civilian population through their service as translators. Dean then examines the motivations for ethnic Germans who became ensnared in the gears of destruction. He argues that negative experiences at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the 1930s were the most important factor in driving them into the arms of the Germans. As the war progressed, however, the “communal experience of complicity in the occupation” led to a much closer relationship between the two groups, one which eventually fused with Hitler granting German citizenship to ethnic Germans who served in either the Waffen-SS or the Wehrmacht (p. 263). Dean concludes that “double victim” identity (first Stalin, then Hitler) propagated by ethnic Germans in the postwar period has only served to overshadow their role as perpetrators in the Holocaust.

The issue of identity and memory is effectively examined by Omer Bartov’s extremely interesting contribution on the region of Galicia and Karel Berkhoff’s more focused examination of Dina Pronicheva, a survivor of the Babi Yar massacre. Drawing on his most recent book-length study, Bartov describes his travels through western Ukraine, which formed the historic province of Galicia. Once a thriving area of cultural diversity, a borderland where Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews lived together in relative peace, western Ukraine is now an ethnically homogenous area in which the memory of its former inhabitants is obscured and, at times, denied. While Bartov examines the development of memory in several cities, his examination of Lviv (Lwów/Lemberg) is symptomatic of his findings. Bartov notes that while certain aspects of the city’s diversity are celebrated (such as the Armenian Cathedral, which had important national meaning to Poles), others are not. Here, he discusses the Golden Synagogue, built in the late sixteenth century. Destroyed by Germans in 1942, the synagogue’s memory is kept alive only by a small plaque. The site of the building is now a garbage-strewn lot. No mention is made of the seven to ten thousand Jews murdered during the German occupation. In fact, Bartov only locates scattered remnants of Jewish life in the city–stars of David on the old Jewish Hospital–and no attempts to explain their historical significance. The most blatant attempt to create a more palatable Ukrainian history of the war years is found at the site of the former Janowska forced labor camp, where some two hundred thousand people–primarily Jews–were murdered during the war. Due to the efforts of a camp survivor, a memorial was placed outside of the gates; however, no mention is made of “Jews” on the inscription. Instead, “Nazi-genocide victims” are remembered (p. 324). A plaque later added to the memorial only further obfuscates the issue by mentioning only “victims.” As Bartov notes, “this text allows the local population to view the victims of the camp as ‘belonging’ to them rather than a category of people whose history has been largely erased from public and collective memory and whose presence in the region has been almost entirely eliminated” (p. 324). This, according to Bartov, is a conscious attempt by Ukraine to cultivate a Ukrainian identity built upon their suffering during both the Second World War and under communist rule. Such a narrative of suffering allows for no other victims. The parallels to the development of a German identity based on suffering and victimization during the 1950s and early 1960s are quite striking. Any parallel ends, however, as the men who committed the majority of the crimes against Jews in Ukraine–members of the OUN–are now celebrated as the founding fathers of the Ukrainian state. While German identity in the late twentieth century incorporated guilt for the actions of the Third Reich, Ukrainian identity is based upon a narrative of Ukrainian victimization that leaves no room for Ukrainians as perpetrators.

Berkhoff examines the many lives of Dina Pronicheva’s story of the Babi Yar massacre. Pronicheva described her experiences twelve times to a variety of people and institutions. Berkhoff compares the twelve narratives in an attempt to discern just how reliable each account is and which is the most useful for a historian in attempting to recreate the events of the massacre. He concludes that two of these testimonies–one given to Soviet investigators in 1946 and a later one, given to a German court at the trial of members of Sonderkommando 4a in 1968–provide the most accurate recounting of events. Of course, the most well-known of Pronicheva’s narratives is found in Anatolii Kuznetsov’s historical novel Babi Yar, first published in installments in the Soviet Union in 1966, but not receiving its definitive treatment until the 1970s, following Kuznetsov’s emigration to the United Kingdom in 1969. Berkhoff, however, effectively challenges the historical usefulness of Kuznetsov’s version, which appears to combine of two different testimonies. Such a mixing of source material renders this version problematic for historians. Based on his painstaking, side-by-side comparison of these twelve narratives, Berkhoff concludes that despite a few minor inaccuracies, Pronicheva’s testimonies are remarkably consistent and her detailed description of Babi Yar provides historians with a gateway to understanding such horrific events.

Recent research into the Holocaust in Ukraine has allowed for a much more definitive examination of the total numbers of Jews murdered by the Germans and their helpers. Alexander Kruglov, who has published extensively in Ukrainian on this topic, summarizes recent research in his contribution to the volume. Kruglov provides both a chronological as well as a regional approach to this issue. Extremely useful charts detail Jewish deaths at the Soviet oblast level as well as by the month (for 1941) and the year (for 1942-43). Such a detailed breakdown yields very interesting information. For example, while the Germans murdered some 1.6 million Jews in Ukraine, this terror fell unevenly across the region. In Ternopil oblast, 97 percent of the 136, 000 Jews living there in 1939 were killed during the war; in contrast, only 9.1 percent of the nearly 137,000 Jews living in Kharkiv oblast died during the Holocaust (p. 284). Such an approach highlights regional disparity of German policies on Ukraine: western areas suffered far higher death rates due to both the Germans’ rapid seizure of these areas, which forestalled any attempts at evacuation, and a radical Ukrainian nationalist movement that only fell under Soviet power following the annexation of eastern Poland in 1939 and therefore had deep enough roots in society to survive Sovietization. Kruglov also presents some truly staggering numbers: during the last six months of 1941, Germany and its allies murdered 85,000 Jews per month or, even more startling, 2,600 per day. This number decreased to just over 2,000 a day in 1942 to 400 a day during 1943. Kruglov’s and Berkhoff’s chapters neatly complement one another, as Pronicheva’s story puts a human face on the somewhat sterile statistics.

In sum, this is an excellent volume that approaches the Holocaust in Ukraine from a variety of angles. One quibble with the volume is that while the all of the areas discussed in the book are within present Ukrainian borders, during the war years, they were ruled by various states and governments with differing historical traditions. This is certainly not a major problem and the editors effectively address it in their introduction, but it does add another layer to the Holocaust in Ukraine, one not present in similar examinations of the Holocaust in France or Denmark, for example. On the other hand, the volume’s attempt to grapple with the various ethnic and national groups as well as sovereign states involved in both carrying out the murder of Ukraine’s Jews and the creation and erasure of memory for such horrific events highlights the complexity of the “Final Solution” in Ukraine.