The Third Reichs Eastern Legions and POWS–Glossary

Hitler’s code name for his invasion of the Soviet Union, launched on 22 June 1941. It was the greatest military conflict of the modern era and the greatest land invasion in the history of modern warfare. It was also one of the greatest betrayals of history, since Stalin had obviously believed that Hitler’s commitment to the Hitler- Stalin Pact was genuine. Placed under the aegis of the great German medieval emperor Frederick Barbarossa, it was intended to signal Hitler’s determination to assert German imperium over Slavdom. It was also meant to demonstrate the superiority of the Germans, members of the master race, over the Slavs, considered in Nazi racial theory to be Untermenschen—“subhumans.” Special orders were given as to the treatment of captured Russians and Russian civilians, for whom the normal rules of war were not to apply.
Glantz, David. 2003. Before Stalingrad: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941. Stroud: Tempus.

Overy, Richard. 1999. Russia’s War. London: Penguin.

Hitler’s expression for the Reich policy of conquering Slav territories to the East of Germany in order to satisfy Germany’s supposed need for more Lebensraum— “living space.” In Mein Kampf, whose fourteenth chapter is dedicated to “Eastward orientation,” Hitler argued that an increase in her living space was essential if Germany were to rise to the status of world power; the only place where “new territories” could be found was in Russia, so Ostpolitik (“Eastern policy”) actually meant “the acquisition of the necessary soil for the German people.” This acquisition of territory in the East, which Hitler saw as his “historic mission,” along with the annihilation of the Jews, formed a favorite theme of his speeches and monologues. He associated a racist ideology of the “inferiority” of the Slavs with the economic concept of a ruthless exploitation of the resources of Eastern Europe. The peoples of the East must be set to work: “Slavdom is a born mass of slaves that cry for a master”; since the Slavs “were not destined to a life of their own,” they must be “Germanized.” In the context of his “European territorial ordering,” the brutal achievement of which he entrusted to Himmler and the SS in 1942, Hitler planned the settlement of 100 million persons of German origin in the East. According to the plans made by Hitler and Himmler, the “persons of German origin” settling in Russia were to “organize” the native Slav populace into an army of slaves and servants.
Leitz, C. 2004. Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933–1941: The Road to Global War. London: Routledge.

Meyer, Henry Cord. 1996. Drang nach osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1849–1990. Berne: Peter Lang.

THE SLAVS, (and Germany)

Denotes a variety of ethnicities and nations in Central, Eastern, and South-East Europe whose tongues belong to the Slavic language group: “the Slavs” were seen by the Nazis as inferior peoples. In comparison to the Jews however, they occupied an indeterminate position in the Nazi racial hierarchy. They were collectively or separately characterized as fremdvölkische (“nationally alien”), Untermenschen, or “Asiatic,” and constituted the majority of victims of Nazi annihilation, deportation, and exploitation policies from 1938 to 1945. Nevertheless, representatives of all three Slavic subgroups—Western, Southern, and Eastern—were, at one point or another, accepted as German allies. A number of Nazi publications considered parts (and some all) of the Slavs as belonging to the original “Nordic” or “Indogermanic” peoples. The Third Reich’s attack on Eastern Europe may have been primarily determined by motives other than anti-Slavism, such as anti-Bolshevism and the quest for new Lebensraum. Yet implementation of the latter aims accounts only partly for the deaths of the millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and other Slavs who perished not only in combat against, but primarily under the occupation of, the Wehrmacht and the SS during World War II.

Nineteenth-century German public opinion and research on Eastern Europe and Russia showed, along with certain russophile tendencies, strong currents of anti-Slavism that continued earlier negative stereotypes about Poles and Russians. Views of Slavs as “unhistorical,” “cultureless,” or “barbaric” were voiced by representatives of both Right and Left—including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In the völkisch discourse of late Imperial Germany, Slavs were described as “racially mixed” or “mongolized.” A significant minority of nationalist and racist publicists with influence on the Nazi movement, including Houston Stuart Chamberlain, did, however, write positively about the Slavs. The Slavs played a relatively minor role in interwar German racist discourse in general and Nazi racial thinking in particular. Both official statements and unofficial procedures of the Third Reich regarding Slavic people continued to be marked by contradictions and shifts right down to 1945.

Although the Czechs were viewed by Hitler in the 1920s more negatively than the Poles, German occupation policies in the Reichsprotektorat of Czechoslovakia were more permissive and less violent than those in the Generalgouvernement and other annexed Polish territories. Whereas “only” 40,000 or so Czechs perished during Nazi occupation, the overwhelming majority of the 1.8 to 1.9 million Polish civilian victims of World War II were killed by Germans. In spite of manifest SS anti-Polonism, Himmler’s Generalplan Ost of 1942 made a distinction between eindeutschungsfähige Poles (“those who can be Germanized”) and Poles who were to be deported to Siberia within the next decades. Earlier, the greater part of the Czech population had become regarded as assimilable by the Nazis, while the Slovaks had been allowed to form their own satellite state.

Whereas in the Balkans Orthodox Serbs were among the nations least respected by Hitler, Orthodox Bulgarians (seen as being of Turkic origin) occupied a relatively high position in the Nazi racial hierarchy and were referred to by Joseph Goebbels as “friends.” Bulgaria was permitted to abstain from participation in the attack on the Soviet Union and to pursue an independent policy with regard to its Jews. The Soviet people were labeled “beasts,” “animals,” “half-monkeys,” “hordes,” and the like. Among the approximately 10 million Soviet civilians who perished under the Nazis, there were 3.3 million POWs, most of them Eastern Slavs. Yet, as the German advance into Russia halted, the Waffen-SS recruited, among other soldiers from the USSR, a specifically Ukrainian division (“Galicia”) and a Byelorussian unit. Impressed by the phenotype of the Ukrainians, Hitler, in August 1942, proposed the assimilation of Ukrainian women. Toward the end of the war, German troops were assisted by General Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Popular Army of Liberation, consisting of tens of thousands of Russian POWs and emigres. The Cossacks— though being Eastern Slavs—were even seen as “Germanic.” Shortly before his suicide, Hitler described the “Slavic race” as stronger than the Germanic one— whose destiny it was to succumb.
Connelly, John. 1999. “Nazis and Slavs: From Racial Theory to Racist Practice.” Central European History 32, no. 1: 1–33.
Laffin, John. 1995. Hitler Warned Us: The Nazis’ Master Plan for a Master Race. Dulles, VA: Brassey’s.
Schaller, Helmut. 2002. Der Nationalsozialismus und die slawische Welt. Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet.
Volkmann, Hans-Erich, ed. 1994. Das Russlandbild im Dritten Reich. Köln: Böhlau.

Wippermann, Wolfgang. 1996. “Antislavismus.” Pp. 512–524 in Handbuch zur Völkischen Bewegung” 1871–1918, edited by Uwe Puschner. München: Saur.


Roughly translates from German as “living space”; particularly associated with the imperialistic ideology and population policies of Nazism, although there was an equivalent expression in Italian Fascism (spazio vitale). In policy and prosecution, the Nazi pursuit of Lebensraum involved the massive transfer—and violent uprooting— of indigenous populations in Central Eastern Europe. Forming a significant aspect of Hitler’s Weltanschauung as illustrated in Mein Kampf, and put into violent practice during World War II, the quest for Lebensraum can be seen to underpin a number of actions undertaken by the Third Reich: the invasions of Poland and Soviet Russia, massive population resettlements and “evacuations,” and the Holocaust. All were defended as a means to secure Germanic hegemony in Europe by control of natural resources (such as grain and oil) as well as forcible depopulation of vast territories— including some 50 million Eastern Europeans— construed as indispensable to the resettlement and functioning of a European “New Order,” or “thousand year Reich,” dreamed of by Nazi planners.

On the eve of World War I, völkisch Pangermanism, military expansionism, and increasingly explicit racism became more closely associated with the doctrine of the established idea of Lebensraum, which had generally been used to cover colonial expansionism such as was practiced by all the major European powers in the nineteenth century. Friedrich von Bernhardi in particular explicitly advocated territorial seizures to the east of Germany, and the issue of the progression from Bernhardi via German militarism in World War I to Nazi conceptions of Lebensraum has been hotly debated, especially after the so-called Fischer Controversy in the 1960s concerning the continuity (or otherwise) of postunification German expansionism. Although the Third Reich’s expansionist policies between 1933 and 1939 in areas such as Czechoslovakia and Austria may be viewed as the first shots in the battle for Lebensraum, that battle is generally considered to have begun with the onset of World War II in Europe. Following the conquest of Poland, massive population transfers of ethnic Germans and “non-Aryans” alike were prioritized by Nazi functionaries, and following the invasion of the Soviet Union efforts were made to depopulate vast areas through murdering millions in Central Eastern Europe.
Burleigh, Michael. 2000. The Third Reich. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Fischer, Fritz. 1986. From Kaisserreich to Third Reich: Elements of Continuity in German History, 1871–1945. London: Unwin Hyman.
Housden, Martyn. 2003. Hans Frank: Lebensraum and the Holocaust. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Soviet PoW and Polish and Soviet Civilians – The Holocaust?

Of the 5,700,000 Soviet soldiers who surrendered to the Germans during World War II, more than 3,000,000 were either shot shortly after capture, starved to death in prisoner of war camps, gassed in extermination camps, or worked to death in concentration camps. They are usually ignored in books about the Holocaust because at the time they were not targeted for total extermination. Those who offer explicit or implicit arguments for including them among the victims of the Holocaust, such as Bohdan Wytwycky in The Other Holocaust and Christian Streit and Jürgen Förster in The Policies of Genocide, point out that the appallingly high losses among Soviet prisoners of war were racially determined. The Germans did not usually mistreat prisoners from other Allied countries, but in the Nazi view Soviet prisoners were Slavic “subhumans” who had no right to live. Moreover, young Slavs of reproductive and fighting age were dangerous obstacles to resettling Eastern Europe with Germans. Hence it is reasonable to conclude that all of them were destined to be killed or else sterilized so that their kind would disappear.


Slavic civilians, ordinary citizens of Poland and the Soviet Union in particular, were held no higher in Nazi racial ideology. Millions were forced to work for the Germans under frequently murderous conditions. Their natural leaders, such as teachers, professors, lawyers, clergymen, and politicians, were ruthlessly exterminated by the Germans. Others perished in massive German reprisals against various forms of resistance. Three million Poles (10 percent of the population) and 19,000,000 Soviet citizens (11 percent of the population) died at the hands of the Germans. Because these deaths were far more selective than was the case with Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped, it is possible to place them in a different category. Those who would exclude them from the Holocaust emphasize that the Germans did not plan to kill all the Slavs. On the contrary, Germany considered the Slavs of Slovakia and Croatia as valuable allies, not candidates for extermination. Complicating the issue is the difficulty of distinguishing racially motivated killings of Poles and Soviet citizens from those that resulted directly or indirectly from German military actions. Bohdan Wytwycky has estimated that nearly one-fourth of the Soviet civilian deaths were racially motivated, namely, those of 3,000,000 Ukrainians and 1,500,000 Belarusans.

Those who would include Polish and Soviet civilian losses in the Holocaust include Bohdan Wytwycky in The Other Holocaust, Richard C. Lukas in The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Rule, 1939–1944, and Ihor Kamenetsky in Secret Nazi Plans for Eastern Europe. These scholars point out that the deaths were a direct result of Nazi contempt for the “subhuman” Slavs. They note that the “racially valuable” peoples of Western European countries like France and the Netherlands were not treated anywhere near as badly. Moreover, Nazi plans for the ethnic cleansing and German colonization of Poland and parts of the Soviet Union suggest that a victorious Germany might well have raised the level of genocide against the civilian populations of those areas to even more appalling proportions. Slovakia and Croatia did not figure as victims in Hitler’s plans to secure Lebensraum, and their Slavic populations could be spared. In A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II, Gerhard Weinberg suggests that experiments done on concentration camp inmates to perfect methods of mass sterilization probably were chiefly aimed at keeping Slavs alive to perform slave labor in the short term while assuring their long-term disappearance.

Russia reflects on sixty-five years since the Soviet Union’s World War Two victory

This online supplement is produced and published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), which takes sole responsibility for the content. 

Alexander Mekhanik, Expert magazine

Something has changed in Russia. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the values on which Soviet society was based – and after two decades of hard times – the search is on for a firm footing in values and ideology. Attention has focused on the Second World War, especially the question of what we were fighting for.
It seems, in Russia and in the rest of the world, that there are two points of view about the war. The first holds that Stalin’s regime was undoubtedly tyrannical, but the war was fought for humanitarian values and freedom. The Soviet Union made a decisive contribution to the victory of these values, though it was certainly no showcase for them.

The second may be called the revisionist one, that the Second World War was in fact two wars: the one on the Western Front a battle for democratic ideals and freedom; the other, on the Eastern Front, between tyrants seeking to oppress and enslave nations.

One Russian political analyst has even written that, while the Western allies were fighting for democratic ideals, most people in the Soviet Union had little idea of either democracy or Nazism, and were simply fighting for the Motherland. And even then they thought long and hard before fighting: Stalin’s regime had so “exhausted” them that many were ready simply to surrender. This, in part, explains why Russia lost the early stages of the war.
Most Soviet citizens fought simply for their Motherland, with no thought of ideology; the same can be said about most people in the anti-Nazi countries and those who fought in the Resistance. It is true that all the enemies of Germany and Japan also lost ground in the early stages of the war.

If one pursues the logic further, then, evidently, the French, as well as the Czechs, Belgians, Dutch and others, had been “exhausted” by democracy. That isn’t too far from the truth: democratic positions, as we now know, were seriously undermined throughout Europe as a result of the First World War and the Great Depression. This preordained the victory of the fascists and the Nazis in Italy and Germany.

One shouldn’t forget that the younger Soviet generation supported the regime because it had allowed them to have educations and careers that before had been off-limits to them. They were fighting, if you will, for the Soviet Dream, for anyone having the chance to become, if not general secretary of the Communist Party, then at least a marshal or a people’s commissar.

Who was the backbone of the Resistance in France? Supporters of de Gaulle and the communists. De Gaulle could not be called a consistent democrat. In his youth he was, after all, close to the right-wing thinker Charles Maurras.

The countries that conducted a real underground partisan battle and put up a genuinely fierce resistance to the Germans were ones that had not been especially democratic before Nazism: Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece. Resistance leaders in these countries, such as Josip Tito and Enver Hoxha, could hardly be called democrats.

Indeed, only a small group of countries were then democracies, and far from contemporary notions of what a true democracy should be. Think of segregation in the United States; think of the state of human rights in British, French and other European colonies. In Eastern Europe there was real democracy only in Czechoslovakia: in Poland you had the Sanacja regime; in Lithuania Smetona’s dictatorship; in Latvia Ulmanis’s dictatorship; in Hungary you had the dictatorship of Horthy; and in Romania that of Antonescu.

Indeed, it’s not a question of the moods of the warring countries, their citizens and leaders, or of their political systems: it’s a question of the objective nature of a war which, from the point of view of the anti-Hitler coalition, was a war to preserve humanitarian and democratic values; a war for freedom in the highest sense of the word. This does not change the nature of the Soviet regime and its crimes, or the crimes of the English and the French in their colonies, or the discrimination against blacks and the lynch mobs in the US.

The question of what the communists were fighting for or, more broadly, the question of the values of communists in the USSR and in Europe is far more complex. The Russian Revolution was brought about by people who believed that the road they had chosen was the only possible road to a consistent democracy combining political and social freedoms.

During the Second World War those same people believed that they were fighting for their ideals. This is the fundamental difference between communism and fascism/Nazism, which in principle rejected democracy as an institution. One has only to compare the works of classic communists, from Marx to Lenin, with those of fascists/Nazis, such as Maurras, Mussolini, Hitler, et al.

It is not just the attitude toward democracy; it is the common spirit of universalism, humanism and cosmopolitanism that distinguished classic communism from the spirit of anti-humanism and chauvinism in fascism. Despite all the transformations, Soviet communism in those years still reflected classic values.

However one feels about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it did not run counter to the logic of the behaviour of leading countries in Europe at the time toward fascist Germany. From Britain to Poland and from Norway to Greece, all were trying to come to an understanding with Hitler behind each other’s backs and at each other’s expense.

First, the socialists and liberals of France, conservatives and labourites in Britain, and their European colleagues betrayed the Spanish Republic led by fellow socialists and liberals by allowing it to be torn apart by German and Italian fascists.

Then England and France, along with Poland and Hungary, betrayed Czechoslovakia. And between these betrayals they closed their eyes to Hitler’s annexation of Austria. What could the Soviet leadership expect from such players? Another betrayal.

When France and England (after Germany invaded Poland) declared war, they were “just pretending”. Small wonder that this war came to be known as the phoney war. This, evidently, is what Stalin was afraid of when he concluded his pact with Hitler: in the West there would be a pretend war, but in the East there would be a real one.

To all appearances, Stalin foresaw an extended war in the West and did not want to be left alone with Hitler. A highly rational, if not always highly moral, foreign policy combined with a domestic policy that was irrational in its terrorism: that was the trademark Stalinist style.

If the irrational anti-Semitism of the Nazis can be attributed to centuries-old prejudices peculiar to all of Europe, then the Stalinist terror cannot be attributed to anything but fear: fear of the ruling classes of old Russia that had suffered defeat in the Civil War; fear of the enemies real and imagined in one’s own party; fear of the anarchic element in the peasantry, and so on. These fears were in part justified, but they assumed a paranoid form.

Responding to criticisms that he and Khrushchev did not do enough to expose Stalin’s crimes, former first deputy premier Anastas Mikoyan reportedly said: “We couldn’t do that because then everyone would have known what scoundrels we were.”

That, too, is the difference between communism and Nazism: the communist scoundrels understood who they were because they realised the gulf separating them from the ideals they revered; the Nazis liked being scoundrels – that was their ideal.

Many historians and politicians in the new countries that rose from the ruins of the Soviet Union justify the struggle of Ukrainian nationalists and Lithuanian guerrillas on two fronts during the Second World War (against the Nazis and the communists) by saying that neither side in this “clash of tyrants” was better than the other; that these members of small nations were simply fighting tyranny. This is disingenuous: similar formations fought on the side of the Nazis and only towards the end of the Third Reich did they attempt to feign resistance.

The Second World War was no ordinary war. It was possibly the only war in history that was fought against absolute evil, a fight that united idealists defending their ideals, cynics defending their interests, and even scoundrels trying to incinerate their sins in the flames of a great struggle.

Together, they were all, like all the people who fought in that war, defending their Motherland, their life and their home in the present and the future – freedom for themselves and all mankind.

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:An der Seite der Wehrmacht: Hitlers ausländische Helfer beim "Kreuzzug gegen den Bolschewismus" 1941-1945.

Rolf-Dieter Müller. An der Seite der Wehrmacht: Hitlers ausländische Helfer beim “Kreuzzug gegen den Bolschewismus” 1941-1945. Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 2007. 280 pp. ISBN 978-3-86153-448-8; EUR 24.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-86153-448-8.

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

A Reappraisal of Germany and Europe’s “Crusade against Bolshevism”

The most savage and devastating conflict in modern European history was the 1941-45 German-Soviet War. The struggle, however, did not merely pit German soldiers against their Soviet counterparts. Over twenty European countries and national groups sent contingents of troops to assist the German Wehrmacht in its attempt to destroy the communist state. This “crusade against Bolshevism” drew in a minimum of 3,962,000 men from across Europe, organized in both large national armies from states allied to Germany as well as in volunteer contingents integrated directly into the Wehrmacht–both army and Waffen-SS–itself. In a new, badly needed synthesis that focuses primarily on operational events, Rolf-Dieter Müller examines the contribution of these other European states to the German war effort in the East.

Müller, the director of the Military History Research Office in Potsdam and frequent contributor to that institution’s ten-volume “official” German history of the Second World War–Deutschland und der Zweite Weltkrieg, which was completed this year–claims that such a comprehensive examination of Hitler’s allies and auxiliaries is needed due to the persistence of two myths. On the one hand, Hitler’s continual harangues against the alleged poor performance of non-German units on the eastern front have filtered down into the popular consciousness to such an extent that the efforts of allied armies have been nearly completely discounted. On the other hand, the radical Right in Europe continues to loudly proclaim that the entire campaign was one in which the continent rallied around the idea of destroying the Bolshevik threat, and that the experiences of eastern Europe in the subsequent four decades lend credence to the righteousness of Hitler’s cause. Müller effectively destroys the two legends and, in the course of the study, both restores the importance of the Third Reich’s allies to its war effort and highlights the various reasons for the involvement of “Hitler’s foreign helpers” in the war against the Soviet Union.

The contributions of countries throughout Europe ranged from the 800,000-man conscript army of Hungary to 4,000 volunteers from Denmark to some 800,000 Russians who served in various capacities within the German armed forces or occupation machinery. In order to make some sense of these various contingents, Müller breaks the book into three sections: the first examines the formal allies of the German Reich; the second looks at the volunteers from neutral and occupied countries in western Europe; and the third and most interesting part considers the actions of the various peoples incorporated into the Soviet Union, including eastern Poland. Such structuring of the book allows it to be effectively used as a reference; anyone interested in the contribution of, say, Croatia would be able to locate the section on the Croats easily. Unfortunately, such a structure also lends the book an encyclopedic feel; each chapter is so self-contained that the general narrative suffers as a result.

Müller forcefully rejects the premise that Germany’s allies contributed next to nothing to the fighting in the East. Initially the Germans felt no need to request assistance from their allies, outside of the Finns and the Rumanians. Their hubris led them to believe that the campaign would be won quickly and that the spoils should be kept for Germany itself. A strong belief in the inadequacy of their allies complemented this operational arrogance. With the failure of Operation Barbarossa in the winter of 1941/42 and the consequent heavy casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht, it became clear that those countries so disparaged by the Führer and others in the German military leadership needed to be relied upon increasingly to stabilize German lines within the Soviet Union. Müller’s examination of Hungary and Italy detail the evolution of the allies’ contribution to Germany’s war in the East. Initially, Hitler left Hungary in the dark until the last minute regarding his plans for operations in the Soviet Union. Hungary committed forces to the invasion only after one of its border cities was bombed by a still-undetermined attacker on June 26, 1941. This initial commitment of 45,000 men was increased to 200,000 by the end of January 1942; such an enlargement pointed to the Wehrmacht’s inability to launch a second major offensive in 1942 without its allies bearing a much heavier brunt of the fighting. At one point following the Soviet breakthrough during the Battle of Stalingrad, the Hungarian Second Army was responsible alone for a 200-kilometer stretch of the front.

This Hungarian army was supported on its right flank by the Italian Eighth Army. The German High Command had initially decided that the Italian war effort would be more usefully directed towards the Mediterranean and North African theaters of war. Benito Mussolini, however, who was determined to participate in the war against international communism, forced several divisions on the reluctant Germans. By 1942, this reluctance had disappeared and the 230,000-man strong Italian Eighth Army occupied an important position in the German order of battle. Müller concludes that the contributions of the allied armies, specifically Hungary, Italy, and Romania, made possible both the approach to the gates of Moscow in 1941 and the launching of Operation Blue in 1942. While never as well equipped as their German allies or their Soviet adversaries, the allied armies provided the necessary manpower that enabled the Germans to launch successful offensive operations during the early years of the conflict.

Müller also convincingly argues that as early as the “catastrophe of Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht could only delay a breakthrough of the Eastern Front with the help of foreign allies [ausländische Helfer]” (p. 244). Guard battalions from the Baltic States, militias from the Ukraine, Russian civilians and POWs integrated into army units as Hilfswilligen and Russian army units organized under the command of General Andrei Vlassov all provided the Reich with important military, security, and propaganda benefits.

Müller details Hitler’s resistance to employing armed natives from the East, which stemmed from his long-term plans for ruthless colonization. The defeat on the Volga, however, led even the ideologues within the Reich’s administration to realize the necessity of using any and all means to combat the numerically superior Red Army. It was only after the destruction of the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad that Hitler permitted the establishment, for example, of a Latvian SS-Legion. The participation of these countries could reach extremely high proportions: 60,000 Estonians (out of a population of only 1.2 million) waged war with Hitler against the Soviet Union.

The greatest spur to Estonia’s unprecedented mobilization was a fear of being re-Sovietized by the approaching Red Army. The desire to be forever free of Moscow played an extremely important role in leading the peoples of eastern Europe to align themselves with the German army. In this respect, the notion of a “crusade against communism” has some basis and such an idea, in fact, probably provided the stimulus for many western European volunteers as well. Even in the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and France, however, political calculations played the most important role in the decision to support Nazi Germany in its eastern campaign. Here, political movements that styled themselves after National Socialism attempted to impress their German overlords by sending volunteers to the East. In Belgium, for example, right-wing extremists in both the Walloon and Flemish national movements tried to use the occupation to create their own new state; sending troops to the Soviet Union formed part of this ongoing negotiation with the Third Reich. In countries allied to Germany, such as Hungary, Romania, and Italy, it was feared that failure to provide sufficient backing would result in being left out of the final peace settlement. This consideration was extremely important for those southeast European countries looking to expand or at least protect their borders.

According to Müller, these political motivations played an important role in the failure of the Axis powers and other affiliated states to defeat the Soviet Union. German strategy frequently did not correspond to that of its allies, and this divergence caused far-reaching problems. The most noteworthy example concerned the Finns’ desire to recapture territory lost to the Soviets during the Winter War, but not to participate in the encirclement of Leningrad or to sever the Murmansk railroad. Inter-allied tension forced German planners to ensure that Romanian and Hungarian forces were never deployed side by side, as it was feared that they would open fire on one another instead of on the Red Army. Another decisive factor in the Axis defeat was the qualitative inferiority of Germany’s allies vis-à-vis the Red Army. Recent research has emphasized the growing technological superiority the Soviets enjoyed over the Wehrmacht; when one considers that many of the Reich’s allies were outfitted with captured western booty or obsolete German equipment, it should come as no surprise that the allied countries were frequently outclassed and outgunned by their adversaries. One German officer noted that the “medical services of the Slovaks came right out the era of Maria Theresa” and while this case was certainly extreme, it did point to the basic problem of the backwardness that hampered many allied units (p. 101).

One major weakness of the book is found in its treatment of the mentalities of foreign soldiers who fought for the German cause. While Müller provides explanations as to why other European states sent men to fight and die in the Soviet hinterland, he fails to examine sufficiently the motives of the men themselves. This task is undoubtedly difficult, especially for someone who relies nearly exclusively on German-language sources (though a smattering of English, Italian, and Romanian works, among others, are found in the bibliography). It is, however, an important issue, especially due to the war of annihilation prosecuted by the Wehrmacht. Müller notes that diverse nationalities–including Estonians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Romanians, and Danes–were all utilized in anti-partisan warfare, and when discussing the latter, he states that they did shoot civilians in the course of such operations. Here the question of motivation is paramount: how important were ideological beliefs relative to situational factors in leading allied units to commit war crimes in the East? Were German actions and attitudes decisive in causing such behavior or, as Romanian activities in Odessa suggest, did other nationalities have their own motivations for carrying out such atrocities? These are questions that require much more research before they can be adequately answered, but at least some preliminary discussion of this issue by Müller would have been welcome.

In short, Müller has written a concise yet comprehensive treatment of the military operations of Hitler’s foreign helpers in the war against the Soviet Union, restoring the importance of these countries and their armies to the conduct of war in the East. In writing a work that is encyclopedic in structure and scope, Müller has produced a very handy reference on this topic. Well stocked with useful maps and photos, the work provides a very readable account that effectively dismantles myths and legends that have grown up around an important and neglected subject.

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.


Country squires in fur coats and farmers in rags, all lumped together. And all ages from confused old men to frightened children. And alone, in groups, or in lines; from trees, from telegraph poles, or the gallows. Some with their caps and hats on their heads. And also two women; both young and pretty. And the spectators, often posing for photos. A soldier who appears to be amused stands over the body of a Ukrainian priest. Nazi criminals? You have to ask!

Anton Holzer’s collection of photographs speaks volumes. And will shock; for the facts are not yet known in the wider world. It’s a photographic story that demonstrates that the old Austrian K.u.K. Army in the Balkans, in Poland and in Russia was not very much better than the German Wehrmacht in World War II with its contribution to the Holocaust. In Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, along the Adriatic and in Galicia not thousands but tens of thousands of innocent civilians, the vast majority without any legal process and only because of hysterical outbursts from K.u.K. officers who thought every civilian was a spy, were summarily executed.

The worst affected were the Ukrainians and the Jews. In East Galicia every constable, watchman, sergeant, had the power to order that every alleged spy, every arbitrary suspect, could be hanged without any formalities. The newspapers carried photos of arrests and public executions; Russian Spy Arrested, Farmer is Suspected Spy, Suspicious Female Spy Captured, German Gendarme with a Jewish Spy, were typical captions.

The public hangings were photographed and went on sale as postcards. The fear of spies had to be widely spread. Training courses for potential hangmen were available.

The K.u.K. army was ordered to spread terror: In Serbian border towns and villages take hostages. In the event of any incidents and to justify hostages burn down the place, to paraphrase an instruction to military commanders dated 12th August 1914. The first massacre of Serbian civilians took place in the third week of the war.

At an execution of a prominent prisoner a photograph was taken of Vienna’s laughing hangman, Josef Lang, who was brought in for the occasion; dressed in bow-tie and bowler hat Lang stands smiling over the corpse of Cesare Battisti. He is surrounded by a laughing crowd of civilians and soldiers. Battisti, a former K.u.K. politician was an Italian patriot and had therefore joined the Italian Army. When he was captured by the Austrians, he was imprisoned, charged with betrayal and hanged in public.

In Sabac on 18th August 1914 Field Marshal Lieutenant Kasimir von Lütgendorf ordered three of his own soldiers to be executed for being drunk. The bloody execution, carried out with bayonets, took place in the square directly outside the town’s church. In 1920 Lütgendorf was sentenced to 6 months military detention but without loss of rank or military honours.

Anton Holzer’s book Das Lächeln der Henker – Der unbekannte Krieg gegen die Zivilbevölkerung 1914-1918* (Primus Verlag) will not be widely read in Austria says reviewer Hellmut Butterweck in the Wiener Zeitung newspaper dated 12th December 2008.

This theme is an indigestible morsel for Austrian self-image, he concludes.

*The Smile of the Hangman – the unknown war against the civil population 1914-1918.