This review of the origin and activities of the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army, or the Galicia Division, must be placed in a larger historical context. The creation of the Division had been an attempt by a nation subjugated for a long time, to gain independence by means of training a fighting force, which would play a decisive role in the time of collapse of the large, occupying powers. As experience had shown, the only chance open to nations oppressed for a long time, was to do just that¾get training and weapons in alliance with a larger, established army.
A way practiced with not much success was to get the training abroad and take a chance that a large nation willing to offer this, could also be instrumental in a future liberation effort. As a regional example, the Poles have bet unsuccessfully on Napoleon, thereby loosing many troops in his campaign.
More often it was prudent to wait for the moment when the occupying powers were under such stress that they were willing to provide weapons and training, in the hope of getting an auxiliary force. The Poles, partitioned between three powers during the last century, have done this successfully during World War I, when the founder of their state, Jozef Pilsudski, trained his Legions and aligned them with one of the occupying powers -- Austro-Hungary. The Ukrainians did the same, but unsuccessfully. They created the Sich Riflemen Legion, which was also trained and equipped by Austro-Hungary, the only state where such an occurrence was possible.
In cases like these both sides act according to their own interests. The occupying power promises-though not necessarily meaning to fulfill that promise - some easing of oppression, in return for the help of the auxiliary units. On the other hand, the oppressed nation's hope is to create a fighting force of its own, with the help of the occupying power before it collapses. But here that nation has to pay the cost of the training and for the weapons with the lives of some of its volunteers.
The First Division UNA is squarely in the latter category. This conclusion is obvious from the decisions of the denazification courts in Germany after the war, from the decisions of the special commissions, such as the Justice Deschenes Commission in Canada, which reviewed the facts and fully agreed with such classification, and from the description of the background outline and events, which follow.
The First Division of the Ukrainian National Army was created in 1943 within the German Armed Forces. It was the largest Ukrainian military unit which fought against the Soviets in World War II, with the aim of regaining Ukrainian independence. This was an objective longed for by Ukrainians for centuries. During the course of its life, the Division's name was changed several times. At first its name was 14 SS Riflemen Division "Galizien", and near the end of the war it was renamed the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army. In this essay the name "Galicia Division", its name commonly used in the West, or just Division, will be used.
The Division's objective, as previously discussed, was not attained. Its military fate was short on luck. Following the organizing procedure and the training, a process which lasted about one year, the Division made a stand to defend Ukrainian territory before the relentlessly advancing Red Army. It engaged the enemy during the Soviet's largest offensive and faced their massive armor, air and manpower. During one of the fiercest battles near Brody in Western Ukraine, the Division was encircled together with the whole German army corps, and was decimated. Several thousand soldiers perished, trying to break out of the encirclement. Some were taken prisoner by the Soviets, executed or sent to the Gulags, others escaped and joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Some 3,000 were able to retreat to safer areas, where the Division was reorganized and in time replenished to full strength. It continued to fight outside of Ukrainian territory until the end of the war, when it faced the Red Army near Feldbach in Austria.
Shortly before the end of the war, the Division was renamed the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army. It was put under the command of Ukrainian general, Paul Shandruk, a leading military and political figure of that time, and swore an oath of allegiance to Ukraine. It therefore seceded from the German Waffen SS and became a truly Ukrainian military unit.
Disengaging from the enemy on the day the war ended, the Division retreated westward. Its members surrendered to the British and Americans, and subsequently spent several years in POW camps. Following their release, Division veterans resettled in various countries in the West, similar to many émigrés who had escaped from the Soviet areas of influence after the war.
Under the constant Soviet-Russian propaganda against the Ukrainian independence movement, the role and significance of the Division was often misunderstood, misjudged and misinterpreted. Its veterans were maligned as collaborators and mercenaries, to whom various misdeeds and crimes were attributed, mainly by the Soviets, and these allegations were subsequently repeated by the Western media.
From the vantage point of more than half a century, it is deemed necessary to set the record straight and recapitulate the historical facts about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Division, its role during World War II, its significance and impact on the Ukrainian community during the war. This account of the history of the Division is presented from the vantage point of the veterans of this military unit, from the people who witnessed the accompanying events.
In Western Ukraine (known as Halychyna to Ukrainians and Galizien to Germans), the young Ukrainian men who had joined the Division in 1943 grew up in the period between two world wars. Their fathers' struggle for Ukraine's independence in the First World War was not successful. The short-lived Ukrainian Republic collapsed under the overwhelming forces of its neighbors, Poland and Soviet Russia, and Western Ukraine came under the Polish occupation. Before World War I, Western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but even then the Poles had a political supremacy.
After the rebirth of the Polish Republic, and during the time when Ukrainians were fighting a liberation war with the Poles as well as with the Soviets, the victorious Poles began to arrogate all power and influential positions in the occupied territory, demoting Ukrainians to the status of second class citizens. This flagrantly disregarded and broke the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the terms of which were to guarantee autonomy for Western Ukraine. The signatories of this treaty who were members of the League of Nations did nothing to force the Poles to follow its terms. Polish patriotism in the newly resurrected Republic assumed forms of extreme chauvinism and intolerance to other ethnic entities, mostly Ukrainians, who became part of this Republic against their will. They became a subject of disdain, fierce discrimination and political oppression. The Polish government brought peasants from Poland into Ukraine, giving them land under very favorable terms, while at the same time forbidding its purchase by land-hungry Ukrainians. It was extremely difficult for any Ukrainian to get a job in the administration, in business or elsewhere, in this way being deprived of the means to earn a living. Education for Ukrainians was severely limited and restricted, and all organizations' activities were constrained or prohibited outright. For example, Plast, the Ukrainian scouting organization, as well as many sports and athletic clubs were disbanded and their memberships dissolved. The Ukrainian language was discriminated against openly. Speaking Ukrainian in a public place often produced a hostile reaction among the Poles.
This was the environment in which young Ukrainians grew up. Such oppression caused an understandable and appropriate reaction. A spirit of resistance prevailed. It became obvious that only in ones own independent and sovereign state can a full life be enjoyed. Therefore, attaining this goal became the main objective. The historical events of the recent Ukrainian war for liberation were analyzed and discussed extensively by the younger generation, which tried to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. It is clear what ignited the burning desire for freedom in these young people.
The outbreak of war and Poland's collapse was viewed with mixed feelings by most Ukrainians. New hopes were emerging that this may well be the opportunity to realize their dream of independence. Instead, a new oppression arrived, this time with the Soviets, who immediately and with great brutality suppressed any thought of independence. One enemy was replaced by another, more formidable and ruthless. The Polish oppression was relatively "benign" compared to that of the Soviets, since it was mostly political and economic in character. The Soviets physically decimated Ukrainians by extensive forced relocation to primitive life in Asian republics in Siberia, by massive arrests, torture and execution of thousands of people in prisons in Lviv, Stanyslaviv, Drohobych, Vynnytsia, Kyiv, Katyn and in other numerous locations throughout Ukraine. These horrific conditions created a burning desire for revenge on the part of Ukrainians, as well as intensified their dream for independence. However, everyone was painfully aware that without a military force dedicated to fighting for that aim, independence was unattainable.
Germany was regarded as the only source which could supply vital military training and weapons. The Germans were enemies of communism and their 1939 treaty with Stalin seemed to be only temporary and tactical, the truth of which was confirmed when Germany attacked Russia in June 1941. Western Allies showed no interest in Ukraine's struggle for independence, nor in the Ukrainian questions in general.
Ukrainians had no illusions about Germany's intentions regarding their country or other Slavic people. Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was well understood in that regard. Furthermore, the Germans made their intentions known at the very beginning of the occupation of the Ukrainian territory. As soon as the Soviets retreated, Ukrainian independence was proclaimed on June 30, 1941 and a Ukrainian government was created. This was accomplished without the consent of the German authorities, and their reaction to this occurrence was swift. All members of the new Ukrainian government were promptly arrested and sent to concentration camps.
After entering Ukrainian lands, the Germans began to behave arrogantly and brutally toward the Ukrainian population. A ruthless policy of exploitation aimed at people and land resources began without any returning benefits. Young people were rounded up and sent to hard labor camps in Germany. Arrests, executions by hanging and other means were commonplace occurrences, with the victims usually being Ukrainian nationalists, hostages and other innocent people. This cruel and arrogant behavior turned the population against the Germans. And they, blinded by their initial military successes never thought to let Ukrainians participate in the war against the Soviets. The Germans believed that the German soldier alone will be able to smash the Soviet giant without anyone else's help.
The news about the mass extermination of the Jews shocked everybody and its seemed unbelievable that such a heinous crime could be possible in the 20th century. The annexation of Western Ukraine, then called "Galizien" to the administrative unit of Polish territory called "Generalgouvernement" instead of to a similar administrative unit "Kommissariat Ukraine", was perceived as an insult, since Ukrainians were separated for centuries, but always wanted to be united. In these mounting circumstances any cooperation with Germany was ruled out.
The appropriate reaction of the population was not late in coming. Initial hopes for any concessions from Germany disappeared quickly and were replaced by the same spirit of resistance which prevailed previously toward the other oppressors -- Poland and Soviet Russia. Nationalist activists began a resistance movement, went underground forming resistance units, which later consolidated into the UPA (The Ukrainian Insurgent Army). The UPA spearheaded the resistance movement against Germans in Western Ukraine.
In the meantime, the initial luck enjoyed by the German military machine, had turned. At the beginning of the Russian campaign, the soldiers of the Red Army were surrendering en masse to the Germans, expecting to be liberated from the oppressive and hateful Soviet system. However, they became bitterly disappointed. The German POW camps turned out to be instruments of extermination. The prisoners of war were interned behind heavily guarded barbed wire fences, without shelter, and deprived of any sustenance. Most died from hunger, exposure to the elements, and disease. They could have been used as a willing army to fight the Soviets, since their intention when they surrendered was to do so in the first place. The few who escaped this hellish treatment, went back to their comrades and spread the terrible news about the fate of prisoners of war in German camps. Such information had a decisive influence on the fighting morale of the Red Army and from then on its soldiers fought the Germans ferociously, inflicting them with terrible losses. In this manner the total insanity, arrogance and savagery of the Nazis turned their cutting edge against themselves, which was the principal reason of the German defeat in Russia. They could not see the advantage of utilizing in their campaign against the Russians, the potential strength of the great number of people who wanted to destroy the Soviet regime.
The year 1943 brought the German lucky streak to an end. The Red Army was advancing on all fronts, breaking through German front lines in many places and chasing them out of the Soviet territory. The battle for Stalingrad was lost by the Germans. The famous "Afrika Korps", commanded by the legendary General Rommel, were driven out of Africa. There was no doubt at that time that Germany was loosing the war.
In view of that fact, the Ukrainians intended to be well prepared militarily and ready on the scene of the power vacuum, which was expected to occur following the collapse of the two totalitarian monsters. In a situation like this any country with a strong military force would be able to have the final word concerning its destiny. Ukraine's struggle for independence was lost during a power vacuum at the end of World War I because the country did not have a strong military force with which to successfully fight against the invaders. Hence, the creation of their own armed forces became the primary objective for Ukrainians during World War II.
It was at that time that the Division Galicia was created by mutual agreement between Ukrainian leaders, Ukrainian liberation war veterans and the German authorities, who were represented by the governor of Western Ukraine (Galizien), Dr. Otto Waechter. Each side, of course, had its own vested interest in the realization of this agreement. The Germans wanted to get reinforcements to bolster their weakening war effort, while the Ukrainians, in view of the inevitable German defeat, wanted to have a viable military unit as security against the advancing Soviet forces. It looked as if the Red Army, worn down during the protracted war with the Germans, would also collapse towards the end of the war, or in a final confrontation with the Western Allies. Therefore, the agreement with the Germans to create a Ukrainian military force was a risk worth taking.
The motivations of the young people who had joined the Division should be examined more closely. It was obvious that a potentially decisive period in the war was approaching, one that was similar to the one at the end of World War I. It seemed, that Ukrainians were in a worse shape in the 1940-s than their fathers had been in 1918. Currently, they did not have an army or any military force which could defend Ukrainian interests against the rapacious neighbors during this critical time. They had no allies, nor anyone sympathetic to their cause. Therefore, when the opportunity for the creation of a Ukrainian military force presented itself, the young people felt it was their responsibility to join. It was possibly the last chance in that war to create a much needed, modern fighting unit, which could be utilized to defend the Ukrainian cause, and one which would have the potential of becoming the nucleus of a larger military force at a later time.
No one was really enthusiastic about this, since enthusiasm was not warranted in this situation. This new unit was created by the German oppressor and within the framework of the "Waffen SS". There was no way to avoid this, since within the structure of the German armed forces all foreign legions were subordinated to the "Waffen SS". No political concessions or conditions were given to the Ukrainians by the Germans, except two demanded by the Ukrainians. One was that the Division was not to be used against the Western Allies and would only fight the Soviets. The other, required that the spiritual needs of the Division soldiers were to be attended to by the priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, designed as a means of counteracting the Nazi influence. This condition made the Galicia Division unique within the framework of the German military system, since none of the "Waffen SS" units had field chaplains. The Germans granted the above stated conditions and honored”.
Very similar considerations prompted all nations subjugated by the Soviet Union, to create military units within the German armed forces, with the ultimate aim of gaining independence after the collapse of both warring giants. The Latvians and Estonians had their Waffen SS divisions, White-Russians, Georgians and Crimean Tartars had volunteer armed legions, while the largest of all was the Russian Liberation Army under General Vlasov, which consisted of Russians opposed to the Soviet regime.
The other alternative for young Ukrainians was to join the UPA (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army), which had just then begun to consolidate itself into a viable resistance force against the Germans and Soviets. When confronted with the choice of either joining the Division or the UPA, thousands of young people chose the Division. Their reasoning was that the UPA as a guerrilla unit could not offer sufficient military training and experience at a time when wars were fought with tanks, airplanes, artillery and modern technology. The UPA had the potential of being very successful in a guerrilla war and was able to harass the enemy, but was not capable of developing into a regular army or even being the nucleus of one. It was understood, that at the appropriate time the Division would unite with the UPA, since both had the same goal, and then the military know how and experience gained in the Division, could be properly applied. Besides, from the tactical viewpoint, it is always advisable to approach a goal in several different ways in order to insure that at least one way will be successful.
The last alternative, which was totally unacceptable to anyone with any self-esteem, was to sit tight and wait during that terrible time, allowing the external circumstances to dictate the destiny.
The considerations discussed above prompted Ukrainian youth to join the Division. The enemy and even malicious fellow Ukrainians, armed with the hindsight that the Division was not successful in achieving its goal, are trying to attach the labels of German or Nazi "collaborator" to soldiers who served in the Division. Nothing could be further from the truth. Division soldiers were not hopeful for a future within the framework of the "New Europe", which was the official slogan of the German propaganda. With victory in mind, the Nazis made their intentions very clear as to the future and the role of the peoples they conquered. No Ukrainian of integrity could engage in any real collaboration with the Germans, and agree to a subservient status prepared for them by the Nazis. In view of the obvious and imminent German defeat, any thoughts of collaboration with them was nonsensical. Young Ukrainians were joining the Division not with any intentions to help the Germans, but with a clear and well defined purpose of their own. They were going with the Germans to fight their greatest enemy -- Soviet communism. They believed that sooner or later the would have to fight the Soviets anyway. Doing it together with the Germans was the price that had to be paid for weapons, training and experience in a modern war.
Let us now consider the Western Powers who allied themselves with the greatest criminal that ever lived -- Joseph Stalin and his "evil empire" -- in order to defeat another criminal -- Adolf Hitler and his system. Why is the cause of the Allies considered a noble one, despite the fact that victory was achieved with the help of an evil force? By the same token, why is the Division's cause -- a fight for an independent Ukraine and equally noble being downgraded because of the circumstantial association with the enemy of the Allies, which was another evil force? Isn't the alliance of the Western powers with Stalin on the same moral level as the Division's association with the Germans during the war? Is the parity of both causes not obvious here?
There are, however, some significant differences between the two. The first is that through experience Ukrainians discovered much earlier than anyone else what an evil force the Soviet system was. Another, is that the Allies and Stalin won the war, while the Ukrainians were unsuccessful in their struggle for independence. The final difference is that Stalin found many apologists among the liberal intellectuals in the West, and Hitler did not. If the Ukrainians had some other means of defense, other than German weapons, without doubt they would have used them!
We all witnessed how during the last years of the Soviet Union, Stalin's crimes were being put into the proper perspective. Millions, upon millions of innocent victims perished during his reign in a genocide much greater than that inflicted by the Nazis. This, however, was maliciously suppressed by the Western media over the past decades, while the details of the Nazi crimes were eagerly aired.
Veterans of the Division have no reason whatsoever to apologize for the past or to whitewash it. Their conscience is clear. They carried out their military duties honorably and maintained their weapons clean, which was difficult during such a cruel war. Called the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army at the end of the war, the Division was a par excellence fighting unit, which only engaged the Soviet Army in battle, and was never involved in any police action. The complete and comprehensive history of the Division is currently very well documented in the works of recognized historians. Several books have been published about the Division in the English language, as well as in German and Ukrainian. In the 1950s veterans of the Division were legally allowed to emigrate to the United States and Canada, following the full disclosure of their war-time activities.
Ukraine's neighbors, the Poles, in their struggle for independence, have on several occasions created foreign legions, with the aim of freeing themselves from foreign oppression. In 1918 they succeeded, when the Polish legions, created under the auspices of the Austrian Empire and put under the command of Josef Pilsudski, were instrumental in reestablishing the Polish Republic. However, they accomplished this with significant aid from the Western Powers. We should also recall the Polish legions of Dabrowski during the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the II Corps of General Anders during World War II, when both fought in vain without achieving Polish independence. All these efforts were and are still being glorified, so why then is the struggle of the Ukrainian Division, identical in circumstances to that of other nations, being degraded as an act which requires apologies?
One must even now, after half a century, set the record straight and vigorously oppose all attempts to malign and distort this struggle for independence, so honorably pursued by the soldiers of the Division. In the aftermath of the war, the Division veterans were screened, examined, and their records scrutinized many times, even by the Soviets, but no one was able to find anything detrimental against them. Finally, a judicial Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada in 1987, headed by Justice Jules Deschenes, fully exculpated the Division.
The supreme irony here is that the Soviets, victorious in World War II, assumed the roles of judges, while the blood of their innocent victims lay heavy on their hands. The list of their crimes is very, very long indeed. To mention a few: the savagery of Che-Ka (secret police) during the early years of the Russian revolution, massacres in Kyiv and other cities, the artificially engineered famine during the early 1930s in Ukraine, where millions perished, the purges by Stalin, the Gulag camps, the banishment of millions to Siberia, the massacres by the NKVD (another name for secret police) in Lviv, Vynnytsia, Katyn, as well as many other crimes of genocide for which no one is being tried or blamed. No one is prosecuting those who tortured innocent people, or fired the machine guns at mass executions. No one is calling for justice for the crimes committed by the Soviets or by those who collaborated with the Soviet regime.
This information is intended for younger readers, and others who might not be well informed, or were misinformed about the reality of the 1940-s. It is intended for people who may not know the real reason why so many Ukrainians wore the German uniform during the war.
Here the effects of the distortion are evident, as is the bias treatment and interpretation by the Western media of the two holocaust -- one caused by the Nazis, the other by the Soviets. The Soviet-caused crimes and genocide is receiving far lesser attention by the media, which maintained a total silence about it in the past and nowadays it almost borders on suppression, despite the fact that it was far greater in terms of horror and victims than the one wrought by the Nazis. The treatment of these subjects by the media is becoming public opinion, which seeps into acceptance as the truth in the absence of other points of view.
The painful truth is that neither the Division Galicia, not the UPA were able to attain Ukrainian independence during or after the Second World War. Up to that time the historical experience taught that independence could be achieved only by the an armed struggle. Division volunteers, following in the footsteps of their fathers, were ready for the call to arms, which they thought had sounded in 1943.
However, the reality of the last few years proved to be different. A great miracle happened and the "evil empire" collapsed! It lasted for 70 terrible years, but could not continue to last based on lies, by keeping the free spirit enslaved and holding nations captive. Independent Ukraine emerged upon the ruins of the Empire without an armed conflict. In 1991, during a national referendum, the Ukrainian people proclaimed that they wanted to live in an independent Ukrainian state, without the guardianship of the "Older Brother" or that of other neighbors. Independence was opted for by 92 percent of the population, after more than 300 years of occupation by the Russians and much longer by the Poles!
This phenomenal expression of popular will had to be an expression of consent of so many young Ukrainian men and women to pay the ultimate price, as many did before them in the centuries long struggle for independence. Here the latest efforts are described, those that are within the memory of living generations. But on the scale of human values their sacrifice cannot but be the most weighty factor in this unbelievable awakening of the national conscience, which the world has witnessed in 1991 during the Ukrainian referendum. This momentous happening was the result of the vitality, of a vigorous, enduring, all encompassing struggle towards Ukrainian independence nurtured by many efforts of the Ukrainian people for centuries. One of these efforts was also the struggle carried on by the 1-st Division of the Ukrainian National Army.
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