A DETERMINED GROUP of young men and women in Galicia volunteered in 1943 - 44 to serve in a combat division destined for eastern front combat against the Red Army. Their goal: to engage and destroy the Soviet hordes menacing their homeland and to counter Nazi Germany's subjugation of their country. Although initially Galicia's volunteers would serve in a German sponsored military formation in actuality the volunteers of the Galicia Division wanted to engage all hostile ideologies -- both from the east and west -- in order to secure a free and independent Ukraine.
To volunteer for this combat division which, in due time, would be committed into combat against Moscow's red forces required tremendous loyalty, devotion and bravery. It was not an easy decision.
To begin with, among many Ukrainians in Galicia, strong voices of opposition immediately arose. Stepan Bandera's wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) strongly denounced any proposals for the creation of the Galicia Division. Bandera's followers argued that the Nazis had crushed Ukrainian independence and that many members of the OUN-B had been arrested, deported to concentration camps or shot. Members of Bandera's underground cited how Stepan Bandera was currently confined at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, his two brothers had been imprisoned (and later executed) in the Auschwitz concentration camp and other family members had been arrested and shot in the outskirts of Lviv. "Besides", argued Bandera's followers, "the Nazis are going to lose this war. So why should Ukrainians volunteer for a front-line combat division? What do we get out of this?"
Factually speaking, Bandera's followers had a point. Unknown to them was the fact that in early 1943, Bandera had been taken out of his solitary confinement cell and during an interrogation, asked if he would side with Hitler. Bandera instantly informed his captors that Nazi Germany was going to lose the war and that nothing positive would be gained by siding with Nazi Germany. "So, what do we get out of this?" was the key question posed by Bandera's followers.
Various other Ukrainians also denounced proposals for organizing a Galicia Division. Andrei Melnyk's branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-M), although in general sympathetic to the creation of the Galicia Division, had its share of critics as well. Strong criticism against the creation of the Galicia Division especially came from Oleh Olzhych, OUN-M's underground Deputy Leader. Olzhych argued that the Nazis could not be trusted and as proof, said that with the Nazi arrival in 1941, the OUN-M organization was outlawed, Melnyk himself was arrested, and various members of OUN-M had been arrested, imprisoned and shot.
The anti-Nazi underground journal Za Ukrainsku Derzhavu (For the Ukrainian Nation) also took a strong position against the proposal for the creation of the Galicia Division and until the conclusion of the war in 1945, remained a staunch critic of those who favored and supported the Division. General Roman Shukhevych's Ukrainska Povstanska Armia (UPA) also denounced any proposals for the creation of the Galicia Division. Although in due time Shukhevych's UPA underground would change its position and halt its criticism of the Division, initially UPA took a position against the Galicia Division.
Yet somcthing needed to be done. And in order to understand the situation fully, one needs to examine the situation which faced the Ukrainian inhabitants of Galicia (Halychyna) under the Nazi German occupation.
In the spring of 1943, many Ukrainian leaders were carefully examining and reevaluating the current situation to gain an understanding of what might happen in the near future. Although they feared, hated and opposed Nazism, the Ukrainians also feared hated and opposed Soviet communism. They fully realized that the chances of a German victory, especially after Stalingrad, were slim. What many Ukrainian leaders now hoped to see was a protracted struggle which would weaken both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to the point that both totalitarian powers would be forced to abandon their designs of controlling Eastern Europe.
Many also believed that the United States and Great Britain, in accordance with the Atlantic Charter or out of concern for the balance of power resulting from Soviet Russia's expansionism, would not allow the Soviets to control Eastern Europe once Hitler's Germany was defeated. Galicia's leaders also recalled the "Four Freedoms" address delivered on January 6, 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt to America's Congress which advocated a "just and peaceful world order".
Some Ukrainian leaders believed that once Germany was defeated, a break would immediately occur between the Soviets and the Western Allies. Galicia's national leaders also knew that a military formation could be used politically as well as militarily. With the collapse of one totalitarian power (probably Nazi Germany) and the withdrawal of Soviet Russia, the Ukrainian leaders anticipated a period of uncertainty in the region, much like that witnessed afrer the First World War when both the Imperial Russian and the Austro-Hungarian Empires collapsed. And the Ukrainians knew that one of the main reasons -- if not the main reason -- why the Ukrainian National Republic collapsed was due to its military weakness.
Certain Ukrainian leaders felt that the UPA guerrilla army could fill the need for Ukraine's desperately needed military. But others considered UPA's military value, especially from a conventional military point of view, to be negligible. Because unconventional guerrila groups are frequently difficult to control both militarily and politically, it was argued that a conventional military force was needed. Since it was also argued that thousands of Ukrainians were already in Germany's military, it would therefore be more advantageous to the Ukrainian cause to have their manpower concentrated in a distinct Ukrainian formation rather than scattered throughout various non-Ukrainian units.
|Parade for Galicia Division recruits, July 18, 1943 in Lviv, Ukraine.|
Regardless of how one viewed the situation, the general agreement was that a military force of some Kind or another was needed. And a number of Galicia's Ukrainian leaders felt that they had to seize the chance to organize a professional military force for both immediate and future events and needs. And once organized, a sizable Ukrainian force could be used against any opponent and even, if necessary, against the Germans who originally had sponsored the raising of the Galicia Division.
One of the key players in this entire matter was Dr. Volodymyr Kubiyovych. As the head of the Ukrainian Central Committee (UCC), a non-political organization which arose under the Nazi occupation to control the refugee situation and promote -- as much as possible -- educational, vocational and technical schooling and training to the various refugees, Kubiyovych instantly realized that here arose an opportunity to exploit the Ukrainian cause.
It must be pointed out that had Kubiyovych, or anyone else within the UCC, been against this project, their protests would not have mattered. Despite his leadership position in the UCC, Kubiyovych was in no position to alter the events in the spring of 1943. Besides, European events were moving swiftly, and the German authorities would have been able to recruit a sufficient number of volunteers on an anti-communist theme. Fully realizing this, Kubiyovych went along with the project in the hope that through it, he could improve the desperate Ukrainian position in Galicia. In his post-war writings, Kubiyovych said that he felt that once the Galicia Division was raised, Hitler himself might reconsider his racist policy toward the Ukrainians (as Untermensch sub-humans -- Ed.) and, perhaps would have even accepted some form of Ukrainian statehood; if not, at least for the time being perhaps the harshness of Nazi rule would diminish. Additionally, in the spring of 1943, Ukrainian leaders learned that Poland's Governor-General Frank (who also controlled the District of Galicia), planned to conduct a mass deportation of the Ukrainian people from various areas of Western Ukraine in the summer of 1943 to make room for German colonists. With a sizable military force, Kubiyovych knew that the Ukrainians would be able to halt any such plans.
Of importance to note is that when Galicia's Governor-General, Otto Wachter, approached Heinrich Himmler, the head of the entire SS, with a proposal to create a front-line combat division from recruits within Galicia proper, Himmler at first did not know what to do. But shortly afrer speaking to Adolf Hitler himself, Himmler gave Wachter the green light and ordered the creation of the 14th Waffen SS Grenadier Division Galicia.
Despite Himmler's position as the head of the SS, voices of opposition immediately arose against his orders. Among Himmler's critics stood Erich Koch, the brutal leader of Ukraine; Karl Wolfe one of the top directors of Nazi Germany's Central Security Department; SS General Kurt Daleuge and 'Gebietskommissar' Harter. Harter especially emphasized the events of 1918 when arms provided by the German Army to the Ukrainians proved to be dangerous. Harter charged: "Arms meant for the Ukrainians in the Galicia Division would be utilized against the Germans.' There is the memory of what happened in 1918. In a moment of opportunity, they'll turn their [German] provided arms against Germans."
|Bishop Josephat Kotsylovsky blesses the Division.|
Despite his critics, Himmier stood firm. The Galicia Division was established.
As in the case of many of the other foreign Waffen SS volunteer forces within the German Army in World War II, problems immediately arose in securing enough volunteers. While in general the Ukrainian population in Galicia was sympathetic towards the creation of such a force, problems immediately arose in the effort to obtain enough recruits.
To volunteer for army service -- any service under any circumstances -- takes a degree of inner toughness. But to volunteer knowing that soon one would be committed into combat, requires much more inner strength.
Despite the massive pre-induction rallies, despite the high volunteer figures, when the time came to go, a very sizable number of "volunteers" simply avoided service. One began to hear: "And what guarantees do the Germans offer? ...I will no longer enter the division. ...Instead I'll join the UPA." Of importance to note is that in the aftermath of World War II, these same individuals were among the very first critics of the Galicia Division. Yet, their criticism only fell on deaf ears; within Galicia, enough volunteers (16,000 -- Ed.) came forward to establish a Division. And the rest is now history.
|Ukrainian Orchestra of the 1st Galicia Division.|
Probably the most complicated and fascinating matter in the aftermath of World War II regarding the Galicia Division (known in the concluding days of the war in 1945 as the First Ukrainian Division) are the numerous so-called "war crimes" charged against it. In the aftermath of World War II, but especially in the period of the 1970s and 1980s, the Galicia Division had many accusations made against it.
The Division was trained and became operational in 1944. The Galicia Division has been accused of committing "war crimes" in Norway in 1943, of participating in the shooting of innocent lives at Kiev's Babyn Yar in 1941; suppressing the heroic Jewish Warsaw revolt in April-May, 1943; of suppressing the Polish Warsaw uprising of 1944; of fighting in May 1944 in Italy against the allies at Monte Cassino; of being a part of the German 6th Army in 1942 with the mission of "cleansing" the rear area of the 6th Army. Committed into combat in the City of Stalingrad itself, the Division was largely destroyed and its remnants surrendered in January 1943; guarding the concentration camp of Auschwitz, Dachau, Belsen-Bergen, Mathausen; of killing innocent people in the cities of Odessa, Ukraine, Minsk, Byelorussia; of committing "war crimes" in the City of Lviv from 1943-45; and so forth. [Many of these accusations relate to events which happened long before the Division became operational in July 1944 and in places where the Division had never been. -- Editor]
Of importance to note are the numerous contradictions in these accusations against the Galicia Division regarding so-called "war crimes." Of course, every propagandist had his say. But despite the many numerous contradictions, in the end, none can be substantiated. Indeed, in some cases, the accusations are so sensational that in themselves they become totally worthless. But most importantly, all the accusationa are groundless, unreliable, very contradictive and cannot be substantiated. But as the years continue to go by there is no end to the falsehoods. Unfortunately, for the time being, these accusations will only continue.
Yet, as is always the case, the truth slowly emerges. Already various works have appeared which have shown the Galicia Division in its true light They are informative and portray accurately the Division's history. The Galicia Division will, in the end, find its rightful place in history.
Michael Logusz is the author of the authoritative history Galicia Division: The Waffen-SS 14th Grenadier Division, 1943-1945. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997 558 p. illus. (Schiffer, 4880 Lower Valley Rd. Atglen PA 19310, FAX: (610) 593-2002
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© 1998-1999 Michael O. LoguszReprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 99, Fall-Winter 1998-1999