Ukrainians in German Uniforms

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at SPAMgmx.net
Tue Jan 30 10:59:01 MST 2001


>From today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung at:

www.faz.com

Ukrainians in German Uniforms

By Ray Brandon

FRANKFURT. Ukrainian collaboration with the Third Reich remains one of the
most emotionally charged chapters of World War II, even though such
collaboration as existed had little effect on military operations or the
outcome of the war.

The debate has been made all the more contentious by a plethora of
unsubstantiated and often unspecific accusations on the one hand and a
cornucopia of idolizing and vague apologia on the other.

The controversy flared up again earlier in January after a documentary film
about the 14th Armed Grenadier Division of the SS -- also known as the SS
Volunteer Division Galicia -- was aired on the private British television
station ITV. This division, made up mostly of Ukrainians from the region of
Galicia, formed an integral part of the Waffen SS, the combat troops of SS
leader Heinrich Himmler. The authors of the film claim that hundreds -- if
not thousands -- of war criminals were among the 8,200 Ukrainian veterans of
this division who were allowed to immigrate to England in 1947.

Although the real reasons behind the British decision to allow these men to
settle in Britain are not public knowledge, speculation ranges from an
unwillingness to cooperate with Stalin in what were the first years of the
Cold War to the possibility that a few thousand fierce anti-communists with
military training, and hailing from Soviet territory, might come in useful
at a later date.

The theses of director Julian Hendy's film, "SS in Britain," caused a more
than a stir. A member of the House of Lords called on Home Secretary Jack
Straw to find out how the British government could have allowed the SS
soldiers to enter the country without thorough background checks. And
Scotland Yard is now investigating whether there are any war criminals among
the surviving members of the division.

Although war criminals have yet to be found, the Polish government has
called for the extradition of any of those Ukrainians who might eventually
come under the suspicion of having committed any war crimes against Poles.
Mr. Straw is already looking into the scope of his powers under existing
British immigration and nationality law to extradite persons suspected of
having committed war crimes.

Meanwhile, the debate over the history of the division has been filling the
pages of the Polish and Ukrainian press, providing a forum to the Ukrainian
SS division's various defenders and detractors and allowing old stereotypes
to resurface. In an interview with a Polish daily, the president of a
Ukrainian veterans' organization in England dismissed all of the allegations
against his comrades from the SS Division Galicia as "Jewish propaganda that
springs from a traditional hatred of Ukrainians."

But were there war criminals among the soldiers of the SS Division Galicia,
who were allowed to leave prisoner of war camps in Italy and go to England?
The fates of two villages, Huta Pienacka and Chlaniow, cases that also
appear in the film, suggest that there might well have been good reason to
screen at least 1,000 men of the division more carefully than actually
happened.

The first case concerns a village in eastern Galicia, an area that lies
within Ukraine today but was part of Poland before World War II. On Feb. 23,
1944, partisans killed two members from the second battalion of the Galician
SS Volunteer Regiment 4 -- one of five police regiments set up from the
recruits for the SS Division Galicia in the summer and autumn of 1943 and
placed under the command of the German Order Police -- in a skirmish near
Huta Pienacka.

Five days later, units from the battalion returned to the village, under the
impression that partisans were holed up there. The village was razed and the
Polish inhabitants murdered. Postwar Polish investigators estimated that
more than 800 people were killed in the action. Who is responsible for the
massacre, however, is contested.

During a meeting of the Military Board -- the administration of the division
and the police regiments, whose handwritten protocols are stored in the
Central State Archive in Kiev -- a member of the board who witnessed the
events in Huta Pienacka described to his colleagues what he saw: "The attack
began at 6 a.m. The reconnaissance team, about 40 men, led the way. They
fought well and advanced. The attack lasted an hour. They entered the
village, where they remained until 11 a.m. They picked up the two dead men
(the two soldiers from Feb. 23). They found Jews there. Our boys pulled out,
only Germans remained behind -- separate units that pacified the village.
The Poles of Huta had tortured one of our priests, tore out his jaw; they
were killing our peasants."

The Polish side tells a different story. The survivors of the massacre all
insisted in postwar testimony that the perpetrators were Ukrainians in
German uniforms. In two reports to the exile Polish government in London,
the Polish underground blamed the SS Division Galicia. That is not quite
precise since the men under suspicion did not belong to the division yet,
but the accusation could indeed apply to the right "movement" -- as the
governor of the District of Galicia, Otto Wächter, called the SS Division
Galicia and the police regiments together in the newspaper Lemberger
Zeitung.

As early as October 1947, the Polish government asked the United Nations War
Crimes Commission for help in the case. A 1957 issue of Yad Vashem Bulletin,
the journal of the Israeli Holocaust memorial complex and research
institute, published an eyewitness account of the Huta Pienacka massacre,
which was recorded in 1952. There, too, "German and Ukrainian SS men" are
blamed for the attack. The case has never been solved. However, the records
of the German armed forces only mention the presence of the second battalion
of the Galician SS Volunteer Regiment 4 at the village on that fateful day.

In July 1944, the first incarnation of SS Division Galicia was almost
completely wiped out at the battle of Brody. During the reestablishment of
the division, the roughly 400 Ukrainians from the second battalion of
Galician SS Volunteer Regiment 4 are supposed to have gone to filling out
the formation's ranks anew.

While stationed in Slovenia, the division was again reinforced in March 1945
by another 600 men from Auxiliary Police Battalion of the Security Police
and Security Service 31 (SMdS 31). The Security Police and Security Service,
the most dreaded services of the Nazi regime, had established and maintained
such units to help in carrying out the Holocaust and anti-partisan
operations in the vast territories of the Soviet Union.

This particular unit was set up for anti-partisan operations in northwestern
Ukraine in the late summer of 1943 using the remnants of a faction of the
terrorist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The Ukrainians in this
unit called themselves the Ukrainian Self-Defense Legion, although it was in
fact "purely a matter of the Security Police" and the German staff came from
the ranks of the Security Service. This unit appears to have been involved
in an action against Chlaniow, a village due south of Lublin in present-day
eastern Poland.

After the Germans evacuated most of northwestern Ukraine in February 1944,
SMdS 31 was transferred to the Lublin area of Poland, where it took part in
anti-partisan operations. During the German retreat, according the 1970
memoirs of a SMdS 31 veteran living in the West, the unit was ambushed in
the county of Krasnystaw, and the German commander of the unit, Siegfried
Assmuss, was killed in his car during the attack. According to his SS
officer file, he died on July 22, 1944.

A Polish report filed on Sept. 28, 1945, relates how the village of
Chlaniow, Kransnystaw county, was attacked on July 23, 1944. Forty-four
people were killed, including women and children: "The murders occurred
during the retreat as a reprisal action against the local population for a
partisan attack on a German military vehicle in which a German was killed.
Ukrainians in German and Ukrainian uniforms carried out the murders..."

The overlap between the two accounts is not insignificant. However, even
without the hints from the memoirs, however, Polish and Soviet officials
cracked the case in 1969.

Ukrainian prosecutors from the Soviet Union office wrote their Polish
colleagues in April 1969 asking for assistance in an investigation against a
former member of SMdS 31. Among the crime scenes mentioned in their inquiry
was Chlaniow. The Poles were rather surprised by one name in the Soviet
records: a man listed as a platoon leader in SMdS 31 had already been
sentenced by a Polish court in 1953 -- for membership in the SS Division
Galicia, among other things. He was arrested again in April 1969 and
sentenced in December 1970 for crimes committed during his membership in
SMdS 31, including Chlaniow.

The members of SMdS 31 seem to have had a problem with discipline in
general. The commander of a German battalion stationed in Chelm, a town east
of Lublin on the Bug River, recalled in an affidavit filed after the war
how, in spring 1944, "an armed band appeared in front of a customs border
control point south of Hrubieszow (also on the Bug) and began shooting at
and burning down the houses of the Poles there. In accordance with my
orders, the control point began to fire at this unit with two machine guns
and drove them off. According to an investigation into the incident and the
chief customs officer's report to me, this was the Assmuss unit."

Before the former members of the SS Division Galicia entered England, they
were subject to two investigations, one Soviet and the other British. The
division's men refused to cooperate with Soviet delegation that attempted to
investigate them in 1945. A British commission only managed to screen
somewhat more than 200 of the more than 8,200 men on hand in 1947. However,
as this commission's leader reported to the British Foreign Office, his men
had "no machinery whatever for criminal investigation work." The commission
was forced to rely on the Ukrainians themselves for help. Despite these
shortcomings, the results of the investigation were accepted: No war
criminals were found.

No war criminals: This remains the position of the British government. After
many of the division's veterans emigrated to Canada, they found themselves
again subject to accusations of criminal activity during the war. A
commission established to investigate claims that war criminals were living
in Canada was set up and investigated the accusations against the SS
Division Galicia as well. In its final report, the commission wrote: "It has
not been possible, given the time constraints on this report, to examine all
the sources of evidence or even those available in Canada in a comprehensive
way."









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