Reprinted with permission of the author.
The subject of Ukrainian collaboration in the Nazi-directed genocide of the European Jews is a minefield. (1) Over the past decade it has several times erupted into public controversy (notably over the Deschênes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada, the trial of John Demjanjuk in Israel and the television broadcast "The Ugly Face of Freedom" ["60 Minutes"] in the United States). (2) The rhetoric on both the Ukrainian and Jewish sides of these controversies can reach an uncomfortably high pitch. Even the scholarly literature on the subject is sharply polarized. (3) The issue is not only sensitive, but devilishly complex. Moreover, it is an issue with insufficient monographic research behind it; it is only apprehendable from the sources, which are multilingual, widely scattered and frustratingly contradictory.
Given the context in which it is written, this article is necessarily exploratory and its conclusions tentative. It is offered, within these limitations, as a case study of the problem of continuity versus contingency in the perpetration of the genocide against the Jews, that is, as an attempt to sort out the long-term from the short-term factors inducing Ukrainians to collaborate in the extermination of the Jewish population, to examine the time frame in which the circumstances and attitudes facilitating collaboration were formed.
Readers should take note of two important distortions that are inevitable given the specific focus of this investigation.
First, because the investigation requires a focus on participation in genocide, it may give the impression that such participation was more widespread in the Ukrainian population than it in fact was. It is therefore necessary to state explicitly and formally that it is not the purpose of this article to attempt to delineate the extent of Ukrainian collaboration. Rabbi David Kahane in his memoirs recounts that many Jews from Lviv were able to jump off the train that was taking them to Belzec. "Some peasants took pity on the jumpers, fed them, and showed them the way back to the city. Other peasants turned them over to the Ukrainian police or the Gestapo." (4) For the purposes of this article, only the motivations of the latter peasants are important, while those of the former are irrelevant; but because the peasants who fed and helped the jumpers do not figure in this specialized investigation does not mean that they did not historically exist. (5)
Secondly, since the article deals with factors which might explain collaboration in mass murder, it risks giving the impression of an exculpation, in conformity with the widely held principle that to understand is to forgive. It is, though, an underlying assumption of this article that understanding is important enough in its own right (and particularly with regard to so traumatic a historical event as the Holocaust) to be worth taking risks for. It should also be noted in this connection that the main aim of the article is not to elaborate upon explanatory factors, but to place these factors within a timeframe in order to contribute to the discussion about how deeply rooted historically were the conditions and preconditions of the annihilation of the Jews of Europe.
The main body of the article is divided into four parts.
part registers factors that seem to have little connection to any
particular period of history, that seem to be universal or timeless or
part of "human nature." The rest of the article treats of the
historical genesis of the factors. For convenience of exposition,
I have divided the
genesis into three large periods, but more complex divisions could
be made. The three periods are: the period of the war and the
preceding two decades (the 1920s, 30s and 40s), the period of the
national movement (the nineteenth and early twentieth century) and the
period of what might be called primary cultural accumulation (the
medieval and early modern
eras). The conclusions will offer a summary balance of the
of the different periods to the formation of attitudes and conditions
conducive to collaboration in the Nazi persecution and destruction of
Whether any human trait is truly "timeless" is open to question, but the intention here is to point to some factors motivating collaboration that are not easy for historians to analyze with their customary tools, that seem to stand apart from the process of history and yet influence it. Two such factors stand out with reference to collaboration in the Holocaust: greed and sadism. For the purposes of this article they are defined respectively as a desire for material gain that transcends established norms for keeping this desire in check and as a psychological disposition that derives pleasure from inflicting pain and death.
The Holocaust provided numerous opportunities for the enrichment of the non-Jewish population at the expense of the doomed Jewish population. The expulsion of the Jews from their homes to the ghettos and their exclusion from many branches of the economy improved the living quarters and livelihoods of the many Gentiles--primarily Germans and Ukrainians in Ukraine--who took their places. It gave large numbers of the non-Jewish population a certain investment in the Final Solution. But benefiting in this way from the Holocaust must be distinguished from active participation in the destruction of the Jews motivated by a desire for material gain. The Holocaust created conditions in which certain greed-driven crimes could be committed with impunity (or relative impunity) as long as they were committed against Jews. The wave of pogroms that swept the western regions of the Soviet Union shortly after the German invasion provided an opportunity to loot, in spite of attempts by the German military authorities to prevent this. (6) Once more systematic persecution began, Jews outside the ghettos were exposed to robbery perpetrated by brigands. (7) Greed also motivated some to volunteer for positions in the Ukrainian police or in the watch battalions of concentration and death camps, both of which provided opportunities for enrichment through bribes and extortion. (8)
There were also those who participated in Nazi crimes because they were initially attracted by or subsequently developed a delight in cruelty and murder. The Greek Catholic metropolitan of Halych, Andrei Sheptytsky, was particularly concerned about the cultivation of sadistic proclivities among Ukrainians who took part in Nazi-directed political murder. In his pastoral letter of 21 November 1942, he wrote:
[The murderer] not only killed his neighbor, but he deprived his soul of supernatural life, of God's grace, and led it into an abyss from which perhaps there will be no salvation! For by shedding innocent blood he perhaps summoned in his soul the demons of lust, which say to him to seek his own joy in the sufferings and pains of his neighbor.The metropolitan's analysis of the role of sadistic impulses in perpetration has recently been borne out by a study of a German reserve police battalion and how its members coped with participation in mass executions, primarily of Jews. (10) There is, it seems, always a sector of the population in whom sadism is active or latent.
The sight of the shed blood calls forth in the human soul a sensual lust, linked with cruelty, which seeks satisfaction in dealing suffering and death to its victims. Bloodthirstiness can become such a passion, unconstrained, that its greatest pleasure is to torture and kill people....Crime becomes for [the bloodthirsty murderer] a necessary daily nourishment without which he suffers and is tormented as if he were suffering from some sickness of thirst and hunger which he must satisfy. (9)
In normal historical situations, active sadists would be
marginalized as criminal elements and latent ones would not become
active; similarly, in normal historical situations, greed would in most
cases not lead to robbery or extortion. But during the Nazi
occupation of Ukraine, criminality moved from the margins of society to
its center, and individuals with an inclination to rob, extort and kill
were not lost in the larger crowd of
humanity, but stepped to the fore. Thus, although certain
factors were at work in the disposition to become a perpetrator, it was
circumstances of the Nazi occupation that magnified the importance of
factors out of proportion. By no means were all the Ukrainians
collaborated in the destruction of the Jews individuals with criminal
such as described here, but it is important to be cognizant of the
participation of such individuals in the mass murder and to understand
that it was the particular conjuncture that raised them to an unusual
The Nazi occupation not only created the general conditions in which certain types of criminal behaviour flourished, but it created special conditions for Ukrainians. There is a popular saying that crime consists of 1 percent motivation and 99 percent opportunity. Ukrainians were afforded extraordinary opportunities by the Nazis. In line with their racialist thinking, the Nazis made judgments about the worth and capacities of the various nationalities over whom they ruled. Their judgments about Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Latvians were that these peoples were particularly suited for work in the destruction process. It seems that it was the notorious Otto Globocnik who was responsible for making the decision that members of precisely these three nationalities would be recruited as "Hiwis" (from Hilfwillige, "volunteers") to clear ghettos and to conduct mass executions. (11) Ukrainians and Balts, generally former Soviet POWs, were also deliberately recruited to serve as guards in concentration and death camps. The Ukrainian police, unlike the Polish police, for example, were routinely assigned to participate in ghetto clearings and mass executions. (12) The Nazis' thinking was that the Ukrainians (and the Baltic nationalities) were, owing to historical circumstances, particularly anti-Bolshevik, and therefore anti-Semitic, and, moreover, sufficiently primitive to perform whatever dirty work was required. (13) Perhaps for this reason the Nazis decided to instigate the wave of pogroms that encompassed all the western territories of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. In these pogroms tens of thousands of Jews perished at the hands of the non-Jewish local population. The Nazis attempted nothing similar to this anti-Jewish violent mass mobilization in any other territory they held. Even if one does not agree fully with Raul Hilberg's assessment that "truly spontaneous pogroms, free from Einsatzgruppen influence, did not take place; all outbreaks were either organized or inspired by the Einsatzgruppen," (14) it is unambiguously clear from the German documentation that most of the pogroms were incited by the Germans themselves and by local agents working on their instructions. (15)
Although the Nazis considered Ukrainians to be, as it were, natural allies in the war against the Jews, experience showed them that it was not always possible to count on their collaboration. (16) They therefore expended considerable effort on propaganda to intensify anti-Jewish feeling. Here only a few examples can be mentioned. In Zhytomyr, where the population was particularly reluctant to help in the destruction of the Jews, the Nazis staged something like a Stalinist show trial in which a Jew (a certain Kieper) who had served in the GPU confessed to over 1350 murders, which he committed to "give vent to his hatred for everything that was not Jewish." He had his favorite methods for killing his victims and was not above using his rifle butt to smash the foot of a baby nursing at her mother's breast. Instead of a public trial, however, Kieper was given a public execution. His crimes were described on two large posters placed on the gallows. Before the execution his crimes were announced in Ukrainian and German from a loudspeaker van. Given the Stalinist cultural context, the show execution must have produced a considerable resonance among the population. At any rate, the organizers of the spectacle (Einsatzgruppe C) were themselves quite satisfied with what they had achieved and recommended it as a model for others to follow. (17) A particularly effective propaganda device, used in conjunction with the inciting of the pogroms in the summer of 1941, was to bring the local population to prisons and mass graves to view the (often mutilated) corpses of Soviet political prisoners. Jews were also paraded out, forced to clean the corpses and accused of responsibility for the atrocities. (18) Aside from the orchestration of such major spectacles, the Nazis, of course, made use of the press, which they controlled and watched closely, to fan anti-Jewish sentiment; for example, on the eve of the final liquidation of the Galician Jews, the Nazis ordered the two major Ukrainian papers of the Generalgouvernement ( Krakivs'ki visti and L'vivs'ki visti) to run a series of anti-Semitic articles. (19)
In addition to persuasion, the Nazis used coercion to encourage Ukrainians to assume the role of perpetrators. Coercion to this end (as opposed to the more general coercion aimed at discouraging the population at large from aiding Jews) was selectively aimed at recruiting Ukrainians, particularly Soviet POWs, to serve as guards in concentration and death camps, perhaps also to serve as Hiwis. No systematic study of the recruitment of these categories of perpetrators has been undertaken, but the fragmentary evidence is suggestive. In his study of Jewish resistance in Poland, Shmuel Krakowski recounts the following:
In December , about 300 Soviet prisoners came to the camp in Lipowa Street [Lublin]. After a short stay in the camp, they were given Nazi uniforms and incorporated into the guard units (Wachtbattailonen). They took part in the liquidation of the ghettos in the Lublin area and of Lublin itself. It was from them that the Jewish prisoners found out that 100,000 Soviet prisoners-of-war had been killed near Chelm Lubelski, where they had been kept out in the open in a field surrounded by a high voltage fence. The prisoners were given no food for several weeks, and many starved to death. The extreme hunger led to cases of cannibalism. Only a few hundred of the very strong survived, and they were given the option of serving the Germans. (20)Perhaps related, if not so extreme applications of coercion explain why the Ukrainian guards sometimes collaborated with the Jewish resistance organizations, as was the case at the Plaszów concentration camp, where over 300 Jews and sixteen Ukrainian guards escaped together, and occasionally also at Sobibór. (21)
Thus far this article has concentrated on conjunctural factors introduced by the Nazis during the occupation of Ukrainian territory. It remains to discuss two other factors in which the Nazi role was not as prominent.
The first of these is that there was a pro-German orientation in the Ukrainian nationalist movement, at least in the initial stages of the German-Soviet war, and an even stronger and more persistent anti-Soviet animus. In the understanding of Ukrainian nationalists, the chief enemies of their nation were Communist Russia and Poland. In the late 1930s they looked for deliverance to Hitler, who was anti-Polish and anti-Soviet and who seemed determined to redraw the map of Europe in accordance with the ethnic principle (the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, the autonomy and then independence of Slovakia, the autonomy of Carpatho-Ukraine). Moreover, certain Nazi circles, notably those around Alfred Rosenberg, cultivated Ukrainian sympathies and held out the prospect of a large, independent Ukrainian state to be closely associated with Germany. When Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the nationalists' hopes seemed on the verge of fulfillment. At the behest of Stepan Bandera, the leader of the revolutionary wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Volodymyr Stakhiv wrote to Hitler on 23 June 1941 to express confidence that the German campaign would "destroy the corrupting Jewish-Bolshevik influence in Europe and finally break Russian imperialism" and to point out that "the restoration of an independent national Ukrainian state along the lines of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty will firmly establish the ethnic ( völkische) new order in Eastern Europe."(22) The letter fairly accurately captures the mood of the nationalists. The reference to the "Jewish-Bolshevik influence" was not a stock phrase of Ukrainian nationalism, which tended to identify Bolshevism more with Russians than Jews, but an indication that the nationalists were willing to accommodate Nazi anti-Semitism.
The pro-German orientation of Ukrainian nationalism remained in this pristine state only for a few weeks. In July 1941 the Germans arrested the leaders of the Bandera movement after the latter attempted to proclaim the restoration of an independent Ukrainian state. Not only did the Germans disallow Ukrainian statehood, but they incorporated Galicia, where Ukrainian nationalism was most deeply rooted, into the General gouvernement (i.e., the former Poland) on 1 August 1941 and entrusted the Reichskommissariat Ukraine to the self-proclaimed "brutal dog" Erich Koch. Mistreatment and mass murders of Ukrainian POWs and civilians further estranged the nationalists from the Nazis. However, there was the lingering feeling among many nationalists that for Ukrainians the lesser evil was Hitler, the greater evil Stalin. (23) The pro-German orientation of the organized national movement of course facilitated perpetration, although probably, except perhaps in some of the pogroms of the first weeks, not directly. What it probably did do, however, was create an atmosphere in which compliance with the Germans in all matters, including perpetration, was psychologically easier.
Even with the decline of the pro-German orientation, the anti-Soviet sentiments of the nationalists remained high throughout the war. (24) This put them at odds with the Jews of the region, who naturally placed their own hopes for survival in a return of Soviet power. (25) Although inadequately documented, it is reasonable to assume that the Bandera partisan movement, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)--like its Polish counterpart, the Home Army (AK)--liquidated Jewish partisan bands because they were pro-Communist. (26) In addition, the Ukrainians, like the Poles of the Eastern Borderlands, believed that the Jews had worked closely with the Soviets during their occupation of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus in 1939-41. In Western Ukraine, the Nazi propaganda that identified Jews and Bolshevism met with some success.
The second conjunctural factor in which the Nazis played a
contributory, rather than primary role, and the last of the
conjunctural factors to be discussed in this article, is the
circumstance that for Ukrainians the mass murder of the Jews did not
stand out as an extraordinary event in the same way that it would have
for most other European peoples. The Ukrainians had become inured
to mass political violence in the decades preceding the Holocaust, and
it is fair to speculate that this had an impact on the national
psychology and political culture. The Austro-Hungarian political
and military authorities had incarcerated in concentration camps and
summarily executed tens of thousands of their own Ukrainian citizens
War I on suspicion of pro-Russian sympathies. The Ukrainians
Polish rule suffered "pacification" actions in the 1930s. These
to large-scale, state-directed pogroms. Although the loss of life
was relatively limited, beatings and the destruction of property took
on a grand scale. During their occupation of the formerly Polish
Ukrainian territories in 1939-41, the Soviet authorities resettled
close to half a
million Poles to the east and conducted mass arrests of Ukrainians,
of whom were liquidated immediately after the outbreak of the
German-Soviet war. In Soviet Ukraine mass political violence
became commonplace in the 1930s. Hundreds of thousands of
"kulaks" were arrested and deported, millions perished in the famine of
1933, almost the entire Ukrainian intelligentsia was exiled or executed
and mass killing operations were conducted in places such as Vinnytsia
and the Bykivnia forests. Thus by the time the Nazis arrived, the
Ukrainians may already have come to regard mass violence as a
more normal component of the political environment than other European
did. However, even Nazi violence was more extreme in Ukraine than
was in many other regions under Nazi rule and much of it was directed
Ukrainians (particularly prisoners of war, but also the civilian
Several Western scholars have pointed out that the exceptionally
conditions of the Nazi occupation in the east had the effect of
deadening the sensitivities of the local population to the particular
the Jews. (27) In fact,
the observation seems to call for expansion: the preceding,
Soviet, violence as well as the violence of the Nazi occupation in
in the east not only must have desensitized the local population to the
extermination of the Jews, but must have reduced inhibitions to
in the extermination process.
Long-Term Factors with Roots in the Era of Nationalism
As many East European peoples, the Ukrainians underwent a "national revival" in the nineteenth century, with the result that nationalism occupied an important place in the worldview of many Ukrainians. The nationalist worldview permeated Ukrainian society most thoroughly in Austrian-ruled Galicia, where it had become hegemonic by the turn of the century. (28) The success of the national movement was more limited in Dnieper Ukraine, owing to the obstacles put in its way by the tsarist government. The revolution of 1905, the collapse of tsarism, the revolutionary events of 1917-20 and the policy of ukrainization in Soviet Ukraine in the 1920s all, however, contributed to a broadening and deepening of the movement in Dnieper Ukraine. The Stalinist persecutions of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the 1930s set the movement back again. (29) Thus when the Germans entered Ukraine in the summer of 1941, Galicia was largely nationalist in outlook, while Dnieper Ukraine was markedly less so.
There were elements of the nationalist worldview in general and certain peculiarities of its formation in Galicia that seem to have come into play in connection with collaboration in anti-Jewish actions.
To begin with the most obvious, nationalism divides the world into collectivities of nations and ascribes collective characteristics and collective responsibility to members of nations. It is thus a worldview that could without much difficulty assimilate the Nazi view that the Jews formed a race with certain collective characteristics and collective responsibility. From the pure nationalist perspective as well as from the Nazi perspective, a Jewish child was above all a Jew, not a child. Nationalism drew a distinct line between "us" and "the other," with solidarity limited to the "us" and assessment of "the other" from the viewpoint of its relation to "us." The nationalist perspective generalized from the behavior of certain individuals to the whole of the national collectivity and back from this whole to other individuals whose behavior had never in fact been observed. The Nazis appealed to this type of reasoning continually in order to justify their own anti-Jewish actions or to encourage others to commit them. A characteristic example of the former was the aftermath to the Kieper affair in Zhytomyr: the Einsatzgruppe followed up the execution of Kieper with the shooting of 402 Zhytomyr Jews. A characteristic example of the latter was the device of bringing randomly selected Jews to the sites of Soviet mass killings in order to instigate a pogrom.
The nationalist perspective played an important role in the development of the view that the Jews as a group had collaborated closely with the Soviet authorities, and particularly with the Soviet secret police, during the first Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine in 1939-41. It is difficult to establish the facts of what happened during this period, although considerable progress has been made recently in sorting them out. (30) It seems reasonable to assume that the Soviet occupation authorities relied somewhat disproportionately on Jews among the local urban population, since the Poles, who constituted the plurality of the urban population, were earmarked for displacement and deportation and the Ukrainians constituted a decided minority in the cities and those Ukrainians who were in the cities tended to be members of the intelligentsia imbued with a nationalist and anti-Soviet outlook. It also seems reasonable to assume that pro-Soviet sympathies were more widespread among the Jewish community than among the Ukrainian community and that the type of anti-Sovietism that permeated Ukrainian society was not so common among Jews. Although these are reasonable assumptions, they are not borne out by any evidence, and in fact the evidence points to a Soviet administration staffed overwhelmingly by Ukrainians, largely imported from the Central and Eastern Ukrainian territories, but including locals, especially in the countryside, and to the development of anti-Soviet feelings among Jews as a result of the expropriation of their businesses and the suppression of their national organizations. How does one account, then, for the stereotype of the Soviet-abetting Jews? The probable answer lies in the nationalist way of thinking. The collaboration of individual Jews with the Soviet authorities would be generalized so that "the Jews" would be seen as Soviet collaborators. On the other hand, the same collaboration of numerous individuals of Ukrainian nationality would be completely excepted from generalization, since this would be inadmissible from the nationalist standpoint, which sees one's own nation in ideal terms; deviants from the nationalist ideal would be conceived of as "exceptions" and, more frequently, "traitors," in any case not at all representative of the nation as a whole.
The image of the Jews as collaborators with the Soviets was probably also reinforced by the traditional Ukrainian nationalist image of the Jews as inveterate collaborators with the Ukrainians' national enemies. This view was rooted in historical reality. For all of the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century Ukrainians constituted a submerged nationality in which another nationality controlled the state apparatus and also dominated cultural life. The goal of the Ukrainian national movement was to change this situation so that Ukrainians possessed both political and cultural authority. The Jews, however, tended to support the dominant political nationality and assimilate to the dominant national culture. Characteristically, assimilated Jews spoke German and later Polish in Galicia, Magyar and later Czech in Transcarpathia, German and later Romanian in Bukovina and Russian in the rest of Ukraine. In the Polish- Ukrainian national conflict in Austrian Galicia, they sided with the Poles until the early twentieth century, and in the Russian- Ukrainian conflict during the revolution, they tended to side with the Russians. The Jews were protecting their interests as a vulnerable minority; there was also little assimilative attraction for them in either Ukrainian society, composed so overwhelmingly of peasants, or in Ukrainian culture. During the Holocaust the image of Jews as allies of the Ukrainians' enemies primarily referred to Jewish sympathies with the Soviets. The image (or in the following case, the actual role) was also more general. During the Ukrainian-Polish irregular war that was conducted as a shadow conflict within World War II, some Jewish partisans sided with the Polish side and therefore were attacked by forces associated with the Bandera movement. (31)
The view of Jews as cultural and political allies of the Ukrainians' enemies was only one component of the image of the Jews that had been constructed within the Ukrainian national movement prior to the Second World War. The other major component was socio-economic, the view of Jews as the exploiters of the Ukrainian people. This subject will be examined in the next section, however.
Ukrainian nationalism incorporated little modern anti- Semitic ideology. (32) The main thrust of the Ukrainian struggle was directed against Russians and Poles; the Jews were merely adjunct. Ukrainian nationalism never developed the fully articulated anti-Semitism that existed in Polish, Russian, Hungarian or Romanian nationalisms. (33) Ukrainians and Ukrainian nationalists may have disliked Jews, but they did so on traditional or on real-political grounds; rarely would they demonize Jews or place them at the center of some conspiracy. None the less, in the era of nationalism anti-Semitic ideology was widespread in Eastern Europe, and certainly the Ukrainians were frequently exposed to it, even if they did not incorporate it into their own nationalist discourse. In some cases, anti- Semitism was a major component of the ideology of nationalist movements with which the Ukrainian national movement engaged in intense conflict, such as Polish National Democracy in Austrian Galicia and interwar Poland and the Russian Black Hundreds in tsarist Ukraine. In certain states within which the Ukrainians found themselves, anti-Semitism suffused the political culture (late imperial Austria, imperial Russia, interwar Poland, interwar Romania). This constant exposure to anti-Semitic ideology probably facilitated its acceptance when it was also espoused, in a more lethal form, by the German occupation authorities.
Finally, there is a peculiarity of the way that nationalism developed among the Ukrainians of Galicia that seems to have had a major effect on participation in the annihilation of the Jewish population. It is useful to return again to a diagnosis made by the head of the Greek Catholic church, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. In a number of his pastoral letters, beginning in 1907 (34) and continuing through the pastoral letter of 1942 cited earlier, Sheptytsky identified a moral defect in the Ukrainian national movement in Galicia: it practiced "politics without God." By this he meant that it sometimes acted in the erroneous conviction "that politics frees a person from the obligation of Divine law and justifies crime...." (35) Before the Nazi occupation, Sheptytsky chiefly had in mind nationalist acts of terrorism, and in particular politically motivated assassinations. What he discerned was that the principle of the end justifying the means had somehow gone too far within the political culture of Galician Ukrainian nationalism. It is not the place here to explore in any detail the roots of this "politics without God," but probably it can be dated back to a critical experience of the late 1860s through mid 1870s when the Galician intelligentsia, then largely Russophile in outlook, participated in and encouraged the forcible conversion of the Chelm eparchy to Russian Orthodoxy, acting as accessories to violations of conscience, murder and mass exile in order to achieve a political end. (36) In any case, the radical dissociation of politics from ethics was a discernible strain in the Galician Ukrainian national movement decades before the Holocaust.
During the Holocaust, however, this dissociation could, and did, have particularly grievous consequences. A remarkable example is the decision by the Bandera movement to infiltrate the Ukrainian police units set up by the Germans. Although the police units were at first largely recruited from the pre-existing police forces, volunteers were also accepted, especially after the Germans realized that the pre-existing police formations, particularly in the pre-1939 Soviet Ukraine, included a large number of Communist party members in their ranks. The Bandera movement, that is, the radical wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, was intent on establishing a Ukrainian state and understood that it needed an armed force to achieve this goal. Participation in the police units would provide Ukrainian nationalists with some training and with arms. Indeed, the thousands of Ukrainian policemen who deserted in the fall of 1942 contributed immensely to the formation of the Bandera-dominated UPA. (37) Prior to that the Bandera movement had virtually taken over a police academy in Rivne, where the Banderites stockpiled weapons and taught recruits to prepare for "a war of liberation of Ukraine against Germany" until their activities were uncovered by the Germans in the spring of 1942. (38) The nationalists of the Bandera movement reckoned that as the front moved eastward, relatively few German forces would be left in Ukraine. At that point, the Ukrainian police could overwhelm the German civil administration ("If there were fifty policemen to five Germans, who would hold power then?"). (39)
Of course, infiltrating the Ukrainian police formations meant
taking part in anti-Jewish actions. Apparently, this did not
constitute an obstacle of conscience for the radical
nationalists. In fact, taking part in some actions was probably
useful, since weapons could be confiscated during ghetto clearings and
added to the stockpile. (40)
When the Germans discovered the stockpiles associated with the Rivne
academy, the members of the Bandera movement denied that they were
theirs and said they belonged to Jews. (41) According to the Germans, to finance their
activities, the Banderites raised some of their contributions from
Jews, whom they
often blackmailed. (42) On
other hand, the Bandera movement provided some Jews with false papers.
(43) The impression created
the German documentation is that the extreme Ukrainian nationalists
so indifferent to the fate of the Jews (44) that they would either kill them or help them,
whichever was more appropriate to their political goals. Morality
(Sheptytsky's "obligation of Divine law") did not enter into the
Long-Term Factors with Medieval and Early Modern Roots
Of the factors facilitating collaboration whose roots can be traced back centuries, the preeminent one was the socio-economic antagonism between Ukrainians and Jews. This was an antagonism dating back to the early modern era, when Jews served as lessees and managers of estates and manorial appurtenances, while Ukrainians were enserfed peasants living under extremely oppressive conditions. The hard feelings engendered by this situation resulted in several bloody massacres of Jews by Ukrainian Cossacks and peasants, notably during the Cossack uprising led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky in the middle of the seventeenth century and during the Haidamaka uprisings of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century the antagonism underwent some fundamental transformations, but remained salient. Serfdom was abolished, but the penetration of a money economy into the Ukrainian countryside gave rise to new conflicts in which Jewish moneylenders, tavernkeepers and shopkeepers found themselves at odds with Ukrainian peasants, priests and aspiring petty bourgeois. (45) The unscrupulous Jew plying the simple peasant with drinks in order eventually to foreclose on his land became a stock figure of popular Ukrainian political literature.
Certainly the realities that lay behind the antagonism had been considerably reduced during the decades immediately preceding the Holocaust. In Soviet Ukraine the whole economic structure had been transformed, but it is likely that elements of the old antagonism resurfaced whenever a Ukrainian peasant encountered a Jew entrusted with grain requisition. In interwar Galicia the development of the Ukrainian cooperative movement and the success of the temperance movement were phenomenal; moreover, interwar Poland was much more hostile to Jewish economic activity than had been prewar Austria--all of which must have drastically lowered the incidence of Ukrainian-Jewish socio-economic conflict.
Memories, however, especially memories encoded in the national worldview, can outlast realities: In the anti-Jewish articles contributed by Ukrainian authors to Krakivs'ki visti in the summer of 1943, the most common theme was that Jews were responsible for the immiseration of the Ukrainian peasantry (the next most common theme was that the Jews aided the Soviets in 1939-41). (46)
The persistence of the socio-economically motivated resentment of the Jews into the time of the Holocaust of course strengthened the image of the Jew as an inimical "other," with whom, therefore, one need have no solidarity, whose removal, in fact, would be welcome. Moreover, the rather widespread notion that Jews became rich through cheating and exploiting Ukrainian peasants must have served to lessen inhibitions about robbing or blackmailing them.
Another factor reaching back centuries, in this case close to a millennium, is the religious one. The idea that there is a continuum of anti-Semitism within Christianity which contributed significantly to the Holocaust has often found expression in the literature. Raul Hilberg made the case laconically, but powerfully in the introduction to his magisterial work on the destruction of the European Jews. More recently, at greater length and with elaborate theoretical underpinnings, Gavin Langmuir has sought to demonstrate the connection between aspects of Christian religiosity and Nazi anti-Semitism. (47) As stimulating as Langmuir's work is, it is of little direct relevance to the issue of Ukrainian religious anti-Semitism, because Langmuir, and Hilberg as well, conceive of Christendom only as Western Christendom, completely abstracting from the separate development of Eastern, Byzantine Christendom, which is the Christendom relevant for Ukraine.
Sources indicate that Christian anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism (cf. Langmuir's distinction) was present at least among clerical circles during the Holocaust. The most striking case of this concerns Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. Although Sheptytsky protested several times against the Nazi persecution of the Jews and rescued a number of Jews himself, his thinking displayed religiously motivated anti-Jewish attitudes that could have led to the opposite behavior in a cleric with less compassion. For example, in a discussion with a French collaborator, Dr. Frederic, a discussion in which the metropolitan denounced the murder of the Jews in no uncertain terms, the metropolitan also agreed with Dr. Frederic's observation that the Jews had avowed the destruction of Christianity. (48)
Rabbi David Kahane, who was hidden by Sheptytsky, recorded in his memoirs the following encounter:
The metropolitan fell silent for a moment and continued: "Have you ever thought about it and asked yourself, what is the source of the hatred and savage persecution of the Jewish people from ancient times until the present? What is their origin?" He pointed at the bookshelves, asked me to find the New Testament in Hebrew translation and locate chapter 27, verse 25 in the Gospel according to Matthew: "It says there 'And the whole people answered and said His blood will be on us and on our children.'..."(49)Other clerics were unable to harbor such views and yet oppose the murder of the Jews in word and deed as Metropolitan Sheptytsky did. When Kurt Lewin, the son of a rabbi, sought refuge in a Greek Catholic monastery, the hegumen refused to accept him, arguing that the fate befalling the Jews was God's will and that he did not wish to act against this will. (50) According to a source tainted, however, by an anti-Ukrainian bias, the Greek Catholic pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul in Lviv told the faithful from the pulpit to turn all Jews over to the Germans. (51)
There is a scene in Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah in which the director coaxes from a group of Poles gathered outside the church an explanation of the Holocaust as the result of the Jews' crucifixion of Jesus. If a French director could coax this out of simple people some forty years after the Holocaust, how much more readily such an explanation must have come to mind during the actual events themselves. Still, it would probably be a mistake to place too much emphasis on religious factors in the concrete case of the Ukrainians. Most of them had just lived through two decades of state-sponsored atheism, and even in Galicia the secularization of the worldview, in connection with the diffusion of the national movement, had proceeded very far ("politics without God" was but one symptom of this). In the anti-Jewish articles submitted to Krakivs'ki visti in 1943, religious motifs are notably absent.
The final factor to be considered among the set of very long-term
factors is best posed as a question: Was there some strand of
anti-Jewish violence within the Ukrainian folk culture? Before
the Second World War, Ukrainians had engaged in mass violence against
Jews three times: during the Khmelnytsky uprising
(mid-seventeenth century), the Haidamaka uprisings (eighteenth century)
and the struggle for statehood led by Symon Petliura (1919-20).
Did these moments encode a possibility of behavior which facilitated
Ukrainian participation in the pogroms of the summer
of 1941? The pogroms were largely inspired by the Germans, but
was also an element of spontaneity in them. (52) Moreover, there were isolated incidents of
pogroms against the Jews in 1939, when the Soviets, not the Nazis,
invaded Western Ukraine. (53)
were continuities throughout the incidents of mass anti-Jewish
violence: The Jews in each case were regarded as exploiters and
as allies of the
Ukrainians' enemies. Was it these continuities of the situation
that produced several historically discrete episodes of anti-Jewish
or did they also leave some cultural sediment? There are at least
some elements in the folk culture which suggest the existence of a
animosity, such as the proverb Kozhdyi zhyd shybenytsi vart (Every
deserves the gallows). (54)
More substantially, there was a belief current among some Galician
peasants in the second half of the nineteenth century that a day of
was coming when all the Jews would be slaughtered. This belief
prominently in the myth about the Moskal' (the Russian tsar) who was
to conquer Galicia and institute a radical agrarian reform, (55) and it was also expressed by a
who was exposed to socialist propaganda. (56) The belief in this day of reckoning did not
translate into action during the period of Austrian rule and seems to
have disappeared or lain dormant in the interwar era, but it may well
have resurfaced, and assumed a more active character, during the Nazi
occupation. (It should be noted that these reflections do not
actually prove the existence of a
strand of anti-Jewish violence within the highly complex Ukrainian folk
culture, but rather suggest the possibility of its existence.)
The investigation so far has sorted out the factors facilitating collaboration into three large timeframes. It remains to reflect upon the importance of each timeframe in the production of the final result: the participation of sectors of the Ukrainian population in the murder of the Jews.
The factors originating within the timeframe most remote from the Holocaust are also the most problematic. In the case of both the religious and folk-cultural elements identified as germane to collaboration, these were elements marginal within the total complex of the systems within which they were found. Both Christianity and Ukrainian folk culture were rich and complex systems, most of the content of which can be judged to be humane and valuable. The strands of anti-Judaism and violent anti-Jewish animosity were not at all prominent in the tapestries as a whole. In fact, they were contradictory (particularly in the circumstances of the Holocaust) to much else in their respective systems. The attitudes of Metropolitan Sheptytsky bring this out in relief. On the one hand, he was unenlightened enough to preserve archaic Christian anti-Judaic attitudes into the mid-twentieth century; on the other hand, the elements central to his Christian worldview (love, compassion, justice) worked against any collaboration in the destruction of the Jews and motivated him, in fact, to save Jews and protest against their slaughter. (57) Similarly, in the case of the folk culture, if a strand of anti-Jewish violence did indeed exist within it, it was quite tangential in comparison to such central elements as hospitality and generosity (hostynnist', shchedrist'), which would demand that a Jew seeking aid should be fed and helped. The point here is that it was not the religion or the folk culture of the Ukrainians that led to collaboration; it was the collaboration itself that tapped or activated particular, peripheral elements of these two--historically primary--cultural systems. That is, the direction of the dynamic was from the 1940s back, not from the middle ages or early modern era forward.
The same direction of the dynamic is clearly evident with respect to the third factor identified as having roots before the nineteenth century, that is, the socio-economic antagonism between Ukrainians and Jews. The actual socio-economic relations that produced that antagonism had almost disappeared in the two decades preceding the Holocaust. The antagonism was therefore waning, not reaching a crescendo as the 1940s approached. It was the Holocaust which recalled it, not it which summoned up the Holocaust. In the case of the socio-economic antagonism (in contrast to the cases of anti-Judaism in Christianity and putative anti-Jewish violence in the folk culture) there was another element at work: its codification within the nationalist image of the Jews. It is this codification which probably accounts for its otherwise not easily explicable salience during the Holocaust.
This brings the analysis to the temporally closer set of long-term factors: those connected with the formation and diffusion of the nationalist worldview. Nationalism could be assimilated to the purposes of Nazism, because Nazism was a virulent mutant of nationalism (as, mutatis mutandis, Stalinism was of socialism). Certain assumptions and propositions were held in common, such as in-group solidarity and even primacy, the identification of certain out-groups as enemies and the formation of these in- and out-groups on the basis of nationality. But Nazism activated the dark side of "the modern Janus." East European nationalisms also had their positive side: the assertion of emancipation, self-empowerment and human dignity on the part of oppressed, marginalized and despised peoples. This side was useless to Nazism and not only irrelevant to, but contradictory to the collaborative impulse. Again, what was enlisted from the nineteenth century for collaborative purposes was a result of the demands of the Holocaust, not of the entelechy of the national worldview formed in the nineteenth century: The direction of the dynamic was clearly from the 1940s back.
The radical dissociation of Christian ethics from politics which occurred during the formative period of Ukrainian nationalism in Galicia was a most unfortunate development, with evil consequences. (58) Here too, however, the importance of the conjunctural moment was crucial. For one thing, the dissociation was only one possibility within Ukrainian nationalism; there were also competing possibilities as well as contradictory impulses (for example, although Christian ethics were largely removed from the political culture, the concept of honor certainly was not). A moment that expressed the other possibilities was when the Ukrainians of Galicia proclaimed the Western Ukrainian National Republic on 1 November 1918 and took control of Lviv. The Ukrainians at that moment failed to behave in a truly twentieth-century manner by neglecting to arrest the Polish leadership and intelligentsia in mass, with the predictable result that the latter organized a successful rebellion and evicted the Ukrainians from their capital two weeks later. The failure of the movement for independence and the incorporation of Ukrainian- inhabited Eastern Galicia into the restored Polish state tipped the balance in favor of a more ruthless, fanatical nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s. The Galician Ukrainian nationalists drew the same conclusions from the failure of the independence movement in Dnieper Ukraine: They rejected the heritage of the soft, democractic Central Rada and lionized either the armed struggle of Petliura (the majority, radical nationalist view) or the authoritarian rule of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky (the minority, conservative view).
Furthermore, the "politics without God" until the Second World War found expression in acts of political terrorism--armed attacks against Polish institutions and assassinations. From many perspectives, not just that of Ukrainian nationalism, these acts can be ultimately evaluated as heroic. Even if one does not share a perspective that permits a positive evaluation of politically motivated killing, the terrorism of the interwar era appears relatively harmless by comparison with the actions that an ethically indifferent politics facilitated in the Second World War, namely mass murders among the Polish population in Volhynia and in certain districts of Galicia and participation in the mass murder of the Jewish population. Again, the conjunctural was paramount.
Ultimately, the participation of Ukrainians in the extermination of the Jews was a result of the Nazis' recruitment of them to this end. The Nazis used persuasion and force to facilitate recruitment. They took advantage, too, of the Ukrainians' opposition to and brutalization by Soviet rule. And they, or rather the destruction process they initiated, activated whatever could be found in general human nature or in specifically Ukrainian tradition that would reduce inhibitions to or even motivate complicity in murder.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: John-Paul Himka is a Professor teaching East European History in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. Dr. Himka specializes in religious and social history, with particular interest in Ukrainian history and the role Ukrainians have played in the greater history of Eastern Europe.
Copyright © 2002 M S Rosenfeld