Ukrainian Division "Galicia" in Polish Literature

In the Summer of 1944 the Soviet Army successfully broke the German defense lines and approached the Vistula River. The Polish underground, in consultation with the Polish Government in Exile in London, decided to revolt against the German occupation forces in Warsaw thus speeding up the liberation of Poland and saving life and property from probable German destruction. Assistance to the victorious allied Red Army was not only envisaged but was also expected and counted on. Thus, on August 1, 1944 Warsaw revolted and, having taken the Germans by surprise, gained initial success. But soon after retaliation came and the Germans spared neither the city nor the civilian population regardless of sex or age. As a result, some 150,000 of the civilian population alone was massacred by the Germans, some 18,000 Polish guerrillas and over ninety per cent of the monumental buildings of the city were destroyed.1 All kinds of sufferings were inflicted upon the population and no crime was beyond the Nazis. After sixty-two days of fighting the Poles were forced to surrender. At the same time the Soviet armies stood on the other side of the Vistula River "resting". They not only did not help the fighting Poles but the Soviet Government even refused permission for allied airplanes to land on Soviet soil for refueling and repairs after they delivered military supplies to the Warsaw Poles.2

After the war the Polish authorities published several volumes of documents describing the German atrocities. In a number of testimonies, either by the participants or witnesses of the Warsaw massacres, the Ukrainians are mentioned as active participants in the pillage, murder and rape of Warsaw. However, a close analysis of these documents reveals that although the name "Ukrainian" was often used, it was done so very loosely and, in fact, it described in most cases the soldiers of the so-called Russian National Liberation Army (Russkaya Osvoboditel'naya Narodnaya Armiya - in abbreviation - RONA).

In addition to the general statement of "Ukrainians" the Polish sources also specify the Division "Galicia" and characterize it as very cruel and merciless. However, the Division "Galicia" as a unit or even any of its smallest detachments had never been in Warsaw during the uprising or thereafter. This fact is well confirmed by no less an authority than the Commanding officer of the Police and SS units. General Paul Geibel, and General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who was in Charge of all the German forces in Warsaw.

It seems that even the editors of two different volumes of testimony felt obliged to add an editorial note in which they stressed that "persons making statements or writing their memoirs have used various terms to describe the members of both German units, which took part in the crushing of the Warsaw uprising, commanded by the traitors General Vlasov and Mieczyslaw Kaminski. In these testimonies we come across such terms as "Ukrainians", ,"Kalmuks", "Mongols", "Vlasov men", "Russians" or "Chubariki". The contemporary reader may be confused by such terminology, but it all applies to the common traitors (Vlasov men), renegades and fascists (RONA), who served the Germans and committed exceptionally terrible crimes with regards to the civilian population and towards the rebels".3

A German scholar Hanns von Krannhals in his study indicates that "the Warsaw population was somehow convinced that most of the crimes inflicted upon them in the terrible days of August 1944, were committed either by the "Ukrainians" or "Kalmucks". In numerous testimonies made soon after the uprising this was repealed a number of times. The people of Warsaw, however, could not know what nationality was hidden under the German uniform and they only managed to distinguish those who spoke Russian as "Ukrainians" and those who had an Asiatic appearance as "the Kalmucks".4 This fact is also detectable from various eyewitness accounts which described the physical appearance of the soldiers and their conversational language, which in every case cited, was Russian, not Ukrainian.

Another army unit which inflicted much harm and suffering upon the Warsaw population was the SS Brigade commanded by General Dirlewanger, consisting of various riffraff from all over Europe.5

The Warsaw Uprising has attracted a number of scholars, Polish and foreign, who have dedicated studies to that heroic Polish event. Among them, perhaps the most significant is the "Warszawskie powstanie" by the Polish General and military historian Jerzy Kirchmayer. In this highly valued work he does not even mention any Ukrainian military units fighting on the German side or even stationed in Warsaw prior to or during the uprising. Nevertheless, a German scholar Hanns von Krannhals in his work "Der Warschauer Aufstand" mentions one Ukrainian Company of the so-called "Hiwis" (Hilfswillige), a unit consisting of former Red Army soldiers who having fallen into German hands and POW camps were starved to death and in order to save their lives "volunteered" to serve in the auxiliary forces (Hilfswillige). They were commanded by Germans and in fact did not constitute a fighting force and were used only as security guards at various military warehouses.6 Subsequently, however, their Ukrainian nationality has been denied by Polish witness who was employed by the German military authorities and who knew the Ukrainian language. She stated very clearly that no Ukrainians were present.7 So even this statement of "fact" seems to be undermined. The commanding officer of the Police and SS units in Warsaw, General Paul Otto Geibel as well as the Commanding officer of all German forces combatting the Polish uprising. General E. von dem Bach-Zelewski do not mention any Ukrainian units in Warsaw.

Since the Ukrainians living in the western world as well as those living in Poland raised strong objections against unjust Polish accusations cast upon Ukrainians, the well known Polish publicist Jerzy Lovell in his work "Polska, jakiej nie znamy" (Poland which we do know) has also denied Ukrainian participation in the crushing of the Warsaw uprising in 1944. "Nobody at any time has ever stated that in the combating of the Warsaw uprising any military units such as the Division SS-Galicia, or even units of the Ukrainian police participated. All Polish sources, however, openly enumerate the General Vlasov soldiers and those of the Kaminski RONA BRIGADE, both of which were Russian".8

In Polish literature describing life under German occupation in Poland there are numerous references to the Ukrainian Division "Galicia" as one which participated in the crushing of the Warsaw uprising of 1944, in numerous punitive actions against the civilian population, and even as performing sentry duties in some concentration camps. One has to bear in mind that the relations between the Ukrainians and the Poles have always been strained. This is in part the heritage from the historical past but also of the contemporary war situation, The Poles, haughty in their alliance with the western powers, believed that as soon as the war was over, Stalin, as a member of the western alliance, would give back to Poland all the Ukrainian lands which prior to the outbreak of war were under Polish rule.

The Polish domination of the Western Ukraine during the interwar period was characterized by persecution of Ukrainians (and other minorities) and a policy of forceful polonization of Western Ukraine and Belorussia. It was not without a certain satisfaction that the Ukrainians met the collapse of the Polish stale in September 1939. However a brief occupation of the region by the Soviet Union, from September 1939 to June 1941, filled with terror, persecution and russification policy estranged even those few Ukrainians who believed in Communism and convinced them that Soviet Ukraine was neither equal nor enjoyed the equal rights in all respects in the so-called "Soviet family of nations" as it had been claimed by the Soviet Propaganda.

The major conflicts between the Poles and the Ukrainians of Western Ukraine developed after the Polish underground started to treat the Ukrainian population in the same way as before the war and demanded loyalty and obedience to the Poles and also to the Soviets whom they feared most. Thus the Polish government in exile claimed these territories as an integral part of Poland while the Soviet government as an integral part of Soviet Ukraine and expected loyalty from the Western Ukrainians as their own citizens. At the same time the Western Ukrainians did not want any of these regimes but aspired towards their, own national independence. The Ukrainian Division "Galicia" was formed as a preparation for the end of the war which was expected to bring a collapse of both Hilter's III Reich and Stalin's Soviet Union. Nobody wanted to believe that the Western Allies would want to re-establish the Soviet Union with Stalin and his terror thus creating a menace for their own peaceful existence. That was the reason why the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was organized, as an independent force from the Germans, and ready to side with the West against the Soviet Union. In short, while the Poles sided with the Russians the Ukrainians, temporarily at least, sided with Germans (like the Division "Galicia") or fought independently (like UPA) against both Germans and Russians. In short, the Ukrainians had different paths, but mutually supplemented each other aiming towards the same goals and objectives - an independent Ukrainian state.

Fortunately, the Poles have more or less specified the crimes they accuse the Ukrainian Division of, indicating places and dates and this fact makes it relatively easy to prove that they were or were not committed by any of the detachments of the Division "Galicia". Major W.D. Heike, chief of staff of the Ukrainian Division and author of the book "Sie wollten die Freiheit" (Podzun Verlag 1974), pointed out that the only time when the Ukrainians of the Division "Galicia" had encountered the Polish population was in February-March 1944. At this time the Soviet partisan Division broke through the Volhynian forests and arrived in the region Lubacziv - Bilhoraj - Zamośę - Hrubesziw region which, being a border land between Poland and Ukraine had a mixed Polish-Ukrainian population. Polish Ukrainian relations were very strained here, because the Ukrainian villages or farmsteads were burnt down by the Polish underground, people killed and whole families expelled "east of the Bug River". In their leaflets the Poles demanded complete submission and loyalty to the Polish underground authority and threatened the Ukrainians with extinction if they did not behave properly. According to the reports of the Ukrainian representative in Lublin to the Ukrainian Central Committee in Krakow, some 500 Ukrainians were killed in that particular region alone during the 1942-1943 period.9

In response to the Soviet partisans' intrusion into the region, the Ukrainian Division "Galicia" was ordered to organize a combat group 1,000 men strong (named after its commander "Kampfgruppe Bayersdorff") and sent it to help the German troops to expel the intruder.10 Polish sources charge also this group with atrocities against peaceful Polish population.

Some information about this particular region and period we find in a memoir of a Polish physician Zygmunt Klukowski in which under the dale of March 10, 1944 he wrote: "Ukrainian SS-men arrived in Zwierzyniec. Today they visited villages neighbouring Zwierzyniec. Very likely they will be used against Grom and Podkowa (pseudonyms of the local Polish guerillas chieftains' - W.V.). Naturally, the peasants are scared, because we all know only too well, how such actions are being conducted, and Ukrainians are especially known for their cruelty". 11

Further on he slates that the Ukrainian soldiers were credited with killing four Poles in Tarnogrod, among them one young doctor. A memoir of the Ukrainian officer taking part in that action states that actually only one doctor was court-marshalled who was in possession of Soviet partisan identification certificate and was engaged in espionage on their behalf.12

No other crime was ascribed to the Division "Galicia", although the diary goes on until July 24, 1944, when the Soviet Army occupied the region. There is no doubt that if there had been any crimes committed by these soldiers Dr. Klukowski would not have overlooked them. This "Diary" is highly praised by the publishing board as a reliable historical document. If it is reliable for Polish historiography it may be reliable for the Ukrainian version as well. According to Major W.D. Heike, a number of excesses were registered and some of them were ascribed to the Ukrainian soldiers, which in fact, were committed by the German units engaged in the same action.13 This whole venture was strictly against the Soviet partisans and did not have anything to do with the punitive actions against the civilian population. In the archives of the Ukrainian Central Committee there are complaints from the Ukrainian villages that the Polish underground encouraged by the presence of the Soviet partisans made life for the Ukrainian population unbearable while the Ukrainian detachments of the Division "Galicia" stayed idle in nearby villages.14 This "idleness" was, of course, the result of military orders which the village population could not understand.

Among other accusations let us quote one clear cut case of "massacre of peaceful Polish population" in the village of Hula Pieniacka near Brody on February 27, 1944 which is described in the work, "Droga do nikąd", by Antoni B. Szczesniak and Wieslaw Szota (Warszawa, 1973). The Poles blamed Ukrainian soldiers of the Division "Galicia" for murdering some 500 people regardless of sex or age.15 But according to the Soviet sources as well as some official documents of the Polish government in exile, this case is not quite so simple. The village itself was neither innocent nor peaceful but rather a stronghold of the Polish underground and, as a matter of fact, supported by the Germans themselves "for selfdefence" against the surrounding Ukrainian villages or rather against the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. When the Germans discovered that this was not "for selfdefence" against the Ukrainians and that it was cooperating with the Soviet partisans and even harboring them, they sent some punitive detachment to the village. Among them was also a small detachment of Ukrainian Police Regiment. When these detachments approached the village, the Soviet partisans having left three days before, the Poles opened fire on the soldiers from rifles and machine-guns.16 The end was obviously tragic, since no army ever permitted to be Fired at by the civilians without reprisal. Although a Ukrainian detachment participated in that punitive action, that detachment was not a part of, or subordinated to the Ukrainian Division "Galicia".

There are a few other instances when the Division "Galicia" is blamed for a certain crime against the civilians by one Polish source while another source denies it as an act of the Ukrainian Division. Among other things one can come across even such an accusation that the Division "Galicia" performed sentry duties at the Treblinka Concentration camp in 1943 as it is pointed out in the Dzieje Najnowsze17 a quarterly dedicated to the modern history. The accusation is completely unfounded since the Division as a combat unit had never performed any sentry duties outside of its own internal needs. At the time specified in the Dzieje najnowsze, i.e. in July 1943 the Division did not even exist.

Why then was the Ukrainian Division "Galicia" blamed for acts it had never committed? In the collection of documents "Crimes of Hitlerites on the civilian population during the Warsaw uprising in 1944, in documents" is the following statement regarding Ukrainians: "It is possible that the description "Ukrainians" was widely used in connection with a generally known fact in occupied Poland, that in the District of Galicia a special Ukrainian SS Division was formed as well as various police and security detachments, etc.".18 This assumption could explain also all other cases where the term "Ukrainians" was used without any foundation. Unfortunately, in the present trend to look for rapprochement between the Ukrainians and Poles such an "error" will in no way help to achieve it.



[1] Wielka encyklopedia powszechna. Tom 9, wyd. 1, Warszawa, Państwowe Wydawn. Naukowe, 1967, c. 356-358

[2] G. B. Infield. Poltawa affair, co. 197

[3] Zbrodnia niemiecka w Warszawie, cop. 36

[4] H. von Krannhals, op. cit., cop. 318

[5] Zbrodnie okupanta hitlerowskiego, cop 11. Dzieje najnowzse (Warszawa), tom 1, Nr. 2, 1947, cop. 325.

[6] Krannhals, op. cit. cop. 135.

[7] Zbrodnie okupanta hitlerowskiego, cop 138.

[8] J. Lovell. Polska jakiej nie znamy, . 70.

[9] Heike, op. cit., . 60-61.

[10] . : .

[11] . : -.

[12] Z Khikowski, op. cit., . 47.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] . , . . ³, . 7-10, 1957, . 6, . 1.

[15] A. Szcześniak i W. Szota. Droga do nikąd, . 127.

[16] . . , . 459.

[17] W. Rażmowski. "Akcija Treblinka" - Dzieje najnowsze, rok 1, Nr. 1, 1969, . 171.

[18] Zbrodnie okupanta hitlerowskiego, . 11.