Young survivors at the Auschwitz, liberated by the Red Army in January 1945 (Photo from wikipedia.org)
«The Polish Foreign Minister’s statement that it was the Ukrainians who liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp has puzzled Moscow. Russia’s UN envoy remarked that the Soviet Army, which liberated the camp, was actually multinational.
“The 1st Ukrainian front and Ukrainians liberated [the concentration camp], as on that January day there were Ukrainian soldiers, so they opened the gates of the camp,” said Foreign Minister of Poland, Grzegorz Schetyna, speaking on Polish radio on Wednesday.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna […] was answering a question related to invitations to join the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
Following the comment, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin reminded Schetyna that the Soviet Army had liberated the concentration camp, adding that the front was called first Ukrainian “as it liberated Ukraine from the Nazis before reaching Poland through battles.”
“Like all other parts of the Red Army, [the front] was multinational and consisted of Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, representatives of the peoples of Central Asia, and many others – more than 100 ethnic groups of the Soviet Union,” Churkin said addressing the Polish UN envoy, Bogusław Winid, speaking at the UN conference commemorating the liberation of the camp on Wednesday in New York.
Churkin urged Winid to explain the grave mistake to the Polish FM saying that: “I’m sure he didn’t intend to offend so many peoples.” Memory of WWII must be respected – Moscow “It is our common duty to the victims of genocide and future generations – to protect the truth about WWII,” said Churkin.
“Despite the shocking number of genocide victims, we see Waffen-SS veterans marching in European cities, which Nazis tried to demolish during at whatever cost. The Nazi past is being glorifies, neo-Nazism is on the rise,” he added.»
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Now, given both my ancestry and geo-political origins, I’m not a big fan of neither the former Soviet Union’s, nor of Russia’s political choices, but for correctness’ sake, here are some historical facts (and by-the-way, I absolutely agree with Vitaly Churkin’s statement above):
Ukrainian collaborationism with the Axis powers:
“During the military occupation of Ukraine by Nazi Germany, a large number of Ukrainians chose to cooperate with the Nazis. Reasons for this generally included resurgent Ukrainian nationalism, aspirations for Independence and widespread anger and resentment against the Russians over the Holodomor, which ocurred only a few years before. These were coupled with rampant racism towards other ethnic groups (such as Jews, Tatars, Roma peoples and Poles) as well as a prevailing sentiment of antisemitism. However, the absence of Ukrainian autonomy under the Nazis, mistreatment by the occupiers, and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians as slave laborers, soon led to a rapid change in the attitude among the collaborators.
By the time the Red Army returned to Ukraine, a significant number of the population welcomed its soldiers as liberators. More than 4.5 million Ukrainians joined the Red Army to fight Nazi Germany, and more than 250,000 served in Soviet partisan paramilitary units.
[…] The atrocities against the Jewish population during the Holocaust started within a few days of the beginning of the Nazi occupation. There are indications that the Ukrainian auxiliary police was used in the round-up of Jews for the Babi Yar massacre and in other Ukrainian cities and towns, such as Stepan, Lviv, Lutsk, and Zhytomyr. On September 1, 1941, Nazi-controlled Ukrainian newspaper Volhyn wrote “The element that settled our cities (Jews)… must disappear completely from our cities. The Jewish problem is already in the process of being solved.”
Anti-semitism had turned to a hatred of Jews by those Ukrainians who blamed Jews that had worked for Polish landlords, alongside with religious prejudice. Also, the murders of prisoners by Soviet secret police retreating eastwards from the German invasion were blamed on Jews. These feelings fueled ultra-nationalist Ukrainian militias which accompanied Nazi armies moving in eastern Europe. The German commander gave an enraged crowd in Boryslaw – who had seen bodies of young men murdered (by the Soviets, not Jews) and laid out in the town square – 24 hours to act as they wished against the Jews – they were forced to clean the dead bodies, to dance, and then killed by beating with axes, pipes, etc. The same sort of murders took place in Brzezany. In Lviv, some 9,000 Jews were murdered by Ukrainian nationalist extremists. As late as 1945, Ukrainian nationalists were still rounding up and murdering Jews.
In May 2006, the Ukrainian newspaper Ukraine Christian News commented: “Carrying out the massacre was the Einsatzgruppe C, supported by members of a Waffen-SS battalion and units of the Ukrainian auxiliary police, under the general command of Friedrich Jeckeln. The participation of Ukrainian collaborators in these events, now documented and proven, is a matter of painful public debate in Ukraine.”.
While some of the collaborators were volunteers, others were no doubt given little choice. Ukrainians captured fighting for the Red Army were sometimes given the choice of possibly dying of near starvation and exposure in the ill-equipped POW camps reserved for the Red Army or working for the invaders as a hiwi, including duty in the concentration camps and ghettos as guards. The men selected for such duty were trained in the Trawniki concentration camp and were used in that part of the Final Solution known as Operation Reinhard. However, they were never fully trusted, and some would escape their enforced duty, sometimes along with the prisoners they were be guarding, and occasionally killing their SS commanders in the process.
Collaborationist organizations, political movements, individuals, and military volunteers:
109, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 201-st Ukrainian Schutzmannschaftant-battalions participated in anti-partisan operations in Ukraine and Belarus. In February and March 1943, the 50th Ukrainian Schutzmannschaftant-battalion participated in the large anti-guerrilla action «Operation Winterzauber» (Winter magic) in Belarus, cooperating with several Latvian and the 2nd Lithuanian battalion. Schuma-battalions burned down villages suspected of supporting Soviet partisans. On March 22, 194, all the inhabitants of the village Chatyń in Belarus were burnt alive by the Nazis, with participation of the 118th Schutzmannschaft battalion.
Ukrainian volunteers in the German armed forces:
Freiwilligen-Stamm-Regiment 3 & 4 (Russians & Ukrainians)
SS Division “Galizien”:
On 28 April 1943 the German Governor of District Galicia, Dr. Otto von Wächter, and the local Ukrainian administration officially declared the creation of the SS-Freiwilligen-Schützen-Division Galizien. Volunteers signed for service as of 3 June 1943 numbered 80 thousand. On 27 July 1944 the Galizien division was formed into the Waffen SS as 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (gal. Nr. 1).
The prevailing belief is that these men eagerly volunteered to take part in a patriotic war against the Soviets, not because of any support for Nazi Germany. Also, at least some of them were victims of compulsory conscription, since Germany had now suffered defeats and lost manpower on the eastern front. Sol Litman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center claims that there are many proven and documented incidents of atrocities and massacres committed by the Waffen-SS Galizien against minorities, particularly Jews during World War II. However other authors, including Michael Melnyk, and Michael O. Logusz, maintain that members of the division served almost entirely on the front lines against the Red Army and defend the unit against the accusations made by Litman and others. Official SS records show that the 4,5,6 and 7 SS-Freiwilligen regiments were under Ordnungspolizei command at the time of the accusations. Neither the division nor any of its former members were ever charged with any war crimes (see 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Ukrainian)#Accusations of war atrocities).”
So, who was “liberating” who!?
5 thoughts on “Rewriting history? Polish FM says Ukrainians liberated Auschwitz, Russia puzzled…”
That’s rewriting history at its best
I am often surprised and amazed when reading of this time. However, it is difficult to generalize those countries that were occupied first by the communist then the Nazi and then again by the communist regimes. These regimes controlled the information they were told. They also often were taught that you are either a communist or a nazi (and vice versa).
Parts of “Ukraine” were not even part of the soviet union until the soviets and russians invaded poland and divided the territories as agreed in the Molotov-Ribbbentrop pact:
Part of my family comes from Galicia and it is interesting that at times they say they are from Poland, sometimes Ukraine and sometimes Czechoslovakia.
Both leaders played heavily on this false dichotomy. This is important to understand.
Given horrendous genocide the soviets committed against the Ukraine people such as dekulakization:
and the holodomor:
It is easy to see why many would welcome the enemy of their enemies. Of course, that is not logical thinking in the end. It seems no matter how bad one regime is another can manage to do worse.
I wonder if you have ever read the book the bloodlands:
This historian goes through the atrocities committed leading up to during and after world war 2 on the people who had the horrendous misfortune to live between Russia and Germany. I found the book helpful in understanding this time. It is however horribly depressing. I can only read such a book every few years.
Hi Joe, and thank you for the in depth reply. I would readily agree with you concerning the chaos inflicted upon the ethnicities trapped between Germany and Russia/Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, when it comes to historical data, the Polish FM, regardless of the emotional charge, should stick to the facts. The liberation of Auschwitz is factually credited to the Soviet Red Army, which at the time wasn’t at all “Ukraine”, which would have been the singled out point of my article.
My own ancestry just “showed up” in Northern Transylvania, but their birth isn’t recorded anywhere, we presume therefore based on their names and oral heritage that they have come from the same area, i.e. southern Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, originally escaping the regular pogroms…
Yes I agree that we need to keep the facts straight and it was wrong and curious what the Polish FM could have meant.
My point dealt with the remainder of your blog post where you talk about Ukraine being fascist. Sadly both the nazis and the communists created vast amounts of propaganda to make people think there were no third options.
My own part of the article is just the bit in plain italics. The rest, in bold and bold-italics are the Russian politician’s words, and the Wikipedia passages. It would have been very unjust for me to write about “Ukraine being fascist”, when obviously not everybody sympathized with fascism, nevertheless, many felt that fascism is a “better” option than Bolshevism…