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‘Undetermined’ Ukrainians

Post-War Narratives of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division


Olesya Khromeychuk

Memories of the Second World War play an important role in contemporary politics and society across Eastern Europe. One of the most controversial yet least studied pages of Ukraine’s wartime history is that of the Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division, whose members are usually portrayed either as war criminals or as freedom fighters. The history of this unit is not limited to the Ukrainian context; it also has relevance throughout Eastern Europe, as well as in Britain, Canada and the USA. In the aftermath of the war, the ‘Galicia’ Division surrendered to British and American troops, but was not repatriated to the USSR, despite Soviet demands. Instead, its members were brought to the UK and eventually allowed to settle in the West, and this unexpected turn of events continues to cause much controversy.
This book explores why over 8,000 members of the Waffen SS were allowed to move permanently to the West, by analysing the complex series of events and decisions that characterized the journey of the ‘Galicians’ from capitulation to acceptance into civilian life. Drawing on a rich range of different sources, the book examines the variety of often conflicting narratives created by the Division members, their supporters and their opponents, as well as the continuing influence of these narratives today. In doing so, the book sheds light on the complex processes of memory politics.


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Olesya Khromeychuk has written a very important book. At first glance, that statement might not be immediately obvious to the reader. The topic is not one with which many people will be deeply familiar. The formation of the Galicia Division occurred in central Europe in the latter part of the Second World War, at a time when the German army was on the retreat, and the return of the Red Army to lands that were contested between Poles and Ukrainians was all but inevitable. The volunteers – and she makes clear there were many of them – were essentially expressing their willingness to sign up for a unit that would serve a notorious military organization, the Waf fen SS. Most of them died subsequently at the Battle of Brody. Why then would an author focus on this ostensibly peripheral army unit, which failed to make a serious impact on the war, even after its eventual re- formation and use for other duties by the German authorities, and which today is identified by many with collaborationism and war crimes? And why would a young author write her first major academic publication on this subject? A few years ago when writing my book Heroes and Villains: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine,1 I discussed the competing nar- ratives about Ukraine’s past, and particularly in the Second World War (or Great Patriotic War to use the former Soviet term). That book appeared five years ago, but subsequently the tempo of the debate increased sharply....

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