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‘Undetermined’ Ukrainians

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

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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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Introduction

Extract

Collaboration with the Third Reich during the Second World War con- tinues to provoke debate throughout the world. The topic is especially emotionally charged in those societies that had to readdress their national identities after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, memory of the Second World War is not only about coming to terms with the trauma of the Holocaust, large-scale destruction and mass civilian and military casualties; it is also about dealing with the legacy of complex, brutal ethnic conf licts and cleansings, and histories of failed attempts to secure political sovereignty. The history of the Second World War in the region that Timothy Snyder has called the ‘bloodlands’1 is further complicated by the collaboration of the local population with the Nazis. During the Second World War a large number of Eastern Europeans joined the German Armed Forces. Among them were Russians, Croatians, Bosnians, Slovenes, Serbs, Bulgarians and others.2 Around 200,000 Ukrainians served in the Wehrmacht, the Waf fen SS, the Luftwaf fe and other formations within the German Armed Forces.3 However, the best- known German formations that consisted of self-identified Ukrainians 1 Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin (London: Bodley Head, 2010). 2 Wolfdieter Bihl, ‘Ukrainians in the Armed Forces of the Reich: the 14th Waf fen Grenadier Division of the SS’, in Hans-Joachim Torke and John-Paul Himka (eds), German-Ukrainian Relations in Historical Perspective (Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1994), pp. 138–62 (p. 138). The...

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