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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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Chapter 5 Contemporary Perceptions of Second World War Collaboration in Ukraine

Extract

1 The late twentieth century has seen a turn toward the study of memory, par- ticularly in relation to the Second World War. Eyewitnesses’ and survivors’ testimonies began to play an important role in the writing of history of the period, especially with regard to the Holocaust. The distinction between memory and history, however, became somewhat blurred. In his work on the ‘memory of sovereignty and sovereignty over memory’, Timothy Snyder explains that memory and history cannot be studied separately ‘and yet without separate conception the study of neither can proceed.’2 This is true about the study of the memory of the Waf fen SS ‘Galicia’ Division, when in contemporary debates ‘memory’ and ‘history’ are often used inter- changeably, especially by politically motivated groups or individuals. Snyder goes on to suggest that ‘[m]emory cannot be studied as memory, at all. Our recollections are always recollections of something, and unless we have an independent source of knowledge about this something, we can learn nothing about how memory works.’3 This independent source of knowledge is seldom available when it comes to memory of traumatic and controversial events such as those in which the ‘Galicia’ was involved. The 1 My paper ‘The Shaping of “Historical Truth”: Construction and Reconstruction of the Memory and Narrative of the Waf fen SS “Galicia” Division’, Canadian Slavonic Papers/ Revue canadienne des slavistes LIV/3–4 (September–December 2012), 443– 69, is based on this chapter. 2 Timothy Snyder, ‘Memory of sovereignty and sovereignty over memory: Poland, Lithuania...

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