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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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In the aftermath of the Second World War, there were about 2.3 million Ukrainian Displaced Persons, most of whom were Ostarbeiter from pre- 1939 Soviet Ukraine.1 During the repatriation process, a large number of displaced Ukrainians returned to the USSR voluntarily or were repatri- ated against their will, yet about 200,000 DPs of Ukrainian origin refused to return to the Soviet Union.2 Many of those who decided to remain in Western Europe or seek routes to migrate to the USA or Canada had reasons not to return to the USSR. These reasons included their or their family members’ involvement in nationalist activities or military resistance. Only just over 8,000 of the 200,000 DPs were former members of the Waf fen SS ‘Galicia’ Division. Despite this, however, the Division’s collaboration with Nazi Germany became associated with the wider Ukrainian com- munity in the West. As a result of the controversy which surrounded the ‘Galicia’, the Division’s history remained poorly examined: much of what is known about the ‘Galicia’ comes either from works written by the Division members themselves or those who vigorously criticize them. Both strands produce powerful and still inf luential narratives, yet very few of them go beyond justification or condemnation of the Division and actually look into the contextual setting which allowed for this formation to exist and for its former members to be allowed to move to the West. In his Ordinary Men,3 Christopher Browning suggests that it was not only the dif...

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