Tag Archives: Holocaust

Denial

Anyone who has seriously tried to study the real (i.e. international consensus) history of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists knows the kind of reaction one gets from Bandera fans when you question their hero. First you’ll be accused of being a member of the vast Russian conspiracy that spans decades and stretched its tentacles into the most unlikely organizations (such as the Cold War-era CIA). If not that, you’ll be accused of working for the other evil empire seeking to keep Ukraine down- Poland. Yes, Poland, whose Second Republic obviously joined in the Soviet’s anti-OUN propaganda campaign even though both nations appeared to be bitter enemies. Poland, whose post-1989 state also apparently insists on fabricating a defamatory narrative of the heroic Bandera and the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Occasionally, less PR-savvy OUN fanboys will accuse you of being one of those other “conspirators” who have allegedly long sought to oppress Ukraine and malign their heroes like Bandera and Shukhevych.

As for myself, I tend to get the Polish accusation a lot, and to be fair my “Ukrainian” heritage may just as well be Polish or part Polish given my fuzzy family history on that side. Of course while I condemn the UPA’s deliberate attempted extermination of Polish people in Volyn during the war, this has nothing to do with my heritage. Nor do I approve of Poland’s interwar policies toward Ukrainians as the typical Ukrainian nationalist whataboutist argument goes. Fortunately for them, Poland’s new right-wing government has given us a perfect example of a state trying to rewrite history using the force of law, showing Ukraine exactly what not to do.

The media has been somewhat captivated by the disturbing actions of Poland’s ruling “Law and Justice” party for some time now, but this mess started when a Holocaust expert was threatened with having a state award revoked because his work pointed out the Polish complicity in some anti-Jewish massacres that occurred under Nazi occupation. As such, he’s been accused of violating laws that prohibit “defamation of Poland.” Apparently facts and accountability don’t matter.

If only that were the end of the matter. The new right-wing government is introducing a law that would make it a criminal offense to imply that Poland had anything to do with Nazi crimes, including those committed on its own territory. In this sense the law is very similar to that introduced in Ukraine, which makes it illegal to “defame” fighters for Ukrainian independence. While such a law could theoretically make it illegal to defame leftists like Hrushevsky or even Marxist revolutionaries like Lesya Ukrainka, it’s perfectly obvious that the legislation was designed to defend the OUN and the UPA.

As in the case with the Ukrainian law, passed nearly unanimously by its “pro-European” government, the Polish law seems unconcerned with actual historical facts. I’m terribly sorry, but Poles did sometimes collaborate with Germans in the commission of various crimes, and the Polish government collaborated with Nazi Germany in giving away Czechoslovakia to the latter, eventually taking a piece of the country as a reward. Interestingly enough, though that particular episode occurred  while Poland and Nazi Germany had a non-aggression pact, we do not hear about the two countries being “allies” who carved up Czechoslovakia as we do in the case of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. But I digress.

Unfortunately whether it is Russia, Ukraine, or Poland, we Slavs often have an infantile worldview where we refuse to take responsibility for the actions of our often manufactured “heroes.” Ukraine is probably the strangest case, if only because Bandera and the OUN didn’t really represent Ukraine or Ukrainian people,  regardless of their claims to the contrary. Rarely do these national cheerleaders realize that virtually every country in Europe contributed to the Holocaust and the rise of Nazi Germany in one way or another. America refused entry to thousands of Jewish refugees. American companies conducted lucrative trade with Nazi Germany, some of which helped build the German war machine. Britain and France enabled Germany and Italy to intervene in the Spanish Civil War so as to crush the legally elected Republican government. Later Britain handed Hitler Czechoslovakia on a silver platter and then tried to save face by making a half-hearted guarantee to Poland that they never intended to actually make good on. And of course the Soviet Union traded with Nazi Germany during the days of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, supplying it with grain, oil, and other resources necessary to run its war machine in the early years of the conflict.

If we go deeper than the state level, we see that virtually every European nation had people who collaborated for various reasons. The worst, of course, were ideological collaborators who supported fascist ideals. Others did so out of fear. Acknowledging this doesn’t put the nation in question on par with Nazi Germany.

Poland’s Law and Justice Party is engaging in that Slavic infantilism, whereby “national” values and childish fairy tale narratives of national history replace real policy in times of crisis. It is no different from what we see with “patriotism” in Russia and Ukraine- politicians inventing heroes and a sanitized version of the nation’s history while they rob and run their country into the ground.

So there, “patriots of Ukraine”, you can rest assured that I don’t work for Polish intelligence, which of course is but a branch of the great Russian conspiracy to defame Ukraine’s “heroes.”

One more thing

I didn’t want to follow up the last post on Shaun Walker and Ukraine, but as it turns out, none other than Shaun Walker wrote a good article about Ukraine and the Holocaust and I think it deserves to be highlighted.

My favorite part by far was this:

Yuri Shukhevych, the son of one of the main Ukrainian nationalist leaders, spent three decades in Soviet camps due to his family’s political affiliations. Now, aged 82, he is an MP and the author of the new history laws. Asked whether he was comfortable with the Holocaust monument erected in Rava Ruska which blamed locals as well as Germans, Shukhevych deflected the question.

Yeah I bet he deflected it. Just a little history lesson- Yuri’s father Roman served in German uniform loyally until 1943. The OUN, of which he was a member, organized the militias in Western Ukraine which were responsible for numerous pogroms that killed thousands of Jews, in addition to rounding up Jews for extermination. Roman later became commander of the UPA in 1943, which is incidentally the same year the insurgent army was “legalized” by the Germans and the same year it proceeded to slaughter thousands of Poles in Volyn. This is the guy responsible for the law that makes it illegal to publicly criticize his Nazi collaborator father.

But his response really takes the cake:

“Of course it was a cruel battle and there were a lot of bad things that happened on all sides. Let’s objectively investigate them. But people like to say that our nationalists did things but the Polish didn’t. And what about the Jewish police, the Judenrat, which selected and sorted the Jews? I saw it with my own eyes. But the Jews don’t like to talk about that.”

Hmmm…. This sounds familiar. All it needs is a few “what abouts” here and there and- PRESTO! Almost indistinguishable from a Russian vatnik.  I’m sure Shukhevych would feel the same way about the mass killing of prisoners in L’viv by retreating Soviet forces as well, right? I mean it was a war, after all.

My experience with vishivatniks has taught me much in so many years, so I’ve developed this handy phrasebook for dealing with them:

But they were fighting for independence! 

Many groups fought, in various ways, for Ukrainian independence, and with varying degrees of success. We cannot rule out, for example, that a self-proclaimed warrior for Ukrainian independence “fought” for his cause via his own strategy of raping pigs on Soviet collective farms. Yet if history should discover the bold independence fighter Taras the Pig-fucker, I don’t believe his reputation should be protected by law, nor would I support putting him on banknotes or erecting monuments in his name.

Apart from Poles, the largest group of people killed by the OUN and the later OUN-B controlled UPA were other Ukrainians, including Western Ukrainians- not Soviet soldiers, NKVD agents, and certainly not German soldiers, as the Germans were always seen as a “secondary enemy” by the UPA leadership during that time in which they were outlawed.

Neither the OUN nor UPA secured independence for Ukraine, and the only independence they believed in was one dominated by their ideology. While the organization adopted a seemingly democratic program in 1943, supposedly in hopes of winning recognition from the Western allies, we have no good reason to assume this would have been implemented, and thus we must judge the OUN based on its actions and the ideology it professed from its inception up to that point.

You’re saying Ukrainians were Nazi collaborators and killers of Jews! 

Nope, I’m saying that about the OUN factions and the UPA, which incidentally never garnered the support of more than a tiny fraction of the Ukrainian populace. Even in the areas where they were strongest, their numbers were not impressive. Regardless of its ideology or actions, the idea that such a small political party should be entitled to represent a nation it did not create nor found is simply absurd. Please, go to Canada, preferably somewhere far north, and form Banderia. I don’t give a fuck.

But whatabout…

WHAT ABOUT IRAQ, LIBYA, TUNISIA, EGYPT,VIETNAM, HIROSHIMA, NAGASAKI, DRESDEN, THE NATIVE AMERICAN GENOCIDE, SLAVERY, THE CRUSADES, AFGHANISTAN, ODESSA?! HAVE YOU SEEN AMERICA’S STATE DEBT?! NAKATIM BLEYAT!

Not all UPA members murdered Poles or Jews! 

Indeed, not all UPA members even wanted to be in the UPA- they used conscription. But many of the UPA’s personnel were former militiamen or Schutzsmannschaft auxiliary police veterans and thus had blood on their hands.

Oh yeah? What about the Soviet Union’s crimes? Aren’t they the same? 

Apparently, the United States and the United Kingdom didn’t agree at the time. Sorry. I think the world is much better off that the side your nationalist political party attached itself to lost.

You’re a Ukrainophobe! 

Boy that sounds familiar too. Just change the prefix and voila! You’re a Putin-loving vatnik! Seriously though, no. I’m not a “Ukrainophobe” and that word itself is as stupid and misused as Russophobe. I hate the OUN, which does not represent Ukraine, nor did it ever. In this I am no different than the majority of Ukrainians during WWII, and I’m no different than the majority of Ukrainians now, who aren’t fans of radical nationalists and at most, maintain an ambivalent attitude toward these things as they have bigger problems.

Why should we talk about this right now when Russia is engaging in aggression in Ukraine?! 

This question is actually based on a tweet by a particularly annoying Western advocate playing Avatar with Ukraine, but I could see this coming from a vishivatnik. Let me answer that with another question: What would you have said about George Orwell criticizing the Soviet Union while Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were still fighting, killing hundreds if not thousands of fighting men on a daily basis?

You know what, scratch that. I’ll not be accused of whataboutery. Let me put it this way- rigid orthodoxy and censorship will not win against Russia. I really don’t understand why this is difficult to understand. You have two men, one very large and strong, the other very small and skinny. Neither have training and they get in a fight. Based on sheer strength, the larger man is going to win, hands down. Thus far we’ve been watching Ukraine trying to do exactly that- fight a far more powerful country on its terms, in a ridiculously conventional way.

Victory in this war requires conscious moral superiority, not simply being the victim of aggression. Everyone must understand that the Ukraine that emerges from this conflict will be infinitely better than the one that went into it, and more importantly, it must be everything that Russia today is not. This, contrary to the belief of vishivatniks, does not mean replacing Soviet memorials with their polar opposite- UPA monuments. The core must change, not simply the skin. And idolizing Nazi collaborators who had their own fascist ideology is not how you affect that change.

You’re an FSB agent! 

Shhhh! I can’t let my State Department masters find out I’m a double agent!

You’ve been brainwashed by Communist propaganda! 

Yes, we Americans were awash in Communist propaganda in the late 80’s and 90’s, especially those of us raised in highly religious, Reagan-supporting conservative families.

Only Ukrainians should be allowed to write Ukrainian history! (Yes, this has been said before.)

No. I’m terribly sorry but from a historian’s point of view, that is a terrible idea. In fact, that’s probably one of the worst ideas one could put forth in the field of history.

Nobody should tell Ukraine who its heroes should be! 

Who says you should decide who all Ukrainians should see as heroes? Look I’m really sorry, but we’re not going to rewrite human history for the sake of Ukraine. We don’t rewrite it for the British Empire, we don’t rewrite it for America. Sure, people do, but these people tend to get a reputation as hacks, whereas in Ukraine they get put in charge of a state security archive. By all means, have your heroes, but don’t be shocked at the reaction you get, and don’t blame us when Russia’s propagandists take something you did and beat you over the head with it.

Are we going to rethink our view of the Croatian Ustashe? The Slovakian Revolutionary Party? The Hungarian Arrow Cross? The Italian Fascist Party(PNF)? The Croix de Feu? No? Those are still collaborators and associated with fascism and atrocities? Okay, then why? Why are we to make an exception for this one historical movement that garnered far less representation in its own nation than those other movements? Either we do it for all, or we do it for none. We do not pick and choose.

Oh we’re supposed to pretend Ukraine is special in this respect because it’s under attack by Russia? Holy shit- I sure hope nobody ever attacks Germany or Austria! Think who will have to rehabilitate then.

Conclusion

Honestly I hate fighting against vishivatniks. It’s like fire from the rear, like UPA partisans shooting isolated Red Army soldiers, quite often Ukrainians themselves, in the back. It never feels good to criticize a victim and as much as I hate the victimhood mentality in Ukraine, the country is a victim of clear aggression and the West has done a piss poor job of helping. At Maidan European and American politicians were happy to profess their solidarity, but when that big juicy market Russia, the Frankenstein monster created by two decades of neo-liberal capitalism, started to throw its weight around, that solidarity turned out to be little more than words. But if Ukraine wants to win, it will have to make hard choices and a radical transformation. Being no better than Russia doesn’t cut it. Being Russia but with contested democratic elections also won’t cut it.

I realize that my previous post on the Ukrainian diaspora was too hard. I had let the most obnoxious, loudest voices drown out the rational ones. Truly the problem isn’t whether one is originally from Canada or the US or from Ukraine, but rather whether one is a vishivatnik or a rational person. Ukraine cannot win its fight with vishivatniks, they are far outnumbered by Russia’s vatniks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to prepare for another week of insane news coming out of Russia.