In order to comprehend the degree of guilt of Waffen SS “Galizien” in this crime, it is necessary to make a careful study of the history of this division and then to determine that until the spring of 1944 all the infantry units did their training in the Polish camp Heidelager near the town of Dębica, east of Cracow, that is, approximately 300 kilometers from Huta. Following several requests, the division dispatched a battle group (SS Kampfgruppe Beyersdоrff, named after the commander of an artillery regiment, SS- Standartenführer Friedrich Beyersdorff, who also held the rank of police colonel). Kampfgruppe Beyersdorff consisted of an infantry battalion and an artillery battery under the command of Sturmbannführer Mykola Paliienko. But the point is that the Kampfgruppe Beyersdorff was never in Huta. According to the Polish historian Grzegorz Motyka, the Germans formed several SS police regiments numbered from 4 to 8 and called them “Galizien.” The 4th and 5th SS Pоlice Regiments, which in fact took part in the Huta Pieniacka (Ukr. Huta Peniatska) massacre consisted of 60 percent Ukrainians and 40 percent Germans; the officers were mostly Germans. It is important to note that at the time of the events in Huta, these police regiments were not subordinated to the divisional command but were officially carrying out the orders of the German police and the SD. Thus, we see that these policemen had no connection to the frontline formation known as the SS Division Galizien. Therefore, Poland believes that these were Ukrainians and Germans. In reality, the Soviet side unjustifiably shunted the blame for war crimes on the completely Ukrainian Waffen SS Galizien.
It is worth recalling that quite a few ethnic Ukrainians, some of whom were officers of the SS Division Galizien, served in the Polish army and bravely defended the country from Nazi and communist aggression in 1939. This is attested by the following examples:
• Pavlo Shandruk (born in Volyn), fought in the First World War in the ranks of the Russian imperial army (rank of staff captain). After the Russian Empire collapsed, he served in the ranks of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic (rank of major). After 1920 he immigrated to Poland, where he served in the military structures of the Ukrainian government-in-exile. In May 1936 he became a contract officer in the Polish army (rank of lieutenant-colonel); and in 1945 he headed the Waffen SS Galizien as the basis of the Ukrainian national army (rank of general). He fought in the Polish campaign of 1939. After being wounded and captured by the Germans, he was a POW from September 1939 to January 1940. For his bravery during the defense of Poland, in 1965 he was awarded Poland’s highest military decoration, the War Order of Virtuti Militari, on the orders of the Polish government-in-exile.
• Borys Barvinsky was born in the Cherkasy region and fought in the First World War in the ranks of the Russian imperial army (rank of staff captain). After the collapse of the Russian Empire, he served in the ranks of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic (major-general). After 1920 he immigrated to Poland, and in 1928 he became a contract officer in the Polish army (his last rank was that of lieutenant colonel). He fought in the Polish campaign of 1939. From September 1939 and January 1940 he was a POW of the Germans. From 1943 he was in the Waffen SS Galizien (commander of a regiment).
• Viktor Malets was born in the Kharkiv region and fought in the First World War in the ranks of the Russian imperial army (rank of staff captain). After the collapse of the Russian Empire, he served in the ranks of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic (regimental commander). After 1920 he immigrated to Czechoslovakia. In 1928 he became a contract officer in the Polish army (his last rank was that of major). He fought in the Polish campaign of 1939. From 1943 he was in the Waffen SS Galizien.
• Mykola Paliienko was born in the Kyiv region and fought in the First World War in the ranks of the Russian imperial army (rank of lieutenant). After the collapse of the Russian Empire he served in the ranks of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic (rank of captain). After 1920 he immigrated to Poland, and in 1928 he became a contract officer in the Polish army (his last rank was that of major). He fought in the Polish campaign of 1939. After being wounded and captured by the Germans, he was a POW from September 1939 to January 1940. From 1943 he was in the Waffen SS Galizien (holding the rank of Sturmbannführer, he commanded an artillery division).
From the outset, the OUN(B) was categorically opposed to the formation of the Galicia Division. Later, however, the organization decided to capitalize on German resources for the military training of young people and in order to gain access to weapons. Accordingly, it sent its agents into the division. Subsequent events fully confirmed the OUN(B)’s calculations.
I do not see the point in any third party—one, moreover, that is not familiar with this history—interfering in the analysis of Ukrainian–Polish relations. In examining the historical circumstance, we can discover the following important facts:
Starting in mid-1942 in London, on the orders of the commander of the Armia Krajowa, General Stefan Rowecki, and also thanks to the American influence, work began on the declaration of the government of the Rzeczpospolita concerning the Ukrainian question. In a radiogram broadcast on 11 March 1943 Gen. Rowecki requested instructions that would contain principled political guidelines concerning compromises, since “the Ukrainians are demanding territorial separation… The Banderites, who are completely trained militarily, are real political factors, as are conservative Catholic circles, which rely on the church apparatus. There are attempts from above to reduce anti-Polish antagonism in the Generalgouvernement, but fears around the massacre of Poles in Volyn are still justified. Today, the Catholics (in the person of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky—author]) and the Banderites see the Bolsheviks and the Germans as the principal enemies. They desire an agreement with the Poles, demanding nonetheless concrete, unconditional commitments. Already today the Catholics see Ukraine’s future within the Rzeczpospolita; they are proposing to form a Polish–Ukrainian commission to study the question of the status of national minorities. Please note that the Banderites will not proclaim the renunciation of independence until they lose all hope. At the present time they aspire to military cooperation against the Bolsheviks and the Germans, and all disputes are to be put aside until later. In Volyn they simply want a Polish–Ukrainian truce…the course of events will lead them to the renunciation of independence…”
Before the tragic events in Volyn, the situation was as follows: Both the Germans and the Bolsheviks in all ways goaded the Poles and Ukrainians against each other. Owing to the fact that the Armia Krajowa and the OUN were without leadership at this time and that strategic mistakes were made in Polish–Ukrainian relations, the explosion of a horrible mixture of anger, resentment, and prejudice was the inevitable finale. It is crucial to understand that the situation in Volyn was exacerbated by the Bolsheviks, who acted in accordance with a clear-cut plan and closely monitored events to ensure that they developed in the direction anticipated by Moscow. In order to execute their plans, the Bolsheviks, with gloves off, were not fussy about their methods, applying an entire spectrum of methods, including all manner of provocations, in order to intensify German repressions. In addition, the USSR persistently tried to convince England and the US that the Poles and Ukrainians were German collaborators. As concerns the Germans, as early as 1939 they themselves were engaged in inciting Ukrainians against Poles, and vice versa. An uprising, engineered by the Bolsheviks (and with the Nazis’ indirect assistance) finally exploded. The fact is that the NKVD was able to incite the Germans against Ukrainian policemen: “Many policemen from Volyn oblast, including Banderite ones, were arrested and shot. Then the policemen fled to the woods. Exasperated by the actions of the German authorities, the population of Volyn oblast mounted an uprising” (it is estimated that nearly five thousand Ukrainian policemen fled to the woods with stolen weapons and ammunition). The Nazis also urgently recruited ethnic Poles to the administration and police (approximately 1,500–2,000), who were used straight away to crush the Ukrainian uprising. The Nazis, consistently adhering to their policy of incitement, vehemently proclaimed that these anti-Ukrainian actions were an exclusively Polish initiative. The torch of interethnic hostility flamed up instantly.
On 22 July 1943 a secret meeting was arranged in the Zellenbau isolation cells of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp between Stepan Bandera and Stefan Rowecki, during which they discussed the further prospects for Ukrainian–Polish relations, the policies of the Western Allies, and the arrival of the Bolsheviks in Ukraine and Poland. The meeting with Bandera resulted in the following announcement transmitted by the general: “Even now we must anticipate the loss of our eastern lands to the Ukrainians…”
We must realize that Poles and Ukrainians share the experience of having fought together against their mutual enemy, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic during the Soviet–Polish War of 1920. People in Poland today remember this. For example, in 2016 Poland’s defense minister came to the Orthodox Cemetery in the Wola district of Warsaw to honor the memory of Major-General of the Army of the UNR Marko Bezruchko, the hero of the Battle of Zamość, which, in point of fact, saved Poland (and all of Europe) from a Bolshevik invasion in 1920. At the time, General Bezruchko headed the united Ukrainian–Polish forces, which jointly withstood Budenny’s 1st Cavalry Army that was many times superior to them in numbers and weapons.
Alik Gomelsky, is a writer, member of the Canadian Authors Association, historical researcher, founder of Jewish-Ukrainian International Association, expert on Jewish-Ukrainian relations in the twentieth century, essayist, lecturer, blogger, and consultant.