Nov 26, 2022

Alik Gomelsky

Astonished by the irresponsible and superficial approach taken in several recent articles, I felt it necessary to respond. The articles I am referring to, although there are many others written in the same vile vein, are by Taylor C. Noakes (for CBC News, Jul 23, 2021), Duncan Kinney (for The Progress report, Aug 10, 2021), and the work of Dr. Zuroff and Dr. Rudling (for The Times of Israel, Nov 22, 2022). Simply put, these widely disseminated articles are filled with distorting propaganda and misinformation that seek to damage positive international relations.

It’s understandable that journalists like Noakes and provocateur-journalists like Kinney, a fitting title as we await the court’s ruling on a charge of vandalism, have no real and independent knowledge about the people and situations they write about. When professional and respected historians such Zuroff and Rudling accuse Roman Shukhevych of crimes against humanity, one would expect them to provide compelling and documented evidence to support their allegations. To begin, Shukhevych was never declared a war criminal by the Nuremberg Tribunal nor any other court. Labeling him, as Zuroff and Rudling write, as an “actual Nazi collaborator” is not only a convenient generic smear, but also demonstrates their lack of understanding or, rather, their intentional omission of the historical context and facts.

If we carefully examine history’s list of Nazi collaborators, we would have to include every last citizen of the USSR, because between August 1939 and June 1941 the country actively aligned with and gave material support to Nazi Germany. Together with the united invasion and occupation of Poland, the USSR provided Hitler with military supplies and regularly congratulated Nazi leaders on their victories on the Western front, including the occupation of France.

Zuroff and Rudling write, “Roman Shukhevych commanded the Nachtigall Battalion…as a subunit commanded by the German Abwehr special operations unit. His OUN-dominated military formation served in German uniform, and its soldiers participated in the brutal Lviv pogrom…”.

I find it strange that the authors never came across Divide and Conquer: The KGB Disinformation Campaign against Ukrainians and Jews, written by Herbert Romerstein, former Director of the Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation in the U.S. Information Agency. In that authoritative article, Romerstein unveils the Soviet campaign to defame Theodor Oberländer, the former commander of the Nachtigall Battalion, along with the Ukrainian commander of this unit, Roman Shukhevych. Romerstein provides a direct quote from a report issued by the Stasi, (the East-German gestapo):

“There are near daily conversations with the member of the Politburo responsible for agitation in the West, Comrade [Albert] Norden or Comrade [Werner] Lamberz, Secretary of the Central Committee and Chairman of the Agitation Commission of the Politburo”

Romerstein continues, “Albert Norden …served as the loudest and most vicious voice against the West in the communist dictatorship. In 1959 he led the smear campaign against the West German Federal Minister of Refugees, Theodor Oberlander. Norden issued a book attacking Oberlander and at a press conference in East Berlin on October 22, 1959, Norden identified Oberlander as the political commander of the Ukrainian Nachtigall Unit, which together with the German Wehrmacht fought against the Soviet Union. That was the true part of Norden’s story. The false part was the claim that the military unit was involved in a pogrom against the Jews of Lviv…”.

It is important to note that, as revealed in recently declassified CIA archival documents, the training and involvement of the Nachtigall and Roland battalions were undertaken by the Abwehr in secret, without the knowledge not only of the SS and the SD, but also of the Nazi Party. One should not rush to accuse the Abwehr of committing war crimes because for many years now Chabad, one of the largest Jewish religious organizations in the world, has been submitting applications to Yad Vashem requesting that the title of Righteous Among the Nations be bestowed on Admiral Canaris, the chief of that German military intelligence service. Lest we forget that, to date, several former Abwehr officials, including the world-famous Oskar Schindler, have received this title.

However, this is not the only occasion where the issue of the Abwehr is concerned. At a secret US Senate Committee meeting held on June 27, 1947, Allen Dulles, Swiss Director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the future director of the CIA, announced that Admiral Canaris and his representatives had contacted the OSS and Dulles himself. The Western Allies thus learned about the details of Nazi Germany’s rocket development program, which would allow the British and U.S air forces to destroy German rocket bases that were bombing Britain. According to Dulles, ten percent of the Abwehr personnel, contemptuous of Hitler’s methods and the Nazis’ attitude towards the citizens of the USSR, were involved in the anti-Nazi activities of the German resistance movement.

The brutal execution of Admiral Canaris and his associates, one month before the capitulation of Nazi Germany, and their anti-Nazi activities were the decisive facts underlying why the Abwehr was not recognized as a criminal organization at Nuremberg.

Further in their article, Zuroff and Rudling provide another accusation on Shukhevych using twisted information. They write, “…From 1943, after defecting German service, he served as supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which carried out systematic massacres of Polish and Jewish civilians…”. This intentionally paints a distorted picture in most readers’ heads that Roman Shukhevych deserted the SS for a partisan army in order to organize and carry out massacres. Let’s separate truth from insinuation and bring forward facts that the authors have conveniently omitted. Firstly, the Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 was not an SS formation, and its officers had special ranks completely different from SS ranks. Secondly, Roman Shukhevych was not a deserter in the way the word is defined. On December 1, 1942, after the expiration of contracts, he and other personnel of the battalion refused to renew the contracts. Because of that, all of them were taken into detention and later some were arrested and jailed in a Lviv prison, but Shukhevych was able to escape. To confirm this, I should note that as

of May 31, 1943, Roman Shukhevych was on the most-wanted list of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) on the territory of the General Government. In that document, along with Shukhevych, there were names of other Ukrainian nationalists like: Yaroslav Starukh, Vasyl Sydor, and Omelian Hrabets.

The use of insinuations and semi-truths seem to be Zuroff and Rudling’s favorite maneuver; they write that the, “…Ukrainian government invested significant efforts in the rehabilitation and glorification of Roman Shukhevych, together with Stefan Bandera, both leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) whose men were actively involved in the mass murder of many thousands of Jews and other innocent civilians…” The fact is, Stepan Bandera (aka Stefan) was imprisoned by the Nazis from the beginning of July 1941. Even if individual members of the OUN had been involved in the mass murders of Jews, it is impossible to place blame on Bandera directly. As for Ukrainian-Polish relations, on July 22, 1943, a secret meeting was arranged in the Zellenbau isolation cells of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Inmates Stepan Bandera and Stefan Rowecki, the Head of the Polish underground army, 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 Rowiecki: “…Even now we must anticipate the giving of our eastern lands to the Ukrainians…”.

It is also worth mentioning that on 13 May 1943, the OUN(B) and its military arm, the UPA, were under the collective command of three leaders: Roman Shukhevych, Zenon Matla, and Dmytro Maivsky. This command issued instructions cautioning soldiers to refrain from killing women and children, trying to keep the conflict within certain limits, and prevent its escalation. It was Shukhevych who during a meeting of the OUN(B) leadership that took place in late 1943, mentioned that the UPA was trying to prevent the creation of a third, unnecessary anti-Polish front, the anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet fronts being the first and the second.

Most awkward is when the authors attempt to lay blame on the Ukrainian government and its alleged “liable historical record” for dictator Putin’s decision to wage war on Ukraine. But this outlandish conclusion is not surprising, given the distorted view of history that they provide, which is inaccurately presented and filled with conveniently formatted half-truths.

On December 17, 2010, comrade Zuroff visited the International Conference “A World Without Nazism – the Global Task of All Mankind” in Moscow. In his speech, the director of the Israeli branch of the International Human Rights Movement, A World Without Nazism, emphasized the need to expand the circle of supporters of anti-fascist forces and the emergence of new participants in anti-nationalist activities. The key points of their article that turned the two historians, Zuroff and Rudling, into de facto propagandists, advocates, and defenders of the USSR are the pro-Kremlin narratives that they push, by lamenting that: “…There is also an attempt to equate Communist and Nazi crimes, often by ‘inflation’ – not only in the use of the term ‘genocide,’ but also in overstating the victim tally…”. Historians like Anne Applebaum would find this laughable, since, taken as a whole, without diminishing the horrific tragedy of the Shoah, the Soviet regime killed more human lives than the Nazis.

We can clearly see how the agenda of Zuroff and Rudling and their apologist position vis-à-vis the USSR are undermined, if we study the European Parliament’s resolution of September 19, 2019, on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe:

“…3. Recalls that the Nazi and communist regimes carried out mass murders, genocide and deportations and caused a loss of life and freedom in the 20th century on a scale unseen in human history….

Calls on all Member States of the EU to make a clear and principled assessment of the crimes and acts of aggression perpetrated by the totalitarian communist regimes and the Nazi regime…

Maintains that Russia remains the greatest victim of communist totalitarianism and that its development into a democratic state will be impeded as long as the government, the political elite and political propaganda continue to whitewash communist crimes and glorify the Soviet totalitarian regime; calls, therefore, on Russian society to come to terms with its tragic past…”.

Should we agree with Mr. Zuroff that it makes no sense to compare the communists with the Nazis?

I do not. A host of documents confirms that the communist and the Nazi regimes both repressed the Ukrainian and the Jewish people, who were fighting for the independence of their respective peoples against occupiers and executioners. If one considers the duration and scale of the USSR’s repression, which tyrannized leaders of the Ukrainian independence movement and Zionist Jews alike throughout the twentieth century, one must conclude that the communist regime must be held accountable and their crimes recognized, just as this was done in relation to the Nazis.

The communists of the USSR brought immense misery not only to the Ukrainian people, the Jewish people, and the Polish people, but to all of humanity. Now, Putin’s Russia —its modern offspring –  continues to carry out this destructive legacy to this day.