By Greg Godels
October 7, 2023
I grew up in a small Midwestern town that was part of an industrial oasis located in the midst of corn and soybean fields. The oasis existed because bituminous coal had been discovered under the flat lands well over a hundred years ago.
The mines attracted thousands of workers from Eastern and Southern Europe, including my two grandfathers. The large immigrant working class, in turn, attracted industry as well. General Motors, General Electric, Hyster, and several other corporations soon made a home in this rural area.
At the time of my birth, the mines were exhausted for profitable exploitation (My grandfather had the dubious distinction of being one of the last miners killed). But industry continued on until the deindustrialization that wracked the entire Midwest in the 1990s.
I probably first heard the expression “DP” in the late McCarthy era when family and friends spoke of some people who were new to the area. My inquiring mind soon learned that these DPs were “displaced people” — Eastern European refugees from camps in Western Europe relocating to the US through humanitarian agencies. In keeping with the tenor of the time, I was told that they were fleeing Communism.
Since Chicago was the choice of many of the first wave of Lithuanians arriving in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it was no surprise, then, that many Lithuanian DPs found their way to Chicago, then sometimes merged into the large Lithuanian immigrant community where I lived.
Given the time and the reigning sympathy for the “victims” of Communism, they were unsurprisingly welcome. Their children went to school with me and socialized with my circle of friends.
Later, when in graduate school and taking more than a superficial interest in European history, I had a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment about the DPs: What– I asked myself– were Lithuanians doing in Nazi Germany at the close of World War II?
If they were anti-fascists, surely, they would have remained East. If they were forced laborers or prisoners-of-war, they would have been repatriated. Since the Nazis were not kind to the ordinary untermenschen of the East unless they were sympathizers or collaborators, it would be a reasonable assumption that many, if not most, traveled ahead of the Red Army across Poland and Eastern Germany with the help or acquiescence of the Nazis– they were collaborators and would have been treated accordingly. Of course, there may have been myriad explanations for some displaced Lithuanians who found their way to these camps, but not thousands.
This squared with my US experience. Unlike the impoverished peasant wave of immigrants who came to the US at the turn of the century, the post-World War II immigrants brought a heavy dose of cultural nationalism and tradition. The first wave had their cultural ties to the old country severed at Ellis Island when our names were butchered by the immigration officers. Assimilation was made easy in the mines, mills, and factories; and cultural identity grew thin.
Where the first wave was shaped by oppressive, exploitative working conditions and welcomed, even led progressive unionism and a solidarity culture, this second wave was decidedly conservative and battled to move many of the existing ethnic organizations away from their secular, progressive direction.
Of course, it was not only Lithuanians, but other Eastern and Central European peoples who were welcomed to the US and Canada because their anti-Communism was unwelcome in the country-of-origin, but welcome here. That ticket was valid for collaborators as well, especially if they had skills useful to the anti-Communist crusade.
Much of this history is rarely spoken. We all know about the Nazi, Werner von Braun, the father of the US missile and space program, but little else besides an occasional death-camp guard who flies too close to the flame and is exposed.
Therefore, the recent Canadian parliament fiasco comes as no surprise to those of us familiar with the embarrassing welcome mat extended to the fascists, ultra-nationalists, and collaborators with Nazism after World War II. Indeed, that collaboration with collaborators evolved into an open door for the exiled reactionaries from every anti-Communist, client regime that the US has sponsored since 1945. From the Cuban gusanos to Venezuelan golpistas, the US government has found a happy haven for the world’s most violent anti-democrats, thereby polluting our own politics.
So, watching the standing ovation for a 98-year-old Ukrainian veteran of the Waffen-SS by every Canadian parliamentarian and most of the Canadian government only underscores the hypocrisy of Western governments that presume to lecture the world on democracy and human rights.
Imagine that people who want and expect to be taken seriously on world affairs wildly applauding a rare surviving participant in history’s greatest mass slaughter. It should be even more embarrassing that a mainstream corporate media had to be reluctantly goaded into indignation over this outrage, a media that wallows in sanctimonious self-righteousness and smugness.
Major media commentators have a short, selective memory.
Upon the July 5, 1986 death of Yaroslav Stetsko, the former Ukrainian Premier during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, President Ronald Reagan sent condolences to his widow celebrating his “courageous struggle” and closing with “Your cause is our cause. God bless you.” Stetsko had no doubt cherished the pictures taken with Reagan, Bush, and UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick.
Stetsko, a notorious anti-Semite, was instrumental in forming the infamous Nachtigall and Roland battalions made up of Ukrainian fascists who worked alongside the Nazis in killing Jews, Communists, prisoners, gypsies, and members of the resistance. In July after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Stetsko sent a warm, fawning letter to Adolf Hitler expressing gratitude and admiration for the Nazi action and hoping for a victory against the Soviet Union.
He is the ideological father of Svoboda, the ultra-nationalist, anti-Communist, anti-Semitic, racist, Nazi-nostalgic party that, continuing Stetsko’s ideology, exercises far-too-much influence in modern Ukraine’s political life.
Outrages like the Canadian parliamentary fiasco and Reagan’s celebration of the life of a war criminal occur because no one in official circles or the capitalist media expects the public to know about the vast amount of collaboration with Nazism that occurred as the Wehrmacht and the SS marched East in their Lebensraum im Osten campaign. Nor are most people in North America aware that Nazis and their Eastern European collaborators were welcomed to our shores by the thousands.
Also, most people in North America have not learned of the incredible crimes committed against Jews and other ethnic groups, as well as Communists and anti-fascists in the Baltics, Ukraine, and Poland by the ultra-nationalists, fascists, anti-Semites, and anti-Communists of those countries (one mustn’t forget that fascist volunteers from Finland, Romania, Norway, Hungary, and Italy also fought with the Nazis on the Eastern front).
Countless studies, memoirs, and documents exist recounting the role of Eastern European collaborators in ethnic and political murder, though they garner no interest from the pundits, the commentators, and the popularizers. Instead, a book like Alliance for Murder: The Nazi-Ukrainian Nationalist Partnership in Genocide, ed. B.F. Sabrin (1991) goes unheralded, unreviewed, and relegated to a few library shelves.
Gruesome first-person accounts and documents portray the terror, cruelty, and murder conducted by the Ukrainian nationalists. Told mainly by surviving Jewish victims, Alliance for Murder focuses on the nationalist murders in the Tarnopol region of Ukraine but shows the systematic collaboration of the Ukrainian nationalists. The book quotes a former Nazi general, Otto Korfes:
[The trenches] were filled with men, women, and children, mostly Jews. Every trench contained some 60-80 persons. We could hear their moans and shrieks as grenades exploded among them. On both sides of the trenches stood some 12 men dressed in civilian clothes. They were hurling grenades down the trenches… Later, officers of the Gestapo told us that those men were Banderists (July 3, 1941) [Banderists were followers of Stefan Bandera, a founder of the OUN nationalist organization].
Another book, Fraud, Famine, and Fascism, by Douglas Tottle (1987), dared to challenge the mythology of a calculated, purposeful famine in the Ukraine organized by the Soviets. The so-called Holodomor has become the standard Western narrative that fuels and justifies Ukrainian hatred and contempt for Communism and Russia– much like today’s Western angst over the Uyghurs in the Peoples’ Republic of China– while distracting Westerners from the brutal actions of Ukrainian nationalism from its beginnings until today.
Tottle’s book was of special interest because it came after Robert Conquest– a serial contriver of Communist perfidy– published his widely influential book on the 1930s famine– The Harvest of Sorrow. Tottle, a Canadian union activist, former editor of the USW The Challenger, and a movement organizer, rocked the smug, well-connected Conquest’s carefully constructed anti-Soviet tome so effectively that the nationalist Ukrainian diaspora was rattled and motivated to hurriedly convene an “international commission” to determine the “truth” about Ukraine. Organized and hand-picked by the nationalist World Congress of Free Ukrainians, the inquiry set out to place its stamp of approval upon Conquest’s accusations and dismiss Tottle’s rejoinder.
The biographies of former top leaders of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians (later the Ukrainian World Congress) exhibits the political flavor of the organization: Anton Melnyk, member of Stepan Bandera’s fascistic OUN; Mykola Plaviuk, member of the Nazi-collaborationist Ukrainian National Army, 2nd Division; and Peter Savaryn, member of the notorious 14th Waffen-SS volunteer Division “Galicia.” With this illustrious group of former leaders of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, it is not difficult to imagine how objective their inquiry into the so-called Holodomor would be.
The ultimate tribute to the impact of Tottle’s research comes from the arch anti-Soviet pundit, Anne Applebaum, who proclaimed that Tottle– a mere Canadian leftist with no elite credentials– could not have written his book without Soviet help.
Citing Reuben Ainsztein, Tottle says: “In the first three months of Nazi occupation of Western Ukraine, 15 per cent of Gallician Jews– 100,000 people– were slaughtered by the joint action of the Germans and Ukrainian nationalists.”
…collaboration between the Nazis and Ukrainian Nationalists began long before the war and continued throughout the war, even after the Germans were completely driven out of Ukrainian territory. The Nationalists were firmly locked into the Nazi occupation machine. Their police and punitive units mass-murdered Jews and Ukrainians alike. Vast numbers of Ukrainians were also rounded up, with the help of Ukrainian collaborators for shipment to Germany as slave laborers. Thousands of actions were carried out by Nationalist militias, SB, UPA and Ukrainian police units, often under German supervision. Nationalist-recruited troops served Hitler in Ukraine, Poland, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. Ukrainian collaborators assisted in the murder of hundreds of thousands in death camps like Trblinka, Sobibor, Yanowska and Trawniki.
As Max Blumenthal notes, after the war the Canadian government in “Ottawa placed thousands of Ukrainian veterans of Hitler’s army on the fast-track to citizenship” while classifying thousands of Jewish refugees as “enemy aliens.” Undoubtedly, the US government welcomed even a greater number of Nazi collaborators who were “proven” anti-Communists.
If the brief glimpse into the sordid history of Ukrainian (and other Eastern European) collaborators afforded by the Canadian parliamentary fiasco serves any purpose, it is to remind us of the lingering disease of twentieth-century European nationalism and its ugly inhumanity. Those who turn their eyes away from this legacy and its continuing influence over today’s Ukrainian politics will never begin to understand the dynamics of the conflict within that country and with its neighbor. The symbols of Ukrainian nationalism, so readily embraced by Western armchair warriors raging at Putin, are dripping with the blood of Jews, Poles, Russians, Communists, partisans, and anti-fascists who encountered Ukrainian nationalism and its virulent practitioners.