Whitewashing collaborationism

Has it really come to this? As we mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, we discover that members of the Canadian Armed Forces, successors of those who fought against Nazi Germany, attended the unveiling last week of a monument to Nazi collaborationists. The head spins. It’s really quite hard to know what to make of this, except that contemporary geopolitics have combined with historical ignorance to produce a rather shameful outcome.

The monument in question is in the town of Sambir in Western Ukraine. It is dedicated to 17 members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists’ (OUN) military wing – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) – said to have been executed in Sambir by the German Gestapo in 1944 (although whether this is actually what happened is apparently contested). As Radio Canada International reports,

The monument is a large granite cross erected on the grounds of a derelict Jewish cemetery, where more than 1,200 Jews were shot and dumped into mass graves in 1943 by the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators.

What, you might ask, is a monument to the OUN-UPA doing in a Jewish cemetery which marks the site of a Holocaust-era massacre? The answer lies in local politics. For some time, the Ukrainian Jewish community has being trying to renovate the cemetery and create a memorial for the Jews murdered in Sambir, but it has been unable to do so ‘because of fierce opposition from modern-day Ukrainian nationalists in the area.’ In the end, therefore, the Jewish community agreed to a compromise: it would be allowed to build its own monument if it gave away some of the land for a memorial to the OUN-UPA.

This ‘compromise’ has come in for a lot of criticism, as it is not unreasonably seen as giving into blackmail. Eduard Dolinsky, head of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, told Radio Canada that it was ‘a blatant insult to the memory of the Jewish victims’, and ‘like erecting a monument to murderers on the graves of their victims.’ However, I’m not interested in criticising the Ukrainian Jews who agreed to this ‘compromise’. I’m neither Jewish nor Ukrainian, and ultimately it’s not my decision to make. If they felt that this was necessary given the current political climate, and that it was the only way to get what they wanted, that’s a matter for them. What pertubes me, though, is the fact that the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine attended the unveiling of the two monuments (one to the Jewish victims, the other to the OUN-UPA) along with several members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the latter of whom were photographed next to the memorial to the Ukrainian nationalists. I have to assume that these Canadian soldiers had no idea what they were doing.

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Currently I’m reading a book entitled Hitler’s Collaborators by British historian Philip Morgan. Morgan draws a useful distinction between collaboration and collaborationism, collaborators and collaborationists. Collaboration with German occupiers in the Second World War took many forms and was driven by many motives. At its most basic, it could mean simply carrying on doing exactly the same job as one was doing before the occupation – for instance, a Belgian railway worker who kept on working the railways after 1940 was in a sense ‘collaborating’ because he was now working for the occupiers and so enabling their war effort. Such collaboration might willing, but it also might be reluctant, or even coerced. Collaborationism was something else – it was deliberate, completely willing, and often associated with an affinity for Nazi ideology. Oddly enough, says Morgan, the Germans tended to prefer collaborators to collaborationists, because the latter had nationalist agendas which clashed with those of the Nazi Party. But as the war turned against Germany they increasingly overlooked this and proved more and more willing to give collaborationists full rein.

So what was the OUN-UPA, whom Canadian soldiers are now honouring with their presence? According to Morgan’s definition, they weren’t collaborators, they were very much collaborationists. That is to say that they worked alongside the Nazi occupiers of Ukraine willingly and zealously and shared certain key aspects of their ideology, including anti-Semitism. They also shared many of the occupiers’ methods, attempting to ethnically cleanse Ukraine of ‘foreign’ elements, most notably through massacres of Poles and Jews. Defenders of the monument in Sambir state that there is no evidence linking the 17 OUN-UPA members commemorated there with any murders. One can view them as ‘victims’ of the Nazis, and there is therefore nothing wrong in erecting a monument to them. This, however, ignores the nature of the organization to which they belonged, an organization which not only committed terrible atrocities but also fought alongside Canada’s enemies in the Second World War and which Canadian soldiers therefore have absolutely no business celebrating.

Canadian politicians continually like to say that they are unwavering in their support of Ukraine. In reality, what they are unwavering in their support of is a certain image of Ukraine, and the specific political and cultural program of a very specific group of Ukrainians, which includes rewriting history so as to portray Nazi collaborationists as victims. The aggressive pursuit of this program has proven to be deeply divisive, has plunged Ukraine into civil war, and is preventing it from making the compromises necessary for peace. ‘Supporting’ Ukraine in this way is not supporting it at all.

From a purely Canadian perspective, I find it staggering that the Canadian Armed Forces should get involved in such a morally dubious affair. As I said, I don’t wish to judge whether the ‘compromise’ in Sambir was worthwhile. That’s for Ukrainians to decide. But that’s the point. It’s for Ukrainians. Canadians should have nothing to do with it. We shouldn’t be disgracing ourselves by laying wreaths to those who collaborated with our enemies and participated in some of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century.

I don’t blame the soldiers who attended the ceremony in Sambir personally for what they did – I assume that they are simply ignorant of the historical context. Nevertheless, as a former Canadian army officer, their actions make me cringe in embarrassment. The colours of our regiments bear the names of the honours won by our forebears in the war against Nazi Germany. However unintentionally, those who attended the ceremony betrayed their past. So too did those who put them there.

12 thoughts on “Whitewashing collaborationism”

  1. A few questions Professor…

    Is the uniformed Uniate priest, 2nd from left, also off the hook?

    Am I a collaborator or a collaborationist, since I live and work under the Trudeau/Freeland-Bronfman regime?

    Is anyone in the academic community brave enough to substantially research and fully expose the origins of Nazism? Or perhaps look more closely at the historical relationship between Nazism and Zionism?

    Or do they prefer playing word games and promoting false distinctions, to obfuscate the disturbing Truth of these matters?

    But you could be on to something Professor. As with the example provided by Philip Morgan perhaps we could also begin distinguishing between Conspirator and Conspiracist theories/theorists/theoricists (ffs), which might surely be useful to the decrepit people who preside over us and must lie without remorse.

    Last question:

    Do you live in outer space?

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    1. Or perhaps look more closely at the historical relationship between Nazism and Zionism?

      Basically I am not a fan of dictating others research topics, angles, perspectives, but basically from within my rather limited politics/political sciences/blob perspective I always considered Zionism as a variant of 19th century Nationalism. I consider them as Janus-faces.

      As German I am fully aware that in the 19th century context we were probably the latest “nation” in Europe.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unification_of_Germany

      Beyond that it get more complicated. I surely understand your problem in the present, to the extend I grasp

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  2. “Canadian politicians continually like to say that they are unwavering in their support of Ukraine. In reality, what they are unwavering in their support of is… “

    …Russophobia. Whoever is against Russia becomes “Our SOB” from the West. Let’s not mince the words here.

    “From a purely Canadian perspective, I find it staggering that the Canadian Armed Forces should get involved in such a morally dubious affair… We shouldn’t be disgracing ourselves by laying wreaths to those who collaborated with our enemies and participated in some of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century. “

    Nah, everything is peachy! Or, what, Professor, you want for Putin to win?!

    “I don’t blame the soldiers who attended the ceremony in Sambir personally for what they did – I assume that they are simply ignorant of the historical context.

    Ha. Ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! AAAAA-ha-ha-ha-ha-HAAAAAAAAAA-ha-ha!

    Nice arse covering here, Professors. Yes, yes – SURE they were ignorant!

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    1. Whether they were “ignorant” or not, I still blame them for being willing to so blindly take up arms against a country that is no threat to Canada. The first Gulf War broke out while I was serving in the U.S. military. Had I been ordered to go, I was prepared to claim conscientious objector status on the basis that Iraq posed no threat to the U.S. I wasn’t ignorant.

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  3. Well, this is, I suppose, what’s called “nation building”. Constructing national myths and narratives.

    As I recall, liberal-democrats love to participate in “nation building”.

    “I have to assume that these Canadian soldiers had no idea what they were doing.”

    A feature, not a bug. Who wants to know how sausages are made? In the end, beautiful myths and narratives emerge, solidify, and stay (for a while, at least), and that’s the only thing that matters.

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  4. “That’s for Ukrainians to decide. But that’s the point. It’s for Ukrainians. Canadians should have nothing to do with it. We shouldn’t be disgracing ourselves by laying wreaths to those who collaborated with our enemies and participated in some of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century.”

    ****

    This comes as no great surprise.

    Consider the background of Ukraine’s current foreign minister. The pro-OUN/UPA types will note that their opponent was the USSR – not the West, adding that the Nazis became harsh with the OUN/UPA.

    In the US, the Congressionally backed Captive Nations Committee (CNC) was greatly influenced by pro-Bandera people of Ukrainian background. The CNC was able to get the US government to officially recognize “Captive Nations Week”. Concerning its bigoted anti-Russian element:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20050205051751/http://russian-americans.org/CRA_Art_Captive.htm

    http://www.ukrweekly.com/uwwp/july-17-1959/

    Kudos to Richard Sakwa’s footnote 33:

    The aforementioned pro-CNC/Bandera book by Bernadine Bailey is toxic anti-Russian propaganda. Substitute Jew for Russian and it would be condemned as bigoted.

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  5. Professor, maybe you should interview those Canadian soldiers and ask them, face to face, if they knew what they were doing, and whom they were honoring?
    Suggested interview question: “Are you pro-Nazi, or are you just ignorant?”

    Second question for these soldiers: “What is your ethnicity?”
    A) English
    B) French
    C) Ukrainian diaspora?

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  6. Paul, semi-concentrated on matters, and not too sure if I want to know all I should know (love’s labor lost), but concerning symbolism, symbols, I am wondering a bit about the memorials “symbolism”.

    Mind you, i understand your concern about your present brothers in arms, but can we get a full image of the monument? Doesn’t seem to fit present times. Not that I am not somewhat familiar with it. As far as the little we see of it is concerned:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Cross#Original_awards_of_the_Wars_of_Liberation

    Am I suppose to consider this an accident?

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  7. I don’t remember where I came across the link to this WordPress site…I’m sure any number of the blogs I follow may have referenced an article & provided the link. I was very surprised to come across this story & it just reinforces the point for me that unless one really is lucky enough to chance upon the right author/journalist, it is next to impossible in the United States, at any given time, to know of the many things going on in Europe.
    How sad is it that in a time when there are more than 25+ “television news networks” available through the top several cable providers, one still has to search find & wide to find true reporting.
    I take a special interest in this as an American who is both Polish and Ukrainian and I hear very little on Eastern Europe. The current propaganda campaign taking place in the USA currently regarding Trump & Ukrainian President is a very rare exception, and this is quite obvious, to most of us, an intentional stunt, as it pertains to the Democratic Party’s ongoing effort to smear Trump & attempt to have him impeached.
    If there are any additional resources you might be able to recommend to me, I’d greatly appreciate your sharing these with me.
    Thank you so much!
    P.S. This story was very bizarre and disturbing to read. I am quite surprised, actually, all things considered, that this did not make the main news networks in the states, especially with our large American Jewish population and close alliance with Israel. I don’t make a habit of watching our fake news much the past 15 years so I may have missed this one. Thank you for posting and sharing!

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