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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Shukhevych and the Nachtigall Battalion: Soviet Fabrications about the Ukrainian Resistance Movement

15 September, 2009 - 00:00

(Conclusion. For the beginning, see previous issue)

The Nachtigall Battalion spent one week in Lviv providing security for the bases for which they were responsible. Some soldiers also participated in the historic event known as the Proclamation of the Restoration of the Ukrainian State, which was carried out by Yaroslav Stetsko on 30 June 1941. The Germans viewed the proclamation, which was secretly authorized by Stepan Bandera, as an act by the Bandera leadership whose objective was to “present the German authorities with a fait accompli.” This was indeed the case, and it determined the relationship between the OUN(B) and the German authorities for the duration of the war. After witnessing the tragic events in Lviv, Nachtigall moved eastward with the advancing German troops until it reached Vinnytsia. It then headed for Yuzvyn (Vinnytsia oblast), where it remained stationed for two weeks.

At this time the members of the Nachtigall and Roland battalions learned that the Germans had arrested Bandera, Stetsko, and other leading members of the OUN-B, and that by a decree issued on 17 July Galicia had been incorporated into the General Government. The leadership of the two battalions reacted immediately to this unexpected news. Captain Roman Shukhevych, the recognized political leader of both battalions, wrote a letter to the Wehrmacht high command, protesting the developments in Galicia and stating that under those circumstances Ukrainians could not remain in German service. As a result, both battalions were withdrawn from the front, disarmed, and sent to Frankfurt-an-der Oder, where they were given a choice: either to sign a one-year contract to serve as Schutzpolizei (Germany’s municipal police force) or be sent to Germany as forced laborers. As could be expected, they chose to serve as Schutzpolizei. This was the end of the existence of the Nachtigall and Rolland battalions.

The new battalion, under the command of Major Ievhen Pobihushchyi and Captain Roman Shukhevych departed for Belarus, arriving on 19 April 1942 in Lepel, a small town in the vicinity of which they performed security services, such as protecting trains and guarding storehouses. Its contract expired in late 1942, and since the Ukrainian soldiers refused to renew it, they were transported in small groups back to Lviv. The first group left on 5 December 1942, and on 6 January 1943 the officers left Belarus, arriving in Lviv on Ukrainian Christmas. Shukhevych took advantage of the Christmas holidays to ask the German guard for permission to go home, since he lived in the vicinity and had told his wife to expect a guest. Promising to return at once, Shukhevych departed, but did not return, thus avoiding imprisonment in the Loncki jail to which all the other officers were sent.

After escaping the Germans, Shukhevych went underground. He quickly re-established contact with the OUN(B) and by May he joined the Bureau of the OUN Leadership. He reached his peak of power within the Ukrainian resistance movement in August 1943, at the Third Extraordinary Congress of the OUN, where he was chosen to head the Bureau. At the same time, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Thus, a new period began in Shukhevych’s life, marked by his leadership of the Ukrainian armed struggle on two fronts: against the Nazis and the Soviet totalitarian regime.

In view of the criticisms that have been leveled at Shukhevych as an officer in the Nachtigall Battalion, which is accused of allegedly participating in the killings of Jews and Polish intellectuals in Lviv in July 1941, I propose to examine historical records in order to establish the truth.

After the Soviets reoccupied Lviv in the fall of 1944 an Extraordinary State Commission on German atrocities perpetrated on the territory of Lviv region was created by the Soviet government. The commission consisted of members of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and other influential members of the Soviet government. The results of their investigation were published in booklet form in Kyiv in 1945. On the basis of the investigation, which consisted of research, eyewitness accounts, and medical reports, the commission concluded that Gestapo detachments had prepared lists of Lviv intellectuals who were slated for destruction even before the Germans entered the city. The findings of the Extraordinary State Commission served as the basis for arguments advanced by General Roman Rudenko, who served as Chief Prosecutor for the USSR at the Nuremberg Trials. Addressing the Lviv problem, Rudenko stated: “Immediately after the occupation of Lvov by the Germans, mass arrests and shooting of professors, physicians, lawyers, writers, and artists started…An investigation …showed that over 70 prominent scientists, technicians, and artists had been killed by the Germans, their bodies being subsequently burned by the Gestapo.” The tragic deaths of Lviv’s outstanding intellectuals were also discussed in Nuremberg by Chief Counselor of Justice (USSR) Lev N. Smirnov, who provided some details about the victims.

In its published report the Extraordinary State Commission not only drew up a list of victims with some descriptions of their sufferings, but also provided a record of individuals from various branches of the German security services, who had participated in the criminal activities in Lviv. It should be noted that neither the report of the Extraordinary State Commission nor Rudenko or Smirnov — nor anyone else, for that matter — mentioned anything during the Nuremberg Trials about any criminal acts perpetrated by Nachtigall or Roman Shukhevych. This fabrication was created later. The campaign to besmirch both was launched on 2 October 1959, when an instruction was issued by the Second Chief Directorate of the KGB of the USSR requesting a search for documents as well as witnesses in connection with Theodor Oberl nder, the Minister for Displaced Persons, Refugees and Victims of War for the Federal Republic of Germany, who was accused of organizing the mass extermination of the civilian population in Lviv in 1941. On 16 November 1959 a second directive was sent from Moscow by Lieutenant-General Fedor Shcherbak, deputy head of the Second Chief Directorate of the KGB of the USSR, urging that eyewitnesses be prepared for interrogation about Nachtigall.

The real objective of the KGB in pursuing the matter of Oberl nder and the Nachtigall Battalion was stated in a letter sent from the KGB office of Lviv region to the chairman of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR, Vitalii Nikitchenko. The letter clearly states that the instructions had been fulfilled with respect to gathering “evidence about the criminal acts in Lviv and on the territory of its region, which were committed by Oberl nder and the Nachtigall Battalion. With the objective of compromising Oberl nder and the Ukrainian nationalists, the documents gathered by the UKGB have been widely used in the local and central press, movie chronicles, and at a press conference in Moscow.”

Having thus established a prefabricated documentary basis, Moscow was ready to launch international condemnation of Ukrainian nationalism for the alleged murder of Polish intellectuals and members of Jewish community of Lviv by linking the Nachtigall Battalion with Theodor Oberl nder. Using Nachtigall and Oberl nder as background, what the KGB was preparing was part of the Kremlin’s diabolical scheme whose objective was the assassination of Stepan Bandera, the leader of the OUN(B), which was preceded by the murder of Professor Lev Rebet, the head of the OUN Abroad. In January 1959 Bohdan Stashynsky, a well trained KGB assassin, who had already proved his killing skills on 12 October 1957, when he assassinated Lev Rebet in Munich, was instructed by his KGB handler Sergei A. Demon to go to Munich and determine the whereabouts of Stepan Bandera. In October 1959 Stashynsky was told by his handler to travel to Munich and carry out Moscow’s order by killing Bandera. On 15 October he executed his mission. In December Stashynsky was summoned to Moscow, where Aleksandr Shelepin, the head of the KGB, “awarded him the Order of the Red Banner for fulfilling an important government mission.”

What a strange series of interconnected events: in Munich, the Ukrainians were mourning the death of their leader, not realizing that he had been assassinated by a KGB agent, while in Moscow, Shelepin and his KGB subordinates were celebrating their success in Munich. On 22 October 1959 Professor Albert Norden held a press conference in East Berlin, which marked the beginning of a campaign against the members of the Nachtigall Battalion and Professor Oberl nder, who were accused of the mass murder of Jews and Poles in Lviv in July 1941. These well orchestrated events melded the Ukrainian tragedy with Moscow’s political objectives.

Immediately after Bandera’s assassination both Moscow and Soviet- controlled East Germany accused Oberl nder of having committed the crime in Lviv. The official organ of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, the newspaper Krasnaia zvezda, declared that because Bandera had entered Lviv with Nachtigall, he knew too much about Oberl nder’s criminal acts and was therefore killed. The accusation leveled by the German Democratic Republic stated:

“Jointly with the notorious fascist and racial ideologist, Professor Hans Koch, Oberl nder, in the beginning organized the Nachtigall battalion, using for this purpose the units of the Ukrainian terrorist and chauvinist, Bandera. As its military commanding officer, he drilled this battalion in the service of fascist ideology, indoctrinating it with anti-communism, and hatred against the intellectual strata of the East European nations…

Oberl nder headed the murder battalion Nachtigall when this unit attacked the Soviet university town of Lwow during the hours of the morning of June 30, 1941. Under his leadership, the members of the Nachtigall battalion started pogroms against the Jewish population, and a systematic extermination campaign against the leading representatives of the town’s intelligentsia, using for this purpose lists of names which had been prepared in advance”.

For these alleged criminal acts Oberl nder was found guilty by the East German court, which handed down its decision on 29 April 1960. The ruling was widely publicized throughout the communist bloc. A book about Oberl nder was published in Poland, slandering Oberl nder, Bandera, and Ukrainian nationalists. The attacks against Oberl nder continued within the Ukrainian context of the Nachtigall Battalion, but in reality the Soviet communists were seeking to defame his high position as a minister of the West German government, as well as Chancellor Adenauer, argues Hermann Raschhofer, who had been a professor of International Law in German-occupied Prague in 1941. The high point of this prefabricated slander was reached when the left wing of the Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime (VVN) delivered evidence against Oberl nder to the Public Prosecutor of West Germany, charging him with crimes committed in Lviv in 1941. Thus, the same person was the central figure to be tried in three courts of law for the same crimes that he had allegedly committed. The first took place in East Germany during a show trial, where he was found guilty in absentia by the Supreme Court of the German Democratic Republic. The next two times Oberl nder was ready to testify before the Chief Public Prosecutor of District Courts in Bonn and Munich.

The war of slander waged by VVN functionaries was successful, and by May 1960 Oberl nder resigned his position as minister of the West German government. But this was only the beginning of a long trial in Bonn during which all the charges were carefully re-examined. It should be noted that while Oberl nder was the central figure in those legal proceedings, he was always judged as the commanding officer of the Nachtigall Battalion within the context of the events in Lviv. Therefore, Ukrainians were never left out of the picture.

As a result of the careful examination of various eyewitnesses, both military and civilian, the court came to the conclusion that there were no grounds for accusing Nachtigall of any criminal acts against Jews or Polish professors in Lviv in July 1941. Similarly, all accusations against Professor Oberl nder’s conduct were rejected as baseless. The international community learned the details about the false accusations against Oberl nder only during the trial of Bandera’s assassin Bohdan Stashynsky, which took place in Karlsruhe on 8-19 October 1962. During the trial the presiding judge, Dr. Heinrich Jagusch, stated that “the Soviet Secret Service no longer commits murder at its own discretion. Murder is now carried out on express government orders. Political murder has, so to speak, now become institutionalized.”

During the investigation of the crimes in Lviv, the court established that it was the German Security Service (SD), the Security Police, and the Einsatzkommando 5 that had perpetrated the mass murder of Jews and Polish professors. During the discussion of these tragic events the court also addressed the terrible mass murders of prisoners that the Soviets committed in the prisons of Lviv before the German troops entered the city. After his trial began, Oberl nder approached Wolfgang M ller, the General Secretary of the German Section of the URPE, the “Union de la R sistance pour une Europe unie” (an organization consisting of prominent World War II anti-Nazi resistance fighters and intellectuals) in D sseldorf, with a proposal to form an independent international commission to ascertain the truth of what really happened in Lviv in 1941. The commission members included the Norwegian lawyer Hans Cappelen, former Danish foreign minister and president of the Danish parliament Ole Bj rn Kraft, the Dutch socialist Karel van Staal, the Belgian law professor Flor Peeters, and the Swiss jurist and Member of Parliament Kurt Schoch.

In order to be free of German or any other influence, the members of the commission, who met on 27-28 November 1959, decided that all their work would be conducted in The Hague (the Netherlands). The commission interviewed witnesses and re-examined various records from November 1959 to March 1960, and came to the following conclusion: “After four months of inquiries and the evaluation of 232 statements by witnesses from all circles involved, it can be established that the accusations against the Battalion Nachtigall and against the then Lieutenant and currently Federal Minister Oberl nder have no foundation in fact.” Having thoroughly documented the mass murder in Lviv by the communists,i the commission also rejected as unfounded the accusation that Oberl nder and Ukrainian nationalists were responsible for murdering Jews and Polish professors, as was stated by Alexander Dallin in his book, German Rule in Russia, 1941-1945.

The international commission also tried to make sense of “the deeper cause for the Kremlin’s defamation campaign against the Ukrainian unit connected with the German Wehrmacht.” The commission members treated Minister Oberl nder only as a side issue in the overall significance of the case. In their opinion, the KGB, in planning to murder Stepan Bandera, wanted to turn public attention away from itself and connect the murder with the Germans through Oberl nder. Thus, Bandera’s assassination was prepared in such a way as to make Oberl nder guilty of this crime. The commission also stated that by slandering Nachtigall, the Kremlin tried to defame the symbol of the Ukrainians’ armed struggle for freedom and General Roman Shukhevych/Taras Chuprynka, the heroic Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, “which became an immortal banner carrier of the Ukrainian fight for freedom.”

The Oberl nder trial and the subsequent findings of the International Commission, which declared Lieutenant Oberl nder and the members of the Nachtigall Battalion innocent of the crimes committed in Lviv in July 1941, did not stop the communists and various irresponsible individuals from spreading calumny about them. In one case, Oberl nder sued his slanderer, the writer Bernt Engelmann, who was found guilty since he could not prove that the stories he was spreading about Oberl nder and Nachtigall were true. As punishment, the writer had to pay monetary damages for character defamation.

Neither the investigations that were carried out during the court proceedings in Bonn, Karlsruhe, and Munich, nor the research compiled by the international commission at The Hague or the materials of the Nuremberg trials (42 volumes) even once mentioned any criminal act by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists or any of its leaders. Despite the overwhelming evidence exonerating the OUN and Roman Shukhevych, there are still individuals, particularly those with communist leanings or followers of the Moscow trend to condemn the Ukrainians’ struggle for independence, who continue to slander the leaders of the Ukrainian resistance movement.

Of course, one can always learn more about the past. In order to facilitate this process, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has opened its archives to all historians, and, in cooperation with the Institute of National Memory, it has established the Social Historical Hearings, which include lectures and exhibitions of documents. The goal of this project, as stated by Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the head of the SBU, is to learn the truth. During the opening of an exhibit of SBU archival documents and photographs devoted to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army Nalyvaichenko declared that the various speculations, myths, and stereotypes created about the OUN and UPA have prevented the Ukrainian people from learning the truth about their historical past.

The Historical Hearings held on 6 February 2008, which were dedicated to “the accusations against Nachtigall — historical truth or political technology,” are extremely appropriate for our discussion. The Ukrainian historian Ivan Patryliak, who teaches at Kyiv University, gave an extensive lecture on the history of the Nachtigall Battalion, which provided the hearing participants with an excellent foundation for a scholarly discussion of the problem. This commendable action underscores the need always to seek out the truth and to refrain from making off-the-cuff statements that reinforce stereotypes and create animosity.

By Dr. Taras HUNCZAK