How Hitler’s Shadow Is Turning into the KGB’s Shadow
The US National Archives’ sensational new report on the CIA’s complicity in protecting Nazi war criminals during the Cold War, including alleged Ukrainian war criminals, is shockingly similar to something that the Soviet KGB could have cooked up.
On 10 December 2010 the National Archives in Washington, D.C. issued a report for the US Congress with the dramatic title “Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence and the Cold War.” Relying on newly declassified documents, historians Richard Breitman and Norman Goda accuse the postwar American secret services of protecting Nazi war criminals.
Clearly, the publication of this report at the very time when protracted information wars around the past are taking place in Ukraine, at the center of which is the Ukrainian liberation movement of the 1920s–1950s, will only add fuel to the fire. Historical debates are a necessary and beneficial social phenomenon, but in recent years such debates in Ukraine are often tied to politics or even geopolitics.
Ukrainians’ efforts to rethink their history and bring to light its unknown pages, particularly through the declassification of the former KGB archives, have encountered not only lack of understanding on the part of neighboring Russia but also that country’s vigorous counteraction. Russia’s highest-ranking leaders, including the president and the prime minister, regularly issue statements that seek, sometimes rather coarsely, to correct Ukrainians’ views of their own history. The rise to power in Ukraine of the pro-Russian team of Viktor Yanukovych has resulted not only in a complete about-face in the government’s assessment of the past, but also in the closure of archives and even the removal of certain episodes from Ukrainian history textbooks.
It would appear that the powers that be in Ukraine, following in Russia’s footsteps, have launched the process of rehabilitating the Soviet past and reviving old communist stereotypes in the form of “new historical assessments” of certain individuals or phenomena. Nowhere is this Soviet-style revisionism more apparent than in questions relating to the national liberation movement led by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during and after the Second World War. The Soviet government’s military and propagandistic struggle against the OUN and the UPA, which lasted more than ten years after the Second World War ended, involved the use of large military formations and a broad and powerful propaganda campaign.
One example of the resurfacing of KGB propaganda and the omission of Ukrainian archival documents appears in part of the report that was written by two historians at the National Archives in the US. This is not the first time that Breitman and Goda have labeled Mykola Lebed, one of the key figures in the OUN, as a Nazi war criminal. In a report entitled “US Intelligence and the Nazis,” which was presented as the concluding part of a study prepared by an interdepartmental group of historians in 2005, Lebed is discussed in the sub-section entitled “Nazi Collaborators in the United States: What the FBI Knew.”
Their logic is as follows:
The main thrust of this logical construct is concentrated in the first thesis. That said, it should have been the best-substantiated point and founded on a solid source base, including OUN documents. Instead, the bibliography does not include any such documents, only references to the works of Philip Friedman (1959) and John A. Armstrong (1955). Armstrong, in fact, rejected the theory that the OUN collaborated with the Nazis, and he was personally acquainted with and sympathetic to Lebed, whom he did not consider a Nazi war criminal. Somehow, Breitman and Goda overlooked the masses of documents and studies that have been published in the last twenty years. These various publications, all of which conclusively refute the accusation that the OUN collaborated with the Nazis, contain documented proof of the fact that the KGB falsified the history of the OUN in order to compromise it.
Between 2008 and early 2010 Ukraine opened up the KGB archives. Therefore, even if the KGB archives in Russia are still under lock and key, there are enough declassified KGB documents in Ukraine to enable historians to reach certain conclusions. Regrettably, the authors of the National Archives report neither examined nor mentioned these published documents. Thus, it is hardly surprising that their opinions are very similar to the key theses of Soviet-era propaganda.
Thus, in the newly issued National Archives report entitled “Hitler’s Shadow” Lebed’s name appears a second time in the list of Nazi war criminals. Information about him is published in the section of materials pertaining to such odious figures as Hitler’s personal secretary Gertrude (Traudl) Junge; Gauleiter Arthur Greiser; Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini; and the top leaders of the Gestapo, including Adolf Eichmann. It would appear that simply by including Mykola Lebed in the company of these notorious Nazis and anti-Semites, the authors wanted to convince readers that Lebed was unquestionably a collaborator and Nazi war criminal.
The report includes a facsimile copy of a CIA document dated 1952. The caption reads: “The CIA moved to protect Ukranian [sic] nationalist leader Mykola Lebed from criminal investigation
The information on Lebed that appears further in the National Archives report is an expanded version of the 2005 report. Thus, in both reports the main attention is focused on Lebed’s postwar collaboration with the American secret services.
With regard to the Second World War, the very period when Lebed had supposedly shown himself to be a Nazi war criminal, the two authors of the newly released National Archives report sought to include a larger number of sources in order to portray him in this light. Once again, however, they ignored primary sources.
The report includes information on the arrests and murders by the Germans of Ukrainian nationalists who were accused of organizing an anti-Nazi uprising. The authors conclude that the relationship between the Nazis and the OUN was “complicated.” That goes without saying. The Ukrainian movement’s brief period of cooperation with the Germans from 1939 to 1941 (which lasted only a few weeks longer than the alliance between the USSR and Nazi Germany) was followed by a period of armed resistance, which lasted until the end of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.
Anyone wishing to investigate the activities of Mykola Lebed should consult the unique documents contained in his personal archive, which is housed at Harvard University. This archive also contains thousands of documents issued by the OUN and the UPA in the 1940s–1950s, which illuminate the ideology of these two structures, their attitude to various national groups and their struggle against the German occupation, and shed light on the causes and course of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict in 1942–47.
Thus, instead of citing fragments of the resolutions that were adopted at various conferences of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, as was done in the report just released by the National Archives, these documents could be cited in full, which would allow both historians and readers to reach well-substantiated conclusions. For example, one of the theses underpinning the finding that the OUN allegedly pursued anti-Semitic policies stems from a quotation from a resolution that was adopted by the Second Grand Assembly of the OUN in April 1941: “Jews in the USSR constitute the most faithful support of the ruling Bolshevik regime and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in the Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, the OUN’s resolution on the Jews sounds like this: “Jews in the USSR constitute the most faithful support of the ruling Bolshevik regime and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in the Ukraine. The Russian-Bolshevik government is exploiting the anti-Jewish moods of the Ukrainian masses in order to distract their attention from the true cause of the calamity and also in order to channel them into carrying out pogroms against the Jews during a flare-up. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists is combating the Jews as a support of the Russian-Bolshevik regime, at the same time making the masses aware that the principal enemy is Moscow.”
Thus, a scrupulous researcher who has read the complete text will reach different conclusions. The first part of the thesis is a statement about the commonly-held opinion at the time that the Jews had played an important role in the consolidation of Soviet power. The second part of this quote emphasizes that the OUN was only fighting against those Jews who were actively participating in the activities of the Bolshevik government in Ukraine. The full citation also notes that the principal enemy is the communist regime based in Moscow, not individual nations. The quotation also reveals the OUN’s negative attitude to anti-Jewish pogroms, viewing them as actions that were exclusively aimed at distracting the people’s attention away from the main enemy of the
The statements of two Ukrainian nationalist leaders, dated 1930 and 1944, provide further substantiation of the OUN’s ideological platform, particularly with regard to the policy of coexistence with national minorities. As early as 1930 one of the chief ideologists of Ukrainian nationalism, Mykola Stsiborsky, wrote: “The only signpost in the search for the paths of the state government’s treatment of minorities must be the [following] principle: the normal coexistence of society and its individual national components, and the cooperation of all for the good of the Ukrainian State. … In addition, it is crucial to inform Jews clearly that our statehood movement does not see any grounds or advantages in restricting the legal status of Jewry in Ukraine. On the contrary, it will be the government’s task to grant Jews equal status and the opportunity to realize themselves in all spheres of social-public, cultural, and other types of activities.”
In 1944 another key OUN leader, Yosyp Pozychaniuk, emphasized: “There must be no anti-Semitism and any kind of anti-ism in the program. The program must recognize the rights of national minorities and even emphasize the benefits accruing to those who will cooperate and dedicate themselves to the struggle for the Ukrainian State.”
As we can see, research on the OUN’s policies on national minorities in particular and adherence to human rights in general requires scrupulous analysis of all sources. An objective historian who examines available sources on these and other questions will be hard-pressed to call the Ukrainian insurgent movement “collaborationist.” Incidentally, among the documents housed at Harvard University are copies of publications about the “Nazi war criminal” Mykola Lebed, which were concocted by the KGB in the 1970s and 1980s.
One day, perhaps, we will have occasion to read an entirely new analysis of the activities of Mykola Lebed and the OUN, written by US historians who consulted the important documents that are stored at Harvard. Perhaps; but right now information contained in the National Archives report is being circulated about one of the leaders of the Ukrainian anti-Nazi resistance movement, who is slandered as a collaborator and war criminal. In doing so, this report is helping to revive the KGB’s shadow and old communist myths.
(Volodymyr Viatrovych is one of Ukraine’s leading historians specializing in the history of the Ukrainian liberation movement. In 2008–10, when he was the director of the Branch State Archive of the Security Service of Ukraine (HDA SBU), he declassified previously secret KGB archives, making them accessible through a specially created network of inquiry centers and an online archive. He is the author of several books and numerous articles about the Ukrainian liberation movement in the twentieth century.)