“Neither Twenty Million, nor Russians, nor War Dead . . .”

by Norman Davies

THE DEACONRY OF BUCZACZ. In 1939, this district contained 45,314 Polish inhabitants. Among its 17 parishes, Barycz numbered 4,875, Buczacz 10,257, Koropiec 2,353, Kowalowka 3,009, Monasterzyska 7,175. . . .

In Barycz, a couple of Polish families were murdered by Ukrainians in 1939. . .  . One of the Biernackis had a leg severed. . . . But the main attack. . . took place on the night of 5-6 July 1944, when 126 Poles were killed. Men, women and children were shot, or hacked to death with axes. The “Mazury ‘ ward of the town was burned down. The attackers were armed with machine guns and shouted “Rizaty, palyty” [kill, burn]. The survivors fled to Buczacz where they lived through the winter in terrible conditions, in ex-Jewish houses without doors or windows. . . .

The attack on Puzniki followed shortly afterwards. Over 100 Poles were killed and the village burned.

The [Catholic] parish of Nowostawce, though sparsely inhabited was very extensive. It contained three Greek-Catholic parishes within its bounds. The ratio of Poles to Ukrainians was 2:3. In 1939 co-existence was still possible. But conditions worsened after the German Occupation. In 1944, when the German-Soviet frontline passed through, nothing but ruins remained. . . .

The vicar of Korosciatyn reported an attack on his village on 28 February 1944, when only a handful of houses were saved. 78 persons were shot, smothered or axed in the vicarage cellar. . . . Some ninety people had perished in an earlier attack in 1943. Then typhus carried off a further fifty. A curious thing occurred. The village had thirteen so-called “wild marriages.” All of these couples died except one.

In Koropiec, no Poles were actually murdered. But it was reported that the Greek-Catholic pulpits resounded to calls regarding mixed Polish-Ukrainian marriages: “Mother, you're suckling an enemy - strangle it.”1

Forty years after the event, the Roman Catholic Church in Poland was still trying to document the wartime atrocities, of which Poles and Catholics had been victim. Buczacz was just one of scores of districts in the former eastern Poland that had been terrorized by Ukrainian groups. Buczacz, ninety miles from Lwow [Lviv], lay in the sometime Austrian province of Galicia. As in the neighbouring province of Volhynia, its pre-war population contained substantial Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish communities. The Jews were killed by the Nazis in 1942-43, sometimes with local collaboration. Then the Ukrainian nationalists turned on the Poles, in a classic demonstration of the technique later to be called “ethnic cleansing.” Estimates of Polish losses in East Galicia and Volhynia range from 100,000 to 500,000. Later, the whole region was annexed to the USSR. Soviet security forces destroyed the Ukrainian organizations in yet another wave of mass terror and 'repatriated' most of the remaining Poles.

Ethnic cleansing in wartime Poland had been launched both by the Nazis, who cleared large districts for resettlement by Germans, and by the Soviets, who in l939-41 deported millions from the East. It was taken up by the nationalist faction of the Polish underground (NSZ), who sought to drive out Ukrainians, and on a much larger scale by various Ukrainian factions, especially the UPA. At the end of the war, it was revived once again by the Soviets and their agents, who sought to cleanse the Ukrainian SSR of Poles and, through Operation Vistula, the “Polish People's Republic” tried to get rid of Ukrainians in southeastern Poland. Ethnic cleansing was implicit in the policy of the Allied Powers, who agreed to the expulsion of all Germans from east of the Oder.

In post-war eastern Europe, however, all wartime crimes were officially ascribed to the Nazis. Victims from areas like Buczacz — none of whom were Russians — were lumped together in the “Twenty Million Russian War Dead,”2 or otherwise covered by the veil of silence. The process of honest documentation was only just beginning in the 1980s. The process of reconciliation between Poland and Ukraine could not even start before the collapse of the communist regimes in l989-91.3

The multinational dimensions of the wartime tragedy were not widely appreciated. Historians of all nationalities have been guilty of counting and publicizing their own losses to the exclusion of others. Only occasionally one meets accounts of shared suffering, where the gehenna of one community overlapped with that of another:

Between May and December 1942 more than 140,000 Volhynia Jews were murdered. Some who had been given refuge in Polish homes were murdered together with their Polish protectors in the spring of 1943, when of 300,000 Poles living in Volhynia, 40,000 were murdered by Ukrainian “bandits.” In many villages, Poles and Jews fought together against the common foe.4

But no general survey of wartime genocide in all its manifestations exists.

Attempts to establish Polish/Catholic losses in the East, for example, inevitably sideline the Jewish and Ukrainian experiences. They naturally stress the role of Jewish and Ukrainian collaborators in the Soviet service, or of Ukrainian police units under German control; but they are not concerned with the activities of German Schupo units from Silesia, i. e. of Poles in German police uniforms, nor with the effects of the Polish Home Army's decision to assist the Soviet campaign against the Wehrmacht. It is not part of their brief to count the UPA's Jewish and Ukrainian victims, still less human losses in the region as a whole. It is a sad truth: in reporting a war of omnes contra omnium, any exercise which only looks at one side, or which suggests a monopoly of suffering, is bound to paint a distorted picture.

Buczacz (Buchach),  now in Ukraine, was once the home town of Simon Wiesenthal, “Nazi-hunter extraordinary.”



1 Bishop Wincenty Urban, Droga Krzyzowa Archidiecezji Lwowskiej, 1939-45 [The Way of the Cross of the Archdiocese of Lwow 1939-45] (Wroclaw 1983), 52-55.
2 Norman Davies, “Neither Twenty Million, nor Russians, nor War Dead,”
The Independent, 29 December 1987.
3 In 1993, President Kravchuk of Ukraine was reported as saying: “We will not hide the fact that during the Second World War Ukrainian chauvinists murdered around one half million Poles in the eastern borderlands of pre-war Poland. Even for several years after the war, Polish villages burned and Poles continued to perish. . . . Hence, the qualms of our conscience in relation to the Polish nation.”
4 Martin Gilbert,
Atlas of the Holocaust (London 1982), 82.

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