ID: 216
Theme elaborates on the difficult questions around political collaboration with the occupier and service in Nazi armed formations. What exactly is defined by historians as collaboration?

The theme was prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

One of the most difficult questions facing anyone trying to understand World War II is the question of the collaboration and cooperation of part of the population, including elites, with the Nazi occupiers. For those who see history as the history of a nation's struggle, the question of collaboration is, first and foremost, that of betrayal. Therefore, it is often suppressed, marginalized or interpreted in terms of "forced cooperation" caused by historical necessity and "the good of the people". In turn, for those who see history as a complex process whose actors are individuals and groups rather than entire nations, the question of collaboration is that of the context in which cooperation with the totalitarian regime comes into play. In a broad sense, it is a question of how an ordinary person can commit extraordinary evil. It is a matter of responsible, personal awareness of the past, not a collective accusation or, on the contrary, justification and even heroization.

European context

The issue of collaboration or cooperation with the occupiers is irritating not only in contemporary Ukraine, but also for most European countries — from Russia and the collaborating army of Vlasov to France and the Vichy government. In Eastern Europe, the occupation regime was open to cooperation and collaboration with national groups, which were deprived of statehood in the interwar period or had lost it as a result of the Soviet occupation, and created promising prospects for their cultural and political development. Among those nationalities, there were Ukrainians, Croats, Lithuanians, Slovaks, and Tatars. People's reactions were not always consistent as anti-Nazi positions strengthened only towards the end of the war. Instead, in western Europe, the Nazis at the beginning of the war allowed states to continue to exist, using internal socio-political conflicts.

A striking example is France, where collaboration is recognized mainly in the context of the Vichy regime's participation in the Holocaust, but not in the general sense. On the one hand, Presidents Jacques Chirac and François Hollande claimed state responsibility for deporting Jews to death camps, and the state pays compensations to the relatives of the victims and survivors. On the other hand, in public discourse, the Resistance movement and the participation of the French in the Operation Neptune (D-Day) often overrides historical accuracy and takes Vichy's collaboration into the brackets of the past, that is, beyond French history.


The concept of collaboration appeared in the context of Vichy France's cooperation with Nazi Germany. After the war, the word "collaboration" in many languages (Ukrainian, Polish, German, Danish) began to be used daily to mean "betrayal" or "cooperation with the enemy." In the scientific sense, this term means various forms of cooperation between the occupying power and the local population and their elites. There is no single exact definition of collaboration. This term is used to denote both political cooperation with the occupier and service in armed formations (military, functional collaboration) under Nazi command.

Since the term "collaboration" was formed in the context of the Vichy government, political collaboration is at the same time that of the state, i.e. its purpose is to continue the existing state (collaboration dʼétat). In this sense, the term is also used in relation to Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Many historians, however, point out that the desire of political leaders deprived of their own states, for example, in the territory of the General Government or the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, to use Nazi occupation to create a new state or autonomy in the future was a form of political collaboration as well. Tarik Amar called this form of cooperation “collaboration for the sake of the state” (collaboration afin dʼétat). Other historians (such as Jacek Mlynarczyk or Karl-Peter Friedrich) tend to call collaborators citizens from without state-run or armed organizations, such as artists, journalists, or informers, if they actively spread Nazi ideology that harmed the local population. Accordingly, they remove from the circle of collaborators those who, though serving in Nazi formations, such as the police, did no harm. For example, service in the police could be aimed at both maintaining civil order and terrorizing society. Assessing what is "harmful" or "a betrayal" engages the individual value system of the historian and can be very inaccurate scientifically. Henrik Dethlefsen points out that society has a natural tendency to adapt to conditions, so the term "collaboration" should be applied primarily to political elites. The position of elites is especially important as it is this position that shapes the political course and patterns of behaviour for society. In his opinion, the application of the word “collaboration” to all forms of cooperation leads to a blurring of this word meaning in the context of World War II.

Because the term collaboration in English is often used in the general, neutral sense of cooperation, the term "collaborationism" is used to describe ideologically motivated support for the occupying power by elites. Of course, the boundaries between reactions and their motivations not always can be clearly described according to this division.

During World War II, almost all members of society, regardless of their position, interacted with the occupation regime. People continued to pay taxes, to work, to participate in cultural life, all this being a form of social adaptation to the status quo and not always meaning ideological support for the occupier. Joining the privileged Volksdeutsche (list of ethnic Germans) or service in local institutions (school, administrative institutions) or the indifference of observers in the face of violence perpetrated by civilians can be considered a form of cooperation. In the short run, it was beneficial personally and for the family as it resuled in a pension or freedom of movement, and in the case of Jews, in extra food and postponement of death. Some combined various forms of cooperation with opposition to the authorities or assistance to others. The line between adaptation and active support for the regime was thin; however, many crossed it, especially by joining armed formations, engaging in political cooperation or active support for a new, racist, social order. The most striking form of collaboration was complicity in the killing of the Jewish population.

This topic will focus on political, functional (military) collaboration and collaboration for the sake of the state.

The question of responsibility

The totalitarian Nazi regime was criminal, so collaboration with this regime and attempts to use it for one's own political or military purposes impose co-responsibility on the collaborator. Historians and sociologists point to the political context in which Ukraine found itself during the war. First, the lack of a powerful state-oriented, parliamentary tradition that would create solid grounds for both anti-Nazi and anti-communist resistance. Secondly, the tradition of cooperation with the Austrians, dating back to the times of the Habsburg Empire. In such a situation, gaining independence or at least autonomy, is much easier in a protectorate. These contextualizations contribute to the understanding of historical processes, but not to the justification of collaboration or to the minimization of crimes.

This complicated history raises questions about the boundaries between personal responsibility and the collective guilt of the then entire community. On the one hand, everyone is personally responsible for their actions. On the other hand, the individual acts under the influence of community. Isn't this community partly to blame for the actions of its members, given that it was this community that created the conditions in which their actions were acceptable? Regardless of the answer to this question, the current community is not responsible for the crimes of previous generations. However, it is responsible for a critical approach to the past that promotes a better understanding of one's own community and honouring the memory of the victims, and may help to avoid a repetition of the past in the future.

The memory of the cooperation of some members of a self-identifying community (people, family, townspeople, villagers) with a criminal regime, especially of those recognized as this community’s elite, creates internal dissonance, as it undermines the internal relations within this community. This dissonance often arouses the desire to reduce it through the ex post denial of crimes, the marginalization of perpetrators ("city scum") or the transformation of the meaning of their actions ("struggle against Bolshevism"). For some Ukrainians, the nationalist political leaders who collaborated were not the elite of the time, as they represented not the entire Ukrainian society but just narrow political circles without a general social mandate. Nevertheless, the collaboration for the sake of the state cannot be attributed solely to "city scum" and cannot be left aside of Ukrainian history, just as the activities of the Vichy government cannot be separated from the French state, and the Nazi regime from Germany. Nowadays, the nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis (Bandera, Shukhevych, Stetsko, Melnyk) are honoured both at the local and at the state level in the form of numerous monuments, plaques, street names, exhibitions. As a result of this uncritical glorification, regardless of the assessments of their position in the society of that time, they have become part of the state historical tradition and national mythology. Suppressing or justifying their collaboration is becoming a Ukrainian syndrome of repressed memory.

Forms of collaboration

As ethnocentrism was a common feature of Nazism and nationalism, the initiative for political collaboration came from both sides. Some Ukrainian nationalist leaders, including Stepan Bandera, saw the advent of the Nazi regime as a chance to establish their own state. Accordingly, the nationalists wanted to use the new order introduced by the Nazis against the local Polish and Jewish populations, as well as against the Ukrainians having different political views. Their goal was to destroy the Polish statehood foundations and to create ethnically "pure" Ukrainian lands. In turn, the Nazis, using Ukrainian nationalists, wanted to intensify the local ethnic conflict in order to increase their own power. The OUN-B formed the Nachtigal and Roland collaboration battalions within the Nazi army, whose purpose was to carry out reconnaissance and intelligence activities in the coming war with the Soviet Union. However, the attempt of the OUN-B to declare an independent Ukrainian state was blocked, although it was to "cooperate closely with National Socialist Great Germany." For Berlin, this project seemed too emancipatory, it did not fit into their vision of the Slavs as subhumans and the policy of deepening the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. The OUN-M collaboration lasted much longer. The “Melnykivtsi” (the supporters of Andriy Melnyk, the OUN-M leader) agreed to serve the totalitarian regime without any clear promises from the Nazis as to gaining independence. They served mainly within the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police that, among other things, took part in the killings of Jews and in the SS division “Galicia”, which took part in military operations, in particular against the Slovak National Uprising. OUN-M members started to abandon Nazi formations only when Germany began to lose the war.

Cooperation with the Nazis was also used to provide large-scale social assistance, which was much needed during the war. The Ukrainian Central Committee, the official institution under the authority of the General Government, which represented Ukrainians, helped about 70,000 Ukrainians, ran schools, and developed a cooperative movement. However, the activities of the Committee were not limited to patronage, as it had the character of political collaboration. Volodymyr Kubiyovych and Kost Pankivsky supported Nazi policy and criticized only those elements that did not help Ukrainians, especially those they considered "nationally conscious." The leaders supported the creation of the SS division “Galicia” and the granting of autonomy to Ukrainians, according to Kubiyovych, without "Polish and Jewish elements."

Polish political elites almost completely abandoned any political cooperation with the Nazis as well as the establishment of their official representation under the occupying power, which would serve the interests of the state. The activities of the Central Welfare Committee (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza) were limited to cooperation for social affairs. The Polish government in exile called for widespread political and social opposition, considering service in local (public, administrative) bodies acceptable only when its purpose was to support the functioning of state institutions necessary for the maintenance of civil order. Nevertheless, the Polish Police (Polnische Polizei), the Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei) and the Security Battalions (Schutzmannschaft) were joined by volunteers. Their members performed civilian tasks, but also shot and reported people, condemning them to death.

It was even Jews that the occupation authorities involved in their policies, creating the Judenraete and the Jewish Order Service (Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst). The targeted antagonization of the Jewish community was part of the Holocaust. In the context of the mass extermination of Jews, some members of the Judenraete and the Order Service tried to save their lives, and some believed that in this way they increased the chances of at least part of their community surviving. One can read about the Lviv Judenrat and the Jewish Order Service in the topic "Holocaust Topography". The anti-Jewish actions of the civilian population, such as robbery or reporting to the police, which meant the death sentence, are discussed in the topic "In the Vicinity of a Genocide: Reactions of Lviv Residents to the Holocaust."

Difficulties of the topic

In the case of Ukraine, there are some additional difficulties, as it did not have its own statehood and was divided into several occupation zones. While considering the issue of political elites’ cooperation with the Nazis as a betrayal of the state interests, the question arises: what state was their own for Ukrainians in the 1930s? Most of what is now Ukraine was already part of the USSR and also participated in the occupation of Poland. The western part of modern-day Ukraine belonged to different states, and Ukrainians were the largest national minority without their own state in the territory of then Poland. Therefore, nationalist historiography with its emphasis on the struggle for one’s own state tries to explain, for example, the OUN collaboration with the Nazi regime only as "forced cooperation" not AGAINST, but FOR the creation of its own state, trying to justify the methods with this noble goal. At the same time, there are problems with the interpretation of the Soviet occupation, as the motives for cooperation with the USSR were also the desire of many Ukrainians to form their own state; however, the term "Soviet occupation", which has already replaced the word "liberation", prevents us from talking about it.

The notion of traitorous peoples used in the USSR and the infamous question in any Soviet questionnaire reading: "Have you been in the occupied territories?" do not add courage for discussing collaboration, because the answer "yes" was the cause of distrust and suspicion on the part of authorities and made it impossible to travel abroad. For a long time, World War II and Lviv in particular were mentioned in the Soviet-run territory only in opposite categories of the "Great Patriotic War", the good Red Army, the bad Nazi (called fascist) army, and victims as citizens of the Soviet Union without mentioning the specifics of the situation of different nationalities and conflicts between them in the conditions of double occupation; besides, there was virtually no discussion in the public sphere regarding all the nuances and manifestations of collaboration. Modern-day Russian propaganda is also worth mentioning as it actively uses the terminology of World War II, such as "fascists", "Hitler's accomplices", "Banderites", etc. in the war against Ukraine, which also complicates awareness and discussion of collaboration.

Numerous memoirs of Holocaust survivors preserve the negative image of Ukrainians as exclusively policemen, nationalists, concentration camp guards, or anti-Semites. A typical example is the following phrase from the famous book The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelssohn: "Ukrainians were the worst!" The reasons for this tendency to accuse Ukrainians too generally stem not only from personal experience, but also in response to the avoidance of honest talk about the time of occupation in modern-day Ukraine. The issue of cooperation and collaboration is actively considered in narrow scientific circles while in Ukraine’s public discourse it is almost not discussed (except in the form of statements, objections or reproaching others). Ukrainian society has not yet lived to see such a symbolic moment as the discussion about Jedwabne in Poland or Rūta Vanagaité's book Ours in Lithuania. To break the silence, some historians have focused their research on collaboration and anti-Jewish violence, bypassing the full range of behaviour during the occupation. However, they have not been able to bring the issue to the attention of the general public so far.

The topic of collaboration and cooperation in the Soviet Union was not properly studied, and access to documents for researchers from other countries was closed, so these pages are still little elaborated and unknown to the general public of contemporary Ukraine and to those who remember the interwar period and live abroad. That is why often the only thing that is remembered is the unworthy actions of some Ukrainians, which, obviously, need condemnation.

Difficult and unspoken topics in Polish-Ukrainian relations, competitions over the number of victims, a one-sided approach to finding the "culprit" also complicate the situation and, to some extent, cause psychological defense, which results in avoiding "uncomfortable" topics or denying certain moments in history. It is necessary to move away from such extreme positions, to learn to talk about difficult, unpleasant, but important things. The first, but crucial, step in this direction is recognizing that part of society did cooperate with the Nazis and this cooperation had the character of organized political and military collaboration (an attempt to proclaim the state, Ukrainian police, military units, work in the media and propaganda) as well as the nature of social adaptation at the everyday level (denunciations, looting).

List of places:

  • Volksdeutsche — District of Galicia’s "fifth column": Central Bureau of the German People, vul. Teatralna 22
  • Ukrainian Auxiliary Police as a common example of collaboration: Police Department, pl. Henerala Hryhorenka 3
  • Maslosoyuz's activity — a survival strategy or economic collaboration? Maslosoyuz Trade Department, vul. Kostiushka 1a
  • Yuriy Poliansky: the problem of a biography. Town Hall, pl. Rynok 1
  • OUN: the beginning and the end of independence. pl. Rynok 10
  • Opera House: between ideology and culture. Prosp. Svobody, 28
  • The press for sale… information, propaganda, ideology: Kiosk on prosp. Svobody. Adolf Hitler Ring, now the intersection of vul. Doroshenka and prosp. Svobody
  • Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" — a Ukrainian military unit within the Wehrmacht. Military Administration and the editorial office of the division newspaper Za Peremohu, pl. Henerala Hryhorenka 5
  • The Kripo (Kriminalpolizei), the police service of the Third Reich. pl. Halytska 15
  •  The Ukrainian Central Committee. Vul. Lystopadovoho Chynu 10

All stories



Volksdeutsche — District of Galicia’s "fifth column": Central Bureau of the German People, vul. Teatralna 22

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Ukrainian Auxiliary Police as a common example of collaboration: Police Department, pl. Henerala Hryhorenka 3

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Maslosoyuz's activity — a survival strategy or economic collaboration? Maslosoyuz Trade Department, vul. Kostiushka 1a

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Yuriy Poliansky: the problem of a biography. Town Hall, pl. Rynok 1

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OUN: the beginning and the end of independence. pl. Rynok 10

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Opera House: between ideology and culture. Prosp. Svobody, 28

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The press for sale… information, propaganda, ideology: Kiosk on prosp. Svobody. Adolf Hitler Ring, now the intersection of vul. Doroshenka and prosp. Svobody

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Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" — a Ukrainian military unit within the Wehrmacht. Military Administration and the editorial office of the division newspaper Za Peremohu, pl. Henerala Hryhorenka 5

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The Kripo (Kriminalpolizei), the police service of the Third Reich. pl. Halytska 15

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The Ukrainian Central Committee. Vul. Lystopadovoho Chynu 10

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1. Tarik Cyril Amar, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists (New York, Cornell University Press: 2015), 356.
2. Henrik Dethlefsen, "Denmark and the German Occupation: Cooperation, Negotiation or Collaboration?", Scandinavian Journal of History, 2008, № 7, 193–206.
3. John A. Armstrong, "Collaborationism in World War II: The Integral Nationalist Variant in Eastern Europe", The Journal of Modern History, 1968, № 40, 396–410.
4. Tony Judt, Postwar. A History of Europe Since 1945 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2005), 878.
5. Jacek Andrzej Młynarczyk, "Pomiędzy współpracą a zdradą. Problem kolaboracji w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie — próba syntezy", Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 2009, № 8/1 (14), 103–132.
6. Dieter Pohl, Ukrainische Hilfskräfte beim Mord an den Juden, "Die Täter der Shoah. Fanatische Nationalsozialisten oder ganz normale Deutsche?", ред. Gerhard Paul (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2002), 205–236.
7. Андрій Усач, Місцеві колаборанти та Голокост в Україні: перспективи і виклики дослідження, "Українське суспільство і памʼять про Голокост: наукові та освітні аспекти", ред. Анатолій Подольський, Світлана Осіпчук (Київ: Український центр вивчення історії Голокосту, 2018), 41–49.
8. Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, "Ukraińska policja, nacjonalizm i zagłada Żydów w Galicji Wschodniej i na Wołyniu", Zagłada Żydów. Studia i Materiały, 2017, № 13, 57–79.
9. Grzegorz Motyka, "Kolaboracja na Kresach Wschodnich II Rzeczypospolitej 1941–1944", Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość, 2008, № 7/1 (12), 183–197.
10. Stanley Hoffman, Collaborationism in France during World War II, "The Journal of Modern History", 1968, № 40, 375–393.
11. Laura Jockusch, Gabriel N. Finder, Introduction. Revenge, retribution, and reconciliation in the Postwar Jewish World, "Jewish Honor Courts", ed. Laura Jockusch, Gabriel N. Finder (Detroit, Wayne State University Press: 2015), 3–27.
12. Кость Паньківський, Роки німецької окупації (Нью-Йорк — Торонто: Життя і мислі, 1965), 1–480.
13. Richard Joseph Golsan, The Vichy Past in France Today: Corruptions of Memory (Lanham: Lexington Books: 2017), 1–139.

Additional reading
1. The Politics of Retribution in Europe. World War II and its aftermath, ed. Istvan Deák, Jan T. Gross, Tony Judt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 352.
2. Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 400.
3. Оксана Хомʼяк, Репрезентація воєнного досвіду в памʼяті ветеранів дивізії «Галичина» (1943–2013) (Київ 2017,  дисертація), 261.
4. Александр Круглов, Андрей Уманский, Игорь Щупак, Холокост в Украине: зона немецкой военной администрации, румынская зона оккупации, дистрикт "Галичина", Закарпатье в составе Венгрии (1939-1944) (Дніпро: Украинский институт изучения Холокоста «Ткума», 2017).
5. Іван-Павло Химка, Рецепція Голокосту в посткомуністичній Україні, http://uamoderna.com/md/223-223
6. Олександр Пагіря, Сприйняття «перших совітів» мешканцями Західної України, 1939–1941 рр., http://www.territoryterror.org.ua/uk/publications/details/?newsid=382
7. Іван Дерейко, Місцеві формування німецької армії та поліції у райхскомісаріаті «Україна» (1941-1944 роки) (Київ: Інститут історії України НАНУ, 2012).
8. Istvan Deák, Europe on Trial. The Story of Collaboration, Resistance and Retribution during World War II (Boulder: Westview Press, 2015).
9. Yuriy Radchenko, “The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Melʼnyk Faction) and the Holocaust: The Case of Ivan Iuriiv”, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 2017, № 31, 215–239.
10. Eric Steinhart, The Holocaust and the Germanization of Ukraine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 275.

Cover photo: Hans Frank enters Lviv on 1 August 1941. Source: Collection of the Polish National digital archive (2-2688)
Tomasz M. Jankowski, Inna Zolotar
Translated by Andriy Masliukh