Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" — a Ukrainian military unit within the Wehrmacht
The idea of creating a new military division arose in the Nazi command in the spring of 1943, given the huge human losses and lack of human resources to conduct further hostilities. Tens of thousands of men volunteered for the new division (far exceeding the command’s expectations), and on July 18, 1943, the Governor of Galicia Otto von Wechter, in a solemn manner, saw off the volunteers departing to their place of service.
Already at the stage of creating the division, there was no unanimity among the Ukrainians of Lviv regarding the need to create a Ukrainian military formation within the Wehrmacht. Volodymyr Kubiyovych, the chairman of the Ukrainian Central Committee, who was supported by members of the OUN-M, was a great enthusiast of the formation. The main argument for the division creation was the necessity to train professional armed forces, which would later be needed by independent Ukraine.
Not all members of the Ukrainian community in Lviv shared the general optimism of the UCC, and that of Kubiyovych in particular, about the creation of the division, arguing the situation on the Eastern Front (after the Battle of Stalingrad) and, in general, the occupier's colonial policy toward Ukrainians. In her memoirs, Larysa Krushelnytska recalls the position of her mother, Halyna Levytska:
With all due respect to our division soldiers, who were at that time striving to rush into battle and believed that only in this way, having weapons in their hands, they would be able to protect Ukraine from enemies on all sides, I admit that my mother, who was strongly against the formation of the Division at such an inopportune time, was right. In the end, this conviction of hers is confirmed today by the recollections of the division soldiers about the horrors of the "Brody pocket" and about the perfidy of the Germans, who sent our boys to their obvious death and thus secured a reliable retreat for themselves; I'm not even talking about the consequences and hardships that those who survived had to go through in the West to convince the world of the rightness of their actions.
It is also worth noting that the OUN-B firmly opposed the creation of the division.
As for the motives of the division volunteers themselves, together with ideological motivation, namely the need for a trained army for a future independent state and the reluctance to have the Bolsheviks back after the Soviet occupation of 1939-1941, an important factor was delegating historical memory of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen division within the Austro-Hungarian army and their experience in the struggle for the Ukrainian statehood; apart from that, there were also social and everyday arguments in favour of participation in the military formation like that as such a service saved from forced labour in Germany, fed them and gave a certain legal social status.
As early as July 1943, the Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" was sent to the front, where it was defeated at the battle of Brody; after that, a part of the division (survivors) was reformatted and sent to Slovakia, where the soldiers took part in hostilities against the participants of the Slovak uprising, as well as in Poland, against the Home Army. After another reformatting the unit found itself in Austria, now as the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army; it was there that the division soldiers laid down their arms in the Western occupation zone. Most of them lived abroad afterwards.
In the war of two narratives, an important argument on both sides is the oath. Proponents of honouring the Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" emphasize that the soldiers of the Ukrainian military formation swore allegiance to Ukraine, which is true. Proponents of the collaborative narrative always quote the text of the division's German oath, where the soldiers promise to be loyal to Adolf Hitler, and this is also true. This "duality of standards" makes the division's history an excellent tool for both internal and external warfare over the history of World War II memory.
In Ukraine, the Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" has not been recognized as a belligerent at the state level. Nevertheless, their activities are honoured at the local level. In addition to the annual marches dedicated to this military formation, Lviv has several memorial plaques in honour of the Division "Galicia" soldiers. There is a small museum dedicated exclusively to the history of the First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, which is located in the Lviv secondary school number 34 and founded by a history teacher, Ihor Fedyk, who also authors a blog on Ukrainian history. The division is mentioned in the exposition of the Liberation Struggle Museum. It is also worth mentioning a monument honouring the soldiers of the Division "Galicia", along with the soldiers of the Ukrainian Galician Army and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army as well as the Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers who died in 2014-2018 during the Russian-Ukrainian war. It is this location of the monument and the inscription "Here rests an unknown soldier of the Division "Galicia", who gave his life for the freedom of the Ukrainian people" that links the idea of creating the division and its operations with the idea of struggle for independence, not mentioning, however, the division's being part of the Waffen-SS troops.
The general discussion about Ukraine in World War II, collaboration and the role of the Waffen-SS Division "Galicia" in this area is still ahead. At present, beyond a narrow circle of historians, the issue of the soldiers belonging to the Wehrmacht causes only a lot of emotions, defending one’s own "truth", polarization of ideas and a war of memories. The first step on the way to talking about collaboration would be the recognition of the division's two oaths, the determination its soldiers’ place in the history of both Ukraine and Europe, as well as public discussions on this topic.
Pl. Henerala Hryhorenka, 5 – "Voskresinnia" Theater (former residential building)
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