Ukrainian Auxiliary Police as a common example of collaboration

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Among functions of Ukrainian Auxiliary Police — apart from typical for similar police formations — were also tasks of collaborative character, in particular those related to the extermination of Jews. What were the motivations of policemen?

This story elaborates on the theme Collaboration, that was prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

Outside of Ukraine, the image of the Ukrainian policeman is the most recognizable of all possible types of collaboration. This popularity is due not only to films, fiction and memoirs as well as accounts of Holocaust survivors, but also to the lack of images and sufficient information about other patterns of Ukrainian behaviour during the war. In modern Ukraine, the topic is irritating and controversial due to the impossibility of researching the phenomenon of collaboration in the Soviet period, the lack of tradition of speaking about difficult moments in history and the habit of suppressing awkward topics. Talking about the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in the General Government and in Lviv in particular is hampered by the lack of translations of both research papers and popular science books on cooperation and collaboration with the Nazis, the internal conflict over memory policies, differences in military experiences between the various regions of Ukraine, and the use of the topic of the collaboration of some Ukrainians with the Nazis by the country’s closest neighbours, Poland and Russia, in international politics today. All this makes the topic of collaboration, and the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in particular, relevant and worthy of further discussion and debate.

The predecessors of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police (UAP) in the District of Galicia were the detachments of the people's militia, which began to be organized under the auspices of the OUN-B after the beginning of the Nazi occupation. They were created simultaneously with local self-government bodies and were part of the OUN-B's plans to create structures for a future independent state. In Lviv, such detachments began to be formed immediately after the Nazi occupation of the city on June 30, 1941. On August 12, 1941, by order of the Orpo Commander in Krakow, the Ukrainian militia was disbanded and its members were invited to join the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. In August 1941, six commissariats were established, subordinated to the Chief Command, which was located on the first floor of the building on pl. Smolki 3 (now pl. Henerala Hryhorenka). In 1942–1943, the number of the UAP commissariats increased to 11. The Police Academy was established in Lviv to teach and train UAP personnel, which operated at ul.  Czysta 5 (now vul. Tadeusha Boy-Zhelenskoho).

More about the numbers, history and structure of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police.

In the research and discussion of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police activities, the most controversial is the motivation to join the ranks of the UAP and the activities of the Ukrainian police in Lviv.

In many studies on the Ukrainian police, the main motivating factor for joining the police is considered to be ideological. However, while in the nationalist narrative the ideological motive is explained by the need to train personnel for the future Ukrainian state, as young recruits were mostly associated with Ukrainian nationalist movements, and with the beginning of the German occupation it was the OUN-B that created Ukrainian militia units, which served as the base for the UAP, other researchers focus on the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism, with anti-Semitism as its main component. John-Paul Himka, a Canadian historian, in his writings on the OUN, the Ukrainian militia, and the 1941 pogroms, holds the OUN militia affiliated with the Stetsko government responsible for the pogroms and mass executions of Jews and, to some extent, communists and Poles, considering that the main goal of the Ukrainian police, as a nationalist structure, was the clean-up of the territory from people of other nationalities and ideologies.

Of course, many militiamen who took part in anti-Jewish rallies, known as the 1941 Lviv pogrom, joined the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. Besides, anti-Semitism actually was part of the ideology of all right-wing radical movements in Europe at that time, including the OUN. However, it is also reprehensible to be unpretentious in the means of achieving the main goal of proclaiming an independent state and to be willing to go to any lengths, including collaborating with the occupiers and participating in anti-Jewish actions, to achieve the longed-for statehood. It is difficult to say how important anti-Semitism, as the main argument for serving in the police, was for most policemen, and whether being a nationalist always means being anti-Semitic. The existence of such extreme positions, from anti-Semitism as the main motivation to justifying the actions of Ukrainian policemen with the aim of creating their own state, confirms the importance of this topic and the need for further discussion.

The second important motivating factor for joining the UAP was the socio-material one. Usually, the list of arguments includes, firstly, the need to keep the family, as this work was well paid, and the salary of a policeman was twice the average salary of other professions in public office; besides, given that one of the tasks of the UAP was to fight the black market and speculation, it gave hope for additional opportunities to obtain foodstuffs. Secondly, the job of a policeman made it possible to avoid being forced to go to work in Germany. It is also worth noting that, perhaps for the first time since the proclamation of independent Poland with its policy on national minorities, Ukrainians from low-income families were able to hold such positions in military structures, the Nazi regime successfully using the Polish-Ukrainian confrontation to pursue its own policy in the occupied territories.

The range of UAP responsibilities was extremely wide. Ukrainian police guarded administrative buildings, detected petty offenses and took offenders to the Criminal Police Department, cleared snow, organized queues for water, fought smuggling and speculators, that is, did everything the police of any country did in peacetime. Instead, another area of responsibility of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police is difficult to discuss and certainly reprehensible, namely, guarding the ghetto and the Yanivsky concentration camp, conducting raids on Jews and members of other groups persecuted by the Nazis, acting as a living cordon during executions and other actions that fall under the definition of crimes against humanity. It is this activity of the UAP — the fulfillment of the political and ideological goals of the occupying regime — that is recognized as collaborative.

The UAP was similar in structure and function to similar police formations created by the Nazis in the occupied territories. Perhaps awareness of this fact, involving various sources of information, as well as public discussions, debates for the general public will help to approach conversations about the history and actions of this structure less emotionally and learn to talk about the phenomenon of collaboration in the history of Ukraine, will bring us closer to the awareness and condemnation of crimes committed by the UAP as well as to the acceptance of the fact that those who fought for the state independence could simultaneously commit shameful acts. Debates and public discussions of the history and forms of the cooperation between the local population and the occupying regime will help to move away from polarizing the vision of the image of the Ukrainian only as a heroic independence fighter or as a policeman whose main goal was the extermination of Jews.

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Pl. Henerala Hryhorenka, 3 – Lviv Region Department of the Ministry for Internal Affairs

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1. Martin Dean, Collaboration in the Holocaust Crimes of the Local Police in Вelorussia and Ukraine, 1941–44 (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2000), 241. 
2. Тарас Мартиненко, "Українська допоміжна поліція в окрузі Львів — місто: штрихи до соціального портрета", Вісник Львівського університету, Серія історична, 2013, Випуск 48, 152–167.
3. Михайло Мартиненко, "Деякі рефлексії про дискусію "Український націоналізм і євреї (1920–1950 рр.)", Україна модерна, 2016.

Inna Zolotar
Translated by Andriy Masliukh