INTERVIEW FOR THE JOURNAL 'KRUG' IN TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
During my visit to Israel in the fall of 1981, I was interviewed by the editor of the Jewish journal, 'Krug'. This magazine is published in Russian for those citizens of Israel who recently have come to Israel from the U.S.S.R., and for whom it is still easier to understand Russian than Hebrew. The journal counts some eight thousand subscribers, while another one or two thousand are sold at the stands. The interview was published in its 233rd number, under the heading, 'Interview given by Dr. Petro Mirchuk, jurist and historian.'
A quotation from Hemingway, suggesting that it was better to know the unpleasant truth rather than live with sweet lies, was given instead of a preface or editor's comment.
"Were you in Lviv when the Germans occupied it?"
"No, I was in Vienna then, I returned to Lviv in August of 1941".
"Did the Ukrainians hope to take advantage of the opportunity by reestablishing their own independent state?"
"They not only hoped, but actually proclaimed the restoration of an independent Ukrainian state on June 30, 1941, with a government being formed soon afterwards".
"Did this take place in Lviv?"
"Yes, though the proclamation was announced throughout Western Ukraine".
"Was there any intention of later transfering the capital to Kiev?"
"Yes, but this was never realized because the Gestapo arrested the members of the Ukrainian government. The German army had declared its respect for Ukraines' treaty with Germany, signed in Berest Litovsk in February 1918, whereby Germany recognized Ukraine's full national independence. The staff of the German army expected the Nazi government to form an alliance with Ukraine in order to fight against Bolshevik Moscow, as had been the case in 1918. But things turned out differently, since Hitler and his party wanted Ukraine as a colony. The German military command was of the opinion the Germans should recognize and respect the independence of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Byelorussia and other nations, and maintain good-neighbor relations with them, but Hitler and his Nazis wanted these territories only as 'breathing space' for their citizens".
"And when the Nazis began pillaging Ukrainian villages and destroying the Ukrainian intelligentsia, were you among those thrown into prison?"
"Yes, I was incarcerated during the first wave of arrests. You see, the Ukrainian government existed for about five or six weeks, during July and August of 1941. Once the Nazis decided that an independent Ukraine wasn't part of their plan for the future Europe, the government was disolved by force and its members incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps. Even Stephan Bandera, the motivating force behind the proclamation of independence was arrested at this time".
"The Germans arrested him?"
"Yes, though at first the Gestapo held him only under house arrest".
"Where was he living at the time?"
"In Krakow. He had been imprisoned in 1934, but when Poland fell in September of 1939, he was set free and found himself in Krakow just as the Bolsheviks were shooting Ukrainian nationalists in Lviv".
"What about yourself? Were you in prison under Poland?"
"Yes, I was in a Polish prison six times".
"For Ukrainian nationalism?"
"Yes. Between the First and Second World Wars, western Ukraine, with its capital Lviv, was under Polish occupation. We Ukrainian nationalists fought to drive out the Poles and to reestablish an independent Ukraine".
"Do you recognize that Ukraine which exists today and is a member of the UN as a Ukrainian state or do you consider it a legal fiction?"
"It's the same sort of legal fiction as the 'Reichskommissari at Ukraina' was during the Germans' occupation".
"When were you thrown into the German prison?"
"September 15, 1941, during the first wave of mass arrests. At that time, several thousand Ukrainians were arrested in western Ukraine".
"Were you tried?"
"No. We were kept in Lviv for several days; then we were transferred to prisons in Krakow; and finally in June, 1942, the first group of Ukrainian nationalists, consisting of some 25 persons, was sent off to Auschwitz (in Polish, 'Oswiencim'). I was interned in German prisons and concentration camps a total of four years".
"The number 49734 is tattooed on your arm. Is this from Auschwitz? Were you kept separately from the other prisoners, or were you thrown in with the rest? What kind of 'Triangle' did you have; red, like that of the political prisoners?"
"Yes, the number was given to me in Auschwitz, and no, we were not kept separately, even though we wore the red triangle alotted to political prisoners. Being mixed with the other prisoners, we had to obey the appointed wardens. There were generally Poles and most were extremely hostile to us as Ukrainians, because of the long-standing animosity between our two peoples. They mistreated Ukrainians whenever they could. In the very first days, right before my eyes, they murdered Stephan Bandera's younger brother Wasyl in a barbarian manner. Two days later Bandera's older brother Oleksa was brought in, and the Polish wardens murdered him also in the same barbarian way".
"Did you know Stephan Bandera?"
"Yes, I knew him very well".
"While still in Lviv?"
"In postwar Bolshevik literature, Stephan Bandera is called the 'King of the Bandits', and all of his followers, the 'Banderivtsi' are called 'bandits' likewise. Why is that so?"
"The Bolsheviks call everyone who opposes Russian imperialism, 'bandits' and 'fascists'. They even use these same labels when attacking those American presidents who oppose their aims and methods, such as President Reagan".
"When the war ended and the Germans fled from Ukraine, the Ukrainian Nationalists remained in the forest and continued their fighting. What were you expecting, what were you hoping for?"
"We were hoping that America would realize who the Bolsheviks are and that there is no difference between the German Nazis and the Russian Nazis. We thought they knew that, while the former destroyed six million Jews, the latter annihilated ten million Ukrainians. On that basis, we were expecting a military confrontation between America and the U.S.S.R.".
"Is it true that Bandera himself was an anti-Semite?"
"No. He had nothing to do with Jews. We were fighting Poland and so all of his attention was directed against it. For this the Poles sentenced him to life imprisonment".
"What did Bandera do during the German occupation?"
"He was incarcerated in a German concentration camp".
"When Germany capitulated, did he return to Ukraine to lead the struggle for freedom?"
"No, he was freed at the end of 1944, and went into hiding until the end of the war. Then he lived in Bavaria under an assumed name".
"So why were all those Ukrainians who fought the Bolsheviks always known as 'Banderivtsi'?"
"Because he was one of the leading theorists and exponents of the Ukrainian Nationalist ideology, a leader in our struggle for national independence".
"Is it true that the 'Banderivtsi' killed General Lutze in battle, and later ambushed the Soviet General, Vatutin?"
"Yes, it's true. General Vatutin was liquidated by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, in Volyn. At about the same time, in the Carpathian mountains, the Ukrainian insurgents severely wounded another NKVD general, Moskalenko".
"In Auschwitz you met with different nationalities: did you also meet Jews?"
"Yes, we lived amicably with them. I would like to meet again with those who were in Auschwitz, We were friends, because our nationalist motto was 'Freedom for all peoples, freedom for each individual!', In talking with them, I always explained that we are fighting for Ukraine's independence, and that the Jews should similarly fight for their own independent state".
"Now tell me honestly, We generally believe that Ukrainians are anti-Semites. Up until the war, under Poland's domination, did you bear any grudges or ill-will against the Jews?"
"On the contrary, Ukrainians often times worked together with the Jews. During the Polish occupation political parties were permitted and so during elections, Ukrainians frequently formed a coalition with the various Jewish parties".
"Is it true, as the Ukrainian emigre press claims, that many Jews were impressed or accepted into the NKVD when the Russians seized Lviv in 1939?"
"Yes, they accepted many, I was in a Polish prison in Lviv at the beginning of spring in 1939. When the Bolshevik army entered Lviv in September of 1939, the Polish prison guards fled, and we were freed. On the streets I saw many Jewish students that I knew from the university: they all wore the red armbands of the NKVD militia".
"Why did they join?"
"I don't know, but they were turning Ukrainian nationalists over to the NKVD".
"Did you remain in Lviv at that time?"
"No, I escaped to German-occupied territory, and then to Prague, where I finished my studies and received a law degree. In Prague I studied at the Ukrainian Free University and simultaneously at the German Charles University, I returned to Lviv in August 1941".
"And what did you see and learn there?"
"As soon as the Bolsheviks fled and the Germans came, the Ukrainians stormed the prisons, because the NKVD had jailed thousands of young Ukrainians. Here, however, they found the remains of a horrible massacre. The Jewish author Hilberg, in his book 'The Destruction of the European Jews', discloses a document which proves that in the prisons of Lviv and the surrounding area, 18 thousand corpses of Ukrainian political prisoners were found. Parents hastened to identify their children. The NKVD executioners fled or hid; it was chiefly the Jewish militiamen who didn't succeed in escaping. And as soon as someone was recognized as being an NKVD member or militiaman, he was killed on the spot. It wasn't a question of whether someone was Jew or Gentile, but rather, whether one had been an NKVD member. The parents of the murdered avenged themselves for the death of their children".
"There were Germans in Prague when you studied there. Did they commit any savageries?"
"No, I saw no such thing. They behaved peacably. This is why it never occured to me that they would conduct themselves in an entirely different manner in Ukraine".
"But can the life of Jews in Ukraine during the past 500 or 600 years indeed be called a peaceful co-existence between two nations? First of all, there was the matter of a different religion and different customs; then, again the Jews could not own land, they were forced to occupy themselves with trade, tavern-keeping or peddling, and to live in small towns. Finally, one cannot forget that it was a point of politics of the Czarist regime to play one nation against the other. This could perhaps explain why, when the Germans said, 'It is permissible to beat Jews', the Ukrainians began to destroy them en masse".
"It's not a question of religion, because religion hardly entered into the picture. No - it was more a matter of politics. You see, Ukrainians first encountered Jews a thousand years ago, in the persons of the Khazars. At that time, the Kazars were a powerful state, and in it Jews held high administrative positions. The Khazars raided Ukraine, taking prisoners; these, if girls, were later sold into harems, and if young men, into slavery".
"Do you think that the enmity dates back from that time?"
"Yes. Nevertheless, when King Sviatoslav destroyed the Khazar state in the late 10th century, both he and his son, King Volodymyr, allowed the Jews to settle in Ukraine. They were not persecuted at all".
"That was ancient Rus'..."
"Yes, ancient Rus, homeland of the Ukrainians. The second wave of Jews came to Ukraine in the 14th century, during the reign of the Polish King Casimir. After the destruction of Rus'- Ukraine by the Tartars, Poland occupied western Ukraine in league with Hungary. The Poles then established a totally different regime in occupied Ukraine. Up until that time, Ukrainians had not practiced serfdom. Every person was free and equal. Now, however the Poles introduced serfdom. They took away land from Ukrainian farmers and made them feudal serfs, devoid of freedom. The Jews, however, were not made serfs. Every Polish nobleman made use of the Jews in the village administration. The Jews collected taxes and kept taverns and mercilessly exploited the peasants. Obviously, the people hated them for this. It was bad enough that they had to work six days a week for the landlord; but now the Jews, as tax collectors, also collected taxes of all sorts from them".
"Do you live in Philadelphia?"
"Is your wife American or Ukrainian?"
"Do your children speak Ukrainian"
"Yes. I have three sons who are Ukrainian-Americans".
"Do you believe that Ukraine will one day be free?"
"All Ukrainians believe this, since it is impossible to destroy a nation of some 50 million people. We have survived Tartar invasions, the rule of feudal Poland, and we'll survive Bolshevik Moscow. Our goal is to open the eyes of the world to who the Bolsheviks really are, and what they are doing".
"You are a member of several Jewish organizations. Does this mean that you consider it time to put an end to the enmity between Ukrainians and Jews?"
"Yes, that's my conviction. We must tell the Jews the truth about themselves, and hear out what they have to say against us".
"The tens of thousands of Ukrainian policemen who served the Germans - were they evil people?"
"You're phrasing the question wrong. I must remind you that Ukrainians were also Nazi victims. In Babyn Yar, for example, as many Ukrainians perished as Jews".
"How many could that have been?"
"We're working on the exact count of Ukrainian victims. The total number of victims in Babyn Yar was close to 100 thousand. In Anatolij Kuznyetsov's book it is stated that from 1941 to 1942, Jews were being shot there, while from 1943 to 1944, Ukrainians. After the proclamation of Ukraine's independence at Lviv in 1941, groups of OUN members went into eastern Ukraine; there were about eight thousand of them. The Germans captured and shot approximately six thousand of them, mostly in Babyn Yar".
"There is an Association for Jewish-Ukrainian Cooperation here in Israel. Did you come as a guest of this Association?"
"Not only as a guest; I am also a member of this organization".
"Being now in Israel, do you as a Ukrainian feel a difference in your attitudes towards Jews as such and the Israelis?"
"Yes, to a certain extent. Israel is a separate state with which Ukrainians desire to have friendly relations. After all, Ukraine is second to the United States in the number of Jews living there. It is in the interest of both sides to maintain friendly relations".
"What do you think: are there many people in Ukraine who oppose the Muscovites, as you call them?"
"We're certain that there are. Those who were in Soviet concentration camps - Germans, Jews, Frenchmen, et al. - all testify that the majority of prisoners in the U.S.S.R. are Ukrainians".
"Do you maintain relations with Jews in America, or do you rarely meet with them?"
"We try to establish good relations with them, but there is a strong Ukrainophobia existant among them".
"There are presently trials being held against Ukrainians in the U.S. What sort of trials are they?"
"They are so-called 'war criminal' trials. I personally was a witness at two of these trials, and I saw how the KGB is able to incite Jews against Ukrainians, and vice versa. The Office of Special Investigation, which was created at the behest of Congresswoman Holtzman, received several million dollars from the Federal government, and with these funds the members of the Office travel to the U.S.S.R., where the KGB provides them with falsified 'documents' for such trials against innocent people. It's obvious that if someone actually had war crimes on his conscience, then immediately after the war he would have changed his name and fled to South America or Australia. Those who retained their real names have already shown by doing so that they are not guilty of anything. These trials merely serve to fan the hatred between Ukrainians and Jews".
"So you think that the KGB is behind these trials?"
"Obviously, Moscow is extremely apprehensive of the growing reapproachment between Ukrainians and Jews, chiefly in America. I'm afraid that these trials of Ukrainians will have a bad influence on Ukrainian-Jewish relations. At any rate, they will not engender love for Jews either into the Ukrainians (and there are three million of them in the USA and Canada), nor into the Americans".
"But even so, Ukrainians basically don't like Jews".
"Why don't you ask if the Jews basically like Ukrainians? This is why I became a member of the Association for Jewish-Ukrainian Cooperation: to spread trust and respect for one another. The enmity between our nations is convienient only to the Bolsheviks, who are equally a danger both to Ukraine and to Israel".