21. The German-Russian War
On my return to Skierniewice I felt completely exhausted in body and mind: this was the result of my latest experience with trust and its betrayal among men. Everyone was surprised to see me get out of the Gestapo clutches alive, not only my Ukrainian and Polish friends, but even the German Commandantura, and this was probably the reason for more decent treatment of me on the part of the German State Police in Skierniewice. Needless to say, I owed my life and my release primarily to the efforts of my wife and President Livytsky.
The City Mayor of Skierniewice helped me get a job as manager of the local motion picture theater which was run primarily for German soldiers, and only one day a week for civilians. Although this work did not provide enough income to live decently, at least it entitled me to ration cards. Before my arrest the authorities permitted me to occupy my old apartment, but two rooms were requisitioned for billeting German troops. In cold weather we were forced to live in the kitchen, however, since heat was provided only when German officers were in residence. Ration cards entitled us two only to 400 grammes of meat and 80 grammes of butter per month, and the rest had to be scrounged somehow. By far the worst problem was clothing and linen, rations were issued only once a year, and the quality was the poorest, so that they wore out in two months. Polish officials on the County Board helped us a little in this.
I used to go to Warsaw for films and there I learned from Ukrainian sources early in 1941 that the Germans were making ready to start war against the Soviet Union. There was plenty of evidence of this in Skierniewice: we could see the railroad tracks from our windows and I saw thousands of freight cars with men and supplies going east. Early in June the City Commandant asked me to come and see him, and he told me that he had orders to send me to the Government General in Krakow immediately where I would get further instructions. I thought: when are they finally going to leave me alone?
The next morning I was already in Krakow, met at the station by Col. Ivanovych. He told me that the Germans would be going to war against the Bolsheviks soon, and the German authorities asked him to name some Ukrainian political and military leaders who would be willing to establish a nucleus of a Ukrainian National Committee that would subsequently play a certain political role under German rule. Col. Ivanovych had been an Austrian officer and spoke German well; he worked as interpreter for the Gouvernement General in Krakow. It was the Germans who had mentioned my name to Col. Ivanovych along with the name of Dr. Yuriy Lypa. The latter had already gone to Vienna, and I was to follow with Ivanovych if I gave my consent. Ivanovych advised me not to refuse because this might put me in a dangerous spot, and besides, he thought that the Germans would reestablish a Ukrainian State. All this was a big and unpleasant surprise to me. I had witnessed German practices in Poland and I did not have any reason to expect any good German intentions toward Ukraine. I could see that not only would the Germans lose, but what would be the worst for Ukraine, Soviet victory on the side of the Allies; all this would have terrible repercussions upon Ukraine. It would first be a theatre of war, then of German extermination policy following the sincere and spontaneous welcome accorded them as expected liberators, and finally Communist vengeance for this, with awful consequences for Ukraine. I was very much shaken by the thoughtless recommendations of Col. Ivanovych, but having been taught a lesson by informers, I simply kept silent and listened. That same night we left for Vienna where a reservation had been made for me at the Roter Hahn Hotel. Many conferences were held with different German generals and colonels, and finally a special "guardian" was assigned to me in the person of Sonderfuehrer Baron Hochstaetter. I did not speak German well at that rime although I had taken German for eight years in school, and I saw some hope of extricating myself from this situation by virtue of language difficulties. We finally found out that Dr. Lypa and myself were to form some kind of a committee that would march into Ukraine accompanying the command of the German Armies Group of General Ritter von Schobert which were concentrated in Rumania, and then we were to "help the Germans occupy Ukraine." Several days later we went by cars from Vienna through Budapest to Rumania and arrived at Iasi. We were quartered in the suburb of Patra Neamri. It is difficult for me to describe my feelings at that time: in spite of my belief in German failure, I nevertheless wanted to see them win, hoping that perhaps some "New Bismarck" would emerge who would be able to take care of German eastern policy. I had wishful thoughts of seeing Moscow imperialism destroyed, but German imperialism did not bode well for Ukraine: I had read Hitler's "Mein Kampf."
About June 17, we were transferred to last and I was to be assigned to the operational department of the Group Staff. I was given reports on the situation in Ukraine to read with locations of Soviet troops, and I observed that the German officers had complete faith in victory. I was hurriedly put into a Rumanian uniform without insignia. At that time I received a call from a Rumanian Colonel Ioanescu, who introduced himself as chief of the Rumanian mission to the Group Staff and began conversation with me in pure Russian. I learned that he was a former Russian officer, Lt.-Col. Ivanov, originally from Kishinev, who had enlisted in Rumanian service. He asked me point blank: what was my job with the German command? I gave him a diplomatic answer, but actually I could not tell him anything positive even if I would because I did not know much myself, and I did not wish to sound critical.
At dawn on June 22nd the Germans started the offensive, and by night we had reports of their tremendous success. Probably the next day Captain Benes of the Topographic Department of the Staff brought me aerial photos of the city of Batum and asked me to translate them into maps, which I did. For several days I had nothing to do, and no one on the German Staff asked me to do anything. I saw thousands of prisoners and I would have gladly talked to them, but I had no authority for this.
Meanwhile I noticed an interesting phenomenon of intrigue among Ukrainians attached to the Staff. There was Captain Puluy who was an Austrian citizen and a former officer of the UHA. He seemed to have an ambition to fulfill in connection with the German conquest of Ukraine. His position was that of captain attached to the information department of the Staff. He brought Lt.-Col. K. Porokhivsky, formerly of the UNR Army into his department; the latter had been living in Bucharest as chief of one of our "school groups," and I knew him from the time of our war. There was thus a clash between two concepts as to Ukraine, Capt. Puluy's and Col. Ivanovych's, with that of the latter relying on Sonderfuehrer Hochstaetter. When I noticed this intrigue I decided to get out of this maze as soon as possible and I told Col. Ivanovych that I wanted to try and get back home. He was shocked by my proposition and said that matters require my presence in Ukraine, and that Capt. Puluy's intrigues are trifling. However, when I learned from reports that the Germans had already taken Vinnytsya and Vapnyarka, and I was still being ignored, I requested Major Riesen to give me travelling orders to Skierniewice, and to state that I was to return to my former job of theater manager. When Baron Hochstaetter learned of my request, he took me to the railroad station in his car, and on the way told me that there had been a change in the situation, and that now the Germans "don't need either Ukrainian generals or politicians," even as plain advisers. It was clear to me that Berlin must have issued some harsher orders on German policy in Ukraine in connection with their unexpectedly easy victory.
I returned to Skierniewice, and I must admit that I was very happy at such an ending of my adventure. And again, my mission had something to do with the attitude of the German authorities toward me now.
As is well known from the memoirs of numerous Ukrainian observers of the German occupation of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine welcomed the Germans as liberators, but hardly a year passed when the Ukrainians discovered the true face of the Germans and began fighting those "liberators" with armed uprisings and sabotage. My forebodings were, unfortunately, coming true. I had an opportunity to speak to Ukrainians from Eastern Ukraine who were serving in the German Army, and when they learned that I was a Ukrainian, they told me, very cautiously at first, about the brutality and terror of the Germans in Ukraine. But when the Germans began their retreat from Ukraine in 1943, Ukrainians fleeing from the advancing Communists painted a true picture of German behavior in Ukraine: they had kept intact the Communist system of collective farming, an institution most hateful to the Ukrainian farmers; the so-called state farms had merely come under German management and the workers remained on them as slave labor; the Germans took over all factories and plants and subsequently dismounted and shipped to Germany all the machinery and equipment; all Ukrainian educational and cultural institutions were closed down; over 3,000,000 young Ukrainians were shipped to Germany as slave labor; many young men were drafted into the German Army through the so-called UVV (Ukrains'ke Vyzvolne Viys'ko – Ukrainian Liberation Troops); and whole villages were razed and their inhabitants exterminated for late or insufficient deliveries of grain and food requisition quotas. Wherever sabotage took place, usually by Communist agents and provocateurs, it was charged to the local population, which bore the brunt of punishment. This was in accord with Hitler's plans for Ukraine: he destined Ukraine to be the area of settlement of his war veterans. Hitler's policy also pleased Stalin: the more Ukrainians liquidated by Hitler, the less remained for Stalin to liquidate (compare Khrushchev's de-Stalinization speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 in which he said that Stalin would have gladly deported all Ukrainians to Siberia, but there were too many of them).
Days passed, however, bringing news about the complete rout and retreat of the Germans on all fronts. The Germans became very angry at the bad news from the fronts, and I experienced it on my person. Early in 1944 I was called to the Labor Bureau and the clerk ordered me to assign two employees of the theater to work in Germany, and I would have to employ a German "Volksdeutsch" woman in their place. The theater employed in addition to myself, two mechanics and two ushers, the latter doubling as porters, it was therefore absurd to demand that I release two employees and take an inexperienced woman in their place. This is the way I explained the matter to the clerk. Several days later a Polish policeman came to my house and handed me an order of the Labor Bureau signed by the same clerk according to which I was to be escorted to the assembly point for workers going to Germany. On the way to the Labor Bureau we encountered the County Commissioner and Chief of the Labor Bureau (this was a real bit of luck) with whom I was well acquainted. The Commissioner stopped us and asked the policeman where he was taking me, and he showed the order. After looking at the order the Commissioner handed it to the Chief of the Labor Bureau and asked him what all this meant. The Chief answered that he knew nothing about it, took the order and had me released.
On September 1, the uprising broke out in Warsaw and it had certain repercussions in Skierniewice. The local Gestapo chief was assassinated and the clerk of the Labor Bureau who wanted to send me to Germany, too. The Soviet troops were on the right bank of the Vistula near Warsaw, i.e. about 70 kilometers from Skierniewice. Since I had been informed by Polish officers released from German POW camps for poor health and living in Skierniewice that the High Command of the Warsaw Uprising was counting on Soviet help, my wife and I were in danger of being found by the Communists in Skierniewice and decided to flee. This was all the more necessary, since we had to close the theater for lack of films. We received a permit and moved to my brother's in Lodz. President Livytsky was living in Lascek near Lodz where he moved from Warsaw by permission of the Germans. I utilized this opportunity and called on President Livytsky. In a long talk we tried to clarify our Ukrainian emigre policy in connection with the growing possibility of Communist occupation of Poland. President Livytsky was of the opinion that the Polish Government-in-Exile in London would be able to exert sufficient pressure on the Allies to have the Soviets stay on the other side of the Vistula. The west part of Poland would be occupied by the Allies because, according to Pres. Livytsky, it was not in their interest to permit the Communists get that far into Europe, and they were bound by an agreement with Poland. This argument of President Livytsky was undoubtedly politically valid. But I was of different opinion: I took into consideration that the Allies would want to save their manpower, and hence would not assign the Soviets to a passive role that would free the Germans' hands in the east and cause more loss of life in the west. In addition I believed, in logical continuation of my former conclusions which had all turned out correct, that the Communists, saved from annihilation through the aid of American arms and material, would march on in pursuit of their doctrine of conquest of the world, and it would be odd if they did not seize such an exceptional opportunity. I was also convinced that guided by their materialistic dialectics, the Communists will not make much of possible protests on the part of the Allies, and there is a good chance that they might occupy all of Germany, beating the Allies to the punch. I said: "Doesn't all prior Bolshevik tactics prove that they make the world face accomplished facts?" Even in the first stage of this war they proved it by their attack on Poland with which they had a non-aggression pact, and furthermore, the Americans were well disposed toward the Communists, a fact of which we were apprised from newspaper reports. President Livytsky did not preclude the possibility, based on observations drawn from conversations with other Ukrainians that the Allies might also accept Germany's tacit proposal to cease operations in the west so that they could turn all their forces against the east. I, of course, did not believe in this, as contrary to my other conclusions, and being apprehensive for the President, I requested him to move west so as to be under the Allies when Germany collapses. President Livytsky had some justified reservations as to this, alleging that the Allies, "in their political knowledge of matters of eastern Europe" could very well turn him over to the Communists, and that keeping his residence in Allied occupied territory would be possible for only a short time. In any case he seemed to be quite preoccupied, without showing any signs of apprehension, and promised to get in closer contact with the Chairman of the Ukrainian Central Committee, Professor V. Kubiyovych who had the power to provide evacuation facilities for our people. Since Krakow was already threatened, Prof. Kubiyovych had moved with the U.C.C. to Lueben near Breslau.
President Livytsky also informed me that the UCC had given refuge to numerous Ukrainian leaders escaping from Soviet Ukraine, among them the prominent Kharkiv lawyer V. A. Dolenko and his close associates, professors V. V. Dubrovsky and M. O. Vetukhiv. Mr. Dolenko had already paid President Livytsky a visit and the latter thought very well of him as a political leader who stood firmly for Ukrainian statehood in the form of UNR. I was advised to meet him.
In Lascek there was also a certain detachment of the German Gestapo with a Ukrainian Lieut-Col. Kryzhanivsky working there. When he learned that I was in Lascek, he came to President Livytsky's home and said that he wished to see me on an urgent matter. He was wearing the German uniform of a Gestapo. Lieut-Col. Kryzhanivsky offered me the position of Commandant of a Ukrainian Officers' School with the rank of Colonel, and said that he had been given orders to organize such a school. This spelled new trouble for me, and I did not know how to get out of it. If I were to refuse, it would mean getting involved with the Gestapo through a Ukrainian because it was clear to me that the whole school project was Kryzhanivsky's scheme to get in good graces with his superiors; acceptance, on the other hand, was beneath my dignity and politically wrong. I replied that when he gets the school organized there will be time enough to talk about my position. This seemed to me the best way out because the Communists were already "at the gates." When I returned to Lodz, there was a message from the Skierniewice City Council waiting for me, requiring my immediate return to Skierniewice because in view of the stabilization of the military position around Warsaw, the City Commandant demanded that I reopen the theater. When I was waiting for a train to take me to Skierniewice from the Lodz station next morning, a Ukrainian messenger in German Gestapo uniform delivered an order from Kryzhanivsky to me which required my immediate appearance before Kryzhanivsky for the purpose of taking over the position of Commandant of an Officers' School with the rank of major. Fortunately, I had with me an old document from General Ritter von Schobert's Staff which I showed to this officer and playing a role of indignation I emphasized that I am at the sole disposal of the Staff and no Gestapo orders apply to me. My wife and I left for Skierniewice right away, a place where Kryzhanivsky's arms did not reach.
The neighborhood of Skierniewice was overflowing with German troops and with refugees from Warsaw, many Ukrainians among them. For the first time I saw among German soldiers men with insignia in yellow-blue colors and the letters UVV (Ukrainian Liberation Troops) on the sleeve. When I approached them and addressed them in Ukrainian, they did not conceal their apprehension of their future. They said that there were enough German troops with sufficient arms to offer resistance to the Reds, but that German soldiers lost all will to fight and left frontal positions at every opportunity. In order to halt this flight the German command was keeping SS troops in the rear. To my questions about the impression Soviet troops made on them, the soldiers answered that Soviet units go into battle in a disorderly mob which flees before any serious German resistance, but that the Reds never surrender, obviously because they know that the Germans shoot surrendering enemy soldiers. The appearance of Soviet troops, was according to them, horrible: exhausted, hungry, dressed in plundered civilian clothes, barefoot, they beg for a piece of bread, they carry their rifles on strings and the only sign of recognition as Soviet soldiers is a red star on the cap which distinguishes them from bandits. Discipline was lax, and the UVV soldiers thought that if the Germans were willing to fight they could push the Communists to the east with less effort than in 1941. The Soviet Air Force and tank detachments were the power chasing not only the Germans, but also the Red Infantry forward.
Although deep in my heart I felt the satisfaction of seeing my predictions come true, I was faced with the problem of what to do and where to go with my wife. We could easily get into Communist hands because the ability of the Germans to hold the front now seemed quite dubious, but even if we were lucky to evacuate, life in Germany would not be easy with the Germans showing so much hatred for foreigners. And then, even from inside Germany the Communists would either demand delivery of certain people, or go hunting for them. There was no certainty whether any safety could be found under Allied occupation.
Meanwhile the Germans were preparing to defend Skierniewice, and ordered the entire population to dig anti-tank trenches all around and within the city. My wife and I, because of the work in the theater, had to dig only for four hours every day. The local Polish population began to believe that "the Red Russians are not the same as during the reign of the tsar, and they will surely bring us freedom," which was probably caused more by their hatred for the Germans than their familiarity with the Russians. It was very dangerous to speak against this favorable opinion of the Russians because one would be subjected to denunciation as a "traitor-Ukrainian," who supports Hitler. By that time food had become so scarce that the cats and dogs in the city were consumed. We went hungry, too, and the commandantura gave us only ration bread (half saw-dust).
The Warsaw Uprising turned our apartment into a transfer point. Many Ukrainians and Poles whom we knew, and some whom we did not know, who escaped from Warsaw and vicinity during the fighting of the Polish Insurgent Army (Armia Krajowa) stayed in our home for several days. We shared our last piece of bread with them, and whatever we had from the garden: tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc. These unfortunate people had not only lost all they had, but nearly everyone had left some relative in Warsaw and they spent whole days meeting trains arriving from Warsaw in the hope that they would see them or at least get some news from Warsaw. Among those refugees was also Colonel Sadovsky, for whom I was later able to get permission to return to Warsaw to look for a grandson.
One day about the middle of October, Col. Mykola Rybachuk came to us. He was working in the Ukrainian Central Committee in Krakow and Lueben and proposed that I take over the command of a Ukrainian Division within a Corps which will be formed and placed under General V. Petriv. I do not remember on whose authority the offer was made, and I never heard the proposal of forming a Corps mentioned again.
This was also the first time I ever heard about General Vlassov: the City Commandant came to the theater and gave me a copy of the newspaper "Volya Rossii" (Russian Freedom) which contained an appeal of KONR (Komitet Osvobozhdeniya Narodov Rossii – Committee for Liberation of Peoples of Russia), and other information about the Committee, its purpose and personnel. The Commandant had the naive to believe that the KONR and its activities could change the situation, and that Vlassov would defeat Bolshevism. I was tempted to ask: what with?