[Maggie Burke]

As was the case of the Baltic states, WWII meant extensive Nazi occupation for the Western Borderlands, particularly Poland. Because of the brutal nature of the Nazi regime, much pride is taken by the natives of these regions in their claims of universal resistance. The historical narratives of Poland and Ukraine, in particular, very specifically hold that there was no collaboration during the Nazi occupation, although records of the actions of local police show that this was not the case (Dean). There has been very little scholarly or local recognition of this fact within these countries; however, more is emerging in English-language journals. In the Western Borderlands, there has been more of an attempt to mitigate responsibility of collaboration by emphasizing mutual losses under the Nazi occupation (Perks, 49).

Collaboration in Poland

Polish historiography is perhaps the staunchest in its refusal to admit collaboration, maintaining a view of itself as the “’most purely moral among all nations that had to live under [Nazi] occupation’” (Friedrich, 714). It is true that, unlike the Western European states, the Polish central government no longer held any authority following Nazi occupation and was therefore unable to officially collaborate (Friedrich, 715). What did occur, however, was the mobilization not only of the local police forces but also of the youth in service of the occupiers. Youth were organized in the Baudienst and required to serve for a period of seven months, helping the Nazis liquidate the ghettoes and redistribute Jewish property (Friedrich, 720). The local police were used for similar activities, and provided significant assistance to the occupying forces in “keeping order” (Friedrich, 723-24). Among the general population, there seems to have been a much lower incidence of betrayal of Jews to Nazi forces than in other parts of Europe. What did occur, however, was a Polish re-identification, as Polish ethnic Germans and ethnic Poles alike added themselves to the list of German Nationality. Because persons who identified as Germans were entitled to better rations, pay, and a portion of all goods taken from the Jewish population, the re-identification changes the Polish occupation narrative (Friedrich, 726-28). In the face of this material benefit, many Poles adopted an attitude of “to help the Jews is to endanger us”, and a sort of national indifference to their plight (Connely, 780). As in much of this area, anti-Semitism also seems to have been an underlying factor in many of these actions (Friedrich, 738).

Collaboration in Ukraine

As in Poland, underlying anti-Semitism in Ukraine played a role in the fate of Ukrainian Jews and the course of collaboration in Ukraine. According to Zvi Gitelman, the “Jews were the ‘most different’ of the peoples in Ukraine,” and thus a perfect scapegoat to mitigate the harshness of Nazi occupation (146). Collaboration there remains a “blind spot in the collective memory of the diaspora” (Rudling, 95), and the Holocaust is not connected to Ukrainian national history in school books (Jilge, 62). Ukrainians seem to have been open to Nazi occupation in its initial stages, probably because of the hardships they had suffered in recent years under the Soviets (Dean, 36).  Although, as is common in occupation narratives across Europe, there are accounts of Ukrainians hiding Jews and protecting them (Dean, 96), there are also accounts of Ukrainian local police participating in ghetto liquidations (Dean, 101). The division in society inherent in these two contradictory actions is a taboo subject in modern Ukrainian scholarship.

Collaboration in Belorussia

The case of collaboration in Belorussia is closer to that of Ukraine than Poland, in that there is much less of a historiographical tradition of denying participation. Once again, though, the actions of the Belorussian populace took on a varied character. As a general rule, participation in liquidation of the Jewish population fell almost exclusively to the local police and those recruited to augment the police forces by the Nazis. There is also significant evidence that there would have been significantly fewer Jewish deaths had the local police not been involved in these campaigns (Dean, 101).


In all three of these countries, retribution for collaborators when they fell back into Soviet control was extreme. Soviets had a much harsher view of collaboration in general, viewing anyone who had even been captured by the Nazis and held in a prison camp as a “betrayer of the motherland” (Jones, 750-51). Many of those who had collaborated left the area immediately, heading for Western Europe (Dean, 151). However, the Soviets used the punishment of collaborators primarily as a tool to silence opposition to the renewal of communist rule (Friedrich, 714). Thus, the culture of silence implied by the current narrative of these countries must be understood within the context of Soviet fear, although it is not altogether excused by the threat of the gulag.


Works Cited

  • Martin Dean, Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 1942-44 (St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2000).
  • Robert Perks, “Ukraine’s Forbidden History: Memory and Nationalism,” Oral History 21, no. 1 (1993): 43-53.
  • Klaus-Peter Friedrich, “Collaboration in a ‘Land without a Quisling’: Patterns of Collaboration with the Nazi German Occupation Regime in Poland during World War II,” Slavic Review 64, no. 4 (2005): 711-746.
  • John Connely, “Why the Poles Collaborated So Little: And Why That Is No Reason For Nationalist Hubris,” Slavic Review 64, no. 4 (2005): 771-781.
  • Zvi Gitelman, “Native Land, Promised Land, Golden land: Jewish Emigration from Russia and Ukraine,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 22 (1998): 137-163.
  • Per Anders Rudling, “Organized Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Ukraine: Strusture, Influence, and Ideology,” Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue Canadienne des Slavistes 48, no. 1/2 (2006): 81-118.
  • Wilfried Jilge, “The Politics of History and the Second World War in Post-Communist Ukraine (1986/1991-2004/2005),” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 54, no. 1 (2006): 50-81.
  • Jeffrey W. Jones, “’Every Family Has Its Freak’: Perceptions of Collaboration in Occupied Soviet Russia, 1943-1948,” Slavic Review 64, no. 4 (2005): 747-770.