Why did Stalin save the life of Hitler’s gauleiter in Ukraine who sent to graves 4 million people?

Erich Koch, former Nazi Reichskommissar of Ukraine, at his trial

Erich Koch, former Nazi Reichskommissar of Ukraine, at his trial 

2015/03/28 • Analysis & Opinion, History

That the Soviets and the Nazis cooperated even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that Stalin and Hitler were allies between 1939 and 1941 are well known, but that Stalin interceded to save the life of Hitler’s notorious gauleiter in Ukraine and that Erich Koch was not executed but died in a Polish prison at the age of 90 in 1986 is not.

In an essay on Russian7.ru this week, Sergey Zotov directly asks the question “why did Stalin save Erich Koch, the Reichskommissar of Ukraine?” — a question that has acquired greater interest and urgency given Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in that country over the last year.

Koch is still remembered in Ukraine for two of his more outrageous comments and for the actions he took to implement his words sending approximately four million people to their deaths. He said that he needed to create a situation in which “when a Pole meets a Ukrainian, he kills the Ukrainian and conversely the Ukrainian kills the Pole. We don’t need Russians, Ukrainians or Poles; we need fertile land.”

And the Nazi leader also said that in his view Ukrainians so hated Russians that in support of the idea of a Ukrainian state, “they are ideal fighters against the Red Army” but after the latter is defeated, they must be subject to complete annihilation “as the most horrible barbarians.”

Koch served as Reichskommissar over Ukraine for the entire time German forces were there. He made his capital not Kyiv but Rivne, and he set the borders of his region, “according to Rosenberg’s plan,” as ranging between Western Ukraine including Galicia to Saratov and Volgograd in the east.

“Known for his harsh manner,” Zotov writes, “Koch was called ‘a second Stalin’ among the Germans,” not an inappropriate description for someone who sent to their graves four million people.

  • Erich Koch, Nazi commissioner for Ukraine, in his office, on Jan. 12, 1942. (AP Photo)
    Erich Koch, Nazi commissioner for Ukraine, in his office, on Jan. 12, 1942. (AP Photo)
  • Erich Koch (right) and Alfred Rosenberg (center) in Kiev, Reichskommissariat Ukraine
    Erich Koch (right) and Alfred Rosenberg (center) in Kiev, Reichskommissariat Ukraine
  • Erich Koch on trial for war crimes
    Erich Koch on trial for war crimes
  • Erich Koch in a Polish prison at 90
    Erich Koch in a Polish prison at 90

During the war, he was targeted by Soviet partisans for execution, but he escaped all such attacks; and at the end of the war, Koch had relocated to East Prussia from which he took a ship to Copenhagen from which he wanted to travel to Latin America via a German submarine. But his plans to do so came to nothing.

As a result, after the war, he sought to hide near Hamburg under the name of Rolf Berger, but at meetings of refugees, Zotov says, Koch showed himself to be too gifted an orator for someone in the position he sought to present himself as and was arrested by the British occupation authorities.

Koch was never judged for his crimes against the Ukrainian people but only for his crimes in Poland and East Prussia.

The British handed Koch over to the Soviet occupation authorities in 1949, but “the USSR refused to judge the former Gauleiter and Reichskomissar and decided to hand him over to Poland.” There he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. But Zotov says, that sentence was never carried out. Instead, he was given life imprisonment.

“Neither the USSR nor the Ukrainian SSR ever asked Poland to extradite him or challenged” Warsaw on its failure to execute him, Zotov says. “What was the reason?”

One explanation is that Koch was Stalin’s agent and that his repressive policies in Ukraine were intended to spark resistance to the German occupation. That was advanced by Russian historian Vladimir Batshev in his book, “The Partisan War: Myths and Realities” (2007).

Stalin had already moved to destroy Ukrainians via his terror famine in order to reduce their share in the Soviet population. Given that he had no problem with mass murder in principle, Stalin may not have been displeased that someone else was continuing his efforts in Ukraine.

That possibility is suggested by the fact, Zotov continues, that under the system that existed in the Soviet bloc, only Stalin “could save a criminal of that rank,” especially since Koch was never judged for his crimes against the Ukrainian people but only for his crimes in Poland and East Prussia.

Adding to it is the fact that at his trial, Koch “spoke about his sympathies for the Soviet Union” and even suggested that his actions undermined the plans of Rosenberg in Ukraine and thus helped the USSR. Moreover, like other Nazi leaders, he presented himself as only “a pawn” in Hitler’s game.

It is possible, of course, that Koch could have been recruited as a Soviet agent, but then why did Stalin hand him over to Poland rather than keep him in the USSR, Zotov asks, especially since despite his harsh measures in Ukraine, he never provoked the Ukrainian people into the kind of mass uprising Stalin was in this interpretation waiting for.

There is another far more sinister explanation, but it is one Zotov does not offer. Stalin had already moved to destroy Ukrainians via his terror famine in order to reduce their share in the Soviet population. Given that he had no problem with mass murder in principle, Stalin may not have been displeased that someone else was continuing his efforts in Ukraine.

But however that may be, the failure of Stalin or his successors to demand that Koch be extradited and executed for what were surely capital war crimes and crimes against humanity is a continuing sore point among Ukrainians. It is likely that as conditions between Moscow and Kyiv deteriorate, this question is one that will be asked by more rather than fewer people.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • puttypants

    whomever is writing this is confused about history. The ukrainian starvation happened in 1932-33 before WW2.

    • TheBlogFodder

      That is correct. The article does not imply otherwise.

    • disqus_aJpixObjG7

      There were MANY RUSSIAN INDUCED GENOCIDAL STARVATIONS against UKRAINE: for example:

      russian induced, genocidal famines in UKRAINE occurred 1921-22 when lenin gleefully wrote, “now that the UKRAINIANS are eating their own children they will finally lose their faith in God.

      The HOLODOMOR occurred in 1932-33, when IN ONE SINGLE YEAR BETWEEN 7-10 MILLION UKRAINIANS , INCLUDING 3 MILLION CHILDREN were mass murdered by starvation. THE HOLODOMOR (NOT THE HOLOCAUST) IS THE GREATEST GENOCIDE IN HUMAN HISTORY, YET ONLY ONE IN ONE HUNDRED WESTERNERS HAS EVER HEARD OF IT. can anyone please explain WHY THIS IS SO?

      Another russian induced genocidal famine imposed upon UKRAINE occurred between 1945 & 1947 when stalin AGAIN ORDERED FOOD SHIPPED OUT OF UKRAINE INTO RUSSIA. UKRAINE’S POPULATION HAD FALLEN BY 14 MILLION in WW2 and THE 5 UKRAINIAN FRONTS OF 7.4 million troops NOT “russians” defeated Hitler as Churchill wrote…

      • http://kopaty.com/ Mat

        4-7 million not 7-10 million

        • disqus_aJpixObjG7

          EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT & 26 WESTERN NATIONS OFFICIALLY officcially acknowedge 7-10 UKRAINIANS MRUDERED BY RUSSIANS— in one SINGLE YEAR

          • http://kopaty.com/ Mat

            No, they don’t.

          • disqus_aJpixObjG7

            mat is another katsapkyi svoloch – a piece of toxic russian racist demonic excrement fighting for the further mass murder of the FREE PROGRESSIVE UKRAINIANS

  • disqus_aJpixObjG7

    THE HOLODOMOR
    (NOT THE HOLOCAUST) IS THE GREATEST GENOCIDE IN HUMAN HISTORY, This is
    OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED by the EUROPEAN UNION, THE USA AND 26 other nations…

    YET ONLY ONE IN ONE
    HUNDRED WESTERNERS HAS EVER HEARD OF IT.

    Can anyone please explain WHY THIS IS SO?

    • Niall Fraser Love

      The same reason that few Westerners know about Japan’s genocide against the Chinese in WW2, or the genocide of Mayan Indians in Guatemalan from 1960-1980s, or the genocide caused by the Derg regime.

  • Niall Fraser Love

    The law of Poland was that ill people could not be executed as Erich Koch was during his sentence to death. How he could be seriously ill from 1959 till he died in 1986 age 90 is a bit far-fetched to me as why the Pols did not kill him. According to Wikipedia he spared because he knew where the Amber Room might be. But it was never found so agien I don’t know why the Pols didn’t execute him he killed 40,000 of them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Koch

  • Niall Fraser Love

    Hear are some quotes from the Riechskommissar on Ukrainians “We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population here.”

    “If I meet a Ukrainian worthy of being seated at my table, I must have him shot
    And he closed all the schools in Ukraine because “Ukraine children need no schools. What they’ll have to learn will be taught them by their German masters.”[