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Germany’s historical responsibility towards Ukraine discussed in Bundestag

Marieluise Beck, Speaker for Eastern Europe at Germany’s Green Party speaks in the Bundestag on 19 May 2017. Photo: snapshot from video
Germany’s historical responsibility towards Ukraine discussed in Bundestag

On 19 May 2017, Germany’s Green party initiated debates on the topic of Germany’s historical responsibility towards Ukraine. The party prepared a draft resolution in support of Ukraine which was submitted to the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag.

The discussion was initiated due to the reinterpretation of Germany’s historical responsibility for Nazi crimes as such crimes from which the territories between Germany and Russia suffered the most. As stated on the website of Marieluise Beck, Speaker for Eastern Europe at Germany’s Green Party, the need for such a discussion is becoming particularly acute in the light of the current European aspirations of Ukraine, which opposes Russian aggression.

Little is known that Ukraine was the site of the greatest crimes against humanity committed by Hitler and Stalin for decades. In addition to Poland, the Baltics and Moldova, Ukraine was a victim of the Hitler-Stalin pact. In the Second World War, the Holocaust and the systematic extermination campaign against the Slavic population, unleashed by the Nazis, cost millions of lives of people in Ukraine.

75 years later, a strong and courageous movement of democracy is urging Ukraine to achieve a better future for the country. It is about freedom, democracy, and the rule of law – and thus the values that make up Europe and form the basis for a peaceful coexistence. We want Germany to acknowledge its historic responsibility against Ukraine and actively support the Ukrainian movement of democracy,” the website states.

At the debate, Marieluise Beck addressed the Members of Parliament and urged them to support the motion:

The motion states that the territory of present-day Ukraine was one of the main theaters in the Russian Civil War and then Stalin’s reign of terror and the famine – the Holodomor – which claimed millions of lives. In result, some 15 to 20 million Ukrainians lost their lives to war and terror of the October Revolution in 1917 to the crushing of the Western Ukrainian partisan movement in the 1950s.

“The trauma of having been the backdrop to some of Hitler’s and Stalin’s most appalling crimes against humanity has continued to substantially define Ukraine’s collective historical consciousness to this day. It is important, therefore, to have an awareness of the complex history of Ukraine, a country which was a helpless pawn in the hands of two totalitarian systems for much of the 20th century,” the motion states.

It notes that the war of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union was led not only against the Army but against the entire population: “The intention was to annihilate Poland, the Soviet Union and with it Ukraine as states in their own right, to extinguish their societies and to enslave or murder their people. This included the systematic mass murder of the Jews, which was an integral part of the planning of war,” it reads.

The notion states that out of the four million Jews killed in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, more than one million came from Ukraine and mentions the sites of the largest massacres – Kamianets-Podilskyi and Babyn Yar. It also mentions the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, describing them as a “militant nationalist organization in East Galicia, whose aim was to liberate their country and create an independent Ukraine, free of Stalin’s Soviet Union.” After the OUN was crushed following a brief period of collaboration with the Nazis and Bandera was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and killed by the KGB in 1959, he became “something of an iconic figure in Ukraine’s independence mythology to this day. In Soviet and – and now in Russian – propaganda, however, he was portrayed as the embodiment of an alleged Ukrainian ‘fascism,'” the motion stresses.

In her address to the Parliament, Marieluise Beck addressed the topic of the myth of Ukrainian “fascism” as well: “When millions of Ukrainians came to the streets in support of independence and freedom during the Euromaidan protests of 2014, they were immediately called ‘fascist banderites.’ These accusations fell on fertile ground in Germany as well. Respect to millions of victims in the bordering countries requires we take a new look at this part of our history,” the MP stated.

The motion goes on to detail Nazi Germany’s plans for Ukraine.

“The uniquely terrible war of annihilation in Eastern Europe was also a racial war in which not only the Jews were targets. In National Socialist racial ideology, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians were regarded as Slavic ‘sub-humans’ (Untermenschen), destined either for slavery or for annihilation. In order to be able to proceed with ‘unprecedented, unmerciful, and unrelenting harshness’ against the Soviet Union, Hitler decreed the partial suspension of the international law of war and waived the protection guaranteed to civilians. 

As Europe’s ‘breadbasket,’ Ukraine played a central role in the National Socialists’ expansion plans and was therefore subjected to extreme and ruthless plundering and exploitation. In the German strategy for the war of annihilation, the deaths of millions of Slavs from famine were factored into the equation and were regarded as necessary to secure reliable food supplies and new living space (Lebensraum) for the German people. Under the General Plan East (Generalplan Ost – GPO) for the colonization of Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine was earmarked for German settlement, so the Ukrainian population was deliberately starved, expelled and murdered. This explains why, out of 6.8 million Ukrainian war dead, the number of civilians – 5.2 million – is so high.”

Ostarbeiters, Soviet laborers who were deported to work in Germany, are another way that Nazi policies impacted Ukraine. Out of 2.8 million Ostarbeiters, more than half came from Ukraine. Forced to work under inhumane conditions, they faced more humiliation upon their return to the Soviet Union, where they often ended up in Gulags as “collaborators”: “Stigmatised and denied any recognition as victims for decades, their fate were a taboo subject in the Soviet Union. Up until 2007, Germany made compensation payments to 856,402 former forced laborers from the Soviet Union, including 465,672 from Ukraine.”

Soviet POWs, the conditions for whom were comparable to those in concentration camps, are another category for whom Germany feels a historical responsibility: out of more than 5 million POWs, 3.3 million died in captivity.

“It is time for Germany to look at the milestones of its own history. Historic responsibility doesn’t equal guilt. But shame that German boots went to Ukrainian soil, this shame we must feel,” said Marieluise Beck in the Bundestag.

According to her, if history does mean something to Germans, then it is their responsibility to support Ukraine in its aspiration to freedom and dignity. “In Yalta, a division of Europe against the will of the Eastern Europeans took place. Europe doesn’t end at the borders of the Baltic countries and Poland. But it is the Europeans of Central and Eastern Europe who paid with their freedom in the World War. They are justified in counting on our support in their quest to belong to the free Europe,” Beck said, calling on the Bundestag to support the motion, which ends with the following words:

“Germany recognizes its historical responsibility towards Ukraine. This includes not only the investigation of German atrocities committed in Ukraine and against its people, but also active support for today’s independent Ukraine and its society in their quest for democracy, the rule of law and economic development. The economic, political and military destabilization of Ukraine with the aim of halting or, indeed, preventing this process therefore requires a resolute response.”


With reporting by and

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