What is your opinion on Stepan Bandera

Hitler's helpers: how nationalists continue to divide Ukraine

by Johannes Edelhoff, John Goetz, Johannes Jolmes, Jan Liebold & Andrej Reisin

The situation in eastern Ukraine has escalated: Pro-Russian separatists control towns and cities and break laws. They stormed the Donetsk public prosecutor's office, beat up Ukrainian policemen, and there was boundless hatred. This hatred can divide the country. Because the country is also deeply divided in its culture of remembrance: In the Second World War, many people believe that Eastern Ukraine was on one side and Western Ukraine on the other.

Nothing makes this clearer than the great role model in the west: Stepan Bandera. His picture is emblazoned near the big stage on the Maidan. Again and again the protesters were united by a slogan from the Bandera era: "Honor the Ukraine - honor the heroes!" But Stepan Bandera was a radical nationalist. His struggle for an independent Ukraine was also a struggle against Jews, Poles and Russians. For this he allied himself with Hitler.

Transfigured Bandera image

Swedish historian Dr. Per Anders Rudling has dealt extensively with the history of Eastern Europe during the Second World War. For him, the image of Bandera in Ukraine is transfigured: "According to my assessment and that of most researchers, Bandera and his movement can definitely be described as a fascist one that was heavily involved in the Holocaust," said Rudling. In the east, therefore, many hate Bandera as a Nazi collaborator. In Lviv in western Ukraine, however, people prefer to remember their struggle for Ukrainian independence. Bandera has even built monuments here, Bandera is part of pop culture: his likeness is emblazoned on beer mugs, pictures and T-shirts in the "Banderastadt" - this is how they advertise here.

Criticism is considered Russian propaganda

Criticism of the national hero - even in the new government, this is considered Russian propaganda. The current Minister of Education of Ukraine, Serhiy Kvit, said the issue had to rest in times of war. He also emphasizes Bandera's role model status: "I think that Bandera can be seen as a symbol of the Ukrainian struggle for freedom. But that has to be strictly separated from the current political crisis in Ukraine and the influence of the Russian propaganda machine." Bandera's Nazi connection just Putin propaganda?

Stepan Bandera was the leader of the Ukrainian nationalists. In June 1941, Hitler's soldiers were welcomed by Bandera's troops in Lviv. Ukrainians and Germans pounced on the Jews together - in the end they murdered thousands of people in several pogroms: "They are committed to the extermination of national minorities. The organization wrote a plan in April. That was kind of a blueprint for the mass murder of the Jews. The idea: the more Jews are killed when the Germans march, the better, "reports the historian Rudling.

Bandera myth

In today's Ukraine, the myth of the Bandera is primarily a political instrument: the "freedom fighter" Bandera is intended to give the culturally divided country an identity. The fact that Bandera and the Ukrainian nationalists also collaborated with the Nazis is hardly an issue. What makes Bandera's story particularly complicated: After initially working with the Nazis, he was arrested by the Germans in 1941 and taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. The reason: His men had proclaimed a free Ukraine - that was too much for the Nazis. But Bandera was not put in a normal concentration camp barrack, but in the cell building for special inmates, because the Nazis still considered him useful.

"Honorary prisoner" in Sachsenhausen

Prof. G√ľnter Morsch heads the memorial in Sachsenhausen. He reports on the conditions of detention: "The cell building was a special area in the concentration camp. Walls were torn down between cells and a bedroom and living room were furnished with furniture, pictures were even hung on the walls and there was a carpet on the floor. That changed nothing of the situation that one was imprisoned, but special conditions were created for these honorary prisoners. "

Bandera was in German captivity for almost three years. For his followers, this time serves as proof that he was above all a freedom fighter and not a Nazi collaborator. But in 1944 he was released again - extremely unusual for a concentration camp: "He negotiated with the National Socialists and the result was that he founded a Ukrainian National Committee in November 1944 and then armed with the National Socialists against the Red Army "says Prof. Morsch.

At the end of the war there was even a Ukrainian Waffen SS division, which is still remembered by neo-Nazis in Lviv to this day. For the historian Rudling, it is all in all a great mystification: "In the West they do not celebrate Bandera for the involvement in the Holocaust. They only remember that he fought Stalin. In eastern Ukraine there are many Stalin statues. There they do not remind Stalin for the famines and for the terror, but they only remember the great victory and his struggle against fascism. " Bandera, Hitler, Stalin - West against East. Now is the time for everyone to learn from history.