bloody harvestsjan peczkis|Friday, October 28, 2011
BLOODY HARVESTS BEYOND THE STYR, HORYN, AND SLUCZ RIVERS is the title of this Polish-language book (Review based on 2nd edition, 2004). It describes the unfolding WWII Ukrainian fascist-separatist OUN-UPA genocide of Poles under the German-Nazi occupation, and how the Poles defended themselves against the Ukrainian REZUNY (cutthroats). Stepanska Huta, the largest Polish defended village in Wolyn that eventually failed, is recounted in considerable detail. This book includes a comprehensive historical narrative, maps (including UPA battle plans), personal testimonies, a profusion of photos, etc.
The genocidal intentions of the Ukrainian nationalists had been disguised in code. Piotrowski recounts the Ukrainians in 1942 commonly speaking of an upcoming harvest in which the rye would be cut first, and then the wheat. (p. 73). The author was puzzled, as the order of harvested crops was actually the opposite. Only later did he realize that the "rye" were the Jews, and the "wheat" were the Poles.
The Jews were exterminated through massive Ukrainian-Nazi collaboration. The Germans gave the directives, and the Ukrainians killed the Jews. (p. 74). After the Volhynian Jews were almost gone by late 1942, it came the Poles' turn. Everything Polish was to be destroyed. Polish villages were subject to episodes and then nonstop mass murder and burning. After the first wave of desertion of the Ukrainian collaborationist police in mid-March 1943, these Jew-killers joined the UIA (so-called Ukrainian Insurgent Army; also OUN-UPA) and put their murderous skills to use against the Poles. (p. 128).
The OUN's fascist ideology began to resemble the racial Nazi ideology more and more. There was a call for "purity of Ukrainian blood" and Ukrainians in mixed Polish-Ukrainian marriages were ordered to kill their Polish spouses and half-Polish children. Some did. Those who refused were themselves murdered. (pp. 143-144). Some local Greek Catholic Ukrainians, resettled from Eastern Galicia by the Soviets, were threatened with death if they did not convert to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. (p. 151).
The Poles, caught by surprise by the OUN-sponsored genocide, gradually formed defended villages. It proved very difficult to procure anywhere near sufficient weaponry and ammunition. However, many villages in this general area (Sarny and Kostopol Counties) did succeed in beating off even large OUN-UPA attacks. For example, the village of Wilcze held out until the end of April 1943. However, as village defenders ran out of ammunition, they evacuated and joined the larger regional defended village of Huta Stepanska.
The OUN-UPA tried to provoke the German occupation forces to destroy Huta Stepanska by bringing them false information. The Poles managed to convince the German punitive expedition of the truth, and the German pacification terror action was stayed. (p. 159). The Germans' visit proved to be a blessing in disguise. The Poles met, among the Germans, many Polish-speaking men of transitional Polish-German nationality from such places as Silesia and Pomerania. Some of these Poles and part-Poles eventually proved amenable to selling weaponry to the Huta Stepanska defenders, evacuating Polish survivors of massacres to the towns, and, in one case, of fighting on the side of the Poles and partly burning two Ukrainian villages (Weretenicze and Iwanicze). (e. g., p. 159, 211, 218).
The author does not develop the foregoing theme further. A local Ukrainian would not usually know the difference between a half-Polish Silesian and an ethnic Pole. Did the German authorities purposely assign Polish-speaking Germans to Wolyn so that German repressive actions against Ukrainians would be mistaken by the local Ukrainians as largely the actions of Poles and "Polish collaborators"? Are the accounts of Poles and Germans joining each other against Ukrainians, prevalent in OUN lore, at least partly based on this mistaken identity?
At Stepanska Huta, less than 200 men had ANY type of firearm--if only a hunting rifle. (p. 7, 173). By a bitter quirk of fate, some 40 pieces of weaponry had locally been hidden by the 1939 Polish Army (p. 124), but the ones who knew of its whereabouts had been deported to Siberia during the first Soviet occupation. (1939-1941). What's more, the village was spread out over a wide area, making it difficult to form and sustain a defensive perimeter. Many sectors of the village were defended by one firearm with only a dozen or two rounds of ammunition. (p. 183).
The large July 16, 1943, OUN-UPA attack on Stepanska Huta was halted. Polish losses included 30 fighters killed and about 60 Poles murdered while fleeing surrounding villages. Over 100 UPA dead were left in the fields. (p. 184). A few dozen enemy weapons were captured by the Poles.
However, the Poles knew that there would be another UPA attack, and that they had insufficient ammunition to repel it successfully this time. For this reason, the thousands of Poles were evacuated, through a cordon of armed Polish defenders, to a German-held town. From there, they would save their lives by "volunteering" to travel to the Reich for forced labor. During the entire process of July 16-18, the UPA attacks on Huta Stepanska and other defended villages, and on the evacuees from Huta and nearby villages, cost a total of about 750 Polish lives. (p. 227). [Were it not for the samoobrony (defensive efforts), the death toll would have easily been several times greater.]
There is some evidence that the Germans fought on the side of the UPA in the final attack on Stepanska Huta. The previously-mentioned Polish-speaking Germans had been assigned elsewhere to a different village, perhaps so as not to be witnesses to the UPA-German cooperative effort. (p. 218).
Some of the other Volhynian Polish defended villages survived until the second Soviet occupation (1944-on). At that time, the Soviets re-affirmed their annexation of the Kresy, and expelled nearly all the Poles. The latter settled in the new territories assigned to Poland from which the Germans were being simultaneously expelled.
In 1971, and again in the late 1990's, the author and some aging Volhynians revisited the sites. There was no trace of many Polish villages. Huta Stepanska had been burned by the UPA after the Poles' evacuation. A collective farm stood in its stead. Amazingly, there was a large wooden cross, erected by the Poles in 1943 with the message "Jesus, save us", which survived until the early 1990's. (p. 330). Many Polish churches were nothing but a sad spectacle of bare foundations, and smashed statues among the greenery. The long-neglected village cemeteries still had legible headstones. Exhumed graves of the Janowa Dolina massacre showed skulls holed with bayonets.
The reaction of modern local Ukrainians was mixed. Some realized that the OUN was fascist, while others tried blame-the-victim tactics on the Poles. Local Ukrainian priests organized ceremonies to remember the dead, and new crosses were placed to remember the dead.
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