Deutsche und Ukrainer 1914-1939

(Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, 2010)

1,085 pp. IBSN: 978-3-506-76373


Reviewed by Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, University of Alberta

In his monograph, Frank Golczewski historicizes a problem that up to now has always remained on the margins of historical inquiry. The history of German-Ukrainian relations between 1914 and 1939 was not totally neglected prior to the publication of this voluminous study, but was scattered across a number of diverse publications. Studies dealing explicitly with the problems of German-Ukrainian history either cover only brief periods of time, like Frank Grelka’s doctoral dissertation[i], or in the process of writing were ideologically encoded and burdened with tendentious baggage, in the sense of ‘exculpations’ and ‘laundering’ by eyewitness and actors in this history, such as the OUN member Roman Il’nyts’kyi.[ii]

Golczewski’s study is structured into eleven chapters. The first introduces discourses on the Ukraine up to 1914; the following three chapters present the highly eventful and chaotic history of World War I and German-Ukrainian rapprochement and cooperation during this period. The construction of the appealing and influential image of the Ukraine as a ‘granary’ is also examined here. The fifth and sixth chapters explore the consolidation of various different groups and camps of Ukrainians in Germany after World War I. These chapters also explore Ukrainian ideologues, such as Dmytro Dontsov and Viacheslav Lypyns’kyi , and the impact of their writings on the world view of the Ukrainians in exile and those living in Poland. Chapters six and seven deal with the radical and terrorist organizations UVO (Ukrainian Military Organization,  Ukrains’ka Viis’kova Orhanizatsiia) and OUN (Orhanizatsia Ukrains’kykh Natsionalistiv) and their cooperation with the Germans before and after 1933.The last three chapters illuminate how the process of closer ties with the Germans strengthened during the inter-war period among the Ukrainians living in exile, and how this was connected with the ‘turn to the right’ in Ukrainian politics. Impressive here is the detailed description running through several chapters of the life, activities and institutions of the Ukrainians living in Germany, such as the Ukrainian Scientific Institute (Ukrainisches Wissenschaftliches Institut), opened in Berlin in 1926.

The red thread of the study is based on the sober thesis of ‘mutual exploitation’ (p. 11). According to this, cooperation between German and Ukrainian politicians evolved because of shared political interests on both sides: this in significant measure because both sides saw themselves as losers in World War I and both developed an interest in seeing this historical ‘injustice’ rectified. Lured by the image of the Ukrainian ‘bread basket’ or ‘granary’, German politicians had an interest in economic exploitation of the Ukraine. The German security services were keen on information about the espionage activities of the UVO and OUN, while on the other side, Ukrainian politicians and activists were looking for an ally who could assist them financially and help them at the crucial hour in their struggle against their enemies (Poles, Russians, Soviets, and increasingly also the Jews).

Golczewski’s presentation of the German-Ukrainian ensemble of problems within the European framework is superb. Extensive inclusion of relevant Jewish, Polish, Russian and Soviet history here, with concentration on the linking interfaces, proves to be highly fruitful. The approach of differentiation within national history and the uncovering of conflicts, ambivalences and enmity within the tapestry of ‘national’ events also reflects a fine-tuned and critical approach to dealing with national histories in a European framework. Examples of this are Golczewski’s exploration of the pact between western Ukrainian military troops and the enemies of eastern Ukrainian politicians (the Ukrainian Galician Army [Ukrayins’ka Halyts’ka Armiia, UHA] with the Denikin Army, and in part later on also with the Red Army). And vice versa, the military alliance between Józef Piłsudski and the eastern Ukrainian Simon Petliura, who was prepared to relinquish the western Ukraine to the Poles, during the chaotic post-war years 1919–1920 (pp. 384-387, 389-391).

Golczewski’s monograph is based on a highly thorough study of the source materials. He researched in seventeen archives and examined a large number of documents, whose evaluation enables him to critically interrogate both the half-truths of the ideologues and as well as a number of notions regarded as self-evident in historiography. The decoding, based on primary sources, of the dominant ideological narrative of the former OUN activists or sympathizers, such as Il’nyts’kyi, Petro Mirchuk, Mykola Klymyshyn and Volodymyr Kosyk, is an additional noteworthy strength of Golczewski’s work here.

However, the selection of secondary literature is less convincing. It is understandable that Golczewski does not consider specialized articles such as that by Bohdan Cybulski[iii]on the attempts to break Stepan Bandera out of Polish prison, because historians cannot delve endlessly into detailed questions. But it is less understandable that he neglects fundamental studies such as Timothy Snyder’s Sketches from a Secret War,[iv]and this is doubtless not advantageous for the analytical depth of the questions treated in this monograph.

Unfortunately, not all chapters reflect the intention expressed in the introduction to investigate the mutual influence between discourses and events (p. 10). Parts of the study are written in a compelling manner and have a high level of analytical reflection: the explanation of the cult of Petliura (pp. 497-505) and the characterization of Ukrainian fascism are masterpieces of reflective historiography (pp. 571-592). However, several other sections, such as parts of chaps two, four and ten, are written very much in the genre of a less appealing diplomatic history, where all events are presented from the perspective of a small number of diplomats or statesmen (representatives of the nation). Significant and relevant here is only what these representatives write, say or do; not of import is anything occurring beyond the sphere of politics. The author indicates that he intends to limit himself to the ‘political level’ and a ‘relatively small restricted number of individuals’ who are ‘seen as representative for the part of the cultural group’ (p. 10). However, whether the character traits or striking aspects of behaviour of a small number of diplomats and political activists should enjoy priority in the treatment of the ensemble of problems under investigation here is a question that the readers themselves will have to answer.

The question of political diplomacy is bound up with a further difficult question pertaining to the nation and the representation of collectives. Golczewski emphasizes several times that he is not interested in the relations between ‘the’ Germans and ‘the’ Ukrainians, or a ‘national history’ (pp. 9-11, 16). Yet the presupposition of an ontological existence of ‘the’ Germans, Ukrainians, Poles and others occasionally appears at points. Perhaps this occurs because a bi-national or trans-national history, which Golczewski’s monograph also must be considered as, in a certain sense presupposes an ontological existence of ethnic groups or nations. It does so in order to be capable of functioning at all, even when the author stresses that his argumentation utilizes ‘constructed communities’ (p. 9). Thus, there is a tendency to employ prefixes such as ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-’ with national adjectives like German, Polish or Ukrainian. This can certainly designate the thinking and actions of persons adhering to nationalist ideas and ideals, but it does not break through or transcend them (see, for example, p. 52:  ‘And also the copy of a lecture […] was anti-Polish, anti-Russian, and moderately, pro-Austrian […]’).

Only a very small number of Golczewski’s assertions are incorrect or imprecise, yet this is a factor solely of minor significance given the enormous scope and length of the study. One of these questionable statements is the assumption that in the 1910s, Dmytro Dontsov formulated a ‘maximalist program previously unprecedented in the Ukrainian public national movement,’ in which he called ‘for the first time publicly, for the total separation of the Ukraine from Russia’ (pp. 60-61). One cannot agree with this assumption for several reasons, among them that already more than a decade earlier, with the beginning of the reception of ‘heroic modernity’ in the Ukraine, figures such as Mykola Mikhnovs’kyi had publicly enunciated even more radical slogans oriented to separation, such as ‘Ukraine for the Ukrainians!’ or ‘Donot marry a foreign woman, because your children will be your enemies….’[v]

The statement that until the death in 1938 of the first leader of the OUN, Ievhen Konovaelts’, there had been no use of the term ‘leader’ (vozhd’) in official texts of the OUN is incorrect. Thus, for example, in Mykola Stsibors’kyi’s 1935 treatise‘Natsiokratia,’ the concept ‘Leader of the Nation’ (Vozhd’ NatsiÑ—) is an important element of the Ukrainian state with a fascist dictatorship which the OUN anticipated to erect (p. 943).[vi] The semantic distinction between vozhd’ and providnyk is applicable for the period Golczewski treats (p. 943), but changes as the war approaches, with the attempt by the OUN-B to construct its own leader principle based on the concept of providnyk. We look forward to seeing this discussed in the planned second volume of this study (p. 1017).

In closing, it is clear that with this monographic investigation, Frank Golczewski has achieved the by far most reliable study on German-Ukrainian history between 1914 and 1939. Very thorough examination of the documentary sources has enabled him to shed fresh light on the thematic foci investigated, and to critically interrogate and deconstruct seemingly self-evident theses in historiography and ideological half-truths promulgated by historians sympathizing with or belonging to the OUN.


Translated from the German by Bill Templer

Translated from the German original: Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe: Rezension: Golczewski, Frank: Deutsche und Ukrainer. 1914-1939. Paderborn 2010, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 26.07.2010, .

[i]Frank Grelka, Die ukrainische Nationalbewegung unter deutscher Besatzungsherrschaft 1918 und 1941/1942, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2005.

[ii]Roman Il’nyts’kyi, Deutschland und die Ukraine 1934-1945. Tatsachen europäischer Ostpolitik, vols. 1-2, Munich: Osteuropa-Institut 1958.

[iii]Bohdan Cybulski, ‘Stepan Bandera w więzieniach II Rzeczypospolitej i próby uwolnienia go przez OUN,’ Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis 1033 (1989), 67–96.

[iv]Timothy Snyder, Sketches from a Secret War. A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Ukraine, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press 2005.

[v]Roman Koval, ‘Heroi, shcho ne zmih vriatuvaty Bat’kivshchyny,’ in: idem (Ed.), Mykola Mikhnovs’kyi. Samostiina Ukraina, Kyiv 2003, 9.

[vi]Mykola Stsibors’kyi, Natsiokratiia (Paris, 1935), 116. The term appears also in Mykola Scibors’kyi, ‘Narys proiektu osnovnykh zakoniv konstytutsii Ukrains’koi derzhavy’ from 1939, TsDAVOV (Central State Archives of the Supreme Bodies of Power and Government of Ukraine, Tsentral’nyi derzhavnyi arkhiv vyshchykh orhaniv vlady ta upravlinnia Ukrainy), f. 3833, op. 1, spr. 7, 2. The OUN in Ukraine called Konovalets’ in a leaflet from 1934 also the ‘leader of the Ukrainian nation and the national revolution.’ Cf. ‘KomunikatNr. 7,’ AAN (Archives of Modern Records in Warsaw,Archiwum Akt Nowych), MSZ (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministerstwo Spraw Zewnętrznych), syg. 5316, 76.In the original version of this review published by H-Soz-u-Kult the author of this review confused Stsibors’kyi’s draft of the constitution from 1939 with his treatise from 1935. Cf. Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe, Rezension: Golczewski, Frank: Deutsche und Ukrainer. 1914-1939. Paderborn 2010, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 26.07.2010,    .