Cashing in

“Most of the Galician Jews, like Polish Jews residing in the General Government, died in the course of 1942 after spending months isolated from the rest of the population in ghettos created on Nazi orders. Acting on instructions of German police commanders, the Jewish and Ukrainian police rounded them up and shipped them to extermination camps. Motivated more often by greed than anti-Semitism, locals often tried to take advantage of the misfortunes of their Jewish neighbors, either denouncing them to the authorities or seizing their property. But the majority simply looked the other way.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe

In the killing fields

“The Holocaust was the single most horrific episode of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, which had no shortage of horror. Most Ukrainian Jews who became victims never made it either to Auschwitz or to any other extermination camp. Heinrich Himmler’s Einsatzgruppen, with the help of local police formed by the German administration, gunned them down on the outskirts of the cities, towns, and villages in which they lived. The shooting began in the summer of 1941 in all territories taken by the Wehrmacht from the retreating Soviets. By January 1942, when high Nazi officials gathered in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to coordinated the implementation of the Final Solution—the eradication of European Jewry—Nazi death squads had killed close to 1 million Jewish men, women, and children. They did so in broad daylight, sometimes in plain sight and almost always within earshot of the local non-Jewish population. The Holocaust in Ukraine and the rest of the western Soviet Union not only destroyed the Jewish population and its communal life, as was the case in Europe generally, but also traumatized those who witnessed it.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe

The gates of hell

“Ukraine under German occupation became a large-scale model of a concentration camp. As in the camps, the line between resistance and collaboration, victimhood and criminal complicity with the regime became blurred but by no means indistinguishable. Everyone made a personal choice, and those who survived had to live with their decisions after the war, many in harmony, some in unending anguish.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe

Yet prescient

“In December 1940 [Hitler] signed a directive ordering preparations for war with the Soviet Union. The operation was code-named Barbarossa after the twelfth-century German king and Holy Roman emperor who had led the Third Crusade. He had drowned while trying to cross a river in heavy armor instead of taking the bridge used by his troops. It was certainly a bad omen.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe

A fine-looking bunch

“By early October 1939, the Polish army had ceased to exist . . . . The Red Army, which was no match for the Germans in mechanization, demonstrated its superiority to the Polish troops in the quality of its armaments, which included new tanks, aircraft, and modern guns—all products of Stalin’s industrialization effort. But to the surprise of many, the Soviet officers and soldiers were often badly dressed, poorly fed, and shocked by the relative abundance of food and goods in the Polish shops. The locals found Soviet officers ideologically indoctrinated, uncultured, and unsophisticated. For years, they would tell and retell stories about the wives of Red Army officers who allegedly attended theaters in nightgowns, believing them to be evening dresses.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe

Call it what you will, people died

“Was the Great Ukrainian Famine (in Ukrainian, the Holodomor) a premeditated act of genocide against Ukraine and its people? In November 2006, the Ukrainian parliament defined it as such. A number of parliaments and governments around the world passed similar resolutions, while the Russian government launched an international campaign to undermine the Ukrainian claim. Political controversy and scholarly debate on the nature of the Ukrainian famine continue to this day, turning largely on the definition of the term ‘genocide.’ But a broad consensus is also emerging on some of the crucial facts and interpretations of the 1932-1933 famine. Most scholars agree that it was indeed a man-made phenomenon caused by official policy; while it also afflicted the North Caucasus, the lower Volga region, and Kazakhstan, only in Ukraine did it result from policies with clear ethnonational coloration: it came in the wake of Stalin’s decision to terminate the Ukrainization policy and in conjunction with an attack on the Ukrainian party cadres. The famine left Ukrainian society severely traumatized, crushing its capacity for open resistance to the regime for generations to come.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe

Dictatorship of the proletariat

“The ‘Russian revolutionary sweep’ that Stalin wanted to combine with American efficiency came to Dniprohes with tens of thousands of Ukrainian peasants unqualified to do the job but eager to make a living. The number of workers employed in the construction of the dam and the electric power station grew from 13,000 in 1927 to 36,000 in 1931. The turnover was extremely high, even though the Soviets abandoned the earlier policy of equal pay for all categories of workers, and the top managers received up to ten times as much as unqualified workers; qualified workers made three times as much as the latter. Peasants had to turn into workers not only by learning trades but also by getting accustomed to coming in on time, not taking breaks at will, and following the orders of their superiors. It was a tall order for many new arrivals at the construction site of communism. In 1932, the Dniprohes administration hired 90,000 workers and released 60,000.” – Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe