Most iconographic images of the Holocaust entered public consciousness after the Third Reich’s collapse: the railway lines to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the boy with the raised arms in the Warsaw ghetto, the studio portrait of Anne Frank. Among the few wartime exceptions are visual depictions of violence from the first days of the German occupation of Lviv (Lwów, Lemberg) in late June 1941. Nazi propaganda widely broadcast scenes in newsreel and photographic format of civilians mourning publicly displayed dead bodies and chasing, beating, and abusing other civilians identified as Jews. According to German propaganda, this rampage was in reaction to Soviet crimes brought to light after the Wehrmacht’s advance into Eastern Poland; not only had Germany freed the region from the Stalinist yoke, but it had also allowed the population to take revenge on representatives of Soviet terror, first and foremost Jews. These images and the deceptive wartime narrative about them continued to have a powerful effect as they reappeared in politically motivated and sometimes mutually exclusive versions of distorted history, for instance during the Cold War and in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
Kai Struve’s book presents the most thorough attempt yet to cut through the many layers of ignorance, misrepresentation, and mythmaking that surround the violence in Western Ukraine and, more generally, non-German participation in the Holocaust. Relying on a broad range of sources and a firm grasp of the extensive secondary literature, Struve organizes his study into two large parts. The first addresses preconditions and prewar German-Ukrainian relations; the second focuses on the summer of 1941, structured around both the key settings of violence and the main actors: German agencies and Ukrainian nationalists. The result is a detailed, almost forensic account, preceded by an introductory summary of the contentious debates and ending with a synopsis of findings on victim figures, perpetrator motives, and contextual correlations.
Almost two hundred pages address the persecutions in Lviv during late June and early July 1941; roughly the same amount of space is devoted to more than thirty other—and so far under-researched— violent settings, including Wehrmacht-controlled areas, places where the Waffen-SS and other German units were stationed, and Hungarian-occupied parts of the region. The available documentation does not always allow a clear identification of casualties and perpetrators; in total, between 7,295 and 11,309 Jews, mostly men—1.35 to 2.1 percent of the Jewish population—were killed during these weeks (p. 671).
Similarly to recent studies by John-Paul Himka, Karel Berkhoff, Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, Michaela Christ, Wendy Lower, and others working on the Holocaust in Ukraine, Struve’s contribution reconstructs interactions between different groups. By attributing more than half of the killings to Waffen-SS Division “Wiking” (pp. 561–630), he refutes allegations of Ukrainian dominance in the perpetration of anti-Jewish violence. The fact that a much smaller, still unknown number of Poles and Ukrainians deemed “pro-Soviet” were killed also further cautions against a sweeping [End Page 111] application of the term “pogroms” to this partly German-orchestrated, partly home-grown violence. Ukrainian nationalists interacting with German officials neither pursued a coherent program nor represented the majority of Ukrainians. In 1939 even the most important group in Poland, the Orhanizacija Ukraïns’kych Nacionalistiv (OUN, then in Poland), had a core membership of fewer than 9,000 (p. 79), fractured, as was the nationalist movement as a whole, into competing factions. Against the background of the failed post-World War I struggle for independence from Polish and Soviet rule, Struve highlights the radicalization of Ukrainian nationalism from the founding of the OUN in 1929. Leading nationalists seem to have embraced antisemitism belatedly, but by the late 1930s accepted the need for a solution of the “Jewish Question” as pursued by Nazi Germany (p. 414). Pre-World War II plans for the “denationalization” of non-Ukrainian groups marked a form of ethnic cleansing that went hand-in-hand...