Some 10,000 USC Shoah Foundation interviewees were born within Ukraine’s current borders, and as many as 14,500 interviews discuss events and experiences that transpired there—more than one in four interviews in the entire archive. Among them are 3,427 interviews conducted in Ukraine, 304 interviews conducted in the Ukrainian language and 43 in a combination of Russian and Ukrainian.
Ukraine has been an independent country only since 1991. On the eve of World War II, most of modern-day Ukrainian territory—the center, east and south—was part of the USSR, while western Ukraine was divided between Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. As a result, USC Shoah Foundation interviewees talk about Ukraine in various languages, and the experiences during World War II they describe differ considerably from region to region—under German, Romanian, or Hungarian occupation.
After the German invasion of the USSR in summer 1941, most Jews were not deported to death camps but simply executed on the spot. Mass shootings took place both on a large scale, such as at Babi Yar in Kyiv, as well as on a small scale—in numerous massacres conducted in rural locations. Ghettos and camps were established to collect Jews and to exploit them for forced labor, prior to execution; some local Ukrainians were involved in the German-organized local police forces and administrations. Jewish survivors in the archive describe escaping from executions, going into hiding, and fleeing to join the Soviet partisans or further east to Soviet controlled areas. Some who could pass as non-Jews were deported as forced laborers (Ostarbeiter) to Germany along with Ukrainians and other Slavs. Ukrainian Roma faced similar experiences to the Jews, and examples can be found in the 135 Roma survivor interviews the Shoah Foundation Institute recorded in Ukraine.
While their war experiences may have similarities, the prewar lives of those born in the areas of Ukraine that had been in the USSR and those born in the areas that had been in Poland were substantially different. By the time World War II started, the over 4,500 interviewees born in the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR had already experienced the ravages of collectivization and “dekulakization,” the 1932-33 Famine (discussed in over 700 interviews), massive restrictions on religious life, and the wave of Stalinist political repressions known as the Purge. All of these events are described significantly in the archive’s interviews. On the other side of the Curzon Line, the nearly 2,000 interviewees born in the regions of western Ukraine that were in Poland from 1918 to 1939, while not entirely free of restrictions, lived comparatively freely. Jews were able to observe many forms of Judaism, and both the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches operated alongside the Roman Catholic Church. Zionist groups were active, as were various political movements, although there was little tolerance of communists and Ukrainian nationalists by the Polish government. When the USSR annexed these regions in September 1939, they quickly removed political, religious, and business elites, deporting many to remote areas of northern and eastern Russia, and imposed Soviet power. However, the Soviets had not eradicated all traces of Ukrainian life by the time of the German invasion two years later. Metropolitan Sheptyts’kyi, the head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, openly castigated those who killed Jews and secretly sheltered Jews in his monasteries. Western Ukraine was also very much the epicenter of activities for the Ukrainian nationalist movement and its military wing (OUN and UPA) during the war, initially in collaboration with the Germans before turning on them, the Poles, and the Soviets.
Over 1,350 USC Shoah Foundation interviewees were born in the interwar provinces of Bessarabia and Bukovina in Romania, which were annexed by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940. One year later, in summer 1941, the German and Romanian armies occupied the area and deported most of the region’s Jewish population to Transnistria, the area of south-western Ukraine between the rivers Dniester and Bug that the Romanians occupied until 1944. In Transnistria, the deportees and the local Ukrainian Jews—around 3,200 survivors of whom were interviewed by the USC Shoah Foundation—were kept in often appalling conditions in ghettos, camps, and colonies, and were subject to mass execution, forced labor, and disease. Some managed to avoid deportation and remained in the ghetto in Chernivitsi (Cernauti/Czernowitz/Chernovtsy). An operation organized by the Jewish communities in Bucharest and Palestine was able to rescue Jewish orphans from Transnistria.
Around 2,400 of the archive's interviewees were born in the region known as Subcarpathian Rus', now part of western Ukraine (Zakarpats'ka Oblast) but before World War II part of eastern Czechoslovakia (Podkarpatská Rus province). After March 1939, the area was annexed by Hungary and was known in Hungarian as Kárpátalja. Hungarian authorities immediately enacted several anti-Jewish laws. The Hungarian army began to draft men of age into the forced labor service (Munkaszolgálat), a section of the army that performed menial and dangerous tasks on the front lines without weaponry (at least 1,700 interviews describe this experience). Conscripts to the forced labor battalions often avoided deportation to Auschwitz, instead being marched to camps in Germany and Austria in late 1944-early 1945.
In summer 1941, Hungarian authorities expelled a large number of Jews without Hungarian citizenship to the Skala-Podil's'ka and Kolomyia area of southwestern Ukraine, an event described in over 250 testimonies. In August, they handed over 23,000 of these so-called alien Jews to German and Ukrainian forces, who massacred them in Kam'ianets'-Podil's'kyi.
The area experienced the full force of the Final Solution after the German invasion of Hungary on March 19, 1944. With the assistance of the Hungarian authorities and gendarmerie, the Germans established ghettos as early as the next month and, by May 1944, Jews were being deported en masse to Auschwitz. By that summer, the area was “Judenrein.”
Almost all of these interviews of witnesses born in Subcarpathian Rus' were conducted in other parts of the world and in various languages, attesting to the widespread emigration of the surviving Jewish community from the area. The USC Shoah Foundation conducted 90 Russian-, Ukrainian-, and Rusyn-language testimonies with Jewish and Roma survivors remaining in what is today Zakarpats'ka oblast of Ukraine.
Rescuers and Aid Providers in Ukraine
413 rescuers and aid providers were interviewed in Ukraine, over one third of all the rescuer/aid provider interviews collected by the USC Shoah Foundation. Taking huge risks to their own lives and those of their families, they were able to save from death many Jews, some of whom are also interviewees in the archive.
See also: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, USSR
For further details on this collection, see Crispin Brooks, "Visual History Archive Interviews on the Holocaust in Ukraine" in Holocaust in Ukraine: New Sources and Perspectives. Conference Presentations, Washington, DC: Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, pp. 17-62; https://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20130500-holocaust-in-ukraine.pdf
Selected Indexing Terms
Babi Yar Massacres
Bagerovskii Rov Massacre
Bronica Forest Massacres
deportation to Transnistria
Drobitskii Iar Massacres
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Eastern Orthodox clergy and monastics
Fedor Hill Massacres
German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941)
Kovpak, Sidor Artemevich
Lwów pogrom (November 22, 1918)
Odessa Massacres (October 23-25, 1941)
Orhanizatsyia Ukrainskykh Natsionalistiv
Petrikov Forest Massacre (1943)
Transnistrian Jewish children rescue
Ukrainian civilian laborers
Ukrainian Famine (1932–1933)
Ukrainian Famine (1946–1947)
Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Ukrainian police and security forces
Ukrainian prisoners of war
Ukrainian resistance fighters
Ukrainian resistance groups
Ukrainska Povstanska Armiia
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