The Germans are only now learning about Ukraine’s role in the victory over Nazism
After the collapse of the USSR Russia held a monopoly over the right to be called the victor over Nazism. Now is the time to tell the world the truth. Natalia Pysanska for radiosvoboda.org
Berlin – The events in Ukraine, especially the Russian occupation of Crimea and the armed conflict in the Donbas have changed the way the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is perceived. Along with that the estimation of the extent Ukraine and Russia had contributed and sacrificed has gone through a complete reassessment.
An opportunity has presented itself to convey the truth about that period. How is this being handled in Germany, where today efforts are being made to re-examine the events?
These days in Germany the military triumph over the Third Reich is not considered to be the most significant part of the end of the war. More important is the awareness that there is shared responsibility for the calamities that took place in Europe in the XX century.
But up until now for the Germans it was self evident that it was the Americans and also the Red Army, always considered to be a “Russian” force, who had liberated them from Nazism.
After the collapse of the USSR, however, Russia had monopolized the right to be called the victor over Nazism. Martin Schulze Wessel, the head of the German-Ukrainian commission of historians and president of the German Association of Historians thinks that the Germans have atoned for the war by conceding the victory over Nazism to the Russians.
“The history of the German occupation in Eastern Europe has scarcely been researched. It is completely understandable why white washing has occurred in the debates about the aggressive policy Germany had adopted or when it comes to Germany’s accountability with regard to Hitler and his actions. Usually when these issues are brought up it is Russia or Poland that are asked for forgiveness, almost never Belarus or Ukraine,” noted Schulze Wessel.
Today the Germans are becoming aware that a huge role in gaining victory over Nazism was played by the Ukrainians and the Belarusians as well as other peoples of the former USSR.
As Andriy Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany has said, the fact that this year Ukraine had changed the commemorative date and the symbols surrounding the ceremonies marking the end of the Second World War has introduced a lot of confusion to the beliefs held by the German people, the experts, and the historians.
“Our main tool in bringing the historical truth to the German people is the mass media. And we utilize every opportunity we can to do just that. For example to explain why Ukraine has decided to commemorate the end of the Second World War differently than does Russia. Recently on a popular German radio station I described how the Russian glorification of Stalin and all the rhetoric about militarization have taken the place of honoring all those who died in battles and were victims of the war,” the Ukrainian ambassador said.
And although no one is denying the important role the USSR had played in defeating Nazism, nevertheless, that limited view of the history of the Second World War impedes the critical assessment of the events. Thus the Germans are being very careful when they mention that many nationalities had contributed to the defeat of Nazism.
Know the truth
Martin Schulze Wessel believes that learning from the formerly unfamiliar pages of the history of the Second World War and concurrently learning about the existing armed conflict in the Donbas will contribute to an objective assessment of those events and Ukraine’s role in them.
“It is May 8th and May 9th that allows us to observe how and why today’s society commemorates the Second World War. In appraising modern politics this observation is very important. This is how new lines of disagreement emerge in Europe,” remarked the historian.
Despite all the statistics that have been published it is not known for certain exactly how many people died in the war against Nazism. Ukrainian historians have come up with a rough figure: 8 million. Roughly 8 million Ukrainians died in the war to defeat Nazism.
EMPR, O. R. contributed to this publication
Original article in Ukrainian is available on radiosvoboda.org