Sponsored by the Michigan Family History Network
Displaced Persons -Repatriation of Ukrainian Displaced People after World War II
by Stefan Lemieszewski
Forced Repatriation of Ukrainains to USSR
According to Professor Paul F. Thomas: "During World War II, Ukraine was the world's premier theatre of military conflict, in terms of the total number of war dead - the conservative estimate being about 12 million deaths (see Antonov-Ovseyenko, 1980), a figure which exceeds the total for the West European, African and Pacific theatres combined."
According to Professor Marta Dyczok in her book, The Grand Alliance and Ukrainian Refugees (2000; ISBN 0-312-23192-X), there were approximately 3 million surviving Ukrainian DPs as of May 1945. By autumn 1945, all but 200,000 were repatriated to the USSR. Many, if not most, of the 2.8 million Ukrainians were forcibly repatriated against their will and rights under the Geneva Convention. Hundreds of thousands of repatriated Ukrainians were quickly killed under Stalin's orders, while many others were railroaded to the Gulag concentration camps where they were tortured and worked to death.
Stalin's war crimes with the assistance of Western Powers' collaboration have gone unpunished, with barely a footnote mentioned in the history books. Churchill's and Roosevelt's agreement with Stalin on forcible repatriation was signed under the Yalta Agreements. However, in recognition of their duplicity, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to forcible repatriation in secret by signing a secret Protocol of Yalta (copies of which are difficult to find).
Many Ukrainians were born in Eastern Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, for example, countries which were not part of the USSR in 1939. Yet Stalin wanted them repatriated to the USSR as well. To add insult to injury, when forcible repatriation is occasionally mentioned in the history books, Ukrainians who were repatriated are labeled erroneously as Russians. Thus, the world is kept in the dark about the Ukrainian victims who were forcibly repatriated (much the same as the Ukrainian victims who died in the famine genocides/Holodomors).
About half of the 200,000 Ukrainians were resettled by the International Refugee Organization (IRO) to USA, UK, Australia and Canada. Marta Dyczok provides an explanation why the Grand Alliance did not recognize the Ukrainian nationality of the refugees. In the words of one Western official, Ukrainian patriots were to be considered as 'fascists' and 'enemies of the people.' Furthermore, part of Stalin's tactics used in forced repatriation included a propaganda campaign falsely smearing Ukrainian refugees as Nazi war criminals (a continuing campaign). The Western Powers seem to go along with the false portrayal of Ukrainians as Nazi war criminals, since it deflects attention from Ukrainians as victims of war crimes perpetrated by Stalin with the assistance of the Western Powers' collaboration.
SHAEF = Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces
UNRRA = United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration
The Grand Alliance and Ukrainian Refugees, (2000; ISBN 0-333-71109-2)
Marta Dyczok, Assistant Professor
Departments of History and Political Science
University of Western Ontario
Chapter 3 (p. 47)
In summer 1945, the situation of Ukrainian refugees was of little interest to Western political leaders. It received attention only when it touched on larger political interests. The Ukrainian question was considered to have been resolved, in so far as most ethno-linguistic Ukrainian territory had become part of the Soviet Union, and the Western Allies were not interested in any efforts aimed at establishing a separate Ukrainian state. The Foreign Office view was summarized by Thomas Brimelow, who commented that:
Publicly, the troubles of the Ukrainians, now reunited at last in their own state, are at an end. Any manifestations of discontent will in future be the work not of Ukrainian patriots, but of fascist bands, black reactionaries and enemies of the people. Thanks to the brotherly protection of the Great Russian people, this centuries-old problem has now found a complete and just solution, and the enclosed minute... can be assigned to the limbo of forgotten things."29 [Yuk!]
Because Western leaders were not prepared to recognize any political claims of Ukrainians to a separate nationality, no separate policy to deal with Ukrainian refugees was deemed to be necessary. SHAEF and UNRRA instructions on displaced persons, denied recognition to Ukrainians as having a separate nationality, and specified that Ukrainians were to be dealt with as Soviet nationals, nationals of other countries of which they may have been citizens, or as stateless persons. 30 In some cases, orders were issued specifically forbidding the use of the label 'Ukrainian'. 31
The fate of Ukrainian refugees received attention only because some of them had been displaced from the territories newly acquired by the Soviet Union. The Soviet government demanded their return and the Western authorities refused to repatriate them by force.
Specific requests for the return of Western Ukrainians began appearing after the signing of the Soviet-Polish border treaty on 6 July 1945.32 Four days after the agreement was signed, the Commander of Allied Land Forces in Norway received a letter from the Head of the Soviet Repatriation Administration in Norway, in which Major General Ratov said:
"I am likewise quite happy to inform you that the question concerning Western Ukrainians and White Russians has now become quite clear in view of the recognition by your government of the Polish Warsaw Government. Namely, these nationalities must be handed over to us without delay for despatch to their homeland where the question of their citizenship will be decided between the Soviet and Polish Governments."33
Since such decisions could be made only at the political level, UNRRA and the military occupation authorities continued to follow instructions of the SHAEF guide. However, British and US political leaders addressed the question, and throughout the summer refused to change their policy regarding people from the newly acquired Soviet territories. To avoid unnecessary difficulties, efforts were increased to segregate carefully Soviet citizens from others, with great care being taken in determining identity.34 Military commanders once again were instructed to return only people whose homes were within the political boundaries of the Soviet Union on 1 September 1939, and that Ukrainian nationality was not to be recognized.35
Despite these measures, confusion continued to surround operations involving Ukrainians. Because instructions were issued to identify people according to citizenship, while Ukrainians continued insisting on their national identity, the Foreign Office received numerous requests asking, 'Which Ukrainians are, and which are not, Soviet citizens?36 In late August 1945 the Foreign Office Refugee Department prepared the following comprehensive guidelines to answer such queries:
Those who could not be identified conclusively continued to be placed on the 'disputed list' to which Soviet officials were not given access.38 Throughout the summer no provisions existed regarding the future of such people, as witnessed by the comments of Thomas Brimelow of the Foreign Office, saying, 'we feel that some preliminary thought should be given now to their eventual disposal or absorption'...39
As has already been mentioned, the SHAEF instructions did not recognize Ukrainians as having a separate nationality. However, the occupation authorities were confronted repeatedly by individuals and groups claiming Ukrainian identity, organizing resistance to repatriation and causing tension with Soviet repatriation officials. On 2 July the Political Office of the British SHAEF Branch received a complaint from the Soviet Liaison Officer at a camp near Kassel, where he was 'roughly handled and threatened by the inmates of the camp as a result of anti-Soviet propaganda organised by the Ukrainian Relief Committee'.40 Orders were issued that the propaganda be stopped and the camp staff replaced by other DPs who were not members of the organization.41 41 Similar complaints were received by British, French and American authorities throughout the summer of 1945, with some of them reaching the highest political levels.42 As a result, Ukrainian organizations were banned repeatedly, and orders repeated that 'Ukrainians are not to be recognised as a nationality'.43
Repatriation and the use of force
Before the end of the war, the British and US governments agreed to repatriate all Soviet nationals, by force if necessary.44 Although some Soviet citizens were repatriated before May 1945, the large-scale repatriations began after the end of hostilities in Europe. The attitudes of the military authorities, who were charged with carrying out the forcible repatriation, were gradually changed by the opposition of Soviet refugees to this policy, particularly by those who committed suicide rather than be forced to return to Soviet rule. This became an important factor which led to a change in policy. Ukrainians formed the largest contingent of the repatriates, 45 arid therefore their actions played an important role in this change.
During the summer months it became clear that many soldiers and officers were unsympathetic to the plight of refugees and displaced persons. Often they were considered to be a burden, and that their care, maintenance and repatriation fell outside the scope of military duties. This attitude was fostered by the local German population, which was often required to provide housing and food for the displaced.
In a confidential conversation, two senior British officers commented that the interests of the British troops and the Germans coincide on the need to reduce the excessive number of mouths to be fed in the area by getting rid of the non-German population.46One sympathetic American officer criticized this attitude, explaining why displaced people were at a disadvantage:
"Through no fault of his own the DP makes a poor outward impression on an MG (military government) officer as he attempts to present his case. His 'home' is usually a barracks schoolhouse or barn and, usually, with common sanitary facilities. His wardrobe is usually what he wears plus a few pieces of clothing stuffed in a bag. He has developed a defensive attitude as protection against German brutality. He has learned to steal to supplement the German starvation diet. He has learned to distrust promises and pieces of paper. His world revolves around food and shelter. In American slang he looks and acts like a 'bum'. In contrast, the German is well-dressed, better fed and is living in a home. He is very correct in his manner when addressing an American officer. The contrast, I believe, influences MG officers to place more credence in the German complaints about DP looting, than in the DP's complaint about inadequate food."47
For the military authorities already antagonistically disposed towards displaced people, problems intensified when so many of them adamantly refused to be repatriated, and mounted a campaign of opposition. The refugees who refused to return to the Soviet Union were also vulnerable to accusations made by Soviet authorities against them that they were either 'collaborators' or 'idlers' who preferred to live in the 'comfort' of the Western assembly camps.48 Many Western officials chose to believe these accusations of their wartime allies rather than the pleas of the refugees, whom they resented. For some who had no knowledge of the Soviet Union it seemed incredible that people would not want to return home.
The main desire of the military authorities was to complete repatriation as quickly as possible and, when faced with opposition from refugees, they used force, as instructed. The refugees who did not want to return home resisted in every way possible, and as a final resort committed suicide. A number of the scenes accompanying forcible repatriation were documented and have become public knowledge. One such incident occurred in Kempton, Germany, in August 1945:
"The soldiers entered the church and began to drag people out forcibly. They dragged women by the hair and twisted the men's arms up their backs, beating them with the butts of their rifles. One soldier took the cross from the priest and hit him with the butt of his rifle. Pandemonium broke loose. The people in a panic threw themselves from the second floor, for the church was in the second storey of the building, and they fell to their death or were crippled for life. In the church there were also suicide attempts."49
It was this kind of desperate opposition to repatriation that was an important contributory factor in the change in the military's attitudes towards refugees. Soldiers and officers who witnessed violent protests and deaths began complaining to their superiors that implementing such a policy was beyond the duty of a soldier. 50 Some high-ranking military commanders, such as Field Marshall Alexander, refused to order the use of force in repatriation and denied Soviet repatriation officers access to Soviet citizens unwilling to return, pending a response from the War Office. 51
On hearing these complaints, an increasing number of American and British political officials began to express doubts about the repatriation policy, despite the argument that both countries were bound to it by the Yalta agreement. UNRRA's Director General Lehman, who had always opposed the use of force, continued to express his views on this matter both at Council sessions and in private talks with political leaders.52
By the end of the summer most Western nationals and recognized Soviet citizens had been repatriated,53 the war with Japan was over, and there was an increasing threat of publicity over the violent clashes and suicides. General Eisenhower, who initially supported the forcible repatriation policy, gradually became appalled by the 'suicides among individuals who preferred to die than return to their native land.54
On 4 September 1945 he overstepped his authority and suspended the use of force in repatriation in the US zones of operation.55 Two months later Field Marshal Montgomery introduced a similar suspension in the British zones.56