Category Archives: Ukraine

Chornobyl, 988-1986

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 705ff:

The Yakushins were a family of priests. Nicholas’s great-grandfather had served in the Church of Saint Ilya, Nicholas’s grandfather as well. Then the Bolsheviks came. They hammered on the church door and cried: stop praying, Father; man has no soul. The grandfather did not agree: man, he said, most certainly has a soul, and it is immortal. The Bolsheviks detained the grandfather. When he was released, he was old. That was his good luck. He died early enough to escape Stalin’s terror, which hardly any clerics survived. The grandfather’s son, Nicholas Yakushin’s father, did not become a priest. The times were not right.

Nicholas was nevertheless baptised, secretly, at home, the way most Orthodox were. Those who baptised their children in the church had to reckon with work-related harassment. When Nicholas was born, shortly after the end of the war, the church was closed anyway; the local kolkhoz used it as a grain silo. Thus Nicholas got to know his forefathers’ church: filled to the dome with wheat. On the ceiling a besieged Christ faded away, his hands spread over the grain as if in self-protection, not in blessing.

The town of Chernobyl, or Chornobyl, in Ukrainian, is old, ancient, even if it does not look it anymore. None of the original buildings are left. First the Mongols razed the city; later came Lithuanians, Poles, Bolsheviks, finally the Germans. Today there are only a few wooden houses standing between the concrete blocks, none of them older than two centuries. But Chernobyl was founded at the same time as Kiev, and when prince Vladimir had his subjects baptised in the year 988, the citizens of Chernobyl were amongst the first Christians of the Slavic world.

To those for whom this past was still present – despite the futurist ecstasy of the Soviet period – it was no surprise that here, in Chernobyl, 1000 years after the Slavs’ baptism, time should come to an end, just as it had been proclaimed in the Book of Revelation:

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. And a third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter.

This John wrote in Chapter 8, verses 10 and 11. But in Ukrainian ‘wormwood’ means: Chornobyl [lit. ‘black stalk’, Artemisia vulgaris ‘common mugwort, wormwood’, to distinguish it from the lighter-stemmed wormwood A. absinthium].

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Rebuilding the Crimean Bridge

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 31-32:

Paradoxically, the two [Armenian] Hotel Fortuna employees were the most miserable people I came across in Taman. Everyone else in the small town was in high spirits; I met barely anyone during my three-day stay who did not rejoice in the bridgebuilding. Those who had found work on the huge building site, or who were hoping to make a living from tourists from every corner of Russia who would soon pass through their town on their way to Crimea, rejoiced. Those who had relatives on the peninsula rejoiced that they would no longer have to take the sluggish, chronically overloaded ferry to visit them in the summer. The director of the local history museum rejoiced because her display cases were now full to bursting with archaeological artefacts – Cimmerian horse harnesses, Roman drinking vessels, Genoan coins – found while the bridge’s groundworks were laid. Last but not least, the joy of Taman’s residents was shared by the 2,500 entrants into a nationwide poetry competition that the office responsible for the bridge’s construction had recently launched to encourage patriotic eulogies of their feat. The victor had not yet been chosen when I was there, but here is a sample of what I read:

Crimea and Russia
Forever inseparable
Wedded by a bridge
That looks like a temple

The bridge was indeed something of an unexpected windfall for Taman. The town, with a population of 10,000, had hitherto wallowed in such oblivion, even by Russian standards, that its old name of Turkish origin, Tmutarakan, had become a national byword for any godforsaken provincial backwater – a kind of Russian Hicksville. Soon though, thanks to the bridge, Taman would no longer be a dead end on the tip of a promontory but Russia’s last stop before Crimea.

There was as yet little sign of this earth-shaking change. The bridge was a building site, the holiday season had not yet begun, and Taman seemed to be only just stirring from hibernation. The local museum was open but deserted, the model Cossack village on the edge of town still closed. A Soviet tank on blocks in the market square stood as a memorial to the Great Patriotic War, and its aerial counterpart, a fighter plane, greeted you on the road into town. Both of them were mounted on concrete pedestals with the constantly cited – and constantly wrong – dates carved into them: 1941–1945. As everywhere else in the former Soviet Union, the hushedup war years of 1939 and 1940 – when Stalin was still making common cause with Hitler to carve up Central Europe – were missing.

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Danube Delta Border Oddities

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 235-236:

There are many strange borders around the Black Sea, but that between Romania and Ukraine is one of the stranger ones. It coincides with the most northerly branch of the Danube delta, running along its length and dividing it into a Romanian half and a Ukrainian half. Russian Old Believers live on both sides, their villages separated in some places only by 200 m of water, so close that you can count the onions growing in the gardens on the other bank. It has long been impossible to cross over from here to there, however. The external border of the Soviet Union was drawn along the northern bank after the Second World War; nowadays, the south side marks where the European Union ends. Border craft patrol the river which has kept the Lipovan villages apart for more than seventy years. A man in Mila 23 told me that almost all the Old Believers in the delta had relatives on the other side, whom they knew only from stories recounted by their grandparents. The border had torn the Lipovan families asunder.

If you want to cross from Romania to the other side, you have to leave the delta and follow the Danube upstream to Galati – the nearest border crossing, a good 100 km from the coast. It does not lead into Ukraine, however, but into the southernmost tip of Moldova. Only 2 km further on comes a second border, this one with Ukraine.

An old Moldovan by the name of Foma, who had worked as a policeman in the Soviet days, took me to Reni, the first place on the Ukrainian side, which was where he lived.

On the way to the bus station, we drove past the base of a monument with no monument standing on it. I pointed to the empty plinth.

‘Lenin?’

Foma nodded. This was not the first empty Lenin plinth I’d seen. Since the start of the war with Russia, the Ukrainians had toppled the old memorials to the Soviet leader all over the country.

‘Is it Lenin’s fault that life’s bad?’ Foma didn’t wait for my answer. ‘The goal of socialism was for everyone to have a house, a car, a dacha. What’s so bad about that?’

The main street of Reni was pitted with enormous rainfilled potholes. We dodged these craters at walking pace like cosmonauts on a lunar expedition. Rarely had the gulf between the goals and the consequences of socialism seemed wider to me.

Foma didn’t think much of Ukraine’s new-found nationalism. ‘Is it going to make our lives better if they send us hooligans who rip down monuments to Lenin? What are these nationalists even doing here? There are hardly any Ukrainians in Budjak! The villages here are Romanian, Moldovan, Bulgarian, and Gagauz. We all speak our own languages, and we communicate with one another in Russian. No one speaks Ukrainian …’

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Fate of Crimean Karaites

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 274-276:

History had taught the Karaites that it was better if the world didn’t find out too much about them. Tiriyaki took my pen and drew a tree in my notebook, its trunk forking into three branches.

‘Those,’ he said, pointing to the roots, ‘are the commandments.’

‘These’ – the three branches – ‘are the New Testament, the Talmud, and the Qur’an.’

‘This’ – the trunk – ‘is the Torah. Our only scripture. Karaites believe in the Jewish faith as it was when Jesus Christ was born and before other things were subsequently added.’

The Karaites had never accepted the Talmud. This had isolated them from all other Jews, who had never really known what to make of the Karaites. This had worked to their advantage in the Russian Empire – unlike other Jews, the Karaites had not been subject to restrictions on the professions they could pursue. A few of them had made large fortunes, especially in the tobacco trade. This wealth was visible in the old kenesa – the Karaite synagogue in whose hall I was sitting with Tiriyaki, a sumptuous religious complex with vine-draped colonnades, marble tombs, carved wooden interiors, and warm stained-glass windows.

When the Nazis invaded Crimea in the war, they didn’t know what to think of the Karaites either. Were they Jews? The Nazis commissioned an assessment by a Polish Jewish historian who, against his better judgement, declared the Karaites to be non-Jews, clearly to spare them the fate he would later suffer himself: he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. His scheming paid off, however. The Nazis murdered the Crimean Jews but they spared the Karaites, whom they classified as a Turkic people.

Not long afterwards, the Karaites had a second stroke of luck. Their lenient treatment by the Germans could well have been a good reason for Stalin to have them deported alongside the Tatars, especially as the two minorities spoke very similar languages. Yet this cup too passed over them. For Stalin, the Karaites appeared to be Jews.

The kenesa in Yevpatoria had been closed down after the war, just like Crimea’s churches, mosques, and Jewish synagogues. The historic religious complex had been converted into a ‘museum of atheism’, and the outbuildings were used as grain silos. The community hall had become a nursery, which Tiriyaki had gone to as a boy, knowing full well that his grandmother had still been praying in the kenesa only a few years earlier.

There were now only a few hundred Karaites living in Crimea. Many had emigrated to Israel in the 1990s. The devout core of his community, Tiriyaki said, consisted of forty people.

We had been talking for less than half an hour when the old community leader began to give me signals that he’d said everything he was prepared to say. ‘If you have no further questions …’

But I do, I longed to cry, hundreds of them. Yet Tiriyaki’s expression was so forbidding that I confined myself to the central question whose insolubility had saved the Karaites’ lives twice. Where were they from? Were they a Turkic people that had converted to Judaism in the distant past? Or were they Semitic immigrants who had only become Turkicspeaking in Crimea? I knew that this matter was controversial among the Karaites too.

Tiriyaki stared at me impassively. His face was hard to read – not so much as the twitch of a muscle.

‘Origins are a card that politicians love to play. They are of no consequence to the faithful.’

He stood up and offered me his hand. I was already halfway to the door when he uttered a few final words as a send-off.

‘The Karaites lived here under the Tatar khans, under the tsars, the Soviets, the German occupiers, the Ukrainians, and now the Russians again. No one could drive us out. We are still here. That is all that counts.’

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Fate of the Cossacks

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 55-57:

As I listened to the customary monologue about the ‘Ukrainian fascists’ from whom they had saved their Russian brothers and sisters in Crimea, I wondered how Vassiliy could be so blind to the historical irony of his words. His ancestors, the Cossacks of the Russian Black Sea coast, had been driven out of Ukraine. Catherine the Great had resettled them here in the eighteenth century after crushing the centre of the Ukrainian Cossack state – the island of Khortytsia in the river Dnieper.

This expulsion was the decisive turning point in Cossack history. From the fifteenth century, they had lived as bandits on the steppes, in the disputed frontier region between the settled civilisations to the north and the nomadic peoples to the south. They gathered in the Wild Fields, a felt-bearded bunch of escaped serfs, runaway prisoners, army deserters, destitute farmers, and other outlaws who chose to lead a life as free barbarians rather than bow to the laws of their native civilisations. They picked up their riding skills from their nomad neighbours, but they were no less proficient as sailors. On land and water, they plundered what they needed to get by. Their most spectacular rampages took them east across the Urals to the Pacific coast of Siberia and south across the Black Sea into the Ottoman Empire, where their pirate ships even raided Istanbul on occasion.

In the Ukrainian borderlands between Russia, Poland, and the Crimean Tatar empire, they established their most powerful host, the Hetmanate of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, whose members dug in on a water-bound fortress downstream from the Dnieper Rapids. At the height of their power, the Cossacks ruled over an anarchic steppe state from here and were a constant thorn in the side of their enemies, who included not only the tsars in Moscow but also the kings in Warsaw and the khans on the Crimean peninsula. Catherine the Great’s predecessors had tried to defeat the Ukrainian Cossacks or forge alliances with them, with no lasting success. It was only when the tsarina advanced on the Black Sea coast that the Zaporozhian Hetmanate was finally vanquished, along with the other peoples of the steppe.

The Cossacks never recovered their former glory. Once Catherine had destroyed their fortress on the Dnieper and driven the Zaporozhians out of Ukraine, she increasingly harnessed their battle skills to her imperial ambitions. The Cossacks were employed as frontier guards protecting the southern borders of the tsarist empire against the remaining nomadic tribes and the mountain peoples of the Caucasus. They soon became a common sight in Russia’s cities too, patrolling the streets on horseback in their flamboyant uniforms. They were especially feared by Jews, Armenians, and other non-Russian city-dwellers for whom the Cossacks traditionally had no time. One of their most notorious roles was to crush popular uprisings by whipping protestors and riding roughshod over them – something they did more and more frequently in the latter days of the empire. Many workers dragged themselves home from an early-twentieth-century protest with horseshoe-shaped bruises on their bodies.

During the revolution, the Cossacks were divided into two parties: White and Red, monarchists and communists – the former loyal to the tsar’s murdered family beyond death itself, the others willing to defend the new regime in the Kremlin henceforth. After the civil war, the White Cossacks disappeared into Stalin’s camps, with the exception of those who had escaped abroad with the remnants of the counter-revolutionary troops. That was the end of their Cossack careers; from that day on, they no longer rode horses but drove omnibuses in Berlin or taxis in Paris instead.

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Second Annexation of Crimea

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 12-14:

I have a very clear memory of the moment the Black Sea suddenly moved from the margins to the forefront of European perception.

I was on a pleasure cruise around Sevastopol’s harbour in March 2014. Less than a fortnight earlier, Russian soldiers had appeared in Crimea and surrounded Ukrainian barracks. Although their uniforms bore no insignia or rank, no one had any doubts about where they came from. Parliament had been dissolved and replaced with puppets under the Kremlin’s orders, a hastily arranged referendum on Crimea’s integration into the Russian Federation had been announced for the next day, and Ukrainian and Russian warships were facing off in the harbour – and yet tour boats continued to ply their trade between the destroyers as if everything were completely normal.

I had travelled to Sevastopol as a journalist to report on the act of political piracy that was taking place. I had no idea at the time that in 1773, not far from that same harbour, on the south-western coast of Crimea, Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen had laid the groundwork for Catherine the Great’s annexation of the peninsula. All I knew was that I was witnessing Russia’s second annexation of Crimea.

The tour boat passed close to the warships’ towering grey hulls. The Ukrainian and Russian Black Sea fleets still shared the port in that tense time before the Crimean referendum, and I had hoped that out on the water I might gain a better understanding of their muddled positions. The boat was full of Russians from Sevastopol, high on alcohol and patriotism, who made no secret of the fact that they wished a plague on the Ukrainians.

‘Fascists!’ they roared at the ships flying blue-and-yellow flags. For weeks now, Russian propaganda had constantly dubbed all Ukrainians fascists. The same old story, I thought. A country on the warpath in search of some barbarians to fight. One man stood slightly apart from the others by the railing, staring silently out to sea. He was the only person apart from me who didn’t join in with the shouting. As we disembarked at the end of our tour, I approached him to enquire why he was there.

‘To say goodbye to the sea,’ he said tersely.

He was a Tatar. He had been born in Uzbekistan after his parents were deported under Stalin, and only when the Soviet Union collapsed, and Crimea and the rest of Ukraine gained its independence, had he been at liberty to return to the land of his ancestors.

‘Now the Russians are taking over again,’ he said gloomily. ‘I’m not going to wait for them to expel us a second time. My wife has family in Ankara. The day after tomorrow, we’re going to put the kids in the car and leave.’ His lips twisted into a bitter smile. ‘It won’t be the first time we’ve had to start from scratch.’

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Black Sea Neighbors

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 14-15:

The Black Sea is bounded by six states. Clockwise, in the order I visited them, they are Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.

Six and a half, if you count Abkhazia, a renegade part of Georgia that is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Georgia from joining any Western alliances.

Seven, if you count Moldova, formerly known as Bessarabia, which lost its coastline in the Second World War when Stalin moved the border inland.

Seven and a half, if you count Transnistria, a renegade part of Moldova, which is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Moldova from joining any Western alliances.

Eight, if you count Poland – the old Poland at its point of maximum expansion when szlachta noblemen persuaded themselves that their country’s ruling class was descended from the Sarmatians, an ancient barbarian tribe.

Eight and a half, if you count the Donetsk People’s Republic, a renegade part of Ukraine, which… you can fill in the rest.

Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Russia. Nine, if you’d prefer to let Crimea stand alone.

Nine and a half, if you count the ruined empire of ancient Greece, whose vestiges I encountered on every shore in the form of weathered stones; in place names mangled by foreign tongues; in family stories of scattered Black Sea Greeks; on the menus of countless Aphrodite Restaurants, Poseidon Cafés, Olympus Hotels and Amazon Bars, written in Cyrillic, Latin, and Georgian letters; and in the deep-seated Black Sea tradition of always expecting the worst from your neighbours.

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Meeting a Transylvanian Rabbi, 1934

From Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Middle Danube to the Iron Gates, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 2, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 210-213:

My interlocutors looked bewildered when I tried to explain my reasons for not staying at home. Why was I travelling? To see the world, to study, to learn languages? I wasn’t quite clear myself. Yes, some of these things, but mostly—I couldn’t think of the word at first—and when I found it—“for fun”—it didn’t sound right and their brows were still puckered. “Also, Sie treiben so herum aus Vergnügen?” The foreman shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said something in Yiddish to the others; they all laughed and I asked what it was. “Es ist a goyim naches!” they said. ‘A goyim naches,’ they explained, is something that the goyim like but which leaves Jews unmoved; any irrational or outlandish craze, a goy’s delight or gentile’s relish. It seemed to hit the nail on the head.

The initial reserve of the other dwellers in these mountains had not lasted long; nor did it here: but the Jews had other grounds for wariness. Their centuries of persecution were not ended; there had been trials for ritual murder late in the last century in Hungary and more recently in the Ukraine, and fierce deeds in Rumania and pogroms in Bessarabia and throughout the Russian Pale. Slanderous myths abounded and the dark rumours of the Elders of Zion had only been set in motion fifteen years earlier. In Germany, meanwhile, terrible omens were gathering, though how terrible none of us knew. They came into the conversation and—it seems utterly incredible now—we talked of Hitler and the Nazis as though they merely represented a dire phase of history, a sort of transitory aberration or a nightmare that might suddenly vanish, like a cloud evaporating or a bad dream. The Jews in England—a happier theme—came next: they knew much more than I, which was not hard; and Palestine. Sighs and fatalistic humour spaced out the conversation.

Everything took a different turn when scripture cropped up. The book in front of the Rabbi was the Torah, or part of it, printed in dense Hebrew black-letter that was irresistible to someone with a passion for alphabets; especially these particular letters, with their aura of magic. Laboriously I could phonetically decipher the sounds of some of the simpler words, without a glimmer of their meanings, of course, and this sign of interest gave pleasure. I showed them some of the words I had copied down in Bratislava from shops and Jewish newspapers in cafés, and the meanings, which I had forgotten, made them laugh; those biblical symbols recommended a stall for repairing umbrellas, or ‘Daniel Kisch, Koscher Würste und Salami.’ How did the Song of Miriam sound in the original, and the Song of Deborah; David’s lament for Absolom; and the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley? The moment it became clear, through my clumsy translations into German, which passage I was trying to convey, the Rabbi at once began to recite, often accompanied by his sons. Our eyes were alight; it was like a marvellous game. Next came the rivers of Babylon, and the harps hanging on the willows: this they uttered in unfaltering unison, and when they came to ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,’ the moment was extremely solemn.

By this time the other-worldly Rabbi and his sons and I were excited. Enthusiasm ran high. These passages, so famous in England, were doubly charged with meaning for them, and their emotion was infectious. They seemed astonished—touched, too—that their tribal poetry enjoyed such glory and affection in the outside world; utterly cut off, I think they had no inkling of this. A feeling of great warmth and delight had sprung up and the Rabbi kept polishing his glasses, not for use, but out of enjoyment and nervous energy, and his brother surveyed us with benevolent amusement. It got dark while we sat at the table, and when he took off the glass chimney to light the paraffin lamp, three pairs of spectacles flashed. If it had been Friday night, the Rabbi said, they would have asked me to light it; he explained about the shabbas goy. This was the Sabbath-gentile whom well-off Jews—“not like us”—employed in their houses to light fires and lamps and tie and untie knots or perform the many tasks the Law forbids on the Seventh Day. I said I was sorry it was only Thursday (the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday) as I could have made myself useful for a change. We said good-night with laughter.

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Who All “Collaborated” with Nazism in Europe?

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 366-368:

The frequently reiterated assertion that the clearance of German populations from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary has in some way prevented the outbreak of World War III is a proposition so obviously false as hardly to deserve rebuttal. What made for peace in Europe was a lengthy occupation of Germany by both superpowers, which in itself offers a complete explanation of why, so long as it continued, no danger was to be apprehended from that quarter. The successful rehabilitation of the German political system, the inculcation of democratic habits and instincts among the people, and the binding together of postwar Germany within a larger European union are nearly as important factors in the transformation that has taken place in the character of European nationstate interactions since 1945. In these circumstances, the continuing presence of significant ethnic German minorities in Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Russia has not threatened the peace of the continent. There is no reason to suppose that if others had remained in their ancestral homelands a greater menace was to be apprehended.

Lastly, the suggestion that the ethnic Germans were, as presumed fifth columnists before the war or eager Nazi collaborators during it, especially if not uniquely deserving of punishment is no easier to sustain. As we have seen, a rule specifying a minority nationality’s unconditional duty of loyalty to a state to which it has been unwillingly attached that can be depended upon to vindicate the Czech or Slovak nation’s stance in 1918 [deserting in great numbers to fight for Russia rather than Austria-Hungary] and to condemn that of the Sudetendeutsche twenty years later is difficult to formulate. As for their wartime record, evidence is scanty that it was any worse than, or different from, that of the German people as a whole. Unquestionably that is quite bad enough, and I should not wish to be interpreted as contending otherwise. But even if all Germans, ethnic or Reich citizens, were equally guilty, not all Germans were equally severely punished. Why the Volksdeutsche, who if the worst that can be said about them is true came late to Nazism, should have been imprisoned, expropriated, and deported when the people of the country that originated Nazism and exported it abroad by the most brutal means suffered none of these things is hard to square with notions of strict and impartial justice.

More to the point, it conveniently elides the wartime record of the majority populations, which itself did not always bear close examination. Many Slovaks, for example, bore little less responsibility for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Conference than did the Sudeten Germans. For most of the Second World War, Slovakia was a German client state; Slovak troops took part in the invasion of Poland alongside their German allies in September 1939, and of the Soviet Union in June 1941. With only a single dissenting voice in the Slovak parliament, the great majority of the country’s Jewish population was expelled to German-controlled territory, from which only a comparative handful returned alive. Yet few Slovaks were punished after the war for these offenses, and none expelled. Besides, at a more mundane level the postwar meaning of “collaboration” was highly variable, with the same actions—or inactions—attracting either official toleration or condign penalties based on one’s ethnicity. During the Great War of 1914–18, J. R. Sanborn points out, some of the inhabitants of central and southeastern Europe “held affinities for one occupying force or another … but most people wisely tried to keep their heads down, to stay out of danger when they could, and, when all else failed, to run away. Nothing got you on the end of a rope faster than taking sides in a fluid war with an uncertain outcome.” In the Second World War also, this inglorious but time-tested formula for survival was the most popular strategy practiced by ethnic Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and most other peoples who were given the opportunity to do so by their Nazi overlords, or, in eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, their scarcely less vicious Stalinist counterparts. (Tragically, it was an option denied to Jews, Sinti, and Roma.) For only the Germans, though, was it adjudged a “passive war crime” at the end of the conflict.

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Cemeteries of Przemyśl

From The Fortress: The Siege of Przemysl and the Making of Europe’s Bloodlands, by Alexander Watson (Basic Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 241-242:

Przemyśl buries its dead to the south. Today, if one walks from the city’s clock tower down what used to be called Dobromil Street, whose end destination now lies cut off across the Ukrainian border, the municipal cemetery soon comes into view. Turn right up a twisting, undulating road which in 1914 led past some of the Fortress’s main powder magazines, and very soon you reach the military burial ground. For all its tranquility, this is a sad place. A pretty, lightly wooded field lies at the top of the sloping grounds. Only a monument, flanked by two imposing Byzantine crosses, warns visitors that below their feet is the mass grave of some 9,000 Russian soldiers. The Austro-Hungarian cemetery across the road appears more organized, with row on row of dark stone crosses. Yet no plaque records how many men lie here—as if that were still a military secret—and the crosses have no inscriptions; these peasant soldiers are in death, as in life, anonymous. The empires for which they fell would within just a few years both lie in ruins. Yet the violence unleashed by their war would live on. Silent witnesses to future, even greater horrors lie nearby: in a Polish military cemetery for soldiers killed fighting German invaders in 1939 and Ukrainians in the 1940s, and, just to the east, in the city’s eerily beautiful Jewish burial grounds.

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