September 16, 1999
by Israel Roitman
Once, on the occasion of a talk with students, I was asked: "Did you also kill people?"
What could I answer? It remained only to smile sadly, and my memory recalled the first cruelty. Afterward, there were many more, but the first is unforgettable.
It happened, if memory serves, in the Zolochiv region which lies along the Ternopil-Lviv highway (Western Ukraine). The military SMERSH ("Death to Spies", as military counter-intelligence was named during the war) instructed us intelligence officers to investigate the cause of death of one of our sabotage units. On the second or third day, we came upon the tracks of the perpetrators who were responsible for the death of our comrades, and caught them relaxing in broad daylight in a large house on a forest farmstead. There were three men sitting around a table with moonshine and snacks: a thin, tall German, a heavily-armed policeman, and a fat-faced, unshaven Banderite [Ukrainian fighting for Ukrainian independence] wearing a service cap with a yellow-light blue [colors of the Ukrainian flag] cockade and some kind of stripes sewn on his sleeve. It goes without saying: a merry band.
We had to shoot the policeman right there in the house, his abundance of weapons not helping him a bit. We took the German and the Banderite out into the yard. The Banderite, a huge man with long hands large as shovels, just stood there with a crooked smile. On his unshaven face, his eyes darted nervously about like gimlets. Evidently, the worsening situation was completely unexpected by him and he didn't know what to do, and couldn't hit upon any course of action. Of course, under different circumstances, he could have tossed us boys around like puppies, but this time the inveterate beast could not do so: we were the ones with the weapons.
Oh, yes! By that time, we had seen a lot of these nationalists, as they were contemptuously called, the "Samostiynyks" ["Independents"] (the motto of the Ukrainian Nationalists was "For an Independent Ukraine"). These were veritable beasts, worse than some Fritzes [Germans].
Volodka Seliverstov hit him first, in the solar plexus. The Banderite groaned, gripped his stomach with his hands, and doubled over like a folding knife. Then followed a knee upper-cut to the face. A sobbing was heard and the Banderite started falling backwards. But we didn't let him fall. There were five of us. We stood in a small circle and knocked him from one to another. We struck silently with backhand blows, putting into them all our accumulated rage and hatred. We struck viciously, probably like hunters striking huge and especially dangerous maddened beasts. By the time the Banderite's face was turned into a bloody-hairy pulp, we were exhausted. The Banderite slumped to his knees, then fell flat on his face. We shot him. The German, we delivered safely across the front line and turned him over to the SMERSH people. (We followed the same practice afterwards. When police, Banderites, Vlasovites, or Germans fell into our hands, we usually delivered the latter untouched, but the traitors we executed ourselves on the spot.)