Magocsi   Letter 02   28-Dec-1997   The NKVD slaughtered their prisoners en masse
December 28, 1997
Robert Paul Magocsi
Department of History
University of Toronto
Toronto, ON M5S 1A1

Dear Professor Magocsi:

I protest again your slighting of historical wrongs committed against the Ukrainian people.  I restrict my attention in the present letter to the massacres by the NKVD of local residents, mainly Ukrainians, shortly before the German occupation of western Ukraine in the summer of 1941.

I start by bringing to your attention that a number of writers recognize that as Soviet forces retreated before German invasion, the NKVD executed large numbers of local residents.  None of these writers qualify their statements by suggesting that these massacres were imaginary or only rumored:

Before fleeing the German advance the Soviet occupational regime murdered thousands of Ukrainian civilians, mainly members of the city's [Lviv's] intelligentsia.  (Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Volume 3, p. 222)

The Bolsheviks succeeded in annihilating some 10,000 political prisoners in Western Ukraine before and after the outbreak of hostilities (massacres took place in the prisons in Lviv, Zolochiv, Rivne, Dubno, Lutsk, etc.).  (Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, p. 886)

The Soviets' hurried retreat had tragic consequences for thousands of political prisoners in the jails of Western Ukraine.  Unable to evacuate them in time, the NKVD slaughtered their prisoners en masse during the week of 22-29 June 1941, regardless of whether they were incarcerated for major or minor offenses.  Major massacres occurred in Lviv, Sambir, and Stanyslaviv in Galicia, where about 10,000 prisoners died, and in Rivne and Lutsk in Volhynia, where another 5000 perished.  Coming on the heels of the mass deportations and growing Soviet terror, these executions added greatly to the West Ukrainians' abhorrence of the Soviets.  (Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History, 1994, p. 461)

When the German attack came on 22 June the Soviets had no time to take with them the people they had locked up.  So they simply killed them.  Thousands of detainees were shot dead in their cells by the retreating Soviets.  (Simon Wiesenthal, Justice Not Vengeance, 1989, p. 35)

Right after the entry we were shown 2,400 dead bodies of Ukrainians liquidated with a shot at the scruff of the neck at the city jail of Lemberg [Lviv] by the Soviets prior to their marching off.  (Hans Frank, In the Face of the Gallows, p. 406)

In Lvov, several thousand prisoners had been held in three jails.  When the Germans arrived on 29 June, the city stank, and the prisons were surrounded by terrified relatives.  Unimaginable atrocities had occurred inside.  The prisons looked like abattoirs.  It had taken the NKVD a week to complete their gruesome task before they fled.  (Gwyneth Hughes and Simon Welfare, Red Empire: The Forbidden History of the USSR, 1990, p. 133)

We learned that, before the Russian troops had left, a very great number of Lemberg citizens, Ukrainians and Polish inhabitants of other towns and villages had been killed in this prison and in other prisons.  Furthermore, there were many corpses of German men and officers, among them many Air Corps officers, and many of them were found mutilated.  There was a great bitterness and excitement among the Lemberg population against the Jewish sector of the population.  (Erwin Schulz, from May until 26 September, 1941 Commander of Einsatzkommando 5, a subunit of Einsatzgruppe C, in John Mendelsohn, editor, The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes, Garland, New York, 1982, Volume 18, p. 18)

On the next day, Dr. RASCH informed us to the effect that the killed people in Lemberg amounted to about 5,000.  It has been determined without any doubt that the arrests and killings had taken place under the leadership of Jewish functionaries and with the participation of the Jewish inhabitants of Lemberg.  That was the reason why there was such an excitement against the Jewish population on the part of the Lemberg citizens.  (Erwin Schulz, from May until 26 September, 1941 Commander of Einsatzkommando 5, a subunit of Einsatzgruppe C, in John Mendelsohn, editor, The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes, Garland, New York, 1982, Volume 18, p. 18)

But when we turn to see how you covered these same NKVD massacres, we find you not only brief, but in one of your two allusions, also non-committal.  As you have demonstrated that you seek to arouse your students' morbid curiosity with graphic scenes of torture and killing, (as you did by quoting the most gruesome passages from the Hannover Calumny), then I would have expected that here might be another opportunity for you to do the same, as reference to the NKVD massacres mention not only that the victims were murdered, but that they were tortured and mutilated as well.  For example, being thrown into boiling water would be on a par with the scenes you quote from the Hannover Calumny:

In Kremenets 100-150 Ukrainians had been killed by the Soviets.  When some of the exhumed corpses were found without skin, rumors circulated that the Ukrainians had been thrown into kettles full of boiling water.  (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 1961, p. 204)

And yet you chose not to portray this, and similar, gruesome scenes from the NKVD massacre.

A detailed description of the NKVD massacres would have brought two benefits: (1) The NKVD massacres truly happened they are recent, have been documented in many sources, perhaps can be testified to by eyewitnesses to this very day.  The Hannover Calumny, in contrast, refers to events that took place three and one-half centuries ago, and is patently hyperbolic.  (2) The NKVD massacres were primarily of Ukrainians, and as a historian of Ukraine, their description provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate that Ukrainians were overwhelmingly victims during the Second World War, which demonstration is necessary to counter the mass-culture portrayal of Ukrainians as victimizers.

But, given the opportunity afforded by the NKVD massacres, what did you do with it?  Very little, and that very little was biased.  Below I will quote the only two references to the NKVD massacres that I can find in your book.  The second instance is fairly neutral, and as I have little to say about it, I will dispose of it first:

Researchers also worked diligently to make public documentary evidence concerning recent Ukrainian national tragedies, such as the Great Famine of 1933, which, until the late 1980s, according to Soviet sources had never occurred, and the numerous massacres of Ukrainians by Soviet security forces on the eve of and during World War II (at Vinnytsia and L'viv, among other places), which had been unjustly attributed to the German invaders.  (p. 672)

The one improvement I would have liked to see is an elaboration of "security forces."  Do you mean the NKVD?  If so, why didn't you say so?  Why not prefer the concrete to the abstract?  The above second quote of yours, however, is only a passing allusion, it does not constitute coverage of the NKVD massacres.

But it is your first mention of NKVD executions that is of greater interest because it is the more revealing of your underlying anti-Ukrainian bias:

The Germans helped to circulate rumors that 'Jewish Bolsheviks' had been involved in the murders of thousands of Ukrainian political prisoners killed by the Soviet authorities before their hasty retreat.  (p. 631)

I find three things wrong with the above statement:

(1) The NKVD executions were massive in scale, and played a significant role in turning Ukrainians against Communism, and thus played a significant role also in encouraging Ukrainians to welcome the German invaders as liberators.  As the Ukrainian welcoming of the Germans is widely interpreted as springing from a Ukrainian predilection to Naziism, your strengthening the alternative interpretation that it sprang rather from a Ukrainian loathing of Communism would have served to correct a popular misconception.  Thus, your treating these NKVD massacres in the one sentence quoted above does not allocate to them the attention that their significance deserves, and does not evoke the strong images that would serve to banish that misconception permanently.

(2) You portray the involvement of Jews in the massacres as if it were no more than a German fabrication.  In fact, however, if the massacres were implemented by the NKVD, and if the NKVD was dominated by Jews, then Jewish involvement would have been more than rumor, it would have been fact.

(3) The domain of the word "rumors" within your sentence is ambiguous.  Is it only the Jewish involvement that you wish to portray as rumored, or is it Jewish involvement together with the murders themselves?  Your wording makes it possible for your reader to conclude that not only the Jewish involvement, but also the massacres themselves, were nothing but German rumors.  Your sentence leaves your reader the option of believing that there were no NKVD massacres in western Ukraine prior to occupation by German forces.

In conclusion, further exploration of your book reinforces the conclusion that I arrived at in my earlier letter to you (Dec 12/97) that your orientation is anti-Ukrainian.  I must reiterate too that I find it incongruous that for the dissemination of your anti-Ukrainian views you have been given one of the most prominent forums in the land.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak