The OUN, the UPA and the Holocaust: A Study in the Manufacturing of Historical Myths

Per A. Rudling


During the past decade, particularly under the presidency of the third Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko (2005–2010) there have been repeated attempts to turn the leading fi gures of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) into national heroes. As these fascist organizations collaborated with the Nazi Germany, carried out ethnic cleansing and mass murder on a massive scale, they are problematic symbols for an aspiring democracy with the stated ambition to join the European Union. Under Yushchenko, several institutes of memory management and myth making were organized, a key function of which was to deny or downplay OUN-UPA atrocities. Unlike many other former Soviet republics, the Ukrainian government did not need to develop new national myths from scratch, but imported ready concepts developed in the Ukrainian diaspora. Yushchenko’s legitimizing historians presented the OUN and UPA as pluralistic and inclusive organizations, which not only rescued Jews during the Holocaust, but invited them into their ranks to fight shoulder to shoulder against Hitler and Stalin. This mythical narrative relied partly on the OUN’s own post-war forgeries, aimed at cover up the organization’s problematic past. As employees of the Ukrainian security services, working out of the offices of the old KGB, the legitimizing historians ironically dismissed scholarly criticism as Soviet myths. The present study deals with the myth-making around the OUN, the UPA, and the Holocaust, tracing their diaspora roots and following their migration back and forth across the Atlantic.

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