Source Types

The sources for the study of the Holocaust in Ukraine are extremely diverse. For one thing, many languages are involved. These are Yiddish, German, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, Rusyn, and Hebrew, but also less expected languages such as Italian, Slovak, Estonian, and Dutch. For another, every single known source category, be it text, image, film, audio recordings, or artefacts, is represented.

There are numerous discussions of these sources, although often as part of a discussion of the Nazi and Romanian regimes as a whole (For a discussion specifically on the Holocaust, for instance, see the discussion on Galicia in Pohl, Nationalsozialistische Judenverfolgung in Ostgalizien, 17–21). On the occupation regimes in general, including the Holocaust, one may, for instance, turn to a bibliographical essay (Berkhoff, Ukraine under Nazi Rule) and a special issue of Ukraine’s archival journal (Arkhivy Ukraïny, nos. 1-3 (January-June 2005), at http://www.archives.gov.ua/Publicat/AU/index.php?256 . The observations below generally focus on underused sources.

Contemporary Sources

Many documents created by the occupation authorities themselves were destroyed or lost. Most of the remainder are in Ukrainian archives, where virtually no one could see them until 1991, when Ukraine became independent. German documents relating to the Galicia District are mostly in Lviv but some can also be found in Warsaw. German police records from Galicia were lost, with the exception of the so-called Katzmann Report, a detailed description, written in the middle of 1943 and illustrated by photographs, by SS-Gruppenführer Friedrich (or Fritz) Katzmann (1906–1957), the SS and Police leader for Galicia, of the “Lösung der Judenfrage in Galizien” (solution of the Jewish question in Galicia) [Katzmann, Rozwiązanie kwestii żydowskiej w dystrykcie; also in Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 November 1945 – 1 October 1946 (Nuremberg, 1949), vol. 37, 391–431. When it appeared in Communist Poland in the 1950s, it was censored; a full edition appeared in Poland in 2009. (For a discussion, see Claudia Koonz, On Reading a Document) On sources held in Poland, there exists a good Polish finding aid. (Skibińska, Guide to the Sources on the Holocaust in Occupied Poland).

Records of the SS and Police from elsewhere in Ukraine were also mostly deliberately destroyed near the end of the war; the reports of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service (SD), however, have finally have been published in full (Die “Ereignismeldungen UdSSR” 1941; Dokumente der Einsatzgruppen in der Sowjetunion).

The surviving German army records are in the German military archives in Freiburg i.B. and are also available on microfilm; these include the records of the commanders of the rear army areas and records of the Security Divisions. Poorly preserved, however, are records of the field commander’s offices (Feldkommandaturen), as well as the records of the POW camps, the Secret Field Police (Geheime Feldpolizei), and the Field Gendarmerie (Feldgendarmerie). German records on Ukraine’s military zone of occupation are not well preserved either, with the important exception of Crimea (See also Die 11. Armee).

When using the German documents, the key problem is their euphemistic language. It is not always clear which reality they intended to hide. This also applies to private German diaries, letters, and, to some degree, photographs. Few diaries by perpetrators in Ukraine have been published; an example are the notes by Einsatzgruppe member Felix Landau, active in Lviv and other places. (Klee, Dreβen, and Rieβ, Schöne Zeiten, 87–104; Klee, Dreβen, and Rieβ, Those Were the Days” 87–106).

Historians are now recognizing the importance of German photographs taken in Ukraine more than ever before. The single best analysis of those taken in Kiev at the time of the Holocaust was written by  Dmytro Malakov (D. Malakov, “Kiev i Babii iar na nemetskoi fotoplenke oseni 1941 goda,” in Babii iar (Kiev, 2004), also at http://www.kby.kiev.ua/book1/articles/art33.html) This set of photographs [Document B04] has often been misinterpreted; they are often said to depict the exhumation in 1943, and the local pedestrians depicted in them are deemed to be Jewish. See for instance, http://collections1.yadvashem.org/search.asp?lang=ENG&rsvr=7 , Photos Archive, under Item ID 4042377 (“Babiy Yar. Local collaborators leading Jewish women to their murder location, 10/1941”) and 4042373 (“Babiy Yar, Ukraine, Jewish women who were collected by local collaborators, October 1941”). An actual controversy surrounded photographs from western Ukraine depicting NKVD victims; for a time some believed that they show victims of the Wehrmacht or of locals. (See, for instance, Hess, NKWD-Massaker)

Documents of the Romanian administration are most easily available as copies from Moldova and Romania at the USHMM archives, such as RG-25.004 M, Romanian Information Service (Access to the originals has become problematic). The first major publication of sources was edited by Matatias Carp and was  published in Romania in 1946. It was reprinted half a century later. (Carp, Cartea Neagră) and has been translated into French (Carp, Cartea Neagra). Important source publications were edited by Jean Ancel (Ancel, Transnistria, 1941–1942) and Ottmar Traşcă. (Traşcă, “Chestiunea evreiască)

The authorized newspapers, leaflets, and posters are an important source as well. Ukraine is fortunate to have, since 2007, an exhaustive bibliographical guide. (Kurylyshyn, Ukraïns’ka lehal’na presa). The press sometimes published speeches and other messages from religious leaders. Here one should be aware that, for various reasons, slightly different versions may also exist as printed leaflets.

Documents produced by auxiliary administrators and, to a lesser degree, auxiliary policemen, have been listed and described in an edited volume [Makovska, Arkhivy okupatsiï] and some regional archives have placed these descriptions on their website as well (for example, Derzhavnyi arkhiv Odes’koï oblasti: Fondy periodu tymchasovoï fashysts’koï okupatsiï, http://archive.odessa.gov.ua/el_arh/okupacia/)

Relevant documents were also produced by Ukrainian nationalist activists; these are mostly held in archives in Kiev and Lviv. [Arkhivni dokumenty do istoriï Ukraïns’koï povstans’koï Armiï]. Soviet partisans produced records as well; the main repository in Ukraine is the former central party archive (http://cdago.gov.ua/ ; see also Berkhoff, ‘Corpses in the Ravine’).

Very few Jewish documents from the war period survive; there are, however, some diaries. A recent publication is the diary of Samuel Golfard (ca. 1910–1943) on events in the Galician town of Peremyshliany (Pol. Przemyślany). (Lower, The Diary of Samuel Golfard) Fragments of the Lviv Jewish Council records are at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, filed as the Teka Lwowska (see http://www.jhi.pl/inwentarze#61). There does not seem to have been a Jewish underground press in Ukraine.

Also relevant are documents of the Polish underground and of the allies of Nazi Germany such as Slovakia. Diaries by non-Jewish civilians are also increasingly being found and published.

The best publications of a wide range of wartime sources, in the German original or in German translation, are the meticulously annotated sections relating to Ukraine in the German volumes VEJ/7, VEJ/8, and VEJ/9.

Sources Created After the Return of the Red Army

The archive of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, which was administered by the International Committee of the Red Cross until 2013, is a vast but little-known resource. The western Allies established the service after the war to help reunite families or to trace missing family members, and to store millions of pages of captured documents. Later new records, both originals and copies, were also deposited there. Among the ITS collections are some holdings directly relating to the Holocaust in Ukraine; for instance, lists of the inmates of the Transnistrian concentration camp in Vapniarka, where Jews from Odessa and Romania were confined, and files with compensation claims sent from Romania in the 1970s. Scholarly exploration became possible only in 2008 and remains difficult due to absent or as of yet inadequate inventories. (Shapiro, Vapniarka; http://www.its-arolsen.org/en/homepage/index.html)

Historians of the Holocaust (as of other topics) have long mistrusted memoirs and interviews, but this suspicion appears to be fading (See, for instance, Bartov, Wartime Lies). Unpublished written survivor testimonies about Ukraine are mainly held at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Besides publications on Babi Yar, there are several individual memoirs on the Holocaust in the Reichskommissariat, but their number pales in comparison with the amount of published memoirs and diaries about Lviv and other eastern Galician locales, which are often even available in English. An example is a German-language memoir on the Holocaust in Zbarazh (Pol. Zbaraż) written by Jacob Littner (1883–1950), which is better known from a fictionalized version which was first published in 1948 and then republished in 1992 with a key difference: its previously unidentified ghostwriter, the novelist Wolfgang Koeppen, now claimed it as his own novel (On this, see Grübler, Journey Through the Night). Among all these personal accounts are a few memoirs and diaries of Jewish underground activists and partisans.

Memorial or yizkor books were prepared by survivors and emigrants in Israel or the Americas and describe Jewish life and death in specific towns (and often also neighboring communities) before and during the Holocaust. For instance, as Martin Dean has noted, the yizkor book for Rozhyshche (Pol. Rożyszcze) also includes the testimony of possibly the single survivor of the ghetto in the village of Chetvertnia (Pol. Czetwiertnia). As this Fany Rosenblatt recalls, it was at a former collective farm and until October 1942 it held up to a hundred Jews from various villages. (Dean, “German Ghettoization in Occupied Ukraine,” 66.) Yizkor books exist mainly in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew, and mainly for the regions that were beyond the Soviet borders in 1938 (Even for Podolia, there are just a few). They have become available online, as images of the originals [http://yizkor.nypl.org/] or even in English translation [http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/translations.html].

Audio and audiovisual testimonies provide many detailed descriptions of events described poorly in German documents, if at all. In 2012, the USHMM began offering direct access to various testimonies through its online catalog; included, for instance, is a long interview held in 1992 in Israel with Genia Batasheva, one of the few survivors of the Babi Yar massacre (See http://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn502594). Video interviews in Yiddish are available online as well, as part of the Aheym project at Indiana University (See http://www.iub.edu/~aheym/archives.php?filter=category&category=World%20War%20II%20and%20the%20Holocaust&subject=Massacres)

More than one in four interviews in the archives of the USC Shoah Foundation (http://sfi.usc.edu/), funded by Steven Spielberg (namely 14,500) discuss events and experiences transpiring in Ukraine. Approximately ten thousand of its interviewees were born in what is today Ukraine; they were interviewed in forty-five countries and in twenty-three languages. The project conducted more than 3,400 interviews in Ukraine itself, in 268 places. These interviews are valuable for many reasons. Because many describe the same places, they enable comparison of tales about little-known localities. They offer details about the auxiliary police, local administrators, and Ukrainian nationalists. Some information is virtually unique: the about 3,500 interviews with survivors from Transnistria shed light on the way Jews were fenced into sometimes barely guarded vacant farms; there may well be no other sources on these detention sites. Most interviewees in this project were Jewish; they include Jews who were involved with partisans (about 800 interviews) or who hid their Jewish identity while prisoners of war (about 250 interviews) or deportees to the Reich (about 100 interviews) (Brooks, Visual History Archive Interviews; USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive – Ukraine, at http://libguides.usc.edu/content.php?pid=58585&sid=489678)

Memoirs by non-Jewish Ukrainian survivors of the Nazi and Romanian occupations are not numerous. References to the Holocaust in a collection of largely unpublished manuscripts, stored in Winnipeg, Canada, have been analysed (Himka, Ukrainian Memoiries). The scarcity of the record—in marked contrast to the large amount of such sources for Poland, resulting from official promotion of memoir writing—increases the value of interviews. The Spielberg Foundation interviewed 413 non-Jewish rescuers in Ukraine. Since 2004, the French priest Patrick Desbois has been recording video interviews in Ukraine with non-Jewish witnesses. They give harrowing tales of not simply watching the mass shootings, but also of being implicated, for example by being forced to cook for the murderers or to cover the mass graves. For an extract, see http://www.memorialdelashoah.org/upload/minisites/ukraine/video/documents_vid1_arabski_en.htm (See Desbois and Husson, Neue Ergebnisse; Yahad – In Unum, at http://www.yahadinunum.org/).

Official investigations

At least seventy West German judicial investigations after the war dealt with eastern Galicia, only some of which led to court proceedings. Other investigations concerned events in central and eastern Ukraine; most notorious was the Callsen Trial in the mid-1960s, dealing, among others, with Zhytomyr and Kiev. These investigative materials, including questionings, are held at the Ludwigsburg branch of the German Federal Archives, at German provincial archives (Landesarchive), or at the offices of the original prosecutors. In 2014, the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich began offering researchers on-site access to a comprehensive new inventory (NSG Datenbank). These materials are immense. As Dieter Pohl has noted, one large trial dealing with Galicia in 1968 alone fills sixteen meters of shelf space, whereby over seven hundred binders with 150,000 pages deal with Lviv and four other major cities. The judgments of such trials have appeared in print in the “Justiz und NS-Verbrechen” series (see http://www1.jur.uva.nl/junsv/). There were also judicial investigations regarding Galicia in Austria (about ten); in Poland (about forty); and in the US and Canada.

Students of these sources must be aware of the factors hampering their usefulness: (i) they were not meant to answer historical questions but to establish or reject the guilt of individuals and to possibly impose punishments; (ii) the accused often disputed evidence found in the wartime record (and sometimes colluded with others in this); (iii) until the 1960s, investigators  were hampered by meager knowledge of the events at hand; (iv) and during later investigations, memory began to fail. Despite these obstacles, these sources provide a unique and important perspective—if not necessarily on the events themselves, then at the very least on the former perpetrators.

Soviet prosecution records have been and continue to be controversial. They include the records of investigations by Stalin’s SMERSH (counter-intelligence) and NKVD of former auxiliary administrators, policemen, other suspected “traitors,” which also included questionings of witnesses and survivors. (An example of the last category is presented here [Document B08]). These records are particularly valuable for details unlikely to have been invented by the interrogators (especially if these reappear in many NKVD records) or if corroborating victims’ accounts found in yizkor books and other sources. For example, in combination with other primary sources, the records of the Soviet trial of Dr. Adolph Herschmann, head of the ghetto of Zhmerynka from early 1943 through the end of the Romanian occupation in spring 1944, enable a detailed reconstruction of how Herschmann made it possible for a comparatively high number of ghetto inmates to survive [Altskan, On the Other Side of the River]. In Ukraine, such records are held in the central and oblast archives of the Security Service of Ukraine.

Such Soviet investigative records may even have to serve as the main source for events, as extant German records can be virtually silent and Jewish records absent altogether. The investigation of the ghetto of Donetsk is a good example. The former deputy mayor of the city was an ethic German called Eichmann, who in 1946 in front of a Soviet military tribunal recalled how leaders of Einsatzkommando 6 met with him and the city mayor in February 1942. The records quotes him as follows: “During a joint meeting with the police chiefs and the mayors of the city districts, it was decided to create a Jewish ghetto at a special place, where the entire Jewish population, including children and old people, would be sent.” In March, auxiliary policemen violently deported them to the site, a former quarry from where non-Jews had been hastily evicted. They were exterminated there in the night of 30 April–1 May, by bullets or by gas vans (Dean, “German Ghettoization in Occupied Ukraine,” 74. On such sources, see also Dereiko, Arkhivno-slidchi spravy; Melnyk, Stalinist Justice as a Site of Memory; Penter, Local Collaborators on Trial; Pohl, Sowjetische und polnische Strafverfahren).

Despite the potential gains, this kind of source merits caution, probably more than any other. It is marred by the habit of Soviet investigators and interrogators to torture the suspects, and to invent statements in substance or style—replacing, for instance, the word “Jews” with “Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality”. Unfortunately, sometimes additional problems arise when this kind of source is published. One such source, presented here [Document C09], appeared in print in 2004 (Online, see http://www.kby.kiev.ua/book1/documents/doc28.html). The published version contains unannounced editorial emendations and omissions, and errors in the dates, none of which can be noticed without comparison to the original.

Researchers are increasingly using the records of the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission on Nazi crimes (ChGK), carried out in 1944 and 1945. As noted by Vladimir Solonari, the commission worked unevenly: “in some districts it worked thoroughly, in others less so. Sometimes it could rely on relatively qualified personnel, but quite often barely literate party activists performed the entire task. Sometimes the commissioners could count on the cooperation of the locals; sometimes, as in the mountainous areas of Bukovina, where military actions against Ukrainian nationalist guerillas were going on at the time, it could not.” Although stilted language can also appear, sometimes the commissioners “would collect handwritten accounts of the survivors or eyewitnesses and attach them to their minutes, or would transcribe verbal testimony that contained vivid descriptions of the killing operations.” The best methodology is to read many such records and to attempt to select the most credible reports. (Solonari, Patterns of Violence, 754; on the ChGK, see also Sorokina, People and Procedures) The protocols of exhumations in the ChGK records are also valuable.

The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee gathered materials for a Black Book on the mass murder of the Soviet Jews, but it was suppressed (Chernaia kniga; The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry). It is based on a large archival collection which historians are increasingly employing.

Finally, in the 1940s there were commissions of Soviet historians, who, among other things, interviewed Soviet citizens who had experienced German and Romanian rule. These shorthand reports were then typed out without the questions. There was a Commission on the History of the Patriotic War in Ukraine (Komisiia po istoriï Vitchyznianoï viiny na Ukraïni), within Soviet Ukraine’s Academy of Sciences; and there were commissions at the oblast level. Crimea, then part of the RSFSR, also had a commission. Moreover, the historical commission at the union level (Komissiia po istorii [Velikoi] Otechestvennoi voiny pri Akademii nauk SSSR), conducted interviews of its own in Ukraine. The latter’s records are held at the Institute of History in Moscow, which as of 2014 does not grant access to them, in marked contrast to the Ukrainian repositories. Two samples of these testimonies are presented below: one by Philip Friedman [Document A10], and one by a Holocaust survivor from Kiev [Document B09].

Further information on archives may be obtained from the EHRI Portal and EHRI’s country report on Ukraine, at https://portal.ehri-project.eu/countries/ua .

Karel Berkhoff

Next chapter: The Pogroms of 1941