Friday, March 26, 2010

Kārlis Lobe

Born on March 26, 1895, Kārlis Lobe was a lieutenant colonel in the Latvian Army before Stalin annexed his country. When Hitler army overrun Latvia during summer 1941, Lobe was appointed as a commander of a Latvian self-defence forces commander in Ventspils. During his command from July 9 to August 29, 1941, his men participated in the German SD organised imprisonment and then consequent extermination of Jewish males in the Ventspils city and environs. Having fallen out of German favour, he left out his command and work in a confectionary factory for a time.

In December 1941, Lobe joined the 1st Riga Ordnungs-Hilfspolizei and served as the Chief of Staff. In 1943, he led the 280th Latvian Police battalion, which served in the German-organised anti-partisan campaign Winterzauber (Winter Magic) in Belarus. Then he was appointed as an adviser to the Directorate of Internal Security for the Self-Administration of the Land.

When Himmler formed the Latvian Legion, Lobe transferred to the new unit. He led a regiment in the 2. Lettische SS-Freiwilligen-Brigade and awarded a German Cross in Gold on June 28, 1944. He ended war as a Waffen-Standartenführer der SS.

After the war, he was moved to Sweden. Simon Wiesenthal, a well-known Nazi hunter, tried to convince the Swedish authorities to take legal action against Karlis Lobe, who was accused of participating in the murder of Jews in the Ventspils district, among other crimes. However, Stockholm rule-out Wiesenthal appeal because he delivered it in the late 1960s that mean already exceed the 25 year statute of limitations, which by Swedish law meant that formal proceedings against him were no longer possible. Thus, Lobe can live in peace until his died on July 9, 1985 in Stockholm.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Konrāds Kalējs

Born on June 26, 1913, in Riga, Latvia, Konrāds Kalējs joined the Latvian army in 1935 and got a rank of lieutenant. When Stalin takes over Latvia in 1940, Kalējs was conscripted into the Red Army. He later deserted when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in summer 1941 and joined a Nazi-controlled Latvian security police known as the Arajs Kommando after its leader Viktors Arajs. The Arajs Kommando, working with the Einsatzgruppen, was responsible for many executions against Jews and other "undesirables" elements.

Kalējs served as a company commander and first lieutenant in the murderous unit. Besides killing Jews in the Riga ghetto, Kalējs and his men also served as guards at the Salaspils concentration camp, located 18 km southeast of Riga. The conditions there were brutal. Many inmates died, primarily from inhumane conditions or being shot while trying to escape. The Arajs Kommando was charged with guarding work details and preventing escapes at Salaspils.

Kalējs was one of the very few officers of the Arajs Kommando with military background. Probably, he was recruited for the purpose of helping to convert the Kommando from a purely police formation into a militarised one that could take part in anti-partisan operations. Outside of Latvia (usually in Russia) the Arajs Kommando joined the German SS in so-called anti-partisan activity, which was little more than a cover for arresting and murdering civilians. Thus, early in 1942, Kalējs led units of the Arajs Kommando in attacks on partisan villages in the Leningrad area. He later appointed as the commander of the perimeter security guard at a camp at Porkhov, a town east of Pskov.

In 1945, suspected of being a "Nazi death squad officer responsible for the murder of up to 30,000 Jews, Communists and Gypsies in Latvia", Kalējs moved to Denmark and five years later went to Australia as a refugee. He worked for the Australian Immigration Service, gaining citizenship in 1957. In 1959, he emigrated to the United States and built up a successful property business. However, in late 1984 the US Justice Department set its sights on him after being alerted to the allegations against him. He return to Australia, but forced to leave it after a local court revoked his visa, finding that he had "committed war crimes" as a collaborator. He was lived for some time in Britain before his identity known in public and, again, deported to Australia.

In September 2000, Latvian authorities finally charged Kalējs with war crimes offences, relating to his participation at the Salaspils labor camp. An Australia court later ordered his extradition to Latvia. But he never his foot again and face a trial in his homeland. The most unwanted wanted man in the world died in an Australia prison on November 8, 2001.

Copyright©2010 by Nino Oktorino

Monday, March 8, 2010

Armenische Legion

During the first twenty years of 1900s, the existence of Armenians, one of ancient peoples who live in the world, almost wiped-out as a nation. Millions of western Armenians, who live in theirs ancient land in Anatolia, died or deported by nationalist Turks. A chance to build an Armenian state in remaining Armenian areas in southern Caucasus destroyed when Ataturk’s Turkish and Lenin’s Bolshevist forces invaded it and divided the remaining Armenians between them.

Armenian Nationalist Parties
After the destruction of a short-lived Armenia state, two most powerful Armenian parties in the Diaspora emerged as the Dashnaks and the Ramkavars. Ramkavars have always held that Soviet Armenia is the best Armenia that they are likely to get, since it is protected by Russia; and without Russian protection (of whatever political complexion) Armenia would disappear from the map of the world for ever. The Dashnaks agreed not to take part in any act leading to the dismemberment of the USSR, upon which the safety of Armenia depended. They also agreed not to provoke any internal disorders or try to overthrow the regime. However, they would continue their relations with anti-Soviet forces, because, should the USSR collapse, it was prudent to be on good terms with any regime that might take its place. They remembered 1917–18.

In the years before the Second World War a small Fascist element appeared within Dashnak followers. Although the Dashnak party never adopted Fascism and the few pro-Fascist comments that appeared in its press at the time can no more be taken as wholesale endorsement of Fascism than can the favorable remarks of some European leaders on the first year of Fascist rule in Germany, a veteran party member, and a hero from the independent republic, Garegin Nzhdeh, went from community to community in North America, establishing ‘Tseghakron’, or racists, group. The basic idea behind Nzhdeh’s activities was to link the North American youth to a clear notion of national identity. His main premise was that the race, or the nation, should be considered above all else.

Initially, the ‘Tseghakron’ had some success mainly due to Nzhdeh’s charismatic personality. However, they could not maintain the momentum in the long run. Some time afterwards, when they couldn’t endorse Nzhdeh's extreme and racist views again, the Dashnak expelled him from its ranks. Nzhdeh, who was an anti-Soviet and anti-Turkish Nazi sympathizer, eventually left for Europe where he sought allies to overthrow the Soviet regime in Armenia.

Collaboration with the Nazis
As a whole, Armenians supported the Allied war efforts against the Axis during World War II. Around 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians served within the Red Army and contributed more than 50 Soviet generals, including the renowned General (later Marshal) Baghramian. For theirs enthusiasm for the Soviet cause, Armenian was called as the only pro-Soviet and pro-Russian nation in the Caucasus—for obvious historical reasons.

Nevertheless, some Armenians collaborated with the Germans during the Russo-German War. While as a whole Dashnak party did not take this stance (the section of the party in Cairo affirmed its loyalty to the Allies), members of the party who lived in the occupied areas, including a number of names famous from the period of the republic, adopted a pro-Nazi stance. However, except for Nzhdeh, no Armenians who collaborated with the Nazis have ever been a theoretical Fascist.

There are some reasons of this collaboration. It is possible to see it as a purely vengeful desire to retake Armenia from the Bolsheviks. Other reason is a Nazi view that suspected Armenians of being racially inferior because of their alleged proclivity for “parasitic trade practices,” said to derive from a presumed kinship with the Semitic race and miscegenation with the Jews. Hence it was important to prove to the Nazis that the Armenians were 'Aryans'. They seem to have achieved this when Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories, declared that the Armenians were Indo-European, or Aryans. Thus, Nazis did not persecute Armenians, just for being Armenians, in the occupied lands.

Other main reason, share among many Dashnaks, was a memory that had been an overwhelming constituent of their policy in the preceding two decades, the events of 1917–18, when the strength and organization of their party apparatus was the only guarantee against the final extermination of theirs nation from the Armenian plateau. With Russia again threatening to break up, it made sense to prepare to enter Yerevan with the forces that might supplant Bolshevism, in order to assure public security before the Turks swept in from the west.

The last reason is understandably. Although Rosenberg had a plan to build an Armenian state as a buffer zone against Pan-Turanism, Hitler and many German leaders look more interested to ally the Third Reich with Turkey than a small nation like Armenians. In fact, although Turkey maintained grudging neutrality throughout the war, there was a revival of Pan-Turanism, resurfaced in July 1941 under the leadership of Professor Zeki Velidi Togan of Istanbul University, who lead a pro-Nazi organization which adopted the trappings of Fascism, down to an imitation-Hitler hairstyle and colorful uniform. Even some of Pan-Turan leaders, invited by the Reich Foreign Ministry, came to Germany to aid the administration liberated Turko-Tartar areas of the Soviet Union, which promised by the Nazis will became a part of Turkey if she joined the Axis cause. However, while the Nazis inducements profoundly impressed many Turkish leaders, including Marshal Cakmak, after Stalingrad these Fascist notions were put back in the filing-cabinet, and the Turkish authorities felt compelled to prosecute the official Fascist party in September 1944, to sanitize the country before she joined the Allies.

Meanwhile, on 15 December 1942, an 'Armenian National Council' was granted official recognition by Alfred Rosenberg. The Council's president was Professor Ardashes Abeghian, its vice-president Abraham Giulkhandanian. Among its members included Nzhdeh and Vahan Papazian. The Council published a weekly journal, Armenien, edited by Viken Shant, son of another well-known Dashnak leader Levon Shant, who also broadcast on Radio Berlin. Initially, the Armenian National Council fulfilled the function of “governments in exile”, but in the middle of 1944 they were officially acknowledged as government—at least on the paper.

Hitler’s Armenian Soldiers
During the first year of the Russo-German War, the Wehrmacht captured millions members of the Red Army. Initially, like many other Soviet POWs, Nazi racial prejudices exacted a heavy toll among Armenians during the first months of the war. Thousands of them perished due to the inhuman conditions and treatment in the POW camps.

Yet even as thousands continued dying in the camps, many German units used Soviet prisoners as helpers by supply troops. Before the summer was out, Red Army volunteers began to appear in regular Wehrmacht combat formations, even in small all-Soviet units under German command. In October 1941, the Abwehr created a special unit consisted exclusively from members of the Caucasian nationalities, the Sonderverband Bergmann, under Professor Theodor Oberlānder. Theirs members included a company of Armenian volunteers. The unit was deployed in the Caucasus in the summer of 1942 and distinguished itself in combat. However, the Armenian company practically destroyed during the fierce battle in Perekop peninsula in the end of November 1943.

The possibilities to use Soviet minorities against Russians made the Nazis change theirs racist views about “these primitive tribes.” On December 30, 1941, by Hitler’s order, the Germans formed four Ostlegionen (Eastern Legions) from the Turkic and Caucasian nationalities. One of them was the Armenische Legion (Armenian Legion).

The Armenian legion had camps and headquarters in Poland, in the area of the towns of Radom, Pulawa, Demblin but the central forming staff was situated in the region of the town of Pulawa, Lublin region. Some Armenian immigrant leaders were sent to the Red Army POW camps to recruited Armenians volunteers in there. Many Armenian POWs, having heard the calls of national heroes such as Garegin Nzhdeh and Dro Kanayan (an ex-Defense Minister of the short-lived First Republic of Armenia and a popular military leader after his victories over the Turkish forces in 1918 which essentially saved the Armenian Republic from total destruction) voluntarily joined the service in the legion. However, majority of those volunteers joined the legion only in order to survive and to come back to their native land. Some of them were forced by the Germans.

Like other Ostlegionen, the Armenian legion actually was a training center for Armenian volunteers, mainly in battalion’s strength. In fall 1942, the first Armenian Legion battalions, the 808th and 809th, were formed. They were followed by other battalions. Totally, there were eleven Armenian battalions served the Ostlegionen during the war.

Armenian soldiers performed were different between units. While the 809th battalion was known as an effective unit in the Eastern Front, the 808th largely deserted to the Red Army when they were put in the front. Some Armenian battalions later transferred to the Western Front to prevent another desertions and served as guards of the Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Other Armenian battalions attached to 162. Deutsche-Turkestanische Division, which fought in Slovenia and Italy, mainly as an anti-partisan unit, until the end of the war.

In the beginning of December 1944, an Armenian Waffen-SS unit was formed following a directive of Heinrich Himmler. Known as SS-Waffengruppe ”Armenien”, they were attached under the Kaukasiches Waffen Verband der SS. This Armenian unit was lead by Waffen-Standartenführer der SS Vardan Sarkissjan. However, as other units of the Kaukasiches Waffen Verband der SS, they were never thrown into combat.

The Bitter End
Altogether 20,000 Armenians served in various units in the German Armed Forces during World War II. With the end of the World War II, many of volunteers who surrender to Western allied were handed over to Stalin. Many of them died in Soviet gulags, including Nzhdeh himself who died in a Soviet prison in 1954. Others succeeds escape from repatriation and lives among Armenian Diaspora in Western Europe, North American, and Lebanon.
Copyright © 2010 by Nino Oktorino

Pavlo Shandruk

Born in Kremenets, Volhynia, on February 28, 1889, Pavlo Shandruk joined with Czar Army after completed his studies at the Nizhyn Institute. In 1917, as a Russian lieutenant colonel, he had lead one of the early tank detachments of the Russian Imperial Army. In 1920, after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, he commanded a Ukrainian brigade in the Ukrainian struggle for liberation. In 1921, after the Ukrainian National republic collapse, he had fled to Poland where Marshall Jozef Pilsudski gave him an appointment in the Polish army.

While most of the Ukrainian officers in the Polish army were regarded by Ukrainian nationalist as collaborators with Poland, Shandruk was an exception. In his dealings with Poles, Shandruk had always advocated an independent Ukrainian nation-state. During Hitler invasion to Poland in September 1939, Shandruk, now a colonel, led a Polish regiment which succeed to rescue a Polish brigade from annihilation. Taken as a prisoner by Germans and held in a prison camp near Breslau, he was later released due to his injuries. He later lives in Skierniewice and working at a humble job in a movie theater.

In 1944, when the SS tried to reshaped the anti-Communist Ukrainian organizations, which were rife with dissension, under theirs umbrella, they got an advice from a Ukrainian leader that Shandruk was a right man to lead them. In February 1945, with some conditions, Shandruk accepted the SS offering to lead the Ukrainian National Committee and simultaneously became the commander of the newly-formed Ukrainian National Army (or UNA) into which all Ukrainian units which had fought on the German side were collected. But, he refused the SS other offering to become an SS-Gruppenführer.

In his capacity as the leader of the Ukrainian National Committee and Ukrainian National Army, Shandruk declined invitation of General Andrei Vlasov to join the K.O.N.R. although the Russian general offering him the post of his first deputy in both political and military matters. Shandruk appreciated that the Ukraine would have little hope of independence if he made his armed forces subservient to a Russian.

In April 1945, Shandruk joined his men of the Ukrainian National Army in Austria. He lead the 1st UNA Division, former 14th SS ‘Galicia’ Division, fought theirs way over Tauern Pass into Radstadt pocket and surrendered to the US and British force in the area. While his men were put behind POW cages, Shandruk tried to make contact with higher British and American authorities. With help of Polish General Anders, he persuaded the British and Americans that his force were made up of Galicians, that is, Polish citizens whose homes had been occupied in 1939 by the invasion of Soviet armies and the incorporation of eastern Poland into the Soviet Union. His tenacity, cleverness, and diplomatic agility succeed keeping his division status away from extradition to Soviet Union because they were accepted as Polish pre-war citizens (without any check whether they had Polish citizenship or not). This provoked fierce protests from Moscow.

After live for some times in Germany, Shandruk emigrated to the USA. Decorated with Polish Virtuti Militari order for his performance in Polish Army during the September Campaign, he wrote a number works about military history in Ukrainian, Polish and English.

Pavlo Shandruk died on February 15, 1979, in Trenton, New Jersey.

Copyright © 2010 by Nino Oktorino