1943: The massacre of Janowa Dolina

On or very near this date in 1943, a Ukrainian militia massacred the Poles of the village of Janowa Dolina (Yanova Dolina).

Janowa Dolina in the 1930s. The village was a model settlement for workers at the nearby basalt quarry, jobs given at that time by official preferences to Poles. It was created in the 1920s, and featured an orderly plot with running water and electricity throughout.

In World War II, each theater of the war was unhappy in its own way. For the beautiful region of Volhynia long straddling the blood-soaked marches between Poland and Ukraine, it meant a ghastly local war under the umbrella of German occupation.

Mostly Polish in the interwar years, when Ukrainian residents chafed under “Polonization” policies, Volhynia had come fully under Soviet control when Berlin and Moscow carved up Poland in 1939, and then, of course, fully under German control in 1941. In these years of ash and bone, ethnic compositions in Volhynia were redrawn with every desperate ferocity nationalism could muster: pogroms visited neighbor upon neighbor, or ethnic cleansing visited state upon subject. It would be Ukrainian ultras positioned in the end to fantasize about ethnic purity by dint of their collaboration with the conquering Reich.

Come 1943, Poles comprised a shrinking minority in Volhynia. The prospect of purging this borderlands to cinch its place in a Ukrainian homeland made those Poles an inviting target for a campaign of ethnic slaughter that’s remembered now as the Volhynia or Volyn Massacres. And with the German defeat at Stalingrad and the Red Army’s advance on eastern Ukraine, Reich administration further west had become sufficiently distracted by more urgent priorities that genocidaires* perceived their moment to strike.

“We should undertake a great action of extermination of the Polish element,” thundered Dmytro Klyachkivsky, a commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), military organ of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B).** “As the German armies withdraw, we should take advantage of this convenient moment for liquidating the entire male population from the age of 16 up to 60 years. We cannot lose this battle, and it is necessary to diminish Polish forces at all costs. Forest villages and those near forests, should disappear from the face of the earth.”

Many specific atrocities, beginning in February 1943 and continuing well into 1944, comprise this liquidation drive.

The one of interest for this post is the invasion on the night of April 22-23 — the eve and morning of Good Friday — of Janowa Dolina, a predominantly Polish village where 600 were massacred by the UPA and the village put to the torch.†

This horror is commemorated by a monument at the site …

The 1990 monument commemorating Poles murdered by UPA. Here’s a closer view of the stone marker, and here’s the inscription on the adjacent cross.

… but there seems to be a slight difference of opinion: the event is also memorialized by a rival stone erected by Ukrainian nationalists which “gives glory to the Ukrainian heroes” of the UPA for “destroying the fortifications of the Polish-German occupiers.”‡

(Thanks to Sonechka for translation help.)

As anyone holding even passing familiarity with events in present-day Ukraine will surely know this is no mere historiographical quibble; the legacy of the OUN from World War II and of its descendants on the modern far right remain deeply contentious in and out of Ukraine.

* Poland officially (and to the dismay of Ukraine) considers this campaign a genocide. There’s also a Polish film on the horrors of Wolyn.

** The OUN split factionally; the “-B” suffix in this case stands for Stepan Bandera, leader of the most militant faction; his surname is still today a byword and/or slur (“Banderists”) for Ukrainian fascism. Its rival faction was the more moderate OUN-M, led by Andriy Melnyk.

† The territory became Ukrainian — which at the time meant Soviet — after World War II and remains so today, so Janowa Dolina is now the Ukrainian town of Bazaltove. There’s a Flickr album tour of the muddy mining village, including photos of the Polish monument and a separate marker for Soviet POWs, but not the UPA monument, here.

‡ The UPA stone also cites April 21-22 as the date. It appears to me, a distant non-specialist, that the Ukrainian construction on what adherents prefer to more neutrally describe as the “tragedy” of Janowa Valley spreads action over two days and emphasizes alleged guerrilla actions by the UPA against German occupation targets prior to destroying the village.

On this day..

4 thoughts on “1943: The massacre of Janowa Dolina

  1. The Ukrainian justifications for the murders are moot. Stalin wasn’t going to take anything less than the Curzon Line. The ethnic Polish population was going to be relocated and eastern Ukraine was never going to be a part of Poland again. To murder the unarmed, elderly, women and children in such horrific torturous ways was also an unnecessary element of the barbarism. The leaders of OUN were never prosecuted for inciting the ethnic Ukrainians to carry out their plans of murder of ethnic Poles and anyone that would oppose them. Justice has never been served as the soviets covered up this crime. Also, their natural anti-communist stance gave them protections in the West after the war. But the bottom line is that they were fascists that collaborated with the Germans in destroying their own people and their neighbors. They were not responsible for Ukraine’s independence in 1991. They were responsible for the murders and until Ukraine acknowledges this it will never heal. For the ashes and the memories of the murdered Poles will never disappear.

  2. The Poles complain that fate placed them between the Russians and the Germans. But could the Ukrainians not complain that history placed them between the Russians and the Poles? I imagine that the Russians curse the fact that they were placed between the Artic Circle and the Gobi Desert.

    • Curt. The situation is extremely complicated. My field of study in this case is Europe 1815-1914 in general and Austria-Hungary in particular. So i am well acquainted with the Ukrainian regios administered by that Danube state: East-Galicia, Transcarpathia and the Bukowina. Well into the 19th century all kinds of people freely mingled in Eastern Europe because religion was the only important factor.The first Ukrainian Republic 1917-1921 was created by the Central Powers and had an extremely bloody history. Then came the Soviet Union which administered the Ukraine minus the three regios and Stalin used genocide on the Ukrainians. And in World War TWO the Ukrainians themselves used genocide on Poles, Jews and other minorities. There never existed an Ukrainian state before 1917 and the Ukraine has all the hallmarks of a newly independent African country. A failed state and the influence of the Extreme Right on the Ukrainian government is galling.

  3. This is a terrible chapter in Polish-Ukrainians relations. Not many people realise that Belarus and most of the Ukraine were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with its elected Kings for many centuries -minus the Crimea.. But starting in the 17th century Russia claimed Eastern Ukraine. The rule of the Polish was sometimes unnecessary harsh. After the Polish Divisions in the 18th century Russia ruled most of the Ukraine save East-Galicia,which went to Austria. Regretfully the Russian rule was harsh too although they tried to win over the Ukrainians. Far better was the situation in Galicia where the Austrians mediated between Poles and West-Ukrainians.After World War One the Ukrainians orchestrated the so-called “Lesser Shoa”in which thousands of Jews in East-Galicia were killed. Most of Western Ukraine was now administered by the Poles again who tried to turn the Ukrainians into Poles with devastating results..

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