Out of the Night and Fog

Charlie Pottins

Scotland Yard has reportedly re-opened an investigation into former members of the Waffen SS Galicia Division in Britain. The Guardian says it has traced more than a dozen, still living around Yorkshire, East Anglia and the East Midlands, not far from POW camps where they were brought 60 years ago.

The Ukrainian SS men were supposed to be here as farm workers, even to be clearing mines, though some were recruited by MI6 and parachuted into the Soviet Union. At the time their wartime record was not examined too closely. But now:

"Police are understood to be attempting to identify members of the Galizien division who attended a training centre for concentration camp guards, as well as examining the war records of other surviving members" (Guardian, Saturday, February 4) Link to full story

The Galizien Division was formed from a merger of units, including the Nachtigall battalion which had taken part in the massacre of Jews at Lwow, and a Ukrainian unit which killed villagers in eastern Poland. Ukrainian SS units are also said to have taken part in suppressing the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Scotland Yard's war crimes unit was closed in 1999 after an estimated 6.5 million investigation resulting in one retired railway ticket inspector Anton Sawoniuk, being jailed. Labour MP Andrew Dinsmore (Hendon) wants extra funding to re-open investigations. He argues that if old war criminals are pursued now it sends a message to the would-be criminals of tomorrow. David Cesarani, who researched for MPs who introduced the War Crimes Act fifteen years ago, believes it is now ten years too late to do any good.

Listening to Radio 4 news back in August I was surprised to hear it had just been revealed that "an entire division of the SS" had been allowed to enter Britain after the war. I was surprised because it was not really news, being more or less what Denis Hills said, and repeated in his book "The White Pumpkin", published over twenty years ago.

Actually, what the documents released last month reveal was that the post-war Attlee government knew all about the Ukrainian SS men coming here, the Home Office raised misgivings, and it was discussed in Cabinet, but they came.

Denis Hills, a former intelligence major, had written that "we equipped the Wehrmacht's entire Galicia Division with Polish passports and shipped them to Britain". Only the Wehrmacht did not have a Galicia Division, the Waffen SS did, and it incorporated the Nachtigall units which had been used against the Warsaw uprising and provided guards for concentration camps.

These 'Askari', as they were contemptuously known, i.e. colonial troops, found themselves with nowhere to go when their masters lost. Faked Polish passports helped them escape repatriation to the clutches of the Soviet bloc. But evidently it wasn't just a sly wheeze carried out by some British officers, because the government knew about it.

(Major Hills incidentally was the British teacher locked up by Idi Amin in Uganda, with quite a furore in the media here but little said about his intelligence past).

Putting Hill's remarks together with some other things I'd read and heard - for instance about a Latvian in Lancaster who boasted when drunk of his Nazi service and showed photographs of himself in uniform - I wrote to Searchlight magazine suggesting they look into the issue.
Replying on 15 April, 1983, Gerry Gable said he and others were very interested and would like to see any material on this. He said Searchlight had run stories in early issues about former SS men resident here and in Ireland. "Are the Ukrainiians you mention the ones used to clear beaches of mines on the East coast. I was told years ago that this was the deal for them staying".

I had not heard about that. But I had wondered about Ukrainians and other nationals enlisted for undercover missions against the Soviet Union, as well as those who found new lives in Australia and Canada. The Ukrainian parachutists dropped by the RAF are said to have had somewhat short careers in the field, as the MI6 officer in charge of this was one Kim Philby. The Letts landed on the Baltic coast were probably met by a reception committee. But what of others who were helped on their way in return for expected services?

In 1948 the Labour government decreed there should be no more trials of wartime collaborators, and saw to it Commonwealth governments followed suit. Jewish DPs had a less easy time emigrating to the white Commonwealth than those who had persecuted them.

At the height of the Cold War it was not done to raise some questions about what people had done in World War II, or since; but towards the late 1980s we had Klaus Barbie brought to trial in France, the revelations that UN Secretary General and Austrian president Kurt Waldheim had not been entirely honest on his CV, the Demanyuk case, and the row over President Reagan's visit to Bitburg, where Nazi SS men were buried. Nazis were news again, and the Wiesenthal Centre submitted a list of suspected Nazi war criminals living in Britain to the Home Office.

An All-Party Parliamentary War Crimes Group began meeting. We invited its secretary, Philip Rubinstein, to address the Jewish Socialists' Group. (see The Murderers Among Us, Jewish Socialist magazine, Summer 1987).

The JSG called for a thorough investigation to bring suspected Nazi criminals to justice. We also urged a public inquiry into the circumstances under which they had been allowed into Britain, and what they were doing here. The JSG further called on the government to release files on Klaus Barbie and others which the Foreign Office appeared to be jealously guarding.

As so often happens, once the "respectable" mainstream Jewish community had decided it was safe to talk about some of these issues, it also shouldered out the socialists. A JSG member who had been seen selling the JS magazine outside a public meeting where Philip Rubinstein was to speak found his way blocked by the Community Security heavies when he tried to enter the meeting. Recognising people he knew in the foyer he asked them to intercede, but these good liberals just shrugged. As was to become evident on other occasions, once you let Community Security take over, they are in charge. And whatever the issue, we on the Left are always the "real enemy"!

Despite legislation, reported police investigations and moves to prosecute, the murderers-in-our-midst were never dealt with satisfactorily. The calls for inquiry that the JSG made were never answered. What was revealed was the reluctance of a large chunk of the British ruling class to lift a finger against the Nazis and collaborators it had welcomed. "Nazi hunting is a new and distasteful blood sport!", declared the 'Daily Telegraph'. Now if only we'd said the former SS men were asylum-seekers living on benefits! In the House of Lords and elsewhere we heard that attempts to bring war criminals to justice were mean Jewish vengeance, not the Christian way.

A glance at some of the names of those pontificating suggested that, apart from any prejudices they might hold, they had reputations to consider, and colleagues to protect, in the military and intelligence establishments. Though stories of investigations and released documents continue to surface from time to time, official night and fog have continued to shroud the way former SS men and other Nazis were enlisted after the war, with something more than farm work or "mine cleaning" in mind.

The ageing Ukrainians whom the Guardian has turned up were probably small fry. The peers who were so anxious to let bygones be bygones fifteen years ago have been passing on themselves. The intelligence services go marching on.


You can read Charlie Pottins' blog at https://randompottins.blogspot.com/


Feb 2006

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