in the Ukrainian Division
Translated from the Ukrainian by Fr. Taras Dusanowskyj
© Copyright 2009 by Bohdan Chambul
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
This is the story of a young Ukrainian man's experiences during World War II. Part of it is in the first person, then the third person (he is Bohdan) The disconnection is the result of the translations from Ukrainian.
The Ukrainians were caught between a rock and hard place during WWII - those being Stalin and Hitler. There were significant hardships that the author endured, which he did not include in this account. After the war he managed to take his parents to England. From there, they immigrated to Canada, where his sister had taken up residency. He later married a woman who was also a Ukrainian immigrant and they had two sons, one of whom now lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee.
With the arrival of the Germans in Ukraine in the summer of 1941, the conscription of workers, young boys and girls, began for work in Germany and Austria.
At first workers volunteered, but eventually the German Administration began demanding that the municipal Ukrainian administration fill quotas for workers in Germany.
My sister was thus assigned for departure on June 14, 1942. I felt very sorry for her and so I, an under-aged boy of 16, volunteered to take her place. At that time a total of 16 boys and 16 girls were taken from our village Denysiw. All of us were taken to a transient camp in Ternopil, and then, on June 16, we were loaded unto freight cars, the boys on one side of the car and the girls on the other. In this way we made it all the way to Krakow where we underwent medical examinations. After this we were again loaded unto freight cars and taken to Vienna, where Austrian “bavors” – landowners – were waiting for us to take us to their farms to work.
I ended up with a farmer who had one horse and two goats on his farm, 12 km from Vienna, in a place called Wien-Weidling. The farmers name was Anton Der and he had a wife and two daughters – the older one named Katy, and the younger Missy. In total four of us from Denysiw ended up in this village: Ivan Steckyj, Slawko Majdan, Mychajlo Korchynskyj and I.
I cut down trees in the forest. The work was boring and I began to long for my native village and family. I wrote letters to my school friends. Eva, who was my one female contact, wrote back very nice letters. I even began to dream about falling in love with her.
In the fall of 1943, my friend Ivan Steckyj and I, to avoid the hard work and the inhumane treatment from our employers, volunteered for the German army. We hoped that by an army unit we might be able to return to Ukraine, and there desert and join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). But instead of accepting us into the army, we were taken, in early December, from our bavor and transferred to a camp filled with Russians. On top of all this we had to wear a sign with the word “OST” on our chests. I was assigned work in the 14th “becirk” – a district of Vienna, where we were building a new factory. The food was terrible and we were treated very inhumanely. Every Saturday I visited my friends-fellow villagers, who assisted me with groceries.
I worked there until February 1944. The, one Saturday, returning to the city, I dropped in on my former employer to check if there was any mail from home. An indeed there was a letter for me with the return address: Military Executive of the “Halychyna” Division. I was being called up to the “Halychyna” Division and was ordered to report to the training camp Heidelager, near Dembici, by February 20, 1944. I shrieked with joy and went to see Ivan Steckyj. He had not received any such letter yet, but did a few days later with orders to report to Nojhammer also by February 20, 1944.
Arriving in Heidelager, we observed our soldiers of the Division marching and singing our songs. We were brought to tears by the fact that we had ended up in our Division, remembering the proverb: “Among you own even death is sweet”.
After one month we were all transferred by train to the Nojhammer training base (today Svjantoshyn, near Breslaw – or Wrocslaw). We were both assigned to the heavy battery unit of the 14th artillery regiment. At that time our boys began to arrive from various training camps and we met our fellow villagers Hryts Makohin, Petro Kowal, Ivan Kuziw, who were serving in the 1st field engineer company. Also training were: Bohdan Sharyk, Ilko Sharyk, Bohdan Mykytyn, Myroslaw Fialka, Roman Dusanowskyj, Wasyl Dusanowskyj, Roman Karpyk, Arkadij Iwaskiw, Petro Ukhach, Ostap Waranycia and Roman Korpak. I met most frequently with Hryts Makohin and Petro Kowal.
At the end of June the Division was loaded unto trains, but instead of being sent to Stanyslaviw, we arrived at Ozhydow. Our heavy artillery unit arrived at night at Oleskiw and we dug in, in the forest. I was assigned to broadcast-technician Pawlo Savjak and we repaired transmitting and receiving equipment. I had a team of good horses and a wagon on which we had all our repair tools, and our squad leader had his horse and rode him up to the front. We never stayed in one place very long, because we were constantly being transferred from one place to another.
During our encirclement in the forests of Yaseniw, Hryts Makohin, Ivan Kuziw and Petro Kowal (whose unit had been completely decimated) came to me and urged me to go with them. But my unit was still intact, and so I did not go with them. A few days before we were encircled I received news that my parents had been evacuated to Germany. This gave rise to a new thought: to escape and head west, and hopefully meet up somewhere there with my family.
From the 16th to the 17th of July 1944 my squad leader and I rode almost the whole night on the wagon, while the squad leaders’ horse followed behind tied to the back of the wagon. Near morning we arrived at the forest near Bilyj Kamin’. There we camped and fed both the horses and ourselves. There was a mass of soldiers in the forest. As my squad leader and I were finishing breakfast, two enemy planes circled the forest and flew off.
“We have to get out of here as soon as possible, because they are going to be bombing us and hitting us with artillery” I urged my squad leader Savjak. But before we could gather our things together our forest was hit with a withering bombardment and artillery barrage. Suddenly I see an artillery shell explode close to my squad leader and I hear a scream’ “Chambul, help me!” I ran to my squad leader, but it was too late. He still managed to look at me with half-opened eyes, ground his teeth and expired.
Making a sign of the cross over his body, I went to my wagon, unhitched the horses, released them and then ran out of the forest. Suddenly, in the open field I heard the terrifying sound of a shell whizzing over my head and impacting a few metres in front of me into the ground. I am covered by earth. It became very difficult for me to breath and the thought came to me: this must be the end. I use every ounce of strength to free myself and begin running in the direction of the village Bilyj Kamin’. I manage to reach one of the knolls near the village, where people once dug for clay and there in the bank were dug several small caves, similar to nests. I managed to crawl into one of these caves and can see how terribly the village and surrounding areas are being bombed. I hear people screaming, horses braying, artillery shells whizzing by and exploding. I prayed like I had never before prayed in my life. When this hurricane subsided somewhat, I left my cave and headed for the village. As I entered one yard, a divisional medic approached and asked for my help, because three of our boys had been badly wounded and were lying in the house.
All the windows had been blown out of this house and all the icons were lying on the floor. Having helped to bind the wounded, I left the house. Over the entrance to the door there was a tiny picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When I opened the door this picture fell at my feet. I picked it up and wanted to return it to its original place, but there was no nail to be found, so I hid it in the upper left pocket of my uniform jacket. At that moment, it was as if something grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me out of the house. As I flew out, I looked back and saw that the house had been reduced to a pile of rubble.
The fighting continued. I continued to wander, not knowing where I was going. At night, being very tired, I hitched a ride on the divisional field kitchen wagon, fell asleep and did not wake up until morning. We had arrived in the village of Pochapiv where we stopped close to the Church.
The night of July 17th to the 18th there was a breach in our lines. At dawn an assault began on the village of Knjazhe, toward the railway station and main road. This was the “valley of death”. Bullets hummed, like bees; mortar and artillery shells exploded all around us. Soldiers were falling - killed and wounded – and there was no one to help them. Everyone was looking to save their own life. Now, whenever I hear the song, “As you were dying, bells did not toll for you” … I see again this field, this “valley of death”.
I made it to the rail line and fell down by the grade. I raised my head and saw on the other side Red Army soldiers raising their hands and surrendering. We crossed over the rise and continued on into the forest. In the distance we could still hear the clatter of machine guns and exploding grenades. We come to a well to get water, and here is Roman Dusanowskyj, my friend from Denysiw. He informed me that another of our villagers was also nearby – Wasyl Dusanowskyj.
We hike up to the top of the hill. The three of us then descend and from a distance we recognize yet another school friend – Arkadij Ivaskiw, who had been slightly wounded in the neck. At the base of the hill we meet still one more from our village – Dmytro Dusanowskyj, whom the Germans had taken by force. He shared some food with us and informed me that my brother Myroslaw and his family were in the village of Shybalyniw. Intending to meet with my brother, we said our good-byes by the road-side, and then the four of us headed off toward Peremyshljany. We spent the night nearPeremyshljany, but near dawn we heard fairly close by the clattering of a Soviet “Maksym” or machinegun. We gathered our things and swiftly made our way to Khodorov, where the “Halychyna” Division had an assembly point. Here we also met up with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and with their assistance headed toward Stryj and Skolje. In Skolje we spent the night at the house of an UPA runner and in the morning it was expected that we would join up with a unit of the UPA in the forest. However, I was of the opinion that we should head west. We discussed this matter during the night and in the morning we went to the train station, where we found a train filled with wounded German soldiers. We managed to get a ride on this train and took it all the way to Lavochne. We noticed that the rail lines were being blown up by the Germans, which meant that ours was the last train out of Skolje. In Lavochne our train stopped for a few hours, and then toward evening headed for Mukahiw. We arrived there by morning, transferred to a civilian train and went to Uzhorod, where the “Halychyna” Division also had an assembly point. We bunked down in the school building and stayed there for several days. There were about 60 of us from our artillery regiment. In charge was Mychajlo Dljaboha. Our foursome got split up, because each one of us returned to our own units, which were being re-established here. Arkadij went into the 29th infantry regiment, Wasyl into the 30th, and Roman into an anti-aircraft regiment. From Uzhorod we were transferred to the village of Serednje, where we spent almost a month. Here we met up with Ilko Sharyk and Roman Korpak, who had just returned from a junior officer course. He was grateful that he had been spared the battles near Brody. In the village of Serednje we received orders to return to our training camp at Nojhammer, where the “Halychyna” Division was being re-formed.
Arriving in Nojhammer, I met many new recruits from our village: Bohdan Dusaniwskyj, Bohdan Pyrozak, Myroslaw Makohon, Wolodymyr Baran, Ivan Skryn’ka, Bohdan, Taras and Fedir Didych, Bukshak and Stakh Bashlak. Perhaps there were even more. In Nojhammer we were awarded the Iron Cross second class.
After a few months of re-training and filling of the ranks, the whole Division was transferred to Slovakia to fight the Communist Partisans. Our regiment was garrisoned at Letawska Luchka, and I was assigned to the communications staff of the second artillery regiment. Our stay in Slovakia was very pleasant, and even though we were fighting the partisans, the populace treated us very kindly. We made a lot of friends and it was difficult to say good-bye when the Division was moved in January 1945 to Yugoslavia. We all had to march, through the cold and the snow, across Slovakia and Austria all the way to Slovenia. Our artillery regiment headquartered in Linz. Here the people treated us like Germans – with hostility. They had pro-Communist leanings and so we always had to be on our guard around them.
In early April the Division was thrown unto the Eastern Front in the vicinity of Gleichenberg-Feldbach. Here our Division was re-organized as the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Pavlo Shandruk. We were joined by several former officers of the Ukrainian National Republic who were given their commands by General Shandruk, and among them was Colonel Mychajlo Krat.
Here, on April 25, 1945, representatives from each unit of the Division swore a solemn oath to the Ukrainian people. Only representatives from each unit were able to be present for this event, since the bulk of the soldiers were already manning front-line positions.
On May 8, 1945 Germany surrendered, and our Division made a forced march west, in order to give themselves up as prisoners-of-war to the Allies.
THE END OF THE WAR AND INTERNMENT
(as recorded by Nestor Czornyj in an interview with Bohdan Chambul)
On May 8, 1945 the members of the Division surrendered to the British forces. Bohdan left his military unit and thus avoided the British prisoner-of-war camp. A group of former soldiers gathered together and expressed the desire to reunite with their families using their own resources. Bohdan remembered the address to which his parents, sister and brother-in-law had been evacuated. Three members of the group were Bavarian Germans who had served in the same regiment as Bohdan. Two of them were staff officers, and the third a junior officer. The four decided to journey over the Alps to Bavaria on unexpectedly acquired horses. Along the way, near Judenburg, was an abandoned camp. The wagons were filled with provisions. The boys filled two knapsacks each, placed them on their horses and headed into the Alps. In the Alps they had all sorts of adventures. At the Austro-Bavarian border they exchanged their horses for food and some money, and at night they crossed the border. On the Bavarian side they were able to find a physician who took them in for the night. The physician received the boys very warmly. He told them that the Americans were searching for all those who had fought on the German side, capturing them and placing them behind barb wire, checking their identities, and if they are citizens of the Soviet Union, forcibly handing them over to the “Russians”. All four companions-wanderers were still in uniform and carrying small arms. Hearing about the Americans, all three Germans got rid of their weapons and Bohdan did the same. Although the three were Germans, they considered and treated Bohdan as a trusted friend and even more – as family. They were older than Bohdan and had learned from him that Bohdan’s family had been evacuated to Bavaria, somewhere near Ingolstadt. While he was still in Slovakia, Bohdan had received a letter from his family, which he later lost, but still managed to remember the location. The three Germans, however, decided to accompany their host-physician to Munich. As they parted in the morning, Bohdan could see tears in their eyes. After their departure, Bohdan himself set out on foot across fields and meadows bordering the right shore of the Zell am See.
Suddenly from behind a bush, a man jumped out dressed in an American uniform, but with a Soviet appearance and with a Russian revolver in his hand. Bohdan immediately realized this was a Russian. He spoke to Bohdan in very broken German. He wanted to know where Bohdan had been and where was he going? Bohdan answered him in German that the war was over and that he is going home. The armed attacker searched Bohdan and took from him everything that met his fancy, but when he found Bohdan’s service booklet, which was written in two languages, he boiled over in anger: “See what we have here! A westerner! He was defending Germany!” Bohdan was carefully following every move of his assailant, and numerous options were running through his mind about what to do, how to act, if his attacker chooses to use his weapon. If that happened he would attack. In the end, however, his attacker calmed down somewhat and, speaking in Russian, said: “Go! Five kilometers from here there is a camp for men like you. You are still a young man, Siberia is greater!” Bohdan just stood there, not trusting the man. “Go! I swear to God I will not shoot”. When his attacker mentioned God, then Bohdan believed him and moved away as quickly as possible.
Approaching the village, Bohdan went to the first farmer he met and told him about his adventure. The farmer invited Bohdan into his house, fed him and even gave him 100 Marks for his journey. He asked the farmer and his family what would be the best way of getting to Mosteberg. They gave him directions and advised him to use the back roads, and not the main roads. The Americans had set up check-points on the main roads and are detaining soldiers and delivering them to prisoner-of-war camps. In these camps they undergo a cursory identification and foreigners are handed over to the Soviet side. Bohdan followed their advice: he travelled the back roads and from time to time he went in to German farmers to rest or to spend the night. One should mention that throughout his journey, which lasted a whole month, there was not a single time that Bohdan was refused food or shelter. Of course, it did not hurt that Bohdan spoke German very well and was still dressed in a military uniform.
Near Mosteberg Bohdan had to cross a bridge on which stood two American soldiers. Bohdan hid in the forest beneath a bush close to the road, about 300 metres from the bridge. He waited there about two hours until a German transport with a trailer passed by, and on the trailer there were several cans of milk. Bohdan ran out from his hiding place and asked the driver to take him over the bridge. The driver immediately understood Bohdan’s situation and agreed to take him over. Bohdan looked around and sat down in the trailer among the cans of milk. The Americans stopped them, but the driver showed them some piece of paper that he said proved Bohdan was his son. Having crossed the bridge, Bohdan proceeded along the back roads in the direction of Ingolstadt, which took him several more days and led to several more adventures.
On one particular morning there was a great fog. Bohdan reached a fairly wide river, and as he approached closer to the main road, he noticed a bridge through the fog, and on it were two American soldiers. Retracing his steps along the road which followed the shore of the river, in about 300 metres he came upon a raft belonging to one of the local farmers. He asked the farmer if he could have some breakfast. The farmer invited Bohdan into his house and his wife prepared breakfast. After breakfast, Bohdan asked the farmer if he could ferry him over to the other side of the river, because he did not want to be captured by the Americans, but wanted, first of all, to see his family. The farmer understood, called the girl who was working for him and asked her to ferry Bohdan across the river on the raft. Bohdan, looking at the girl, recognized immediately that she was Ukrainian, but their conversation continued in German. As the raft approached the other side of the river, Bohdan took the 100 Marks from his pocket, gave it to the girl and said, in Ukrainian: “This is for your troubles.” Moving away from the river Bohdan turned to wave good-bye to the girl, but she just stood there as if glued to the ground.
It was now seven days since Bohdan had crossed the Austro-Bavarian border. He had been travelling along a forest road and was approaching the edge of the forest. From his position he could clearly see the American army column moving along the main road. He waited until the column had passed by, approached the road and was about to cross it, when out of the forest on the opposite side of the road, three black American soldiers emerged. Bohdan immediately returned to the forest. As it happened, an elderly German came down that forest road on a wagon pulled by two oxen and the wagon was filled with lumber. Bohdan approached the driver and asked if he could borrow his clothes. The driver immediately understood the situation and whispered: God, perhaps my sons are in a similar predicament, as you find yourself in today. And with raised arms he said to Bohdan: Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.
Bohdan immediately changed clothes. Everything else that he had with him he placed on the wagon. Then he took the oxen into his hands and ordered: “Geima los!” (“lets go!”)
In this manner they arrived at the edge of the forest, where they encountered the three black American soldiers. The soldiers stopped the wagon. Bohdan was leading the oxen, and the elderly German was walking behind the wagon. One of the soldiers asked Bohdan in German if he had seen any German soldiers in the forest? Bohdan motioned with his hands that he was deaf and dumb, and without stopping the oxen continued on, while the elderly man explained that the man leading the oxen is his son. Thus they crossed the highway, passed the forest clearing in which the Americans were camped and arrived at the village where this German lived. Along the way they talked. Bohdan told the German all about himself. The German listened attentively and advised Bohdan not to tell anyone else the story that he had told him, not even his wife.
Arriving at the farm, Bohdan helped to un-harness the oxen from the wagon and together they entered the house. The farmer asked his wife to heat some water for a bath, and Bohdan had, or so he imagined, the best bath of his life. Meanwhile, the farmer’s wife prepared clean underwear, and the sympathetic German brought Bohdan some of his son’s civilian clothing. After supper they all went outside to breath in some of the clean spring-summer air. Bohdan rolled himself a cigarette. The farmer’s neighbour, a young German woman, saw this through her window and brought out a few of her own cigarettes and joined the party. Lying down to sleep, Bohdan prayed sincerely and thanked God for the constant and unfailing protection he had received throughout his post-war travels. He slept better than he had in a very long time.
Early the next day, after breakfast, Bohdan sincerely thanked his gracious hosts, left his military uniform with them and dressed now in civilian clothing continued on his way. His hosts escorted him to the edge of the village and he set out in the direction of Kalskron.
Bohdan continued to be careful, to avoid falling into the hands of the Americans. He took the back roads, avoiding the main routes, until he came to the top of a hill and saw in the distance a large group of people working in the fields. Bohdan got the feeling that in that group of people might be some of his closest family. He set out across the field, walking with a quickened step in the direction of these people. A German woman was tending to some potatoes and Bohdan asked her: Are those people, working in a group in the field foreigners? Yes – she replied.
Before him was a small stream. He took off his shoes, rolled up his pants and ran across the stream. Among the people, who were hoeing beets and carrots, from a distance he recognized his father, who, doubled over, was swinging his hoe left and right. At that moment Bohdan was overcome with both joy and sorrow. He sat down and cried for joy. After three long years he had finally reunited with his parents, here in a foreign land. He wiped off his tears and hurried off toward his father. Along the way he recognized also his mother, sister, brother-in-law, the Witiuk family, the Moskalchyshyn family and the Kuziw family who lived near the grove. As he neared his father, Stefka Moskalchyshyn cried out to his mother:
“Antie, your Bohdan is coming!”
But Bohdan had already reached his father, who raised his head and said:
“And where did you come from? It’s as if you fell from heaven”
They greeted each other with tears in their eyes. Then Bohdan ran up to his mother and kissed her work-calloused hands. Having greeted everyone who was working there in the field, for they were all from Denysiw, and were working for one rich landowner-bavor. With hoe in hand Bohdan’s father approached him and said: “See, son, what has become of me? A hired hand for a Schwab” And he threw down the hoe. “Thank God that you have returned to us alive and well”. Bohdan asked his father: “And how is our grandmother?” His father answered: “She is cooking supper for us in the house.” “Thank God that you are all here together” said Bohdan.
While in the field, Bohdan warned everyone not to tell anyone that the one had arrived who had been in the Ukrainian Division “Halychyna”.
Bohdan and his father headed for the farm, where they all lived, but at the railway crossing stood an American sentry. Bohdan said: “We can’t go this way. We have to give him a wide berth. I’ve been on the road for a month and managed to avoid getting caught by the Americans. I’m not about to get caught by them here.”
In the house grandmother was busying herself by the stove. His father announced that Bohdan had shown up. When she heard these words the cup fell from her hand and she began to kiss Bohdan’s forehead with great joy. Raising both her hands, she exclaimed: “God, thank you, for returning him to us healthy and well!”
All three of them cried. This reunion took place on June 8, 1945. All the family members came in from the field for lunch and began to share their stories and their experiences.
The night of June 7th to the 8th Bohdan’s mother had a dream. She dreamt that Bohdan was lying dead, and that she was crying and loudly lamenting over him. His father woke her up and asked her why she was crying? She recounted her dream. She had the same dream twice that night, and in the morning Bohdan showed up. On Sunday, Bohdan and his sister Maria visited the farmer from whom Bohdan had obtained his civilian clothing. The farmer, seeing Bohdan in an embroidered shirt, said with a smile on his face: “So you found your family?” Bohdan introduced his sister. The farmer invited them into the house and returned Bohdan’s military uniform. Bohdan told him all about his wartime adventures and about his parents and family. This couple had two sons in the German army and could not wait to have them both return home. The young German neighbour, who had earlier given Bohdan the cigarettes, also arrived, and Bohdan sat up with her late into the evening. Bohdan promised the farmer that he would return to help him bring in the hay.
The next day he went into the field to work in his mother’s place. As they all came in from the field for lunch, three American soldiers drove up in a jeep and entered the farmer’s house. Someone must have turned Bohdan in to the Americans. A little while later they came with the farmer to the house where Bohdan’s family was staying and asked the farmer to show them the one who had arrive most recently. Just a day earlier, his father had gone to the Bürgermeister (or mayor) and obtained documents for the whole family, so Bohdan showed the American this document. But the American commanded him to take off his shirt and raise his hands. In the Ukrainian Division the soldier’s blood type was tattooed under his left arm. Bohdan had had the letter “A” tattooed under his left arm. But presently Bohdan’s left arm was bandaged because a day earlier he had tried to erase the tattoo with a heated spoon. The Americans immediately realized that Bohdan was a soldier and, without delay, led him out of the house and into the waiting vehicle. They did not even give him the opportunity to say good-bye to his family. They brought him to a place called Kams Kropp, to a captain who asked Bohdan who he was and in which army did he serve? Bohdan replied that he had served in the Ukrainian Galician Division.
THE END OF THE WAR AND INTERNMENT
(as recorded by Nestor Czornyj in an interview with Bohdan Chambul)
Bohdan Chambul made it from the front line near Feldbach to his family, which was working in a village in Bavaria. But his joy was short-lived, because he was quickly arrested and taken to places unknown.
Bohdan asked in German, where they were taking him? One of the soldiers answered: To the jail in Najburg. Along the way, as the jeep stopped at a red light, a young girl approached and in broken English asked the driver a question, and started talking to her in Polish. Then Bohdan asked the driver in Polish, where they were taking him? He answered: To jail. The driver took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, lit one and also gave one to Bohdan. This must be a good Pole, Bohdan thought to himself, but did not reveal that he was Ukrainian. They took Bohdan to the jail and put him under civilian German guard.
In the jail Bohdan was approached by a stout German and was ordered to surrender his belt and the laces from his shoes, and to turn all his pockets inside out, which Bohdan did. Then the guard led Bohdan into a cell on the third floor. The cell was about two metres wide and four metres long, with a small opening in the door through which, three times a day, he was passed his meager rations. In one corner was a “??????”-“??????” and a metal bed with two blankets. At night Bohdan used his jacket as a pillow. The walls had graffiti written in many languages, and Bohdan also left his note. Bohdan spent three days alone in this cell. On the forth day the stout German came to him and led him downstairs where several American soldiers were already waiting for him. They gave Bohdan back his belt and shoe laces and the pack of cigarettes he had received from the Polish-speaking driver. They led Bohdan outside to a truck filled with people in both civilian and military uniforms. Bohdan asked if there were any Ukrainians among them, but got no answer. All remained silent. They drove for about two hours until they came to a camp located on an open field and handed the prisoners over to the camp guards.
A huge barbwire gate opened. Bohdan was led too the very end of the camp, which was encircled with three coils of barbwire. He was then handed over to other prison guards. He was assigned a tent and registered in a battalion and unit. The unit leader was a German from Yugoslavia. Bohdan asked him if there were any Ukrainians in the camp? The leader pointed at a man sitting not too far from them. This was Stefan Zarytskyj. Later on Bohdan found ten more Ukrainians in the camp. In Bohdan’s group there was also a young German from Volyn who spoke Ukrainian very well. He had two blankets, which they shared at night. They spread one on the floor and covered themselves with the other. He also allowed Bohdan to use his towel, because Bohdan had only the clothes on his back. Bohdan spent a whole month in this camp in the open air under the stars. The food was horrible. Thirty two men had to share one loaf of bread and two tiny raw carrots daily. Fortunately it was summer and not winter. After a month everyone was transferred to Dachau. Those who were interred there had a roof over their heads and were fed three times a day. In Dachau Bohdan heard for the first time and saw that this was a concentration camp in which the Nazis exterminated people of many nationalities in inhuman ways. Bohdan was assigned to Barrack 17, which was located in the right wing of the concentration camp. At that time the prisoners were able to take a warm bath-shower once a week. Each barrack held one hundred men.
In charge of our barrack was an older German, a lieutenant, who had a lion embroidered on the lapel of his jacket. This meant that he was in the Ukrainian Division, recounted Bohdan.
The barracks had three-tiered bunk beds. Bohdan’s was a lower bunk across from the lieutenant’s room. One day Bohdan saw the lieutenant take a pail of water and begin washing the floor in his room. Bohdan approached him and offered to wash the floor for him. At first the lieutenant refused, but Bohdan convinced him that washing the floor was not for someone his age, and, besides, he could use the exercise. And so he washed his company commander’s floor. When he finished the lieutenant took a cigarette, broke it in two and gave half to Bohdan. They both sat down on the bed. The lieutenant asked Bohdan, what had prompted him to wash the floor for him? Bohdan pointed at the lapel of his uniform upon which was sewn the lion of the Ukrainian Division. Then they began to talk about the “Halychyna” Division. Bohdan recounted how he had been the second communications officer of the artillery regiment. The lieutenant told him that he had been in the 29th regiment. After this the lieutenant always tried to assign Bohdan the better jobs, where Bohdan could organize something for both himself and the lieutenant. Bohdan was dressed very poorly, but in Munich, by the main train station, where Bohdan travelled to work, there was a large store of German military uniforms, and here Bohdan was able to outfit himself from head to foot. Bohdan would travel to work in worn out boots, which the boys would bring him, and return with almost new ones. He would also put on three sets of underwear, new uniforms and anything else that he could put on. In Dachau there were 75,000 prisoners-of-war of various nationalities: Germans, French, Belgians, Dutch, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Czechs, Serbs, Poles and Ukrainians. At that time there were 42 Ukrainians from the “Halychyna” Division in the camp. The camp itself was composed of two parts: the old part, which was the former concentration camp, and, behind the kitchen, 68 new barracks. There were 12 of our boys in the new part and 30 in the old. They were allowed to get together only on Sundays. The prisoners were guarded by a Polish company. The Ukrainians had to be very careful while they worked so as not to provoke repression or persecution from their Polish guards. The prisoners were checked exiting and entering the camp. If something was found on a prisoner, it would be taken away, but usually there was no punishment. As luck would have it, they never found anything on Bohdan. He worked at the uniform storehouse for almost a month.
After a month’s time they took all the officers to a special camp or “zonterlager”. Bohdan lost his lieutenant, who spoke highly about the Ukrainian Division. All the administration of the camp was taken over by junior officers, while Bohdan’s barrack commander became an older squad leader from Bavaria – a nice man.
Petro Pertsak took the bed above Bohdan’s. As it turned out, Petro was from the Ternopil Province, from the village of Sloboda Zolota, while Bohdan was from Denysiw – the two villages bordered each other. They became the best of friends with no secrets between them. Petro used to tell Bohdan about his girlfriend, whom he had left behind, and Bohdan used to tell him about the girl of his dreams – Olya Koval – from school. At work the black Americans treated them fairly decently. They had only one fear – repatriation “to the homeland”.
Later on they were sent to work in a supply depot in Oberschleisheim near Munich, where the black Americans treated them very well. They both worked there until their release from prison.
The company’s lieutenant, Dmytro Ferkuniak, found himself in the isolation camp for officers, called the “Zonterlager”. Bohdan tried to share with him what he could. Bohdan became a barber and had a special pass, which gave him access to the officers’ camp on Saturday afternoons. Here Bohdan met lieutenant Ferkuniak, a participant in the battles for liberation, a native of the Hutsul region. He would say to Bohdan: You are young and will live to see the day that Ukraine is free. They will erect a huge monument to the members of the Division who died at Brody. He was a true warrior and very good, wise, a military patriot.
In the prisoner-of-war camp the soldiers of the Division were registered as Ukrainians from Western Ukraine, with shared Polish citizenship. Beginning in the fall of 1945 the Ukrainians were interrogated by a Polish military commission.
After nine months the prisoners were allowed to mail a few words to their families on a open postcard. Bohdan wrote to the farmer, where his parent had worked, but, by that time, they were no longer there. The Americans had taken then to a refugee camp in Ingolstadt. The farmer forwarded the letter to Bohdan’s parents, who learned where he was being kept. His family immediately sent him a food parcel and his father went to Dachau, but was unable to see his son. Later Bohdan’s father wrote him, that he had been near the camp and in his imagination had seen Bohdan and talked with him.
Bohdan’s father knew what it meant to be a prisoner. In the First World War he had served in the Austrian army. In 1914 he was defending the fortress of Peremyshl and was taken prisoner by the Russians, sent to Siberia and then had to endure the very hard journey home.
In the newly constructed camp at Dachau there were 12 Ukrainian boys from the Division, whom the Americans surrendered to the Bolsheviks on January 14, 1946 against their wills. One of these hung himself.
In Bohdan’s group there was a young man who had been born in the U.S.A. Before the war, his family had returned from the U.S.A. to Halychyna. He spoke English well and tried to inform the American investigators about the “Halychyna” Division.
The members of the “Halychyna” Division had not been citizens of the Soviet Union prior to September 1, 1939 and so were not subject to forced repatriation, but the USSR constantly demanded that they be handed over. The Americans were preparing the next group of Ukrainians, former members of the “Halychyna” Division, to be handed over to the Soviets. This group included Stefan (whose last name I have unfortunately forgotten). Stefan’s father had been an officer in the Ukrainian National Army. The barbwire surrounding the camp was electrified. Stefan had made a decision to throw himself on these wires. Around that same time there was a new arrival in the camp - a young man named Ivan. He was very ill. The doctors had given him, at most, one year to live. Ivan proposed to Stefan that they switch documents. At first Stefan categorically refused, but Ivan was insistent. And so Ivan was deported with the others to the Soviet Union. With tears in their eyes they saw Ivan and the whole group of condemned men taken from the camp. After his release from prison, Stefan went to Belgium to study. We heard later that he had been ordained to the priesthood. Soviet repatriation committees visited the camp several more times, but forced deportations no longer occurred.
Bohdan Chambul and Petro Pertsak again began working at the American supply depot in Schleisheim near Munich. They were guarded there by a Polish company. In their presence the prisoners spoke to each other in German, or did not speak at all, in order to avoid being beaten. One of the guards approached Bohdan and Petro and asked:
- Are you boys, by any chance, Ukrainians?
The boys at first remained silent, but then, he himself admitted that he was Ukrainian. He was from Borschiw and was escaping to the west because he had served in the Ukrainian police. He told the boys about how he had been in a refugee camp from which the Soviets were deporting people “to the homeland”, and how he was able to escape to the Polish camp. From this camp all the young people were being taken for guard duty and that was how he had ended up where he was. He was really one of us. Bohdan and Petro decided they were going to escape from the camp, and asked their guard to try and get stationed at the “Depot” gate, through which he could then secretly let Bohdan and Petro pass. The next day Petro was not let out to work, but was supposed to undergo a medical examination. Bohdan informed the guard that he would not go anywhere without Petro.
Not to long after that news began to circulate through the camp that they would soon be released from the prison, and truly, in early June 1946 they were transferred to a transit camp at Bad Albing.
In a while the prisoners were visited by two priests. One of these was a Ukrainian priest from the refugee camp that was close to the train station. In two weeks time the American military authorities began to release the prisoners. Those who were released were given documents: release papers (“entlassungschein”) and a pass which authorized then to travel through that part of Germany occupied by the western allies.
Bohdan Chambul was released on June 16, 1946. From that moment he became a free and civilian person. Bohdan’s parents, at that time, were in a refugee camp. Bohdan went to Ingolstadt and in the refugee camp met his family. Others in the refugee camp treated him coldly. Sadly, there were even those who looked at him “with wolf’s eyes”. Bohdan was the first member of the Division to visit this camp. For several evenings Bohdan ventured out into the camp square, where the boys and girls gathered, but all of them, with the exception of his co-villager Olya Witiuk, treated him coldly and with hostility. In this camp other families from Denysiw included: the Witiuks, the Moskalchyshyns, Ivan Schebyvliuk and his sister Stefka, the older Kuziws from the grove with their daughter, and the Chambul and Myron Salish families. Over the next two weeks, another 52 former Division members, who had been released from the prison at Aberbach, arrived at the camp. Former Ukrainian members of the Division were given permission to reside in the camp, but the advantages and privileges enjoyed by the civilian population of the camp did not apply to them. In addition, they were set apart from the general camp crowd by the fact that, not having the opportunity to change into civilian clothing, they were forced to wear their military uniforms. The camp’s inhabitants were also divided by a psychological barrier. It was a temporary phenomenon, but it did spiritually traumatize people.
A few months passed, and the camp
administration forced the former Division members to face a United
Nations Refugee Commission investigation, where they were all once
again questioned. Food was distributed according to the German system
of ration cards. But, ignoring this undeserved injustice, our boys
always and everywhere were able to manage.
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)