AROUND THE MEMORY ABOUT THE CRIME IN VOLHYNIA
ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF MICHALIK
I am aware of the fact that my voice is not the voice of a historian, but a priest who in this case must refer to history. History of relation between Poland and Ukraine and our all neighbouring countries is very important, although it is sometimes not an unhealed wound and is bleeding in many places. Healing lies in the hands of people. Not everything can be defined as a blame of others, the culprits of wars or processes of events, because how often it is our contribution, for example, in revealing or falsifying historical truth, and in this way, in preventing the evil or accelerating a reaction of hatred, leading to another war and other wounds.
War among nations is always evil, because through violence it is aiming at grabbing material goods, and also destroying people. It is a negation of culture of the creative co-existence, destroys the hierarchy of values, negates the ethics of brotherhood and love…After the 70s since the events in Volhynia, we see how much was destroyed in our inner culture, among the others, the sense of the truth, therefore, today we find it difficult to see and accept the truth about negative events from many years ago.
History and the present time
The issue of the crime in Volhynia, painful and forgotten, was carefully 'guarded' against the society, but remained in the memory of the next generation of Poles, although it reached to us in fragmentary stories of particular people. but maybe because these stories were thrilling testimonies of particular people, touched us inside, were encoded in our consciousness, saying something important without words: that in the relation between Poles and the Ukrainians there is a painful festering wound, which does not want to get healed.
As the beginning of the 'events' of Volhynia, connected with the anti-Polish action, or more precisely: ethnic cleansing, historians consider the day of 9 February 1943 and homicide of 155 Poles in the colony Parośla in Volhynia. The culminating day of the genocide was 11 July 1943 (Sunday), comprising a few dozen of towns, whereas the last event was homicide of a few dozen of Polish civilians in Chełmszczyzna by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army on 18 May 1945. Defining these wounds is very important, as it includes many tragedies which took place also in Galicia. However, it reminds us that at that time, also many thousands of the Ukrainians were killed by Poles within defence and revenge.
The survey of the Public Survey Centre of June 2008 on the events in Volhynia from the year 1943 showed that the question: 'Who fell the victim of the crime?' was answered by 54 per cent of the surveyed, that they do not know, and slightly higher per cent (57 per cent) - that they do not know who committed this crime (quotation of Ewa Siemaszko: 'Genocide of Poles in Volhynia…'), but this lack of knowledge is painful for those whose relatives faced up with suffering and whose pain was multiplies by the lack of knowledge.
Establishing facts is allegedly not difficult, it is more difficult to estimate the number of victims, but a real difficulty is accepting the facts. And here the common work between Polish and Ukrainian historians is necessary, but created out of the common will of politicians, social activists and the public opinion of both parties.
An undisputable fact is that the crime in 1943 was committed just before the invasion of the Russians into Volhynia and that it was committed on Poles at the same time in various towns by the recent Polish citizens of Ukrainian nationality who had lived on the same land as Poles.
The fact is also that the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists was established in 1929, on the area of the Second Polish Republic, whose purpose was fighting for Independent Ukrainian Country, which is worthy itself and should not cause any opposition. However, it was a mistake to accept a concept of the country by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists only for the Ukrainians (according to the idea of Dmytro Doncowa), without a place for other nationalities (Poles in 1939 were only 10-15 per cent of inhabitants in Volhynia). It was also wrong to accept the rule by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists about 'using creative violence' and the 'decalogue of a nationalist activist', being a negation of the Christian Decalogue.
The power of hatred fire
The crime in Volhynia did not appear suddenly, but it had been prepared much earlier (from the year 1941) by postulates that the Ukrainian people (being a majority on these areas), generally and definitely, should fight against the Polish nation.
The growing hatred was getting stronger, destroying relations between the neighbouring countries. The chorus of the song is known, which is openly and generally sung by Ukrainian police and militia of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists which sounded: 'Death, death to Poles, death, death to Moscow-Jewish communism'.
In February 1943 during the Third Conference of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists it was decided to 'remove' all non-Ukrainians who conquered those lands. Murders on Poles started to have a mass character. In summer 1943 two waves of murders went through Volhynia in about 100 towns. In total, about 60 thousand Poles were killed (according to other historians - 120 thousand), not saving even children (estimations of Ukrainian historians are much lower and say about 40 thousand killed Poles).
History was repeated in the year 1944 in Eastern part of Poland, but to a smaller extent, because Poles opposed more, often using a revenge. According to historians, the Banderas in 1944 murdered in three provinces at least 35 290 Poles. Surely a lower or a similar number concerns killed Ukrainians.
Aggression of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists was also aimed against the Catholic Church (only on 11 July 1943, on the so-called bloody Sunday, people were attacked and 5 churches were burnt), many priests were killed and many churches were burnt.
Reminding about these painful events, I think that interpreting historical facts with a political key is dangerous and improper and I do not want to relieve historians of establishing the process or culprit of the crime. Knowing the dimension of the crime, we want to worship the Victims both of Poles and the Ukrainians, who were killed at that time and at our meetings with the representatives of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine and in Poland, we want to apologize to God for breaching His commandments, cut ourselves off from thinking and the spirit which are leading to hatred. We want to say that crime, hatred and violence will never bring glory to individuals or nations and crime will never be justified, blurred or nobody will be calling for revenge. Evil can be overcome with goodness, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Honesty and truth - a condition for reconciliation
Forgiveness and reconciliation at which we are aiming, if it is supposed to be honest, must be as deep as the fault was. It is necessary to purify memory through getting to know the painful truth with readiness to accept faults and forgiveness.
We should not condemn today's Ukrainians for the crime in Volhynia of 1943, but we hope that they cut themselves off it in an honest way. So, we need words, signs and deeds. They are difficult. Are they possible now?
Today we must not forget that at this extremely cruel time, there were Ukrainians who were saving Poles' lives while putting their own life in danger. They are the glory of Ukraine and we must speak about them loudly and thank God for them. Especially that these were Orthodox and Greek-Catholic priests. There are also testimonies of courage given by historians - Ukrainians who, after the war, exposing themselves to unjust accusations, were reaching to the truth about the crime in Volhynia. They are also the pride of Ukraine.
A Christian man can admit his fault and can forgive
History of relation between the Catholic Church in Poland and the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine towards reconciliation goes back to the year 1945, when cardinal August Hlond met bishop Iwan Buczko in Rome, in the Collegium of St. Jozafat. In 1988, the Greek-Catholics were celebrating the millennium of baptism of Rus at Jasna Góra, because at that time, they had not been able to celebrate it in Ukraine yet. On 27 June 2001 in Lvov, during the visit of John Paul II, cardinal Lubomyr Huzar was apologizing for historical faults done by his believers.
On 19 June 2005 in Warsaw and on 26 June in Lvov a solemn reconciliation took place and the common letter was prepared. The year 2013 brought an initiative of archbishop Światosław Szewczuk and the Polish Episcopal Conference about forgiveness and the crime in Volhynia, and the Orthodox patriarch Filaret from Kiev, in reference to Volhynia, he was calling for reconciliation and forgiveness.
It is also worth mentioning that the Roman-Catholic bishop Marcjan Trofimiak had received permission from the Holy See a few years ago, in order to celebrate the Holy Masses on the second Sunday of July in churches of the diocese of Łuck, according to the ritual of All Souls' Day as an atonement for never completed Holy Masses in Volhynia of 11 July 1943.
However, what is the most important is the fact that we should pay tribute to those Poles who were murdered in Volhynia, as well as Jews, the Czechs and those Ukrainians who were trying to save them, so that we could find courage to admit to our faults and to forgive them, which in our Christianity is a duty, maybe even difficult, but important, which verifies our faith. Families of the murdered deserve the sense of our closeness and a word of apology for the decade of silence in this matter.
The creative matter is a skill of making conclusions in the future and a will of rejecting various kinds of provocations of particular people or groups which, unfortunately, are visible today, and which prove that a bad fire is smouldering somewhere. We must not tolerate this fire of hatred.