Huta Pieniacka massacre
The Huta Pieniacka massacre was a massacre of the Polish inhabitants of the village Huta Pieniacka, located in modern-day Ukraine, which took place on February 28, 1944. Estimates of the number of victims range from 500 to 1,200.
Polish and Ukrainian historians disagree over the responsibility for the Huta Pienacka massacre. According to the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the action was committed by the 14th subunit of the '1st Ukrainian' Grenadier Division of the Waffen-SS. Polish witnesses testified that the orders were given by German officers. According to Ukrainian sources, it was committed by the German police battalions. According to witness accounts and scholarly publications, SS Galizien were accompanied by Ukrainian nationalists (a paramilitary unit under Włodzimierz Czerniawski's command), including members of the UPA and inhabitants of local villages who intended to seize property found in the households of the murdered.
The Warsaw division of the "Commission for the punishment of crimes against the Polish people" launched an investigation in July 2001. The judicial case adheres to Polish law, attested by the fact that the crimes were perpetrated by ethnically Ukrainian citizens of Poland, residents of Eastern Galicia, which up until 1939 formally fell under Polish jurisdiction.
Huta Pieniacka was a village of about 1,000 ethnically Polish inhabitants in 200 houses, located in the Tarnopol Voivodeship, Poland (today Ternopil oblast in Ukraine). In 1939, following joint German and Soviet attack on Poland, the voivodeship was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. After the 1941 German attack on the Soviet Union, it fell under German occupation.
The village was a major Polish resistance centre, fighting against German forces and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. As a result, the Ukrainians wanted to eliminate this Polish stronghold. Polish inhabitants of the village co-operated with Soviet partisans, active in the area. In January and February 1944, Soviet troops were frequent visitors, and this was noticed by both the Ukrainians and the Germans. An armed stronghold, Huta Pieniacka had fought off several attacks in 1943 and early 1944.
On February 23, 1944, a patrol consisting of 60 men of the II Battalion of the 4th Gal. SS-Freiwilligen-Regiment attempted to assault the village. The Poles, many of whom were members of the Home Army, killed two of the troops and wounded another. This incident was described in the Chronicle of the Halchyna Division, and documents found in uniforms of the killed soldiers stated that they were members of the SS Galizien Division, stationed in Brody. According to Ukrainian accounts, the bodies of the two soldiers, Roman Andriychuk and Oleksa Bobak, were found naked and mutilated. Their bodies were recovered during a second raid five days later that resulted in between 8-12 Ukrainians being wounded, one of whom, Yuri Hanusiak, died in hospital. Elaborate funerals were organized for those killed, during which Otto Wächter, the German governor of Galicia, laid a wreath at their graves as a Luftwaffe band played.
Early in the morning of February 28, 1944, a mixed force of Ukrainian SS and German soldiers surrounded Huta Pieniacka. There were some 600–800 soldiers and it has been established that Kazimierz Wojciechowski (who was burnt alive that day), commandant of Polish forces in the village, had been informed of the approaching enemy around two hours before the attack. The Poles however, had too little time to prepare a defense or to escape.
The village was shelled by artillery. The Ukrainian SS soldiers, led by a German SS captain, after firing and throwing grenades, entered Huta Pieniacka, assembled the farmers and their families and locked them in their barns. They then set fire to the village and remained until nightfall before leaving. Those trying to escape were killed.
Some time around noon a mixed force of Ukrainian SS and German soldiers and a strong contingent from the SS Freiwilligen Division "Galizien" surrounded Huta Pieniacka and herded the villagers into their barns. The attackers set fire to the village and it burned all day. According to Bogusława Marcinkowska, a historian from Kraków's office of the Institute of National Remembrance, the Ukrainians threw infants against walls and cut open the stomachs of pregnant women. The murderers left at night. Many of them were drunk and singing songs. Only four houses remained, and on the next day a mass funeral took place. Those who survived escaped to Zloczow and other towns, never to return.
Witnesses interrogated by the Polish prosecutors of the "The Head Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation" described the details of crimes committed against women, children and newborn babies. After murdering the inhabitants of Huta Pieniacka, the local Ukrainian population looted the remaining property of the murdered, loading everything on horse-drawn carts that had been prepared beforehand. According to those Poles who survived, the Germans did not participate in the massacre itself.
In the April 9, 2008 issue of the Gazeta Polska weekly, an article about the massacre appeared. According to those persons who survived (four of whom were cited), the murderers were Ukrainians of the SS Galizien Division. All those who recollected the massacre (Emilia Bernacka, then 10; Filomena Franczukowska, then 20; Jozefa Orlowska, then 16; and Regina Wroblewska, then 6) claimed that the village was attacked by the Ukrainian troops, who murdered all Poles they managed to catch, including infants. The mentioned persons survived because somebody managed to open the rear door of a village church in which the murderers were massacring the Polish civilians.
Filomena Franczukowska, who was 20 then and is the oldest still-living survivor of the massacre (as of April 2008) stated in the Gazeta Polska article that the Ukrainians came to the village at 4 am. They entered Huta Pieniacka from the nearby village of Zarkow and began shooting at everybody. Her father had been beaten before being executed, and one of attackers said loudly in Ukrainian, "Now you have your Poland and your England." Franczukowska lost both parents and three younger siblings in the massacre; only her brother survived. She said that the murderers deliberately did not kill two twin boys, aged 4, and were laughing at the children who were trying to 'wake up' their dead mother. Franczukowska, together with her brother and a group of people, was ordered to go to a barn which was locked and set on fire. She somehow managed to open the rear door and escape to a forest. "Now they say they do not know who did it, but it is enough to visit neighboring Ukrainian villages, one can still see remnants of the stolen property. The locals remember this event and this is why none of them has settled in Huta Pieniacka since then," she said.
The weekly publication of the Polish Home Army – the Biuletyn Ziemi Czerwienskiej (Land of Czerwien Bulletin) for March 26, 1944 (№ 12) [216, p. 8] stated that during the Battle at Pidkamin and Brody, Soviet forces took a couple of hundred soldiers of the SS Galizien division prisoner. All were immediately shot in the Zbarazh castle on the basis that two weeks earlier they had apparently taken part in the killing of the Polish inhabitants of Huta Pienacka, and as a result could not be categorized as prisoners of war.
The actions at Huta Pienacka were researched by Ukrainian historian Vasyl Veryha. On the basis of Polish, German and Soviet documents he was able to show that Huta Pienacka was one of the main centres for Polish Home Army and Soviet partisan activities. The self-defense group of the village cooperated with the Communist People's Guard; the 9th Soviet partisan detachment named after Chkalov and the special group of Boris Krutikov were based in the village. According to Veryha, the village population (with women and children) at that time numbered approximately 500 persons, and the partisans made up another 500. According to Ukrainian accounts, in addition to attacking German supply columns, the partisans based in Huta Pienicka terrorized neighboring Ukrainian villages, raiding them. Furthermore, according to Ukrainian accounts many of the fires in the village were set by a German Schutzpolizei unit who arrived afterward, and that explosions occurred as a result of ammunition stored in the houses. The grisly reports by alleged eyewitnesses about the deaths were described as "difficult to believe" by the Institute of History of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.
According to the chief of staff of the Galizien Division Sturmbannführer, Wolf Heike, the local police command demanded that the Galizien Division take part in the operation, requesting a regiment. However because the division was still in the state of formation, the commander-in-chief Fritz Freitag refused to send a regiment. Only after the order was repeated were one company and some small detachments sent. These were attached to the group commanded by Colonel Bayersdorf.
Heike wrote that the untrained soldiers with inexperienced commanders were not suited to this task and that the "group from the division, as a non-German section, was blamed for things that the Germans had done themselves." "They (the division) in the final result could not take the responsibility for the pacification of the village. At that time a different German section was functioning."
On March 2, 1944 in the Division's newspaper an article appeared directed to the Ukrainian youth written by the military commanders. They blamed all the murders of Poles and Ukrainians on Soviet partisans and stated that "God forbid if among those who committed such inhuman acts, a Ukrainian hand was found, it will be forever excluded from the Ukrainian national community."
The Russian historical work regarding the massacre differs from those of the Ukrainians and the Poles. Russian historian Sergei Chuyev states that the village was indeed an outpost for Polish and Soviet partisans. The head of the village self-defense was lieutenant Kazimierz Wojciechowski who worked closely with the AK and the Soviet partisans led by Boris Krutikov and Dmitri Medvedyev.
On arriving at the village, intense shooting commenced. The battle continued for some time before the village was taken. Chuyev states that Ukrainian police took part in the punitive action, and that one could assume that members of this police force included previous members of the UPA.
According to Heike, the group (sent from the SS Galizien) did not fulfill its goal. Upon arrival it came under the command of the general from Przemyśl who had no idea how to command army divisions. After four weeks of fighting around the area, the group was returned to the division in Neuhammer.
Chuyev records that SS Oberfuhrer Freitag stated that he would never allow the use of a battle group for such a command, as it became understandable what methods were used by local police commanders covering themselves in the name of the Reichsfuhrer, as no direct order had been given by Heinrich Himmler to send a detachment from the Division.
The Warsaw branch of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) started an investigation into the massacre in November 1992. The investigation was subsequently suspended between 1997 and 2001, and as of 2008 is being conducted by the Kraków branch of the Institute.
The Institute of History of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences investigated the events at Huta Pienicka and concluded that the 4th and 5th SS Police regiments did indeed kill the civilians within the village. It noted that at the time of the massacre the police regiments were not under 14th division command but rather under German police command (specifically, under German Sicherheitsdienst and SS command of the General Government). During this time, these units enjoyed a close relationship with local UPA units.
After the massacre, some local AK commanders forbade Polish strongholds from sheltering Soviet partisans in order to minimize the risk of those self-defence posts' destruction.
In the late 1940s, some 8,000 soldiers of the SS Galizien division were allowed to come to Britain, allegedly including members of the unit that massacred inhabitants of Huta Pieniacka. Most of them were not questioned about their activities, and successive British governments refused requests by lobby groups as well as American authorities to investigate their backgrounds. However, a 2001 television documentary, The SS in Britain, initiated a police investigation after uncovering evidence suggesting that former members of the SS Galizien division living in Britain had participated in massacres in Poland.
The documentary, however, made numerous factual mistakes. The statement that the 4th and 5th regiments of the SS Galizien Division took part in the massacre was inaccurate, as the Division had at that time been normalized to 3 regiments; there were no 4th or 5th regiments. The division also was at that time still in the process of formation, which was completed two months later in May 1944 near the Polish town of Dębica.
On February 28, 1989 a memorial was built on the site of the previous village, but was soon destroyed. A new monument commemorating the victims was erected in 2005 and unveiled on October 21, 2005. During the unveiling the consul put the blame of the massacre on the Ukrainians in his speech, stating, "On 28 February 1944, when the 'SS Galizien' together with other Ukrainian nationalists did horrible things as told by a contemporary, they shot mothers, children and murdered..."
Ukraine sent a note of protest regarding the fact that the Polish consul had ignored the Ukrainian government completely when opening the monument, that the new monument did not adhere to "Ukrainian laws" and was erected without the "necessary permits".
As a result of actions by the parliamentarian Oleh Tyahnybok, a note of protest regarding the "illegal erection" of the monument was sent out and the Polish consul was declared a persona non-grata for "degrading the national dignity of the Ukrainian people".
On February 28, 2007 a new monument was unveiled to the Poles who had been killed in the atrocities at Huta Peniacka. A delegation from Poland led by the vice consul of Culture for the Polish consulate in Lviv, Marcin Zieniewicz, stated that the occasion marked one of the most tragic pages in the history of not only the Polish people, but also of the Ukrainian people. On February 28, 2009 the presidents of Ukraine and Poland met at the monument to commemorate the massacre.
The village of Huta Pieniacka no longer exists. Most of the houses were burned during the massacre and only the school and a Roman Catholic church remained. Both of these buildings were demolished after the war, and in the area of the village there is a pasture for cattle. There is a post with a Ukrainian inscription Center of the former village, but it does not mention the name of the village.