Pure Soldiers or Sinister Legion: The Ukrainian 14th Waffen-SS Division
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.
The military arm of the Nazi state was the Waffen-SS. By the end of
World War II, the Waffen-SS was 600,000 strong, the majority not
ethnically German. At one extreme, it consisted of mainly military
divisions; at the other, of thugs who murdered civilians en masse. In
between were units that conformed to the ideology of the Nazi
leadership: they made no distinction of function between military
operations and killing civilians—both served a singular Nazi purpose.
There were contradictions. The Latvian Waffen-SS, like the Ukrainian,
had murderous Nazi police militias at its core, yet attracted
conservatives, liberals, and social democrats to its ranks to fight the
national enemy—communist, imperialist Russia. On the other hand, even
the most purely military of the Waffen-SS had members in their ranks who
had a criminal past.
The 14th (Ukrainian) Waffen-SS division was mustered in mid-1943, first
to fight partisans, an undertaking that included the wholesale murder of
civilians, then to fight on the Eastern Front against the
“Jewish-Bolshevik” enemy. Sol Littman asks two questions: was the
14th SS guilty of war crimes, and did its members commit capital crimes
prior to enlisting? The first of these, Littman answers—with
conclusive proof—in the affirmative. Among the division’s most
notorious crimes was the suppression of the Slovak rising of August
Answering the second question is much more difficult, and Littman’s
results are essentially inconclusive. The division’s personnel records
were deliberately destroyed, and efforts to screen its members
successively in Italy, Britain, and Canada came to nothing. The criminal
members of the division escaped justice through a mixture of luck, Cold
War politics, disinformation, and bureaucratic ineptitude. In all,
contrary to Canadian law at the time, between 1200 and 2000 members of
the Waffen-SS were admitted to Canada, many of them flaunting their
membership in an undoubtedly criminal organization.
This is a passionate book that makes for grim reading. At the same
time, Littman’s scholarship is meticulous and wide-ranging, and
includes the thick context of political history that led to the creation
of the division.