Biskupska on Markiewicz, 'Unlikely Allies: Nazi German and Ukrainian Nationalist Collaboration in the General Government during World War II'

Paweł Markiewicz. Unlikely Allies: Nazi German and Ukrainian Nationalist Collaboration in the General Government during World War II. Central European Studies Series. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2021. Maps. 366 pp. $59.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-61249-681-8; $59.99 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-61249-682-5; $59.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-61249-680-1; $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-61249-679-5.

Reviewed by Jadwiga Biskupska (Sam Houston State University)
Published on H-Poland (August, 2022)
Commissioned by Anna Muller (University of Michigan - Dearborn)

Printable Version:

A memorial marker for the book’s protagonist, geographer-politician Volodomyr Kubiiovych (1900-1985), ends Paweł Markiewicz’s Unlikely Allies. The handsome plaque adorns contemporary L’viv. Like most memorials, it mentions only accomplishments. Markiewicz sets out to contextualize Kubiiovych’s work and explain how Ukrainian nationalism functioned under the Nazi German civilian occupation of the General Government (GG) in what had been the Second Polish Republic. This is a story of collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and violence, as are most stories of nations securing—or failing to secure—statehood.

That Kubiiovych earned a plaque in L’viv is unsurprising. His entry into politics, like many eastern European nationalists, was circuitous. Born at the turn of the twentieth century to a Ruthenian Greek Catholic father and a Polish Roman Catholic mother, Kubiiovych “opted in” to a robust Ukrainian patriotism in his teens. After service in the Habsburg army, he completed a doctorate in geography at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Following his mentor, Stepan Rudnyts’kyi, Kubiiovych saw in geography an opportunity to demonstrate Ukrainian territorial claims against competitors (in this case Poles) to a German—and wider European—audience. He continued such work during the 1940s, demonstrated by the map he drew for SS leader Fritz Arlt’s ethnicity research (reproduced on page 118). Kubiiovych is thus the second generation of Steven Seegel’s “map men,” Germanophile geographers whose “scientific” work “placed geography in the service of statecraft,” with enormous consequences for them personally and for their countrymen.[1] Unlike Rudnyts’kyi, who perished in Soviet Ukraine under Joseph Stalin, Kubiiovych attempted to work with Nazi Germany, putting his network and knowledge to work in the hope of future Ukrainian statehood. Though we now know this project would fail, Kubiiovych did not. He thus joins a larger group of nationalists willing to embrace Great Power patronage for their independence movements, like the Poles in Jesse Kauffman’s Elusive Alliance: The German Occupation of Poland in World War I (2015), a very different imperialist German occupation regime. Offering his services to Hans Frank’s GG from 1939 to 1944 as the head of the Ukrainian Central Committee (UTsK), the peer of the Polish Main Welfare Council (RGO), Kubiiovych achieved some successes but not without enormous human cost.

Unlikely Allies is not strictly a biography, though Kubiiovych is Markiewicz’s main character. Kubiiovych became a Ukrainian political kingmaker by directing the UTsK, an “umbrella organization” collecting and filtering German funds to Petliurites, Banderites (members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN]), and others (p. 67). The author uses Kubiiovych both to explain German exploitation of Ukrainians and to highlight Ukrainian agency in this relationship, which was extensive.

Ukrainian-Polish and Ukrainian-German relations changed irreversibly under occupation. The divisions between these groups were also in flux, and Markiewicz does not take reified national categories for granted, detailing the heavy-handed attempts of Ukrainian (and Polish) activists to co-opt Lemkos and other nationally indifferent groups to bolster their own cause. Though the Holocaust of Poland’s Jews happened simultaneously with this narrative, discussion of antisemitic persecution is peripheral, and the question of Polish-Ukrainian observance of and participation in the Holocaust is not the collaboration Markiewicz is interested in.

In eight chapters, Markiewicz considers the evolution of Ukrainian cooperation with Nazi Germany in Galicia. The opening two, “The Makings of Ethnic Struggle” and “Ukraine—The German Fete,” give context. The first explains how Ukrainians fared in the Second Polish Republic (badly) and the second details the patronage imperial Germany and the new Third Reich provided for Ukrainian scholars-turned-activists. The book first adopts a Polish perspective, in which Kubiiovych’s activities are a betrayal; later chapters refocus onto Ukrainian and German perspectives. Chapter 3, “Small Deeds and Great Works,” describes 1939 and the particulars of GG divide et impera policies. Chapter 4, “Grateful Traitor,” looks disapprovingly at how Kubiiovych embraced GG administrators to implement his own goals. The most important chapters are the last three. “Token Concessions” details what Nazi power offered Ukrainian nationalists: financial and political support for religious institutions, schools, and the cooperative movement. The end of “Token Concessions” begins a major theme: the tradeoff between German labor needs, including in the Wehrmacht and a dedicated SS unit, and the compensation of Ukrainians with land that had once belonged to Poles and Jews. The last two chapters examine how this drove violence in Galicia in 1943-44, as Germany lost the war it had provoked with the Soviet Union. German policies to “cleanse” the GG border and establish a Ukrainian cordon sanitaire protecting new German settlements sparked resistance on the ground, and the resultant violence killed many. Because the approach here is thematic, there is quite a bit of chronological back and forth that muddles the radicalization timeline, though the escalating German desire to prop up their own efforts with Ukrainian assistance comes through clearly. The epilogue sketches Kubiiovych’s postwar life.

The author mines an impressive array of archives across Europe and North America to flesh out his story, especially Kubiiovych’s papers (held in Ottawa) and numerous Ukrainian wartime periodicals. For each of the wartime Ukrainian institutions and initiatives discussed, Markiewicz triangulates Ukrainian, Polish, and German perspectives. He also rounds out the analysis with consideration of secondary sources, especially recent work in Polish. Unlikely Allies complicates what has been assumed about the functioning of the GG and the centrality of Poles to that story. It is an important study that will contribute to a broader understanding of local agency in eastern Europe under Nazi German occupation and the trajectory of Ukrainian nationalism.


[1]. Steven Seegel, Map Men: Transnational Lives and Deaths of Geographers in the Making of East Central Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 42.

Citation: Jadwiga Biskupska. Review of Markiewicz, Paweł, Unlikely Allies: Nazi German and Ukrainian Nationalist Collaboration in the General Government during World War II. H-Poland, H-Net Reviews. August, 2022.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.