The Legion of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen (Січові Стрілці) in Ukrainian, was the first Ukrainian military unit of the 20th century. The Sich fought on the side of Austria-Hungary, with dreams of an independent Ukraine in the near future.
Among the Sich Riflemen were many Ukrainians of Jewish descent.
Ludwig Rosenberg, also known as Volodymyr Chorniy (Володимир Чорний), was a highly honoured senior member of the Sich Riflemen. Unfortunately, in the early 1920s, he was seduced, then betrayed, by communist ideology—which left him a broken, and marked, man.
Rosenberg was close friends with well known Ukrainian independence activists Roman Dashkevych and Olena Stepaniv. Their son, Yaroslav Dashkevych, would become one of the founding members of Lviv’s Jewish Heritage.
Yaroslav’s mother, Olena Stepaniv, was the first Ukrainian woman officer and a cornet of the Січові Стрілці. His father, Roman Dashkevych, was a general in the Ukrainian National Republic Army.
Yaroslav was born to Olena and Roman Dashkevych in 1925. He became an Honorary Scientist of Ukraine and an illustrious scholar who worked with the Hrushevsky Institute of Archeography and the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
In 2008, two years before he passed away, Professor Dashkevich shared his recollections of Ludwig Rosenberg with Dr. Yuliy Opelbaum, a historian at our Centre. A transcript of the interview and Rosenberg’s complete memoirs can be found at the museum’s website.
Yaroslav Dashkevych was 14 when he met Rosenberg, who came to visit his family in the fall of 1939. WWII was already underway and Yaroslav’s father had fled Lviv.
Dashkevych recalled Rosenberg telling his mother about his brutal treatment while imprisoned in a Polish concentration camp, and of his dream to settle down in the nearby town of Biliy Kamin’ (Білий Камінь – which means “white stone”). They also discussed the alarming situation emerging because of the war.
Rosenberg’s illusions toward communism had been shattered. He was again able to see the political reality from a purely Ukrainian national stance. And between the communists and the Nazis, Ukraine’s future looked very grim.
It was obvious that Rosenberg considered himself a Ukrainian. He spoke impeccable Ukrainian, and his letters written in Ukrainian are stored in the Central Historical Archive of L’viv.
The feeling was mutual. At that time in Ukraine, Dashkevych recalled that ethnicity was irrelevant. What mattered was a person’s life’s goals, and attitude towards Ukrainian independence.
Many Jewish Galicians were eager to join the Ukrainstvo (the Ukrainian identity and nationhood) … and Ukrainian nationals warmly welcomed them into the community. For Jews in Poland, it was much different. The Polish community was heavily influenced by the anti-semitic propaganda of the Polish National Democratic Party.
In Ukraine, however, Hitler’s genocidal policy toward the Ukrainian Jewry was widely considered a crime against Ukraine as a country.
Because of this strong sense of unity, many Ukrainians, including the Commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Roman Shukhevych, willingly sheltered Jews from the Nazis, despite the danger.
Freedom-loving Ukrainians, including many Jews, fought a losing battle between two evil forces during WWII. Millions lost their lives to one or the other. Former Sich Rifleman, Rosenberg, lost his to the communists, during Stalin’s mass repressions in western Ukrainian between 1939 and 1941.
After Rosenberg’s death, Yaroslav Dashkevich worked tirelessly towards reconciliation between the Ukrainian and Jewish people. Not least of all because Jews helped him survive the years of Soviet oppression … in the gulag, and during the many times he faced starvation after being fired by the soviet dictatorship for his dedication to Ukrainian national goals.
The lives of Rosenberg and Dashkevich are only two of the legions of lives that symbolize the deep and strong historic bonds between Ukrainians and Jews … bonds which are a constant threat to outside forces with vested interests.
You can find out more about Ludwig Rosenberg and Yaroslav Dashkevych at the museum’s website .
Narrated by Renata Hanynets, Research Fellow at the Faina Petryakova Center in Lviv, Ukraine.
This feature aired on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio on August 25, 2013 (Vancouver Edition) and on August 28 2013 (Nanaimo Edition).
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