Don’t believe a word that you hear from “Ukrainian Orthodox” or “Ukrainian Catholics”. Do note that they say nothing of their roles as rat finks for the Habsburgs or as willing bully boys for the Nazis. They scream, “A knife for the Moskals!” and “Ukraine for Ukrainians only!” If you support them in any way, you support racism of the most rancid Nazi sort… Hitler WAS an Austrian, wasn’t he? Talerhof was an Austrian death camp… fancy that…
Никто не забыт и ничто не забыто. No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.
September 2014 marks one hundred years since the foundation of the first European concentration camp, Talerhof. Indeed, in fact, it was the first death camp in history. For us, this date is of particular importance, as the Habsburgs created this camp for those who considered themselves Russians. Its main objective was genocide of the Russian people, to carry out the Ukrainiasation of Western Rus, owned at the time by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Ukrainianism is a peculiar ideology, it appears as a form of national patriotism, but in fact, it’s rather the opposite, having its basis in the rejection of a real native tradition. Primarily, this is due to the absence of a real ethnic identity on which it could draw upon for the basis of building nationhood. In other countries, nation-states arose on the foundation of already-existing historical traditions of ethnic and national identity, but Ukrainian nationalists had to “start from scratch”, they had to graft upon the local population a new, not previously existing, sense of self-identity and self-awareness. Historically, at the end of the 19th century almost nobody in Galicia and Bukovina considered themselves Ukrainians… only a small handful of people who participated in the so-called “Ukrainian” political movement thought of themselves as such. In general, their ideology stipulated that the Russian people of Southwestern Rus were entirely different from the Russian people in Northeastern Rus, as they needed to find a different name for themselves and create a distinct self-identity. From the 1890s, Vienna began to support these ideas actively and even helped to implant such notions officially, as it gave them an opening to try to overcome pro-Russian sentiments in the eastern Slavs of their empire, in an atmosphere of deteriorating relations with Russia amidst expectations of a major war.
Thus, as the Ukrainian movement lacked a real social base, its first steps in politics were concerned with changing the traditional ethnic identity of the population from its previous perspective. The only way to create a new Ukrainian people was through the ethnocide of the local Russian population. In reality, Ukrainians are inseparable from Rus… because that’s their very basis. Moreover, as even very harsh ethnocidal measures wouldn’t be enough to get millions of people to abandon their ancestral identity, there were times when those who approved of the so-called Ukrainian project needed to utilise direct genocide, that is, the physical destruction of particularly recalcitrant elements. Today, we see how governmental elements spread the Ukrainian ideology throughout the former Ukrainian SSR, and how they moved to outright extermination when the people in the Donbass resisted the violent Ukrainiasation of their region. The most important feature of this persecution, attesting to its genocidal character, is that this destruction isn’t just amongst active political and public figures; it applies to the whole population… children, women, and old people. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised at the numerous bombardments of residential areas… the killing and expulsion of civilians is the most important goal of the current hostilities.
The Talerhof anniversary reminds us that policies favouring the ethnocide of Russian people have been around for a long time. The first large-scale actions of this nature occurred a hundred years ago in Austria-Hungary, but the preparations for them took a few years. Waves of arrests began in 1909, the majority of Russian organisations had to suspend activities, they expelled Rusin MPs from Parliament, and everyone suspected of pro-Russian sympathies ended up on police lists. The Austrians treated Russian self-identity and the Orthodox religion as treason. We should note that commitment to traditional ethnic identities and religion didn’t always mean that one was a Russophile, as it came from loyalty to local traditions, not from a geopolitical orientation. However, the Viennese authorities considered any manifestation of Russian tradition as dangerous… so, they considered this traditional orientation criminal. Most often, they charged “Russophiles” with spying for Russia, although it’s clear that there couldn’t be thousands of spies. Another typical charge found in this campaign was “propaganda of Orthodoxy”, as we see in a series of high-profile political trials. From the very beginning of the 20th century, in all the Russian lands of the empire, there was a massive return of Uniates to Orthodoxy, so, Vienna decided to resist this with the harshest methods possible. The era of Western religious wars seemed long gone, but in the early 20th century, the Habsburg persecutions of those holding the “wrong faith” became the norm.
However, truly massive repressions began only with the beginning of the war. In the early stages, the police carried them out using pre-prepared lists, drafted after receiving reports on “politically unreliable” subjects from Polish and Ukrainian political activists. During the first days of the war alone, the police arrested about 2,000 Russophiles in Lvov alone. Soon, the prisons held a significant part of the Russian intelligentsia. The Austrians arrested thousands, including peasants, although they mainly carried out massacres in villages on the spot. There wasn’t enough space in the normal prisons for such a large number of suspected “traitors”, so, the Austrian authorities decided to build concentration camps. The first camp appeared in Talerhof, near Graz in Styria. The Austrians adopted the idea of concentration camps from the British, who were the first to apply this innovation at the turn of the 20th century during the Anglo-Boer War. However, Talerhof was the first concentration camp in Europe. It’s noteworthy that neither the South African nor the Austrian camps were POW camps or prisons for convicted criminals; their sole purpose was to isolate and destroy populations suspected of showing sympathy for the enemy.
The first prisoner convoy arrived at Talerhof on 4 September 1914, the day after Russian troops occupied Lvov. Soon afterwards, another camp for Russophiles opened in Terezín in northern Bohemia. Here prisoners had relatively better conditions as it was a prewar fortress. Many prisoners went to Terezín first, then, to Talerhof, where there wasn’t even barracks until winter 1915… the prisoners slept on the ground under the open sky. Thousands of people from Galicia, Bukovina, Podkarpatskaya Rus, and Lemkovshchina suspected of pro-Russian sympathies landed in concentration camps. There were even mass roundups of entire villages. Amongst the prisoners, there were many women and children. Just at Talerhof, from 4 September 1914 to 10 May 1917, by the most conservative estimates, more than 20,000 people passed through the camp, a few thousand of them died. Prisoners were systematically beaten and tortured, executions occurred regularly. The camp invented a number of new types of execution (for example, a kind of hanging on poles), which were then often used in both World Wars. Due to terrible unsanitary conditions, people died in large numbers from disease. In the winter of 1914-1915, there was a typhus epidemic. Creating conditions for the death of prisoners from disease was typical for the German concentration camps in Poland and its POW camps for Red Army men, but the first use of such was at Talerhof.
At the end of May 1915, German troops retook eastern Galicia. After the Russian troops withdrew, the Austrians intensified their repressions. Many Galicians fled to Russia. This movement pleased Vienna, as it helped them in their main goal… cleansing Galicia of all pro-Russian elements. Since the line between “Ukrainians” and “Russophiles” often ran between brothers or generations in the same family, the repressions affected almost all the Eastern Slavic population of the region. In general, during the First World War, from 30 to 40,000 Russophiles ended up in camps, and the total number of repressed according to the Talerhof Almanac, was more than 120,000. However, in the countryside, the Austro-Hungarian army often destroyed entire villages, and these victims aren’t included in the calculation of the repressed. The Talerhof camp closed on 10 May 1917 under the new emperor, Karl I, who wrote in his decree that the camp didn’t imprison the guilty, but the authorities arrested them precisely so that they wouldn’t commit crimes. Because of this genocidal campaign, the proportion of Eastern Slavs who lived in Lvov shrank by one-half, and the Ukrainian movement, which incited hatred of all things Russian, grew from a marginal movement to the predominant force in the region.
During the interwar period, a Talerhof Committee existed in Lvov, comprised of former prisoners of the camp. Their purpose was to document war crimes and to reinforce the memory of the genocide. They managed to publish four issues of Talerhof Almanac, which published evidence and eyewitness accounts of the tragedy. In 1928, the Talerhof Museum opened in Lvov. On the anniversary of the opening of the camp, the Russian community in Lvov held Talerhof Memorial Days. Later, under the Soviets, such activities became impossible. In interwar Poland, the authorities favoured a split amongst eastern Slavs, so, people with Russian and Ukrainian identity in Galicia were approximately the same in number, as evidenced by the 1931 Polish census. However, communist Moscow dealt the “Old Russian movement” a final crushing blow. They closed all Russophile organisations; the majority of leading Russophiles landed in Soviet camps or they fled abroad. After moving the majority of Poles in Galicia to the Polish People’s Republic, in a couple of decades, the Communist Party and the Soviet authorities created an almost purely Ukrainian Galicia… a result that radical Ukrainian nationalists of previous decades didn’t even dare to dream of.
Today, the Graz-Talerhof airport obliterates the site of the concentration camp, and its runways are as smooth as is the Galician historical memory. Back in 1934, a modest monument to the Talerhof victims was set up in Lychakovsky Cemetery in Lvov, which you can see today. However, modern Lvov is unaware of it. Even graduates of the local history department and historians are surprised when they hear something about Talerhof… it’s removed from the memory of local residents. The total Ukrainisation carried out under the Soviets erased this memory, because this memory undermines the Ukrainian national project. However, we should nevertheless note that at the beginning of October, 2004, on the eve of the “Orange Revolution”, the Verkhovnaya Rada adopted a decree, “On the 90th anniversary of the Tragedy at the Talerhof Concentration Camp”, which quite honestly said, “The Austro-Hungarian authorities repressed those citizens of its Empire who considered themselves Rusins, who saw themselves as part of the undivided Russian people”. This document included efforts to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Habsburg terror. Further developments opened a new page in the history of the modern Ukraine, then, it became quite problematic to mention the country’s real history. The 100th anniversary of the tragedy didn’t lead to any formal decisions or official statements in the Ukraine.
Unfortunately, in our own days in Russia, the memory of the first European camp that was designed to torture and kill those who confessed a Russian self-identity and the Orthodox faith, is relevant for a very small part of informed society. The efforts of a few activists to educate Russians about the history of this tragedy and honouring its anniversaries haven’t yet attained the proper results. In general, we think that this terror killed about 60,000 victims, although exact figures aren’t available. However, we have to admit that this genocide was very successful, as evidenced by its results. Russophilism, Orthodoxy, and traditional identity virtually disappeared in Galicia, and took a heavy blow in neighbouring areas. Sadly, the predominance of the so-called Ukrainian movement in modern history only testifies to the effectiveness of such measures. In our days, events in Novorossiya show us that the Ukrainian leadership approves of the destruction of the “very stubborn” to cleanse the region. On the 100th anniversary of Talerhof, we see similar ideas and methods of the Habsburg terror campaign carried out in other regions of the Ukraine, on its opposite end. If it’s successful, then, a few decades later, only a few will remember that people in the Donbass used to speak Russian.
14 September 2014