Turning the pages back...
September 4, 1914
In August 1914, soon after the outbreak of the first world war, the early success of a Russian offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces, as well as incendiary proclamations by the Russophile Committee for the Liberation of Carpathian Ruthenia, caused panic and paranoia in the Habsburg Empire. Angry mobs and soldiers not at the front exploded in violence against Russophiles living in Galicia and Bukovyna. Many were murdered, many were court-martialed for treason and summarily executed.
Thousands of others were arrested and sent to a number of internment camps in Austria or Hungary. In Galicia, further arrests were encouraged by the Polish-dominated provincial administration, which had scores to settle with the western Ukrainian populist intelligentsia. Thus, not only Russophiles, but also nationally conscious Ukrainians (many actually loyal to Austria-Hungary) were interned.
The largest and most notorious camp was located on the outskirts of Thalerhof, a village near Graz, Austria. The first 2,000 prisoners arrived in Thalerhof on September 4, 1914. By December of that year the number had climbed to 8,000, and over 70 percent were Ukrainians.
Between 1914 and 1916, anywhere from 14,000 to 30,000 internees passed through the camp, suffering brutality, starvation rations, filth and epidemics of typhus and other contagious diseases, which contributed to a very high mortality rate among the prisoners. While 1,747 deaths were registered by the Austrian authorities who ran the camp, this is almost certainly too low a figure to be considered accurate.
Late in the war, some members of Austria's Parliament in Vienna grew solicitous about this scandalous treatment of the empire's citizens, and an order was issued in May 1917 to close the Thalerhof camp and others.
Thus, ironically, while Ukrainian Canadians were being interned for alleged sympathies for the Austro-Hungarian enemy of the British Empire and its ally, Russia, Ukrainians in their homeland were being persecuted for purportedly harboring the opposite sentiment.
Sources: "Russophiles," "Thalerhof," Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Vols. 4, 5 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); Orest Subtelny, "Ukraine: A History" (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); Paul Robert Magocsi, "A History of Ukraine" (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 30, 1998, No. 35, Vol. LXVI
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