Petro Mirchuk, member of liberation movement

PHILADELPHIA - Petro Mirchuk, 85, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, author of numerous historical works and a leading member of the Ukrainian liberation movement, died on May 16, after a long and debilitating illness.

Dr. Mirchuk was born on June 26, 1913, in western Ukraine. At that time this region was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Between World War I and World War II it fell under Polish occupation after the independent Ukrainian republic was crushed by its four neighbors. From the age of 17 he was an active member of the Ukrainian liberation movement, and, as a result, was imprisoned six times by Polish authorities for his activities among the Ukrainian population and youth of his region. The last incarceration was in a very harsh prison in Lviv during the months prior to the outbreak of World War II.

He started studying law and political science at the University of Lviv, but due to the Polish policies of discrimination that limited educational opportunities for Ukrainians, he went to Czecho-Slovakia to complete his studies at the University of Prague and the Ukrainian Free University. He received a J.D. degree in 1941, on the eve of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.

During the invasion he slipped into Ukraine to participate in the attempt to restore Ukraine's independence. He was caught and arrested by the Gestapo in September 1941, along with many other leading members of the Ukrainian anti-Nazi movement. He spent the next four years in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz (from July 1942 until its evacuation in January 1945), Mauthausen, Melk and Ebensee.

He was remembered by his fellow inmates as a very caring person who, though himself emaciated and withered to 70 pounds, helped save quite a few of them from death by starvation and physical exhaustion. He later described those horrific experiences in a book, "In German Mills of Death," that was translated into English and published in 1976.

Liberated among the last prisoners by the U.S. Army on May 6, 1945, he remained in Western Europe, cognizant of the dangers of returning to Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Ukrainian prisoners who were freed by the Soviets were immediately sent to Soviet concentration camps. Such was the fate of most of his family in Ukraine. Both his parents died during the mass deportations of Ukrainians to Siberia, one sister was tortured to death by the Soviet secret police, and two other sisters barely survived the ordeal and cruelties of slave labor in Soviet concentration camps. It was not until 1991 that Dr. Mirchuk was able to meet again with the surviving members of his family.

Dr. Mirchuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and was naturalized as a citizen in 1957. He first worked in factories, then proceeded to obtain a master's degree in library sciences at Drexel University in 1959. He worked as a librarian at Ursinus College and La Salle University in Philadelphia and St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., and taught political science at Flagler College in Florida. In 1969 he obtained a Ph.D. in history from the Ukrainian Free University in Munich.

Dr. Mirchuk authored over 20 books in Ukrainian history, such as the history of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which waged a fierce struggle against Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia during and after World War II, a book on the Ukrainian liberation movement and its leaders, a study of Ukrainian serf uprisings of the 18th century, and related subjects.

Before coming to the U.S. he worked on the editorial staffs of Ukrainian newspapers in Ukraine and Germany. He was a member of a number of scholarly and community organizations, and an activist in youth organizations who often set aside time to direct summer camps. He also headed the League of Ukrainian Political Prisoners in America and was awarded membership in the Chapel of Four Chaplains.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May 30, 1999, No. 22, Vol. LXVII

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