In the case of Yugoslavia, to take one example, there were three main groups: Croat Ustaze, the largely Serbian Chetniks, and the Titoites, who were largely drawn "neither of the above." These groups were respectively, pro-Axis, on-and -off, and anti-Axis. They were identified by their leaders and ethnic groups.

Soviets did collaborate with the Germans. At Stalingrad, something like one=quarter of the 6th Army was made of "Hiwis" (willing to help), mostly in support roles. And a number of men joined the pro- German "Liberation" army of Vlasov.

Were many of these people's actions influenced by ideology and ethnicity as in the case of the Yugoslavs? Or was it more a matter of "circumstance," e.g. most of these men were prisoners of war, who understandably want to escape their fate?

If I were to use a "Yugoslav" model to explain Soviet collaboration, my hypothesis would be that the further west a soldier came from, the more likely he was to be a collaborator. But it seems to me that "functional" factors such as POW status counted for much more. Is this right or wrong?

  • The analysis will get significantly complicated by the fact that the invasion was from the West. So "the further west" you go, the longer and the more assured the occupation was, and at the same time the "ideology and ethnicity" also changes.
    – Zeus
    Jun 17, 2021 at 0:43

2 Answers 2


There were collaborators in all the countries occupied by the Germans, but in some they were more conspicuous than others. You have mentioned the situation in Yugoslavia. In the Ukraine the mainly Catholic, traditionally pro-European population in Western Ukraine collaborated to a large extent with the Nazis, as far as actively participating in the murder of local Jews. The mainly Orthodox, traditionally pro-Russian, largely bilingual (Ukrainian and Russian speaking) population in Eastern Ukraine were overwhelmingly loyal to the SU. In the Caucasus region, most (perhaps all) of the traditionally Muslim nationalities (Chechen, Crimean Tartar, and others) were accused (rightly or wrongly) of collaborating with the Germans and were deported en masse to Central Asia, while Christianised nations like the Ossetians were celebrated as Soviet patriots. A lot of different factors are involved in this. What is striking is that these divided loyalties have largely survived into the post-Soviet present, with (for example) the pro-Western Western Ukrainians and the pro-Russian Eastern Ukrainians. This is not about left and right, but about traditional loyalties.

  • Someone did not like this. Anything you want to discuss?
    – fdb
    Jun 14, 2021 at 16:27
  • 2
    Not me, but perhaps because it lacks sources? Jun 14, 2021 at 23:29
  • It's a bit wrong to call the [Western Ukranian] population just "Catholic". The Uniate Church is formally Catholic in allegiance, but very much Orthodox in form and rites. For a regular churchgoer, it was more "compatible" with the Eastern church.
    – Zeus
    Jun 17, 2021 at 0:34
  • 1
    @Zeus. The Ukrainian "Greek catholic" church, like other uniate churches (Maronites in Lebanon, Melkites in Palestine, Chaldeans in Iraq etc.) are part of the Church of Rome, recognise the pope as primate, but have their own liturgies and canon law,
    – fdb
    Jun 17, 2021 at 8:45


There were many national and non-national groups that were for various reasons opposed to Soviet Union and considered the Third Reich as a lesser evil. Each had its own reasons for that. Let's mention some of them :

  • Western Ukrainians (from Galicia) . Galicia was not part of the Russian Empire before WW1. It belonged to Austria-Hungary. The Austrians carefully nurtured Ukrainian nationalism, and supported the creation of a Ukrainian nation in order to undermine both the Russian Empire (which held modern Central and Eastern Ukraine) and the Polish independence movement. This went from language to religious separatism (such as creation of a Greek-Catholic church, with Eastern rite but loyal to Rome). After WW1, Western Ukraine did not belong to the USSR; it was part of Poland with subsequent attempts at Polonization. Only in 1939 after the fall of Poland, the Soviets acquired this land. With subsequent Stalinist rule, a good number of people there increased their hatred towards Moscow, Communism, and Jews (which were seen as communist collaborators) . Therefore, the Germans did have a lot of support from Ukrainian leaders like Stepan Bandera, at least initially in 1941, before they realized that the Germans were not willing to give them statehood or even large autonomy. Some Ukrainians supported the Germans even late in the war, thus the creation of formations like the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), but also informal formations like the Trawniki men.

  • Baltic nations. The Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states only in 1940. Therefore, there was not much love among the populations of these countries for Soviets, especially after they experienced Stalinist rule . The Germans were not prepared to restore their statehood; nevertheless, they were seen as a lesser evil; therefore there were formations like the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Latvian), the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian), the, Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, and others.

  • Crimean Tatars and other Muslim nationalities. The Crimean Tatars were singled out as a "traitorous nationality" and deported from Crimea in 1944 after the Soviets recaptured it. The behavior of the Tatars and some other Caucasus nationalities in 1942-43 when Germans occupied these territories is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, there is some truth in the notion that some of them did support the Germans, enlisting in various "legions" and generally performed anti-Soviet activities.

  • Cossacks. Cossacks were seen as a threat to the revolution long before WW2, due to their loyalty to the Russian Imperial dynasty. The Soviet Union pursued the so called Decossackization, the purpose of it was simply destruction of the Cossacks as a separate entity. No wonder that the remaining Cossacks wanted revenge on the Soviet regime and Communists in general, even if that meant joining the Germans. Therefore, under the command of Helmuth von Pannwitz, many Cossacks served in formations like the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division or the XV SS Cossack Cavalry Corps.

  • the Russian peasantry and rural clergy. Finally, we should mention that a large part of the Soviet population, especially those living in villages, were willing to at least obey German rule if not actively collaborate. This goes especially for peasants, who were hit hardest in Soviet times by the policy of Kolkhoziation, and used their first opportunity to grab some land back when Soviet power fell and German occupation started. In some places, the Germans actually accepted this and only demanded a certain part of the crops (10-20%) as taxes. As a rule, the more freedom Germans gave to peasants, and the less reprisals they inflicted for partisan actions, the less trouble they had in the region. The local clergy, persecuted by the Communists, sometimes actively worked to pacify the population. Especially in those areas where the Germans allowed some kind of religious liberty, as we can see from the pictures in this link. Overall, with little cost to themselves, the Germans could have achieved at least benevolent neutrality in rural regions of Russia.

  • No they didn't considered the Reich as 'lesser evil', they considered the Reich as the 'greatest good', actually
    – d.k
    Jun 16, 2021 at 18:48
  • @DmitryKoroliov They did consider Reich as lesser evil, in fact there was no group who would be completely loyal to Germans. In the end, lot of them defected, deserted or even fought against Germans (ROA was one example )
    – rs.29
    Jun 16, 2021 at 20:44
  • Ok, then I think, the French who sort of fled the alliance with Britain in 1940 also considered Britain a lesser evil. After all they also were not "completely loyal" to the cause of war against "the evil Reich" etc.?
    – d.k
    Jun 17, 2021 at 21:23
  • Just because your best friend is drowning and you abandoned him so that he doesn't drag you to the bottom with him (not a good thing to do), doesn't mean that he has never been your best friend, or even has been a 'lesser enemy'. Funny logic
    – d.k
    Jun 17, 2021 at 21:27
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    @DmitryKoroliov Free French did not abandon alliance with British, even after Mers-el-Kébir. On the other hand, practically all of formations Germans created in the East were loyal only as that served their particular interests. They did not consider Germans as friends, nor Germans considered them as friends. They were simply Hilfsvolk.
    – rs.29
    Jun 17, 2021 at 22:24

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