In recent years, the word “Nazi” has been completely gutted by its inflationary use like no other. Today, “Nazi” is anyone who is not on the top of the tree of political correctness. Accordingly, it seems bizarre when the grave of a genuine Nazi collaborator, namely Stepan Bandera, becomes a place of pilgrimage in Germany. There is no outcry. On the contrary, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the grave of Stepan Bandera in Munich’s Waldfriedhof has been very crowded. If in previous years one Reich flag among a thousand peace flags was enough to declare an entire demonstration a Nazi mass demonstration, here homage is being paid to a Wehrmacht collaborator—without this being criticized in those circles that otherwise suspect a Nazi behind every tree.
A year before the start of the Ukrainian war, the colors of the Ukrainian flag caught my eye during a walk through Munich’s Waldfriedhof cemetery. In the distance I saw a gravestone decorated with blue and yellow flags. My curiosity was aroused and so I approached this grave. In the inscription of the gravestone, I read the name “Stepan Bandera,” which is additionally engraved above it in Cyrillic. The name immediately rang a bell in my memory. I knew roughly about the importance of Bandera, his collaboration with the Nazi regime, the cult around his person in Ukraine, which continues to this day, and that he was murdered in the 1950s in Munich by the Soviet foreign intelligence service KGB.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to suddenly stumble into a piece of dark European history during a walk, when I actually wanted to clear my head of political issues. At that point, in the spring of 2021, Covid was crowding out all other issues, so Ukraine and the conflict there were more on the periphery of media attention.
With the winter of 2021/22 and the start of the Ukrainian war, that changed with breathtaking speed. A veritable Russophobia and Ukraine cult developed. These developments also left their mark on Bandera’s grave. In fact, during my walks, I pass by there again and again and observe how this grave is increasingly turning into a place of pilgrimage. Since March 2022, showy SUVs with Ukrainian license plates can be seen around the cemetery grounds, and where a year ago only a solitary Ukrainian flag hung and rather beautiful flowers planted, the grave is now overflowing with offerings and mementos that visitors lay to their icon. In a way, the selection is very bizarre. On the surfaces of the grave lie Ukrainian hryvnia bills and coins, candy—some even from McDonalds—and labeled (FFP2) masks.
The question, who in Germany (!) decorates the gravesite of a Nazi collaborator in such a way, was answered—even if not completely—over days when visiting the grave on a Sunday. Almost every minute visitors come to stand devoutly in front of it, to take photos or to lay down more of the “gifts” listed above. But who are these people? Are they some skin-head types unmistakably identifiable as Nazis?
At one point I pretended to stand at Bandera’s final resting place myself, in memory of him, to get a more accurate picture of the visitors. To my astonishment, each time it was a thoroughly inconspicuous, outwardly completely harmless citizen—parents with their children or young people in tracksuits.
I could not make any sense of this. In this country, anyone who claims to take a warm shower every day is soon considered a Nazi. And yet, in the middle of Munich, without scandal or outcry, the grave of a Nazi collaborator is virtually transformed into a pharaoh’s chamber.
At that moment it even occurred to me whether I was simply misinformed about Bandera. But no—no matter where I looked, whether in older mainstream reports or in alternative media—I could twist and turn the image of Stepan Bandera as I wished—his involvement in Nazi crimes is undisputed and sufficiently proven.
As the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and part of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), he participated in numerous crimes and atrocities against civilians that shocked even SS generals.
Although Bandera was a German prisoner from July 1941 to September 1944—after his plans to declare an independent Ukraine went too far for the Nazi regime—he served his time comparatively comfortably as one of the SS’s so-called special and honorary prisoners. Shortly before the end of the war, parts of the OUN were even reinstated in the Waffen SS. In short, Bandera’s vest is so bloodstained that no change of perspective can wash it clean.
Even after the end of the war, Bandera remained the chairman of the OUN in his Munich exile until he was assassinated in October 1959 by KGB agent Bogdan Staschinski, right on his doorstep with hydrogen cyanide gas.
While reading about Bandera’s death, I got the idea to visit his former residence on Kreittmayrstrasse in Munich’s Maxvorstadt to see if it had also been transformed into a pilgrimage site. Once there, I found that nothing reminded me of Bandera. All around the multi-story building, there are hip cafés and restaurants; there are no flowers on the doorstep; there are no Ukrainian flags anywhere to be seen. The only noticeable thing I took note of was that the facade of the house at number 7—quite as if to mock the anti-communist post-mortem—was the only one in the whole street with a red coat of paint.
No Peace for the Dead at Bandera’s Grave
Even before the Ukraine war, Bandera’s grave kept finding its way into the public eye.
Desecration of the grave in 2014
Shortly after the start of the Maidan coup in 2014—if today’s Ukraine flag-wavers can still remember it?—the gravestone was knocked over and the grave vandalized. The perpetrators were never caught.
Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk visits Bandera’s grave
In 2015, Melnyk laid flowers at Bandera’s grave. Sevim Dağdelen, a member of the Left Party, then asked the German government whether it was aware of this. The federal government answered in the affirmative and condemned the acts of the OUN in its response.
2018 sees the arrival of the “cemetery fact checker”
British blogger Graham Phillips visited the grave in 2018, removed the flag of Ukraine—as well as that of Ukrainian nationalists—and attached a sign to the gravestone reading, “Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera lies buried here.” On the net, he was partly celebrated as a true anti-fascist, others accused him of desecrating the grave.
2021 State security investigates after repeated desecration of grave
A year before the start of the Ukrainian war, the grave was desecrated again when it was doused with red liquid. In the course of this, the State Security Service began an investigation, so far without results.
It really is bizarre. While in this country everything and everyone is pushed into a right-wing corner if they say one wrong word—at the same time in the middle of Germany the grave of a Nazi collaborator is decorated, adorned and visited with devout looks of the visitors. Meanwhile, police patrol by at regular intervals to check for further possible grave desecrations. It is even rumored that a hidden camera is installed in the grave light vending machine directly opposite.
In a sense, Bandera’s tombstone is a monument to double standards, showing us that all destructive forces are fine with the rulers as long as they serve their purposes. While local demonstrators with peaceful intentions are defamed as Nazis—in Ukraine unmistakable Nazis are equipped with heavy weapons.
How much more blood must be senselessly spilled before history is learned?
Nicolas Riedl is a student of political science, theater and media studies in Erlangen. He got to know almost every type of school in the German education system from the inside and, during a commercial apprenticeship, also the interpersonal coldness of the working world. The media and Ukraine crisis in 2014 was a caesura for his world view and perception. Since then, he has been dealing in depth and self-critically with political, socio-economic, ecological as well as psychological topics. As far as his technical skills allow, he produces films and music videos. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of Rubikon.