The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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The Extermination in the Soviet Union and Annexed Countries

Now let us turn eastwards and see what happened to the Jews
of the Soviet Union in those areas which fell into the hands
of Nazi Germany.

I have mentioned that in each country the method adopted for
the extermination of the Jews was related in one way or
another to the general conduct of the Nazis towards its
population. All the Jews were destined for extermination,
but the mode of implementation varied. It was different in
Norway and Denmark, for instance, where the Germans showed a
certain consideration for the sensitivity of the population,
than in Poland, which was regarded as nothing more than a
reservoir for slave labour, or in the Soviet Union, Hitler's
most hated rival against which he only succeeded in
quenching his wrath for a while because of his wish not to
become involved in a war on two fronts. When he had
completed his conquests in the West, and it became apparent
that it would take time to subdue England, Hitler decided to
execute his long-standing plan to launch an onslaught on the
Soviet Union which now embraced the Baltic States, Eastern
Poland and part of Bessarabia."Operation Barbarossa" was
made ready in the spring of 1941. Germany wanted a savage
lightning campaign which would deal the Soviet Union a fatal
blow with the maximum speed. Detailed preparations were
made, incorporating the most drastic measures to ensure that
the intended blows would prove effective, and that the rear
of the German Army would be secured. With this in mind, the
SS organized new operational units (Einsatzgruppen) in May-
June, 1941. Heydrich and Streckenbach of the RSHA dealt with
the matter personally. Eichmann was a party to everything
concerning Jews. He took part in the secret meeting held at
the Prince Albrecht Palace in Berlin, at which Heydrich
explained to the Commander of the Einsatzkommandos, from
which the Einsatzgruppen were formed, the nature of their
mission to exterminate all the Jews. It was agreed with the
Army that the handling of the Jews would be left to the
Security Police and the SD, which would operate
independently, though in cooperation with the Army. Von
Brauchitsch, Commander of the invasion force agreed to grant
the widest powers to the Security Police. The instructions
issued by the RSHA to the operational units were to kill the
Jews, including women and children, in addition to all
Communist leaders and functionaries.

On 17 July 1941, the following instructions were issued by
Bureau IV of the Gestapo:

In the first instance all "professional revolutionaries, all
Comintern officials, all political commissars of the Red
Army, the whole of the Soviet intelligentsia and all Jews"
were to be rounded up. It was also stated in these
instructions that these people were to be detained and
weekly reports forwarded to the RSHA. The "special
treatment" was to be carried out in former Soviet territory.
Executions were to be carried out within the confines of the
camp. Detailed reports on the application of the "special
treatment" were also to be made.

We shall submit to you the report on the extermination,
documents which, in simple office language, speak of the
mass murder of tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands
of human beings.

The Commander of Einsatzgruppe D, Otto Ohlendorf, later gave
testimony regarding the murder of ninety thousand Jews and
the manner in which the order he received was executed:

     "The men, women and children were brought to a place of
     execution which was generally sited close to deepened
     antitank ditches. They were then shot, kneeling or
     standing, and the bodies thrown into the pit. I at no
     time permitted any individual to fire, but instructed a
     number of persons to shoot simultaneously, so as to
     avoid any direct personal responsibility. The officers
     in charge of the units or other designated persons had
     to fire a final shot at the victims who were not yet
     dead...At the beginning of 1942, the Head of the
     Security Police and the SD sent us gas vans from
     Berlin...Whenever a unit had rounded up a sufficient
     number of victims, the vans were dispatched for the
     extermination. We stationed these vans near the transit
     camps where the victims were assembled. The victims
     were told that they were to be moved and must enter the
     vans for this purpose. The doors were then closed and
     the gas flowed in through pipes. The victims died
     within 10-15 minutes. The vans were then driven to the
     burial site, where the bodies were extracted  and
Stahlecker, Commander of Einsatzgruppe A, which operated in
the Balkan states and in the North, reported that, to his
surprise, he had not succeeded in arousing the local
Lithuanian population to carry out pogroms on a sufficiently
large scale. In Latvia too, the total pogrom death toll was
no more than 400.

"It was to be expected," wrote Stahlecker, "that by pogroms
alone the Jewish Question in the Eastern area could not be
solved. Consequently, large-scale execution in cities and
open areas were carried out by special units - in  Lithuania
partisan troops, in Latvia with the help of the Latvian
auxiliary police."

The special units, the auxiliary police and other forces
drawn from the inhabitants of the conquered countries acted
under the orders of the conquerors and, in particular, the
various SS units.

Stahlecker reported on the resistance in Kovno. In Latvia,
according to his report of 15 October 1941, he had managed,
so far, to execute thirty thousand Jews. For the time being
he set the women to work, meanwhile establishing ghettoes in
Kovno and Riga, in the most run-down quarters of these
towns; the inmates were ordered to wear the badge of shame.
He reported on a sum total of 135,567 persons killed.

We shall submit to you the Einsatzgruppen reports in our
possession. These are blood-curdling and hair-raising
documents. One reads these dozens of reports, studies the
proceedings of trials which dealt with the same subject, the
evidence of witnesses and the few survivors, and at first
glance everything seems clear in print; but one asks oneself
again and again: "How could it ever have happened?" It is
almost impossible to believe that for many months, thousands
of people daily, in cold blood, deliberately and of set
purpose, murdered multitudes of human beings with their own
hands, the numbers rising steadily until they totalled
three_quarters of a million. It is difficult to accustom
oneself to the idea that such beasts ever walked the face of
this earth. Murder was committed here as a matter of daily
routine: after every such blood-bath, the murderers would
eat a hearty meal, and have a smoke and a chat about this
and that, and then they were ready for the next group of
victims, who had meanwhile been placed in line. Sometimes,
the murderers would know their victims personally, as, for
instance in the case of the Jews of Memel, who were lined up
facing the rifle_muzzles of their fellow citizens. And then
one of the murderers shouted to another: "Gustav schiess
gut!" - ("Gustav, shoot well!").  This was the favour that
the murderer wanted to do to his Jewish acquaintance - to
see to it that he died immediately, and would not need a
second bullet to end his agonies.

So the victims arrived, in long columns, Rabbis in their
long velvet coats, young children, babies, old men. They
were all brought to the edge of the open grave, shot and
buried, and the next in turn laid down on top of them. So,
in a routine office report, together with general
information on affairs in the occupied areas and the
attitude of the local population, we read of the massacre of
55,000 Jews in White Russia, 54,696 in the Simferopol
region, 10,000 in Dnepropetrovsk, 10,000 in Czernigov,
45,467 put to death in the centre of the war front area,
16,964 in the Minsk and Moscow districts, 5,000 in
Nikolayev, and many more in other cities. Together they
combine to create a picture of wholesale slaughter of
hundreds of thousands of people along the total length of
German-occupied territory in the Soviet Union and annexed

At first, people were murdered in their clothes. Later, as
testified by Paul Flobel, a member of Eichmann's unit, the
system was changed. The victims were ordered to undress and
were left naked. Let us listen to a description of the

     "The people who had got off the trucks - men women and
     children of all ages - had to undress upon the order of
     an SS man, who carried a riding or dog whip, and put
     down their clothing in fixed places, sorted according
     to shoes, top clothing and underclothing. There lay a
     heap of shoes of about 800 to 1,000 pairs, great piles
     of underlinen and clothing. Without screaming or
     weeping, these people undressed, stood around in family
     groups, kissed each other, said their farewells and
     waited for a sign from another SS man, who stood near
     the pit, also with a whip in his hand.
     "No complaints or pleas for mercy were heard. A family
     of about eight persons passed by - a man and a woman,
     both about fifty, with their children of about one,
     eight and ten and two grown-up daughters of about
     twenty to twenty-four. An old woman with snow-white
     hair was holding the one-year old child in her arms,
     singing to it and tickling it. The child was cooing
     with delight. The couple were looking on with tears in
     their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy
     about ten years old and speaking to him softly; the boy
     was fighting his tears. The father pointed towards the
     sky, stroked his head, and seemed to explain something
     to him. At that moment the SS man at the pit shouted
     something to his comrade. The latter counted off about
     twenty persons and instructed them to go behind the
     pit. Among them was the family which I mentioned.
     "A girl, slim and with black hair, as she passed by a
     German, pointed to herself and said, '23 years
     old'...People were closely wedged together and lying on
     top of each other so that only their heads were
     visible. All had blood pouring from them. Some of the
     people shot were still moving. Some were lifting their
     arms and turning their heads to show that they were
     still alive. The pit contained about a thousand people.
     The executioner was an SS man who sat at the narrow
     opening of the trench, his feet dangling inside. He
     held a machine gun on his knee and a cigarette in his
     mouth. The people, completely naked, descended a few
     steps out into the clay wall of the trench and placed
     their heads on the heads of those already lying there
     as instructed by the SS man. They lay before the dead
     or wounded. A few stroked those who were still alive
     and spoke to them softly. Then came a volley of shots.
     In the trench the bodies were twitching on top of the
     motionless bodies that lay before them. Blood was
     running from their necks. The next batch was already
     approaching. They went down into the pit, placed
     themselves by the earlier victims and were shot."
First, the articles and valuables were taken and plundered,
and then - to the open grave. In Kiev, within the space of
only two days, 33,721 Jews were massacred. Throughout, the
report speaks in clear and simple language of executions and

The reports were received in Berlin, and Eichmann was able
to keep a continuous check on the bloody work in the East,
where the number of killings mounted from tens to hundreds
of thousands. I have already mentioned Eichmann's visit to
Minsk and Lvov where he saw with his own eyes the operations
of the murderers. But we have already seen why Eichmann
rejected the system of direct murder. The SS men themselves
began to grumble. Eichmann considered that the methods used
turned people into sadists, while others said that it was
not an elegant way of killing. It was then that the gas vans
were delivered and these were camouflaged in diverse ways.
From the summaries of the exterminations in these districts
covering a period of eight months during 1941-1942, we
obtain the terrible total of over 720,000 Jews murdered. But
even then the tragedy  was not yet complete.

I have already spoken of Rosenberg's "Brown File" and the
changes introduced by Eichmann in the instructions issued by
the Minister for Occupied Territories: the Jewish Question
in the Eastern region, so Eichmann determined, would not be
solved after the War, but during the War and without delay.
He provided Rosenberg with the directives on the treatment
of the survivors of the Einsatzgruppen operations. These
called for their internment in ghettoes, their isolation
from all other sections of the population and the plunder of
their property.

In accordance with these directives, ghettoes were set up
at Riga, Minsk, Kovno, Vilna, Bialystok, and Shavli, among
other places. These, too, were only preparatory steps
towards speedy extermination while serving temporarily as a
means for the exploitation of Jewish labour. But they did
not take much trouble with the preparatory stages and in the
first weeks of occupation mass shootings of the ghetto
residents began.

Before the slaughter, they suffered much brutality and harsh
treatment. Thousands fled to the forests, where they joined
the partisans, took up arms, fought and wrote the glorious
chapter of the Jewish partisan in the history of the
Holocaust. But not many escaped in this way. Most of the
Jews were imprisoned in the ghettoes and put to death.

Eichmann was particularly occupied with the Riga and Minsk
Ghettoes. These housed Jews from the Reich who were
temporarily put to work until their destruction. As early as
October 1941, he spoke of this plan of his to Dr. Wetzel of
Rosenberg's Ministry. In December 1941 the Duesseldorf
police reported on the transport to Eichmann. Attached was
an exact list of the 1,067 deportees, listed according to
age, sex and occupation. You will see the markings made by
the transport officer who indicated each group of five with
four perpendicular lines and one diagonal.

Later, we once again hear of these deportations in the
Einsatzgruppe A report, No. 154. The deportees arrived at
Riga and Minsk and were herded into the ghettoes. These
Reich deportees were told that they were being moved for
resettlement, on the lines of the type of agricultural
settlement found in Palestine. The report states:

     "It was noticed that some of these Jews created for
     themselves a completely false picture as to their
     future, regarding themselves, for instance, as pioneers
     sent to settle the East...In the meantime, the Higher
     SS and Police Commander in Riga, Obergruppenfuehrer
     Jeckeln, fixed the execution by shooting to take place
     on Sunday, 30 November 1941. It was to include some
     4,000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto and some of the Reich

So it was that the ghettoes which had been set up were
eventually liquidated; in part as a result of starvation and
disease, and in part by direct killings. In the smaller
towns, the people were ordered to report with spades. They
were then taken outside the town, told to dig graves, then
shot in the neck and kicked into the open graves. The Jewish
masses lost all hope of being saved, and many sought a quick
death to escape further suffering. The scene was repeated in
every village and town, where mothers and fathers sanctified
the Divine Name, asking their children to recite the "Hear O
Israel!" and dying together. The labour camps of Latvia and
Estonia were liquidated by killing off all the inmates. The
Vilna Jewish community was liquidated by executions in the
Ponar Forest close to the city, and in the Ghetto itself.

When a barefoot, wounded woman with dishevelled hair and  a
bewildered look in her eyes appeared on the Vilna streets
and related fearfully in whispers to the doctor who treated
her that she had fled from the valley of slaughter at Ponar
and that they were literally killing Jews there, she was not
believed. Her listeners thought she was out of her mind.
They said she was imagining things. Afterwards she sat
terrified in the surgery, afraid to return, afraid to reveal
her secret publicly, lest the Gestapo send her back once
more to Ponar.

Here again the ghastly episodes of selections, work-cards,
enticements, deceit and murder already familiar from the
tale of Poland were repeated. A man would be faced with the
choice of obtaining a work-card either for his wife or for
his mother. He would return home, cursing the day he married
and tell his mother that he no longer had a work-card for
her. This meant that she was doomed to immediate death. The
mother would bless her son for his choice, present her
Yiddish prayer book to her daughter-in-law, embrace her, and
wish her the bliss of being spared to witness the end of the

The same story was repeated in Kovno. The executions in Fort
VII began at the end of June 1941, preceded by cruel
tortures, and followed by recurrent nightmares of outrage
and murder. Women were paraded naked in the streets, while
the SS thugs carried out searches on their bodies. An order
was issued forbidding pregnancy and births. Massive
selection parades took place and thousands were sent off for
execution. Here, too, we shall hear of unfortunate children
torn from their parents and sent to their deaths; of mothers
going mad with grief and terror. Jewish mothers began
smuggling children over the ghetto fence to hand them over
to farmers who hid them on their farms. Not many of the
children escaped. While the parents were at work, the SS
used to come, kidnap the children and take them off for

Soon it was the turn of the adults. The liquidation of the
Kovno Ghetto was implemented, as in other places, with
brutal efficiency. The Ghetto was eliminated in 1944, when
they were tranferred to the fearful concentration camp at

To obtain such insight into the suffering of the Jews of
Kovno, one may consult a book called "Responsa from the
Depths," rulings given by the Rabbis of the day on problems
such as the following: What is a Jew to do if he is ordered
by the murderers to tear up and desecrate the Holy Scroll of
the Law? Is it permissible to wear the clothes of the dead?
Are the survivors of "actions" in which more than ten
thousand were killed, entitled to recite the Prayer of
Thanksgiving for Deliverance? In the case of a woman whose
pregnancy will result in her being murdered, is an abortion
permissible to save her life?
Even at the gates of Hell these stiff-necked Jews still
clung to their ancestral traditions, but the murderers
swiftly caught up with them and their Rabbis and judges.

Here again we shall meet Eichmann handling matters of
general and major import, and various matters of  detail. He
sent Suhr, his representative, to a meeting which decided
who should be regarded as a Jew, as far as the Eastern
territories were concerned, and to whom the extermination
orders should apply. Suhr took an active part in drawing up
these instructions. Eichmann dealt with questions concerning
foreign nationals in the Eastern territories. It was his
Department which issued the instruction applying to all
Eastern occupied areas, that Einsatzgruppen commanders
should "for the time being" exclude foreign nationals in the
countries detailed in the instruction from the preliminary
general operations against the Jews, the "Allgemeine
Judenmassnahmen." Foreign citizens were only to be interned,
and enemy aliens were to be imprisoned separately.

Eichmann also continued to concern himself directly with
individual cases. A Jewish woman by the name of Cozzi,
married to an Italian Christian, succeeded in calling the
attention of the Italian authorities to her fate. The
Italians requested that she be released from Riga. Eichmann
replied requesting the Italian authorities to cease their
interest in the woman. The Foreign Ministry informed
Eichmann a second time that the Italian authorities were
insistent, and requested that he do what he could to meet
the request, even if this would entail her temporary
transfer to Bergen_Belsen. The Fascist Party also officially
approached the Nazi Party, but Eichmann was adamant. The
following was his final reply to his Foreign Ministry:
"Pending further instructions, I have ordered that the
Jewess Cozzi be further detained at the concentration camp
at Riga."

The Court will forgive me if I shorten this chapter and
leave it to the documents and the witnesses whom I shall
call to give the picture of the atrocities suffered by the
Jews of the Soviet Union. I have no words at my command to
describe these terrible deeds in full. Let me therefore
quote one of the partisan poets, Shmerke Kaczerginski, who

"Quiet, quiet my son, let us speak softly,
Here grow the graves
Which they that hate planted.
Here are the paths.
The roads lead to Ponar,
There is no way back.
Father has gone, never to return,
And with him the light.
Quiet my son, my treasure.
Let us not cry in pain.
In any case, we have wept;
The enemy does not understand.
The sea has limits and a shore -
This, our suffering
Is limitless,
Is endless."

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