The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Sessions 6-7-8
(Part 6 of 10)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
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 buried."
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 areas.

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 procedure:

"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 extermination.

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 deportees."
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 terror.

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 execution.

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 Stutthof.

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 wrote:

"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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