More is to follow.The Annihilation of Soviet Prisoners of War on Belorussian Soil
Crimes of German Front Line Units on the Battlefield in the Summer of 1941
Mass crimes against members of the Red Army did not only begin in the prisoner of war camps, but already during the fighting and soon thereafter. These murders and violations of the laws of war and international law, which have so far barely been taken notice of by research, can only be described on hand of some central orders and selected source studies at this place. They are likely to make the actions of the front line units – of common soldiers, the lower officer corps and the leadership – appear in a new light.
From the first days of the war on many units of Army Group Center shot Soviet soldiers who had surrendered with their hands up or wanted to defect, who had been put out of action or already taken prisoner. The commander of XXXXVIIth. Panzer Corps, General Joachim Lemelsen, wrote in his order of 25 June 1941 against the senseless shooting of prisoners of war and civilians which had repeatedly occurred according to his personal observation. He gave instructions to put an end to it, expressly exempting however the killing of commissars and partisans. Five days later Lemelsen declared in a proclamation:
“Despite my instructions of 25 June 1941, which don’t seem to have got through to company level, we again and again verify shootings of prisoners, defectors and deserters, which are carried out in an irresponsible, senseless and criminal manner. This is murder! […] soon there will spread among the enemy the picture of countless corpses lying along the advance routes of soldiers who, without weapons and their hands raised, have been clearly liquidated by shots in the head at close range. The scattered enemy will then hide in woods and fields and continue fighting out of fear, and we will lose countless comrades.”
Jews from the city of Slonim, who were forced to remove the corpses, testified to this as did the noncommissioned officer Robert Rupp at Minsk, who recorded the following in his diary:
“Many I saw lying there shot had their hands raised and no weapons, often even no belt. At least a hundred I saw lying like this. They say that even a parliamentary who came with a white flag was shot down. […] They also shot wounded.”
At many places the German troops took “no prisoners”. This was partially justified with violations of the laws of war by the Soviets. On 25 June 1941 the Infantry Regiment 9 of the 23rd Infantry Division in the area of Bialystok reported an incident at the 3rd battalion where due to the abuse of a white flag by Soviet soldiers six members of the Wehrmacht lost their lives. Thereupon the division commander, General Major Heinz Hellmich – later general of the Eastern troops, of all things – ordered that white flags were not to be respected in the whole division area. “There will be no quarter!” This regulation was extended on the very same day to the whole area of VIIth. Army Corps by the corps commander, General Fahrmbacher. On 28 June, on grounds of the alleged mutilation of German prisoners, the Infantry Regiment 9 again took “no prisoners”. In the first eight days such happened “often”, according to reports from the division, for which reason the number of prisoners (1 507) had turned out “relatively low” – thus hundreds who had tried to surrender had been murdered. After that 28 June certain countermeasures were taken. The diary of First Lieutenant Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg makes it possible to reconstruct the considerations within the officer corps:
28 June: “Doubtlessly […] there is a danger to discipline if our people start to bump off on their own initiative. If we permit this we descend to the level of the SS. Doubtlessly the Russian deserves no more quarter due to the way he fights. But then they must be shot in battle or only upon the order of an officer. Anything else simply removes all holds in such a way as to no longer allow for controlling the loose instincts.”
On 29 June he wrote the following about the new instructions: “Only who fights with a weapon in hand, who shoots from the rear or who as a prisoner disobeys or flees may be shot. Otherwise (!) shooting may only be carried out at the order of an officer responsible.”
Shooting without a reason thus continued to be allowed, though in a disciplined manner, at the order of an officer, which also shows that such measures were by no means taken only on account of Soviet violations of rules – apart from the fact that the possible justifications (for instance “disobedience”) were rather elastic.
The Supreme Commander of Army Group Center, von Bock, received reports about the murders from several sides at the latest by 30 June. Bock didn’t mention that he intended to take countermeasures. All the more the alleged Soviet violations of the laws of war caught his attention. On the other hand the Supreme Commander of the 4th Army, v. Kluge, considered it necessary to on 1 July issue a characteristically formulated counter-order, which was also passed on by the VII Army Corps:
“The Russian as a dull half-Asian believes in what his commissars hammer into his head, that in case of being taken prisoner he will be shot. […] In order not to turn this propaganda [German leaflets for defectors] into its opposite, it is necessary that red soldiers who surrender and show the leaflet are treated as prisoners of war.
Necessary executions must thus as a matter of principle be carried out in such a way that civilians and other prisoners don’t notice anything thereof.”
The express reason behind Kluge’s order, Lemelsen’s instruction and all other correction orders of this kind up to the Commander in Chief of the Army, von Brauchitsch, was the fact that the Soviet resistance in the cauldron of Minsk-Bialystok was steadily stiffening and becoming an operative problem for the whole German offensive, which had a strategic significance. Kluge’s order seems to have reached the units on the same day.
Nevertheless the slaughter continued. As late as 11 August Army Group Center considered it necessary to mention in a report the “corpses of soldiers without weapons with their hands raised and close range gunshot wounds lying around everywhere after the fighting”. At this time Red Army soldiers taken prisoner were relieved when German officers declared that they would not be shot.
The occurrences thus were neither isolated or the matter of a single army. Many such cases can also be proven for Latvia. Hitler himself pointed out towards foreign journalists the massive character of the killing of defenseless opponents: the relation of prisoners to dead among the enemy forces was changed thereby. It was cowardly murder at close range, not killing from a great distance to avoid eventual ambushes. In most cases the killings were not reprisals either. And the murders were not limited to the first days of the war, for in future memoranda they kept being mentioned as undesirable situations to be improved upon. Orders for such shootings can so far be proved at platoon, company, regimental, divisional and army corps level. It seems to have been less a matter of individual soldiers running wild; the instructions emanated especially from the middle and higher levels of command.
The women of the Red Army drew especial hatred. There was even an army order to kill them all – at least one. On 29 June 1941 there was an instruction signed by General Field Marshal v. Kluge, in which it read: “Women in uniform are to be shot.” Thus at the same time that v. Kluge intervened against mass shootings in one respect, he was ordering others! This order was passed on the same day by VIIth. Army Corps and reinforced for instance by the 286th Security Division on 1 and 2 July. On 3 July a counter-order of the Army High Command reached the 286th Security Division, according to which uniformed women, armed or not, were to be recognized as prisoners of war. But even thereafter the hatred of German front line soldiers against the so-called “gun broads” (Flintenweiber) didn’t remain behind the initial orders from above, and they were fought with enormous brutality or massacred after battle. New orders to kill all female Red Army soldiers were issued, so in July 1941 at Infantry Regiment 167 in the central section and in October 1941 at the 75th Infantry Division in Ukraine. As late as 6 March 1944 the Wehrmacht High Command ordered that captured female Soviet army soldiers were as a rule to be handed over to security police and SD as so-called unreliable elements. In Belorussia there were special prisoners of war camps for women, for example at Bobruisk and Baranovichi.
Everything the Soviet soldiers did was considered a death-worthy crime, even the fact that they had, of course, fought against the Germans. Also in this respect there was an order at a high level, from Panzer Group 3. The “founded suspicion” of having engaged in espionage, sabotage and “measures against the German Wehrmacht” was thereafter sufficient for the shooting not only of Soviet civilians, but also of Red Army soldiers. Also without an order from high above German soldiers and units massively shot Red Army men only because they had defended themselves. Although there were hardly any partisans at this time and the intervention of popular militia is known to have occurred only at a later stage, for instance at the battles for Mogilev and Gomel, Wehrmacht units reported hundreds of executed alleged franctireurs who in reality were nothing other than Soviet military personnel – more rarely civilians declared partisans by excessive orders from high above. The German military was surprised by the enemy’s strong resistance and in a certain way didn’t acknowledge the right thereto. This was all the more so due to the fragmentation of the front caused by the new German tactic of tank thrusts and the confused nature of the fighting. Members of the enemy armed forces were easily considered as franctireurs, treacherousness was attributed to them and considered as death-worthy and a confirmation of racist prejudices. The later brutal treatment of Soviet prisoners of war by the guards and camp commanders was among other things based on their being seen as representatives of the Soviet system, so to say the spearhead of the Communist movement. Anti-Slavism played a part in the crimes against them, but their treatment differed clearly from that of the civilian population, which means that there must have been other factors beyond the racist attitude towards the “Slav sub-humans”.
The Wehrmacht’s criminal warfare also had other aspects. The bombing attacks targeting the living quarters of the population of Minsk, the pillage and acts of violence against inhabitants of the Belorussian capital, the establishment of civilian prisoner camps for the men by Wehrmacht units have already been mentioned (chapters 5.1 and 7.1). Let’s have a look at the example of Brest: the bridge over the Bug was taken in the morning of 22 June by the diversion unit “Brandenburg” in Soviet army uniforms, and a clearly identified hospital was bombed. On the second day of the war the 45th Infantry division, attempting to conquer the fortress by the city, drove 400 women and children as protection shields before them; many were killed (the same happened later with prisoners of war at Gomel.) Under the German cannon they allegedly laid Soviet children to keep the enemy from firing at them. On 25 June the Infantry Regiment 187 forced Belorussian civilians to act as a “carrier column” to transport munitions and food through a swamp area. In Slonim, Mir, Stolzby and Klezk there were arbitrary shootings and acts of violence.
The outbreak of violence in the very first days of the war and the simultaneous Wehrmacht crimes against civilians at that time was basically not related to the confrontation with the allegedly cruel enemy – contrary to the still reigning opinion of historians, which in this respect constitutes a rather strange mixture between criticism of the “criminal orders” and posterior solidarity with the perpetrators against the “Bolshevik beasts”. This view frequently fails to take into account that the Germans had attacked the Soviet Union and not the other way round. After the sequence of events including the breaches of law it would be more appropriate to grant the Soviets that were enraged by the German crimes, although this can be no excuse for violations of the laws of war and international law by the Soviet side.
However, from Belorussia no Soviet excesses against members of the Wehrmacht or against their own prison inmates on a larger scale (like at Lvov or Dubno in Ukraine) have become known. What seems characteristic is the report of the counterintelligence of Panzer Group 3 that of both types of such crimes there had been none other so far beside the killing of two tank crews after capture. While the subordinate units had reported many Soviet excesses, these reports had generally proved to be unsubstantiated upon closer examination. Rumors and propaganda reports far exceeded the actual crimes by the Soviet side. This had been prepared by an intensive propaganda of the military leadership at Hitler’s orders in the previous months about the treacherous fighting practices of the Soviets. Individual cases already served German troop leaders as a welcome pretext to order murders on a large scale, as in the case of the 23rd Infantry Division. Panzer Group 3, which according to its own statements did not have such pretexts, made do without a justification and ordered to kill Soviet soldiers who had put up resistance in the fighting.
The mass murder of Soviet prisoners of war and the merciless persecution of scattered soldiers (see chapter 9.2) were a consequent continuation of the shooting on the field of battle of Red Army soldiers who had surrendered. This was also begun by front line units, lower officer ranks seemingly having played a major part. Besides commissars and politruks the troops also shot Jewish soldiers and officers taken prisoner. Initiative from the top and bottom met. Thus the bakery company of the 23rd Infantry Division shot a Soviet officer on 26 June 1941 not spontaneously, but only after consultation with the division command post. The more such murders occurred upon orders and the higher the level issuing such orders, the more the executing units and individuals must be seen as tools of a directed policy, even if their actions corresponded to their inner conviction.
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The sources say that German units involved in "anti-partisan" - operations included a considerable number of local auxiliaries - Latvians and Lithuanians, Belorussians, Ukrainians and Russians.Ovidius wrote:Question for Roberto:
What can the sources say about this type of crimes - individual acts of violence - and other crimes against Soviet POWs and civilians, allegedly committed by non-German allies of the Reich(Romanians, Italians, Finns, Balts, Slovaks, Magyars etc)?
I've also read about the involvement of an Hungarian unit:
Translated from Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, chapter 9.3The “Major Actions” were not invented with Operation “Bamberg”. An action near Sewsk (Sjwosk) to the south of Lokot in the Brjansk area, apparently in support of the local “self administration district” of Russian collaborators and claiming 1,936 lives, had been carried out shortly before by an Hungarian unit. (Here also the Germans thus tried to transfer the responsibility to allied troops.) It was the Operation “Bamberg”, however, that became a model in many respects.
I have read nothing, on the other hand, about acts of violence against Soviet prisoners of war or civilians committed by Finnish, Slovak, Romanian or Italian units.
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There are several references to crimes committed by the "Finnish Fascist Invaders" in the bookI have read nothing, on the other hand, about acts of violence against Soviet prisoners of war or civilians committed by Finnish, Slovak, Romanian or Italian units.
"Soviet Government Statements on Nazi Atrocities" which was published in England immediately after the war, probably by the Soviet Embassy itself.
The book indicates that these reports were published in the "Soviet War News" and also gives the date of publication.
Here are a few of the report titles in the book.
Given a little more time, I will type out the reports themselves.
"Report on crimes by the Finnish-Fascist invaders and their associates on the territory of the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic."
"Finnish Invaders Tried To Turn Soviet Civilians Into Their Slaves."
"Destruction Of Towns And Villages OF Soviet Karelia"
"Finnish Hangmen Murder Wounded Red Army Officers And Men"
As with everything from the Soviet War News, these should also raise an eyebrow or two. Apparently, as if through a hypnotic trance or something, the Finns are accused of committing the same crimes as the Germans against the hapless Soviet people.
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On another thread, please. This one is about German atrocities against Soviet POWs in Belorussia. As recorded by the Germans themselves.Richard Miller wrote: Here are a few of the report titles in the book.
Given a little more time, I will type out the reports themselves.
Of course. They should be cross-checked against evidence from the Finnish side (documents, diary entries, etc.). The events described by Gerlach are confirmed by evidence from the German side. His quoted account is in fact based only on such evidence.Richard Miller wrote: As with everything from the Soviet War News, these should also raise an eyebrow or two.
Well, Soviet accounts of German atrocities are largely confirmed by contemporary German reports, diary entries, memoirs and the depositions of perpetrators before West German courts.Richard Miller wrote:Apparently, as if through a hypnotic trance or something, the Finns are accused of committing the same crimes as the Germans against the hapless Soviet people.
Though I haven't yet come across similar Finnish sources, I wouldn't exclude the possibility that they exist as well.
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Growing up in an emigre community, we had Russian friends and neighbors, mostly ex-slave laborers, and they were considered family.
During the early 80's when many Soviet dissidents (Frequently Jewish) were coming over to the States during the "Helsinki-immigration," I befriended a number. These were the creme-de-la-creme of Soviet dissident society. Having to be the guy through grammar and middle school to show the ropes to newly-arrived Polish kids, I was always sympathetic to the fate of the immigrant.
The Russians were often left, and felt, very much on their own. With my high school and kitchen table Russian, I did my part to help, and I became quite close with some, in particular a woman, the wife of a noted Soviet-era poet. She was born in 1945, and Jewish, and her mother had emigrated with her. When we became close enough, I asked how her family survived the war. She stated that her mother’s family was from Odessa, and spent the war in Moldavia. The grandmother took over at this point and stated categorically, that where she was, it was occupied by Rumanians, and as long as they were there they had much less to fear compared to their brethren who were in German occupied former Soviet territories.
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Sorry to have kept you waiting so long!Ogorek wrote:Interesting post Roberto.... I look forward to seeing more.
What follows is my translation from Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, pages 834 and following.
Open Mass Murder of Prisoners of War
a) The Annihilation of Political and “Racial” Opponents among the Prisoners
The Execution of the Commissar Order
As has already been shown, there was no documented resistance from the ranks of Army Group Center against the Commissar Order before the German attack on 22 June 1941. Through the counter-espionage officers was mostly transmitted orally down to company level still in June, in some units only later. Von Schenckendorff, for instance, communicated the “Directives for the Treatment of Political Commissars, Agitators and Instigators” to the 221st Security Division only on 10 July. It is characteristic, however, that this division had already before shot at least seven troop commissars on its own initiative. The 403rd Security Division had also ordered the transit camps already on 2 June – i.e. before the Commissar Order was even issued on 6 June – to “sort out” political commissars and to “guard them with especial severity”. This indicates that the troops were not only charged with the order to murder the commissars, as the Army High Command again pointed out by order of 24 July, but also developed an urge to act of its own, or that the order was transmitted informally and already carried out thereupon. Initiative from the top and the bottom once again met. On 6 July Army Group Center issued to the units subordinated to it the secret order to report the scope of executions of commissars. Representatives of the Eastern Ministry – v. Mende and Bräutigam – approved the order in principle in July and October 1941 and merely criticized its wide interpretation.
Research has long ago dismissed to the realm of myth the assertions made after the war that the commissar order had not been executed not at all, largely not executed or executed only by certain units, i.e. that it had been sabotaged. In fact there was hardly a transit camp or base camp, hardly an army and hardly a security division that did not commit these murders. This began in Belorussia – not surprisingly, after the findings about the barbaric conduct of war by certain Wehrmacht units – in the first days of the war and was continued throughout the following months. In transit camp 131 (Slonim) about 30 commissars were shot in July at the order of the deputy commandant. The already mentioned 203rd Security Division reported 62 “liquidations” of commissars in July 1941, 125 in August, 115 in September, 63 in October and 42 in November, of whom at least three quarters were “civilian political commissars”. At Panzer Group 3 until the beginning of August “170 were collected. The execution constituted no problem for the troops.” The 20th Panzer Division alone murdered 20 “commissars” until 18 July. The Supreme Commander of Panzer Group 3, however, declared before a US military tribunal that, as in the treatment of the prisoners his subordinates had always complied with “the principles of international law”, his intervention had never been necessary. Rear Area Command 559 (4th Army) had its subordinate units hunt down “arsonists, communists, agitators, commissars, etc.”, as did Rear Area Command 582 (9th Army) and the 2nd Army, which until 24 July reported 177 and until 9 August 1941 another “36 cases”. From among the front line troops also the 52nd Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division (operation areas Bobruisk and Pinsk) can also be proven to have participated. In the area under civilian administration, where the events are again harder to document, this did not end. Thus allegedly at the order of the Commander of Prisoners of War Eastern Territories 600 established communists, commissars and Jews in the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia were handed over to the security police and security service (SD). In the spring of 1942 there were several executions of up to 60 prisoners by security police and SD at the base camp 324 (Lososna near Grodno, district of Bialystok).
The services in the rear area of Army Group Center were especially busy at the annihilation of political opponents among the prisoners of war. They reported, however, about difficulties in making them out. At transit camp 155, which was presented to the other camp commands as an example by the District Commandant J for Prisoners of War, Colonel Marschall, it was possible through the use of informers to “establish commissars and treat them accordingly” – 50 until 7 August and another 75 until 21 August. At transit camp 126 (Minsk), on the other hand, “only very few commissars had been singled out”, as Marshall criticized. Transit camp 127 (Orsha) tried to establish them by means of interrogation. In the rear area of Army Group Center as late as January and February 1942 66 commissars (mostly Red Army men) were “shot by the troops”, while 32 were handed over to security police and SD. To indicate an order of magnitude: It is possible that about 3,000 to 5,000 “commissars” – military and civilian – were shot by the German military in Belorussia during the first year of occupation.
Not only this: the organs of the Wehrmacht tried to achieve an extension of the orders. While it is unknown which Army Group managed through its inquiry to also have the so-called politruks included at the end August 1941, it is clear that the services in the rear area of Army Group Center reacted thereto with especial eagerness. Partially the Army High Command order of 24 July was also understood in the sense that all communists among the prisoners of war were to be killed. Furthermore the Ic of the commander of the army rear area sent an inquiry to the Army Supreme Command whether all officers of the Red Army were not covered by the Commissar Order as well, which would have meant an enormous extension. The commander of transit camp 127, according to his own report, was reproached by Colonel Marschall for “our not having shot commissars”. These must not be transferred west. To his reply that the transit camp had handed over the suspects to the GFP (Geheime Feldpolizei – Secret Field Police), Marschall replied that “this was not a matter for the G.F.P., but it was up to us to shoot these people”. The provisions of the Commissar Order and the subsequent order of 24 July were thus interpreted in the narrow sense that the troops themselves had to murder the political officers.
Since August 1941 several commanders turned to the Army High Command and Wehrmacht High Command urging that the Commissar Order be abolished, among them the supreme commands of 2nd Army and Panzer Group 3. The main reason was that knowledge of the killing of all troop commissars had increased the Red Army’s resistance. Moral scruples were not part of the considerations, which in view of how prisoners were treated otherwise would not seem very plausible anyway. After Hitler had still rejected this in September 1941, the order was suspended on 6 May 1942 with his authorization for the area of military operations. Head of Gestapo Müller had discussed the modalities with Reinecke two days before. The occasion was a suggestion by the Supreme Command o Army Group Center. It is in fact known that selections and murders continued in the area of the Wehrmacht High Command. At least in July 1942 they can also be proven to have occurred in transit camp 131 (Bobruisk) in Belorussia, in the area of military operations. The murders were thus being carried out beyond the Führer order.
The Handing-over of Prisoners to Security Police and SD
As the examples already given show, Wehrmacht units at least in 1941 murdered the greater part of the “commissars”, and not security police and SD, as could be assumed according to literature. Later this task was increasingly turned over to the Einsatzgruppen and their stationary successor units. On 24 July General Wagner in his order had officially denied the Einsatzkommandos and special detachments the access to the prisoner of war camps; he allowed it only two and a half months later, on 7 October. In the so-called Wehrmacht High Command area – in Belorussia thus in the area of civilian administration – security police already in the middle of July had the right, after an agreement between Heydrich and Reinecke, to carry out selections in the camps. In the Wehrmacht High Command instruction of 8 September this was reinforced. Contrary to the Army High Command Order, however, detachments of security police and SD were also allowed to seek out political opponents in many camps in the area of military operations. This was also frequent in the area of Army Group Center; we remember the practice of selections in the camps for civilian prisoners, which were located inside the prisoner of war camps. The detachments were thus active in these camps. From the camp at Drosdy near Minsk they took away several hundred prisoners per day for shooting over a period several days. The 221st Security Division handed over commissars to the “order police” (apparently the Police Battalion 307 or 309).
The General Quarter Master’s order to October 1941 to allow the operation of detachments of security police and SD in the transit camps led to a protest by the supreme commander of Army Group Center, von Bock. This could so far be documented on hand of his diary and now also in the original; von Bock protested mainly against the killings in his area of command, but he suggested carrying them out in the area under civilian administration instead. The selections by security police and SD he did not wish for forbid, but preferred to leave the decision to the camp commandants and in case of doubt to the commander of the army rear area. He thus renounced the right granted to him by the Army High Command to “exclude with regard to the operations” the activity of the special detachments. The practice of selections in the following years of occupation was hardly affected hereby. Sometimes prisoners of war were led by members of the camp personnel to the posts of security police and SD, at others the troops of these services were constantly at the camps, like in Minsk. The scope of these actions may be shown by the following examples: the 9th Army handed over 72 prisoners to security police and SD in August 1943, the whole Army Group Center 194 in December 1943; before in December 1941 (partially still under von Bock’s supreme command) there had been 433, in January 1942 704, in February 431, in March 373. On the basis of these numbers it can be estimated that in the three years of occupation about 10,000 prisoners of war were handed over by units of Army Group Center to Einsatzgruppe B, which in most cases murdered them. [Footnote: On 5.12.1941 Head of Gestapo Müller declared to Reinecke, among other things, that security police and SD had until then selected 22,000 prisoners from the prisoner of war camps and shot 16,000 of them. This statement possibly refers only to the activity of the special detachments in the occupied Soviet territories, given that the selection and execution numbers including the concentration camps were higher.]
Some figures upheld by research regarding the handing over of prisoners to the Einsatzgruppen thus seem to be too high. [Footnote: Streit assumed 580,000 to 600,000 Soviet prisoners of war handed over by the Wehrmacht to security police and SD. Streim more realistically estimated at least 120,000 handed over in the Wehrmacht High Command area and 20,000 in the area of military operations. The last figure roughly corresponds to the findings explained here.] It must however be taken into account that the number of military personnel covered by the Commissar Order was much higher than is mostly assumed. According to Ortwin Buchbender there were 171 such persons in each Soviet division of three regiments, about two percent of the roster. The fact that relatively few commissars were identified and murdered was not, however, related to any “sabotage” by the Wehrmacht – for in this case security police and SD, who had access to the prisoner camps most of the time, would have had to be accomplices thereto, which no one will seriously assume. The reason is more likely to have been that (as has been briefly mentioned) the investigations by Wehrmacht and SD often had no success and the “commissars” frequently managed to conceal what they were.
The Killing of Jewish and “Asiatic” Prisoners of War
In the German prisoner of war camps not only “commissars” were persecuted, but also other groups of people. Among them were the Jewish prisoners of war. To murder them was part of the task of the Einsatzgruppen from the beginning. Among the Soviet prisoners of war handed over to them – see previous section – there were also many Jews. What part they made up can however neither be established nor estimated.
Other institutions, however, were also involved in the search for Jewish prisoners of war. Among them were the “Commissions for the Scanning of Prisoners of War” of the Eastern Ministry, who at the latest in September 1941 took up their activity and primarily had the task to pick out skilled workers and possible collaborators among the prisoners and to sort them by nationalities. It was also their task to scan out “political and criminal suspects, especially agitating Soviet functionaries, commissars, long-term professional soldiers of the Soviet army [!], Jews and criminal elements” and to report them to the camp commandants. There were 14 such commissions by the middle of October and at least 40 in total. With the participation of the infamous race referent in the East Ministry, Dr. Wetzel, there were also racial investigations in the camps in 1941. Wetzel after the war admitted that in the camps there had also been “racially” motivated executions, for instance of prisoners with “Mongolian” aspect; these executions, it should be added, were possibly related to the investigations carried out at the time.
The Wehrmacht also murdered Jewish prisoners of war. Such happened for instance at the transit camp 131 (Slonim) in July 1941, There the ordinance officer of the District Commander J for Prisoners of War told by the transit camp commandant, Major v. Roeder,
“that the liquidation of the Jews should be carried out according to more reasonable criteria, for instance doctors should not be removed just like that because in case of an epidemic they could still render certain services. He suggests that the transit camp commandant may eventually and in agreement with the field commandant carry out a selection of those people that are under all circumstances to be spared.”
In fact the staff of the transit camps shot Jews, like at Baranovichi. The wording further indicates that there was a corresponding instruction. An order to kills Jewish prisoners of war also seems to have existed already on 20 June 1941 at the 22nd Infantry Division. General Major Wagner’s order of 24 July was understood by the District Commander J for Prisoners of War, Colonel Marschall, in the sense that the prisoners were not only to be sorted according to their nationality, but the first letter of their nationality was to be painted on their clothing with white oil paint – for Jews a J. At the provisional camp Drosdy near Minsk it was similar. Later the Jews there were separated, and after the camp was moved to Masjukovchina there was a barracks only for Jews. Also in other camps the Jews were registered. For a time there was the order to transfer Jewish prisoners west from the rear area of Army Group Center, i.e. not to kill them immediately.
However, the efforts for murdering Jews were obviously increased anew in the rear area of Army Group Center in the autumn of 1941. According to the former Colonel Marschall’s account, he had heard from camp commandants subordinated to him “that there was some order to kill all Russian Jews”. He said that he had sent an inquiry on this to von Schenckendorff, who had transmitted it to the Army High Command. There in turn the information had been confirmed and a new order for handing over prisoners to security police and SD been issued. This version is not credible in several aspects. But much indicates that Wagner’s order of 7 October, the background of which research has not been able to clarify so far, was meant not only to relieve the camp personnel from the murder work but also to provide for an increased persecution of the Jewish prisoners. The murder of Soviet Jews had been decided upon at this time; on 2 October the Army High Command had thus issued directives for taking hold of all Jewish property in the area under military administration. At transit camp 131 (Bobruisk) there seems to have been a radicalization at this time, at any rate. According to eyewitness accounts at the beginning of November about 200 Jewish prisoners of war were first mistreated and then shot. In the same month 800 Jewish prisoners are said to have been identified at fake medical examinations on hand of their circumcision and taken away.
At the same time there was a conflict between the commandant of transit camp 185 (Mogilev), Major Wittmer, and Einsatzkommando 8 because Wittmer refused to hand over Jewish prisoners of war and civilian prisoners. In another context he declared that he objected to “plain and simple murder”. Wittmer can hardly be seen as a hero, however: at the beginning of July 1941 he had requested a company of Police Battalion 322 for the camp he led at Bialystok, which unit had then within 8 days shot 73 men due to alleged attempts to escape, more every day – and almost all were Jews. At his camp in Mogilev, with daily rations of partially only 1400 calories, starvation killed 40,000 men. His statements towards the representative of Einsatzkommando 8 thus seem somewhat hypocritical. As Wittmer in this respect had no full backing by the supreme commander of Army Group Center, von Bock, there was a selection by EK 8 in transit camp 185 soon thereafter, during which 196 Jews and functionaries were shot. Thereafter Jewish prisoners of war were continuously murdered in Belorussia, for example 207 men at the Vitebsk base camp by EK 9 in December 1941, regularly groups at base camp 352 (Minsk) in the years 1942 and 1943 and in the winter of 1942/43 at Gomel by the camp personnel, which in biting frost drained Jewish internees with water and let them freeze to death in the open. At Kritchev Jewish prisoners were first tortured with exceedingly heavy forced labor before they were shot.
Another group of prisoners of war who were annihilated especially in the first months of the war was the so-called Asiatics. Their killing was also part of the tasks of the Einsatzgruppen from the beginning. Although they were mentioned for the first time ion Heydrich's order no. 8 of 17 July 1941, selections and murders by Einsatzgruppe B in Minsk already occurred before that. In accordance with the General Quarter Master Wagner’s order of 24 July the camp and guard personnel registered the “Asiatics (according to their race)” under the term “Asiatics”, also in Belorussia. There are no reports about their killing by the Wehrmacht from this area, however. At an unknown time, for instance, 200 to 250 Red Army soldiers considered Mongolian were selected from the prisoner of war camp at Mogilev and shot by EK 8. In part the detachments of security police and SD also murdered them as presumed Jews, as Muslims are also circumcised. After several months protests from the Eastern Ministry and the Amt Ausland/Abwehr of the Wehrmacht High Command piled up because these entities considered the Asiatics, especially the Muslim Caucasians and soldiers from Central Asia, to be predestined collaborators. These protests led to an order by Heydrich of 12 September 1941 putting an end to the shooting of the “Asiatics”, which order, however, was not immediately followed by all Einsatzkommandos.
More is to follow.
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It's a very good book indeed, though probably too thick to be translated - far over 1,000 pages.Ogorek wrote:Thank you Roberto -
Quite a bit of work on your part on somethng that wouuld have otherwise never had appeared in English. Even if I had the book, it would have taken me forever to plow through it with my poor German.
I'm looking forward to some editor contacting me for translation of Gerlach's other book Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord, however. It's only 307 pages long, easy to read and very instructive.
Besides, I could use the money.
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More is to follow.b) The Annihilation on Marches and Transports
The murders described hereafter occurred in a different manner than the selection of certain groups of persons. They were directed against the mass of the prisoners and usually hit those who were in the worst physical condition. The perpetrators were also others, almost exclusively members of security divisions and home infantry battalions of the Wehrmacht. They shot those who could no longer keep on marching or disturbed the transport movements in another way.
This happened everywhere in Belorussia, but due to the lack of sources we must limit ourselves to some focal points. One of them was Minsk, whereto more prisoners of war were taken than to any other Belorussian city. As the freight train station was located in the south of Minsk while the prisoner of war camps were in the north, the exhausted Red Army men had to march through the whole city and were shot before the eyes of the civilian population in their thousands. This began already in July 1941.At this time there was the first instruction of a troop commander against such shootings. The commander of the 87th Infantry Division, General Major v. Studnitz, also pointed out that the right organization conditions had to be created to avoid such shootings. For it is true that it was the often numerically very weak guard detachments, usually lower ranks, who shot the weakened prisoners without an express order because they saw no better solution for keeping the transport going, heartlessly but out of a so-called objective necessity. But the pre-conditions such as planned marching distance, time schedule, food supplies, means of transportation and strength of the guard detachment were less their responsibility than that of the staffs at various levels, who thus decided about the lives of many prisoners. Doubtlessly racism built up over years, national chauvinism, anti-Bolshevism and the criminal incitement orders of Hitler and the Army and Wehrmacht High Command in the spring and summer of 1941 played an important part. Without all these factors the killing would not have occurred. But the counter-orders of troop commanders, which were issued later and argued in another direction, improved nothing at all, because they either turned abstractly against “brutality” towards prisoners (v. Bock) or, while they addressed the causes of the shootings during marches – not always consequently – they could not change them or did not intend to bring about a fundamental change. Such would have required a modification of the Wehrmacht’s transportation and supply structure in favor of the prisoners, which the troops’ command was not willing to bring about, thereby incurring in a decisive co-responsibility for the mass killing of the prisoners. The guard detachments often thought: why don’t shoot the exhausted fellows it they will soon die of starvation anyway? Only the unchanging basic conditions for carrying out the prisoner marches and transports explain why the orders against the shootings were without effect – a so far open question.
Some troop commanders expressly authorized the execution of the “sick and debilitated” when the guard detachments told them of their difficulties in carrying out the transports, even General Major v. Ditfurth, who stood out for having issued a counter-order.
According to the reports and eyewitness testimonials the murders on marches and transports increased in a well nigh incredible manner in the autumn and winter of 1941. This was especially obvious in the city of Minsk. After a transport in January 1942 alone 1,000 to 2,000 corpses of prisoners are said to have lain in the Minsk main street Sovietskaja. That 80 out of 8,000 men were shot between Masjukovshtchina and the Minsk freight train station was nothing unusual. For instance, German soldiers of Home Infantry Battalion 332 indicted by the Soviets stated that once on 3 October 1941 31 men and once in November 200 men, at other times between 100 and 500 men, had been murdered especially on the way to the secondary camp at the Pushkin barracks in the northeast of Minsk. And this happened on a relatively short trip – on overland marches in Belorussia things were no different, only harder to document. During a march of 3,000 Soviet prisoners of war from Bobruisk in the direction of Sluzk on 7 November 1941, according to a witness who went after the column in a horse cart and counted the bodies, 729 men were shot – then the march was cancelled, and the column had to turn back. Whether in Minsk alone a total of 5,000 or 20,000 prisoners were shot in such actions, as becomes apparent from various eyewitness testimonials, can no longer be clarified.
For the killing of marching prisoners sometimes other reasons than their hindering the transport movement were given. Interned Red Army soldiers were shot for stealing food or for lack of discipline – because they had plundered a truck loaded with cabbages or fought over an insufficient amount of bread made available. Furthermore resistance and – a violation of international law – escape attempts were stated as reasons. At the end of July 1941 units of the 403rd Security Division massacred 94 prisoners of war during an escape attempt. “For recalcitrance and escape attempts” 30 were killed at the same time in the prisoner collection center at Sluzk. At the end of November 1941 200 men were shot as Base Camp 351 (Glebokie) for allegedly having attacked the guards. All this surely stands for numerous other cases. Such actions were directly attributable to various incitement orders regarding the guarding of Soviet prisoners, such as v. Kluge’s Army Order No. 3 of 29 June 1941, the Army High Command order of 25 July, the Wehrmacht High Command Order of 8 September (“Use of weapons against Soviet prisoners of war is as a rule deemed to be lawful”) and Reinecke’s statements in Warsaw on 4 September 1941. The corresponding guidelines were updated by the Commanders of Prisoners of War in the Eastern Territories, Gaissert and Pawel, in 1942.
Railway transports also served for the annihilation of Soviet prisoners of war. As late a mid-December 1941 they were partially carried out in open freight cars, causing many prisoners of war to freeze to death. During a railway transport Bobruisk – Minsk Center in mid-November 1941, for instance, “20 % died (of 5,000 men = 1,000 men)”. This was not a single case. At the station Koljatitchi between Bobruisk and Minsk 600 dead were unloaded on a single night in November 1941; on a transport Gomel-Bobruisk 200 of 600 prisoners died; on other transports things were similar. It is unclear if these deaths, like those on the marches, were even included in the corresponding overall statistics or must be added thereto. The line to open mass murder was thin. Prisoners were run through a number of camps in a short time, which diminished their survival chances. The character of intended annihilation becomes especially clear when looking at what happened at the stations of destination. The deputy commander of Transit Camp 131 (Bobruisk), Languth, had a transport from Baranovichi consisting of 17 cars pushed onto a side track for two days, until almost all those inside had frozen to death. Not only those who had died during the trip were unloaded; the freight train stations also became execution sites. In Bobruisk, for instance, prisoners were shot if they seemed too slow or undisciplined in getting off the trains. At the railway station Lesnaja by Base Camp 337 near Baranovichi the weakest from the arriving railway transports were sorted out, shot and thrown into prepared pits. At the Minsk freight train station 5,000 to 20,000 prisoners of war are said to have been shot in this manner by the second, third and fourth companies of Home Infantry Battalion 332 at the orders of certain officers not very high in rank, one of them a first lieutenant. The perpetrators belonged to the Wehrmacht. These crimes [emphasis author’s] have so far hardly been taken notice of by German historical research.
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c) Mass Executions of Soviet Prisoners of War
German soldiers and policemen shot Soviet prisoners of war in Belorussia in their thousands because they didn’t perish fast enough. This happened not only on occasion of transportation movements, but the victims were also directly taken out of the prisoner of war camps in order to be murdered.
West German research has in this respect mainly focused on the murder of Soviet prisoners of war who had been taken to the concentration camps of the SS. According to available research there died, insofar as this can be reconstructed, about 50,000 Soviet prisoners of war in these camps. An additional unrecorded number must be considered as equally high. The transfers to the concentration camps began around the turn of the months August / September 1941. The order to carry out executions of selected prisoners only in concentration camps close to the respective base camp is said to have been given by Heydrich already on 27 August 1941. After agreement with the Wehrmacht High Command in September Soviet prisoners of war meant for forced labor were delivered to the concentration camps since October 1941. Almost all of them died of hunger and mistreatment and are included in the above numbers. So much for the territory of the Reich; in Belorussia the presence of Soviet prisoners of war in camps of SS and police can be proven only for Trostinez, about 200 in the autumn of 1942. Maybe a transport of prisoners from Minsk was taken to Treblinka for extermination.
Into this context also belongs the action “Hühnerfarm” (“Chicken Farm”), which will be briefly described here although it happened at Biala Podlaska, 30 kilometers to the west of Brest in Poland, then the General Government. There the 2nd company of Police Battalion 306 between 21 and 28 September 1941 shot at least 6,000 prisoners (3,261 already on the first day) because the camp (Base Camp 359 B in Kalikov) was to be evacuated due to an epidemic of dysentery. The members of the company were told when the order was issued “that the feeding situation of the Russian prisoners would lead to problems and that one was not in conditions to feed the mass of the prisoners”. The number of those murdered during the action “Hühnerfarm” was transmitted under the line “laid eggs”. This mass murder is especially well known, but of its purpose no notice has been taken so far. The time of the occurrence is again noteworthy, for like the history of transfers to the concentration camps it suggests a radicalization of the policy of annihilation towards Soviet prisoners of war in September 1941.
But this was not all. Contrary to all conventional accounts SS and police were not the only ones to commit such thoroughly organized massacres of Soviet prisoners of war. In Belorussia the perpetrators instead mostly belonged to Wehrmacht units, and the murder of prisoners regarded as no longer useful was sort of normal. Thus in a number of camps the sick internees were regularly wiped out. In Base Camp 324 (Lososna near Grodno) the sick were shot once a week; in Gomel the weakest, who could no longer defend themselves against this, were thrown with the dead onto the corpse heaps in winter, while special detachments executed those prisoners who had stayed in their barracks during the day; in the Minsk hospital the staff murdered the sick with poison injections; in Transit Camp 131 (Bobruisk) and Polozk sick prisoners were shot; in the outer camp Stolbzy prisoners with third degree frostbite “disappeared”. This was still a little below the level of the solution that had been proposed by the head of department for health matters at the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia, Dr. Weber, i.e. to immediately shoot all prisoners sick with spotted fever in Base Camp 342 (Molodetshno), several thousand, which the Wehrmacht refused to do in the winter 1941/42. Such extermination actions, during which the inmates of whole barracks were wiped out, did however occur in the following winter in the camps Daugavpils and Rezenke in Latvia. Wehrmacht units or their tools committed such crimes until the last minute. On the retreat prisoners were taken along, but those who were unable to march or to work were not left to the enemy but murdered. In Gomel 600 sick were transferred to a hospital in November 1943 and blown up with this hospital. On the march from Minsk to Mariampol at the end of June 1944 Belorussian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian guards killed 1,700 out of 3,000 prisoners of a column.
From eyewitness depositions and through the exhumation of mass graves in can be concluded that throughout the period of occupation massacres of Soviet prisoners of war occurred, beginning in the autumn of 1941. The motivation is mostly unknown, but it should generally have been about murdering the sick or “solving” supply problems.
Table 18: Examples of Mass Executions of Soviet Prisoners of War in Belorussia
Time; Site; Number of Victims; Remarks
10.8.1941; Pukhovichi; 32; perpetrators were “detachment of military police” (GFP)?
October 1941; Usda; 48; perpetrators were an SS detachment
October 1941; near Base Camp 352 (Minsk); 2,000 - 8000; lasted three days
around 23.10.1941; Nevish; roughly 3,000; about at the same time as annihilation of Jews by 707th Infantry Division
25.10.1941; Pukhovichi; 60; perpetrators as on 10.8
December 1941; Marina Gorka; 300; victims were burned
February 1942; Base Camp 352 (Minsk); 550 and 375; perpetrators Wehrmacht
11./12.4.1942; Slonim; 690
10.7.1942; Pukhovichi; 90; perpetrators as on 10.8.41
August 1942; Base Camp 352 (Minsk); 600
1942; Hansevichi; at least 60; perpetrators: local commandant’s detachment
10.8.1943; Bolshije, Tshutshevichi, R. Luniniez; 146; 84 civilians were shot at the same time
unknown; Glebokie; ?; with machine guns
unknown; Lojev; 404
There was, however, also the killing for fun, out of sadism, like in the area of Lida, where on Sundays prisoners were used for target practice. Other, especially sadistic killing methods were also employed, like medical experiments on living persons (Baranovichi, Bobruisk), punitive roll-calls (one in Base Camp 352 near Minsk lasted seven hours and claimed 200 lives) and especially the method of letting prisoners freeze to death in winter in the open after they had been drenched with water (Bobruisk, Gomel, Minsk, Marina Gorka). The purpose, again, was often the destruction of the sick. It is not possible to state the number of victims.
Three murder actions shall be picked and pointed out here, which are a little less obscure due to lack of sources than the others. In Base Camp 357 (Lesnaja) between March 1942 and August 1943 communists and other politically unreliable prisoners were selected and either shot or - on several occasions - choked in gas vans. In August 1942 alone there were 720 officers whom the security police bumped off as a reprisal for one officer’s refusal to become a collaborator. The vehicles must have come from the dependency of the commander of security police and SD at Lesnaja, which worked together with military intelligence. Among the victims there were also sick and especially frequently officers, who in Lesnaja were subject to special mistreatment. About them the Wehrmacht High Command had ruled at the beginning of September 1941: “Officers will often be subject to selection as ‘political undesirables’” and thus given the competent detachments or security police and SD a recommendation to draw the circle of murder victims very wide.
In January 1943 there occurred in the area of Minsk the greatest mass shooting of Soviet prisoners of war on Belorussian soil. According to the depositions of several witnesses, especially the German perpetrator Alois Heterich, the 3rd battalion of Infantry Regiment 595 was unloaded at Minsk during the transportation of the 327th Infantry Division to Krasnodar at the end of January 1943, and during three nights at the end of January or beginning of February had to shoot 10,000 people, mostly prisoners of war from the camp by the freight station, at a place a few kilometers away from the camp. Heterich’s platoon alone had executed 1,500 men. Allegedly there were also mass killings by gas vans in the following days. The victims (among them, according to the result of the exhumation, also a small proportion of civilians, among them women) were killed by a shot in the neck and wore uniforms of the Soviet tank troops. The number of dead in the mass grave of Uretshje 6 kilometers east of Minsk, which Soviet authorities, taking into account the depositions of witnesses, estimated at 30,000, was about 12,500, judging by the description of the mass graves. [Footnote: Ten mass graves with a ground area of 24 x 5 meters, into which corpses had been thrown in three rows and seven layers on top of each other.] About the motivations of the deed only speculations are possible.
The most infamous mass killing of Soviet prisoners of war occurred on 9 November 1941 in Bobruisk. The sequence of it is disputed. It is clear that on the afternoon of that day a barracks of the Bobruisk citadel, many times overfilled with 17,000 prisoners and at that time used by Camp III of Transit Camp 131, caught fire. An unknown number of prisoners was crushed or trampled to death in the resulting panic, choked or burned. Another 1,700 prisoners were shot by units of Infantry Regiment 692, which before had posted machine-gun nests around the square before the barracks, with salvos into the crowd due to an alleged danger of breakout. According to the depositions of the deputy camp commandant Languth, accused in Minsk, the fire was laid under strictest secrecy at the roof of the barracks in compliance with an the order of the former District Commander K for prisoners of war, Major Sturm, in order to simulate a breakout attempt by the prisoners. Of the transit camp’s staff only Languth and camp commandant Roeder had known about this. West German justice, on the other hand, endorsed the official account in the Wehrmacht report, according to which the prisoners had tried to break out and the German reaction had been measured and lawful. A closer look at the argumentation of the competent German prosecution shows the same to be at least sloppy and not in accordance with the facts. The Belorussian version, which realistically assumes a total of 4,000 dead, in not proved and contains contradictions, but is on the whole more conclusive, especially if a look is taken at the surroundings of this event. On the morning of 7 November 1941, before the fire broke out, 3,000 prisoners were taken away to Sluzk, of whom the guards murdered no less than 729 until marching kilometer 20. The staying of an enormous number of prisoners (60,000) and the so far practiced form of transport Roeder on 20 November called “untenable”. This applied most of all to the food situation. On 7 and 8 November 1941, on the two days prior to the barracks fire, members of Einsatzkommando 8 and Police Battalion 316 shot the last 5,281 Jews in Bobruisk. Besides, according to German eyewitness testimonials, the prisoners in the barracks were mostly sick. As far as the person of Languth is concerned, he was described by a former comrade of his unit as a brutal murderer prone to excesses. Altogether these factors lead to the conclusion that in those days thousands of “useless eaters” should be and were murdered in the city.
On the whole the state of German research regarding the shooting of prisoners of war seems to require correction. Not security police and SD were the only perpetrators, but most shootings of prisoners, at least in Belorussia, were carried out by members and units of the Wehrmacht. The scale of these mass murders cannot be approximately quantified, but it was in any case a lot higher, and the process was more systematic, than has been hitherto assumed. There were more killings due to the selection of sick and weak than due to the selection of political opponents. On the other hand the overwhelming majority of Soviet prisoners of war on Belorussian soil were killed not by shooting, but through starvation - in the “custody” (v. Bock) of the army.
The Total Number of Victims and the Significance of the Mass Murder of Soviet Prisoners of War
According to official statements 790,596 Soviet prisoners of war were murdered on the territory of this republic. In regard to the biggest camps the Belorussian authorities give the following numbers, which as a rule are supported by verifiable calculations on hand of the size of the mass graves:
Camp; Number of Victims
Bobruisk; 40,000 (until 20.11.1941: 14,777)
Grodno; 14 - 20,000
Kritshev; 18,000 ?
Lesnaja near Baranovichi; 88,407
Polozk; 20,000 (more than 100,000?)
Total; at least 633,000
In view of the insecurities in the case of Polozk and the deaths in temporarily existing camps, secondary camps and principally on marches and transports the total result of the Belorussian investigation commission is thus mostly covered by the results of exhumations. Mainly on the basis of sources minimum figures were given above [ = in the previous chapters, translator’s note], which add up to 405,000 destroyed prisoners of war. As the sources are rather incomplete, however, this cannot be taken as a reason for correcting the official Belorussian data. As far as can be reconstructed, the Belorussian authorities in their evaluation of the excavation results arrived at numbers mostly accurate, rarely too high and in some cases even too low. A total of 700,000 murdered prisoners of war should therefore hardly be too high. Thus no less than 21 per cent of all 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war who perished in German custody died on Belorussian soil. Here was a center of the mass murder. In other words: a third of all at least 2.1 million prisoners of war of Army Group Center died in the first county of passage - which some Wehrmacht strategists saw as the country of permanence -, Belorussia.
The Soviet prisoners of war were the largest group of victims of German crimes in occupied Belorussia and in the whole war against the Soviet Union. The prisoner of war camps factually developed into machines of destruction, instruments of a mass crime planned by the state as far as their function was concerned, although this genocide, superficially seen, seems “pre-industrial”, barbarian and unruly. The remark should be sufficient that over a period of months as many prisoners died in a single larger transit camp or base camp as corresponded to the entire daily murder capacity of Einsatzgruppe B. The victims of this procedure, however, were not a stigmatized social group for which there was only a limited degree of solidarity among the population, like the Jews, but a cross-section of the Soviet society, made up of members of all nationalities except the ethnic Germans, thereof in Belorussia over-proportionally many Belorussians due to the short enlistment time. Even more than the Jews the prisoners of war were victims in public: from the first weeks of the war onward they were shot in rows before the eyes of the civilian population. No other circumstance - not even the deportation of forced laborers - made the Soviet population realize so quickly, irrefutably and brutally what the attitude of the German administration towards the whole Soviet population was really all about.
Together with the inhabitants of the encircled city of Leningrad, the prisoners of war were the only Soviet population group against whom the Hunger Plan developed at the beginning of 1941 could be carried out, as the Germans could effectively keep them from uncontrolled access to food. Thus rations that theoretically were higher than those of the Soviet civilian population in the cities led to a horrendous mass dying among the prisoners such as did not occur among the civilians. The same applied to the obtaining of fire material. The carrying out of the Hunger Plan against the prisoners entered a new phase in September of 1941, at the same time as the genocide of the Jews in Belorussia, when new difficulties in the supply of the Wehrmacht and the German food economy came up. Previously vague ideas of underfeeding were replaced by a concrete strategy of annihilation by underfeeding. At the same time, insofar as can be deducted from the sources, the treatment of the prisoners in Belorussia also became more radical, especially the practice of shootings. The main responsibility for the sharper hunger policy lay with the civilian and military central authorities seated in Berlin and East Prussia, especially Göring, the Reich Ministry for Nourishment, the office Army High Command / General Quarter Master and the prisoner of war department of the Wehrmacht High Command. The camp commands often still showed the effort to improve the feeding of the prisoners, without being able to obtain enough food due to the lower priority given to this matter. The catastrophic accommodation at many places, which was the camp staffs’ own responsibility, the inhuman treatment and the completely emotionless reports about this unparalleled mass dying, however, show their participation in the death of the prisoners. These did not fall victim to anonymous forces, but the responsibilities can very well be delineated.
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Some do, some don't, as is usual with most large groups of people. We welcome sourced information here, but delete unsourced opinion posts after a warning.Well, it is quite a lot of literature on this subject in Russian. Everything is well documented and with a lot of witnesses. But it is of no use to translate it here, as Westerners do not trust Russian sources.