Friday, September 12, 2008

How Many Perpetrators in the USSR? - Part Two: Belorussia

Author: Jonathan Harrison
To demonstrate the wide range of perpetrators outlined in Part One of this series, this blog presents a case study of inter-agency co-operation in killing operations in Belorussia. Information is taken from German criminal trials and from three main secondary sources: Christian Gerlach's chapter in this collection, Peter Longerich's report to the Irving-Lipstadt trial, and the passages concerning Belorussia in Browning and Matthaeus (hereafter B/M).

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Gerlach's chapter identifies three mass killings in which Wehrmacht commanders were involved at some stage in the round-ups or in ordering the actual killing. Firstly, in the first few weeks of occupation in the Summer of 1941, it seems that Generalfeldmarschall Guenther von Kluge of the 4th Panzer Army acquiesced in the selections of men in a prison camp in Minsk, some of whom were then shot by Nebe's Einsatzgruppe B. Kluge had at least one meeting with Nebe on the issue (Gerlach, p.217).

Secondly, on 7th July 1941, FK 184 acquiesced in the round-up of 4,000 Jews and 400 non-Jews in Brest. These were shot the following day by units of Police Battalion 307, the Security Police, and SD from Lublin (ibid.).

Whether the involvement of these commanders was 'acquiescence' (passive consent) or active engagement in the killing process, there can be no doubt that the killings occurred under their watch, and with their knowledge.

The third example is a killing for which Wehrmacht orders definitely existed. In the autumn of 1941, the commander of 707th Infantry Division, Bechtolsheim, issued orders to Reserve Battalion 11 (led by Lechtaler) and a detachment of EK 3, both of which had been sent (along with large numbers of native auxiliaries) from Lithuania to Belorussia at the request of the Wehrmacht. These orders resulted in the killings of 14,400 men, women and children in massacres that spanned Slutzk, Kleck, Kliniki, Smilovichi, Kojdanov and the Minsk civilian prisoner camp (B/M, pp.289-90). Lechtaler received a prison sentence for these killings at this trial.

Other Wehrmacht commanders who shared culpability for mass murder included von Schenckendorff, the commander of Rear Army Area Center. He had been at Bialystok on 8th July when Himmler arrived in the city and addressed a group that included HSSPF Bach-Zelewski and the commander of Police Regiment Center, Max Montua, whose battalions included 316 and 322. Shortly after Himmler's visit, these two battalions participated in the shootings of 1,000 Jews in Bialystok (B/M, p.257).

In late-September, von Schenckendorff organised an anti-partisan training course attended by Bach-Zelewski, Nebe and Fegelein, to promote inter-agency co-operation. Nebe was the leader of Einsatzgruppe B and Fegelein commanded the the SS Cavalry Brigade, which was the force given to the HSSPF Bach-Zelewski in July by Himmler. Von Schenckendorff was also instrumental in securing the transfer of Reserve Battalion 11 for the killings described above.

Fegelein's SS Cavalry Brigade was a major killer in Belorussia. It conducted two sweeps of the Pripet Marshes on Himmler's orders. This sweeps are summarized in Longerich's report here.
In the area behind the central section of the Front, the character of the mass executions began to enter a new stage as a result of the use of the SS Cavalry Brigade. This Brigade carried out a first "cleansing operation" in the Pripet marshes between 29 July and 12 August under the leadership of the Higher SS and Police Leader, by which 13,788 "looters" (i.e. mostly Jews) were shot and 714 were held prisoner. On the side of the Brigade 2 were killed and 15 wounded. Between 17 August and 23 August the Cavalry Brigade initiated a second "action" by which, according to their own report, altogether 699 Red Army men, 1001 partisans and 14,178 Jews were shot. Shortly before these two "actions", Himmler had visited Baranovice where he ordered the brigade to kill all Jewish men and the women as well - although in a different way. From a radio-telegraph text dated August 1 from the Second Cavalry Regiment we can read: "Explicit order of the RFSS. All Jews must be shot. Jewish women to be driven into the swamp."
Another subordinate of the HSSPF implicated in killing was SSPF White Ruthenia, Carl Zenner. In this trial, Zenner received a sentence of 15 years for his role in killing 6,000 Jews in the Minsk ghetto to make space for Reich Jews.

The involvement of Police Battalions in the murder campaigns is summarized by Longerich. The major killing Battalions in Belorussia were 307, 309, 316 and 322. Longerich summarizes their early actions:
In Bialystok, the Police Battalion 309 committed a massacre as early as 27 June in which at least 2000 Jews, among them women and children were victims. In the course of this action, members of the Battalion forced at least 500 into the Synagogue and murdered them by setting fire to the building.

2.6.2 In Bialystok, Police Battalion 316 and 322 staged a massacre in the middle of July whereby altogether 3000 Jewish men were killed. A few days before this massacre, on the afternoon of 8 July, Himmler appeared in Bialystok together with the Chief of the Order Police, Daluege. In a meeting with SS and Police Officers Himmler stated, according to Bach-Zelewski's testimony, that "basically every Jew was to be regarded as a partisan". On the next day, Daluege announced in a speech to members of the Police Regiment Centre that "Bolshevism must now be definitively exterminated". Two days later, on 11 July, the Commander of the Police Regiment Centre issued the order to shoot all Jewish men between the ages of 17 and 45 convicted as looters. The police made it very easy to "convict" Jews as "looters"; three days previously, members of the Battalion 322 had searched the Jewish quarter and confiscated the goods therein as "loot". Jews were thus per se "looters."

2.6.3 The Police Battalion 316 perpetrated in Baranowicze a further massacre in the second half of July with probably several hundred dead; it was later involved in two mass executions in Mogilev, whereby on September 19, 3700 Jews (also women and children) were killed.

2.6.4 The Police Battalion 307 shot several thousand Jewish civilians in Brest-Litovsk around July 12; almost all were men between 16 and 60, it was a supposed "retribution measure" (Vergeltungsmaßnahme). Immediately before the massacre, Daluege, the Chief of the Police Regiment Centre, Montua, Bach-Zelewski and further Higher SS Leaders had assembled in Brest.
Battalions 316 and 322 were also key agencies in the escalation of killing in October 1941, which began in Mogilev:
On 2 October, a Company of the Police Battalion 322 in Mogilev (where Bach-Zelewski's Headquarters were located) lead a "special action upon the orders of the High SS Police Leader", in which "2208 Jews of both sexes " were involved. (This formulation reveals that children were included.) These people were shot without exception, together with Ukrainian militia men. On 19 October, four days before Himmler appeared for an inspection in Bach's new headquarters in Mogilev, "an important action" against the Jews (Judenaktion grösseren Ausmasses), as it was called in the event report, "was carried out there, by which 3726 Jews of both sexes and all ages were liquidated". This was a clear signal that once again children had also been victims.132 In this "action" the EK 8 and the Police Battalion 316 were implicated. With these two massacres in Mogilev, Bach-Zelewski began a whole series of further, similar "major actions" (Grossaktionen) in eastern Belorus.
The final agency to join this killing process was the civilian administration. Relations between these bureaucrats and the SS did not always runs smoothly, as we know from the complaint by Slutzk District Commissioner Carl, which was Nuremberg document 1104-PS, and Kube's strained relations with KdS Strauch. Mostly, however, administrators were complicit in the killings of Jews. This was the subject of two major German trials - for Slonim and Lida respectively. More on the Lida trial can be found here.

The pattern noted here for Belorussia was typical of the Nazis' organisation of genocide across the USSR. The next two blogs will illustrate this fact further with case studies of Galicia and Ukraine

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