Friday, August 04, 2006

One might think that …

… the Nazis’ crimes during World War II amounted mainly or exclusively to killing Jews in the gas chambers of a number of extermination camps, especially Auschwitz-Birkenau. For this is what so-called "Revisionists", those crazy folks generally motivated by admiration of the Nazi regime and/or hatred of Jews, predominantly focus on.

Yet the gas chambers of the extermination camps Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka and the dual purpose camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek were but one aspect of the Nazi genocide of the Jews. According to Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, Table B-1 on page 1219, about 800,000 Jews died as a result of "ghettoization and general occupation" in ghettos in German-occupied Eastern Europe, in Theresienstadt and the Transnistria colonies of Nazi Germany’s Romanian ally or due to privation outside of ghettos, 1.3 million were killed in open air shootings by Einsatzgruppen, SS and police units and Wehrmacht or Romanian army units, and about 300,000 perished in concentration, labor or transit camps or fell victim to mass killings by Nazi Germany’s Croatian ally or other causes. So a total of 2.4 million out of the 5.1 million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide estimated by Hilberg, or 47 % of the total, were not killed by mass gassing in camps with installations dedicated to this purpose. More recent research, including but not limited to the country studies published in Wolfgang Benz et al, Dimensionen des Völkermords, points to an overall Jewish death toll above 6 million and to an even higher proportion of deaths outside such camps, especially open air shootings in mobile killing operations. Yet "Revisionist" concern with mobile killing operations is dwarfed by their obsession with gas chambers (especially those of Auschwitz-Birkenau), and Jewish mass mortality due to privation in ghettos and camps is hardly addressed by them at all. True to the populist nature of "Revisionism", this weighting is, of course, a mirror image of public knowledge of either aspect of the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

The Nazi genocide of the Jews, in turn, was but one aspect of deliberate non-combat killings of unarmed non-combatants by the Nazis throughout Europe during World War II. Though this may be old news to who has done research on the Nazi regime and its horrors in some detail, it seems to be even less well known to the general public than Jewish deaths outside camps wholly or partially dedicated to mass extermination, and accordingly occupies even less space in "Revisionist" attempts to falsify history. Even serious students of Nazi crimes sometimes come across as somewhat misinformed about the crimes against non-Jews, like when THHP member Gord McFee, in his online article Are The Jews Central To The Holocaust writes that

The Holocaust, from its conception to its implementation had a distinctly Jewish aspect to it and, arguably without this Jewish aspect, there would have been no Holocaust. Most of the non-Jewish people would not have been killed because the killing machinery would not have been put into operation.

Actually things were arguably the other way round. The killing machinery was put into operation targeting Jews among other population groups, and only later focused mainly on Jews. On page 10 of his book Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord, German historian Christian Gerlach writes:

Seit langem beschäftigt sich die Geschichtswissenschaft mit der deutschen Vernichtungspolitik in den ersten Monaten des Krieges gegen die Sowjetunion. Sie bildete gewissermaßen den Auftakt von Massenmorden in einem bis dahin nicht gekannten Ausmaβ. Vielleicht sind, um diese Entwicklung deutlich zu machen, zwei Zeitschnitte hilfreich: Hätte das NS-Regime im Mai 1941 ein plötzliches Ende gefunden, ware es vor allem durch die Morde an 70 000 Kranken und Behinderten in der sogenannten "Euthanasie" – Aktion, an mehreren zehntausend jüdischen und nichtjüdischen Polen und an vielen tausend Konzentrationslagerinsassen im Deutschen Reich berüchtigt geblieben. Zum Ende des Jahres 1941 war die Zahl der Opfer der deutschen Gewaltpolitik um über drei Millionen Menschen angewachsen (die Gefallenen der Roten Armee nicht gerechnet) – darunter etwa 900 000 Juden, neun Zehntel davon in den besetzten sowjetischen Gebieten, und annähernd zwei Millionen sowjetische Kriegsgefangene. [Footnote: Weitere groβe Opfer hatte bis dahin die deutsche Politik zur angeblichen Partisanenbekämpfung (mindestens 100 000 Menschen, vor allem in Weiβruβland, Mittelruβland und Serbien) sowie die Hungerblockade gegen Leningrad mit Hunderttausenden Toten hervorgerufen.] Erst im Laufe des Jahres 1942 wurde dann die jüdische Bevölkerung Europas zur gröβten Gruppe der Opfer der deutschen Vernichtungspolitik.

My translation:

The science of history has long concerned itself with the German extermination policy in the first years of the war against the Soviet Union. It was in a certain way the preamble of mass murders to an extent unknown until then. In order to make this development clear, it may be helpful to distinguish between two phases: had the NS regime suddenly come to an end in May 1941, it would have remained infamous mainly due to the murder of 70,000 sick and disabled in the so-called "euthanasia" action, of several ten thousand Jewish and non-Jewish Poles and of many thousand concentration camp inmates in the German Reich. Towards the end of the year 1941 the number of victims of the German policy of violence had grown by over three million people (not counting Red Army troops killed in combat) – thereof about 900,000 Jews, nine-tenths thereof in the occupied Soviet territories, and about two million Soviet prisoners of war. [Footnote: Further huge number of victims had until then been claimed by the German policy of alleged anti-partisan fighting (at least 100,000 people, mainly in Belorussia, Central Russia and Serbia) and by the hunger blockade against Leningrad with hundreds of thousands of dead.] Only in the course of the year 1942 the Jewish population of Europe became the largest group of victims of German extermination policy.

Emphases in the above translation are mine.

What were the reasons behind this quantum leap of Nazi mass killing that Gerlach points out?

One of the main factors leading to this sudden upsurge, according to Gerlach, was the Nazis’ so called Hunger Plan. According to Gerlach’s colleague Christian Streit, see the transcription of his article The Fate of Soviet Prisoners of War on the HC forum,

Obtaining foodstuffs from the East was one of the principal objectives of the German Reich in the war against Soviet Russia. The breakdown of Germany in 1918 had been a traumatic experience for the German leaders, and it was still remembered by Hitler and his generals. The merciless exploitation of food resources in the East was designed to make it possible for the German people to enjoy food consumption as in peacetime and, thus, to stabilise wartime morale.

The bureaucrats involved in the planning of this exploitation, Streit continues,

were perfectly aware of the fact that this implied "without doubt the starvation of umpteen million people."

What these bureaucrats had in mind becomes clear from two documents partially transcribed and translated on the HC forum thread The Nazi Hunger Plan for Occupied Soviet Territories, the protocol of a meeting of the secretaries of state on 2.5.1941 and the "Guidelines of Economic Policy for the Economic Organization East, prepared by the Agriculture Group". In the former document we read the following (my translation):

1.) The war can only be continued if the whole Wehrmacht is fed out of Russia in the 3rd war year.
2.) Due to this umpteen million people will doubtlessly starve to death when we take what is necessary for us out of the land.

The latter document goes into further detail in this respect (again, my translation):

There is no German interest in maintaining the productive capacity of these regions, also in what concerns the supplies of the troops stationed there. […] The population of these regions, especially the population of the cities, will have to anticipate a famine of the greatest dimensions. The issue will be to redirect the population to the Siberian areas. As railway transportation is out of the question, this problem will also be an extremely difficult one. […]
From all this there follows that the German administration in these regions may well attempt to milder the consequences of the famine that will doubtlessly occur and accelerate the naturalization process. It can be attempted to cultivate there areas more extensively in the sense of an extension of the area for cultivating potatoes and other high yield fruits important for consume. This will not stop the famine, however. Many tens of millions of people will become superfluous in this area and will die or have to emigrate to Siberia. Attempts to save the population from starvation death by using excesses from the black earth zone can only be made at the expense of the supply of Europe. They hinder Germany’s capacity to hold out in the war, they hinder the blockade resistance of Germany and Europe. This must be absolutely clear.[…]
These considerations show what the key issues are. The minimal goal must be to completely free Germany from the feeding of its own Wehrmacht in the 3rd year of the war in order to give German food economy the possibility of on the one hand keeping the rations so far issued and on the other to create certain reserves for the future. It will further be necessary to make available supplies for Germany to the greatest extent possible in the three key fields of nourishment – oil seeds, grain and meat – in order to guarantee the feeding not only of Germany, but also of the occupied areas in the north and west. […]
Finally the basics must be again pointed out. Russia under the Bolshevik system has withdrawn from Europe for pure reasons of power and thus disturbed the European work-sharing balance. Our task of reintegrating Russia into this balance necessarily implies tearing apart the present-day economic balance of the USSR. There is no question of maintaining what is there, but we are consciously moving away from it and integrating the food economy of Russia in the European area. This will necessarily lead both the industry and a great part of the people in the hitherto food importing areas to die off.
This alternative cannot be pointed out clearly and harshly enough.

Emphases in the above quote are mine.

This monstrous plan for mass murder by starvation was by no means just the brainchild of some crazy bureaucrats, as Hermann Göring tried to tell the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals. As noted in the "Guidelines", the "situation" outlined therein had been "approved by the highest entities", and indeed the statements of the highest-ranking Nazi leaders in this direction show that they saw mass starvation in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union as one of their goals, or as one of the inevitable consequences of their policies. Gerlach quoted some of their statements in this sense on pages 51 of his book Kalkulierte Morde , from which I translated the following excerpt:

The Hunger Plan also appeared on other occasions. For Göring it was a favorite subject. In November 1941 he told the Italian foreign minister Count Ciano that within a year 20 to 30 million people would starve to death in Russia. Maybe this was a good thing, for certain peoples needed to be reduced. Hitler spoke of a "population catastrophe" of the "Muscovites" and declared that due to lack or destruction of food "millions would have to die". According to Goebbels, the German leadership declared "publicly that Russia has nothing to expect from us and that we will let it starve to death." The General Plenipotentiary for Labor Employment, Fritz Sauckel, stated on 4 August 1942, during a visit in the occupied Soviet territories, that when he had been there in the autumn of 1941 "all German authorities had persisted in the conviction that in the following, i.e. in the past winter, at least ten to twenty million of these people would simply starve to death." At least some occupation authorities on site thus stuck to the guidelines as they were repeatedly stated similar to this: "We cannot feed the whole land. The intelligence has been killed, the commissars are gone. Huge areas will be left to themselves (starve to death)." Also the Eastern Minister Rosenberg repeatedly stated that the starvation death of millions was "a harsh necessity that stands outside any sentiment."

Fortunately for most of the 20 to 30 million intended victims of this killing program – essentially the inhabitants of the forest zone of northern Russia and the big cities – this unprecedented murder plan was not so easy to carry out, among other reasons because the German occupiers hardly had the manpower resources required to seal off cities and entire regions against the entry of food supplies and keep the inhabitants from defending themselves against the starvation death intended for them (as one expert quoted on page 32 of Gerlach’s book Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord, Peter-Heinz Seraphim, put it) by foraging for food in the countryside and black market trading. This realization, according to Gerlach, led the Nazis to systematically target specific groups of "useless eaters" against whom feasible killing programs could be carried out.

One such group was that of the Soviet prisoners of war in German hands. At the bottom of priorities from the very start of the war against the Soviet Union, and subject to the selective killing of certain elements among them (especially political commissars as well as Jewish and "Asiatic" prisoners) considered particularly undesirable under political and/or racial aspects, they became the target of a systematic policy of mass starvation in the autumn of 1941, as described by Gerlach on pages 30 to 56 of Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord, see my translation.

By the end of the winter of 1941/42, about 2 million out of a total of ca. 3.3 million Soviet POWs taken had either been bumped off or – in most cases – died of starvation, exposure or (more rarely) disease in transit or base camps or on the way thereto. The treatment of Soviet POWs started improving in the spring of 1942, but the selective killing of certain categories of prisoners continued, and mortality from undernourishment and related causes (especially tuberculosis) was enormous until the end of the war. The overall death toll is rendered as follows by Streit, in his above-mentioned article:

A total of approximately 5.7 million Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner between June 22, 1941, and the end of the war. In January 1945, there were some 930,000 Soviet POWs left in the prison camps of the Wehrmacht. About 1 million more had been released from captivity, most of them as so-called “Hilfswillige”, that is, helpers of the Wehrmacht. According to estimates from the German Army staff, another 500,000 of the prisoners either had escaped or were eventually liberated by the Red Army.
The remaining 3,300,000 or about 57 percent of the total number, had perished by 1945. To make these figures more meaningful, they should be compared with statistics on the British and American prisoners of war. Of the total of 231,000 such prisoners in German hands, 8,348 or 3.6 percent, died before the end of the war.

Somewhat lower than Streit's estimate is that of Alfred Streim, who calculates 2.53 million deaths among Soviet POWs out of 5.2 million. See Dr. Nick Terry's post of 26 Feb 2006 22:42 on the Axis History Forum thread Soviet Death Toll in WWII As A Whole about the differences between Streit's and Streim's calculations.

Another group targeted for mass starvation pursuant to the Hunger Plan was the civilian population of the city of Leningrad, which was besieged by the Wehrmacht for about 900 days and lost about a million inhabitants, mostly to starvation and freezing, during that period. As becomes apparent from the contemporary documents quoted and translated in the HC forum's thread The Siege of Leningrad and from a recent study by German historian Jörg Ganzenmüller, this was no ordinary siege, aimed at bringing about the surrender of an enemy stronghold and therefore permissible according to International Law at the time. For the besieging German armies were forbidden to accept the city’s surrender even if it were offered, and the declared purpose of the siege was not the surrender of the city, but its obliteration and the removal of its population, which the besiegers didn’t want to have on their hands as hungry mouths to feed. In an article in the German weekly Die Zeit, Ganzenmüller wrote the following: (my translation)

Hitler and the Wehrmacht command didn’t want to conquer Leningrad, but to destroy it. Already at the beginning of the Russian campaign, the army’s general chief of staff, Franz Halder, had entered the following in his war diary: »It is the Führer’s firm decision to level Moscow and Leningrad to the ground in order to avoid that people stay in there who we will then have to feed in the winter.«
What exactly was to happen with the Leningraders nobody was seriously thinking about for the time being. Genocide was not yet planned at this time, but first extermination fantasies got their start here. Thus Goebbels put the following oracle in his diary on 12 July 1941: »One can neither say what will become of this gigantic mass of millions in the near future. I see a catastrophe come up the dimensions of which are yet completely unforeseeable.«
Several weeks later the failure of the German blitzkrieg strategy was beginning to show. It had not been possible to defeat a large part of the Red Army immediately behind the Soviet border and then take possession of wide parts of the country in a »railway advance« without fighting. Instead the delay in the foreseen schedule put the entire Operation Barbarossa in question. The German leadership started making reductions from its original goals. First of all it renounced to the complete conquest of northern Russia, because these areas were not of decisive importance for the war. Yet there was still indecision about the treatment of Leningrad.
Already at the end of April 1941, two months before the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Reich Food Ministry had stated »that the problem of supplying Leningrad cannot be solved at all in terms of food if it should fall into our hands«. When now, in the late summer and autumn of 1941, Operation Barbarossa got stuck and also the exploitation of the conquered areas did not yield the expected results, the civilian population became a »food problem« in the Wehrmacht’s eyes. This gave Reich Marshall Hermann Göring, who was coordinating the economic exploitation of the occupied areas, the idea not to take Soviet major cities at all »due to economic considerations«. Instead he considered their encirclement to be more »advantageous«.
Thus the siege of Leningrad became the attempt to downright choke the city. Temporary considerations of the local commanders to »deport« the inhabitants behind the Soviet front quickly lost their meaning, as the German soldiers were not to be saddled with the »heavy psychological burden« resulting from the sight of such »hunger march«. The responsible in the army rear area were neither prepared, however, to take in and feed the people. Thus for the High Command of the 18th Army there remained only as »last possibility« the following: »All must starve.«
This decision for genocide apparently motivated »by need« or by »food policy« however was in complete consonance with the National Socialist Germanization policy. For Leningrad belonged to an area of the Soviet Union that in the future was to be settled by Germans under the name »Ingermanland«. The General Plan East, a gigantic resettlement program worked out under the supervision of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, still in 1942 foresaw that the urban population of that region would have sunk from 3.2 million in 1939 to 200,000 in postwar times. The difference of three million people who thus »disappeared« on paper corresponded to the number of Leningrad’s inhabitants at that time.

Although Leningrad was by far the deadliest case of application of the Hunger Plan, the same was also applied – though to a limited extent compared to the originally intended scope – in regard to cities in the occupied Soviet territories, such as Kiev. According to Table I on page 317 of the study Harvest of Despair. Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule , by Dutch historian Karel C. Berkhoff, the population of Kiev declined from an estimated 400,000 in October 1941 to 352,139 on April 1, 1942, 305,366 on October 1, 1942 and 295,639 on July 1, 1943. On page 186 Berkhoff writes that

Death by starvation was not the only reason for the rapid decline in population: deportation to Germany and Nazi shootings also played their part. Nevertheless, the starvation policy was an important factor, and it much resembled the musing of Hitler and Erich Koch in 1941 about depopulating the city.

Worse than in Kiev, according to Berkhoff (page 164), was the starvation in Kharkov, in the area under military administration of German Army Group South. In his classic account Russia at War 1941-1945, British journalist Alexander Werth wrote that, according to the Russian authorities, some 70,000 or 80,000 people had died of starvation in Kharkov during the Nazi occupation and that various checks he had made had revealed this figure to be "slightly, but not greatly, exaggerated".

How many civilians succumbed to occupation-induced starvation in the Nazi-occupied territories of the Soviet Union has not yet been established, though there are some estimates, like the following referred to in R.J. Rummel’s unremarkable book Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder:

• Gil Elliot, Twentieth Century Book of the Dead, 1972 Allen Lane The Penguin Press, London, pages 54-58: 6,500,000 to 7,500,000 ("from famine disease, exposure; 0.5 million assumed to have died after the war and are not included");

• Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, translated by Colleen Taylor, 1972 Alfred A. Knopf, New York, page 140: 5,000,000 ("famine/disease; from Soviet demographer M. Maksudov").

In his recently approved thesis about The German Army Group Centre and the Soviet Civilian Population, 1942-1944 , Dr. Nick Terry wrote the following (page 260):

Though the mass starvation among Soviet POWs was extensively documented by the war crimes investigators, deaths from disease or hunger among civilians were less often acknowledged by the rayon and oblast commissions. Yet the surviving statistics indicate an appalling, hidden level of mortality from these causes. In many frontline districts, more may have died from hunger, disease and exhaustion than from face-to-face killing. Across the Kalinin oblast, one of the few provinces to give such estimates, at least 34,000 civilians died from hunger and disease between 1941 and 1943, the majority concentrated in and around the town of Rzhev.3 That Rzhev was not the only frontline locality to suffer in this fashion is borne out from the findings of the commission of Baturino rayon, Smolensk oblast. These recorded 1,544 deaths by shooting or hanging, but 2,616 deaths from hunger and exhaustion caused by forced labour. This mortality the Smolensk oblast authorities failed to take into account when calculating the total loss of 87,026 civilian lives across the entire province.4 Evidence drawn from German sources and presented in this dissertation indicates that hunger deaths were all too numerous among the civilian population, not just in the warzones on Russian territory, but also in eastern Belorussia. Compounding the death toll were fatalities from the three major typhus epidemics that swept the warzone during the three years of the occupation, outbreaks which infected several hundred thousand civilians (Chapters 7 and 9). A conservative estimate of hunger-induced mortality in the zone of operations of Army Group Centre would amount to 200,000 deaths from starvation and disease.

The zone of operations of Army Group Centre, which was the subject of Nick’s dissertation, covered only a part of the territories of the Soviet Union occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, and a relatively small one at that, as can be seen on this map of Europe in 1942, which also shows the zones of operations of Army Group North and Army Group South and the areas under civilian administration, the Reichskommissariate Ostland and Ukraine. Nevertheless, Nick’s estimate for what on the map seems to amount to at least 15 % of the Soviet territory under Nazi occupation suggests that the above-mentioned figures of Elliot and Medvedev are too high, even if we assume that they include the ca. one million civilian victims of the siege of Leningrad. On the other hand, it seems that the Eastern Europe historian Hans-Heinrich Nolte of Hannover University, referred to by his colleague Wigbert Benz in an online article about "Unternehmen Barbarossa", has concluded on about 7 million starvation dead behind the front line in the Soviet Union during World War II, out of a total of 27 million Soviet deaths. How many of these 7 million starvation deaths Nolte located in the Nazi-occupied Soviet territories I hope to find out soon when receiving Nolte’s book about the history of Russia.

Besides the risk of dying of starvation and disease, non-Jewish Soviet civilians in the territories occupied by Nazi Germany ran a high risk of being killed out of hand, even though their chances to survive were mostly somewhat higher than those of the Jews, targeted for extermination. The risk of being brutally killed by the occupying forces was particularly high for civilians seen by the occupiers as in being some way connected to the partisan resistance, if only because their villages were located in so-called partisan-infested areas.

One particularity of the war waged by Soviet partisans against the German invader is that Hitler, when learning about a corresponding order by Stalin, actually welcomed it. According to a file note of Martin Bormann on a meeting at the Führer headquarters with Rosenberg, Reich Minister Lammers, Field Marshal Keitel and Reich Marshal Göring on 16.07.1941, partially transcribed in Ernst Klee / Willi Dreßen, "Gott mit uns": Der deutsche Vernichtungskrieg im Osten 1941-1945, pages 22-24, after Nuremberg Document 221-L, Hitler stated the following:

[…]Die Russen haben jetzt einen Befehl zum Partisanen-Krieg hinter unserer Front gegeben. Dieser Partisanenkrieg hat auch wieder seinen Vorteil: er gibt uns die Möglichkeit, auszurotten, was sich gegen uns stellt. […] Der Riesenraum müsse natürlich so rasch wie möglich befriedet werden; diese geschehe am besten dadurch, daß man Jeden, der nur schief schaue, totschieße.[…] Die Einwohner müßten wissen, daß Jeder erschossen würde, der nicht funktioniere, und daß sie für jedes Vergehen haftbar gemacht würden.[…]

My translation:

[…]The Russians have now given an order to wage partisan warfare behind our frontline. This partisan war, on the other hand, has its advantage: it gives us the possibility of exterminating what stands up against us. […] The gigantic area must, of course, be pacified as soon as possible, and the best way to do this is to shoot dead everyone who even gives us a bad look.[…] The inhabitants must know that everyone who doesn’t function will be shot, and that they will be held liable for any felony.[…]

True to this principle, the occupiers’ fight against the (initially rather weak and unorganized) Soviet partisans was used as a pretext to wipe out all sorts of undesirables in the German rear area, the predominant focus of such exterminatory actions gradually shifting from the Jews to the non-Jewish local peasant population as the former became extinct and the latter increasingly influenced by the partisan movement, for the growing strength and effectiveness of which the Nazis’ hunger policy and – especially in the Ukraine – the deportations of forced laborers to the Reich were essential factors. Anti-partisan sweeps carried out by Wehrmacht security divisions, SS and police forces and local auxiliaries were indiscriminate killing sprees, in which the population of whole villages was shot dead or burned alive in barns or churches, and after which entire swathes of land, especially in Belorussia, were sometimes left without a single living inhabitant. These actions were directed not so much against the partisans themselves as against the "infected" local peasant population, and like the starvation policies against prisoners of war and city dwellers they were also largely guided by economic considerations. This is explained in the excerpts from Christian Gerlach’s Kalkulierte Morde that I translated on the HC forum thread The Nazi struggle against Soviet partisans, from which the following text is taken (emphases added):

Why did the Germans hardly attack the partisans directly, as would have been possible with the tactic of encirclement, even consequent? Why did they rather "fight" the peasants in the surroundings? As shown, the inaccessible terrain, better knowledge of the area by the partisans, cowardice and over-aging of the German troops were some of the reasons. The partisans proper also usually managed to escape the German encirclement – they called it "blockade" – by withdrawing, slipping or breaking through, which the peasants did not. The main reason, however, was the following: As in the case of other guerrilla movements the military attacks of the partisans and the own losses were not the most dangerous aspect from the point of view of the German occupation authorities (see chapter 9.1). What concerned them more was the partisans’ growing political influence upon the local population. The partisans were thus to be isolated from the peasants at any cost. The more the armed resistance drew the peasants to its side, the less agrarian products they delivered to the Germans. The main interest of the occupiers, however, was to have a population as loyal and willing to deliver as possible. Where the population sided with the partisans, it became a threat to German rule through its disobedience, and as it was easier to hit, the occupiers concentrated on wiping out the "partisan infested" villages (a term often employed) in order to keep the political "infection" from spreading.
Concretely this connection was seen by the German side as follows: partisan camps were usually located in greater forest areas. From there they tried to paralyze the administrative and agricultural system in the surroundings. Since the beginning of 1942 the peasants were gradually convinced or coerced into refraining from deliveries of agricultural products to the Germans. The local starosts, mayors, policemen and administrative employees were intimidated or attacked. In the long run the Germans thus received no more agricultural products from these areas. This means that from its own point of view the occupying power did "not have to take into consideration whether the agricultural production in these areas would be damaged [by these actions] or cease altogether, because these bandit-infested areas had previously made no deliveries anyway but merely benefited the bands in a direct or indirect manner", as Göring stated in October 1942. In other words: Germany lost nothing through the death of these peasants. This applied at least to "such areas which expectably cannot be pacified even after having been combed through" (see chapter 9.4 for the details). The devastation was even beneficial to the occupying power in that it was considered that the political spark would thus not go over to the other, agriculturally most important regions. The inhabitants of in the partisans’ areas of influence were – in part correctly – suspected of voluntarily or involuntarily supplying food, other necessities and information to the resistance movement. The murder or resettlement of these people by the Germans did not have the objective of establishing those allegedly guilty, however; as has been shown, this was often impossible under organizational aspects during the major actions. The objective was to deprive the partisans of support, lodging and food. A former participant testified as follows:
"We members of EK VIII reacted thereto by destroying whole villages in this area, the inhabitants of which we shot. Our goal was to deprive the partisans in the wood of any means to avail themselves of food, clothing etc. from these localities. In one or two cases we members of EK VIII combed through wood in this area to track down the partisans in their hideouts. Such methods we quickly gave up, however. We considered them too dangerous for us, as we might ourselves be attacked and destroyed by the partisans."
What becomes clear when reconstructing the development of just about all anti-partisan actions on the map is also shown directly in many sources: that they were directed against the areas bordering on huge forests or villages in the forest. Individual witnesses and perpetrators later recalled this tactic very exactly. For instance, the former commander of SS police regiment 26, Georg Weisig, stated the following about operation "Otto" around the end of 1943/beginning of 1944:
"About two hundred and fifty inhabitants of the villages located outside the woods we transported to camps. The people found in villages inside the forest area, however, were all killed. […] In the whole area between Sebesh and Lake Osweskoje – where the operation had been carried out – there was not a single living human being left after our regiment had passed through."
Especially revealing about the character of this war against civilians are sources showing that during "major operations" the German units and their auxiliaries marched exclusively on the streets and "overhauled" villages, as already shown in regard to Operation "Bamberg". Of course it was not to be expected from the very start that partisans would be encountered. The already quoted SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilke of the security police and SD command Minsk wrote the following about the commander of a police battalion to which he had been detached:
"I have the impression that the commander wants to very much spare his troops or doesn’t consider them up to much. He always has the tendency to approach the areas of operation as much as possible with motorized vehicles." His superior, commander of security police and SD Strauch, in April 1943 openly criticized before a huge public that the German formations were "very cumbersome [schwerfällig] as troops", so that due to bad communications the partisan bases were not reached. In the report about Operation "Waldwinter" of the 286th Security Division the following was stated: "As targets of attack almost exclusively roads with adjacent villages were chosen in order to make possible good communications right and left despite the difficult road conditions."

In his book The Phantom War, Matthew Cooper called these "anti-partisan" operations "a slaughter of the innocents, of which even some of the perpetrators were to grow sick". Two who were at least concerned about the "propriety" of what was being done were General Commissar Kube and Reich Commissar Lohse, who are referred to in this sense in the above-mentioned excerpts from Gerlach's Kalkulierte Morde. From my translation:

The overview especially shows very clearly who were the victims of German major operations between 1942 and 1944. The relation between the number of so-called enemy dead or those "liquidated" or "shot" – self-explanatory terms – on the one hand and the number of captured rifles, machine pistols and machine guns on the other was usually between 6:1 and 10:1. As since the end of 1942 at the latest every partisan possessed such a weapon – new members had to bring one along – this means that about 10 to 15 percent of the victims of the German actions were partisans. The remaining 85 to 90 percent were mainly peasants from the surroundings as well as refugees. This is confirmed by the extremely low German losses, the relation of German dead to those on the other side usually being 1:30 to 1:300, on average 1:100.
What these relations meant was generally known among the German occupation officials in Belorussia. For instance, General Commissar Kube wrote about a preliminary report received from SS and police commander v. Gottberg about the operation "Cottbus", according to which there had been "4,500 enemy dead" and "5,000 dead bandit suspects." Kube commented as follows:
"If only 492 rifles are taken from 4,500 enemy dead, this discrepancy shows that among these enemy dead were numerous peasants from the country. The Battalion Dirlewanger especially has a reputation for destroying many human lives. Among the 5,000 people suspected of belonging to bands, there were numerous women and children."
Reich Commissar Hinrich Lohse forwarded Kube’s report with the following note:
"What is Katyn compared to this? […] To lock men, women and children into barns and to set fire to these, does not appear to be a suitable method of combating bands, even if it is desired to exterminate the population." [italics in original]
Later on Kube again criticized the major actions, "during which, mainly as ‘bandit suspects’, men, women and children are shot". The former commander of the Minsk order police Eberhard Herf, now chief of staff at the "Commander of Anti-Bandit Units" of the Reichsführer SS, also received Kube’s report
"that some 480 rifles were found on 6,000 dead ‘partisans’. Put bluntly, all these men had been shot to swell the figure of enemy losses and highlight our own ‘heroic deeds’.[…]
Yesterday evening I delved into this <6,000/480> problem I mentioned. Answer: ‘You appear not to know that these bandits destroy their weapons in order to play the innocent and so avoid death.’ How easy it must be then to suppress these guerrillas - when they destroy their weapons!"

All told, the occupiers killed about 345,000 people in rural anti-partisan fighting in Belorussia, according to Gerlach’s estimates (see my translation). Soviet publications quoted by Gerlach point to a total of 26,800 dead and 11,800 missing among the partisan formations in Belorussia, which means that the remaining ca. 300,000 victims were unarmed civilians and that barely one out of ten people killed in German "anti-partisan" operations in Belorussia was actually a partisan.

The total number of people in Belorussia who fell victim to the occupiers’ violence outside the scope of combat actions, i.e. were murdered in one way or the other, is estimated by Gerlach (Kalkulierte Morde, page 1158) at 1.6 to 1.7 million out of about nine million people who fell under German rule in Belorussia, thereof about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 to 550,000 Jews, 345,000 victims of so-called anti-partisan fighting and about 100,000 victims of other population groups (Gypsies, members of urban resistance groups, so called "Ostmenschen", i.e. immigrants from Russian territories, members of the local Polish intelligentsia, physically or mentally handicapped people and civilians held in detention camps near the frontline to cover the German retreat in 1943/44). An equivalent study for all Soviet territories occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II has not been made, for all I know. In his above-mentioned dissertation, the area of which includes the part of Belorussia under military administration and therefore partially overlaps with the one covered by Gerlach’s study, Nick reached the following conclusions about the toll of German occupation in the operations area of Army Group Centre (page 260):

In the zone of operations occupied by Army Group Centre, an estimated 700,000 civilians had been murdered by the German occupiers, including at least 250,000 Jews; a further 400,000 prisoners of war had starved to death or been executed.[…] A conservative estimate of hunger-induced mortality in the zone of operations of Army Group Centre would amount to 200,000 deaths from starvation and disease. This would indicate a minimum total loss of life in the zone of operations among the civilian population and Soviet prisoners of war from all causes of 1.3 million men, women and children.

Anti-partisan fighting alone claimed about a million victims throughout the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, according to Richard Overy’s Russia’s War, page 151:

Hundreds of ruined villages and a death toll that passed an estimated one million bore terrible testimony to the price paid for Hitler’s ‘kind of terror’.

Terror was not the only kind of violence that Soviet non-Jewish civilians were exposed to from the German occupiers. Another, no less hideous kind of violence is described by Antony Beevor on page 45 of the 1998 Penguin Books edition of his book Stalingrad, where he discusses the utter lack of concern for the civilian population displayed by both belligerents in the Nazi-Soviet conflict:

A German officer described how shocked he and his soldiers had been when Russian civilians had cheerfully stripped the corpses of their fellow countrymen. Yet German soldiers were taking clothes and boots from living civilians for themselves, then forcing them out into the freezing wastes, in most cases to die of cold and starvation. Senior officers complained that their soldiers looked like Russian peasants, but no sympathy was spared for the victims robbed of their only hope of survival in such conditions. A bullet might have been less cruel.

Add to the about 1 million victims of anti-partisan fighting the about equally high number of victims of the siege of Leningrad and another conservatively estimated million of civilian victims of occupation-induced starvation and other occupiers’ violence, and you have about three million Soviet civilians, not including the Jews, who were in one way or another murdered by the Nazi occupiers. Add to these the Soviet prisoners of war who perished in German captivity, and the non-Jewish death toll from repressive or exterminatory Nazi violence against non-combatants in the Soviet Union equals, perhaps even exceeds, the number of Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide throughout Europe. The number of non-Jewish Soviet civilian victims I considered may actually be on the low side. As mentioned in Nick's AHF post referred to above, the number of Soviet citizens shot, gassed, hung or burnt to death by German and Romanian occupation forces was given as ca. 6 million by the Soviet Extraordinary Commission investigations; of these, about 2.8 million were Jews and 3.2 million were non-Jews. Nick's take on the number of Soviet civilians who died of starvation and disease under German occupation is around 3 million. Regarding the number of Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide throughout Europe, see Nick's AHF reference thread Number of Victims of the Holocaust.

The overview on non-Jewish victims of Nazi violence in the present articles covers only the Soviet Union, which saw certainly the most and the largest but by no means the only wholesale killings of non-Jewish prisoners of war and civilians in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. We haven’t yet looked at Poland, regarding which Steve Paulsson refers to an estimate by Polish historian Bogdan Musial in the order of 1.55 million non-Jewish victims of war and German occupation. Or at Serbia, where the Nazi occupiers inaugurated a most brutal policy of reprisal killings in the autumn of 1941, described in Christopher Browning’s article Germans and Serbs: The Emergence of Nazi Antipartisan Policies in 1941. Or at Italy, where German occupying forces, though on a much smaller overall scale, committed atrocities reminiscent of those that were a standard feature of Nazi occupation in the East. Or at Greece, which was also the site of numerous massacres and wholesale starvation of civilians under Italian and German occupation. Or at other countries under Nazi influence or domination.

Nazi crimes against non-Jewish noncombatants throughout Europe may be the subject of future blog articles detailing one or the other event or crime complex. For now, I hope to have brought across the information that Jews, while the largest and most intensively targeted of the various groups subject to Nazi repressive or exterminatory violence, were by no means the only victims of Nazi mass murder and didn’t even make up the largest proportion of those victims; the proportion of non-Jewish victims was actually higher. And I hope to have also shown that Nazi violence against non-Jews was not a mere outgrowth of the Nazi persecution and extermination of the Jews, as Gord McFee maintains. The Nazi genocide of the Jews, which is and will continue to be the main subject of articles on this blog, may be looked upon as the most terrible aspect of the horrors and suffering inflicted on helpless people by Nazi occupation in Europe – but it was just one among many aspects thereof.

[Edited on 07.04.2008 to update links to RODOH forum and add labels - RM]

[Edited on 04.04.2012 to replace broken links to the former RODOH forum - RM]


  1. PS

    Today I received Hans-Heinrich Nolte’s booklet Kleine Geschichte Rußlands, which I mentioned in my “One might think that …” blog article.

    The information I was looking for, about the breakdown of Soviet starvation deaths between the Soviet and the German rear areas, is not to be found there. In a table on page 259, Nolte mentions 7 million Soviet civilians “murdered by Germans”, 7 million who starved to death and 3 million who “did not return”, for a total of 17 million civilian losses. The category “murdered by Germans” is stated to include Jews, Communists, people bumped off in “punitive actions” and people who starved to death in the frontline area (for instance Rzhev, but also Leningrad). As to the 7 million people who died behind the front, Nolte states that this refers mainly to deaths from hunger and unbearable living conditions due to mass evacuations in the face of the advancing front. The 3 million who did not return include forced laborers who died, but also people who preferred to stay abroad after the war. As military casualties Nolte lists 8.1 million “fallen”, 14.7 million demobilized wounded and 14.5 million temporarily disabled wounded. No word about whether the “fallen” include POWs who died in German captivity or whether the civilians “murdered by the Germans” include collateral battle casualties. At the end of the notes about this table, on page 260, Nolte mentions that much higher figures are stated by Mr. Koslov in an article by Ellmann/Maksudov.

    On page 254 Nolte mentions Streit’s figures for Soviet prisoners of war: 5.7 million taken, thereof 3.3 million dead. On pages 262/263 he mentions a Soviet “list” of 1946 (I presume it is from the Extraordinary Commission), which gives 6.1 million shot, burned alive etc. in the German-occupied areas and 3.9 million prisoners of war who died in Wehrmacht custody.

    Nolte’s figures for Soviet Jews (page 257) are the following: 5.1 million Jews on Soviet territory on 22 June 1941 (3.1 million in 1939, 1.8 million in the annexed western territories, 200,000 who fled across the Bug from German-occupied Poland), thereof 2.7 million who fell under German rule; of these 100,000 survived, 20,000 as partisans and maybe 80,000 in concentration camps in Germany, and 2.6 million were murdered. About 300,000 Jews fell as soldiers of the Red Army or succumbed to famine behind the front line, and about 100,000 Jewish children were born during the war, so that at the war’s end there were about 2.3 million Jewish survivors in the USSR.

  2. All of this carnage naturally disproves the "transit camp" theory so beloved by Holocaust deniers.
    I know I'm late to this conversation but I really enjoyed the article.


Please read our Comments Policy