Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Demographics and Killing in Volhynia-Podolia (Part 1: 1941)

Author: Jonathan Harrison
Documents listing mass killings in the western USSR, such as the Einsatzgruppen Reports, Meldung 51 and police reports, do not exist in isolation from a demographic context. They must be read in conjunction with demographic reports showing that, for example, there were 326,000 Jews in the Volhynia-Podolia region in May 1942 (Dean, p.195); and there were 18,000 Jews in one of that region's largest cities, Brest, as of 28 Feb 1942 [Bundesarchiv Berlin R 94/6 Ernauhrungsamt Brest-Litowsk, Statistischer Bericht 28/2/42, cited by Browning, p.124]. Similarly, demographics and killing reports in Volhynia-Podolia are supported by evidence of mass graves, as Nick showed in great depth back in 2006. Below I present some further proof of convergence between these sources, taken primarily from Browning's study of Brest (Chapter Five of this collection).

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Browning argued that there was a close correspondence between the reduction in the population of Brest (from 59,600 in Sep 39 to 50,000 in Nov 41) and the total number of killings for Brest listed in the Operational Situation Reports. I have summarized Browning's figures into two tables in my opening post of this RODOH thread.

The main killing action in Brest in 1941 is summarised by Longerich:
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.
Browning argues that the inspiration behind these killings was neither totally top-down nor bottom-up. Instead, Himmler and his subordinates learned from the measures taken in late June by PB 309 in Bialystok and Stapo Tilsit in Lithuania.

The relationship between centre and region could therefore be a dynamic one. However, Browning's narrative also shows that the centre would ultimately hold sway when the final killing decisions were made in mid-1942. That will be the subject of Part 2 of this series.

ADDENDUM: March 24th, 2009.

Since writing the above, I have become more critical of Browning's interpretation of the Brest sources he cites, and his omission of other important sources. My revised interpretation of the evidence for Brest is given in this blog.

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