Friday, October 28, 2011

Pits at a «Resettlement Site»

On 8 February 1943, the Belarusian city of Sluzk (Slutsk) in the Minsk region, which had already seen a massacre by Police Battalion 11 in October 1941, was the site of one of the mass killings described in the Koblenz Court of Assizes’ judgment of 21 May 1963.

In its assessment of former Obersturmbannführer Strauch’s affidavit dated 22 January 1948, quoted in the blog Thomas Kues on Maly Trostenets: Lying about a German Court Judgment, the court wrote the following about Stauch’s version of how the Sluzk ghetto had been liquidated:

How questionable his veraciousness was is shown especially by the information in his sworn statement regarding the dissolution of the Sluzk ghetto in February 1943. In this respect he claimed that the dissolution of the Sluzk ghetto had been a "pure anti-partisan" operation. He claimed to have himself found out on a reconnaissance mission with 20 to 25 other men that the ghetto was "bristling with hand weapons and heavy machine guns". Only for this reason von Gottberg is supposed to have decided to clear out the ghetto. The summoning of the Jews to hand over their weapons had allegedly been "answered with surprise fire from light and heavy weapons". The ghetto had thereupon been literally "stormed", partially with heavy weapons. The surviving Jews are supposed to have been shot at von Gottberg’s orders. He, Strauch, had been involved in the whole operation only insofar has he had carried out the prior reconnaissance of the ghetto and later participated in the storming. All this is said by the same man who in a detailed "commando order" had with pedantic exactitude prepared the dissolution of the Sluzk ghetto and the shooting of its peaceful inhabitants – an eloquent testimony of how arbitrarily Strauch handled the truth.

Earlier in the judgment the court had established what actually happened at Sluzk on 8 February 1943. The following is my translation of the court’s related findings of fact. Emphases by bolding are mine.

In early 1943 KdS (Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD - Commander of Security Police and Security Service) Strauch decided to dissolve the ghetto in Sluzk, a city about 100 km south of Minsk, and to kill the inhabitants. This measure was to take place at the beginning of an anti-partisan operation to be carried out in the Pripyat marshes south of Sluzk, which had the cover name "Hornung" and was prepared and later also directed by the Head of SS and Police in White Ruthenia ( SS- und Polizeiführer in Weißruthenien) von Gottberg.
On 5 February 1943 Strauch issued a written "commando order", in which the foreseen dissolution of the ghetto was planned in all details and the department’s members were distributed among various detachments.
The commando order was worded as follows:

The Commander of Security Police and Security Service White Ruthenia

Minsk, 5 February 1943

Commando Order

On 8 and 9 February 1943 the local commando shall carry out a resettlement of the Jews in the city of Sluzk. The members of the commando named below and about 110 members of the Latvian Volunteer Company shall take part in the operation. The operation shall be directed by SS-Obersturmführer Müller.
The participants shall form up on 7 February 1943 at 11:15 hours in the office building’s lower corridor for departure, which will be at 11:30 hours. Lunch shall be taken at 10:30 hours. The column of trucks shall be directed by SS-Sturmbannführer Br. Of the departments the following leaders, sub-leaders and men shall take part in the operation:

Departments I/II:
[List of participants transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]

Department III:
[List of participants transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]

Department IV:
[List of participants transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]

Department V:
[List of participants transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]

Carrying out of the operation in Sluzk:

Securing and guarding the ghetto shall be taken care of by the order police.
The appraisal of the accrued Jewish property lies in the hands of SS-Hauptstuf. Mad., who for this task has a command of 2 officials (Kru., Buch.), 2 interpreters (Michelsen, Natarow) and 10 Latvians at his disposal.
The seizure of the Jews in the ghetto shall be under the direction of SS-Sturmbannführer Gra., who for this purpose shall have 6 commands of one official and 10 Latvians each at his disposal. The following Unterführers are allocated to these commands:
Krause, Nikol, Gen., Ehrig, Wel., Ze. Transportation of the Jews to the resettlement site (Umsiedlungsplatz) shall be made with 6 trucks, each accompanied by 4 Latvians.

Resettlement site (Umsiedlungsgelände):
At the resettlement site there are 2 pits. At each pit there work two groups of 10 leaders and men each, which relieve each other every 2 hours. (An jeder Grube arbeitet je eine Gruppe von 10 Führern und Männern, die sich alle 2 Stunden ablösen.) Times 8-10 hours, 10-12 hours, 12-14 hours, 14-16 hours.

Pit I:
1st Group
[List of 1st group’s members transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]
2nd Group
[List of 2nd group’s members transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]

Pit II:
1st Group
[List of 1st group’s members transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]
2nd Group
[List of 2nd group’s members transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]

The securing of the resettlement site shall be taken care of by SS-Untersturmführer Pierre with 10 Latvians.
For motor vehicles during the preparations in Minsk, during the transport to Sluzk and for supervising the transports of Jews from the ghetto to the resettlement site SS-Unterstuf. Wie. shall be responsible. At the same time the aforementioned shall be in charge of ammunition supply. SS-man Kr. and Rottwachtmeister Al. shall be in charge of issuing rounds of ammunition at the resettlement site. (Gleichzeitig ist Vorgenannter für die Gestellung der Munition zuständig. Als Patronenausgeber auf dem Umsiedlungsgelände sind SS-Mann Kr. und Rottwachtmeister Al. zuständig.)
For feeding and accommodating the leaders and men SS-Obestuf. Kaul shall be responsible.

All leaders and men of the local office shall take part in the special operation (Sonderaktion), except for the following leaders and men who remain behind in Minsk:
[List of non-participants transcribed in the judgment, here omitted.]. Furthermore SS-Unterscharf. Wolf, who is responsible for the Jews in the local office building, remains behind. The telex room, the telephone central and the kitchen remain staffed as usual.
The leaders, sub-leaders and men in Sluzk not allocated (branch offices) shall be subordinated to SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilke.
The return of the men not meant to take part in Operation "Hornung" shall be notified in Sluzk.

Signed Strauch

Office Clerk

In the morning of 7 February 1943, at 11:30 hours, the bulk of the Minsk office departed for Sluzk in a long column consisting of 24 vehicles. They arrived there at 16:30 hours. Members of the KdS branch offices and dependencies had been ordered there in order to take part in the ghetto’s dissolution according to the commando order. In Sluzk a final briefing took place on the previous evening.
The operation started around 5 hours the next morning.
The regional commissioner of Sluzk, Carl, at first objected, pointing out that most Jews were needed as laborers. However, he only achieved being allowed to sort out some skilled workers. After the ghetto had been surrounded by police units, several evacuation detachments searched the houses to round up the inhabitants. A part of these had hidden. Most, however, came out. They were at first gathered on a square. Here the regional commissioner, as agreed, selected 30 to 40 skilled workers, who were to be spared from the execution. The other Jews, men, women and children, were driven in batches on trucks to the two pits that had been dug near Sluzk. In order to make them feel safe and believe that they would also be taken to work, the drivers were in each case given German offices as sham destinations. In the execution area the people at first had to undress completely, before they were killed by pistol shots in the neck as in previous executions. For this purpose, in accordance with the commando order, 10 marksmen were posted at each pit; they changed places every two hours with the cordoning detachment.
In the evening it turned out that numerous Jews were still in hiding in the ghetto. In order to force them to come out, a house was set on fire. Soon thereafter two or three persons came out with partially burning clothes. As soon as they were in shooting range they were fired upon. As there were still Jews in hiding, however, a blaze was set again. Soon the whole ghetto, which consisted mostly of wooden houses, was burning, so that the fire could be seen from far away.
Due to the flames also the remaining Jews gradually left their hiding places. Well-visible targets in the brightness of the fire, they were shot on the spot.
In the evening of 8 February 1943 all Jews, except for the selected skilled workers, had been shot. A total of 1,600 people became victims of the ghetto’s dissolution. Therefore the operation, originally scheduled for two days, didn’t have to be continued on the following date.

The established number of people killed is based on the diary entries made be defendant Wilke for 8 February 1943, furthermore on the data provided by regional commissioner Carl at his presentation in April 1943 during a conference of regional commissioners. In his notes made immediately after the events, which for this reason have a special evidentiary value, Wilke said that at first 1,300 Jews had come out of the houses; in the afternoon after the burning-down another ca. 400 Jews had left their bunkers. This yields a total number of 1,700 people. Carl mentioned that during a larger action in Sluzk, which under the circumstances can only have been the occurrence on 8 February 1943, he had "due to resettlements of Jews lost 1,400 workers at one strike, all of them skilled workers and craftsmen". As Carl spoke only about laborers, but in the Sluzk ghetto there also lived children and other non-working people, this adds probability to Wilke’s note whereby 1,700 Jews had been living in the ghetto.
On the other hand SS und Polizeiführer von Gottberg reported on 8 March 1943 to the SS-Personalhauptamt (Personnel Main Office) that during Operation "Hornung" 3,300 Jews had been shot. As these data refer to the whole anti-partisan operation from 8 to 26 February, this figure possibly also includes executions carried out at other places. It could also be that von Gottberg consciously exaggerated the result of the ghetto’s dissolution by basing his report on the originally assumed population, which had in fact been estimated at over 3,000 people. Thus Wilke said in his diary about the number of ghetto inhabitants: "They are said to be 3,100." The fact that two days had been scheduled for the execution also shows that the number of ghetto inhabitants had been overestimated.
As of the 1,700 Jews 30 to 40 were selected and spared, and as it is possible that Wilke’s data are not wholly reliable, the jury court considers proven a minimum number of 1,600 victims. Of these at least 1,200 were shot by the pits, the others in the ghetto.

Strauch’s order of 5 February 1943, which was one of the documents made available to German criminal investigators by the authorities of the USSR, is a rather explicit document, despite the use of camouflage language. "Revisionists" are invited to answer the following three simple questions:

1. Why, if not for taking in the bodies of people to be shot, were there to be two pits at the "resettlement site"?
2. Why were groups of 10 men each to be working at the pits in 2-hour shifts? What work were they meant to do?
3. Why, if not for shooting the people to be taken to the "resettlement site", were rounds of ammunition to be issued there?

Unless, of course, they would rather lamely claim that the document is a forgery, or at least that there is "a number of good reasons to be skeptical of its authenticity", as Thomas Kues does regarding the reports SS-Unterscharführer Arlt.

Regarding the anti-partisan operation codenamed "Hornung", German historian Christian Gerlach wrote the following (Kalkulierte Morde, pp. 943-44, my translation:

About the ensuing extermination campaign there are several sources and accounts. Two Wehrmacht propagandists reported as follows about the «attempt to turn this area into no man’s land»: «This was carried out by slaughtering the population of the villages and farms located in this area down to the last infant. All houses were burned down. Cattle and food stocks were collected and taken out of the area.» They also mentioned the panic that had spread even among the hardened Belorussian auxiliary policemen, who still spoke about it months thereafter:
«A particularly strong impression was left by accounts from members of the former Drushina I, who in February were witness to extermination actions against the Russian civilian population south of Sluzk. The description of German cruelties, like for instance cramming women and children in burning houses, goes around also among the civilian population.»
Survivors from this region have movingly described how they felt when placed inside a dead zone. Gana Michailovna Grinzevich remembered: «In my fear it seemed to me that no one was left in the world, that all had been killed.» This action stands out for the extermination of many large villages by the Germans. 1,046 people died in Lenin, 780 in Pusichi, 787 in Adamovo and 426 in Kopazevichi. As a final result 12,718 dead, among them 3,300 Jews (from Sluzk) were recorded. On the other hand only 65 «prisoners» and no deported laborers at all were mentioned. Indeed the SS and police deported only 72 people as labor force in the course of «fighting against bandits» in the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia in February 1943. Between November 1942 and March 1943 no more than 3,589 persons had been made available to the so-called Sauckel Commission in the course of eleven major operations, during which on the other hand at least 33,378 people were murdered.

Unpleasant things (wenig erfreuliche Sachen), as Peter von der Groeben would have put it.


  1. Wilke's diary is also cited by Breitman in his discussion of Operation Cottbus:

    "Gauleiter Kube commented caustically that, despite the report of 13,000 enemy dead in Operation Cottbus, only 950 weapons were captured"

  2. "How questionable his veraciousness was is shown especially by the information in his sworn statement regarding the dissolution of the Sluzk ghetto in February 1943. In this respect he claimed that the dissolution of the Sluzk ghetto had been a "pure anti-partisan" operation."

    Have Kues heard about the Dirlewanger Anti-Partisan Brigade link 1, link 2?

  3. From Alan Clark's book "Barbarossa 1941-45", pages 275-76:

    "Bach had been selected for this task because of his special experience in anti-Partisan operations, and because by making the suppression an SS affair it was intended to leave the Regular Army free to face the Russians.

    It is also clear that the SS wanted to have a completely free hand—free from observation, much less interference, by possibly "squeamish" elements. And for those who may have wondered what, at this late stage in the war and after so much horrific brutality, could possibly make anyone squeamish, the answer was not long in coming.

    Bach-Zelewski deployed two formations against the AK, the Kaminski Brigade, consisting of turncoat Russian prisoners and general riffraff from Eastern Europe, and the Dirlewanger SS Brigade, made up of German convicts on probation.

    [SS Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger was an old friend of Gottlob Berger, who had got him a commission in the Kondor Legion as far back as 1935. When Dirlewanger came back from Spain two years later, it was still not easy to find employment for him as he had already served a two-year service for offences against young girls in Germany. However, some further string-pulling got him a transfer to the Waffen SS, and the job of training the first battalion of convicted criminals to be incorporated in the Totenkopf Division. As the war progressed, the passage and growth of Dirlewanger's Kommando can be traced in SS records, particularly those of the (hardly oversqueamish) Judge Advocate's office. He had to be hastily transferred from Cracow, then from Lublin—where his experiments on Polish girls are hardly printable even today, combining as they did the indulgence of both sadism and necrophilia. He was awarded the German Cross of Gold for his part in suppressing the "Partisan Republic of Lake Pelik" in 1943, in which 15,000 "Partisans" were killed but which yielded only 1,100 rifles and 326 pistols as the "Partisans' " armament. Dirlewanger, incidentally, bribed his way out of the Allied net after the war, and is living in Egypt (1963).]"

  4. Alan Clark' book, page 276, about Dirlewanger:

    "The impact of units such as these in street battles, always the bitterest kind of infantry fighting, and in an area where the whole civilian population was in situ, can be imagined. Prisoners were burned alive with gasoline; babies were impaled on bayonets and stuck out of windows like flags; women were hung upside down from balconies in rows. The object, Himmler had told Goebbels, was that the sheer violence and terror of the repression would extinguish the revolt "in a very few days."

    The SS had already mounted one "operation" in Warsaw, in the spring of 1942."

    Page 321:

    "Dirlewanger, probably the worst of the lot, was surrounded with the remnants of his brigade at Halbe in April 1945. In one of the most gruesome massacres of the Eastern campaign the whole unit and a large number of German civilians were put to the sword by the Russians. Dirlewanger is rumoured to have escaped by hiding under a pile of bodies. He surfaced in Egypt in 1955, and currently lives in fine style in a villa in Cairo, although it is rumoured that the Israelis periodically send him explosive packages."

  5. Wiki disagrees with Clark about Dirlewanger:

    "On June 1, 1945, French occupation forces used Polish soldiers in their service to forcibly bring him to the Altshausen jail. Dirlewanger was beaten and tortured over the next few days. He died from injuries inflicted by the Polish guards around June 5, 1945.[4] This information was suppressed at the time, and many bogus sightings of him were made around the world, even though the French recorded that Dirlewanger was buried on June 19, 1945, leaving little doubt that he was dead.

    Other rumors surfaced years later to suggest that he had escaped, including one story of Dirlewanger serving in the French Foreign Legion, and later defecting to Egypt to accept a commission in Gamal Abdel Nasser's army. These were proven false when the department of public prosecution in Ravensburg arranged the exhumation of his corpse to confirm his identity in November 1960."

  6. The NMT Judgment against Berger has a long section on Dirlewanger:

  7. Jonathan, thanks.

    This book of Clark has got some considerable troubles:

    1. It doesn't indicate the source of the issue mentioned in the whole book.

    2. The bibliography is cited at the end of the book, but from secondary sources.

    I've reproduced the text only because of the general information about the Dirlewanger Brigade and the Anti-partisan campaign.

  8. Have just found your excellent blog. About to travel to Belarus with some of my cousins. We originate from shtetls around Slutsk. Do you have any other info you would share. You can pm me or what's app. Many thanks, Judith Ornstein

  9. Have just found your excellent blog. Together with some cousins we are going to Belarus very very soon. Our origins are shtetls around Slutsk. Would you be able to contact me with any more relevant information? I am on messenger and what's app. Judith Ornstein


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