Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Kortelisy Massacre

On 23 September 1942, Reserve Police Company Nürnberg destroyed the Ukrainian small town of Kortelisy and killed almost all its inhabitants. The present article about this massacre, where not stated otherwise, is based on the well-sourced brochure »Ihr Gewissen war rein; sie haben es nie benutzt«. Die Verbrechen der Polizeikompanie Nürnberg, by Jim G. Tobias and Nicola Schlichting, 2005 ANTOGO Verlag, Nuremberg. Tobias also made a short documentary that includes interviews with survivors of the massacre ("Der Schwarze Mittwoch" Polizeikompanie Nürnberg vernichtet Kortelisy). Accounts quoted in the following are my translations from German text.

The Nürnberg Police Company, about 130 men strong, was put together in the summer of 1941 and consisted of policemen and reservists from Nuremberg, Fürth and the surrounding region. After basic training in Nuremberg, the company under the command of Captain Josef E. was sent by train to Brest-Litowsk in German-occupied Belarus. The city had about 54,000 inhabitants, mainly Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles and a considerable number of Jews. Initial massacres among the latter had already taken place in July 1941, when members of Police Battalion 307 had killed several thousand people. Brest-Litovsk belonged to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, which included the former Polish district of Volhynia, parts of Belarus and Central Ukraine up to the Dniepr area. The Reichskommissariat consisted of the general districts Volhynia, Zhitomir, Kiev, Dniepropetrovsk, Nikolaiev and Crimea. The central administration was located in the city of Rovno. (Tobias, Verbrechen, pp. 12-13.)

The Franconian policemen were subordinated to the SS and Police Commander of Volhynia, Waldemar Wappenhans. Their task consisted in guarding objects and the so-called fight against partisans or bandits. In their operations the Nuremberg policemen were supported by local volunteers organized in »Schutzmannschaften« (Schumas) In the Reichskommissariat Ukraine these units were about 100,000 men strong in the autumn of 1942, comprising 87 % of all police forces in the region. (Tobias, Verbrechen, pp. 13-14.)

The Nürnberg Police Company was deployed against partisans either as a whole unit or platoon-wise together with other units. For this task the Commander of Order Police Ukraine had created a special operation staff, with the help of which he could directly intervene in the so-called fight against bandits. On several occasions he issued orders to available SS or police units, without involving the intermediate commands such as the SS and Police Commander for Volhynia or the regional commander of the Order Police. On the other hand the local commander of Security Police and Security Service (BdS) or commands subordinated to him also employed the immediately available police units on site. The command chain under which the Nürnberg Police Company operated probably varied according to necessity and situation.

When interrogated by criminal justice authorities of the German Federal Republic, former members of the company provided some fragmentary information about the unit’s operations. Karl K., for instance, claimed that when the company had searched villages for partisans they had always come too late, and that he had never been present when during such operations partisans were shot, though he had heard about this happening. He also claimed to have never been detached to carry out any executions or participate in shootings of Jews, though he admitted to having heard about men from the company carrying out executions – of delinquents sentenced by a tribunal or of hostages. Ernst W., on the other hand, stated that during operations carried out by his company Jews had been shot all the time. As example he mentioned an operation near Mokrany, in which about 20 persons had been collected on a village square, made to strip naked and then shot outside the village. Details about the shooting he couldn’t provide, however, because he had not been one of the shooters. Oberwachtmeister Karl Sch. admitted to having been present once when a village had been destroyed and 35 persons killed. He had not shot himself, but only noted the number of corpses. Whether this had been the operation against the village Kortelisy he no longer remembered. Only a few of the policemen admitted to having later heard about the destruction of Kortelisy. Johannes K. remembered that at the place Kortilissi near Mokrany several persons, supposed to be partisans and Jews, had been shot. He could provide no details, however. Wilhelm F., Johann M., Karl T. and Georg E. stated that they had learned about the company having destroyed Kortelisy while they were absent. (Tobias, Verbrechen, pp. 14-15.)

In Kortelisy, on the other hand, the recollections of the crimes committed by the Germans were still deeply rooted in collective memory at the time of Tobias’ publications. In 1941 unknown German units had taken away the about 40 Jewish families living in the town to the Ramow ghetto, where they were murdered. Several months later the occupiers came again, gathered all inhabitants on the market square and threatened that they would shoot them all if they continued to support the partisans. As a deterrent two families were executed. On 23 September 1942 the Germans appeared for the third time. The village was sealed off and its inhabitants collected on the market square.

On the previous day the Nürnberg Police Company had received the order to take part, together with the 3rd. Battalion of the 15th. Police Regiment, in the destruction of "bandit-infested villages" in the Ratnov area. While the battalion was to wipe out the villages Borki, Zablocie and Borysovka northeast of Mokrany, the Nürnberg Police Company received the order to destroy Kortelisy, for which it received assistance from a detachment of Ukrainian auxiliary policemen stationed in the nearby city of Ratnov.

In the early morning hours of 23 September 1942 the murderers got on their way. According to the order the villages were to be surrounded by 4:35 hours, and the operation was to begin at 5:30 hours. As duly recorded in the 3rd. Battalion’s war diary, the policemen, in fulfillment of orders received, shot 169 men, women and children in Borysovka, 705 in Borki and 289 in Zablocie. The Kortelisy massacre by the Nürnberg Police Company was not mentioned in the battalion’s war diary, as the company had been subordinated to the battalion only for this operation. Nevertheless the Nuremberg Public Prosecutor’s Office correctly assumed that "the town Kortelisy and its inhabitants suffered the same fate as the other three villages and their population" (Order of the Nuremberg Public Prosecutor’s Office dd. 6 April 1972, ZSt. II204 ARZ 38/70, quoted in Tobias, Verbrechen, p. 17. "ZSt." stands for Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung Nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen - Central Office of the Federal Judicial Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, Ludwigsburg, Germany, hereinafter "Central Office".). This is confirmed by a report from the Commander of Security Police and Security Service in Rovno (outpost Brest-Litowsk), Ernst Berger, dated 5 October 1942, which mentions the operations against Kortelisy, Borki, Zablocie und Borysovka (source as before).

Page 1 of Operation Order dd. 22.9.1942, facsimile in Tobias, Verbrechen, p. 16. The original document is kept in the Moscow Central Archives, a copy at the Central Office in Ludwigsburg (ZSt. II 204 ARZ 38/70). The heading of the document translates as follows: "Secret! Operation Order for the Destruction of Locations". The order's first item translates as follows: "Battalion shall on 23.9.1942 destroy the following locations northeast of Mokrany, which are infested by bandits: Borki, Zablocie and Borysovka. Company Nürnberg shall destroy Kortelisy."

The order "Company Nürnberg shall destroy Kortelisy" was carried out mercilessly on Wednesday, 23 September 1942, the day Kortelisy remembers as "Black Wednesday". Gregorij Ivanovich Korneliuk, born 1922, was one of the few survivors who could still testify at the time of Tobias' publications: «When morning dawned, I went to the yard and saw two men standing on the street, who carried weapons on their shoulders. I ran to my uncle, who lived not far away from us, woke him up and said, ‘Uncle, there are armed men out there, our village is surrounded.’ It got brighter, German and Ukrainian police ran through the village and ordered us to come to the market square by the church. My uncle and I hid in the stable on the hayloft. All of a sudden we heard a terrible noise, the noise of motors! Then the killing began. They took the people in groups to the mass graves. Due to the strong noise of motors one could barely hear the shots. Then it was very quiet for a few hours. Later Ukrainian policemen came with horse carts and plundered our village. I could ask the men what had happened. They answered: ‘Your people are all dead!’ My uncle and I ran to the forest together with other youths who had also hidden. There we were safe.» (Tobias, Verbrechen, p. 17)

Darija Alexandrovna Polivoda was 10 years old on "Black Wednesday". Half a century later she recounted her experience: «It was in the early morning, my mother awakened and stammered: ‘The Germans are in the village, the Germans». Darija survived because according to her mother’s instructions she pretended to be the daughter of a Polish woman whose husband worked with the Germans. In the Polish family’s house the girl heard the people screaming: «They kill us, they kill!». The child looked out of the window and saw how people were taken out of houses and rounded up in small groups. «Always about 20 or so, I don’t know exactly. I saw how the German soldiers laid the people shot, with blood-covered heads, out in rows, head to head. My mother was also murdered, my grandfather and my brother, three months older than I. Why did they kill us?» (Tobias, Verbrechen, pp. 17-18)

The husband of Agavija Ivanovna Sakhachuk (born 1920) left the house in the early morning for the fields and didn’t come back. He was picked up by Ukrainian policemen, taken to the center of the village and shot. Mrs. Sakhachuk hid in the stable and barely escaped the killers. In the evening she walked with other survivors through the village and saw the unbelievable: «Corpses were lying around everywhere. A number of these people were shot while trying to escape. We collected the dead and brought them to the mass graves. We took shovels and threw earth on the bodies, but the blood protruded from the earth.» (Tobias, Verbrechen, p. 18.)

Already in 1985 Fiodor Ivanovich Rudinuk, then 70 years old, told Berlin journalist Paul Kohl how he had survived (Paul Kohl, Der Krieg der deutschen Wehrmacht und der Polizei 1941-1944. Sowjetische Überlebende berichten, 1995 Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 49-50):
It was around 4 hours in the morning. They looked into the windows with lamps. I thought there was a fire. The Fascists broke the windows with rifle butts, kicked open the doors with their boots and suddenly stood in the room. I was half naked, but nevertheless they searched me for weapons. Then they chased us all out of the house. My sister wanted to go back to get some warm clothing. She had a small child with her and didn’t want it to be cold. It was already quite cold, at the end of September. But we had to go out on the square without warm clothes. There we sat and waited until all had been chased out of the houses. We men were taken a little aside. There we had to dig a pit, 5 meters deep, 2 meters wide and very long. So I had to dig my own grave. While we dug machine pistols were pointed at us from all sides. Then, when the first groups were chased to the pits and the soldiers started shooting them, panic broke out, the people screamed, wanted to run away. Thereupon the soldiers fired with machine pistols into the crowd. And then during the shootings they turned on the motors of their trucks and played music through loudspeakers, in order to drown out the screams and the shots. Little children they impaled on bayonets and then threw them into the pit, in order to save bullets. I saw myself how the Fascist slit open the belly of a highly pregnant woman and threw her into the pit. In the evening it started raining strongly. Nevertheless the village continued burning. Almost for a week. The pits were only covered with a little soil. Through the soil the blood came up from the earth. Like through a miracle I survived. When the panic broke out I simply ran away with others. They shot at us but missed. For two days we hid in the woods. Then we went back to the village. What village – there were only a few walls standing, chimneys and ashes everywhere. From others, who came back right after the Germans had left, we heard that the soil on the pits was still slightly moving. That was because not all were immediately dead when they fell into the pits. They shoveled the soil away. But it was too late.

The long-time mayor of Kortelisy, Nikolaij Andronovich Michalevich, has provided for the recording and archiving of contemporary witnesses’ accounts. His account, based on such reports, is quoted in Tobias, Verbrechen, p. 19: «The policemen collected the inhabitants on the market square. Then they locked them inside the church and the school. Some inhabitants were forced to did pits. A total of six mass graves were dug. Then the policemen shot first the men and then women and children, always in groups of 50. About 1,000 inhabitants, mostly old people and little children, were thrown into a huge clay pit filled with water. Those who didn’t drown or tried to flee were shot.».

Kortelisy has a small historical museum with a permanent exhibition dedicated to the massacre, opened in 1980. Museum director Maria Jaroshuk has been researching the events of "Black Wednesday" for decades and recorded all related evidence, yet still fights back the tears when speaking about the past: «The killing lasted until 16 hours. In these few hours 2,875 inhabitants were murdered, thereof 1,620 children. Our village was destroyed by the Police Company Nürnberg. The survivors report that it then started raining. It looked as if the sky was crying about the fate of the people.». In the late afternoon the Germans and their Ukrainian auxiliaries began securing cattle, grain stocks and other assets. After the policemen had completely plundered Kortelisy, they burned down the village. A total of 700 houses and farms were destroyed. (Tobias, Verbrechen, as above.)

Pages from a memorial book containing the names and birth dates of all 2,875 people murdered on 23 September 1942 are shown in Tobias’ documentary. So is the memorial site where the mass graves containing the victims' remains are located. The memorial book and the mass graves are also mentioned by Kohl

All former members of the Nürnberg Police Company interrogated after the war by West German criminal justice authorities denied having participated in the massacre. The Nuremberg public prosecutor’s office concluded that, while there was a "considerable suspicion" ("ein erheblicher Verdacht") that the company had burned down Kortelisy on 23.9.1942 and shot at least a part of its inhabitants, the available evidence was not sufficient to incriminate any individual suspect for an action committed during the massacre. The Central Office suggested a letters rogatory to Soviet authorities, but the competent Nuremberg prosecutor categorically rejected this on grounds that "It seems impossible that Russian eyewitnesses eventually still living should after such a long time be able to identify individual perpetrators let alone tell their names". The proceedings against all suspects of the Nürnberg Police Company as concerns Kortelisy were closed on 6 April 1972 (Tobias, Verbrechen, p. 20, citing a letter dated 6 August 1970 from the Central Office to the Attorney General at the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court and the Nuremberg Public Prosecutor’s Office’s order dated 6 April 1972, ZSt. II 204 ARZ 38/70).

In the four towns/villages in the Ratnov area destroyed on 23 September 1942, a total of 4,038 civilians were killed on that day – 169 in Borysovka, 705 in Borki, 289 in Zablocie and 2,875 in Kortelisy. About the destruction of Borki and the killing of 705 of its inhabitants – 203 men, 372 women, 130 children, for which the killers used 786 rounds of rifle ammunition and 2,496 rounds of pistol ammunition – there is a detailed report written by the deputy commander of 10th Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Police Regiment. My translation of this report, and of an excerpt from the 3rd Battalion’s war diary mentioning the destruction of Borysovka, Borki and Zablocie, can be read in my post of Apr 28 13 11:40 AM on the HC forum’s thread The Nazi struggle against Soviet partisans.

The massacres mentioned in this article were not isolated events, but part of a policy of mass murder directed against rural civilian populations in the context of anti-partisan operations. On p. 955 of his book Kalkulierte Morde, German historian Christian Gerlach writes the following (my translation):
It is not possible to establish the total number of people who were killed by the Germans and their auxiliaries during the fight against partisans in Belorussia. Only approximations can be made. Such require dealing with the statistical problems in this context, first of all. There are several ways to determine a total number of victims. Posterior research on reports about individual cases, such as published by the working group around Romanowski, cannot be accurate due to the vast number of affected villages, the lack of surviving witnesses able to provide exact data and the enormous research effort. They only provide minimum numbers because only positively verifiable cases are therein taken into consideration. In the more than 5,000 villages covered by Romanowski more than 147,000 inhabitants died. 627 villages were completely destroyed, and 186 thereof remained wastelands after the war. For comparison: In Lithuania there were 21, in the Ukraine 250 “scorched villages”.
Gerlach estimates that a total of 345,000 were killed in rural anti-partisan operations on the territory of Belarus, nine in ten of them being unarmed civilians. The total number of civilians killed in such operations throughout the Soviet territories occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II has been estimated at about half a million (Dieter Pohl, Verfolgung und Massenmord in der NS-Zeit 1933-1945, p. 128; Christian Hartmann, Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg: Front und militärisches Hinterland 1941/42, p. 789). Anti-partisan operations and other occupation violence may together have accounted for over one million deaths among the non-Jewish population of the occupied Soviet territories (Pohl, as above, p. 153).

Enormous as these figures are, they should nevertheless be put into perspective. The number of Jewish civilians murdered by the Nazis on the territory of the USSR within its borders as of 22 June 1941 (i.e. including the Baltic Countries and the Polish and Romanian territories annexed in 1939/40) was much higher, at least 2.4 million (Hartmann, as above; 2.6 million murdered Jews are mentioned by German historian Hans-Heinrich Nolte). And total Soviet civilian deaths from what Gil Elliot called "hard violence" are greatly outnumbered by civilian excess deaths due to privation - some of which was caused by the implementation of Nazi Germany's ruthless exploitation and starvation policies.

A future blog will address the Nürnberg Police Company's crimes against the local Jewish population. 

1 comment:

  1. An horrific account and a well written article. Holocaust history is replete with extensive testimonies like these and it's great that sites like yours set the record straight and offer an objective and comprehensive portrayal of events. It's good that the denier trolls have no recourse... we are slowly winning that fight!


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