Bila Tserkva II: murder of the children is botched
21st August 1941: SS delegate the work to "Ukrainian Auxiliary Militia"
WARNING: Contains disturbing material
In Bila Tserkva, a city in the Ukraine, around ninety young children were locked up in appalling conditions on the 20th August. Their parents had been murdered as part of the ‘Holocaust by Bullets’. Now the Nazis had to decide what to do with the children. Men from the German Army 295th Infantry Division had been disturbed by what they had seen. Their officers had submitted a report to 6th Army HQ seeking directions.
It appears that orders for the execution of the children were received on the 21st, although a written reply by Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau was not made until the 26th.
The incident reveals some of the problems that the SS were encountering with their methods of execution. For the SS the ‘problem’ now emerging was the ‘strain’ on their own men. The men of the Einsatzgruppen might have initially embraced their role but as the daily executions continued they were finding it increasingly difficult. The recent decision to include children in the murders found many of them unprepared. In consequence the SS now began looking for new methods of mass murder.
The reprieve for the children only lasted 24 hours, SS-Oberstrumfuhrer August Hafner1 described the events of the 21st August.
Blobel ordered me to have the children executed. I asked him, "By whom should the shooting be carried out?" He answered, "By the Waffen-SS." I raised an objection and said, "They are all young men. How are we going to answer them if we make them shoot small children?" To this he said, "Then use your men." I then said, "How can they do that? They have small children as we"
This tug-of-war lasted about ten minutes....I suggested that the Ukrainian militia of the Feldkommandant should shoot the children. There were no objections from either side to the suggestion...
I went to the woods alone. The Wehrmacht had already dug a grave. The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with the technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around trembling.
The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it. The Ukrainians did not aim at any particular part of the body. They fell into the grave.
The wailing was indescribable. I shall never forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I particularly remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was shot later....
The wailing was indescribable. I shall never forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I particularly remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was shot later...
The grave was near some woods. It was not near the rifle range.
The execution must have taken place in the afternoon at about 3:30 - 4:00. It took place the day after the discussions at the Feldkommandanten....Many children were hit four or five times before they died.
Field Marshal von Reichenau, commander of the 6th Army. He was dismissive of the incident in his report of the 26th August, commenting on the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Groscurth:
The conclusion of the report in question contains the following sentence, "In the case in question, measures against women and children were undertaken which in no way differ from atrocities carried out by the enemy about which the troops are continually being informed".
I have to describe this assessment as incorrect, inappropriate and impertinent in the extreme. Moreover this comment was written in an open communication which passes through many hands.
It would have been far better if the report had not been written at all.
The documents2 provide evidence of not only the work of the Einsatzgruppen but also the extent to which general units of the Wehrmacht were aware of what was happening.
August Hafner was born in Mellingen, Switzerland on January 31, 1912. He joined the SS on March 4, 1933, and he served in Einsatzkommando 4a. In 1973 a German court at Darmstadt sentenced him to serve 8 years in prison for his part in the murders at Bila Tserkva, Babi Yar and other locations.
All the military reports on the incident are contained in The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders.