Khatyn: another massacre of civilians
22nd March 1943: The Khatyn atrocity is now remembered as representative of hundreds of similar actions that took place in Belarus
In March 1943 the partisan war behind the lines of the Eastern Front was becoming ever more cruel. Hiding in the forests and swamps of Soviet Russia were substantial guerrilla forces who were mounting successful attacks against the German lines of communication, especially the railway lines.
Of particular concern to the Nazis was the area around Minsk, in what is today the Republic of Belarus. A series of anti-partisan operations were underway from January 1943 to create a “dead zone” that would not be able to support the partisans hiding nearby. Cattle and hay was confiscated or destroyed, villages were burnt to the ground - and the residents murdered.
In February 1943 the orders for Operation Hornung, the first of a series of operations through 1943 to July 1944, were:
Everything that may give shelter or protection is to be destroyed. The area is to become no mans land. All inhabitants are to be shot. Cattle, grain and other products are to be taken …1
Operating in this area was Hauptman Hans Woellke, a Nazi hero, known to Hitler. He epitomised the “Aryan” type that the Nazis idolised - in 1936 he had won a gold medal in the Shot Put in the Berlin Olympics. In 1943 he was one of three company commanders in Schutzmannschaft (loosely translated as ‘protection squad’) Battalion 118, mostly manned by Ukrainian and Russian auxiliaries. They operated with the notorious Dirlewanger Brigade, a German unit composed of convicted criminals who had been freed to serve Hitler, many of them murderers and rapists.
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