Nazi atrocities on the record
6th January 1942: Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov tries to tell the world about German war crimes being committed on a mass scale
As the Red Army began to push back the German invaders in some areas in late 1941 and the beginning of 1942 they started to uncover widespread instances of atrocities committed against ordinary citizens.
On the 6th January 1942 the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov put these atrocities on the official record with a document1 that also promised ultimate retribution.
The Soviet government now had ample evidence of what would today be termed ‘war crimes’ mainly against civilians. These crimes ranged from the rape and murder of women, to the confiscation of all food and property from peasants, the destruction of their homes and the mass murder of any peasants who ‘resisted’ - whether that resistance was real or imagined.
‘There is no limit to the cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the German fascist army which has broken into our territory.’
Molotov provided numerous examples:
Everywhere the German bandits bestially break into houses, rape women and girls before the eyes of their relatives and children, humiliate those whom they rape, and brutally murder their victims on the spot. In Lvov 32 women workers of a clothing factory were raped and then killed by German stormtroopers. Drunken German soldiers dragged Lvov girls and young women to Kostyushko Park and brutally raped them. When an old priest named Romaznev, holding a cross in his hands, tried to prevent the rape of girls, the fascists beat him, tore off his cassock, burned his beard and bayoneted him to death.
In the village of Vlassovo, of the Moscow Region, a woman collective farmer who resisted the robbers when they were stealing her cabbage and potatoes was wounded by a shot from an automatic rifle. When the wounded woman shouted and cursed the Germans, calling them bandits and robbers, they shot her to death with a burst of fire from the automatic rifle. After this they began shooting at the whole population of the village, which had gathered there.
Everywhere, the German Army has instituted a regime of bloody reprisals under the pretext that not all food had been surrendered, that not all warm clothing had been brought to them, or that delivery of these things was not carried out with sufficient alacrity.
German occupation of a town or village usually begins with the erection of a gallows, on which the German hangmen execute the first peaceful residents they can lay hands on. They let the gallows with the hanging bodies stand for many days, even for several weeks. They also leave untouched for many days the bodies of those whom they shoot in the streets of towns and villages.
After the capture of Kharkov the Germans hanged several persons in the windows of a large house in the center of the city. Also in Kharkov, on November 16, the fascists hanged 19 persons, including one woman, on the balconies of several houses.
There was also evidence of crimes being committed on a massive scale - a sustained campaign of organised murder targeting a particular group - the Jews.
A horrible massacre and pogrom were perpetrated by the German invaders in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Within a few days the German bandits killed and tortured to death 52,000 men, women, old folk and children, dealing mercilessly with all Ukrainians, Russians and Jews who in any way displayed their fidelity to the Soviet Government. Soviet citizens who escaped from Kiev gave an agonizing account of one of these mass executions:
‘The first persons selected for shooting were forced to lie face down at the bottom of a ditch and were shot with automatic rifles. Then the Germans threw a little earth over them. The next group of people awaiting execution was forced to lie on top of them, and shot, and so on.’
A large number of Jews, including women and children of all ages, was gathered in the Jewish cemetery of Kiev. Before they were shot, all were stripped naked and beaten. The first persons selected for shooting were forced to lie face down at the bottom of a ditch and were shot with automatic rifles. Then the Germans threw a little earth over them. The next group of people awaiting execution was forced to lie on top of them, and shot, and so on.
Yet there was no distinction made between this sustained campaign to kill all Jews and the routine, almost casual, murder of other Russians - mostly peasants. From the Soviet perspective there was no distinction to be made - the victims were all Soviet citizens.
This is part of the reason why it took so long for the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ - the genocide of the Jews by mass shootings - to be fully recognised for what it was. There was also distrust of the Soviet government in the West. The Soviets had every incentive to exaggerate incidents for propaganda purposes - or so it might seem.
There is no limit to the cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the German fascist army which has broken into our territory. The Hitlerite army wages not an ordinary war, but a bandit war to exterminate the peace-loving peoples standing in the way of the German fascist criminals' aspiration for domination over other peoples and over the whole world.
It took years for the truth to emerge - that Molotov was only giving the barest outline of the most monstrous, widespread crimes that were inflicting grievous injuries on a whole nation. There was no exaggeration, it was just that these crimes were literally ‘incredible’ - they were so appalling that they ‘beggared belief’.
The document was first distributed to all foreign governments holding diplomatic relations with the USSR on the 6th January and then made public on the 7th.
The full version is available at http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1942/1942-01-06b.html
‘Grief’ by Dmitri Baltermants.
Baltermants was sent to the Kerch peninsula at the beginning of January 1942, which the Red Army had just retaken.
Local residents discovering that their relatives had been shot by the departing Germans at the end of a six week occupation. Earlier they had shot around 7,000 Jewish men, women and children in a tank ditch on this site. In the original image the exposure showed no clouds - these were added later by overlaying another film negative for the sky area. This adds to the dramatic effect of the image - but does not alter the reality of what is being recorded.