The end of the Rovno ghetto
13th July 1942: The brutal SS 'aktion' to 'liquidate' a Jewish ghetto is witnessed by a German businessman
Across Poland and the western Ukraine many Jews had been forced into ghettoes during 1941, where they were used as forced labour. Now the SS was systematically closing the ghettoes down. The inhabitants were mostly sent off to the killing centres of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, or to locally established killing sites. But the ‘aktions’ to evict the defenceless Jews from the ghettoes were in themselves extraordinarily violent events.
The majority of the Jews of western Ukraine town of Rovno, around 23,000 people, had been murdered shortly after the Germans invaded in June 1941. Between 5,000 and 7,000 Jews remained in the ghetto that was established there.
Hermann Graebe, a German, was the local representative of the construction firm of Josef Jung which employed around 100 Jewish workers who lived in the Rovno ghetto. When his local Polish manager heard that 'a pogrom' against the remaining Jews in the ghetto was rumoured, Graebe took the matter up with the local SS commander, Dr. Puetz. He was told the rumour was a 'clumsy lie' - because the Jews were still needed as a labour force.
He then approached the Area Commissioner's office - the German government of the occupied Ukraine - about the status of his workers1:
He then told me - making me promise to keep it a secret that a pogrom would in fact take place on the evening of Monday, 13 July 1942. After lengthy negotiation I managed to persuade him to give me permission to take my Jewish workers to Sdolbunov - but only after the pogrom had been carried out.
During the night it would be up to me to protect the house in the ghetto against the entry of Ukrainian militia and SS. As confirmation of the discussion he gave me a document, which stated that the Jewish employees of the Jung firm were not affected by the pogrom.
On the evening of this day I drove to Rovno and posted myself with Fritz Einsporn in front of the houses in the Bahnhofstrasse in which the Jewish workers of my firm slept. Shortly after 2200 hours the ghetto was encircled by a large SS detachment and about three times as many members of the Ukrainian militia. Then the electric arc lights which had been erected in and around the ghetto were switched on.
‘In the street women cried out for their children and children for their parents. That did not prevent the SS from driving the people along the road, at running pace, and hitting them, until they reached a waiting freight train.’
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