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The evolving 'Holocaust by Bullets'
How stage by stage the SS refined their methods of mass murder during the second half of 1941
Four SS Einsatzgruppen followed Hitler’s invading armies into Russia and the Baltic states when he launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. These were the death squads that would target the communist officials and other ‘enemies’ of the Nazis with summary executions. The largest group of ‘enemies’ were the communities of Jewish men, women and children who had lived in these countries for centuries.
The following accounts link to longer stories on World War II Today. They contain some of the most graphic material on the site - yet to truly understand the nature of the Holocaust it is necessary to read them.
These events took place long before the gas chambers of Auschwitz had been built. The following accounts are all based around documents of German origin - diaries, reports or photographs.
Some of the SS sought to encourage the local communities to take action against the Jews. There were some ready volunteers:
I arrived in Kovno on the afternoon of June 27 1941.
Whilst patrolling the city I came across a crowd of people that had gathered alongside a gas station to watch what was happening in the adjacent yard. There were women in the crowd and many of them clambered onto chairs and crates so that they and their children could get a better view of the “spectacle” taking place in the yard below. At first I thought this must be a victory celebration or some type of sporting event because of the cheering, clapping and laughter that kept breaking out.However, when I asked what was happening I was told the “death dealer of Kovno” is at work and he would make sure that all “traitors and collaborators” received a fitting punishment for their “treachery.”
Most members of the SS had little difficulty adapting to their new role but the first shootings are not very well planned. At first the victims are mainly men and a few women. They are forced to dig their own graves at sites that have been chosen at random:
12 July 1941At 6.00 in the morning I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep.Report for an execution. Fine, so I’ll just play executioner and then gravedigger, why not? Isn’t it strange, you love battle and then have to shoot defenceless people. Twenty-three had to be shot, amongst them the two above-mentioned women. They are unbelievable. They even refused to accept a glass of water from us.I was detailed as marksman and had to shoot any runaways. We drove one kilometre along the road out of town and then turned right into a wood. There were only six of us at that point and we had to find a suitable spot to shoot and bury them. After a few minutes we found a place.
The slaughter of whole communities is planned but first they must be herded into ghettoes. Nazi propagandists are on hand to take pictures and videos of men, women and children being forced from their homes - although the the pictures do not show their destination:
As the programme gathers pace larger groups of Jewish men and women are shot. Yet the process is still not being thought through - having shot the men and women they are are left with a large group of children and toddlers that they do not know how to care for or what to do with:
20th August 1941: The Jews are shot - what now for their children? German Army Chaplains' report horrific treatment of children
In the courtyard in front of the house the crying and whimpering of children could be heard very loudly. Outside there were a Ukrainian militiaman keeping guard with a rifle, a number of German soldiers and several young Ukrainian girls. We immediately entered the house unobstructed and in two rooms found some ninety (I counted them) children aged from a few months to five, six or seven years old. There was no kind of supervision by the Wehrmacht or other German authorities.
The SS develop their methods very quickly and are soon capable of shooting large numbers of people - men, women and children - in a matter of hours:
29th September 1941: Mass murder at Babi Yar - One of the largest SS 'Actions' during the 'Holocaust by Bullets'
Kikes of the city of Kiev and surroundings!
On Monday; September 29, you are to appear by 7:00 a.m. with your possessions, money, documents, valuables, and warm clothing at Dorogozhitshaya Street next to the Jewish cemetery.Failure to appear is punishable by death.
Although the surviving Nazi documents are incomplete it is clear from the reports that we do have that shootings were taking place on a massive scale across all of the countries invaded by Germany:
15th October 1941: The SS begin to submit reports on the scale of the mass executions that became known as the 'Holocaust by Bullets'
The arrest of all male Jews over the age of sixteen is almost completed. With the exception of the doctors and the Jewish Elders appointed by the Sonderkommando they [the remaining Jews] are being executed by the Estonian Self-Defense Force under the supervision of Sonderkommando Ia. Jewesses between the ages of sixteen through sixty in Reval and Pernau, who are fit for work, were arrested and used to cut peat and for other work.
Although steps had now been taken to prevent the shootings being public spectacles, German photographers were documenting some of the ‘Actions’ in considerable detail:
15th December 1941: The German photographic evidence taken at the Skede Beach massacre Liepāja, Latvia
World War II Today continues to tell the story of the evolving Holocaust right through to 1945 - along with hundreds of other stories covering many different aspects of the war - all published on the eightieth anniversary of the event.
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