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The Jews are shot - what now for their children?
20th August 1941: German Army Chaplains' report horrific treatment of children
WARNING: Contains disturbing material
The work of the Einsatzgruppen was continuing apace as they followed the German army through Russia. Their method of operating was gradually evolving - at first the murder of Jews had been concentrated on men of influence, then all men, then women began to be included as a matter of course.1 Then a problem arose - if they murdered the men and women, what were they supposed to do with the children?
In the town of Bila Tserkva ( also spelt Blelaya Taerkov, Belaya Tserkov ) in the Ukraine they had murdered the men and women, shooting them on the rifle ranges of a local barracks. This left behind the children. Around ninety young children were kept locked up in an old building without food or water whilst the Germans tried to decide what to do with them.
This was just one incident amongst the multitude of other horrific crimes being perpetrated in the East. Probably no record would have been kept of the incident until the distress of the children became known to a local Wehrmacht unit, the 295th Infantry Division. Men from this unit complained to their chaplains, who wrote reports. These reports went to the Roman Catholic army chaplain who visited the house and submitted a report on what had been found:
20th August 1941
Report by Catholic Divisional Chaplain to the 295th Infantry Division
Their description of these incidents made it reasonable to suspect that this was an arbitrary action on the part of the Ukrainian militia. In order to be able to report the matter accurately, I myself, accompanied by the two military chaplains and the Protestant Divisional Chaplain, Wehrmachtsoberpfarrer Kornmann, paid a visit to the house, where we discovered the following:
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.
A large number of German soldiers, including a sanitation officer, were inspecting the conditions in which the children were being kept when we arrived. Just then a military policeman, who was under the command of the Ortskommandantur or the Feldkommandantur, also arrived. He stated that he had come only in order to investigate a case of looting which was said to have been carried out by guards from the Ukrainian militia.
The two rooms where the children had been accommodated - there was a third empty room adjoining these two - were in a filthy state. The children lay or sat on the floor which was covered in their faeces. There were flies on the legs and abdomens of most of the children, some of whom were only half dressed. Some of the bigger children (two, three, four years old) were scratching the mortar from the wall and eating it. Two men, who looked like Jews, were trying to clean the rooms. The stench was terrible. The small children, especially those that were only a few months old, were crying and whimpering continuously. The visiting soldiers were shaken, as we were, by these unbelievable conditions and expressed their outrage over them.
The report went to Lieutenant-Colonel Groscurth who submitted his own report to the Chief in Command of the 6th Army, seeking directions. His report seems less concerned with the nature of these events but that they were happening within sight and hearing of ordinary soldiers.
The troops are waiting for their officers to intervene. This is particularly true of the older married men. An officer is therefore forced to intervene out of consideration for his troops when such things take place in public. In the interests of maintaining military discipline all similar measures should be carried out away from the troops.2
For the moment there was an impasse between the SS and the Wehrmacht and the fate of the children remained in the balance
For example in the ‘Jager Report’ summarising the number of daily executions in Lithuania from July-December 1941 by Einsatzkommando 3: ‘Jews’ and ‘Communists’ feature in early July, figures for ‘Jews’ and ‘Jewesses’ begin on the 31st July and they continue to be listed separately through to December. The number of of ‘Jewish children’ killed only begins to be listed in mid August, and they too continue to be listed separately through to December. See The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders.
All the military reports on the incident are contained in The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders.