German occupation of Belarus during World War II

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Mogilev Jews kidnapped for forced labour, July 1941

The occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany occurred as part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa) and ended in August 1944 with the Soviet Operation Bagration. It was originally part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland, but in 1943 collaborators were allowed to set up a client state that would last until the Soviets regained control of the region.

Background[edit]

The Soviet and Belarusian historiographies study this subject in context of Belarus, regarded as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR, a constituent republic of the Soviet Union or USSR) in the 1941 borders as a whole. Polish historiography, or possibly part of it, insists on special, even separate treatment for the East Lands of the Poland in the 1921 borders (alias "Kresy Wschodnie" alias West Belarus), which were incorporated into the BSSR after the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939. More than 100,000 people in West Belarus were imprisoned, executed or transported to the eastern USSR by Soviet authorities before the German invasion. The NKVD (Soviet secret police) probably killed more than 1,000 prisoners in June/July 1941, for example, in Chervyen, Hlybokaye, Hrodna and Vileyka. These crimes stoked anti-Communist feelings in the Belarusian population and were used by Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda.

Invasion[edit]

A column of Soviet POWs captured near Minsk is marched west

After twenty months of Soviet rule in Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Eastern Belarus suffered particularly heavily during the fighting and German occupation. Following bloody encirclement battles, all of the present-day Belarus territory was occupied by the Germans by the end of August 1941. With Poland regarding the Soviet annexation as illegal, the majority of Polish citizens didn't ask for Soviet citizenship from 1939 to 1941, and as a result were Polish citizens under Soviet and later Nazi occupation.

Occupation[edit]

In the early days of the occupation, a powerful and increasingly well-coordinated Soviet partisan movement emerged. Hiding in the woods and swamps, the partisans inflicted heavy damage to German supply lines and communications, disrupting railway tracks, bridges, telegraph wires, attacking supply depots, fuel dumps and transports, and ambushing Axis soldiers. Not all of the anti-German partisans were pro-Soviet. In the largest[citation needed] partisan sabotage action of the entire Second World War, the so-called Asipovichy diversion of July 30, 1943, four German trains with supplies and Tiger tanks were destroyed. To fight partisan activity, the Germans had to withdraw considerable forces behind their front line. On June 22, 1944, the huge Soviet Strategic Offensive Operation Bagration was launched, finally regaining all of Belarus by the end of August.

Military crimes[edit]

Germany imposed a brutal regime,[citation needed] deporting some 380,000 people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians more. At least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis and some or all their inhabitants killed (out of 9,200 settlements that were burned or otherwise destroyed in Belarus during World War II).[1] More than 600 villages like Khatyn were annihilated with their entire population.[1] Altogether, 2,230,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of German occupation.[1]

Anti-partisan operations[edit]

Masza Bruskina with comrades-partisans before hanging, Minsk, October 26, 1941.

Anti-partisan operations in Belarus were in reality much more anti-civilian (against ethnic Belarusian peasants) military operations, on the territory of Belarus.[citation needed]

Major actions (spring 1942 to spring 1943)[edit]

Introduction and functioning of the new tactic[edit]
Belarusian Central Rada, Minsk, June 1943.
German-collaborationist Biełaruskaja Krajovaja Abarona, Minsk, June 1944.

In the first months of 1942 it turned out that the Belarusian partisans had not only made it through the winter, contrary to some predictions[according to whom?], but increased their activities despite reduced ranks and focused on new targets. First locally and starting from the east of the country, then ever more powerfully towards the summer they tried to paralyze the Belarusian Central Rada as the key instrument of Nazi German exploitation of the country and German administrative action. Due to the German defeat before Moscow and the Soviet counterattack, which had brought the Red Army to the north eastern border of Belarus, the strategic and political position of Belarusian resistance during World War II had considerably improved.[citation needed]

German response[edit]

The Germans reacted to this development with a new tactic. It was worked out mainly by the regional military leadership in the rear area of Army Group Center, which in this respect also counseled the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) and worked in coordination with it. SS and police had little part in this, from what becomes apparent from the sources.[citation needed]

This was partially due to a weakness in leadership, because the Higher SS and Police Leader for Central Russia, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, later a leading strategist of the fight against the partisans, was absent due to disease.[citation needed]

Between the end of January and the beginning of May 1942. No significant impulses from Einsatzgruppe B can be verified either. That General Max von Schenckendorff accorded the SS and police only a certain area to be secured indicates their secondary role.[citation needed]

The Army Supreme Command had in the second half of February required the commander of the rear area of Army Group Center to present a program for the annihilation of the partisans, apparently amongst others as a reaction to a memorandum by the Supreme Commander of Army Group Center, Günther von Kluge. The short-term goal was the Annihilation of the Partisans until the beginning of the mud period in April, at least in the area of the railways, main roads and in the Briańsk area. Von Schenkendorff called for measures in two directions: propaganda to influence the Russian population, and military annihilation of the partisans. Beside the political measures he declared it necessary to bring in troops, pointing out that units making up three divisions and two SS brigades had been taken away from him in the previous three months. He demanded a restructuring of the leadership organs and troops for an offensive conduction of operations and the allocation of means for offensive fighting (heavy weapons, airplanes, vehicles). He also called for building up the local order police, the creation of fighting unit made up of collaborators, the continuation of training courses and exchanges of experience, and intensification of the communications network and the fight against those alien to a locality. Von Schenkendorff submitted his suggestions orally to Franz Halder, Josef Wagner and Günther von Kluge. The problem was also forwarded to Adolf Hitler due to the efforts of the Albert Speer’s Department of War Economy and Armament at the Wehrmacht Supreme Command (OKW), the General Quarter Master and the leader of his section for war administration, Schmidt v. Altenstadt, who in connection with this matter repeatedly visited the rear area of Army Group Center in the spring of 1942.[citation needed]

The tactical mechanism of the major operations[edit]

Main article: Operation Bamberg

What follows is an overview of the greatest of these operations, their temporal and regional distribution and the number of their victims:

Anti-partisan operations[edit]
A hanged Belarusian resistance member, Minsk, 1942/1943.

(Codename; Period; Area; Number of dead civilians/partisans; Number of captured firearms; Number of dead in German formations.)

1942[edit]
1943[edit]
1944[edit]
Comments on operations[edit]

This overview is based on a multitude of sometimes incomplete, contradictory or unclear data. It can especially be proven only for given individual cases that reported prisoners were shot, although this should have been the rule. The density of sources is very different for the various operations. Nevertheless a number of tendencies and connections become apparent. The operations were carried out to an equal degree by SS and police and by the Wehrmacht. As far as can be established, 23 of the cases presented here were operations by SS and police and 15 were Wehrmacht operations. In eight other operations, both participated with about equally strong forces, indicating that a far-reaching co-operation may have existed. The Wehrmacht operations were not substantially less damaging and brutal than those of the SS.

The overview especially shows very clearly who the victims were of German major operations between 1942 and 1944. The relation between the number of so-called enemy dead and those liquidated or shot self-explanatory terms on the one hand and the number of captured rifles, machine pistols and machine guns on the other was usually between 6:1 and 10:1. As since the end of 1942 at the latest every partisan possessed such a weapon. New members had to bring one along, meaning that about 10 to 15 percent of the victims of the German actions were partisans. The remaining 85 to 90 percent were mainly peasants and refugees from the surrounding areas. This is confirmed by the extremely low German losses, the relation of German dead to those on the other side usually being 1:30 to 1:300, on average 1:100.

This was generally known among the German occupation officials in Belarus. For instance, General Commissar Wilhelm Kube wrote about a preliminary report received from SS and Police Leader Curt von Gottberg about the operation Cottbus, according to which there had been 4,500 enemy dead and 5,000 dead bandit suspects. Kube commented as follows:

"If only 492 rifles are taken from 4,500 enemy dead, this discrepancy shows that among these enemy dead were numerous peasants from the country. The Battalion Dirlewanger especially has a reputation for destroying many human lives. Among the 5,000 people suspected of belonging to bands, there were numerous women and children."

Reich Commissar Hinrich Lohse forwarded Kube’s report with the following note:

"What is Chatyń compared to this? To lock men, women and children into barns and to set fire to these, does not appear to be a suitable method of combating bands, even if it is desired to exterminate the population."

Later on Kube again criticized the major actions, during which, mainly as bandit suspects, men, women and children were shot. The former commander of the Minsk Ordnungspolizei Eberhard Herf, now chief of staff at the Commander of Anti-Bandit Units of the Reichsführer SS, also received Kube’s report that:

"Some 480 rifles were found on 6,000 dead partisans. Put bluntly, all these men had been shot to swell the figure of enemy losses and highlight our own heroic deeds."

Answer:

"You appear not to know that these bandits destroy their weapons in order to play the innocent and so avoid death. How easy it must be then to suppress these guerrillas - when they destroy their weapons!"

That the troops and commanders of anti-partisan actions were often cowardly and tried to embellish their success was one of the reasons for such balances. However, it was not the main reason for destroying part of the rural population; this was inherent in the conception and objectives of the operations. Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski claimed at his trial in Munich in 1949 that the partisans had always hidden or buried their weapons before capture if they were not immediately killed by a shot in the head. He was not the only one to make this claim. The commander of the rear area of Army Group Center issued an order that the rifles of the partisans should be collected more carefully as their number was out of proportion to the number of bandits killed or captured. The anti-partisan warfare expert of the commander of Sicherheitspolizei and SD Minsk, Artur Wilke, documented in his personal notes of 1943 this practice which made it possible to very much spare his own troops. He described the attack on a village the inhabitants of which fled and were fired at:

"There were a number of dead which the battalion reported as enemy dead. There is hardly any evidence, however, that they were really partisans. I tell the major that we had previously counted such dead as partisan suspects, but he counts them as liquidated. His terminology is unclear to me but seems to have the purpose of increasing the number of bandits killed in battle."

Although the German attacks were directed primarily against the peasant civilian population, operations wholly without fighting against partisans were rather the exception. The fight against partisans took place mainly on the fringes of the partisans’ operational area. Fighting rarely took place in areas where there were no partisans at all, which is not to say that the inhabitants of the destroyed villages had actively supported the partisans.) Their bases proper were attacked only during a part of the operations. The better German armament (Luftwaffe, artillery) led to their losses being considerably higher than those of the Germans and their allies and auxiliaries, as the discrepancy between captured weapons and German losses shows. In the time after the partial retreat in the autumn of 1943 the fighting became tougher and German losses rose, because the density of German troops was greater and the task of armed resistance was now a military one in a more narrow sense. From the point of view of the partisans the expected relief did not occur. The losses of the partisans proper were rather low because they usually avoided frontal engagements.

The Germans rarely attacked the partisans directly, even though encirclement was possible, and instead fought the peasants in the surroundings. The inaccessible terrain, better knowledge of the area by the partisans, and possible cowardice of the German troops were some of the reasons. The partisans also usually managed to escape the German encirclement by withdrawing, slipping or breaking through. The main reason, however, was the following: as in the case of other guerrilla movements, the military attacks of the partisans and their own losses were not the most dangerous aspect from the point of view of the German occupation authorities. What concerned them more was the partisans’ growing political influence upon the local population. The partisans were thus to be isolated from the peasants at any cost. The more the armed resistance drew the peasants to its side, the less agrarian products they delivered to the Germans. The main interest of the occupiers, however, was to have a population as loyal and willing to deliver as possible. Where the population sided with the partisans, it became a threat to German rule through its disobedience, and as it was easier to hit, the occupiers concentrated on wiping out the villages influenced by the partisans in order to keep the political infection from spreading.

This connection was seen by the German side as follows: partisan camps were usually located in forested areas. From there they tried to paralyze the administrative and agricultural system in the surroundings. From the beginning of 1942 the peasants were gradually convinced or coerced into refraining from deliveries of agricultural products to the Germans. The local starosts, mayors, policemen and administrative employees were intimidated or attacked. When the Germans were no longer receiving agricultural products from these areas, they no longer had to take into consideration whether the agricultural production in these areas would be damaged [by these actions] or cease altogether. Hermann Göring stated in October 1942:

"Germany lost nothing through the death of these peasants. This applied at least to such areas which expectably cannot be pacified even after having been combed through."

The devastation benefited the occupying power by preventing spill-over of resistance to other agriculturally important regions. The inhabitants in the partisans’ areas of influence were in part correctly suspected of voluntarily or involuntarily supplying food, other necessities and information to the resistance movement. In murdering or resettling these people, the Germans did not seek to establish the guilt of those supporting the partisans, but to deprive the partisans of support, lodging and food.[2] A former participant testified as follows:

"We members of EK VIII reacted thereto by destroying whole villages in this area, the inhabitants of which we shot. Our goal was to deprive the partisans in the wood of any means to avail themselves of food, clothing etc. from these localities. In one or two cases we members of EK VIII combed through wood in this area to track down the partisans in their hideouts. Such methods we quickly gave up, however. We considered them too dangerous for us, as we might ourselves be attacked and destroyed by the partisans."

Almost all anti-partisan actions were directed against the areas bordering on huge forests or villages in the forest. Individual witnesses and perpetrators later recalled this tactic. For instance, the former commander of SS police regiment 26,[3][4] Georg Weisig, stated the following about operation Otto around the end of 1943/beginning of 1944:

"About two hundred and fifty inhabitants of the villages located outside the woods we transported to camps. The people found in villages inside the forest area, however, were all killed.[citation needed] In the whole area between Siebież and Lake Osweskoje where the operation had been carried out, there was not a single living human being left after our regiment had passed through."[citation needed]

Sources show that during major operations the German units and their auxiliaries marched exclusively on the streets and overhauled villages, as already shown in regard to Operation Bamberg. It was not to be expected that partisans would be encountered. SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilke of the security police and SD command Minsk wrote about the commander of a police battalion to which he had been detached:

"I have the impression that the commander wants to very much spare his troops or doesn't consider them up to much."

He tended to approach the areas of operation as much as possible with motorized vehicles. His superior, commander of security police and SD Eduard Strauch (de:Eduard Strauch), in April 1943 openly commented before a huge public (gathering?) that the German formations were very cumbersome [schwerfällig] as troops, so that due to bad communications, the partisan bases were not reached. In the report about Operation Waldwinter of the 286th Security Division the following was stated:

"As targets of attack almost exclusively roads with adjacent villages were chosen in order to make possible good communications right and left despite the difficult road conditions."[2]

Wiping out the villages[edit]

The destruction of a village seemed to the inhabitants to be casual, without a reason, or unexplainable. German decisions about death or life generally followed strategic lines, which remained hidden from the victims. There were a number of factors that determined the fate of a village and its inhabitants when it came within the scope of a German major action. In most cases a village was first occupied in a surprise attack, preferably at dawn either after having been encircled or by armed men swarming out from its center. In almost every case the village’s whole population was then assembled, there often being a control of identity papers. Those who fled or hid themselves were shot down according to general instructions. In many cases, the destruction of a village had been decided upon beforehand. If not, there followed interrogations and examinations. The Germans shot strangers and those families whose male members were absent without a reason the Germans considered sufficient. A family was also considered suspect of banditry and thus doomed to die if, for instance, there were more coats than people in its house. Often the German units came with prepared death lists based on denunciations of the collaborator administration. The respective houses in the locality were marked with writings such as “partisan” or “bandit house”.

Discoveries of weapons or ammunition were in most cases considered as sufficient reason to murder the inhabitants of a whole village. Alleged or actual explosions of ammunition in the houses during the burning of the village were provided as evidence that had not existed at the beginning of the destruction. In some cases the population would not have had the alleged materials, such as German equipment or German gasoline. Villages in the regions that had been Polish until 1939 where collectivization of agriculture had already been carried out were deemed suspicious from the start. But as a rule, the German decision to annihilate civilians was based on the results of German reconnaissance by the security police and the SD or the Geheime Feldpolizei. These in turn relied on often casual denunciations of whole villages by local collaborators or German spies on site: Landwirtschaftsführer (heads of agricultural administration), forest or road administration, or local commanders. Where there were warnings, the population often managed to flee the villages before the German assault, so that the Germans found them empty. In one case in the vicinity of Słonim the old remained behind in their death shirt, washed clean and fully prepared for their death at the hands of the Germans.

The course of the massacres in the doomed places shows an organized procedure by the German units and their helpers. In more than a few cases, there were shootings at pits similar to the executions of Jews by SS, police and Wehrmacht, carried out with machine guns. In other cases the killing took place in barns, stables or larger buildings, sometimes by burning the people alive. These places of execution were meant to keep the victims from running apart and escaping. The third possibility was that every single family was arrested in its house and there killed by gunfire, especially from machine pistols and hand grenades. After this, the houses were burned down. Special detachments were in charge of the burning of the villages. Sometimes all inhabitants of every single house were registered days before, in a few cases gas vans were used as murder tools.

Buildings were set on fire not only to deprive partisans later passing through the village of shelter, but also to ensure that any survivors of the massacres died in the fires. The buildings set on fire were often kept surrounded. The killing methods employed (machine guns and hand grenades) often left some people alive.

There were differences of opinion on the German side about the tactical value of burning down partisan villages. It was supported, for example, by the commander of the rear area of Army Group Center, v. Schenckendorff, and the commander of the security police and SD Minsk Strauch. Others, such as the Regional Commissariat Żytomierz, and head of SS and police Otto Hellwig, may have favored burning down in principle, but saw the need to reserve buildings as quarters for German units stationed in Belarus.

Before the destruction of villages, their inhabitants had not been murdered if they were needed as a labor force, for instance on streets and railway lines. Thus in Glusza along the important street Słuck-Bobrujsk (Durchgangsstrasse VII) the inhabitants had been locked into a barn to be murdered but were liberated upon intervention by a local German occupation official. At the beginning of 1943 the Luftwaffe Command East recommended that the burning of villages as retaliation for a nearby attack on the railways ordered by Göring not be carried out where pacification still seemed possible. In the regions dominated or heavily infected by the partisan bands, the harshest measures were to be taken. Air force units showed themselves to be especially brutal in the fight against the partisans.[5]

Climax of the war against the peasants: Operations Hornung and Cottbus[edit]

During 1942 the Germans had developed a new tactic of the major operations and made it the standard measure of pacification in wide areas of Belarus. 1943 marked the climax of the war against the rural population. In the White Ruthenia Regional Commissariat, Kampfgruppe Curt von Gottberg led the attack on the villages. In the area under military administration the 201st and 286th security divisions, and the forces of the 3rd Panzer Army and SS and Police Leader Ostland Friedrich Jeckeln ravaged the north of the country with his units. In the Żytomierz Regional Commissariat, the SS and Police Leader Ukraine was active with forces transferred there specifically for this purpose.

According to the statistic prepared by the working group around Romanowski, the Germans committed massacres in 5,295 localities in Belarus; 3 percent of these cases occurred in 1941, 16 percent in 1942, no less than 63 percent in 1943 and 18 percent in 1944. The number of victims increased almost fourfold from 1942 to 1943.[6]

Number of victims[edit]

Mass murder of Soviet civilians near Minsk, 1943

It is not possible to establish the total number of people killed by the Germans and their auxiliaries during the fight against partisans in Belarus. Only approximations can be made. There are several ways to determine a total number of victims. Posterior research on reports about individual cases, such as published by the working group around Romanowski[clarification needed], cannot be accurate due to the vast number of affected villages, and the lack of surviving witnesses able to provide exact data and the enormous research effort. They only provide minimum numbers because only positively verifiable cases are therein taken into consideration. In the more than 5,000 villages covered by Romanowski more than 147,000 inhabitants died. 627 villages were completely destroyed, and 186 thereof remained wastelands after the war. For comparison: In Lithuania there were 21 scorched villages, and in the Ukraine, 250.

The Germans also had problems with their murder statistics, due in part to the camouflage language used in the reports. There are differences and discrepancies between the monthly reports and the addition of the daily reports of units involved. The murder detachment, however, did not report false numbers, as shown for instance by posterior examinations in the two villages called Borki (Kirawsk Raion, Mogilev Region) and Małoryta (Małoryta Raion).[citation needed] Thus the individual German data can be considered reliable. It is especially unclear to what extent the data in the monthly reports of Wehrmacht, SS and police include the victims of the major actions. A number of reports can be proven to have included only the smaller actions. This practice was insufficiently taken into consideration by Timothy Mulligan in his calculation attempts.[citation needed] As he further argued on the basis of incomplete sources, especially in regard to the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia---the number he established at least 243,800, probably more than 300,000 deaths in the area of Army Group Center together with the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia---is probably too low. In this respect considerable territorial differences in relation to the territory of Belarus must be taken into consideration.

The rear area of Army Group Center (eastern Belarus) reported 100,000 liquidated partisans from the beginning of 1942 until January 1943. Adding in the reports of the Army Group after the dissolution of the rear area in the autumn of 1943, this number grew to 164,800 by June 1944, not including the major operations. These numbers also include prisoners, which raises two issues: (1) only some prisoners were later murdered, and (2) there was an instruction to report prisoners in certain cases when actually the people had been executed. The official numbers are thus hard to evaluate, but they are probably understated.[citation needed]

The White Ruthenia Regional Commissariat v. Gottberg reported 33,378 killed for November 1942 to March 1943 alone, including 11,000 Jews. There should also be included an uncertain portion of those 19,000 people shot by the 707th infantry division between September 1941 and January 1942. Extrapolations lead to a total of 345,000 people murdered during German anti-partisan operations in Belarus, i.e.,

(In each case, the numbers indicate the parts of these regions presently belonging to Belarus).

For the rear area of Army Group Center, from autumn 1943, there were 200,000 victims including the major operations; 20 percent were deducted for the Russian areas.

For the White Ruthenia Regional Commissariat it was assumed that there were roughly 1,500 victims per month from September 1941 to October 1942 and 5,000 per month since November 1942. (For the other territories see previous sections).

In the 55 major actions listed in the table alone, the Germans killed at least 150,000 people, including 14,000 Jews. Additionally 17,000 prisoners and wounded were mentioned, most of whom are likely to have been murdered. 12,000 people were resettled or evacuated, about 100,000 deported as forced laborers. These figures, however, do not include the victims of the smaller and middle-size actions, which in the Belarusian part of the Army Group Center rear area alone had already claimed about 40,000 victims until the beginning of 1942.

Police Regiment 2, for instance, killed 733 people within a month in 1943 during the three middle-size operations Manyly, Lenz and Lenz Süd, and 1,298 during smaller operations and ongoing security and pacification tasks.

In the White Ruthenia General Commissariat, police and Wehrmacht shot 3,366 alleged partisans between July and September 1942, not including shootings that were part of Operation Sumpffieber. The same applies for the Wołyń-Podole Regional Commissariat and the rear area of Army Group Center.

This indicates that the order of magnitude of the above estimate is accurate. The same applies if the number of slain partisans is taken into consideration. According to Pjotr Kalinin the partisan groups lost 26,000 dead and 11,800 missing; most of the latter must be considered to have lost their lives, as the membership registration of the partisan units may be considered reliable.[7] If the total number of dead was about 345,000, these numbers coincide with the relation established above: hardly more than one tenth of the victims of German major anti-partisan actions was actually a partisan. To these must be added, however, many mostly unarmed people in the so-called family labor camps.

The number killed by German perpetrator units is unknown. The most murderous included the 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Dirlewanger, the SS police regiments 2, 13, 22 and 23, the Schutzmannschaft Wacht Bataillon nr. 57 and the Gendarmerie-Einsatzkommando z.b.V. Kreikenbom. Police Battalion 307[8][9] (later 1st Battalion Police Regiment 23) killed more than 4,000 people between December 1942 and March 1943 alone during seven major operations. Police Regiment 22 took part in at least 21 such actions within a period of 18 months.

The most infamous unit, however, was the Dirlewanger Battalion. It took part in 14 major operations between March 1942 and July 1943 and wiped out an especially large number of huge villages with all their inhabitants, including Borki (rayon Kirov), Zbyszin, Krasnica, Studenka, Kopacewiczi, Pusiczi, Makowje, Bricalowiczi, Welikaja Garosza, Gorodets, Dory, Ikany, Zaglinoje, Welikije Prussy and Perechody.

According to Soviet sources, a total of 150 villages and 120,000 people fell victim to it in the Woblasts of Mińsk and Mohylew. Curt von Gottberg, on the other hand, wrote that Dirlewanger's men had by mid-1943 annihilated about 15,000 partisans. Many different units participated in the murders, including the security divisions, the groups of the Geheime Feldpolizei, and the detachments of the Sicherheitspolizei and the SD.[10]

Nazi units[edit]

Notable Nazi personnel[edit]

Other units and participants[edit]

Operation Heinrich[edit]

Operation Heinrich was a large-scale anti-partisan operation during the Occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany, carried from October 3 to November 18, 1943 under code name "Heinrich" (after Heinrich Himmler), which was carried out under overall leadership of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski commissioned by Himmler for anti-partisan struggle. Operation Heinrich was a punitive operation directed against the Partisan Republic of Rasony to wipe out the Soviet partisans in the region of Siebież, Pustoszka, Newel, Połack, Drysa, Aświeja, Krasnapollie, Idrica, a thinly populated area of about 4,000 square kilometres southwest of Pustoszka on the southern border of the Pskov Oblast.[11] This was carried out by slaughtering the population of the villages and farms located in this area. Most of the houses were burned down. Cattle and food stocks were collected and taken out of the area. The battle group of von dem Bach included the police battle group Jeckeln (after SS- und Polizeiführer Friedrich Jeckeln) and the police battle group von Gottberg (after SS- und Polizeiführer beim Generalkommissar für Weißruthenien Curt von Gottberg). Jeckeln's task force included among others: 3. SS Freiwilligen Brigade, Polizei Füsilier Bataillon 286, Polizei Füsilier Bataillon 288,[12] Lettische Polizei Front Bataillon 313, Lettische Polizei Front Bataillon 316, Lettisches Freiwilligen Polizei Regiment 1 Riga - the group of Gachtel, Schutzmannschaft/Lettische Polizei Front Bataillon 283 (719 people in the 24 strong points), the forces of the local police service (600 people in 22 settlements), 1 Latvian motorised infantry platoon (1/78), 1 squadron of the reserve Lettische Polizei Front Bataillon 317 - the guard group of de:Walther Schröder. They participated in the combat with partisans, shootings of innocent civilians, robberies, and destruction of entire villages. It claimed 5,452 victims.[11][13][14]

Background[edit]

On May 5, 1943 the re-formation of the Waffen-SS 3. SS Freiwilligen Brigade began. Two two-battalion infantry regiments were formed (the 42nd and 43rd grenadier regiments), light artillery division and other special divisions. 208 men were sent to Amersfoort artillery school in the Netherlands in July 1943, these men were supposed to become the artillery unit of the Brigade. The junior leaders training company was formed on the spot. The brigade's regiments had numbers 42nd and 43rd. The leader of the 42nd Regiment was et:Henn-Ants Kurg, the battalion leaders in his regiment were Harald Riipalu and et:Elmar Lang. The 43rd Regiment's leader was et:Juhan Tuuling, the leader of his regiment's 1st Battalion was at first Ain Mere and later Udo Parrest, the 2nd Battalion's leader was at first Erich Palk and later et:Rudolf Bruus. The 53rd artillery group was formed under the Brigade and its leader was et:Aleksander Sobolev, the 53rd anti-aircraft group was led by SS-Sturmbannführer Fritz Bergmann. The Brigade's reserve battalion leader was the 42nd Regiment's adjutant, Fritz Störz.[15][16][17][18][19] In September 1943, when the 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade was ready to battle, it was inspected in Dębica by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler with SS-Brigadeführer Johannes Soodla who was the units' Inspector General. The inspection lasted for two days, and during this time Himmler was pleased with the brigade and announced in the speech given at the end of his visit that the 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade would soon be sent to the Eastern Front, where it would replace the 2 SS Infantry Brigade.[20][21][22] The former SS-Unterscharführer Leo Sipelgas remembers: "In mid-September 1943 Himmler came to Dębica for two and a half days to inspect our brigade. The headquarter's company lined up before him. I was standing in the first line because I could speak German. It was interesting to see the SS leader so close, we didn't know much about him before…He stopped in front of us, smiled and said: 'I am proud of this kind of soldiers!' and kept walking with Augsberger and Kurg. The next day the whole brigade marched in front of Himmler. When we had lunch, Himmler spoke with us too, asked if we wanted to go to the front already, etc. The officers later told us that he was pleased with the brigade.[23]"

When the Waffen-SS units were numbered in October 22, 1943 the unit became the 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade. The former 1st grenadier regiment became the 42nd and the 2nd regiment became the 43rd. The other units of the brigade were marked with the number 53. In October the same year the 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade was sent with the railway-echelon to Army Group Nord command and was subjected to Nord's homefront security units' leader.[24][25][26]

The operation[edit]

In October 1943 the 3. SS Freiwilligen Brigade went from Riga to Belarus to participate in the Operation Heinrich. Its aim was to crush the Partisan Republic of Rasony in Połack-Krasnapollie-Pustoszka-Idrica-Siebież area. Two battle groups were formed: Police battle group Jeckeln (after SS- und Polizeiführer Friedrich Jeckeln) and Police battle group von Gottberg (after SS- und Polizeiführer beim Generalkommissar für Weißruthenien Curt von Gottberg).[27][28][29] The 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade was subjected to SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, the leader of the anti-partisan units. By October 1943, the front situation had become extremely dangerous for the nazi forces in Nevelsky District because of the Red Army's successful breakthroughs and also because of the Belarusian partisans' units in the forest behind the front. During the nazi attack the partisans were led by the Red Army officers left in the Rasony Raion forests and the leaders of the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks). This formation of the partisans was called the Partisan Republic of Rasony. The 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade received an order to destroy this republic.[13] The former 42nd Regiment's 1st Battalion leader, SS-Hauptsturmführer Harald Riipalu, gave an overview in his memoirs about the Partisan Republic of Rasony: "What happened was the following: the Germans had simply passed this area of land, which was hardly passable, during their attack of 1941, and they left the retreating Red Army units behind in good hope that the latter would die of hunger and come out. But the Russians kept living in the woods. The Germans' eastern politics brought more and more people from the surrounding counties, and the more the Eastern Front moved towards the West step by step, the more the partisans' army's military importance increased. The 'Republic' itself had received its name from the Rosson village, where the Red Army's headquarters had probably been. There were talks that the whole army's strength had increased to several thousands, who were led by one single Russian officer.[23]"

SS-Obersturmführer Argo Loorpärg, the leader of the 42nd Regiment's 14th Anti-Tank Company's 2nd unit, recalls: "The company was unloaded from the train in Siebież station. Two roads went to Idrica. The units had received a warning that the partisans had blown up all bridges on the eastern road. When SS-Obersturmführer Bernhard Langhorst[citation needed] was searching the map for the road that they had to take, but he accidentally chose the wrong road. Unfortunately he didn't consult with us, his unit leaders. After a hike of a few kilometers, the company colon was facing a bridge blown up by the partisans. Once SS-Obersturmführer Langhorst realised his mistake, we could see he was upset. Any moment the colon could have been attacked by the partisans on the highway wall. There was a thick forest next to the road.[23] Langhorst called me to the beginning of the colon and ordered me to take the Zündapp motorcycle and drive to the village road that heads left from the bridge and was supposedly connecting both roads heading towards Idrica. We needed to make sure this road was passable. For some reason the 1st unit leader, SS-Obersturmführer [E.] Telk, who was standing right next to us, said he would drive there himself. After all, he was the deputy company leader. His and my messengers joined him on motorcycles. Telk was sitting in Zündapp's sidecar. His messenger was driving in front of him and my messenger was behind him.[23] They managed to drive about three hundred meters. Then we saw how the first motorcycle drove over a mine on the road and blew to smithereens. Shortly after this, the second mine exploded under Zündapp's wheel. With his hands spread, Telk flew right into the field, Zündapp and its driver flew left. My messenger, who was the last one, managed to make a u-turn and drove back.[23] When we got there, it became evident that the first motorcyclist was killed immediately, and Zündapp driver's right leg was badly injured. Lieutenant Telk had no visible wounds. We carried him to the colon. He regained consciousness, but was unable to speak. He was strongly shaken and probably had internal bleeding. We put both wounded men into the car and sent them back to Siebież hospital. The next day we received an announcement that SS-Obersturmführer Telk died in the hospital because of internal bleeding. The Zündapp driver survived. Telk and his messenger were the first men killed in the 42nd Regiment, and probably in the whole 3rd SS Brigade…[23]"

Extermination[edit]

Operation Heinrich stands out for the extermination of many large villages by the nazi units: Sosni, Mamolja, Lopatki, Zauswetje, Bakanicha, Perewoz, Zawszcza, Rudnja, Baranowo, Gorbaczewo, Kanaszonki, Weruselimka, Skarbuny, Weratino, Kowali, Lisna, Welikoje Selo,[30] Aświeja, Malaszkowo, Zaluga, Borkowiczi, Widoki, Latygowo, Wołki,[31] Juzefówo, Dieży, Kobylniki... Descriptions of nazi cruelty, for instance cramming women and children into burning houses, spread rapidly among the civilian population.[6] Zinaida Iwanowna Putronok, secretary of the rural Soviet in Borkowiczi, Drysa District, Wiciebsk Region, was a girl of nine at the time and lived in Wołki, her native village, where the incident took place: "...Hardly had we managed to hide in that forest, when the second group of planes attacked and began setting the houses in the village on fire, using some kind of liquid. Old Woroszilowa... Her son now lives in Miory District. But at the time he was at the front. She had a large family - seven children... There was nobody but her left in the house, and she defended it to the end. They set it on fire three times but she put the flames out with sand all three times... Well, after that she just couldn't anymore. The plane dived ever so low and once again set it on fire. She was all covered with burns and had no more strength left in her, so she made for the forest - we called it Staroseka. In the end, the Germans burnt down our whole village.[32]"

SS-Obersturmführer Argo Loorpärg: "During the hike, which lasted about a week, the 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade passed roads that seemed endless, first winding through the forest and then passing the swampy lands and going through the villages that were completely empty. In some houses, warm food was still on the table, but there was no one to eat it. The partisans knew of the attack against them and the villagers had escaped to partisan camps. In the attack in an area which was inhabited by the partisans, the biggest threat to the SS Brigade was the land mines placed on the roads. When the partisans were afraid of armed meetings with the SS Brigade, they often mined the roads. Sometimes this was done very quickly, using the time in between the moving of the SS colons."[23]"

By October 31, 1943 the police battle group Jeckeln was south of Siebież-Idrica-Pustoszka railway line and battle-ready. The operation began on November 1. The battles with the partisans lasted for five days in the forests of Rasony. The 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade invaded the partisans' main point in Albrechtowo,[33] which was a relatively large place considering the surroundings.[34]

Akulina Semionowna Iwanowa, Rudnja, Rasony Raion, Wiciebsk Region: "...My husband was in the detachment. We would collect milk and cart it to the detachment. And we had just come back from the detachment. We all carried milk to the partisans. We had taken some there and come home. And I had only just started to light the stove when Shchedrov, our neighbour, comes running and says: 'The Germans are coming!' Then I quickly carried some things out of the house, and then the shooting started. And they went around along the edge of the woods, those Germans, and the shooting started. And we came out of the woods then and headed for the double-track section. We sat down there, lay there, and the Germans immediately surrounded us. They went and drew us up. 'Well then,' they say, 'well then, if your husbands are not with the partisans, then the parti­sans will shoot at you, but if they are with the partisans, then they won't shoot at you.' The partisans stopped firing. Their machine-guns there got out of order or something. The shooting died down. So the Germans herded us away... QUESTION: "Where did you say they drew you up? Right where the double-track section is. And they drew us up right like this, on the side, at the edge of the road. So the partisans would see us. And they themselves are standing there. And Poltorenko. He hugged and kissed one of them who had a big cockade... Who's Poltorenko? He croaked not long ago. It was him who sold us to the Germans. He was from our village, used to be the trackman here.[32]"

SS-Unterscharführer Leo Sipelgas continues his memories: "I can recall from the battles near Rasony that we conquered a relatively large partisans' camp. We lost five men, who were killed, but took twenty to prison and got ten horses, several carriages, a number of pigs and cows, a few casks of vodka, mundungus, radio station, field hospital and printing house. We found thousands of copies of underground newspapers, German-Russian dictionaries and potato bags full of rubles from the printing house. During the battles, a large number of partisans managed to hide in the surrounding forests, nevertheless, I had never seen so many dead bodies before. Some naked Russians were imprisoned while they were in sauna. We were in a great mood---everyone wanted to keep storming on after the first victory. Young men like us believed that victory was waiting for us…[23]"

Akulina Semionowna Iwanowa, Rudnja, Rasony Raion, Wiciebsk Region: "And so they herded us into Rudnja. And drove us into the bathhouse. And we sat in there. They started to interrogate us. Well those they interrogated they'd take out there and begin flogging them. The flogging went on in Osipov's house. My sister was there, too. They caught my sister the next day in the field and brought her in. And they rounded up all the cows and took them away. They interrogated one woman, interrogated another and then let them go. Well, I think, they'll let us all go. We can see out of a window in the bathhouse. And then they ran after them and brought them back. Then they summoned Dyubenchikha. Each family separately And flogged them with a lash. They summoned Djubenczicha, they summoned Szarpenczicha they summoned Bychowcowa... Each family separately. And - they didn't come back. They summoned them - and they did't come back. Then I had to go with my kids. They summoned me. QUESTION: How old were your children? One boy was born in thirty-three, the other in thirty-seven. Well, and as soon as they'd summoned me there, into the house, he [Ain Mere] immediately said: 'Say where your husband is!' I says: 'He was called up in the first mobilization.' 'Speak, you, partisan scum! Where were you today?' 'Nowhere,' I says, 'I cooked some food for the kids, washed some laundry. I didn't go anywhere. 'Speak at once!...' He grabbed me by the hair and threw me to the ground. Started to thrash me. They brought a jar of sand, this big jar of dry sand. 'Eat it,' he says, 'you, partisan bitch!' They poured it onto the table. And I ate that sand. It was dry, wouldn't go down. There was manure there and everything. There's no way I can eat it. And all the same I ate it - I was choking, couldn't breathe. I ate it all up. He started to thrash my head like mad with the lash. 'Lick it clean, you, dog, lick up that sand.' I licked it up with my tongue. Then: 'Stick out your tongue! Onto the table!' I'm standing there like that, and he tugs away at my head by the hair. Then pulled out my tongue and started to pierce it with a big needle. Everything just went numb, I didn't feel anything... Then - my hair... One twisted, then the other twisted my hair - how they tugged at it, how they tugged at it!... They tore all the hair from my head. Then they laid me down, one of them stepped on my head, the other on my feet and they started to flog me with lashes. They flogged and flogged me... They would have flogged me to death just like my sister and Djubenczicha... But they brought them something to eat. Bread spread with butter and these mess-tins. They grabbed up that food and went out into the street. And a German dragged us to the shed. He dragged us right up to it and motions to us - he covered us with sacking and rags and motions to us: don't get up. And he himself went off and didn't come back for some time. He comes leading a horse. This great big horse. They start leading it over the people, to trample them. The kids - with that horse... An officer brought it, the interpreter. A German. But people say: 'You're doing wrong ... mister interpreter.' 'Why,' he says, 'am I doing wrong?' 'My husband was called up in the first mobili­zation... What are you punishing us so for?...' Then the interpreter started to look how peo­ple were lying - who was alive. It was already rather late. And those polizeis... They sure had their fun with us!... First of all they took Lida Bychowcowa and dragged her along. And stuck her boy with a bayonet. And they threw them right into the pit - and shot them. Well, and then came Szarpenczicha. Then Djubenkina's family. And Djubenkina's daughter was there, she was called Janina, sixteen years old she was. A German came, an officer, and says: 'If you agree to be with me, you'll live, but if you don't agree, we'll kill you.' And she goes: 'Kill me!' She huddled up behind her mother, who was already dead. 'I'm not going anywhere!...' Then they took them to the pit and shot them. And now my older boy is going... And I couldn't feel with my legs any more whether I was walking over the earth or sky. I'm burning all over, all covered with lash-marks, my hair is all torn out, my tongue swole up. They lead us to the pit. And my older boy calls out: 'Don't shoot, dear sirs!' And the younger one... I was carrying him in my arms... I don't remember anything more... I found myself in the pit. There was just a flash, this fire... He shot my older son first, then me, then the younger boy... Well, then they buried us - I don't remember anything, but I hear - the sand at first goes sh-sh, sh-sh, sh-sh... They started to throw in sand. Ants crawled into my mouth and nose. It was awful there in the earth. They buried us, I heard them leave - stomp-stomp, stomp-stomp... That I seemed to remember. But how I got out and crawled off a ways, like from here to that little house - I remember nothing about it. I remember that when I got out I thought: 'I'll crawl over and drown myself in the stream.' That I remember. But then, when I'd collapsed, I'd raise my head - and couldn't go on. I didn't know, see, that I'd been shot. I don't remember anything. They say I was shot through: I was shot here in the back of the head, and the bullet corned out. They flew in that ... doctor from behind the front line, to the Selyavshchina airfield. Uh-huh. I only got back my memory on the ninth day. The woman at whose place I stayed, Belkowa, told me that. Well, when the Germans left, the partisans came here. And I crawled off, a ways, lay down, and a pool of blood, people say, collected there... I was lying in that blood. I hear someone starts to speak. From Sosni, this man who lived there. Waszen was their last name, the Wasznjows. The old man ran up and says: 'Some woman is lying here, a dead woman. Semionowna! Collective farmers, over here!' They came running. And I heard his voice, raised myself up backward like this - I hit against the ground and blood poured out from my mouth, from my ears - all over. They lifted me up on some rags and carried me to the Belkows' house. It's only afterwards they sent for the doctor. My husband came from his detachment - sent for him. That doctor came and got the sand out of me. Both vomit and sand came out. He got everything out - both sand and water... He put something on those wounds on my tongue, then here, on this wound... Nurses came from the detach­ment so the wound wouldn't fester. But my head kept going bom-bom-bom... No ways it would stop. And he came later, opened my skull, and there was blood on the membrane of the brain, and he took out that blood with some kind of little spoon. When he'd removed the blood from the membrane... QUESTION: You say the doctor flew in from behind the front line? To Seljawszczina, to the airfield. They wanted to fly me behind the front line. But the surgeon says: 'To save yourself, you need a pail of poppy-seeds and honey mixed together. You must grind the poppy-seeds, pound and grind them with the honey and eat it. You've lost all your blood. Then you'll get well and be able to leave your bed. But if you don't use this... They won't give it to you behind the front line. Wartime.' So then. That's how I got well. The inhabitants brought me a pail of poppy-seeds within a day, and we had our own honey, we had our own bees. That's what. I got back my memory only on the ninth day and started to eat that, and only got back on my feet after four months. There...[32]"

The SS Brigade was not able to stay in Albrechtowo for long because at the same time strong Soviet Union regular armies were breaking through the front quite near. They also mentioned the panic that had spread, even among the hardened Belarusian Auxiliary policemen. On November 6 an order came to move towards east near Lake Nieszczarda because the Red Army had broken through the front in Newel area, and stop the Operation Heinrich during which at least 5,452 people were murdered.[6] The 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade's next assignment was to bar the breakthrough and fight their enemy, who this time was the Red Army's regular units, back to its initial positions on the Nieszczarda and Lake Mieszno's line.[23][34]

Ljubow Semionowna Iwanowa, Gorbaczewo, Rasony Raion, Wiciebsk Region: "There was a time when the enemy came into the village. Before that we had cried and grieved but lived where we were, but when the enemy came, Lida and I - she was a friend of mine - went into the woods. We wandered about the woods. She was a schoolteacher. She had two children, and I just had Witja. Here they gathered everyone, shot and hung people... When I came back from hiding, it was written on my house: 'Partisan, bandit house'. Just like that it was written, sonny! Żenja, my oldest son, came home from the partisans and hewed it away with an axe: it couldn't be erased, and it was ugly written on the house, at the doorstep. They assembled people here and shot them... They took seven people in my brother's family: my brother, my sister-in-law and their three daughters, and their little grandson... I had a sister, they took her, too. They were the bosses here, and they shot and burned people... There was a pit right here, and a pit there. People dug the pits for their own selves. And then they shot down the line with a machine-gun. There were seventy people there. When we came back from the woods we dug them up and moved them to the cemetery.[32]"

During the repositioning the 42nd Regiment's Commander, SS-Standartenführer et:Henn-Ants Kurg, was badly injured - his car drove on a mine on Idrica-Siebież highway. Kurg died a few days later. SS-Sturmbannführer Paul Vent was appointed to his position. The 42nd Regiment's 1st Battalion leader, SS-Hauptsturmführer Harald Riipalu, recalls: "While we were on the edge of the forest in front of Albrechtowo, we suddenly received an order on one November evening: 'The enemy has broken through near Newel. The Brigade must stop chasing the partisans and has to break through until Lake Nieszczarda as quickly as possible!' This breakthrough can also be called a cut-through. The road from Albrechtowo until Gorbaczewo and Mieszno villages near Lake Nieszczarda, which was some ten kilometers long, was supposed to be cleared of the trees that were on the road. The Brigade had reached the front. It had reached the eastern border of 'Rasony Republic' and was facing the regular Red Army.[23]"

Aljona Iwanowna Bulawa, Bereznjaki, Żytkawiczy District, Gomel Region: "Oh, just what was this! - it was not war, but just... Well, those that are at the front, well, they go and kill those people - but they were fighting, weren't they ? But what about a poor little child ? A little boy and he, poor thing, hasn't been anywhere. They killed them, too... This little child is running - what do they want to kill him for? He's little, he's small child, he's rolling like a little apple... And they - shoot at him. Sparks are flying!... What was it, what had made them like this? - I don't know. They were wild beasts, not people. They weren't people, they were - beasts...[32]"

Witnesses and survivors[edit]

Archip Ti­chonowicz Żigaczow, Bakanicha, Rasony Raion, Wiciebsk Region: "...When the German detachment came here, we were taken to the village of Mamolja. And on the morning of the day they burnt our village, we had gone to Lopatki, and from there we saw that Zauswetje was burning. We didn't tarry there, but went back to our village. Here, to Bakanicha. As soon as I got to my flat, the women gathered and asked where we were. And I look and see a policeman running through my yard. And he's wrapping these trousers around his back: my trousers had been thrown out in the orchard. He'd taken them for himself. And then we were immediately given the command to gather, the whole village, in one flat. And they gathered us, sixty-four people, where the monument now stands. One policeman ran and ordered everyone to go there. Not to some meeting, he just said: 'Go to that house.' They drove us there, and then the carters and policemen drove out our cattle. They herded it away beyond the village. When we had gathered in that one flat, a German officer came in and started to examine who was wearing what. If it was a good sheepskin coat or felt boots, they made the person take them off and throw them outside, and there the carters picked them up. Then the officer went and bade farewell to us. He says: 'Goodbye. Thank those partisans of yours.' And what he said that for, I didn't understand. As soon as he said that, they closed up the flat and threw grenades in at us through the two windows. Those grenades hissed for a long time. If there had been some daring person, he could have thrown them back out. Well, all right. The grenades exploded and many people perished, but everyone recoiled to one side. Then they fired at that heap with a tommy-gun. When they stopped shooting with the tommy-gun, a lot of people were still alive. People smashed one window and started to leap out of the window. The policemen shot those who jumped out of the window. They stood all around the flat.[32]"

Ganna Zacharowna Djadjola. Widoki Village, Drysa District, Wiciebsk Region: "They caught a young girl from our village and raped her. She was found later in the cemetery. She lay there dead with a candy ... between her teeth. They killed another in the orchard. She lay flat on her back like this, partly covered with earth - we examined the body later. Her dress was all torn...[32]"

Ganna Prokopowna Gribowskaja. Latygowo Village, Drysa District, Wiciebsk Region. "How she screamed! We all just went numb. There was this big nail right there in the bathhouse; it must have been eight inches long. And they took that nail and drove it into her breast. Drove that home-made nail into her breast... As for my aunt, they raised her on their bayonets.[32]"

Anastasja Iwanowna Skripka, Aświeja, Drysa District, Wiciebsk Region: "...Then they rounded up the village and drove us out onto the road. There was this crossroad there, with road going this way and that way, and they drove us out on to one of those roads. Then some big-shots came, with these great tall hats. Well then, they said something between them­selves. We don't know their language. We just heard the words: 'Partisan Kaput!' At this we guessed they were probably going to kill the partisan families. We had to be shot - this we understood. So they herded us along this big road and then there was a little path into the forest. They ordered us to go left. As soon as we all turned left they began firing at us. We all fell to the ground, some alive, some dead. I was wounded in the leg. One of the bullets missed me, it passed by here and only tore the col­lar of my coat and my kerchief. Another hit me in the back but I was carrying a bag of dried bread over my shoulder and it got stuck in there. I found it among the bread later. (She laughs.) This long, rifle bullet. QUESTION: "When you fell to the ground did you realize you were alive? No, I fell together with my stepdaughter and her children. The little boy screamed. He only had time to say: 'Ow!' before he fell. We all fell down. They fired at us from behind, we couldn't see them shooting. We weren't supposed to raise our heads. The little girl said: 'Mother, I'm wounded!' I was walking together with them a little in front like this and she behind. And my stepdaughter told the girl: 'Keep quiet!' Then the Germans came up to us. They are going to kill us now, I thought. But they didn't touch me. I just lay there, you see. When the Germans walked away we rose to our feet and went off...[32]"

Zinaida Lukjanowna Ruta, Aświeja Village, Drysa District, Wiciebsk Region: "...They caught us in the forest. Two hundred and fifty people. Because the Germans counted "two hundred and fifty'. They lined us all up and fired their tommy-guns at us. We all fell to the ground. I was holding my daughter in my arms - she was killed, two years old she was. QUESTION: Did they say anything after they lined you up? They just lined us up four people to a row and fired their tommy-guns... When they fired their tommy-guns we all fell to the ground. I was wounded in the shoulder and another bullet hit my leg. But my little daughter was killed. They killed her the second time round - hit her in the temple. I was wounded myself, this side was all black, singed when they shot me. QUESTION: How did you manage to get away later? Well, I wasn't the only one left. There's this woman in our village, Anastasja Skripka. My leg was like this, and she began tugging at it: 'Zina, Zina, get up! Are you alive or not?' Gradually I came to. We all got to our feet, the remaining six of us. Six out of all those people. Two of us six have died since then. One woman left for Siberia... QUESTION: Were the Germans gone when you got up? Yes, they had. We went deeper into the forest then. It was already night then and pitch dark. We spent the night there, under the bushes...[32]"

Maria Lawrentjewna Bawtruk, Juzefówo Village, Drysa District, Wiciebsk Region: "If only I could put it all into the right words!... We started to walk and then ran and they shoot at us. Some of us were wounded, my people too. My aunts were with me there. Later, when we had already reached the forest, the Germans caught up with us. I had a sister-in-law, my brother's wife, and she had children, well, the Germans told them to return here to the village. So they went back. I must've been about eighteen then. We, the young folk, went on but the rest were deceived into returning. But we ran deeper into the forest. They went back with their families, they had children with them. All our village folk. Well, and then... They locked them up in a dug-out. My sister-in-law I mean and her two kids... Later they drove them on beyond Dieży, to where the quarries were. All those village folk who went back home. They made them undress and poured some liquid on them... I went looking around for my sister-in-law. My sister went too. Two children... All we found was their clothes lying there. We recognized our family... I recognized my nephews' clothes. But the people had all been burned up. Their bodies lay all over the place. They're buried later. Well, you'd come and look - they were all burned up... By the counts made, a hundred and twenty-five people were murdered here. In Kobylniki village next door, they burned everyone, to a man. Only two men who were at the front survived there. "Juzefówo used to be a large village before the war. But when we returned there after the raid we found only one woman and a couple of children left. All the rest were killed...[32]"

Holocaust[edit]

Main article: Holocaust in Belarus

Almost the whole, previously very numerous, Jewish population of Belarus which did not evacuate was killed. One of the first uprisings of a Jewish ghetto against the Nazis occurred in 1942 in Belarus, in the small town of Lakhva (see Lakhva Ghetto). The largest Jewish ghetto in Belarus was the Minsk Ghetto.

Post-occupation[edit]

Later in 1944, 30 German-trained Belarusians were airdropped behind the Soviet front line to spark disarray. These were known as "Čorny Kot" ("Black Cat") led by Michał Vituška. They had some initial success due to disorganization in the rear guard of Red Army. Other Belarusian units slipped through Białowieża Forest and full scale guerilla war erupted in 1945. But the NKVD infiltrated these units and neutralized them until 1957.

In total, Belarus lost a quarter of its pre-war population in the Second World War, including practically all its intellectual elite. About 9,200 villages and 1,200,000 houses were destroyed. The major towns of Minsk and Vitebsk lost over 80% of their buildings and city infrastructure. For the defence against the Germans, and the tenacity during the German occupation, the capital Minsk was awarded the title Hero City after the war. The fortress of Brest was awarded the title Hero-Fortress.

See also[edit]

People[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c (English) "Genocide policy". Khatyn.by. SMC "Khatyn". 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-26. 
  2. ^ a b Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941 bis 1944. Studienausgabe, pages 898 and following
  3. ^ Police Regiments - Research
  4. ^ Die deutsche Polizei
  5. ^ Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941 bis 1944. Studienausgabe, pages 914 and following
  6. ^ a b c Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941 bis 1944. Studienausgabe, pages 943 and following
  7. ^ Kalinin, Pjotr Sacharovich, Die Partisanenrepublik. Translated by N. P. Bakajeva, East Berlin, 1968, page 402
  8. ^ The Systematic Character of the National Socialist Policy for the Extermination of the Jews, Electronic Edition, by Peter Longerich, chapter2.6.4
  9. ^ Christopher Browning, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers
  10. ^ Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941 bis 1944. Studienausgabe, pages 955 and following
  11. ^ a b Jeckeln's (HSSPF) order on the war footage of Jeckeln's group dated 25.Х.1943. NARB, F.4683, Inv.3, Doc.1022, Sheets 90-92.
  12. ^ E. vabadusvõitlejad Teises maailmasõjas (E. freedom fighters in World War II), compiler A. Jurs, Tallinn, 1997. p. 146-155
  13. ^ a b “Destroy as much as possible…”
  14. ^ Thomas N., "Partisan Warfare 1941-1945", Osprey Publ. Ltd., London, 1983, p. 21-229
  15. ^ http://www.esm.ee/public/Eestlaste_yksused.pdf
  16. ^ http://www.dws-xip.pl/reich/waffen/20dgren_5.html
  17. ^ http://www.epl.ee/news/kultuur/mart-laar-ajal-on-mitu-lugu.d?id=51103072
  18. ^ http://diviis.wehrmacht.pri.ee/flak/flak.php
  19. ^ http://www.militaar.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2981
  20. ^ http://wehrmacht.rindeleht.ee/yksused/leegion/leegion.html
  21. ^ http://www.rindeleht.ee/foorumisse/pahklamets.doc
  22. ^ http://www.at1ce.org/themenreihe.p?c=Nazi%20SS
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The 3rd SS Volunteer Brigade
  24. ^ https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/waffenss.html
  25. ^ http://axis101.bizland.com/EstonianFeldpost1.htm
  26. ^ http://www.eestileegion.com/?home/estonian-legion/estonian-legions-leaders/ss-brigadefuehrer-and-waffen-ss-general-major-franz-augsberger.html
  27. ^ http://paolosilv.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/ikl-more-nazis-2/
  28. ^ http://paolosilv.wordpress.com/category/hitler/
  29. ^ http://www.ifz-muenchen.de/heftarchiv/2004_3.pdf
  30. ^ http://www.jewishgen.org/belarus/shtetls/shtetl_detail.php?filename=svelikoyeselo1vv
  31. ^ http://www.geographic.org/geographic_names/name.php?uni=-2723071&fid=734&c=belarus
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ales Adamovich, Yanka Bryl, Vladimir Kolesnik, "Out of Fire"
  33. ^ http://www.slownik.ihpan.edu.pl/search.php?id=15635
  34. ^ a b http://zweiter-weltkrieg-lexikon.de/index.php/Waffen-SS/SS-Brigaden/3.-Estnische-SS-Freiwilligen-Brigade.html

External links[edit]