Pripyat swamps (punitive operation)
"Pripyat swamps" (German: "Pripiatsee"), also "Pripyat march" was the codename of the punitive operation conducted by German forces in July and August 1941. The operation was aimed at the mass murder of the local Jewish population from the territories of nine raions of Byelorussian SSR and three raions of Ukrainian SSR in the region of the Pripyat swamps and Pripyat river.
The operation is considered to be the first planned mass extermination operation conducted by Nazi Germany. In the course of the operation, at least 13,788 people were killed in phase one and 3,500 Jewish men were killed in phase two. The villages of Dvarets, Khochan', Azyarany, Starazhowtsy, Kremna, were completely destroyed by burning and Turaw was partially destroyed. The principal means of execution employed was mass shootings, after the local populace had been rounded up. Other methods were also tried, including driving people into the swamp and drowning them.
The operation was conducted on the order of SS leader Heinrich Himmler by the SS Cavalry Brigade, as well as the regular army 162 and 252 infantry divisions, under the general command of HSSPF Erich von dem Bach. The operation began on 19 July 1941, and lasted until the end of August 1941. The operation was conducted in two stages, with the second stage beginning on 14 August 1941. There is no data on the SS troops' losses in their reports.
The captured German documents about the operation reached Moscow in January 1942, and was published in the USSR People Commissary (Minister) of Foreign Relations note, issued on 27 April 1942. It was addressed to all countries with which USSR had maintained the diplomatic relations. It is considered that the international publicity and shock caused by this data prompted Nazis to hide or destroy other materials concerned with this operation.
Beginning of the events
On 17 July 1941, by order of Himmler, the 1st and 2nd SS cavalry regiments were assigned to the general command of HSSPF Erich von dem Bach for the action which took place in two stages. The beginning date of the operation is considered 19 July 1941. On that day, by Himmler's prior order, the two SS cavalry regiments were transferred to Baranavichy for the "systematic combing of the Pripyat swamps".
Shortly thereafter, Himmler ordered the SS Cavalry Brigade to be formed under the command of Hermann Fegelein from the 1st and 2nd SS cavalry regiments. Also, Himmler ordered von dem Bach to present him with the military plan of the extermination operation. The "Special order" of Himmler dated 28 July 1941 demanded von dem Bach to harshly exterminate the Pripyat swamps region's population "with disagreeable attitude to Germans" — to shoot men, deport women and children, confiscate livestock and food, burn habitations. On the other hand, population "showing agreeable attitude to Germans" was to be "spared" and even to be partially armed.
The first stage
The forces of 1st SS Cavalry Regiment moved from Baranavichy in the direction of Lyakhavichy — Hantsavichy, Baranavichy — Ivatsevichy — Byaroza — Pruzhany, and "combed" the territory to the South, South-East and South-West reaching the Pripyat river.
The forces of 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment moved from Lutsk in the directions of Kamen'-Kashirski — Drahichyn — Ivanava and Sarny — Luninyets — Pinsk, and "combed" the territory to the South and North of the Pripyat river, until making contact with 1st SS Cavalry Regiment.
Coordinating with the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment move, Einsatzgruppe B conducted the mass extermination of the Jewish population in Pinsk. Besides that, several elements of the 1st and 2nd SS Cavalry Regiments formed the leading force to block Soviet forces which broke out of the encirclement in the vicinity of Slutsk—Babruysk highway on 27 July 1941.
The second stage
The forces of the SS Cavalry Brigade moved from the initial line of Baranavichy — Luninyets railroad to the East, conducting the "cleansing" of the right and left coasts of the Pripyat river keeping South of the highway R-1 (Brest — Slutsk — Babruysk).
In the course of this stage, the 2nd regiment encountered and battled the force of one to two battalions of the Soviet regular and irregular troops on 21 August 1941 near Turaw. According to the report of 29 August 1941, the brigade's losses were 23 of dead and wounded, and the losses of Soviet troops were from 600 to 700 dead; 10 prisoners.
In the course of following days the 1st regiment combed the region of Starobin — Lyuban — Ptsich, and the 2nd regiment advanced to the East of the line of Kol'na — Lyakhavichy (Knyaz'-Vozyera) towards the Ptsich river. The second stage of the operation ended on either August 29 or August 31.
- By the definition of Alexey Litvin, who considers that the previous definition of operation, given by V. Lazyebnikaw and V. Pase, "operation... against the encircled units of Red Army, partisans and local population", is overly generalized and so imprecise.
- (Litvin 2003)
- Miller 2006, p. 309.
- (Lazyebnikaw and Pase)
- This plan has not been found, so the information on it is reconstructed. Litvin, 2003
- Turonek, p. 101
- (Lazyebnikaw and Pase) Лазебнікаў В. С., Пасэ У. С. Прыпяцкія балоты // Belarusian Soviet Encyclopedia, V.8. p. 604.
- (Litvin 2003) Литвин Алексей. Убийцы // Советская Белоруссия №226 (21892), 3.12.2003. — Newspaper's archive in the net.
- Miller, Michael (2006). Leaders of the SS and German Police, Vol. 1. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. ISBN 978-9-3297-0037-2.
- (Turonek) Jerzy Turonek. Białoruś pod okupacją niemiecką. Warszawa—Wrocław: WERS, 1989. 186 p., ill.