Ordinary men, p.3
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       Ordinary Men, p.3

           Christopher R. Browning

  Beginning either the same day or the following morning, trucks from the motor pools of both police battalions began shuttling the Jews from the stadium to antitank ditches in a forested area outside the city. Most of Battalion 316 and one company of Battalion 322 guarded the shooting site and were formed into firing squads. Bach-Zelewski again appeared on the scene and gave a justifying speech. The shooting lasted until nightfall, and then the policemen attempted to carry on the executions under the headlights of their trucks. When this proved unsatisfactory, the action was broken off and completed the following day. The German courts concluded that at least 3,000 Jews had been shot (though it must be kept in mind that for judicial convenience such figures always represent an uncontested minimal estimate of victims, and not the most probable number, so as to remove that issue from judicial dispute).

  The murder campaign against Russian Jewry accelerated in the late summer and fall of 1941, and the war diary of Police Battalion 322 reveals its continuing involvement. On July 23 the battalion’s formal subordination to the rear area army commander was severed. “For the imminent tasks of the battalion, it is placed directly under the HSSPF Gruppenführer von dem Bach.”15 As the three companies of Police Battalion 322 moved from Białystok to Minsk during the month of August, Lieutenant Riebel’s Third Company particularly distinguished itself by ongoing executions of Jews in its path. Following sweeps by the Third Company through the forest regions around Białowieza on August 2, the war diary noted, “Before departure 3d Company must carry out the liquidation of Jews.”16 Riebel subsequently reported, “In the early morning hours of August 10, the liquidation of the Jews lodged in the Białowieza prisoner collection camp was carried out by 3d Company. Seventy-seven male Jews between 16 and 45 were shot. The action was performed without incident. There was not a single case of resistance.”17 This was not an isolated action, for five days later Riebel reported, “The Jewish action in Narevka-Mala was carried out by 3d Company on August 15, 1941. In it 259 women and 162 children were moved to Kobrin. All male persons between 16 and 65 years of age were shot. On August 15, 1941, a total of one Pole for plundering and 232 Jews were shot. The Jewish execution was performed smoothly and without incident.”18

  By late August the battalion was in Minsk, where Bach-Zelewski and Daluege met on August 29.19 As in Białystok earlier, their meeting was the prelude to Order Police participation in another major mass shooting of Jews. On August 30 the battalion commander, Major Nagel, was summoned to discuss “a basic Jewish action” scheduled to take place on August 31 and September 1. The battalion was to provide two companies.20

  On August 31 the First and Third Companies of Police Battalion 322 (now designated the Seventh and Ninth Companies of Police Regiment Center) moved into the Minsk ghetto, where they seized some 700 Jews, including 74 women. The following day Riebel’s Ninth Company took part in the execution of more than 900 Jews, including all of those seized the day before. For this first shooting of large numbers of Jewish women, the author of the war diary felt the need to provide a justification. They were shot, he explained, “because they had been encountered without the Jewish star during the roundup…. Also in Minsk it has been discovered that especially Jewesses removed the marking from their clothing.”21 Ever anxious to get credit for his company’s body count, Riebel dutifully reported, “In the Jewish action of September 1, the Jews seized on August 31 were shot. Shot by 9th Company were 290 men and 40 women. The executions proceeded smoothly. No one resisted.”22

  In a subsequent action in Mogilev in early October, the need to explain the shooting of Jewish women was no longer felt. For October 2, the war diary recorded, “9th Company. From 3:30 p.m. the entire company. Jewish action in the ghetto of Mogilev together with the staff of the Higher SS and Police Leader Russia Central and Ukrainian auxiliary police: 2,208 Jews of both sexes seized, 65 shot on the spot attempting to escape.” On the following day: “7th and 9th Companies together with the staff of the Higher SS and Police Leader Russia Central—execution of a total of 2,208 Jews and Jewesses outside Mogilev not far from the forest camp (7th Company 378, 9th Company 545 shootings).”23

  The involvement of the police battalions in the central region of Russia was not unique. The scant surviving documentation indicates similar involvement in both the south and the north. HSSPF Russia South, Friedrich Jeckeln, who commanded a total of five police battalions (304 and 320 in addition to Police Regiment South, consisting of 45, 303, and 314—thus, all but one of them composed of recent young volunteers), was careful in his cryptic daily reports to give credit where credit was due. The following emerges from an incomplete collection of these reports.24

  AUGUST 19: Battalion 314 shot 25 Jews. Battalion 45 at Slavuta shot 522 Jews.

  AUGUST 22: Battalion 45 shot 66 and 471 Jews in two actions.

  AUGUST 23: Battalion 314 shot 367 Jews in a “cleansing action.”

  AUGUST 24: Battalion 314 shot 294 Jews, Battalion 45 shot 61 Jews, and the “police squadron” (horse-mounted police) 113 Jews.

  AUGUST 25: Police Regiment South shot 1,324 Jews.

  AUGUST 27: According to the first of two reports, Police Regiment South shot 549 Jews and Battalion 314 shot 69 Jews. The second credited Police Regiment South with shooting 914 Jews.

  AUGUST 28: Police Regiment South shot 369 Jews.

  AUGUST 29: Battalion 320 provided the “cordon” while the staff company of the HSSPF shot 15,000 Jews at Kamenets Podolsky on August 26-27 and another 7,000 on August 28.

  AUGUST 31: Battalion 320 shot 2,200 Jews in Minkovtsy.

  SEPTEMBER 1: Police Regiment South shot 88 Jews; Battalion 320 shot 380. SEPTEMBER 2: Police Regiment South shot 45 Jews.

  SEPTEMBER 4: Police Regiment South shot 4,144 Jews. SEPTEMBER 6: Police Regiment South shot 144 Jews.

  SEPTEMBER 11: Police Regiment South shot 1,548 Jews. SEPTEMBER 12: Police Regiment South shot 1,255 Jews.

  OCTOBER 5: Police Battalion 304 shot 305 Jews.

  Postwar judicial interrogations in the Federal Republic of Germany, stemming from this scant documentation, uncovered further information about the murderous swath Police Battalions 45 and 314 cut across the Soviet Union in the fall of 1941. Police Battalion 45 had reached the Ukrainian town of Shepetovka on July 24, when its commander, Major Besser, was summoned by the head of Police Regiment South, Colonel Franz. Franz told Besser that by order of Himmler the Jews in Russia were to be destroyed and his Police Battalion 45 was to take part in this task. Within days the battalion had massacred the several hundred remaining Jews of Shepetovka, including women and children. Three-figure massacres in various Ukrainian towns followed in August. In September the battalion provided cordon, escort, and shooters for the execution of thousands of Jews in Berdichev and Vinnitsa. The battalion’s brutal activities climaxed in Kiev on September 29 and 30, when the policemen again provided cordon, escort, and shooters for the murder of over 33,000 Jews in the ravine of Babi Yar. The battalion continued to carry out smaller executions (Khorol, Krementshug, Poltava) until the end of the year.25 Police Battalion 314 also began with relatively small three-figure massacres, starting on July 22. It then joined Police Battalion 45 in the execution of several thousand Jews in Vinnitsa in September 1941, and shot 7,000 to 8,000 Jews in Dnepropetrovsk on October 10-14. The last shooting uncovered in the investigation dated to late January 1942 in Kharkov.26

  The documentation from southern Russia provides a sketchy overview of the broad and continuous participation of Order Police units in the mass shootings of Jews, but it lacks detail; the documentation for northern Russia is just the opposite. Here we have no overview, but we do have one extraordinarily vivid description of an operation by Police Battalion 11, which had been stationed in the Kovno region since early July 1941, its Third Company charged with guarding the Kovno ghetto.27 In mid-October the battalion commander was sent to Minsk with two companies of Battalion 11 and two companies of Lithuanian auxiliary police. The operations officer of the 707th Security Di
vision gave the policemen their first task (which they later claimed to be the first of only two such actions): the execution of all Jews in the village of Smolevichi, east of Minsk, as an alleged deterrent and warning to the civilian population not to help the partisans. The battalion commander claimed that he protested but was merely told by the operations officer and division commander that the German police could provide the cordon and leave the shooting to the Lithuanians. The massacre of the Smolevichi Jews was carried out as ordered.

  In late October the two companies of Order Police and their Lithuanian auxiliaries were ordered by the army to liquidate all the Jews in Slutsk, south of Minsk, a town of some 12,000 inhabitants, one-third Jewish. Again the measure was justified as a deterrent for the protection of German troops. What happened in Slutsk on October 27 was the subject of a report from the head of the German civil administration there to his boss, Wilhelm Kube, in Minsk.

  Slutsk, 30 October 1941

  Regional Commissioner Slutsk

  To: General Commissioner in Minsk

  Concerning: Jewish action

  In reference to my telephone report of October 27, 1941, I submit the following to you in writing:

  On the morning of October 27 about 8 o’clock, a first lieutenant of Police Battalion 11 from Kovno (Lithuania) appeared. He introduced himself as the adjutant of the battalion commander of the Security [sic] Police. The first lieutenant declared that the police battalion had been assigned the task of carrying out the liquidation of all Jews in the city of Slutsk within two days. The battalion commander was approaching with a force of four companies, two of them Lithuanian auxiliaries, and the action had to begin immediately. I thereupon answered the first lieutenant that in any case I first of all had to discuss the action with the commander. About one-half hour later the police battalion arrived in Slutsk. As requested, the discussion with the battalion commander then took place immediately after his arrival. I explained first of all to the commander that it would scarcely be possible to carry out the action without prior preparation, because all [the Jews] had been sent to work and there would be frightful confusion. At the very least, he was obligated to give one day’s notice. I then asked him to postpone the action for one day. He nonetheless rejected this, noting that he had to carry out actions in the cities all around and only two days were available for Slutsk. At the end of these two days Slutsk had to be absolutely free of Jews. I immediately lodged the sharpest protest against this, in which I emphasized that a liquidation of the Jews could not take place arbitrarily. The larger portion of Jews still present in the city consisted of craftsmen and their families. One simply could not do without the Jewish craftsmen, because they were indispensable for the maintenance of the economy. Furthermore I referred to the fact that White Russian craftsmen were, so to say, utterly unavailable, that therefore all vital enterprises would be paralyzed with a single blow if all Jews were liquidated. At the conclusion of our discussion I mentioned that the craftsmen and specialists, insofar as they were indispensable, had identification on hand, and that these Jews were not to be taken out of the workshops. It was further agreed that all Jews still in the city, especially the craftsmen’s families, whom I also did not want to have liquidated, should first of all be brought to the ghetto for the purpose of sorting. Two of my officials were to be authorized to carry out the sorting. The commander in no way opposed my position, so in good faith I believed that the action would therefore be carried out accordingly.

  Several hours after the action began, the greatest difficulties were already becoming apparent. I discovered that the commander was not at all abiding by our arrangement. Contrary to the agreement, all Jews without exception were being taken from the factories and workshops and sent off. A portion of the Jews were in any case taken through the ghetto, where many were grabbed and selected out by me, but most were loaded directly on trucks and without further ado liquidated outside the city. Shortly after noon, complaints were already coming from all sides that the workshops could no longer operate because all Jewish craftsmen had been removed. Because the commander had driven on to Baranovichi, I contacted the deputy commander, a captain, after a long search and demanded that the action be immediately stopped, because it was not taking place according to my instructions and the economic damage already inflicted could not be made good. The captain was very astonished by my viewpoint and explained that he had received instructions from the commander to make the city free of Jews without exception, as they had also done in other cities. The cleansing had to take place on political grounds, and nowhere had economic factors so far played a role. Upon my energetic interventions he then nonetheless stopped the action toward evening.

  What else concerns this action, I must to my greatest regret emphasize, is last of all that it bordered on sadism. During the action the city itself offered a horrible picture. With indescribable brutality, by the German policemen as well but especially by the Lithuanians, the Jews and also White Russians were taken out of their lodgings and driven together. There was shooting everywhere in the city, and in the individual streets bodies of Jews who had been shot piled up. The White Russians had the greatest difficulty in extricating themselves from the roundup. Aside from the fact that the Jews, among them also craftsmen, were brutally mistreated in a frightfully barbarous way before the eyes of the White Russians, the latter were likewise beaten with truncheons and clubs. One can no longer speak of a Jewish action, it appeared much more like a revolution. I and all my officials were in the midst of this all day without a break, in order to save what could still be saved. Repeatedly I literally had to drive German police officials as well as Lithuanians out of the workshops with drawn revolver. My own gendarmes were given the same task but because of the wild shooting often had to get off the streets in order not to be shot themselves. The entire scene was altogether more than ghastly. In the afternoon a large number of horse-drawn carts without drivers stood around in the streets, so that I had to assign the city administration immediately to take care of them. Afterward it turned out that they were Jewish wagons that had been assigned by the army to transport ammunition. The Jews had simply been taken down from the wagons and marched off, without anyone caring for the wagons.

  I was not present at the shootings outside the city. Thus I can say nothing about the brutality. But it suffices when I emphasize that long after being thrown in the grave, some of those shot worked their way out again. Concerning the economic damage I note that the tannery was most frightfully affected. Twenty-six experts worked there. In one blow fifteen of the best specialists among them were shot. Another four jumped from the wagons while underway and escaped, while seven avoided being seized through flight. Five men worked in the wheelwright shop, four of whom were shot, and the shop must now be kept going with only one wheelwright. Still other craftsmen are missing, such as cabinetmakers, smiths, etc. So far it has not been possible for me to get a precise overview. As I already mentioned at the beginning, the families of the craftsmen were also supposed to have been spared. Today it appears, however, that in almost every family some people are missing. Reports come in from everywhere, from which it can be concluded that in some such families the craftsman himself, in others the wife, and in yet others the children are missing. Thus almost all families have been torn apart. In these circumstances it must be very doubtful if the remaining craftsmen are enthusiastic about their work and produce accordingly, the more so in that at the moment they are still walking around with faces beaten bloody on account of the brutality. The White Russians, whose full trust had been won, stood there aghast. Although they are intimidated and do not dare to express their opinions freely, one nonetheless hears it said that this day represented no page of glory for Germany and that it will never be forgotten. I am of the opinion that through this action much has been destroyed that we had achieved over the last months, and that it will be a long time before we can again win the trust of the population.

  In conclusion I find myself compelled to poin
t out that during the action the police battalion plundered in an outrageous way, and indeed not only in Jewish houses, but just as much in the houses of the White Russians. They took with them anything useful, such as boots, leather, textiles, gold, and other valuables. According to the accounts of members of the army, watches were torn from the arms of Jews publicly in the streets, rings were pulled off fingers in the most brutal way. One senior paymaster reported that a Jewish girl was ordered by the police immediately to fetch 5,000 rubles, then her father would be released. This girl is said to have run around everywhere trying to get the money. Also within the ghetto the individual barracks that were nailed shut by the civil administration and provided with a Jewish inventory were broken into and robbed by the police. Even in the barracks in which the unit was lodged, window frames and doors were torn out for the camp fire. Even though I had a talk with the commander’s adjutant on Tuesday morning concerning the plundering and he promised me in the course of the conversation that no police would henceforth enter the city, several hours later I was forced once again to arrest two fully armed Lithuanians, because they were caught looting. On the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the battalion left the city in the direction of Baranovichi. The population was manifestly happy as the news spread through the city.

  So much for the report. I will come to Minsk in the near future in order once again to discuss the matter orally. At the moment I am not able to continue the Jewish action. First peace must return. I hope to be able to restore peace as quickly as possible and despite the difficulties to revive the economy. I now ask only that one request be granted me: “In the future spare me without fail from this police battalion.” Carl28

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