Barbarossa: East Galicia Part 1
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a 2,900 km (1,800 miles) front. In addition to the large number of troops, it also involved 600,000 motor vehicles and 750,000 horses. Planning for Operation Barbarossa started on 18 December 1940; the secret preparations and the military operation itself lasted almost a year, from spring to winter 1941. The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht's strongest blow, and Adolf Hitler had not achieved the expected victory, but the Soviet Union's situation remained dire. Tactically, the Germans had won some resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the country, mainly in Ukraine. Despite these successes, the Germans were pushed back from Moscow and could never mount an offensive simultaneously along the entire strategic Soviet-German front again.
Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation in human history in both manpower and casualties. Its failure was a turning point in the Third Reich's fortunes. Most important, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front, to which more forces were committed than in any other theatre of war in world history. Operation Barbarossa and the areas that fell under it became the site of some of the largest battles, deadliest atrocities, highest casualties, and most horrific conditions for Soviets and Germans alike, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and 20th century history.
During the Soviet occupation of East Galicia, the mainly Polish-Ukrainians (including Jews) had been subjected to Soviet style oppression in many forms. Like the Germans who were shortly to replace them, the Soviets installed their own style of government with devastating effect. Politically led by the NKVD, their first priority was (like the Germans) to rid themselves of the educated classes. Although the policies of both occupiers were similar in all respects, that is, by removing the threatening classes, there was one subtle difference. Under Soviet occupation, the intelligentsia (Polish/Ukrainian/Jews) were simply
removed to the Gulags of the Soviet interior. If you were a Jew and should you be able to survive the labour camps and the harsh conditions - you lived. The Soviets deported over one million persons from this district during their period of occupation. Only a few weeks before the Germans arrived in Stanislawow, in June 1941, several transports had left Stanislawow on this long journey to deportation. Under German administration, the same tactics applied, but if you were Jewish - you died.
The SS was convinced that it could by mass executions on the spot 'solve' the Jewish Question in Russia, by murdering all the Jews it could catch. No family was to be spared, nor were any resources to be wasted in setting-up ghettos, nor in the deportations of Jews to distant camps or murder sites. The killing was to be done in the towns and villages at the moment of military victory.
The Rabka Four Join the Hunting Party
Units of Einsatzcommandos were established for this purpose by Heinrich Himmler. These units, led by high-ranking SS and police officers, were to follow the army; arrest prominent individuals according to the beforehand prepared proscription lists, and shoot them. Himmler warned that actions performed by these special units were not subject of control either by prosecutors or courts of
law and that any attempt at interfering with these activities would be decisively punished.
A major conference held on the 21st May, 1941, between Heydrich and the Army Command (OKH), reviewed the security forces needed for the impending attack on the Soviet Union. The main principle to emerge, was an agreement with OKH of the defined responsibilities of the Verfugungstruppe (Emergency Troops/Einsatzgruppen) and the duties of the security units which would operate independently from, or alongside, the Einsatzgruppen against civilian populations, enemies of the state.
In June 1941, the HHE decided to raise further emergency troops to deal with 'purification' duties behind Einsatzgruppe 'B' (shortly to be adjusted to 'C') on the Polish-Soviet borders into East Galicia. This direction was given to the Einsatzgruppen zur besonderen Verwendung, or zbV, a group of Sipo-SD personnel, commanded by the Commander-in-Chief of the Security Police BdS-Krakow, SS-Lieutenant General Dr Karl Eberhard Schoengarth (professor of Law) who organised three small Commandos. Dr Schoengarth was an officer privy to the inner decision-making policies and was personally favoured by the HHE. His brief for the ensuing action was given to him personally by Himmler and before 'Barbarossa'.
Initially, zbV were to act as a follow-up support unit to the main force of EG 'C' (commanded by SS-Gruppenfuehrer Otto Rasch), the Wehrmacht and units of the collaborating OUN (Ukrainian militia). The overall purpose of zbV was to tidy-up the rear areas by eradicating and crushing all political adversaries. To this end, Dr Schoengarth established a further six commando units which would act independently from his own command (zbV), which were designated to the areas of Slutsk, Pinsk, Brest-Litvosk, Bialystok, Vilna, Minsk and Rovno. Dr Schoengarth reserved his own commando (including Krueger, Rosenbaum and Menten) for actions in and around Lvov, and then dispersed his commando to the major towns and cities in East Galicia where 'Special Offices for Jewish Affairs' (Judenreferent) were to be established. We may define this period of operations up until the end of July 1941.
Although by the time these groups had been organised (end of June), many thousands of Jews had already been murdered in the Russian occupied territories, but there was no talk of a wholesale destruction policy. There was also no talk of permanent Jewish 'resettlement' (Umsiedlung), 'evacuation' (Aussiedlung) and 'death camps' (Mortlager). However, there seems little doubt that in the
background, there was something going on as Dr Schoengarth carried with him orders for some kind of possible ultimate 'solution' to the 'Jewish question'. Dr Schoengarth was a central Figure: with regard to 'Jewish affairs', which is endorsed by his presence at Wannsee on the 20th January 1942, when the final seal of approval for the codified mass expulsion of European Jewry to the death camps was finalised. Although this decision was made on this date, we must appreciate that the Belzec death camp was already built and was undergoing tests. It is clearly apparent that there was a conspiracy by the SS to involve other government departments so that they, the SS, could not be in isolation as the deciders should the tide of war turn.
From the evidence shown in post-war German testimonies and documents, we may deduce that the orders for the mass slaughter of Jews in the occupied Soviet territory of East Galicia had already been given. We have confirmation of this as set out in the order from Heydrich of 2nd July 1941. Heydrich instructed the higher SS and police chiefs to brief the Einsatzgruppen commanders of how the war was to be conducted: to establish order and to liquidate the ruling elite of Bolshevik Russia (particularly Jews), as in other occupied regions. These orders dealt with Jews among the Russian prisoners of war the summarily execution of all Jews in Party and State positions. Also attached to this order (Operational Order Number 8), sent out by the Chief of the Security Police and SD (and carried by zbV) was the 'German Research Book': 88 list, which contained lists
of addresses of the Polish intelligentsia and a 'special Research Book' for the USSR, in which were entered all the names of dissidents considered dangerous and a threat to German aspirations. To assist in carrying out these orders, were the collaborating Ukrainians and Poles who had all been specifically trained for this purpose in the SD School at Zakopane and Rabka.
In May 1941, in the preparation of Barbarossa, the Nazis had assembled about 300 Ukrainian officers and Polish collaborators in the occupied territories and designated them various military units as 'Sonderfuehrer' ('interpreters' and advisers). It was for this purpose, that the Zakopane/Rabka Sipo-SD School (as we shall see) were formed and used to train these men which were issued with German military uniforms, and instructed by Ukrainian/Polish speaking Sipo-SD instructors. Certainly, National Socialist ideology was high on the agenda, but the implementation of mass killings in East Galicia may have been inferred but was not spoken about. Schoengarth's secondment of Pieter Menten to zbV for dubious purposes was made under this provision.
&nbs;Women and Children: Gender Killing Policy?
It is generally accepted that orders given to the Einsatzgruppen immediately before the Russian war, were to implement murder of all the Jewish Bolshevik leadership and intelligentsia, or any person who was, or likely to be, a threat to the Nazi state. Whether this order was to include women and children is contentious. There appears to be no argument that the 'all gender' policy was certainly being carried out after mid-August 1941. In the rural areas of Lithuania this practice had been endorsed even earlier (end of July), when the German civil authorities were murdering all Jews. It is in the opening weeks that we have conflicting views.
Certainly, in the first wave of killings, many thousands of Jewish men and communists of military age had been slaughtered, but the women and children detained in the round-ups were released. This is the debatable point. Dr Otto Ohlendorf, Commander of Einsatzgruppen D: 'Himmler stated that an important part of our task consisted of the murder of Jews women, men and children. I was informed about this about four weeks before the advance'.
In Brest on 10th July 1941, over 6,000 Jews, men, women and children were shot into pits by the EG, which is recorded in the state archive of Brest. In the Tarnopol region, several hundred women and children were killed out of a total
of 5,000 Jews, between the 4th and 11th July, 1941. This all-gender policy was clearly understood by Dr. Ohlendorf.
These early all-gender killings appear to be corroborated by events occurring a thousand miles away in Lithuania. On 24th June 1941, in the border village of Gargzdai, the SD and auxiliary police, under the direction of Dr Walther Stahecker, shot 201 Jews, including women and children. Dr Stahecker claimed that he also had received orders (he claims from Heydrich) to kill all Jews regardless of gender. On 23rd June 1941, Dr Stahecker continued this order in the town of Tilsit where the local police shot Jews of all genders.
Further evidence that there was such an order of 'total genocide order', including women and children, comes from SS-Captain Hans Krueger and that this order was given by Schoengarth just prior to him returning to Krakow at the end of July. So between the end of July and mid-August there was a definite policy.
The high-powered Goring conference (Hitler, Goering, Lammers, Rosenberg and Keitel) on 16th July 1941, and Goering's subsequent order ('all necessary measures etc.') of 31st July 1941, seem to confirm this. This 'order' by Goering has been the bedrock by historians for interpretation of a 'final solution'. Although this Goering order still stands, there is now further evidence of an earlier note recently found in the Moscow Special Archive that is dated 26th March 1941. This gives perhaps a wider interpretation and should not be underestimated and sends a clear message: that the final Chapter of the Holocaust has yet to be written, and that major contributory factors may yet be found in Russia. Researcher Goetz Aly (Berlin) has interpreted this information:
'In this document he commissioned Heydrich to submit a comprehensive blueprint of the organisational subject-related and material preparatory measures for the execution of the intended final solution of the Jewish Question'. Aly concludes that this note of 26th March 1941 must be understood as a confirmation, possibly an extension of an assignment for the 'final solution' of the 'Jewish Question'.
We get some indication of the position from Hans Krueger:
'Among other things...I'd been given the order (from Dr Schoengarth) to clean the area of Jews. Initially, that meant deporting the Jewish population or concentrating them in ghettos. A bit later (he doesn't say exactly when), a directive from the RSHA gave the order to render the area judenfrei, a new interpretation: their liquidation'.
In fact, it wasn't until the 14th August 1941, that there was some confirmation and clarification, when Himmler issued a confirmative directive to the Higher SS and Police Leaders (HSSPF) in the occupied Soviet territories, ordering them to murder all Jews irrespective of gender and age.
An interesting point arises from these zbV actions, particularly the Podhorodze action of 7th July 1941, as we shall see later with the release of the Jewish women and children. Were the standing orders of the day for East Galicia different from Lithuania? Only Jewish males over the age of 15 years were to be slaughtered. In zbV's second visit to the murder scene on 27th August 1941, they rounded up the women and children and murdered them. By this action it would seem to confirm Himmler's Order of 14th August, 1941. One counter argument to this action at Podhorodze was that Pieter Menten was personally leading this massacre for personal reasons which may not count for 'lawful orders'.
We have a further contradictory explanation. At about this time (mid-July) there was a massive build up of reserve security forces to back up the Einsatzgruppen. However, police auxiliaries report that the order to kill women and children did not come until the end of August 1941. The probable answer is that (as we know), some women and children were being killed from the very commencement of 'Barbarossa' as Ohlendorf and Staheckler have stated. With the euphoria of success in the East, it was only a minor adjustment to spread this all-gender killing to East Galicia.
The evidence is both conflicting and confusing. We must remember that some of the leadership were expounding defensive explanations on a morally heated issue. There are two points (among others), which in my view, tend to confirm an all-out gender killing policy was instigated from the beginning: the general honesty of Ohlendorf which comes over in trial transcripts, and the evidence from a much lower ranking officer, SS-Unterfuehrer Krumbach who was engaged in Jewish slaughter in Tilsit, Lithuania (June 1941). In answer to the question 'were women and children also discussed?' he answered, 'According to an order from the Fuehrer, the whole of Eastern Jewry had to be exterminated so that there would be no longer Jewish blood available there to maintain a world Jewry'.
So, from very early on, women and children were being killed in increasing numbers, but by mid-August it had become official policy. Before then, it very much depended on the whim and authority of individual commanders.
On 16th July 1941, Hitler authorised East Galicia to be incorporated into the Generalgouvnement (official decree 1st August 1941) in order to spike OUN aspirations of statehood. What makes this interesting is that East Galicia was now within the Reich jurisdiction (under Reich Law) with an added bonus of half a million Jews. With no clear direction from above, the SD leadership were making the decisions and exercising their own initiatives and acting on their own responsibility (as encouraged by Heydrich) in dealing with this added problem shooting them as exemplified by Hans Krueger in Nadworna and Stanislawow in early August 1941. By late August 1941, when Pieter Menten and zbV returned to Podhorodze, it didn't matter anymore.
Jews for Labour
It is clear that there was a consensus between the SS and the different departments of the local administration about the mission to kill Jews. This is documented in the statements of SS men such as Krueger and Katzmann, but also in the eager compliance of civilian officials. Kreishauptmann (local official) Heinz Albrecht, an official of the internal-affairs administration who had previously held a similar post in Konskie, was a committed National Socialist and dedicated anti-Semite, as reflected in his inaugural speech delivered in the town of Rohatyn on 28th September, 1941, and re-confirmed in testimony given in 1962: 'As a National Socialist, I believed then that the Jews were the cause of all our misfortune.'
When the Higher SS and Police Leader, Frederich Wilhelm Krueger intervened in the Jewish question on 10th November, 1942, a Police Order was issued for the introduction of Jewish quarters as 254, 989 Jews had already been evacuated or resettled. Since the Higher SS and Police Leader gave further instructions to accelerate the total evacuation of the Jews, further considerable work was necessary in order to catch those Jews who were, for the time being, to be left in the armaments factories. These remaining Jews were declared labour prisoners of the Higher SS and Police Leader and held either in the factories themselves or in camps erected for this purpose. For Lvov itself a large camp was erected on the outskirts, which held 8,000 Jewish labour prisoners at the present time.
The agreement made with the Wehrmacht concerning employment and treatment of the labour prisoners was set down in writing: SS-Lieutenant General Katzmann's report, a vital piece of evidence on several levels. It uses the terms 'special treatment' and 'resettlement' in a context where it is undeniable that the terms meant killing. It lists the belongings of dead Jews and connects their fate
specifically with Action Reinhardt. It demonstrates beyond question that forced labourers were not intended to remain alive after their labour had been completed (nor were the SS reluctant to shoot even those who were desperately needed for such labour). It also confirms that the SS were willing to override civilian authorities and employers in their ideological determination to make Galicia 'judenfrei'. We have some evidence of these intentions, later witnessed by the late Dr Marek Redner:
'I was successful in gathering, from reliable witnesses, detailed accounts describing the liquidation of Lvov's Ghetto. The details reported are similar to scenes reported by others, relating the liquidation of Warsaw Ghetto during the April uprising. Same atrocities, mass shooting on-sight of people attempting to escape burning houses, throwing of grenades and incendiary explosives into hiding places and cellars. Children escaping the flames were driven right back by the Gestapo or grabbed by their feet, smashed against telephone poles and light posts. Those jumping from the windows were finished off with the weapon butts.
The streets and the pavement were literally flooding in streams of blood. Over ten thousand women with their children, that obediently followed the first orders to voluntarily evacuate their apartments, were marched by the Ukrainian Militia to the Janowski Camp, and were liquidated there in one day. This mass killing, in groups of 100 to 200 victims, was carried out in the hills of Kleparow suburbs. The victims were forced to undress and run to the bottom of a precipice, and killed in a hail of machine-gun fire, literally chopping up mothers with their children hugging together.
The screams of the victims were dampened by the roar of truck engines intentionally left running, but it was not possible to hide streams of blood seeping for several days down the valley toward the village of Kleparow. The inhabitants of Kleparow described these facts with tears in their eyes, and showed the piles of bones and ashes remaining in the valley after burning the corpses.'
The men were first moved to the Janowski Camp, employed in German factories and later suffered the same fate, when the front started to move closer. Lvov was finally empty of Jews, becoming 'Judenfrei'. This was the news greeting the first survivors returning to Lvov, free of Jews.
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