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Nazism and the Holocaust

The Fate of Soviet Jewry


A mobile killing commando...



Before being shot...



The killing of the last Jew in Vinnitsa...



A sewing workshop...



A mass grave...



Bodies of Jewish victims...



Babi Yar...


WITH THE GERMAN ATTACK on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the heartland of the Jewish population in Europe - the former "Pale of Settlement" - falls under German occupation. In the territories annexed by the Soviet Union after September 1939 - the Baltic, eastern Poland, Bessarabia and the Bukovina - live 1,910,000 Jews; in the Ukraine, Belorussia, the Crimea and other areas of the RSFSR overrun by the German forces are 2,160,000 Jews. Of these, 1.5 million manage to flee before the German troops arrive. More than 2.5 million are trapped, 90 percent of which live concentrated in less than 50 towns. In the months before the attack, the Nazi leadership has designed a method for these particular circumstances: the mobile killing units.

These units, the "Einsatzgruppen," are made up of SS men, German police and local helpers. Four of these units, 3,000 men in all, are dispatched with the advancing army groups. Their orders are to take the Jewish population by surprise after the occupation of a town, to lead them out of town, to shoot them and bury them in mass graves. Moving behind the advancing front from west to east, the killing units are active from the outskirts of Leningrad and the Baltic in the north to Odessa, Simferopol and Rostov on the Don in the south. Outside cities with large Jewish populations, mass killings of unprecedented scope and speed take place - in Babi Yar outside Kiev, in Ponar outside Vilna, in the VII.Fort outside Kaunas. In the first five months of operation, the "Einsatzgruppen" shoot 100,000 Jews per month - half a million people in all. In order to catch the population unprepared, the units move on with great speed. As a result, about 2 million Jews are still alive after the first sweep in November 1941.

A second sweep is organized with far greater forces. 250,000 men - the majority now local helpers - move from north to south. Jews are forced into "ghettos" and the population "selected" for immediate killing, deportation or for forced labor. From 1942 onward, these ghettos are "liquidated" and the remaining population shot. By the end of 1943, another 900,000 Jews have been killed in this manner. But for the Nazi leadership, this is not enough. While the mobile killing units are still at work, an even more monstrous plan is being put into effect: the deportation of the remaining Jews to the death camps.


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