The following texts were translated from Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. The numerous footnotes in the original were left out.
[Pages 884 and following]
9.3 Step II: The “Major Actions”
(Spring 1942 to spring 1943)
a) Introduction and Functioning of the New Tactic
In the first months of the year 1942 it turned out that the Belorussian partisans had not only made it through the winter, contrary to some predictions, 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 collaboration administration as the key instrument of 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 Belorussia, the strategic and political position of the partisan movement had considerably improved. 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 Army Supreme Command (OKH) and worked in co-ordination with it. SS and police had little part in this, according to what becomes apparent from the sources. This was partially due to a weakness in leadership, because the Higher SS and Police Commander for Central Russia, Bach-Zelewski - later a leading strategist of the fight against the partisans - was absent due to disease between the end of January and the beginning of May 1942. No significant impulses from Einsatzgruppe B can be verified either. The secondary role of SS and police also showed in v. Schenckendorff assigning them only a certain area to be secured.
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 among other things as a reaction to a memorandum by the Supreme Commander of Army Group Center, 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 railroads, main roads and in the Brjansk area. Von Schenkendorff called for measures in two directions: “propagandistic influencing of the Russian population” and “military annihilation of the partisans”. Beside the political measures he declared the bringing in of troops to be necessary - pointing out that the previous three months units making up three divisions and two SS-brigades had been taken away from him - , furthermore a restructuring of the “leadership organs and troops” for an “offensive conduction of operations” and the allocation of means for offensive fighting (heavy weapons, planes, vehicles). He also called for building up the local order police, the creation of fighting units 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 Halder, Wagner and v. Kluge. Due to the efforts of the 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, the problem was also forwarded to Hitler.
The Pilot Operation “Bamberg”
The pilot project for offensive “anti-partisan fighting” was the operation “Bamberg” in the area of Glusk-Paritschi-Oktjabrski to the south of Bobruisk, in the eastern Polesje. The operation had already been prepared since 26 February from the southerly Regional Commissariat Shitomir by actions of the Slovakian infantry regiment with the subordinated German police battalion 325 in the area Mosyr-Shitkovichi, which probably claimed more than 1,000 lives. This action seems to have been held up by the fact that the commander of the police battalion, a major of the order police (Schutzpolizei) didn’t mobilize his troops for some time. From the north the operation was to be conducted not by the 203rd Security Division, responsible for the area, but by the 707th Infantry Division, which had been transferred specifically for this purpose from the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia. During a preliminary meeting on 8 March von Schenkendorff thanked the security police and the SD for their support so far and assured them that for the “success” of the “great action” they were “indispensable”. The operation plan of the 203 Security Division defined as “tasks” a) annihilation of the main partisan bands, b) pacification of the country c) collection of grain and livestock. While this division, which also foresaw a bombing of four villages from the air, still recommended to make a distinction between the guilty and the innocent, demanding that “only those truly guilty and elements alien to the localities are to be shot”, the 707th division from the start planned no “broad development”, i.e. against the partisans in the forest areas, which was said to be impossible due to snow and ice and the beginning of the mud period soon to be expected, but a proceeding along the streets and mainly against the villages in the area of operation, where most partisans could in the meantime have “established” themselves. The commander v. Bechtolsheim ordered that during this action the crimes against Jews and people alien to a locality, “as carried out with success in White Ruthenia, especially in the autumn months of 1941”, were to be imitated “with all harshness”: “The respective instructions for ruthless action against men, women and children also apply for the new operation area.”
The operation “Bamberg” already showed all essential tactical elements and procedures that were to become typical of the later actions and fateful for the population of the affected areas. Between 26 March and 6 April 1942, within 12 days, the reinforced 707th infantry division, the Slovakian infantry regiment and the German police battalion 315 destroyed a series of villages in a broken through forest area between Oktjabrski and Kopakevichi and murdered their inhabitants. In Chwoineja (Choino) 1,350 people were among other things locked into their houses and killed by hand grenades and burning, in Rudnja 800 persons were collected and shot in groups (the men first had to undress), in Oktjabrski 190 persons were burned alive inside the club house, the inhabitants of Kurin were in part shot, in part burned alive, similar as in Kovali, where the children were burned. The number of Belorussian dead was officially put at about 3,500 by the Germans, but the actual number was much higher. The partisans estimated it at 5,000, and according to the listing by Romanowski et al 4,396 people died in 15 localities alone.
The actions that took place before and afterwards in the surrounding areas are not included in these figures, which means it must be assumed that at least 6,000 people were murdered. The great majority of them were locally residing peasants and non-fugitive Jews, who were also targeted by the operation. It is justified to speak of people “murdered”, for there was hardly any fighting, there was “no greater resistance to be broken”, which is not surprising for actions against villages. The losses of the German and allied troops during the core action were merely seven dead and eight wounded, 47 rifles and machine pistols were captured. The partisans in the area, whose number was estimated at 1,200 to 2,000 men, got away.
Like almost all later major actions against partisans or those around them, the operation “Bamberg” consisted of four phases:
Phase 1: Marching up and forming a great cauldron, in this case with a diameter of 25-30 kilometers, until 28 March inclusively,
Phase 2: Tightening the cauldron - in this case until 31 March inclusively,
Phase 3: The so-called clearing out of the cauldron in the form of the “last concentric attack” - in this case on the 1st and 2nd of April, and
Phase 4: The so-called mopping up backwards - here the “repeated thorough cleaning and crossing of the area in backward direction up to the second initial position”, during which the villages and farmsteads lying inside the inner target area were destroyed together with the majority of their inhabitants, in this case between 3 and 6 April (see figure 4).
Fighting with the partisans and losses on the German side were most frequent in the third phase. The infamous mass crimes, the destruction of villages and the murder of their inhabitants, occurred in phase 3 and mainly in phase 4, when after conclusion of the coordinated military advance with “daily objectives” to be reached under all circumstances more time was left for this. This depopulation was always planned in advance. Only thereafter was the operation considered as concluded. In phase 4 there also commenced the more or less organized plundering of agricultural products of the affected area, the so-called collection.
The key importance of the 4th phase becomes apparent from several sources about operations of so-called fighting against bandits, such as a passage in the diary of Bach-Zelewski wherein the “operation of so-called mopping up” is criticized, which would always lead to “a great number of destroyed bandit subjects” as its object was “to annihilate the population sympathizing with the Bolsheviks” rather than the partisans. This can be proven not only for the operations mentioned in this context, “Nürnberg” and “Erntefest II”, but also for instance for “Sumpffieber”, “Franz” and “Hornung”. The number of victims accordingly went up during the respective final phase, like in operation “Bamberg”. It is not without reason that the SS and Police Commander of White Ruthenia, v. Gottberg, wrote the following about the final phase of operation “Nürnberg”: “What followed was then more or less a hare hunt.”
Another typical feature of such operations was the setting of “daily objectives” practiced during Operation “Bamberg”. Certain units had to cover a certain distance until an established final point during a day while “mopping up” all localities. The further away the daily objective was, the greater the probability, that there was no time for an exact investigation as to who supported the partisans (and for the “collection” of agricultural products) and thus the tendency was to kill everyone around. The possibility of allowing many people to run away was often not considered by the executing units because the inhabitants of the affected areas were generally seen as sympathizers of the partisans. To need to set such “daily objectives” resulted from the inner logic of such an operation under participation of various units for a coordinated proceeding. Thus the remote message post of Combat Group von Gottberg during the Operation “Frühlingsfest” sent and received 3,500 remote messages. The determination of what distance was to be covered until the respective “daily objectives”, however, contained a conscious preliminary decision on the procedure inside the villages. The troops were thus put under pressure. Daily distances of up to 30 kilometers with a “crossing and mopping up, i.e. a march with combat actions and searching of the villages”, such as Himmler considered possible, indicated an annihilation intention present from the very start. Sometimes the closing of the cauldron failed wholly due to a too stretched target area, too large daily objectives and too splintered German forces. If - as during later operations such as “Weichsel” - more laborers were to be collected, on the other hand, a “most thorough” searching and short daily objectives were ordered.
Yet another typical feature was the carrying out of “investigations and verifications”, examinations and interrogations in the villages, mainly by “GFP (Geheime Feldpolizei = Secret Field Police) and SD”, as in the case of “Bamberg”. Given the great marching distances their anyway dubious activity was reduced to identify not persons, but villages suspect of partisan activity and suggesting the next targets of “verification”. These commandos often also carried out a part of the executions. The support by the Luftwaffe in the form or reconnaissance and combat flights, which later became a rule, also existed already during Operation “Bamberg”.
The same applied to the activity of agriculture officials (in this case 24), given that an essential goal of the action was the confiscation of agricultural products. “The task was the total encirclement and annihilation of the partisan groups and the securing and pacification of this area, in order to collect the great stocks of agricultural products and take them away”, reported General Major v. Bechtolsheim. Instead of the expected “at least 10-20,000 units of cattle” the reported booty consisted of only 2,454 cattle, 2,286 sheep, 115 tons of grain, 120 tons of potatoes and more. In this respect fundamental difficulties for the Germans showed up, which were also characteristic of later actions. The affected area had until then delivered no agrarian products to the Germans (“no collection at all so far due to partisan activity”). The economy staff in Bobruisk had prior to the operation suggested to either occupy the area militarily on a constant basis or to carry out a “total collection” including the last cow and the seed grain, which would lead to a “deterioration of the mood of the population”. For a longer occupation there were not enough troops, however, and the “total collection” was “a task almost impossible to solve” due to transportation difficulties caused by the weather. From the point of view of the agriculture authorities the operation was thus condemned to fail as a collection operation, given that the confiscation remained a partial success and the so-called pacification as a pre-condition for a long-term exploitation did not occur. As will be shown, the agrarian administration could nevertheless consider the strategy of the great operations against partisans to make sense due to other reasons.
The development and results of Operation “Bamberg” were followed with attention by high and highest authorities. The commander of the rear area of Army Group Center, for instance, constantly kept himself informed. While he internally remarked that the result had been “not fully satisfactory” because the partisans had got away and “among those reported by the division as partisan helpers there seem to have been many who had only very loose connections to the partisans”, he congratulated the 707th infantry division nevertheless on its having “annihilated 3,000 partisans”. Army Group Center and its supreme commander v. Kluge also let themselves be informed on a regular basis. Also informed were the head of the administration department at the Army Supreme Command/General Quarter Master, Schmidt v. Altenstedt, General Quarter Master Wagner himself and through him also Hitler.
The “Major Actions” were not invented with Operation “Bamberg”. An action near Sewsk (Sjwosk) to the south of Lokot in the Brjansk area, apparently in support of the local “self administration district” of Russian collaborators and claiming 1,936 lives, had been carried out shortly before by an Hungarian unit. (Here also the Germans thus tried to transfer the responsibility to allied troops.) It was the Operation “Bamberg”, however, that became a model in many respects.
[pages 898 and following]
The Tactical Mechanism of the “Major Operations”
The operation “Bamberg” was the beginning of a series of campaigns of plunder, murder and deportation against the peasant population of Belorussia in the surroundings of the partisan areas. What follows is an overview of the greatest of these operations, their temporal and regional distribution and the number of their victims:
Codename; Period; Area; Number of Dead Partisans/Civilians; Number of Captured Firearms; Number of Dead in German Formations
Bamberg; 26.03 - 06.04; Glusk, Bobruisk; 4,396; 47; 7
?; 09.05 - 12.05; Klitshev, Bobruisk; 520; 3; 10
?; Beginning of June; Slovodka, Bobruisk; 1,000; ?; ?
?; 15.06; Borki; 1,741; 7; 0
?; 21.06; Zbyshin; 1,076; ?; ?
?; 25.06; Timkovtshi; 900; ?;?
?; 26.06; Studenka; 836; ?;?
?; 18.07; Yelsk; 1,000; ?; ?
Adler; 15.07-07.08; Bobruisk, Mogilev, Beresino; 1,381; 438; 25
Greif; 14.08-20.08; Orsha, Vitebsk; 796; ?; 26
Sumpffieber; 22.08-21.09; White Ruthenia; 10,063; ?; ?
?; 22.09-26.09; Malorita; 4,038; 0; 0
Blitz; 23.09-03.10; Polozk, Vitebsk; 567; ?; 8
Karlsbad; 11.10-23.10; Orsha, Vitebsk; 1,051; 178; 24
Nürnberg; 23.11-29.11; Dubrovka; 2,974; ?; 6
Hamburg; 10.12-21.12; Neman-Shtshara; 6,172; 28; 7
Altona; 22.12-29.12; Slonim; 1,032; ?; 0
Franz; 06.01-14.01; Grodsyanka; 2,025; 280; 19
Peter; 10.01-11.01; Klitshev, Kolbtsha; 1,400; ?; ?
?; 18.01-23.01; Sluzk,Minsk, Tsherven; 825; 141; 0
Waldwinter; until 01.02; Sirotino-Trudy; 1,627; 159; 20
Erntefest I; until 28.01; Tsherven, Ossipovitshi; 1,228; 163; 7
Erntefest II; until 09.02; Sluzk, Kopyl; 2,325; 314; 6
Hornung; 08.02-26.02; Lenin, Hansevitshi; 12,897; 133; 29
Schneehase; 28.01-15.02; Polozk, Rossony, Krasnopolye; 2,283; 54; 37
Winterzauber; 15.02 - end of March; Osveja, Latvian border; 3,904; ?; 30
Kugelblitz; 22.02-08.03; Polozk, Osweja, Drissa, Rossony; 3,780; 583; 117
Nixe; until 19.03; Ptitsh-Mikashevitshi, Pinsk; 400; ?; ?
Föhn; until 21.03; Pinsk; 543; ?; 12
Donnerkeil; 21.03-02.04; Polozk, Vitebsk; 542; 91; 5
Draufgänger II; 01.05-09.05; Rudnya and Manyly forest; 680; 110; 0
Maigewitter; 17.05-21.05; Vitebsk, Surash, Gorodok; 2,441; 143; ?
Cottbus; 20.05-23.06; Lepel, Begomel, Ushatshi; 11,796; 1,057; 128
Weichsel; 27.05-10.06; Dniepr-Pripiet Triangle southwest of Gomel; 4,018; 1,570; 28
Ziethen; 13.06-16.06; Retshitza; 160; ?; 5
Seydlitz; 25.06-27.07; Ovrutsh-Mosyr; 5,106; 528; 34
?; 30.07; Mosyr; 501; ?; ?
Günther; until 14.07; Voloshin, Lagoisk; 3,993; ?; 11
Hermann; 13.07-11-08; Ivje, Novogrodek, Wolishin, Stolbzy; 4,280; 986; 52
Fritz; 24.09-10.10; Glebokie; 509; 46; 12
?; 09.10 - 22.10; Stary Bychov; 1,769; 302; 64
Heinrich; 01.11-18.11; Rossony, Polozk, Idritza; 5,452; 476; 358
?; December; Spaskoye; 628; ?;?
?; December; Beloye; 1,453; ?; ?
Otto; 20.12-01.01.1944; Osveja; 1,920; 30; 21
?; 14.01; Ala; 1,758; ?; ?
?; 22.01; Baiki; 987; ?; ?
Wolfsjagd; 03.02-15.02; Glusk, Bobruisk; 467; ?; 6
Sumpfhahn; until 19.02; Glusk, Bobruisk; 538; ?; 6
?; Beginning of March; Beresino, Belnytshi; 686; ?; ?
Auerhahn; 07.04-17.04; Bobruisk; 1,000; ?; ?
Frühlingsfest; 17.04-12.05; Polozk, Ushatshi; 7,011; 1,065; 300
Pfingstausflug; June; Senno; 653; ?; ?
Windwirbel; June; Chidra; 560; 103; 3
Pfingsrose; 02.06-13.06; Talka; 499; ?; ?
Kormoran; 25.05-17.06; Vileika, Borissov, Minsk; 7,697; 325; 110
This overview is based on a multitude of sometimes incomplete, contradictory or unclear data [detailed listing in footnote]. It can especially be proven only for given individual cases that reported “prisoners” were shot, although this should have been the rule. It must also be considered that the density of sources is very different for the various operations. Nevertheless a number of tendencies and connections become apparent. It can be seen, for instance, that 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 here presented were operations by SS and police and 15 were Wehrmacht operations. In eight other operations both participated with about equally strong forces. There was a far-reaching co-operation. The Wehrmacht operations were not substantially less damaging and brutal than those of the SS.
The overview especially shows very clearly who were the victims of German major operations between 1942 and 1944. The relation between the number of so-called enemy dead or 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 – this means that about 10 to 15 percent of the victims of the German actions were partisans. The remaining 85 to 90 percent were mainly peasants from the surroundings as well as refugees. 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.
What these relations meant was generally known among the German occupation officials in Belorussia. For instance, General Commissar Kube wrote about a preliminary report received from SS and police commander v. 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 Katyn 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 are shot”. The former commander of the Minsk order police 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’.[…]
Yesterday evening I delved into this >6,000/480[<] problem I mentioned. 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. As we shall see, however, it was not the main reason for destroying part of the rural population; this was inherent to the conception and objectives of the operations. The fairy tale that the partisans had always hidden or buried their weapons before capture if not immediately killed by a shot in the head Bach-Zelewski still tried to sell at his trial in Munich in 1949; he was not the only one to do so. The commander of the rear area of Army Group Center even issued the hypocritical 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.” Even the anti-partisan warfare expert of the commander of security police and SD Minsk, Artur Wilke, documented in his personal notes of 1943 this practice which made it possible to “very much spare” the 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.
This evening I am firmly convinced that hardly a real bandit has been killed.”
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. It was, however, not only a pretext in the sense that it hardly took place in areas where there were no partisans at all. (Which is not to say that the destroyed villages let alone all their inhabitants had actively supported the partisans.) Their bases proper were attacked only during a part of the operations. The better German armament (air force, 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, however, on the contrary. As a rule, nevertheless, the losses of the partisans proper were rather low because they usually avoided frontal engagements.
Why did the Germans hardly attack the partisans directly, as would have been possible with the tactic of encirclement, even consequent? Why did they rather “fight” the peasants in the surroundings? As shown, the inaccessible terrain, better knowledge of the area by the partisans, cowardice and over-aging of the German troops were some of the reasons. The partisans proper also usually managed to escape the German encirclement – they called it “blockade” – by withdrawing, slipping or breaking through, which the peasants did not. The main reason, however, was the following: As in the case of other guerrilla movements the military attacks of the partisans and the own losses were not the most dangerous aspect from the point of view of the German occupation authorities (see chapter 9.1). 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 “partisan infested” villages (a term often employed) in order to keep the political “infection” from spreading.
Concretely this connection was seen by the German side as follows: partisan camps were usually located in greater forest areas. From there they tried to paralyze the administrative and agricultural system in the surroundings. Since 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. In the long run the Germans thus received no more agricultural products from these areas. This means that from its own point of view the occupying power did “not have to take into consideration whether the agricultural production in these areas would be damaged [by these actions] or cease altogether, because these bandit-infested areas had previously made no deliveries anyway but merely benefited the bands in a direct or indirect manner”, as Göring stated in October 1942. In other words: 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” (see chapter 9.4 for the details). The devastation was even beneficial to the occupying power in that it was considered that the political spark would thus not go over to the other, agriculturally most important regions. The inhabitants of the partisans’ areas of influence were – in part correctly – suspected of voluntarily or involuntarily supplying food, other necessities and information to the resistance movement. The murder or resettlement of these people by the Germans did not have the objective of establishing those allegedly guilty, however; as has been shown, this was often impossible under organizational aspects during the major actions. The objective was to deprive the partisans of support, lodging and food. 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 woods 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.”
What becomes clear when reconstructing the development of just about all anti-partisan actions on the map is also shown directly in many sources: that they were directed against the areas bordering on huge forests or villages in the forest. Individual witnesses and perpetrators later recalled this tactic very exactly. For instance, the former commander of SS police regiment 26, 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. […] In the whole area between Sebesh and Lake Osweskoje – where the operation had been carried out – there war not a single living human being left after our regiment had passed through.”
Especially revealing about the character of this war against civilians are sources showing 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”. Of course it was not to be expected from the very start that partisans would be encountered. The already quoted SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilke of the security police and SD command Minsk wrote the following 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 always has the tendency to approach the areas of operation as much as possible with motorized vehicles.” His superior, commander of security police and SD Strauch, in April 1943 openly criticized before a huge public 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.”
[pages 914 and following]
Wiping out the Villages
Not rarely the destruction of their village seemed to the inhabitants casual, without a reason, unexplainable, or they believed there had been a confusion. Coincidences, arbitrariness and blind violence may have played a part, but the German decisions about death or life generally followed strategic lines, which understandably remained hidden from the victims. There were a number of factors which 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 previous general instructions. In many cases, as has been shown, the destruction of a village had been decided upon beforehand. If not, there followed interrogations and examinations. Strangers and such families whose male members were absent without a reason that the Germans considered sufficient were shot. 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, bandit house”.
Findings of weapons or ammunition were in most cases considered as sufficient reason to murder the inhabitants of a whole village. This was often a mere cover-up, alleged or actual explosions of ammunition in the houses during the burning of the village were mentioned as evidence – as “proof” that had not existed at the beginning of the destruction – or possessions of the population not necessarily constituting evidence were shown, such as German equipment or even “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 was based on the results of German reconnaissance by the security police and the SD or the GFP, which in turn relied on often casual denunciations of whole villages by local collaborators or German organs on site: Landwirtschaftsführer [heads of agricultural administration], forest or road administration, 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 Slonim 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.
The burning down was not only meant to deprive partisans later passing through the village of shelter. The killing method employed, sudden killing with machine weapons and hand grenades inside building, led to some of the victims not being hit mortally or not being hit at all. The survivors were to be killed by fire; the buildings set on fire were often kept surrounded. The basic experience of those who actually managed to escape was the threat by the fire after the execution and the desperate attempt to get out of the buildings.
About the question to what extent “partisan suspect” villages were to be burned down there were tactical differences on the German side. For instance, the commander of the rear area of Army Group Center, v. Schenckendorff, and the commander of the security police and SD Minsk Strauch, pronounced themselves against this in orders they issued. In the Regional Commissariat Shitomir, on the other hand, head of SS and police Hellwig reserved for himself the decision, but favored burning down in principle. The reason for these discrepancies in 1944 was the loss of “valuable quarters” for German units, which at that time stood mostly in Belorussia. Already before the destruction of villages and the murder of their inhabitants had not occurred if they were still needed as a labor force, for instance at streets and railway lines. Thus in Glusha along the important street Sluzk-Bobruisk (Durchgangsstrasse VII) the inhabitants had already 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 Air Force Command East recommended that the “burning of villages as retaliation for a nearby attack on the railroads” ordered by Göring was not to be carried out where a “pacification” still seemed possible, “whereas in the regions dominated or heavily infected by the bands, where the population supports the bands, the harshest measures must be taken”. This although air force units had shown themselves especially brutal in the so-called fight against the partisans.
[pages 943 and following]
The Climax of the War against the Peasants: Operations “Hornung” and “Cottbus”
During the year 1942 the Germans had developed the new tactic of the major operations and made it the standard measure of “pacification” in wide areas of Belorussia. 1943 saw the gruesome climax of the war against the rural population. In the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia there raged the Kampfgruppe v. Gottberg with changing constitution, in the area under military administration especially the 201st and 286th security divisions as well as the forces of the 3rd Panzer Army, the head of SS and police Ostland ravaged the north of the country with his units, and in the Regional Commissariat Shitomir the head off SS and police 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 Belorussia; 3 per cent of these cases occurred in 1941, 16 per cent in 1942, no less than 63 per cent in 1943 and 18 per cent in 1944. The number of victims increased almost fourfold from 1942 to 1943. The “major actions” of 1943 will still be examined under various aspect in the following sections. Thus I will here limit myself to describing the two worst operations.
The operation “Hornung” in February 1943 was directed against the area Hansevichi – Morotsh – Lenin – Luniniez, a thinly populated area of about 4,000 square kilometers southwest of Sluzk on the southern border of the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia. It came in the sequence of three actions (including “Erntefest I” and “Erntefest II”) that had taken place in January further to the northeast, in the area Sluzk-Ossipovici region, and already claimed over 4,000 victims. The goal of this operation carried out by v. Gottberg was to prevent a further advance of the partisans from the northern Polesye region who had entered the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia and the Reich Commissariat Ukraine from the east and to avoid disturbance of the Brest-Gomel railway along the Pripyet; domination of this area was of key importance. According to the reconnaissance reports of the commander of security police and SD Minsk “a careful estimate” suggested “a population of 10,000 people and a number of bandits in the order of 3 – 4,000 men”. Allegedly there existed a “veritable Soviet republic” with command offices, centers of recruitment and military training of young men, new sports arenas, churches and schools. The population of the area was from the start saddled with collective liability and its extermination planned. “Given the current weather it must be expected that in all villages of the mentioned area the bandits have found shelter”, was the feeble justification of the Dirlewanger Special Battalion. Two members of a propaganda company sent as observers, on the other hand, put it clearly: “In order to keep the bands from again gaining a foothold in this area the order had been issued to turn this area into no man’s land.”
The preamble of Operation “Hornung” was the destruction of the Sluzk ghetto on 8 February by the almost completely employed unit of the commander of security police and SD Minsk with the help of several other police units. They murdered more than 3,000 people there. […] Within the following week the area of the operation was concentrically crossed by the participating forces – 13 battalions and numerous smaller units in five combat groups. The population, which was to be murdered at the end of the operation, was as usual calmed down with the assurance that only actual partisans were being targeted. But there was hardly any fighting. On 14/15 February the tactic was changed, as had been established already before the operation, and the last – and in this case longest – phase began. Substituting the wounded Dirlewanger, the deputy commander of Special Battalion Dirlewanger, Franz Magill, issued the following order:
“The battalion is to again comb through the combat zone of 15 to 17 February up to the line Starobin-Povarczycze. Everything that may give shelter or protection is to be destroyed. The area is to become no man’s land. All inhabitants are to be shot. Cattle, grain and other products are to be taken along and delivered in Starobin. The Russian company is to go back in the combat zone and destroy everything and lead out the cattle in northerly direction. The sled column is to be kept so far from the location to be destroyed that the civilian drivers are not present at the executions.”
Combat Group Binz of of Police Regiment 23 issued the following radio message:
“radical destruction of all buildings, even the smallest and most remote, destruction of all persons insofar as not required to drive along the cattle, collection and central gathering of cattle, collection of agricultural products where possible (flax), area is to become no man’s land. commander of combat group north takes complete responsibility for this=”
The order had originally not been issued by major of the Schutzpolizei [gendarmerie] Siegfried Binz, however, but at a higher level. For first there had been ordered a total collection of agricultural products for the final phase of the operation, which boded no good for the population affected. Besides, all participating combat groups in the operation area adopted this procedure, not only Combat Group Binz. And last but not least, Bach-Zelewski, according to his own statements, arrived at the Combat Group Staff v. Gottberg on 15 February – probably a day earlier, and thus in time to give the order himself or at least be present when it was issued. Until then, apart from the Jews of Sluzk, 2,483 people had been killed. This was also one of the first operations in which the SS-Special Battalion Dirlewanger took part since Bach-Zelewski had put it at v. Gottberg’s disposal, and its deputy commander Magill was head of SS for special tasks at Bach-Zelewski’s staff and had been specifically detached to v. Gottberg. Magill thus had the chance to sort of continue in this region what he had already begun to do with the SS – Cavalry Regiment 2 in 1941. Other units taking part in Operation “Hornung” included a detachment of Einsatzgruppe B with the collaborator battalion Rodianov, which in turn came from the rear area of Army Group Center and was noted for its very particular brutality. The contemporary Wehrmacht commander in White Ruthenia, Pawel, stated that the “immediate direction” of the operation had been carried out by v. Gottberg but the “overall direction” had resided with Bach-Zelewski.
About the ensuing extermination campaign there are several sources and accounts. Two Wehrmacht propagandists reported as follows about the attempt “to turn this area into no man’s land”: “This was carried out by slaughtering the population of the villages and farms located in this area down to the last infant. All houses were burned down. Cattle and food stocks were collected and taken out of the area.” They also mentioned the panic that had spread even among the hardened Belorussian auxiliary policemen, who still spoke about it months thereafter:
“A particularly strong impression was left by accounts from members of the former Drushina I, who in February were witness to extermination actions against the Russian civilian population south of Sluzk. The description of German cruelties, like for instance cramming women and children in burning houses, goes around also among the civilian population.”
Survivors from this region have movingly described how they felt when placed inside a “dead zone”. Gana Michailovna Grinzevich remembered: “In my fear it seemed to me that no one was left in the world, that all had been killed.” This action stands out for the extermination of many large villages by the Germans. 1,046 people died in Lenin, 780 in Pusichi, 787 in Adamovo and 426 in Kopazevichi. As a final result 12,718 dead, among them 3,300 Jews (from Sluzk) were recorded. On the other hand only 65 “prisoners” and no deported laborers at all were mentioned. Indeed the SS and police deported only 72 people as labor force in the course of “fighting against bandits” in the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia in February 1943. Between November 1942 and March 1943 no more than 3,589 persons had been made available to the so-called Sauckel Commission in the course of eleven major operations, during which on the other hand at least 33,378 people were murdered.
The operation [“Cottbus”], which began on 20 May 1943, became the most horrible of all extermination campaigns. Numerous villages were depopulated and burned down, especially by the SS – Special Battalion Dirlewanger in the southern area, 13 with 1,419 inhabitants in the Saslawl rayon alone, strictly speaking outside the target area of the operation, and 26 in the rayons Pleshtenizy and Begoml together. Bach-Zelewski proudly sent a special report to Himmler, who promoted him already during the operation and congratulated v. Gottberg. The officially communicated result of the operation was that about 9,800 people had been murdered (“killed in battle: 6,087; liquidated: 3,709”) 4,997 men, but only 1,056 women, had been collected as labor force, and as the only alternative thereto was being shot, the overwhelming majority of the dead were thus women and children. Although there was some tough fighting during the operation, the about 1,000 captured rifles, machine pistols and machine guns indicate that actually and as usual 90 percent of those killed had been unarmed civilians. These included “2 – 3,000 local inhabitants” who, as Bach-Zelewski put it, had been “blown up clearing mines” and were not included in the number 9,800. Yet it seems that these figures do not even reflect the whole reality. The number of dead communicated on the German radio (apparently the country station Minsk) seems to have been 15,000. But the “Einsatzgruppe Dirlewanger” alone reported as “enemy losses: about 14,000 dead, 13 prisoners”. Taking into consideration that there were also two other combat groups in the operation, which also left a bloody trail, and that Dirlewanger’s report did not refer to the whole period of Operation “Cottbus”, the actual number of people murdered during this operation is likely to have been more than 20,000.
[pages 955 and following]
The Total Number of Victims
It is not possible to establish the total number of people who were killed by the Germans and their auxiliaries during the fight against partisans in Belorussia. Only approximations can be made. Such require dealing with the statistical problems in this context, first of all. 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, cannot be accurate due to the vast number of affected villages, 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, in the Ukraine 250 “scorched villages”.
The Germans themselves already had problems with their murder statistics, not the least due to the camouflage language used in the reports. So there are “differences and discrepancies” between the monthly reports and the addition of the daily reports of units involved, as for instance v. Gottberg criticized. The murder detachments, however, by no means reported fantasy numbers, as shown for instance by posterior examinations in the two villages called Borki (rayon Kirov and rayon Malorita). The individual German data can be considered reliable. Beside this it is especially unclear to what extent the data in the monthly reports of Wehrmacht as well as 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. 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 Belorussia covered in this study must be taken into consideration.
Indeed the rear area of Army Group Center – since the beginning of 1942 almost identical with eastern Belorussia – reported a number of 100,000 “liquidated” partisans until January 1943. Until June 1944 this number, if the reports of the Army Group after the dissolution of the rear area in the autumn of 1943 are added, grew to 164,800 – to a large extent, however, without including the “major operations”. These numbers also include prisoners, only a part of who were later murdered. On the other hand there existed at the same time the 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. In the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia v. Gottberg reported 33,378 killed for the period between November 1942 and March 1943 alone, thereof 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 Belorussia [footnote: i.e. 160,000 in the rear area of Army Group Center, 120,000 in the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia and 20,000 in each the Regional Commissariat Shitomir, the Regional Commissariat Volhynia-Podolia and the area of the 3rd Panzer Army, 5,000 in the area of Bialystok (in each case in the parts of these regions presently belonging to Belarus). Calculation as follows: for the rear area / since autumn 1943 area of Army Group Center it was considered that there were 200,000 victims including the major operations; 20 % were deducted for the Russian areas. For the Regional Commissariat White Ruthenia 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; for the 3rd Panzer Army an estimate was made on the basis of table 20].
In the 55 major actions listed in table 20 alone the Germans killed at least 150,000 people, thereof 14,000 Jews. Additionally 17,000 prisoners and wounded were mentioned, most of whom are likely to have been murdered. 12,000 persons 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 Belorussian 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”, but 1,298 during “smaller operations and ongoing security and pacification tasks”. In the General Commissariat White Ruthenia police and Wehrmacht shot 3,366 alleged partisans between July and September 1942 – obviously without taking into consideration Operation “Sumpffieber”. The same applies for the Regional Commissariat Volhynia-Podolia 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 in the proper sense is taken into consideration. According to Kalinin the partisan groups lost 26,000 dead plus 11,800 missing; most of the latter must be considered to have lost their lives [footnote: Kalinin, page 402. Due to the membership registration of the partisan units these data may be considered reliable. “Kalinin” = Kalinin, Pjotr Sacharovich, Die Partisanenrepublik. Translated by N.P. Bakajeva, East Berlin, 1968]. If the total number of dead was ca. 345,000, these numbers coincide with the relation established above: hardly more than one tenth of the victims of German major anti-partisan actions were actually partisans. To these must be added, however, many mostly unarmed people in the so-called family camps.
Unclear is the participation of individual German perpetrator units. The most murderous included the SS special unit Dirlewanger, the SS police regiments 2, 13, 22 and 23, the Schuma [= Schutzmannschaften] battalion 57 and the Gendarmerie-Einsatzkommando z.b.V. Kreikenbom. Police Battalion 307 (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 no less than 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), Zbyshin, Krasnitsa, Studenka, Kopazevichi, Pusichi, Makovje, Brizalovichi, Velikaja Garosha, Gorodez, Dory, Ikany, Zaglinoje, Velikije Prussy and Perekhody. According to Soviet sources a total of 150 villages and 120,000 people fell victim to it in the oblasts of Minsk and Mogilev. While this seems too high, v. Gottberg on the other hand probably understated when he wrote that Dirlewanger’s men had until mid-1943 “annihilated about 15,000 partisans”. It must be taken into consideration, however, that many different units participated in the murders – recall the security divisions, the groups of the Geheime Feldpolizei and the detachment of the security police and the SD.
[pages 964 and following].
Excesses of Violence, Sadism, Cruelty
The inhuman cruelty of the perpetrators during anti-partisan fighting especially in Belorussia has been correctly pointed out in the past. It indicates a high degree of identification with their deeds rather than an unwilling execution. The meanness of their actions is already shown by the means of killing massively employed by the Germans in their fight against partisans: shooting, burning, blowing up, bombing, choking with gas, stabbing, hanging, drowning. Most of the victims were women and children, as the male population of the villages had been evacuated or drafted into the Red Army or was with the partisans. Or then they were useful as a labor force, as will still be shown.
Similar aspects also apply to the murder of Jews, prisoners of war, political opponents of sick people. And yet the question of individual cruelty presents itself anew and in another way in regard to the fight against partisans. This because it appears to be more unruly, excessive and wild than the planned and thoroughly organized murders of other groups of the population. The burning down of the villages alone seems to indicate excesses. The victims had not been isolated from society in camps and ghettoes before the deed, like Jews and prisoners of war, but violence hit them in the midst of their everyday life, often almost unannounced, according to the accounts of survivors. The victims were swiftly defined and chosen, according to criteria that were not always clear especially to the victims themselves. (As will still be explained, they existed nevertheless). The perpetrators exposed themselves to certain, however not very great risk of bodily injury and may thus have been in a higher state of excitement, although it should not be overlooked that the overwhelming majority of the enemy victims put up no fight at all. It seems that not only almost all participating officers and commanders and many administrative officials, but also most of the common soldiers, policemen, SS-men and local auxiliary policemen had no scruples, but instead took part in the massacres with conviction. Research on this is still at the beginning, however, and proof very difficult to provide. Open resistance on the part of the executors was very rare. Among the units the establishment of permanent execution detachments was not frequent. The shooting was done by volunteers on the one hand and changing unit members ordered to participate on the other. Where for instance whole families of peasants were shot inside their houses there were especially many perpetrators. Where commanders wanted to spare their men the murder work they turned so-called suspects over to the detachments of the security police or the GFP (Geheime Feldpolizei – Secret Field Police). But in most cases this didn’t happen. The murders were carried out, as we have seen, by many different units and perpetrators.
At this place we shall refrain from describing and picturing the excesses of violence in detail. Some cases were already mentioned. Thus the Battalion Dirlewanger, on 21 July 1943 during Operation “Hermann”, chased the inhabitants of the village of Dory together with the pastor into the church and burned them alive there. Only men able to work were let out of the church, women only if they left their children behind. At another place hundreds of selected children, two to ten years old, were locked in freight cars and left to their fate until half of them had died. No singular cases: with incredible, shocking brutality the participating Germans tortured and murdered especially children. A German witness, himself sentenced to six weeks arrest and transfer for refusing to carry out orders, reported the following cases from the 1st SS Infantry brigade: A peasant had been shot because he allegedly drew his field furrows in such a way as to show the way to Soviet planes; a young couple with a little child was seemingly let go after a control and then shot from behind; a village was destroyed after the inhabitants been forced to host the unit for a day and a night (by no means a singular case); animals were also tortured, pigs shot, geese stripped of their feathers while alive or staked. Volunteers for executions immediately ate the special rations granted to them in return. The Belorussian writers Adamovich, Bryl and Kolsenik put their chapter on cruelty in the English translation under the telling heading “Genghiz Khan Equipped with the Telegraph”.
Only further, comprehensive research will make it possible to draw a more exact picture of the motivations and behavior of the perpetrators, especially the rank and file. For the central questions of the present study the most important question is what the role of the initiative from the bottom had in the coming into being of the mass crimes during the fight against partisans. Is it true that in the so-called fight against bandits “the troops” could no longer be controlled by their commanders and that the large extent of the crimes resulted from this? Did German crimes during the fight against partisans occur mainly due to constant excesses or the violent emotions of the perpetrator units systematically set free by the leadership? Were the killings ever new “blood orgies”, to generalize the expression used by a regional commissar?
While v. Schenkendorff in 1942 called for “measures against the soldiers’ lust to see something burn”, the generally organized sequence of the destruction of villages shows how little was left to chance or to the “pyromania” of individual soldiers – not to mention the proven decision for large-scale destruction taken at higher levels. “Lust of war”, shocking sadism, individual plundering and “vandalism” were widespread and played a part, but they are not a sufficient explanation for these results. This is also shown by the order structure at a medium level, which however can rarely be reconstructed on hand of written documents. Either the leader of an operation had the final word about the burning down and wiping out of a village, like SS-Brigadeführer Kutschera at one of the most radical actions, Operation “Franz”, or the men were told before the operation that all inhabitants of a village were to be shot as partisans, or it was not even necessary to give the lower commanders “a direct order for the shootings to be carried out” because their superiors held them responsible for the measures to be taken and the automatic functioning thereof in their area. Where a battalion commander refused to give the order to burn down a village as was expected of him, this order was given by the regimental commander himself under a hail of insults, as happened at the 1st SS Infantry Brigade.
A detailed analysis of strategy, tactics, command structure and the execution of German anti-partisan measures leads to a negative answer to the questions raised above. This one also was a mass crime organized by the state. Operation areas were established; during major actions special phases were reserved for “combing through backwards”, i.e. for extermination actions; the peasants of the areas bordering on woods were specifically targeted; the group of people to be murdered clearly defined. There were clear orders and basic directives at all levels. Characteristically the rare conflicts about the course of anti-partisan operations related almost exclusively to plunder and destruction, not to the murder of people. The concept of the “daily goals” usually left little time for excesses outside the plan. The concrete sequence and the organization in regard to the three most frequent extermination methods also speak against the mentioned notions. Were there were shootings at pits, the procedure was similar to that of the tightly organized executions of Jews. The shooting and burning in barns was, as has been explained, also based on a concept aimed at minimizing the effort required to murder and letting the least number of victims get away. Where the peasants were shot inside their houses by detachments of two with machine weapons and those wounded or paralyzed by shock killed in the burning of the house, there were previously clear instructions to the killers down to the issue of weapons and munitions. Always the villages had to be surrounded at first in an inconspicuous, quick and militarily disciplined manner in order to even gain control of the victims, which was often done at night. Fire, seemingly the quintessence of the excessive, had an important function in the murder and was at the same time the main purpose of the action, because fleeing peasants were to be kept from settling in those houses and peasants from finding food, shelter or support there any longer. All this must be taken into account if the importance of individual initiative in “anti-partisan fighting” is discussed. The extent and type of violence corresponded to the strategy and the orders given to the troops in operation. Violence was not random, not indiscriminate and not without a military sense or “military logic”, even if many ranks did not understand the purpose of these procedures – and even though mass crimes were part of this military logic. The enthusiasm and lust of many perpetrators forged the outer appearance of this crime, but they were not decisive for the scale of it. Without this enthusiastic willingness it would not have been possible for the commanders to achieve their goals in this respect; they took advantage of it.
Two aspects deserve special attention. One are the photo albums prepared after anti-partisan actions for higher SS commanders. Thus Bach-Zelewski readily admitted to have possessed “thousands of color photographs of the fight against partisans” that were confiscated after the war. After Operation “Hermann” in the summer of 1943 v. Gottberg required appropriate pictures for an album about partisan fighting to be handed to Himmler. Some months later he was sent an album about that murderous operation “Heinrich”, which Bach-Zelewski had dedicated to Himmler by naming it after him. The rank and file behaved in a similar manner. Numerous German participants had a camera in their backpack during the operations. The respective pictures mostly show rather uncompromising scenes, but often also the burning villages. They allow quantifying statements as little as the frequent contemporary prohibitions to take photographs, yet they generally show a positive attitude towards the violence experienced as something “beautiful” and the memories related thereto.
Another aspect of especially conspicuous brutality was the fact that inhabitants of the countryside were used for de-mining the accesses to the partisan camps and massively forced to walk the ways leading there. Several thousand Belorussians were killed due to this. Such cases there were – at first in the Wehrmacht area – already in 1942, for example at the remote village of Uchwala, rayon Krupki, where a total of 360 people perished. In the area of the 286th Security Division the civilian population had to walk, plough and harrow the roads at the orders of General Major Richert since the autumn of 1942. At Artishevo near Orsha 28 people, thereof 18 children, were killed in this. The LIX Army Corps had issued a corresponding order already on 2 March 1942. Things were similar at the 403rd Security Division, which abused Jews and prisoners of war for this purpose.
Later they also used herds of sheep. But in most cases people were used, on an ever larger scale. As has been mentioned, during Operation “Cottbus” between 2,000 and 3,000 Belorussians whom the Germans drove before them into the swamps were torn apart by mines, according to Bach-Zelewski. “After preparation by artillery and flak entering the swamp area was only possible by chasing inhabitants of the region across the heavily mined paths in the swamp.” Dirlewanger’s corresponding order of 25 May 1943 had read: “Roadblocks and artificial obstacles are almost always mined. So far we have suffered 1 dead and 4 wounded during removal. Thus the order is: Never remove obstacles yourselves, but always let natives do it. The blood thus saved justifies the loss of time.”
For Operation “Hermann” this directive applied right from the beginning: “In order to avoid own casualties through mines it is convenient to have panje carts going in front along the road or to use auxiliary mine clearing devices (!). The commanders of the operation carried out these instructions. The same happened during Operation “Frühlingsfest”, which was carried out in equal parts by Wehrmacht and SS units. A corresponding suggestion is said to have come from the already mentioned Richert. But in the meantime this method had become routine also outside the scope of major actions. It was also applied by Wehrmacht frontline troops in their direct rear area. All Belorussians had become hostages of the Germans. The 78th Storm Division ordered the whole civilian population in its area to de-mine the roads in its area every morning until 6ºº hours:
“I thus order that all roads that must be driven on by German troops are to be walked first by all inhabitants of the location (including women and children) with cows, horses and vehicles up to the next command post, or that marching columns must be preceded at a distance of at least 150 meters by such inhabitants. The civilians must close up tightly and walk the whole width of the road.”
Rear area command 532 proceeded in a similar manner, and an officer in the high command of Army Group Center wanted to recommend this procedure as exemplary to other units. A commentary is unnecessary. As of 18 February 1944 General Commissar v. Gottberg issued a “Directive for the Securing of Traffic Roads in White Ruthenia against Bandits and Mines”. Therein the whole “population of villages in White Ruthenia” was obliged to de-mine streets and roads every day at the regional police commanders’ instructions. Whoever refused the “de-mining and road supervision service” was to be punished by death. A more perverse “legislation” is hard to imagine.