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The Annihilation of Soviet Prisoners of War on Belorussian Soil

The Annihilation of Soviet Prisoners of War on Belorussian Soil

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Published by ptimms
Apologists often claim that German warcrimes only start in retaliation for Soviet crimes, this translation from Gerlach suggests a different view.
Apologists often claim that German warcrimes only start in retaliation for Soviet crimes, this translation from Gerlach suggests a different view.

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Published by: ptimms on Nov 16, 2011
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11/16/2011

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 How thin the ground is for explaining German atrocities in the Soviet Union as aconsequence of Soviet atrocities previously witnessed by the invading troops alsobecomes apparent from Christian Gerlach’s research on the actions of German forces in Belorussia during the first weeks of the war. The following text is translated fromGerlach’s book "Kalkulierte Morde", pages 774 and following. The numerous sourcenotes in the original were left out.
The Annihilation of Soviet Prisoners of War on Belorussian Soil Crimes of German Front Line Units on the Battlefield in the Summer of 1941
Mass crimes against members of the Red Army did not only begin in the prisoner of war camps, but already during the fighting and soon thereafter. These murders and violationsof the laws of war and international law, which have so far barely been taken notice of by research, can only be described on hand of some central orders and selected source studies at this place. They are likely to make the actions of the front line units – of common soldiers, the lower officer corps and the leadership – appear in a new light. From the first days of the war on many units of Army Group Center shot Soviet soldierswho had surrendered with their hands up or wanted to defect, who had been put out of action or already taken prisoner. The commander of the XXXXVII Panzer Corps,General Joachim Lemelsen, wrote in his order of 25 June 1941 against the senseless shooting of prisoners of war and civilians which had repeatedly occurred according tohis personal observation. He gave instructions to put an end to it, expressly exempting however the killing of commissars and partisans. Five days later Lemelsen declared in a proclamation:“Despite my instructions of 25 June 1941, which don’t seem to have got through tocompany level, we again and again verify shootings of prisoners, defectors and deserters,which are carried out in an irresponsible, senseless and criminal manner. This ismurder! […] soon there will spread among the enemy the picture of countless corpseslying along the advance routes of soldiers who, without weapons and their hands raised,have been clearly liquidated by shots in the head at close range. The scattered enemywill then hid in woods and fields and continue fighting out of fear, and we will losecountless comrades.” Jews from the city of Slonim, who were forced to remove the corpses, testified to this asdid the noncommissioned officer Robert Rupp at Minsk, who recorded the following inhis diary:“Many I saw lying there shot had their hands raised and no weapons, often even no belt. At least a hundred I saw lying like this. They say that even a parliamentary who camewith a white flag was shot down. […] They also shot wounded.” At many places the German troops took “no prisoners”. This was partially justified withviolations of the laws of war by the Soviets. On 25 June 1941 the Infantry Regiment 9 of the 23rd Infantry Division in the area of Bialystok reported an incident at the 3rd battalion where due to the abuse of a white flag by Soviet soldiers six members of theWehrmacht lost their lives. Thereupon the division commander, General Major Heinz  Hellmich – later general of the Eastern troops, of all things – ordered that white flagswere not to be respected in the whole division area. “There will be no quarter!” Thisregulation was extended on the very same day to the whole area of the VII Army Corpsby the corps commander, General Fahrmbacher. On 28 June, on grounds of the alleged mutilation of German prisoners, the Infantry Regiment 9 again took “no prisoners”. In
 
the first eight days such happened “often”, according to reports from the division, for which reason the number of prisoners (1507) had turned out “relatively low” – thushundreds who had tried to surrender had been murdered. After that 28 June certaincountermeasures were taken. The diary of First Lieutenant Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg makes it possible to reconstruct the considerations within the officer corps:28 June: “Doubtlessly […] there is a danger to discipline if our people start to bump off on their own initiative. If we permit this we descend to the level of the SS. Doubtlessly the Russian deserves no more quarter due to the way he fights. But then they must be shot inbattle or [I]only upon the order of an officer 
. Anything else simply removes all holds insuch a way as to no longer allow for controlling the loose instincts.”On 29 June he wrote the following about the new instructions: “Only who fights with aweapon in hand, who shoots from the rear or who as a prisoners disobeys or flees may beshot. Otherwise (!) shooting may only be carried out at the order of an officer responsible.”Shooting without a reason thus continued to be allowed, though in a disciplined manner,at the order of an officer, which also shows that such measures were by no means takenonly on account of Soviet violations of rules – apart from the fact that the possible justifications (for instance “disobedience”) were rather elastic.The Supreme Commander of Army Group Center, von Bock, received reports about themurders from several sides at the latest by 30 June. Bock didn’t mention that he intendedto take countermeasures. All the more the alleged Soviet violations of the laws of war caught his attention. On the other hand the Supreme Commander of the 4th Army, v.Kluge, considered it necessary to on 1 July issue a characteristically formulated counter-order, which was also passed on by the VII Army Corps:“The Russian as a dull half-Asian believes in what his commissars hammer into his head,that in case of being taken prisoner he will be shot. […] In order not to turn this propaganda [German leaflets for defectors] into its opposite, it is necessary that redsoldiers who surrender and show the leaflet are treated as prisoners of war. Necessary executions must thus as a matter of principle be carried out in such a way thatcivilians and other prisoners don’t notice anything thereof.”The express reason behind Kluge’s order, Lemelsen’s instruction and all other correctionorders of this kind up to the Commander in Chief of the Army, von Brauchitsch, was thefact that the Soviet resistance in the cauldron of Minsk-Bialystok was steadily stiffeningand becoming an operative problem for the whole German offensive, which had astrategic significance. Kluge’s order seems to have reached the units on the same day. Nevertheless the slaughter continued. As late as 11 August Army Group Center considered it necessary to mention in a report the “corpses of soldiers without weaponswith their hands raised and close range gunshot wounds lying around everywhere after the fighting”. At this time Red Army soldiers taken prisoner were relieved when Germanofficers declared that they would
not 
be shot.The occurrences thus were neither isolated or the matter of a single army. Many suchcases can also be proven for Lithuania. Hitler himself pointed out towards foreign journalists the massive character of the killing of defenseless opponents: the relation of  prisoners to dead among the enemy forces was changed thereby. It was cowardly murder at close range, not killing from a great distance to avoid eventual ambushes. In most casesthe killings were not reprisals either. And the murders were not limited to the first days of the war, for in future memoranda they kept being mentioned as undesirable situations to be approved upon. Orders for such shootings can so far be proved at platoon, company,regimental, divisional and army corps level. It seems to have been less a matter of individual soldiers running wild; the instructions emanated especially from the middleand higher levels of command.
 
The women of the Red Army drew especial hatred. There was even an army order to killthem all – at least one. On 29 June 1941 there was an instruction signed by General FieldMarshal v. Kluge, in which it read: “Women in uniform are to be shot.” At the same timethat v. Kluge intervened against mass shootings in one respect, he was ordering others.This order was passed on the same day by VII Army Corps and reinforced for instance bythe 286th Security Division on 1 and 2 July. On 3 July a counter-order of the Army HighCommand reached the 286th Security Division, according to which uniformed women,armed or not, were to be recognized as prisoners of war. But even thereafter the hatred of German front line soldiers against the so-called gun broads didn’t remain behind theinitial orders from above, and they were fought with enormous brutality or massacredafter battle. New orders to kill all female Red Army soldiers were issued, so in July 1941at Infantry Regiment 167 in the central section and in October 1941 at the 75th InfantryDivision in Ukraine. As late as 6 March 1944 the Wehrmacht High Command orderedthat captured female Soviet army soldiers were as a rule to be handed over to security police and SD as so-called unreliable elements. In Belorussia there were special prisonersof war camps for women, like at Bobruisk and Baranovichi.Everything the Soviet soldiers did was considered a death-worthy crime, even the factthat they had, of course, fought against the Germans. Also in this respect there was anorder at a high level, from Panzer Group 3. The “founded suspicion” of having engagedin espionage, sabotage and “measures against the German Wehrmacht’ was thereafter sufficient for the shooting not only of of Soviet civilians, but also of Red Army soldiers.Also without an order from high above German soldiers and units massively shot RedArmy men only because they had defended themselves. Although there were hardly any partisans at this time and the intervention of popular militia is known to have occurredonly at a later stage, for instance at the battles for Mogilev and Gomel, Wehrmacht unitsreported hundreds of executed alleged franctireurs who in reality were nothing other thanSoviet military personnel – more rarely civilians declared partisans by excessive ordersfrom high above. The German military was surprised by the enemy’s strong resistanceand in a certain way didn’t acknowledge the right thereto. This was all the more so due tofragmentation of the front caused by the new German tactic of tank thrusts and theconfused nature of the fighting. Members of the enemy armed forces were easilyconsidered as franctireurs, treacherousness was attributed to them and considered asdeath-worthy and a confirmation of racist prejudices. The later brutal treatment of Soviet prisoners of war by the guards and camp commanders was among other things based ontheir being see as representatives of the Soviet system, so to say the spearhead of theCommunist movement. Anti-Slavism played a part in the crimes against them, but their treatment differed clearly from that of the civilian population, which means that theremust have been other factors beyond the racist attitude towards the “Slav sub-humans”The Wehrmacht’s criminal warfare also had other aspects. The bombing attacks targetingthe living quarters of the population of Minsk, the pillage and acts of violence againstinhabitants of the Belorussian capital, the establishment of civilian prisoner camps for themen by Wehrmacht units have already been mentioned (chapters 5.1 and 7.1). Let’s havea look at the example of Brest: the bridge over the Bug was taken in the morning of 22June by the diversion unit “Brandenburg” in Soviet army uniforms, and a clearlyidentified hospital was bombed. On the second day of the war the 45th Infantry division,attempting to conquer the fortress by the city, drove 400 women and children as protection shields before them; many were killed (the same happened later with prisonersof war at Gomel.) Under the German cannon they allegedly laid Soviet children to keepthe enemy from firing at them. On 25 June the Infantry Regiment 187 forced Belorussiancivilians to act as a “carrier column” to transport munitions and food through a swamparea. In Slonim, Mir, Stolzby and Klezk there were arbitrary shootings and acts of 

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