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