"Jews of eastern Europe have been slaughtered—destroyed by a plan pursued with German thoroughness—until almost none remain"—Strong
ANNA LOUISE STRONG
MOSCOW (By Wireless): Four days after the Red Army had liberated the Black Sea port of Odessa, a gaunt, ragged man emerged one dark night from a hole in a cliff on the seashore about 10 miles from the city. Stealthily looking around, he then turned back and helped a trembling but determined women from the hole. She carried two large burlap sacks.
They slunk along, close to the cliff, avoiding sentries who were faintly visible against the paler dark of the sea. Then suddenly the man stopped, staring. He had recognized something, familiar to him long ago—-the shape of a Red Army helmet. Five minutes later the pair approached the sentry. After brief explanations the man returned to the cave, out of which he brought four half-starved children.
It was a Jewish family who had been living in the catacombs under Odessa, so far removed from human contacts that they knew nothing about how the Ireaded Nazis had gone. They were accustomed to coming out of their hide-out every two weeks to forage .or food. On such occasions they avoided all humans, ^ißging vegetables from the fields. Many such people ippeared from the catacombs for more than a month ifter Odessa had been freed.
Out in a Siberian city I met a girl from Riga. She ¡aid she had walked with her parents 300 miles from latvia in 1941 until finally they had been picked up }y a Soviet train. In Minsk I met Hassia Prushina, vho was 43 years old. Before the war she had taught
Russian history in a medical university at Minsk. When the Nazis established the Minsk ghetto she lived in it for several months then escaped as a charwoman, using forged passports. She smuggled medical supplies to Partisans, using her former university connections to get supplies even from German hospitals. Finally the Germans grew suspicious and Hassia escaped to the woods where she joined a Partisan band.
“It seems strange to be indoors again under a roof,” Hassia told correspondents. “I have lived two winters in the woods.”
“How did you live there?” I asked her.
“We made houses in the earth. We dug wide trenches and lined them with logs. It was like a regular house—but underground. We made comfortable beds using evergreen branches raised on poles. We made the roof level with the ground and covered it with moss. Some Partisans even contrived to have a Christmas tree growing on the roof.”
Some other Jews escaped in Minsk. I talked with these among the ruins of the university building under which they had hid. They were the sole survivors of the more than 100,000 Jews brought to Minsk from surrounding towns and even from western Europe. All the others were slaughtered in successive pogroms until only about • 100 were left. These were called the “Wertjude”—useful Jews—because they were employed by the Nazis in an auto repair shop. When the Red Army approached, 12 of the 100 hid under trains and escaped. The rest were locked in a cellar of the former Soviet medical institute by the Gestapo and burned alive in the kerosene-soaked building.
Here are a few of the ways some proportion of the
Jews escaped the fate Hitler had planned for them in eastern Europe. A fairly large number got away to Soviet Asia. A smaller number of the hardy courageous ones joined the Partisan warriors and fought. These were the lucky ones, as they preserved both life and morale. A much smaller handful survived under the Nazis as useful workers, escaping at the last moment when the Nazis doomed even these to death.
Though these managed to survive, they weren’t happy.
“We look like living men but we are not really human beings,” one Jew from Minsk said to me. “I got a green ticket to life but Summe, my wife, was taken by death and I couldn’t help her. After what we have been through one is not really a human being any more.”
Except for those surviving by migration or as Partisans or because of some individual exception, most of the Jews of eastern Europe have perished. They were exterminated “according to plan.” In city after city, in all the regions where Jews were thickest Continued on page 39
Continued from page 11
—along the western Russian border where long ago the Jews were settled by order of the Czars—there are now almost none left.
And in Odessa, where nearly 200,000 lived, there are now only a handful. In Minsk, where 100,000 Jews passed through the ghetto, there are said to be 12 left. In Vilno, where the Jews formed the largest element of the population, outnumbering the Poles and Lithuanians, both of whom claimed that city, 6,000 managed to survive. But when the Red Army approached the city, the Nazis murdered all except three of them. In little towns like Baranovka, where half of its 6,000 inhabitants were Jews, there’s not one left.
Some will, no doubt, return from Siberia and central Asia but many will prefer to remain there. The old settlements are gone.
_ These were destroyed by plan—by a system of “extermination stations,” or murder factories, set up by the Nazis in eastern Europe. Here were slaughtered not only local Jews but also Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and all of western Europe. This was part of the Nazi scheme for “purifying Europe from its Jews.” This incredible attempt was pursued with German thoroughness, aimed at exterminating the entire race.
The world already knows that hundreds of thousands of Jews were taken from western Europe to eastern Europe never to return. From time to time rumors were heard about the incredible horrors described by some Jew who had escaped the Nazis. The total scheme, however, was hidden in those territories lying between Poland and Russia— territories which Hitler expected to hold forever and in which he planned to bury not only the millions of his murdered victims, but also the memory of their fate.
This murder attempt was at least half successful. Of the 8,300,000 Jews who lived in Europe, including Russia, when Hitler came to power, it is reported that not more than half survive today. Some estimates claim that 5,000,000 were slaughtered. The Moscow Jewish Committee conservatively estimates 4,000,000, but this figure may be considerably increased when final information arrives from those territories still under Nazi rule.
The attempt to blot out the memory of the crime has also partly succeeded. Millions of Jews have been so disposed j of that nobody knows where they lie.
But if Hitler hoped to bury his crimes and methods together with his victims, he hasn’t succeeded. The rapid advance of the Red Army has not only bared one extermination station after another but revealed their ghastly story. That forbidden area in eastern Europe where the Nazis hid their actions is fast opening up to the world.
Details and methods used by these extermination stations are pouring into the offices of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow as new areas of Europe are being freed from Nazi rule.
I therefore visited the committee headquarters to gain a full picture for Maclean’s.
Room after room holds records telling of Nazi actions. Here are the records that will be brought into court for the postwar trials of the war criminals as promised over the signatures of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
Here, for instance, is listed how a German commander shot a group of helpless Jews near Minsk and then offered a cigarette to Nehemiah Zimmerman, saying tauntingly, “That’s my 10,000th Jew.” Possibly he was lying or merely bragging to impress the unfortunate Zimmerman how life and death depended on his whim. Anyway, he said it. Zimmerman was
one of 12 who survived to indict the murderers of his comrades.
The secretary of the Jewish AntiFascist Committee is white-haired Chakno Epstein, who is also the editor of a Jewish newspaper. He gladly agreed to make available the material gathered by his organization. His assistant brought in a long whitish roll that seemed at first like wallpaper. On closer inspection I saw it was a thick, slightly crinkled fine old parchment, hand-lettered in Hebrew characters.
“This is the ‘Torah,* ” he said. “ ‘The Tables of the Law.* It includes your Christian Ten Commandments.”
As the secretary unrolled the parchment I saw its fine heavy surface had been spattered from end to end with blood. In some places the dull rustcolored splotches were more than a foot square.
“This came from the Crimea, from the town of Evpatoria,” he told me. “German prisoners said it wa§ taken from the synagogue and used to cover the floor where children were slaughtered.”
“But why on the parchment bearing the Ten Commandments?” I asked in horror.
“Merely as an insult to our religion,” he replied.
However, I hadn’t come to the committee seeking a mere list of atrocities. I wanted to trace the pattern of these horrors and gain a clear outline of Hitler’s extermination scheme. I asked whether Minsk, which deeply impressed me, was—as I thought the chief murder station for western European Jews.
In Minsk I had heard how ghettos had been formed from Jews brought in from other towns of White Russia— some 80,000 all told. These were killed off by hunger and by “various clearings”—polite words for mass slaughter. Then, between October, 1942, and November, 1943, 39 trains arrived from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, bringing about 1,000 Jews in each train, including 12,000 from Hamburg. A handful of Jews from each train were saved temporarily as “useful Jews” and exploited at heavy work. The others were killed immediately, while the useful Jews were first worn out then killed.
Secretary Epstein now told me that Minsk was but one of many “extermination stations,” and not the biggest one. The largest was at Belzhetz, near Ivov, which became known as “the camp of death.”
Other extermination stations set up by the Nazis in Soviet territory included Minsk for White Russian Jews, plus those imported from western Europe; Vilno, to which Jews from western Europe were also brought; and Chiba, in Latvia near Riga, where 80,000 Jews mainly from Poland were killed early in 1942. These were the chief ones, though the killing of Jews went on in every town taken by the Nazis.
Since the Red Army has now retaken most of these areas it is Epstein’s opinion that the largest murder station remaining to the Germans is at Oswiecim in Poland. This is the place to which Jews from Hungary were recently takey and slaughtered, arousing protests from Secretary of State Cordell Hull of the United States. Oswiecim has special gas chambers said to have a capacity of from five to 10 thousand murders daily, it has always been one of the larger stations, where several hundred thousand have been killed.
In all these places a similar system was used. First came the registration of all Jews. Then a ghetto was usually
formed surrounded by barbed wire, but this was not always done. In the Ukraine, for instance, Jews were killed en masse without forming ghettos. The usual practice, however, divided the Jews into categories according to their ability to work. Those too weak to work were taken out and slaughtered, sometimes in gas chambers, sometimes by steam, sometimes by electrocution and sometimes by shooting.
A complete report on one such massacre was found in the documents of the 15th German Police Regiment headquarters when the Red Army retook Pinsk. It describes how the regiment was sent to Pinsk to “comb out the ghettos,” arriving at four o’clock in the morning of Oct. 29, 1942. A cordon was immediately thrown around the ghetto, preventing all escape. The regiment began “combing out” the ghetto at dawn.
“The Jews gathered together voluntarily for what they thought was checking. We were able to bring out several thousand during the first hours,” says the report.
“These were taken to the execution ground four kilometres from the city. Guards around the execution place were partly cavalry units. This plan was brilliantly justified,” the report continues, “for when 150 Jews tried to escape they were all caught by the cavalry, though some managed to get several kilometres away.”
The “comb out” continued four days. Fifteen thousand were “executed” at the execution ground and 1,200 in the ghetto where the children and the sick were killed.
The report concludes with some advice regarding Jew hunts. It advises that axes should always be taken along since doors are usually locked. It also advises that attics be searched, even when there is no visible means of access, since Jews often manage to hide there. It advises that where there are no cellars, Jews hide under the floor boards. “Hence,” says the report, “pry these up with bayonets and also use police dogs.”
“Our dog Asta did fine work in this,” says the report, which also advises police to probe the ground around the house with bayonets since Jews make well-camouflaged hiding pits. It also advises the bribing of children— offering them their lives if they will reveal any hiding places. “This method well justified itself,” the report concludes.
After the war trials, war criminals will probably make known the horrible details of this slaughter. Testimony from many places indicates that children under 12 and old folk too weak to fight weren’t even given a mercy death by shooting but were tossed alive in graves.
Special uses were made of well-known leaders, authors, doctors and prominent folk. Often these were kept for a time as hostages but sooner or later they were usually destroyed when they ceased to be useful to the Nazis. Professor Fiedeleff, Theodosia, for instance, was a famous epidemiologist who worked for 50 years in Theodosia, where a hospital was named after him. At the registration of the Jewish population he was set aside and asked to repair apparatus used in the hospital’s disinfection chamber—a large hermetically sealed room. He learned, however, that the Germans planned to use this sealed chamber to smother people so he refused to assist. After long torture Professor Fiedeleff and his wife were drowned in a sewage ditch.
Why didn’t the Jews resist? This is a question that springs inevitably to mind. With it comes another question which I put to Epstein—“Why did the Nazis use all those trains to carry
people eastward to murder them instead of killing them at home?”
Strangely enough the answer to both these questions is the same. This entire murder system succeeded only through the use of the most colossal deceit. Just as Hitler deceived the Governments in Europe by a succession of broken promises, so he succeeded in deceiving the Jews. Just as every small European country hoped that Hitler would be appeased by swallowing its neighbor, so every Jew hoped until the last that he himself would live. This system of deceit was one in which Hitler was a master, playing upon all the emotions of hope and fear.
In 1940 I visited Berlin and managed to meet the leaders of the Jewish community. The Lublin “Jewish
Reservation” had recently been
formed. It was an area in eastern Poland set off as a Jewish area. It was publicly announced that a million Jews from western Europe would be deported there. Fifty thousand of these sent at the end of 1939 had been dumped in open fields in the middle of winter. The Gestapo itself admitted 30% had already died.
I found the Jewish leaders trying to convince themselves that Lublin was an honest attempt to settle the Jews outside of Germany.
This pathetic belief in the promises of the German Government despite repeated lies characterized the German Jews to the end. Legal forms of registration, classification and deportation kept the victims constantly deceived. The human mind always tries to find hope and it is difficult for normal decent people to understand the utter perfidy of the Nazi regime.
Polish and Russian Jews were tougher minded. Those 12 Jews in Minsk who escaped by hiding under the ruins were all Polish or Russian. They told me, “Of the 40,000 Jews brought in from western Europe only one was without illusions about German promises. He was Ernst Schlesinger, a tinsmith from Vienna. All the others kept believing they would be personally spared. Schlesinger joined us and escaped with us but the others are now dead.”
Some Polish Jews finally revolted. The Warsaw uprising and the battle in its ghetto became world-famous. This heroic gesture was hailed by Jews throughout the world and was followed by uprisings in Lodz and Lublin and in Bialystok. But these occurred only after nine tenths of the Jews had already been killed.
Before the war Poland had 3,300,000 Jews. Recently, an official publication of the Polish Jews stated only 200,000 are left in Poland now. Possibly a million still survive in the Soviet Union whither they fled. But an estimated 2,000,000 have been exterminated in Hitler’s murder factories.
Most German Jews also have perished. There were 500,000 when Hitler came to power. Ten years later, in 1943, the Nazis bragged that Germany was “Judenrein”—clean of Jews. Some escaped to other countries but few escaped ultimately to lands like America where they could be really safe. The largest proportion of the refugees are certainly now dead.
Jewish survival in the postwar world depends largely on those in the Soviet Union. Here also the Germans set up their murder factories, which killed an estimated million and a half Soviet Jews. Large numbers, however, were saved by certain policies which the Soviet Union adopted.
When Hitler invaded Soviet territory a rapid and planned evacuation took
place. First evacuated were the factories with their workers; then cultural institutions, then the children and the general population. In the evacuation of the general population, first place was always given to the Jews as they were the people most likely to suffer under the Nazis.
This evacuation, naturally, was not complete, since the German advance was swift. However, very large numbers of Jews were saved.
Soviet Jews also were encouraged to resist from the beginning—not as Jews but as part of the general population.
A large part of the young men joined the Red Army. Other able-bodied Jews joined the Partisans. Jews in Vilno organized Partisan groups right
in the ghetto. The leader of all Partisans in the Crimea was a Jew named Yampolski. Thus, many Jews survived.
Jews in the Red Army made a brilliant record. Over 47,000 of them won decorations for valor and over 100 have won the highest title—“Hero of the Soviet Union.” Jews rank seventh in number of population in the USSR but rank fourth in the number of decorations awarded by the Army. Only the Russians, Ukrainians and White Russians have more decorations; but these populations are very much larger.
Thus, Soviet Jews have proved that when given an equal chance to fight the Nazis they equal and even exceed other peoples in courage.