Nazi Death Squads (2009) s01e01 Episode Script

Mass Graves

[in German] The German advance continues inexorably.
The imposing Bolshevik front is breached and annihilated.
The German soldier has now proved his eternal valor, saving Europe from Bolshevism, enemy of the world.
On June 22nd, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, shattering the Nazi-Soviet pact signed in Berlin in 1939.
The ultimate goal of the invasion of the USSR was to empty Eastern Europe of Jews and Communists, to clean out a "living space," or Lebensraum, for a Great Reich destined to rule a thousand years.
This was not an ordinary war.
This was supposed to be a war of annihilation.
And as it was planned by Hitler since late 1940, this was a war where the enemy was not to be conquered but destroyed, annihilated.
And that led to the appointment of Himmler as a special envoy for security measures in the occupied territories.
The Einsatzgruppen, 3,000 strong, were quickly trained in Pretzsch and divided into four units, corresponding to four parts of the huge territory of the USSR.
They advanced in the wake of the Wehrmacht.
Each Einsatzgruppe was attached to one or more military units.
Einsatzgruppe A, the Army Group North unit, operated in the Baltic states, annexed by Stalin the year before.
Einsatzgruppe B was to clean out Byelorussia and Central Russia.
Einsatzgruppe C, northern and central Ukraine, and Einsatzgruppe D, southern Ukraine.
Divided into four battalions called Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkommandos, the Einsatzgruppen literally "intervention groups" were assigned to track down and execute the foes of Nazism, in other words, Jews and Communist partisans.
[man] Their initial task was, in terms of Himmler and the SS, kind of preventive security.
Eliminate all potential enemies, all potential dangers.
That’s a very broad mandate, which means that the Einsatzgruppen have lots of leeway as to how far they would carry that.
When the documents are explicit, they will talk about killing Jews in state and party positions, as well as communist leaders and communist functionaries.
Elsewhere they talk about potential enemies, saboteurs, and using names that are often applied to Jews, as a kind of symbolic way.
So while there wasn’t, as best we can tell, an explicit mandate to carry out a total and systematic extermination, it was clear that they were going to be aiming at all Jewish leadership, at all Jews that had any connection to the state and the party, and that they were free to expand that to any Jew that was viewed as a potential man of military age who might be involved, or thought possibly involved, in resistance.
Taken by surprise, the Red Army sustained disastrous losses.
Wehrmacht troops annihilated the Soviet defense, taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war.
The initial strategy of the Einsatzgruppen, shadowing the troops and discreetly moving into the cities, was to incite pogroms against the Jews, identified as communists in the Nazi imagination.
[man] The ties between Jews and communism, or bolshevism rather, have been established early on, as a consequence of World War I, basically, and they are not unique to the German setting.
They were also developed in other countries, and in other historical circumstances.
But they really are crucial to the understanding of the ideological backdrop to what happens during Operation Barbarossa.
One has to understand that the Jew is the key enemy in the minds of Germans, and particularly Nazis, and it’s very difficult to draw a line between the two, obviously.
The Jew is seen as the wire puller behind all other enemy groups.
And these enemy groups comprise from Catholicism via liberals to bolshevists.
In the prisons of the cities they conquered, the Nazis found the remains of nationalist leaders, executed by the Soviet NKVD before they fled.
The NKVD, Lavrenty Beria's terrifying secret police, were hated and feared in Ukraine for having orchestrated the famine which caused the death of five million Ukrainians between 1922 and 1933.
Local nationalist movements, to whom the Nazis promised independence in exchange for their collaboration, were hungry for revenge.
They think, of course, that they're gonna earn their way to greater national independence, whether as Ukrainian or Lithuanian or Latvian.
The Nazis had no intention of setting up independent states, but they don’t mind giving them the illusion in that regard, that along the line they'll get some reward in that way.
The Eastern European lands were pervaded with age-old anti-Semitic traditions rooted in Christian anti-Judaism, economic or ethnic competition, and the accusation that the Jews were complicit with Soviet power.
Nationalist movements, informed of the German offensive before its launch, organized anti-Jewish pogroms.
At the end of June 1941, thousands of Jews were savagely murdered in the streets of Vilnius, Riga, Kaunas, and Lviv, known as Lemberg in German, the capital of District Galicia.
[man] The experience in these parts of the Soviet Union since summer 1940, with the Soviet occupation were very negative and to a large extent traumatic.
That formed a large and important backdrop to the reactions of locals on the ground towards this vacuum that was suddenly ensuing with the Soviet army retreating, and resulted in anti-Jewish actions being taken and then clearly not suppressed by the Germans.
The Einsatzgruppen were ordered by Heydrich to make use of anti-Jewish activities that were instigated by locals.
In Kaunas, Lithuania, in a carriage-house courtyard, Jews were forced to use their bare hands to clean up the manure left by Soviet soldiers' horses.
Lithuanians armed with clubs, wearing the white armband, a nationalist emblem, then battered the Jews to death.
[man] In Kaunas, that was fenced-off, Germans standing around and what looked like Lithuanians beating several hundred Jews to death in a public performance that, as some witnesses say, involved women standing around and having children sitting on their shoulders, some people making music while the Jews were killed in a public square.
The German role in this incident is that of an onlooker and, in fact, that of a documenter.
There were Germans taking photographs.
And this is why this is such a prominent case because it's one of the rare instances of documentary material being available on these pogroms.
In a week or two, several thousand people had been killed in the Kaunas pogroms.
Einsatzgruppe C arrived in Lviv, now in Ukraine, on June 27th.
A similar wave of violence was unleashed against a Jewish community numbering some 160,000.
The Nazis publicized the discovery of Ukrainian corpses in a fortress outside the city, used as a prison by the NKVD, sparking the pogroms.
The same compounds were then used to execute and beat to death hundreds of Jews.
[in Ukrainian] My mother told me a friend asked her to go to Brygidki Prison, to the basement, to look for the friend's husband.
They went down the stairs, and when they opened the door, they saw bodies piled up to the ceiling.
My mother's friend fainted because of the awful stench.
[in German] Innocent victims cruelly tortured and killed by the Bolsheviks, wielding knives, axes, grenades, and machine guns.
Two or three days later, I was in our courtyard.
I saw our landlord, Mr.
Suddenly, two young men burst in.
One of them shoved him from behind.
Barzam fell down.
The other ran up and began beating him with a chair.
The first struck a match and lit his beard and sidelocks.
Barzam screamed.
Mama came out and the men ran away.
You see, beatings of Jews started immediately.
[in German] Homicidal Jewish scum, who worked hand in hand with the GPU, is given to German troops by an outraged crowd to be punished.
Here is a dreadful sample of Lemberg's Soviet faces.
Most of these looters and marauders are Jews.
See the allies of Churchill and his plutocratic clique! In Ternopil, a unit of the SS Viking division joined forces with nationalist Stepan Bandera's henchmen to carry out similar massacres.
Members of the German Totenkopf, or "Death's Head" SS, took part in the killings directly for the first time.
However, Einsatzgruppe commanders were not convinced that provoking these outbursts of violence was an efficient strategy.
To this day in Kaunas 7,800 Jews have been liquidated, partially through pogroms, and partially through shootings organized by Lithuanian commandos.
Report from Einsatzgruppen #24 The inhabitants of Lemberg eliminated approximately 1,000 Jews in the GPU prison that is currently occupied by the Wehrmacht.
They decided it was time to end the chaos generated by the pogroms and streamline the killing procedure.
Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Central Security Office, or RSHA, a huge, tentacular organization with connections to police, investigation, security, and repression, received a letter from Goering in late July 1941, ordering him to proceed with preparations for the execution of the Final Solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence.
These preparations included registering Jews, segregating them from society, marking them, crowding them into ghettos, and forcing them to work as slaves.
The Einsatzgruppen emerged from their relative anonymity and made their presence known.
In the towns they crossed, they left grim forests of gallows.
When a partisan, Jew, or Communist was executed on a public square in Kharkov or Odessa here, in Minsk a morbidly cynical sign was tied around his neck.
These Jews agitated against the German Wehrmacht.
In the city of Lviv, the majority of the population was Jewish.
The death commandos organized grotesque processions and passion plays leading up to the execution of the Jews.
The Jews were marched to the cemetery.
Behind the cemetery, there was a place where they were shot.
The Nazis picked out one Jew to play Tsar.
They tarred and feathered him and put him on a throne.
It was a sort of armchair.
Four men carried him on their shoulders, and they led a long line of Jews who sang People said, "They're going to be shot.
" It was dreadful.
It's hard to believe that it really happened.
The shootings were public.
Terrible deeds were done.
I saw it.
If I hadn't seen it myself, I wouldn't believe it happened.
It was an absolute horror.
We're behind Janovski Cemetery.
It happened on a flat piece of ground, which is secluded.
That's why the Germans chose it for their dirty work.
The area you see, 20 or 30 meters away, is where the Jews were shot.
When Mama and I used to visit my father's grave, Mama said they would be killing Jews.
We saw them from the hill.
I saw it all.
There was a big trench with two logs across it.
They ordered the Jews to walk on the logs.
A machine gun was set up to shoot them.
Screaming and crying, they fell, right, left, into the trench.
The eyewitnesses said that some of the victims weren't dead, only wounded in the arm or leg.
They tried to climb out and run away.
Maybe some succeeded.
Who can say? I don't know.
A great tragedy happened here.
Many people were shot.
Not just Jews.
They might shoot anybody.
The Germans didn't split hairs.
Although Hitler had considered resettling the German Jews in a foreign country Madagascar, in particular he now definitively abandoned the plan, opting for total extermination.
In the East, the Jews were stripped of all their rights and officially ostracized.
The extermination of the Jewish people, seen as revenge for Germany's humiliation after her defeat in 1918, had long been Hitler's wildest dream.
In 1939, before the Reichstag, he had explicitly voiced it.
[in German] Today I shall make a prophecy.
If international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe succeed in plunging the nations into a new world war, the result will not be world Bolshevization, and thus the victory of Jewry.
The result will be extermination of the Jewish race in Europe! Nonetheless, he did not order the murder of Jewish women and children in other words, to proceed with the extermination of every Jew until July-August 1941.
Until then, only men old enough to bear arms were shot.
Heinrich Himmler, the highest Nazi officer in charge of the Final Solution, disseminated the extermination order in the field, in visits to the Eastern Front, where he met with Einsatzgruppe commanders.
The death commandos were to take action everywhere, simultaneously, so the Jewish communities had no warning and no time to escape their fate.
That really changes, I think, in late July and early August.
That we know for instance, the Pripyat marsh sweep in the first two weeks of August, Himmler says, “Kill all the Jews, drive the women into the swamps.
" So again a kind of vague exhortation that, find some way to get rid of them all, and some of the commanders take that literally.
They tried to chase them into the swamps, and it turns out that the swamps aren't very deep.
Others simply understand, they start to shoot women.
In Bialystok, Himmler ordered Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Supreme Commander of the Police and SS in Central Russia, to kill more Jews.
His units obeyed immediately, murdering a thousand people.
Next, Himmler went to Minsk, in Byelorussia, on August 15th, where he attended the killing of 100 Jews.
After each of his visits to the front, the "Juden Aktion" the mass murders of Jews intensified.
[in German] That's Fegelein.
Hermann Fegelein, Hitler's brother-in-law, our commander.
In September 1940, I was inducted in Warsaw.
I joined the cavalry, just forming.
In Warsaw, I had the luck to be incorporated in the first brigade.
We were drilled ruthlessly.
The cavalry was on foot at the time.
The commander was Fegelein.
We went right into Russia and advanced to Minsk.
We often dealt with snipers.
Russians, hiding in the forests.
And we stopped in Minsk.
It was early July 1941.
One day, we were told of a big parade for Himmler.
He gave a speech.
He said great things awaited us and we had to be fit for them, but no one told us what that meant.
All he said in the speech was: "You've been brave and deserve a rest.
" New recruits were arriving to carry out tough missions.
The officers must have sworn to him that we'd comb the swamps, looking for Jews.
The regular army was not assigned to those operations, not then.
Later, when the situation had evolved in Russia, I learned that even Wehrmacht units searched out hidden Jews.
That sort of thing So that it's in this late period of late July, early August, that you begin to see this transition, what I would call a retargeting, a retargeting from selective mass murder of potential security risks male Jews in leadership positions, male Jews of military age to refocusing on women and children.
[in German] Starting in August, we went into the swamps.
We stayed six weeks.
Then we came to a town of 3,000 or 4,000 inhabitants.
We were ordered to capture Jews.
The militia told us where they were.
There were a few hundred.
But more were arriving by train all the time.
We had to keep the Jews from escaping.
Then they got to a quarry.
I remember, a big pit, dug out of the rock.
It was clear that once they were in the quarry, the Jews couldn't flee.
It was surrounded by sheer cliffs.
It was a big hole in the hill to quarry gravel, perhaps.
The cliffs were steep.
That's what I remember.
After all, it's been 60 years! But my memory is clear.
That was where we were to bring the Jews.
Did you suspect what was about to happen? No.
At that point, we didn't know what was brewing.
It was the start.
It went on through the war.
The Wehrmacht hunted Jews, too.
Even on the front! So were these the "great things" Himmler had referred to? It certainly was.
Himmler knew we'd be sent into the swamps.
The tank units were useless there.
The Einsatzgruppen were special units.
They were part of the SD, or security forces.
Small squads, 40, 50 men.
They couldn't operate effectively in the swamps.
Not enough men.
Who were these men? Although the battalions of killers were chiefly made up of German police officers from a lower-class background, they were led by highly educated young men, career officers in the SS and SD.
In terms of the officers of the Einsatzgruppen, they seemed to have been fairly carefully selected.
Many of them are intellectuals that were in the Heydrich brain trust, or think tank.
Of the I think, if I have my figures right of the 21 first commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkommandos, I think it's 10 or 11 have PhDs.
Otto Rasch of the Einsatzgruppen C was Doctor Doctor Otto Rasch, to make sure that everybody knew he had two PhDs.
So this was not a group of thugs.
Ohlendorf was, of course, a noted economist.
Others had established their record within the SS basically as part of Heydrich's talented stable of university-trained personnel.
And now they were to go out in the field and prove themselves.
[in French] These men were legal experts, well-versed in criminal and racial law.
And they were also zealous Nazis.
Most of the Gestapo cadres were legal scholars.
There were also young graduates, recruited between 1933 and 1937.
Linguists, historians, economists, philosophers Men of letters.
They all came from the same social class and were the same age.
Most of them were born between 1900 and 1915.
They were young, quite young for the duties incumbent on them as officers in the Gestapo and SD and the Einsatzgruppen.
They only gradually convinced themselves the extermination was necessary.
Then, they led their men further in the killing spirit, convincing them to kill men They called them security threats: "troublemakers," partisans," "conspirators," "bloodsuckers.
" These categorizations enabled the officers to justify, to themselves, shooting grown men.
Next, when the order came in August 1941 to kill women and children They switch from total-war, us-or-them rhetoric, to a utopian one: "They must be killed to fulfill our dream," when Einsatzgruppen officers addressed their men, who did the task.
It's not surprising that men of letters were selected.
As experts in rhetoric, they were the most apt to be eloquent enough to convince men who weren't born killers to kill women and children.
As they had in occupied Poland, where the first Einsatzgruppe Kommandos had operated in 1939, the Nazis assembled the Jewish population in designated areas.
In every town, ghettos were created.
These confined enclaves were plagued with disease and malnutrition.
They gradually became overcrowded reservations of Jews, ready to be exterminated.
Vilnius, long known as "the Jerusalem of Lithuania," a center of Ashkenaz and Yiddish culture, was the home of some 80,000 Jews.
The first ghetto, barely visible today, was created on September 6th, 1941.
A committee drawn from the Jewish community by the SS, the Judenrat, was forced to supervise ghetto life.
[in Lithuanian] The first thing they did was register all the Jews.
All the Jews.
Every family.
They had to register regularly.
They were ordered to give up their gold.
The Germans used their valuables for the war.
Then all of them had to sew Stars of David on their coats.
The word "Jew" was written on their back.
They weren't allowed to use the sidewalk, or enter shops.
They had to do hard labor.
That was how they were humiliated.
Of course, they had no rights.
They couldn't leave.
They were kept in the ghetto.
A few escapees told of beatings, lootings and so on.
They had to give up all their belongings: rings, gold teeth Even gold fillings.
Who did this to them? Who? The Germans! The Lithuanians working for them.
And Russian and Ukrainian traitors.
All the rotten people who enjoyed humiliating others! Eight kilometers south of Vilnius, a former Soviet fuel depot in Ponary Forest was chosen by Walter Stahlecker's Einsatzkommando 9 as an extermination center.
It featured 20 storage pits, ready to swallow the entire Jewish population of the Lithuanian capital.
The first great "Aktion" the euphemism used by the Nazis to designate mass killings took place on August 31st, 1941.
2,019 women, 864 men, and 817 children were battered by armed men drunk on alcohol and hatred, forced to strip, and then shot.
On September 12th, another 3,434 Jews were massacred in Ponary Forest.
[in Lithuanian] When I was 10, I used to carry our milk to town.
If you met a Jew on the sidewalk, you knew by the armband, the star, or the word "Jude.
" That means "Jew" in Hebrew, doesn't it? Anyway, if you saw a Jew, even if you weren't a German, you could push him off the sidewalk, into the street.
And people did it.
Unlike the partisans, the Jews had to strip before they were killed.
Halina Jankovska, whose father, a railway gateman, salvaged and sold the clothing cast off by the Jews, still lives in Ponary Forest.
They shot Jews.
We saw everything.
We watched from there.
Once, this guy, Sinkewicz, picked up clothes.
He got caught by the Lithuanians the killers.
They killed him, too, like a Jew.
Schilnikas was in charge here.
Once, a child was playing in the sand by the pit.
Schilnikas whipped out his gun and killed him.
A tiny little child.
In the Baltic countries, the Einsatzgruppen had no trouble hiring killers from nationalist and police ranks.
The Lithuanians and Latvians did the shooting.
The SD and SS men simply organized and supervised the mass executions.
The largest batch of Jews they killed was 10,000.
The line stretched all the way to Dobraja Rada.
They had to bring in more "horse-slaughterers" to help.
Why "horse-slaughterers"? They slaughtered people! That's what my mother called them.
We did, too.
" It's a butchery word for those who kill horses.
But once she used the word, it stuck.
We called them "horse-slaughterers" from then on.
Only in our family.
A parallel economy emerged, generated by the scale of the massacres.
The Jews' possessions were sold.
There were job opportunities in the service sector.
Just out of high school, Regina Jablonska was hired as a cook in Ponary Forest, preparing meals for the Lithuanian killers.
[in Lithuanian] Every day, a dozen of the gunners, Lithuanians, came to lunch.
We were wondering, "What kind of job is this?" Once, this Lithuanian strutted in, in his uniform.
He had rings on his fingers.
He said, "It's dull today.
There's nobody to shoot.
" I didn't see the shootings.
I just heard the screams.
If they were firing during lunch, when the wind came from the west, it carried these cries.
Very faintly, from far away.
And gunfire, over and over.
From the window of these houses, we'd see the car drive up.
A German with eyeglasses named Weiss sat up front with the driver.
He opened the door and took them out, herded them along, and then we heard shots.
Everyone knew what was going on.
[in Lithuanian] The Jews didn't know they were about to die.
The graves were already dug, by the other Jews.
The Germans wanted to avoid panic.
They were brought up, ordered to lie down, and machine-gunned.
Others came to bury them, and were killed in turn.
They killed them in rows.
Here in Ponary, when the bodies were unearthed after the war, it was discovered that they were stacked like logs.
When he was 11 years old, Anatoli Lipinski played the accordion for the Ponary killers every day.
They gave him a little money, which helped his parents survive.
The killers were always boasting, especially when drunk: "Look what I got from the bodies," one would say.
And he'd take a handful of gold watches out of his pocket The other would reply, "Well, I've got plenty of rings.
" Another would show a little bag of gold teeth he'd ripped out.
From the jaws of the corpses that had been shot.
Or maybe from the living.
I'm not sure, I wasn't there.
They showed each other their loot, joking, boasting "I saw a Jew-girl, a teenager, with a cute ass.
So I raped her.
" How did I feel around them? My soul didn't like them.
But if I hadn't gone, they'd have hurt my parents, so I went.
They made me play They sat there laughing.
They treated me well.
They fed me and even gave me candy! Once, one of them brought me a pair of shoes.
I was practically barefoot.
He'd taken the shoes off a body.
While this was going on, Soviet POWs continued to pile up in the camps.
The Germans, not bound by the Geneva Conventions, which the Soviets had refused to sign, decided to liquidate them instead of continuing to feed them.
The Einsatzkommandos did away with 600,000.
The others were killed by the process used on the Hereros of Namibia.
They were starved to death.
In 1904, in his ephemeral African colony, Kaiser Wilhelm's officers had massacred the rebel Herero tribe.
General Lothar von Trotha's men kept the insurgents surrounded in the desert, cutting off all their supply lines.
Of an overall population of 80,000 people, between 45,000 and 60,000 died of thirst and hunger.
[man] One can draw an analogy here between other instances of genocidal measures as administered by the Germans in their brief colonial episode, and the Herero uprising is clearly an analogy that comes to mind and only works so far because clearly you have other aspects involved here.
Most importantly the image of the enemy.
The Red Army soldiers were not seen as comrades.
This is what Hitler said very explicitly.
Early on they were seen as bolshevists, as Asians, people who were of the wrong racial background, who were not humans.
In fact, one of the propaganda brochures produced by Himmler was called the "Untermenschen.
" So sub-humans, and that was the label attached to the Red Army soldiers.
By the end of 1941, two million Soviet prisoners had perished.
To escape the gulag, the few survivors volunteered to join the units of killers.
[convoy sound effects] [machine-gun fire] [soldiers marching] [footsteps] [gunshot] [train chugging]