Nazi Death Squads (2009) s01e03 Episode Script

Funeral Pyres

January 1942.
Just when a German victory seemed imminent, the terrible Russian winter, with its near-Arctic cold and winds, set in.
This, and the 250,000 men Stalin sent in as reinforcements, slowly reversed the balance of power.
The Wehrmacht made no headway, and sometimes even had to retreat.
Over the months, the destruction of the European Jews had become Adolf Hitler’s top priority.
Even as Germany lost ground to the Soviets, the genocide intensified.
In Byelorussia, a hotbed of resistance to Nazism, Einsatzgruppe B had trouble meeting its weekly quota of dead Jews and Communists.
Small groups of partisans hiding in the forests harassed German troops.
In retaliation, the villages were systematically razed and their inhabitants exterminated.
To aid the death squads, new contingents of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Ukrainian killers were sent to Byelorussia.
Nobody told us what our duties would be.
They just trucked us out one morning.
We only knew our destination when we got there.
It was a military secret.
The German soldiers and Lithuanian volunteers were sent to Minsk.
That's where the Jewish genocide started.
Where did you shoot Jews for the first time? In some little town.
I forget the name.
The Nazis killed defenseless people.
All the Jewish men were off at war.
Only old folks, women, and children remained.
They were the main people we were ordered to kill.
Did you kill children? Yes, we shot the children who were in the pit.
We had to shoot them dead, or they'd have died by suffocation.
Since they had to die anyway, it was more merciful to kill them quickly.
We used incendiary bullets.
They burnt the clothes.
The burnt smell was everywhere.
When the mothers tried to protect their children, who did you aim at first? First we shot the parents, then the children.
So the parents wouldn't have to see their kids die.
The little ones It's monstrous! The older children knew their fate.
They lay down in the pit.
But the little ones tried to crawl over to their dead parents.
They crawled on all fours.
Starting in 1942, and 1943, although auxiliaries were recruited as before, on the ideological basis of common ground with Nazism, economic calculations, social ascendancy factors, and functional strategies also played a role.
Most of them were farmers, but they were motivated by the fact that working for the police is much less hard than working on farm.
If you're a young man at that time, you would probably be otherwise sent to forced labor.
Certainly, from the spring of '42, this was happening on a large scale.
And the rewards in the police were definitely better than the other possibilities they might have.
These people were often committed nationalists.
But one must realize that joining these militias was, for certain POWs, the only way to escape death, or to obtain food rations slightly less miserable than those the authorities allotted to civilians.
First, the Jews were forced to lie down in the pit.
Gunners were posted all around.
They'd shoot two or three victims already lying down, aiming at their shoulders or ribs.
We didn't shoot them on the edges of the pit.
We killed them in the pit, after they'd gone in and lain down.
They never screamed or begged.
They went in bravely.
They knew death was inescapable.
To avoid being beaten, they didn't resist.
They lay down, ready to die.
We'd shoot the nearest victim.
We barely moved the rifle, the person was so close.
It was easy to know how many to kill.
During the execution, the Germans kept the pits surrounded.
They simply supervised.
It was the Lithuanian soldiers who had to shoot the Jews.
During the shooting, the German soldiers took photos.
They didn't shoot.
Exactly how many Jews did you have to kill? The gunners were side by side along the pits with the Jews in it.
We fired two or three bullets.
We tried to aim as accurately as possible.
One Jewish man pointed to his chest so we'd aim at it.
They all had the Star of David on their backs.
I shot him in the chest.
I pitied him.
If I'd only wounded him, he'd have suffocated under the others.
I killed him instantly.
I didn't want to give him a non-fatal wound leading to a slow death.
The Germans often brought POWs from the camps nearby.
The POWs poured disinfectant on the bodies and then shoveled the earth over them.
- Did German officers also kill Jews? - No.
After the execution, they made sure they were all dead.
If they found any alive, they killed them with a pistol.
I remember they walked on the bodies and shot the ones still alive.
What would you say to a child whose parents you'd killed? I don't know.
I'd ask forgiveness.
Although the ration of vodka given to the killers before each extermination Aktion was doubled, more and more yielded to sadism, insanity or depression.
The psychological impact of so much violence was an issue that was fundamental, and the top Nazi officials had been aware of it since the campaign started.
The first report to mention these "psychic tensions" was filed by Einsatzgruppe A chief Walter Stahlecker, and dates from mid-July 1941.
It almost portrays an epidemic of nervous breakdowns, widespread alcoholism that is, addiction to alcohol and also strategies for dodging the violence of the genocide, by getting sick leave, finding excuses, refusing certain duties, etc.
These avoidance strategies were quite prevalent.
It also was the fact, we know from many people who we have been able to get testimony from, is an alarming number of people, even if it was stressful in the beginning, eventually become so numb and so inured to what they're doing, it becomes a casual routine.
Uh, helped by copious amounts of alcohol.
But they do become literally numb to what's happening, and some people got used to it.
Other people actually learned to enjoy it.
This is why you get, I think, part of some of the sadism.
Inventing even ways to amuse themselves in what they're doing, to constantly kind of reinvent the thrill of what's happening.
Sort of almost a kind of transgressive thrill, as they invent new forms of degradation in what they're doing.
Seeing the punitive detachment they all started screaming.
It was a huge crowd of people.
Not a dozen or so, but 7,500.
They started screaming.
There weren't many Germans.
They were Ukrainian policemen.
But not many Germans.
A girl, probably about 6, got away from the group.
Crawling through the clover.
She got as far as my cart.
A policeman saw her and ran over to tell a German.
And the German came and shot her right beside my cart.
You see what a terrible tragedy it was.
Kazymyr Vychnevsky, a farmer from Orynyn in the Ukraine, was requisitioned in July 1942.
He used his plow to push the corpses of those Jews who had tried to flee into the pit.
I was by the pit, and the Germans called me, the riflemen.
They beckoned to me to come.
I went.
I said, "Guten Tag.
" They were totally drunk, sitting by the machine guns.
They gave me a shot of schnapps and I drank it.
Another brought two young girls.
He'd caught them somewhere.
He led them by the road.
He stood the girls by the pit.
They were young, about 16 or 18.
They were white as a sheet.
They stood, while the German went to see the gunners and had a few shots of vodka and schnapps.
The two girls stayed by the pit.
There was no place for them to run.
It wasn't the same back then.
There were no hiding places.
The poor things just stood there, waiting.
Then the German remembered them.
He sent one of the others over.
That guy took his gun and walked to the pit, totally drunk.
Forgive me saying it, but he gave the girl a kick in the ass.
She fell in the water and swam.
He shot at her, in the water.
But he couldn't hit her.
He was too drunk.
He kept missing.
Arthur Nebe, commander of Einsatzgruppe B in Byelorussia, whose chauffeur committed suicide because he couldn’t handle participating in large-scale massacres, asked to be relieved of his functions in November 1941.
Karl Jäger, author of the cynical 1942 report declaring the Baltic States free of Jews, soon required treatment for depression.
Even Bach-Zelewski, the Supreme Group Leader of the SS and SD in central Russia, lost his nerve.
He was swimming in a sea of blood.
Hundreds of thousands were killed during the searches of the Byelorussian forests.
A single raid might lead to tens of thousands of deaths.
He was one of the most ruthless Nazi criminals.
And yet he was one of those who was debilitated by a nervous breakdown in 1942.
He was in recovery and therefore absent for almost a year.
This double characteristic of the blood-thirsty brute tortured by conscience would also decide his fate, in the sense that, having emerged unscathed from the Nuremberg trials, and the first trials held by the Germans, in the late 1950s, Bach-Zelewski turned himself in for his crimes and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Hamburg.
In 1963 or '64, I think.
And he died in prison.
Himmler was concerned about the psychological toll the killings were taking on his troops.
Many had to be sent back to Berlin.
By the end of 1942, there was only one German for every 10 local auxiliaries.
The extermination planners sought more efficient ways to kill masses of Jews, which would also spare their men from direct participation in the genocide.
Despite these difficulties, 1942, when most of the ghettos were brutally liquidated, was the deadliest year for Eastern European Jews.
In the summer of 1942, what Raul Hilberg calls "the second wave" of genocide began.
This was a rigorously methodical genocide, that followed a plan clearly visible on the map from top to bottom, north to south.
The ghettos were systematically liquidated.
The inhabitants were put through a selection process.
Certain men were sent to concentration camps to work.
But about 90% of the population in the ghettos was exterminated in mass shootings.
This all happened from mid-'42 to mid-'43.
It seems likely that the Jewish communities had been wiped out by mid-1943.
From this time on, the range of victims of German military groups was mostly non-Jewish Soviet civilians.
Hitler wanted to continue the annihilation of the Jews in Western Europe.
He knew he wouldn’t be able to use the same methods.
The Western Europeans would be outraged if they witnessed such bloodshed.
In addition, to avoid demoralizing the SS, it would be necessary to use a method that would minimize contact between killer and victim.
On January 20th, 1942, in a villa on Lake Wannsee, not far from Berlin, Heydrich, Eichmann, and the other architects of the Final Solution held a conference.
After a review of the Einsatzgruppen reports declaring almost all of Eastern Europe "free of Jews," they sealed a plan to eliminate Western European Jews by deporting them to extermination camps equipped with gas chambers.
Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau would become the instruments for murder on a truly massive scale, death factories far more efficient than the mobile killing commandos.
The technicians of genocide added up the figures, arriving at an overall total of 11 million Jewish victims.
In honor of RSHA commander Reinhard Heydrich, assassinated by members of the Czech resistance five months after the conference, the plan to industrialize the genocide was dubbed “Operation Reinhard.
" Tested successfully on Soviet prisoners in the cellars of Block 11 at the Auschwitz Camp on September 3rd, 1941, the gas chamber became the standard death-dealing implement.
Most of the extermination camps were built in Poland, under the authority of the general government of Ostland, the heads of which were Globocnik and Frank, Hitler’s former lawyer.
These hook-nosed predators, these messengers of destruction, these pitiful pipsqueaks and buffoons of darkness, these accursed scum! Germans don't like Jews, Jews don't like Germans.
So the Jew must disappear.
But the tide was turning and time was running out.
After Rommel was defeated on the Tunisian front, a plan to send Einsatzgruppen commandos to North Africa had to be abandoned.
In the Soviet Union, after bitter fighting, the German defeat at Stalingrad irreversibly changed the course of the war.
In the spring of 1943, 4,500 corpses were discovered in Katyn Forest.
They were the bodies of Polish military officers and intellectuals killed three years earlier.
The event hit the headlines.
Stalin and Hitler blamed each other for the massacre.
Although the Soviet NKVD was behind it, for Hitler, faced with possible defeat, it was a sign that it was now urgent to erase all evidence of the genocide he had perpetrated.
Hence Operation 1005.
The Germans actually made a demonstration about Katyn, buy this also alerted them to the need to keep their own activities secret, and the contrast against putting propaganda against Katyn and what they're doing themselves.
So it's only by 1943, Sonderkommando 1005 had been established, and they used the information from the Einsatzgruppen to try to go back and uncover as many of the mass graves that they had created and to destroy whatever evidence there was there, everything from grinding bones to burning the corpses.
And it was quite a large operation.
They didn't go to every site, but they made quite an intensive effort, and it's very clearly to cover their traces, to make it, in case there is some sort of peace, that these massacres should not become known and should not be used against them to punish them.
So it's Sonderkommando 1005 that is under the command of Paul Blobel, who was a former Einsatzgruppen officer.
And he then creates a whole group of different subcommandos who are assigned to different regions, and they're to go out and, usually using Jewish slave labor, exhume all these graves, burn the bodies, and then kill all the witnesses.
So, it was a massive operation.
And they even sent a detachment down to Serbia to destroy the graves there.
But most of the time, they're operating in the Soviet areas where all these countless massacres had taken place.
I reached Kaiserwald camp in July 1943.
That coincided with the battle of Kursk, a huge defeat for Germany.
The defeat at Stalingrad had a limited impact, whereas the one in Kursk was much more important, in my opinion.
The first to understand that the war was lost, according to my own theory, were the SS.
That's why it was imperative for them to destroy the evidence.
Not just the bodies of Jews and the others, but also the evidence.
Before, they hadn't bothered.
Hitler had promised a thousand-year Reich.
If the Jews disappeared, they'd be forgotten in a few generations.
Who remembers the Crusades today? We study them in history, but no one thinks of them as a tragedy.
So they created a commando just to destroy the evidence.
This commando had a code name that I can't recall.
In German, "Stützpunkt" means "stronghold," or something like that.
And who would dig up the bodies? The Jews, of course.
Hence, a new chapter in horror.
It was like Russian roulette.
Being assigned to one of those squads meant you were as good as dead.
You'd be sent to Rumbula Forest.
You'd spend a week or 10 days digging up bodies, and then they'd kill and burn you.
A new squad would be drafted to continue the work.
When the front started moving west, they brought in another group of Jews.
They were surrounded by barbed wire.
A hut was built for them.
And they dug up bodies and burned them.
This was between autumn 1943 and early 1944.
In this forest, 59 pits had been dug.
Later, they opened them, to burn the corpses.
That lasted almost six months.
Meanwhile, people were still being brought in and shot but less often.
Wells, please.
What did you have to do? We used to uncover all the graves that were people killed during the last three years.
And uncover, take out the bodies.
Make up pyres.
And burn these bodies.
And grind the bones.
Pick out all the valuables in the ashes, like gold teeth, rings, and so on.
Separate them.
After grinding the bones, we used to put all the ashes in the air so they disappear.
Plant over the graves' backs, seed back plants, so nobody can recognize wherever it was their grave.
In addition to it, they used to bring new people, new victims.
They were shot there.
They got undressed there, they were shot there.
And we had to burn these new bodies, too.
They knew it wasn't that we found they knew, here a grave, here a grave, and we went, uncovered the grave, took out the corpses, and we took out about a thousand corpses a day.
And every night, the SS came from the bank, the SS men, and took and was given to them the gold and all the stuff that had to be given to them, and they took it and went away, into the night, the evening.
It was awful.
Passing a place where people are murdered A slaughter house is bad enough.
Here, people were being killed! How could we possibly bear it? We were afraid they'd kill us all because we had witnessed it all.
We lived in suspense.
And when the bodies were burning what a stench! They'd been there for two or three years.
The stinking smoke filled the skies.
They poured something on it.
We ran to the fields to escape it.
In Kaunas, Lithuania, Operation 1005 focused on Fort 9, where the remains of 80,000 Jews lay.
It was one of the forts surrounding Kaunas.
They were built by the czars to defend Kaunas from the Germans.
It had been turned into a prison.
When the Germans came, they sent Jews to their death from Fort 9.
With the help of the Lithuanians, over 90% of the Lithuanian Jews were massacred.
In October 1943, as a resistance fighter, I was sent with a large group to set up a base outside Kaunas, near the Byelorussian border.
On the way, we were arrested by Lithuanian police.
I was handed over to the Gestapo and tortured.
Then, on November 18, 1943, I was transferred to Fort 9, known as the "Death Fort.
" I was in the group that dug up and burned the bodies.
Opening the pits, among the victims, we found mothers and their babies.
The Germans called them "dolls.
" It was impossible to recognize them.
One night, a friend of mine showed me an ID card he'd found.
It was his uncle's.
He said to me, "Today, I burned my uncle.
" I imagined I must have burned my parents, unknowingly, without recognizing them.
Each member of the commandos who exhumed and burnt the corpses was assigned a precise task.
The Brandmeister had to stoke the flames.
The Zahler, or counter, was in charge of keeping a tally of the corpses that were methodically stacked on the logs and doused with some inflammable substance, which differed depending on the region.
As prime witnesses of the genocide, the work commandos were routinely killed and replaced.
At every Operation 1005 site, the Jewish laborers, who no longer had families to protect, attempted insurrection or escape.
How to escape? We drilled holes in the door at the end of the tunnel to unhinge it.
We got away with it.
Then we needed to escape from the compound, surrounded by six-meter walls.
We needed a way to scale that.
One of my friends made a ladder in three segments, each two meters long.
When everything was set, we picked a place.
One of my men ran up and told me, "Anatoli wants to know if he can hang up this picture.
" I didn't know he was so talented! He gave us two drawings.
He was arrested and interrogated.
And before he was killed, he made four more drawings, which were rather extraordinary.
In the first, he drew an SS officer losing control of his bowels.
The second showed a day at work.
The escape was an hour away.
The Germans still hadn't noticed anything.
The night of the escape, I got a message that the partisans had been captured.
We could have fled without our comrades, but our conscience wouldn't let us.
I decided to wait a few more days.
Two or three days later, it started to snow.
The snow hadn't melted, but we couldn't wait any longer.
We had to flee that night.
So what if our comrades hadn't been alerted? That night, December 25th, we escaped, according to our plan.
Thirty-seven people managed to escape.
Five of them were killed, running away.
The others were captured.
Aleks Faitelson managed to join the partisans.
He fought beside them until the end of the war.
I participated in many missions.
One of the most interesting was Nalibuk Forest.
I was sent to Byelorussia to meet some partisans who were in radio contact with Moscow.