In Belarus, the long-term work of historians and archivists concerning the crimes of the Nazis and their henchmen on Belarusian land during 1941-1944 has been completed. We are talking about No Statute of Limitations. Belarus fundamental editorial and publishing project that meticulously collected six volumes of documents and other archival materials. Among them are the reports of the German secret services, the reports of the Soviet partisan detachments, as well as the acts of the Extraordinary State Commission (ChGK) to establish and investigate the atrocities of the Nazi invaders, the materials of the post-war trials of the Nazi executioners and their accomplices, and written evidence from eyewitnesses.
The vast majority of these documents are being published for the first time.
Also, each volume contains lists of places of forced detention of the civilian population and detailed (regional) lists of settlements destroyed by the occupiers.
In 2020-2022, six documentary collections dedicated to the terrible events in the Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno, Minsk and Mogilev Regions were published and presented. Today we will highlight only some of them included in the volume of the No Statute of Limitations. Belarus. Grodno Region collection.
Opening of the grave with the dead Soviet citizens in the vicinity of Slonim. 1944
The first thing that attracts attention in the reports of the Nazi punishers is the obvious routine of the processes of extermination of people. There is an impression that the performers were deliberately driven by the idea that massacres are just work, not very pleasant, actually, but necessary work. Apparently, therefore, instead of executions and shootings, the reports of German officials in the occupied territory often feature such words as ‘events’, ‘operations’ or ‘actions’. It felt like you read the business correspondence of some peaceful offices, mired in bureaucracy, but not the Einsatzgruppen and their commanders. As usual, there were reprimands and encouragement from the command, memos and denunciations.
This is how the head of the security police and German SD is indignant at the low rate of murders in Grodno and Lida:
From report No. 21 of July 13th, 1941
Only 96 Jews were exterminated during the first days in Grodno and Lida. I gave the order to intensify the liquidation of Jews in these cities.
And here he also gives an example of ‘production successes’:
From report No. 32 of July 24th, 1941
Part of the squad seconded to Slonim, together with the police, carried out a major action, during which about 2,000 people were arrested for communist activities. Of these, 1,075 people were shot on the same day. One squad in Slonim was able to eliminate 84 people.
There are hundreds of such reports, records and messages. They deal with tens of thousands of ‘liquidated’ civilians. Obviously, the organisers of this colossus of death had the goal of giving mass crimes the character of an everyday task, freeing the executioners, according to Hitler’s precepts, from such ‘chimeras’ as conscience and compassion. Let us remember that SS-Unterscharführer of the 2nd platoon of the 1st company of the special SS battalion Arlt reports on duty about another ordinary case, during which he and his comrades routinely cut short the thousands of lives, “[…] On 27.6.42, almost the entire squad left for an operation in Baranovichi. The results, as always, were negative. During this action, we cleared the ghetto in Slonim. On this day, about 4,000 Jews were interred […]”
Just incidentally. They drove to one city, dropped into another along the way, casually killed four thousand people and briefly reported. They ate well and went to another ‘event’. Moreover, not all murders were committed in such a way as to simply mechanically destroy the doomed people. In some cases, they were delivered and unbearable moral suffering. For example, during the liquidation of the ghetto in the urban-type settlement of Voronovo, they tried to kill women in front of their husbands, and children in front of their mothers. The executioners independently acted in excess of the norm of the cruelty that was required of them.
On the accuracy of memories
The testimonies of surviving eyewitnesses of those events are replete with a huge amount of detail, which shows how thoroughly Nazi crimes were investigated in the USSR. At the same time, the detail of some of the memories is so shocking that it is not entirely clear how the human psyche could cope, for example, with such a memory of the war,
“One half of the population of our village was taken in one direction, the other half in the other. I was with my wife Stepanida Petrovna in the first group of 156 people. She carried our three-year-old daughter Nina in her arms, and I carried our seven-year-old son Mikhail. We were led to a pit from which sand was taken during the construction of a bridge across the Shchara River. Then we all realised that they had brought us to be shot, we began to cry and beg the Germans. Women and children kissed the feet of the Germans, but they paid no attention.
Pointing to the pit, the Germans ordered to go down into it and lie on top of each other, when everyone went down and lay down, I ended up with my son at the top, hugging him with my left arm. The first machine-gun burst went over the heads of those lying, my son Mikhail was mortally wounded, a bullet on my left hand tore off my middle finger, and crushed my ring and little fingers. The son only managed to say ‘Dad, it hurts’ and died... When they finished shooting, the seriously wounded continued to moan. Several Germans descended into the pit and shot the wounded in the head with pistols. I pretended to be dead. From the murdered son, my whole face was covered with blood, so, the Germans thought that I had been killed…” German soldiers lead ghetto prisoners to the place of execution in the Lososno area. 1942
Pavochka Ivan Iosifovich, a resident of the village of Velikaya Volya of the Ruda Yavorskaya local council.
Incriminating testimonies of eyewitnesses reach us through the thickness of years. Witness Pashkevich: “The Germans brutally tortured the 16-year-old girl Emelyanovich, who was beaten with sticks until they killed her”. Witness Ponchelyakh: “In the village of Survilishki, 7 people were killed together with the priest of the local church, who was mutilated all over his face”. Witness Zavadsky: “Citizen Kholko was hung up by the Germans by his feet, then thrown into the fire, his face was all distorted.”…
Monument to the pupils of the Dyatlovo orphanage,
shot by the occupiers during the war
There are dozens of such stories in a huge collection of documents. As well as the testimony of people who participated in the investigation of these crimes. They must have heard enough of this and seen enough that they are clearly trying to maintain impassivity in their reports so as not to give vent to emotions. Here, for example, is what Deputy Chairman of the Grodno City Executive Committee A. A. Vladykin writes to the Grodno Extraordinary State Commission, “The first to be shot in Naumovichi Fort No. 2 were 7 prisoners of war. Then mass shootings began. They brought several cars in the morning and shot them until the evening. Once they brought 25 nuns from Novogrudok. Then somehow they shot 25 hostages from the residents of Grodno: professors, priests and doctors. They shot they like this: they lead them to the pit, shoot them in the back of the head, and the man falls into the pit. One row appears, they sprinkle it with something, put the second, and so on, until the pit is filled. Then they slightly cover it with soil, so that in winter the wolves gnawed at the corpses. Once women from the village of Naumovka heard voices from under the ground…”
Each volume of the collection contains many similar documents. But even one book allows one to understand how immeasurable was the scale of the Nazi atrocities.
Reference A large team of historians, archivists and scientists from Belarus and Russia worked on the No Statute of Limitations. Belarus series. The group of compilers was headed by the Director of the National Archives of the Republic of Belarus Vyacheslav Selemenev and Alexander Dyukov, the Director of the Russian Historical Memory Foundation. The publication contains materials provided by the Department of Archives and Records Management of Justice Ministry, the National Archives, the Belarusian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents, the Central Archives of the Committee for State Security, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, and the Association of Historians of the Union State. In fact, the multi-volume edition is an allied initiative of memory and consent.
Now on the territory of the Grodno Region there are more than 200 only certified burial places where civilians of the Grodno Region killed by Nazi executioners are buried.