Monday, January 27, 2014

Historians Uncover Scale of 'Holocaust by Bullets'

Well, the camps were hardly the only means of extermination for the Nazis, but this is interesting.

At NYT, "Shedding Light on a Vast Toll of Jews Killed Away From the Death Camps":
OSWIECIM, Poland — As one gazes out from the main watchtower at the grim desert that is the crumbling chimneys and crematories, vanished prisoners’ huts, barbed wire and ditches of Birkenau, it is hard to fathom that there were corners of the Nazi realm where, collectively, more killing occurred than in the death camps.

Monday, the 69th anniversary of the day Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz, was observed as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yet a third or more of the almost six million Jews killed in the Holocaust perished not in the industrial-scale murder of the camps, but in executions at what historians call killing sites: thousands of villages, quarries, forests, wells, streets and homes that dot the map of Eastern Europe.

The vast numbers killed in what some have termed a “Holocaust by bullets” have slowly garnered greater attention in recent years as historians sift through often sketchy and incomplete records that became available after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“People sat down and added the numbers up,” said David Silberklang, a senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.

As the number of Holocaust survivors gradually declines, these documents or witness accounts — from Belarus, Ukraine, parts of Russia and the Baltic States — have illuminated a new picture of the Nazis’ methods.

Most of this slaughter occurred in Eastern Europe after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and it mixed with the increasing chaos of the war once the Germans failed to realize their ambition of subduing the Soviets in just eight to 12 weeks and faced the prospect of defeat.

“The further east the Wehrmacht went, the greater the killing,” Dieter Pohl, a professor of history at Klagenfurt University in Austria, said at a conference on the subject this month in Krakow, Poland. The executions and unmarked mass graves became “an element of German rule in Eastern Europe.”

In the years after 1945, the executions were not discussed much. The shock of the discovery of concentration camps was one factor. The camps had survivors, found in place, who told their unimaginable tale. By contrast, the local executions terrorized and silenced survivors in the eastern regions. In addition, after World War II, many witnesses were left behind the Iron Curtain, and no one was interested in their memories.

On the ground, “news about killing in local fields spread much more quickly than the murky rumors” about gassing at concentration camps, Dr. Pohl said.

“Only a few survivors could testify after 1945,” he added. As a result, “there is still no comprehensive overview of the killing sites.”

Dr. Silberklang said that “in the popular mind, this subject is far less known than the Holocaust.” The executions became, he said, “in a sense, invisible.”
Keep reading.

ICYMI: "Have You Read it? The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945." (And check the Amazon link.)