This is preliminary research concerning the so-called open air shootings in the Beresan and Nikolaev districts in Ukraine, where German village police units under SS command, murdered at least 70,000 Jews. The time period is 1941-1943, just before the dissolution of the former German villages within Ukraine.
At the beginning of WWII, Hitler ceded the area between the Bug and the Dniester Rivers, what was called Transnitria, to Romania, for that country’s help in the attack on the Soviet Union.
Although the Romanians had overall, nominal control of Transnitria, some two hundred ethnic German villages within the area fell under the auspices of Himmler’s VoMi, the Volkdeutsche Mittelstelle, an ethnic German liason office, headquartered in the German village of Landau. Drawing upon local manpower, SS police units were then formed in the most prominent German colonies.
During WWII, to ethnically cleanse their country, the Romanians forced the Jews from Bukovina and Bessarabia across the Dniester River; it was a vain attempt to make the occupying German Army in Reichsprotectorate Ukraine, east of the Bug River assume full responsibility for the fate of the Jews.
At roughly the same time, the large Jewish population of Odessa---those not hanged or shot or burned to death in or around the city, which was done by, primarily, Romanian soldiers---was incarcerated in a ghetto, Slobodka, with the survivors later forced into freight cars to Berezovka. From there, various columns of Jews, under Romanian guard, straggled into a roughly triangular area where there were numerous German villages. It was in this area that the Jews were murdered by SS police units, with the corpses often burned in lime
kilns outside those villages.
Police units under SS command, primarily consisting of German colonists from Rastadt, Lichtenfeld, Kartakaevo, Neu Candel, Munchen, Johannestal,and other German villages, murdered, according to various estimates, about 70,000-75,000 Jews.
1. Leonid Dussman, one of 600 survivors from a population of well over two hundred thousand Jews in Odessa: “Don’t be too quick to condemn German villagers. Your people hid and saved many Jews. Without them, none would have survived.”
2. Podoleanca, Ukraine. An elderly lady, an eye-witness, said, “They came this way, along this road, the Jews, the elderly, babies, and pregnant women. The villagers were not allowed to leave their houses at night. My mother, hearing gunshots, held my brother and I close, and the next day moaning sounds were heard, drifting from a nearby field.”
3. Podoleanca, Ukraine. A villager, gesturing to an overgrown well, shows where the bodies of Jews were thrown, and relates how from a haystack in a nearby field, a boy watched as the SS units, most likely police from Rastadt, after forcing Jews remove rings and jewelry; and using rifle butts to knock gold teeth from their mouths, lined up the prisoners---six to eight at a time, back to front---to save bullets. The bodies, covered over with woody hemp plants, were then burnt, with the remains tossed into the well. When police units saw the boy watching, they fired at him, but he escaped, and still lives in the village. This was one of the first massacres of Jews by SS police units from German villages.
4. Gradofka, Ukraine. Location outside of the village of Gradofka, where thousands of Jews were executed, and their bodies burnt. Villagers told of people, even babies, being tossed into the fire, when the executioners ran out of bullets.
5. Gradofka, Ukraine. A ninety three year old eyewitness.
“I was a young woman then. One night in 1941 or 1942, in my home, after I heard gunfire, I hugged my children close, afraid we might also be murdered. That night we saw the fires from the burning bodies.”
6. Gradofka, Ukraine. At least 10,000 Jews were killed and burnt here, near a rail-line, Kolosofka, north of Berezovka. There was a conveyer belt of sorts, as one eyewitness said, with a thousand or more of the Jews brought here at a time over a span of three years, 1941-1943, then murdered and burnt here at the edge of the village.
7. Gradofka, Ukraine. This villager, who was milking cows nearby, told of how his mother took a Jewish baby from its mother, without being seen by the soldiers, raising the child as her own; and the child, his step-sister, now lives in Kiev, Ukraine. The Jews were so exhausted, the villagers said, that none of them tried to escape.
8. Mostove, Ukraine. Once the residence of a Russian nobleman, now a school, this building, along with its outbuildings, and an adjoining park area nearby, was the ghetto for the Jews. The elderly and sick and weak Jews were executed on the grounds around this building.
9. Mostove, Ukraine. When several German trucks arrived, the Jews inside shouted out a warning: “The murderers have come, the heartless ones.” The police unit from Rastadt, a nearby German colony, wearing red arm bands with swastikas, surrounded the building, then took the Jews to be executed. “This is the end,” the Jews screamed in Yiddish.
10. Mostove, Ukraine. The same building. Frantic Jews tried to hide children in nooks and crannies once the Rastadt police unit arrived. Some put babies inside room heaters—the white area within the lower blue wall—hoping the little ones would later be found and saved by someone. The police units from the village of Rastadt forced the Jews from the building, and then took them to the massacre site.
11. Outside Mostove, Ukraine. Massacre site along the rise, mid-photograph. Some tens of thousands of Jews were murdered here.
12. Near Lichtenfeld, Ukraine. A sloping area---once a ravine or balka, which is now plowed over---where the local SS commanders forced ethnic German police from Lichtenfeld to parade past a ditch filled with Jewish corpses, to sanctify it as a swearing in location. Some local SS commanders considered the participation by ethnic Germans in the murder of Jews a matter of honor.
This same police unit murdered 1200 Jews at nearby Suha Verba
13. Sukhie Balka, Ukraine. Massacre pits where the Rastadt police unit shot Jews. One villager told the same story, heard earlier, how the Jews were lined up, back to front, to save bullets. There are bits of human bones, sternum, leg bones, and skull fragments, scattered across the fields here.
14. Sukhie Balka, Ukraine. Massacre pits. My driver, Nikolai, searches for the bullets used in the massacre. Earlier, he found a bullet at Gradofka.
15. Johannestal, Ukraine. (Ivanovka). A villager tells a story she heard about the execution of Jews near the village: when a member of the police unit, who was about to shoot a young Jewish woman from Odessa---“as beautiful as an angel fallen from heaven”—; she’d just removed her clothing, and the young man hesitated for an instant, staring.
She stood at the edge of a ravine, as the heat and flames of fires burned behind her. Taking a step in her direction, he lowered his weapon; as she took a step towards him, holding up her hands, as if to embrace his face. Then, suddenly, she pulled him back, tumbling both into the fire.
16. Rastadt, Ukraine. Me, on left, with one of my hosts, Dasha, who now lives in Rastadt, my interpreter Inna, and Dasha’s husband, Sasha. Both grew up in nearby Gradofka. Sasha’s mother, when told of my research on the phone, related a story her son never had heard before: how she had seen as a young girl, many Jews on the road, coming from Kolosofka to Gradofka, “weeping...
17. Rastadt, Ukraine. A cadaver dump, likely one of two sites where the Jews were murdered around Rastadt. Many Jews, held overnight in corrals just off one of the main streets, were murdered the next day. Another massacre site is near a lime kiln on a hill on the opposite side of Rastadt. One of the survivors
in a written account called the village of Rastadt, whose name struck terror in the heart of the Jews, “the beginning of the end,” and the people living there, “blood-sucking cannibals.” The number of Jewish people murdered in Sukhie Balka and Rastadt is about 20,000.
18. Bogdanovka, Ukraine. The end of the Road of Death. The only surviving eyewitness, Ivan, watched from a hiding place as some 54,000 Jews met their sad fate here. Ivan points to where the Jews were lined up along the edge of the ravine, which sloped down to the Bug River, some thirty meters below.
The executioners stood behind, on the opposite side of the road, along the tree line. Evidence from a war crime trial after WWII that indicates that men who had last names common in the German villages of Rastadt and Landau were among the Bogdanovka mass-murderers.
19. Bogdanovka, Ukraine. Where the Jews were forced to undress in an open area, taken in groups of eighty to a hundred, lined up at the ravine, and then shot.
20. Bogdanovka, Ukraine. Building where the Jewish women were taken to be raped, and then murdered soon after that.
21. Bogdanovka, Ukraine. Executioners stood along this tree line, in groups of twenty to twenty five men, shooting the Jews in the back of the head with explosive bullets.
22. Bogdanovka, Ukraine. Along both sides of this road stood barracks that were burnt down, with several thousand Jews inside, who’d refused to leave the buildings for the execution site. The huge mound of ashes was deposited in a local cemetery.
23. Bogdanovka, Ukraine. Where the ravine begins to slope towards the Bug River, not visible here, there is a small monument marking where Jews were murdered.
BY RON VOSSLER