The majority of the Jews of western Ukraine town of Rovno, around 23,000 people, had been murdered shortly after the Germans invaded in June 1941. Between 5,000 and 7,000 Jews remained in the ghetto that was established there.
Hermann Graebe was the local representative of the construction firm of Josef Jung which employed around 100 Jewish workers who lived in the Rovno ghetto. When his local Polish manager heard that ‘a pogrom’ against the remaining Jews in the ghetto was rumoured, Graebe took the matter up with the local SS commander, Dr. Puetz. He was told the rumour was a ‘clumsy lie’ – because the Jews were still needed as a labour force. He then approached the Area Commissioner’s office – the German government of the occupied Ukraine – about the status of his workers:
He then told me – making me promise to keep it a secret that a pogrom would in fact take place on the evening of Monday, 13 July 1942. After lengthy negotiation I managed to persuade him to give me permission to take my Jewish workers to Sdolbunov – but only after the pogrom had been carried out.
During the night it would be up to me to protect the house in the ghetto against the entry of Ukrainian militia and SS. As confirmation of the discussion he gave me a document, which stated that the Jewish employees of the Jung firm were not affected by the pogrom.
On the evening of this day I drove to Rovno and posted myself with Fritz Einsporn in front of the houses in the Bahnhofstrasse in which the Jewish workers of my firm slept. Shortly after 2200 hours the ghetto was encircled by a large SS detachment and about three times as many members of the Ukrainian militia. Then the electric arc lights which had been erected in and around the ghetto were switched on.
SS and militia squads of 4 to 6 men entered or at least tried to enter the houses. Where the doors and windows were closed and the inhabitants did not open at the knocking, the SS-men and militia broke the windows, forced the doors with beams and crowbars and entered the houses. The people living there were driven on to the street just as they were, regardless of whether they were dressed or in bed.
Since the Jews in most cases refused to leave their houses and resisted, the SS and militia applied force. They finally succeeded, with strokes of the whip, kicks, and blows with rifle butts in clearing the houses. The people were driven out of their houses in such haste that small children in bed had been left behind in several instances.
In the street women cried out for their children and children for their parents. That did not prevent the SS from driving the people along the road, at running pace, and hitting them, until they reached a waiting freight train. Car after car was filled, and the screaming of women and children and the cracking of whips and rifle shots resounded unceasingly.
Since several families or groups had barricaded themselves in especially strong buildings, and the doors could not be forced with crowbars or beams, these houses were now blown open with hand grenades. Since the ghetto was near the railroad tracks in Rovno, the younger people tried to get across the tracks and over a small river to get away from the ghetto area. As this stretch of country was beyond the range of the electric lights, it was illuminated by signal rockets.
All through the night these beaten, hounded, and wounded people moved along the lighted streets. Women carried their dead children in their arms, children pulled and dragged their dead parents by their arms and legs down the road toward the train. Again and again the cries “Open the door! Open the door” echoed through the ghetto.
About 6 o’clock in the morning I went away for a moment, leaving behind Einsporn and several other German workers who had returned in the meantime. I thought the greatest danger was past and that I could risk it. Shortly after I left, Ukrainian militia men forced their way into 5 Bahnhofstrasse and brought 7 Jews out and took them to a collecting point inside the ghetto.
On my return I was able to prevent further Jews from being taken out.
I went to the collecting point to save these 7 men. I saw dozens of corpses of all ages and both sexes in the streets I had to walk along. The doors of the houses stood open, windows were smashed. Pieces of clothing, shoes, stockings, jackets, caps, hats, coats, etc., were lying in the street. At the corner of a house lay a baby, less than a year old with his skull crushed. Blood and brains were spattered over the house wall and covered the area immediately around the child. The child was dressed only in a little skirt.
The commander, SS Major Puetz, was walking up and down a row of about 80-100 male Jews who were crouching on the ground. He had a heavy dog whip in his hand. I walked up to him, showed him the written permit of Stabsleiter Beck and demanded the seven men whom I recognized among these who were crouching on the ground.
Dr. Puetz was very furious about Beck’s concession and nothing could persuade him to release the seven men. He made a motion with his hand encircling the square and said that anyone who was once here would not get out. Although he was very angry with Beck, he ordered me to take the people from 5 Bahnhofstrasae out of Rovno by 8 o’clock at the latest.
When I left Dr. Puetz, I noticed a Ukrainian farm cart, with two horses. Dead people with stiff limbs were lying on the cart. Legs and arms projected over the side boards. The cart was making for the freight train.
I took the remaining 74 Jews who had been locked in the house to Sdolbunov.
From the evidence of Hermann Graebe given during “The Einsatzgruppen Case”, The United States of America against Otto Ohlendorf and others, held at the Military Tribunal in Nuremburg in 1947.