Given the nature and the scale of the work of the Einsatzgruppen it was inevitable that the mass murder of Jews in the east would become known amongst the soldiers of Wehrmacht, even if only a minority of them may have actually witnessed the killings. It was equally inevitable that news of such events would filter back home to Germany, either in soldiers’ letters or when they returned on leave.
On 28th October Friedrich Kellner, a government employee in the district court at Laubach, western Germany, recorded in his diary:
A soldier on vacation here said he witnessed a terrible atrocity in the occupied parts of Poland.
He watched as naked Jewish men and women were placed in front of a long deep ditch and upon the order of the SS were shot by Ukrainians in the back of their heads and they fell into the ditch. Then the ditch was filled with dirt even as he could still hear screams coming from people still alive in the ditch.
…There is no punishment that would be hard enough to be applied to these Nazi beasts.
Kellner was not at all sympathetic to the Nazi’s so made a point of recording such matters in his diaries. But in all other respects he was an ‘ordinary German’ with no special access to information about the affairs of the regime. So his diaries provide important evidence of ‘what Germans knew’. Whether ordinary Germans were in a position to do anything about what they learnt, even if they wanted to, is a separate question.
Friedrich Kellner’s “‘All Minds Blurred and Darkened’ Diaries 1939-1945″ were only published in Germany in 2011. An English translation is planned- see Reuters.