As the Germans pulled back in Russia the Soviet authorities were uncovering the evidence of many atrocities. Nobody who had survived in the areas that had been occupied had been unaffected, and many were deeply traumatised.
Large numbers of people remained in the occupied areas and for them the changing fortunes of war only made matters worse. Now that the Germans were on the back foot they were, if possible, even more ruthless in seeking to deter partisan activity in the rear areas.
The following is the evidence of one survivor, Jacob Grigoriev, who was cross examined by Colonel Smirnov, one of the Soviet prosecutors at the International Military Tribunal held at Nuremberg after the war:
Q. Please tell us, witness, in which village you lived before the war?
A. In the village of Kusnezovo, Porkhov Region, district of Pskov.
Q. In which village were you overtaken by the outbreak of war ?
A. In the village of Kusnezovo.
Q. Does this village exist to-day?
A. It does not.
Q. Please tell the Tribunal what happened.
A. On the memorable day of 28 October, 1943, German soldiers suddenly raided our village and started murdering the peaceful citizens, shooting them, chasing them into the houses. On that day I was working by the stream with my two sons, Alexei and Nikolai. Suddenly a German soldier came up to us and ordered us to follow him.
THE PRESIDENT: You said you were working with your two sons in the field.
THE WITNESS: Yes. My own two sons.
COLONEL SMIRNOV: Continue.
A. We were led through the village to the last house at the outskirts. There were 19 of us, all told, in that house. So there we sat in that house. I sat close to the window and looked out of it. I saw my wife and my nine-year-old boy. They were chased right up to the house and then led back again – where I do not know.
A little later three German machine gunners came in, accompanied by a fourth carrying a heavy revolver. We were ordered into another room. We went, all 19 of us, and were lined up against a wall, including my two sons, and they began shooting us with their machine guns.
I stood right up to the wall, bending slightly. After the first volley I fell to the floor, where I lay, too frightened to move. When I came to, I looked round and saw my son Nikolai who had been shot and had fallen, face downwards.
Then, when some time had passed, I began to wonder how I could escape. I straightened my legs out from under the man who had fallen on me and began to think out a way of escape. Instead of that, instead of planning my escape, I lost my head and called out, at the top of my voice: “Can I really go now?” At that moment my small son, who had remained alive, recognised me.
COLONEL SMIRNOV: That would be your second son?
A. The second. The first had been killed and was lying by my side My little son called out, “Daddy, are you still alive?”
Q. He was wounded?
A. He was wounded in the leg. I calmed him down: “Do not fear, my small son. I shall not leave you here. Somehow or other, we shall get away from here. I shall carry you out.” A little later the house began to burn. Then I opened the window and threw myself out of it, carrying my little boy who had been wounded in the leg.
So we began to creep out of the house, hiding so that the Germans could not see us, but on our way from the house we suddenly saw a high hedge. We could not move the hedge apart so we began to break it up. At that moment we were noticed by the German soldiers and they began to shoot at us. Then I whispered to my little son to hide while I would run away.
I was unable to carry him, and he ran a short distance and hid in the undergrowth, while I ran off. I ran a short distance and then jumped into a building near the burning house. There I sat for a while and then decided to run further on. So I escaped into a nearby forest, not far from our village, where I spent the night.
In the morning I met Alexeiev N. from the neighbouring village, who said: “Your son Alexei is alive, he managed to crawl to the next village.” Then, on the second day, I met Vitya Kuznetzov, a little boy from the same village who had escaped from Leningrad and was living in our village during the time of the occupation.
He told me what had happened in the second hut where my wife and son had been taken. The German soldiers, having driven the people into the hut, opened the door and began shooting with their machine guns. According to Vitya’s story, people who were still half alive were burning, including my little boy, Petya, who was only nine years old. When he ran out of the hut he saw that Petya was still alive: he was sitting under a bench having covered his ears with his little hands.
Q. How old was the oldest inhabitant of this village destroyed by the Germans?
A. The oldest inhabitant was Ustinia Artemieva, who was 108 years old.
Q. Tell me, witness, how old was the youngest victim murdered by the Germans? A. Four months.
Q. How many villagers were killed altogether?
Q. Why did the Germans exterminate the population of your village?
A. The reason was not known.
Q. What did the Germans themselves say?
A. When the German soldier came to our threshing floor we asked him “Why are you killing us? ” He replied: “Do you know the village of Maximovo ? (This is the village next to our community village.) I said, “Yes.” Then he told me This village of Maximovo is ‘ Kaput’ – the inhabitants are ‘kaput,’ and you, too, will be ‘kaput’.”
Q. And why ” kaput”?
A. “Because,” said he, “you harboured partisans in your village.” But his words were untruthful because we had no partisans in the village and nobody took part in any partisan activities, since there was nobody left. Only old people and small children were left in the village, the village had never seen any partisans and did not know who these partisans were.
Q. Were there many adult men in your village?
A. There was one man, 27 years old, but he was a sick man, half-witted and paralysed. We only had old men and small children. All the rest were in the Army.
Q. Please tell us, witness, were the inhabitants of your village alone in suffering this fate?
A. No, they were not alone. The German soldiers shot 43 persons in Kuryshevo, 47 in Vshivovo, and in the village of Pavlovo, where I now live, they burned 23 persons alive. In a whole row of villages where, in our village community, there were some 400 inhabitants, they shot all the peaceful citizens, both young and old.
Q. Please repeat that figure: how many persons were destroyed in your village community?
A. About 400 people in our village community alone.
Q. Please tell us, who remained alive of your family?
A. Of my family only I and one of my sons remained alive. They shot my wife, in her sixth month of pregnancy, my son Nikolai, aged sixteen years, my youngest boy, Petya, aged nine years, and my sister-in-law – my brother’s wife – with her two infants, Sasha and Tonya.
Jacob Grigoriev was cross examined on 26th February, 1946 as part of the Trial of German Major War Criminals. The evidence comes from Volume 7 which is reproduced online at Nizkor.