As the Soviet Army began to push back the German invaders in some areas in late 1941 and the beginning of 1942 they started to uncover numerous instances of atrocities committed against ordinary citizens. Controversially the Soviet state did not distinguish between crimes committed against people because they were Jewish and other crimes against Soviet citizens.
On the 6th January 1942 the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov began to put these wide ranging incidents on the official record with a document promising ultimate retribution:
As and when the Red Army, in the course of its continued and victorious counter-offensive, liberated numerous cities and rural communities which had, for a certain time, been in the hands of the German invader, an incredible picture emerged more clearly with every passing day – a picture of the looting which took place in every community, of general devastation, of revolting acts of rape, ill-treatment, and mass murder, all committed against peaceful citizens by the fascist German occupational forces during their advance, during the occupation and during their withdrawal.
The great amount of documentary material which the Soviet Government has at its disposal testifies to the plundering and despoiling of the population, accompanied by bestial acts of violence and mass murders, carried out in all territories which came under the heel of the German invader.
Unquestionable facts prove that the regimes of robbery and of bloody terror inflicted on the peaceful population of the occupied villages and cities did not consist of certain excesses of individual undisciplined military units, or individual German officers and soldiers. Rather does it point to a definite system, planned far in advance and encouraged by the German Government and the German Army Command, a system which intentionally unleashed within their army the lowest animal instincts among the officers and men.
There was a long list of separately documented atrocities attached to this memorandum. Eventually this was presented to the The Trial of German Major War Criminals after the war, detailing an array of horrors, including the use of civilians as shields for German troops or to cross minefields, the use of children for target practice and the torturing to death of civilian prisoners.
Just one example was the mass murder at the Baguerovo anti tank ditch, uncovered in January 1942. There were just a few survivors able to provide an account of what had happened. The various statements were collated and were to form the evidence at the Nuremburg war crimes trials:
Twenty-year-old Anatolyi Ignatievich Bondarenko, now a soldier in the Red Army, states:-
“When we were brought up to the anti-tank ditch and lined up alongside this fearful grave, we still believed that we had been fetched in order to fill in the ditch with earth or to dig new ones. We did not think we had been brought there to be shot, but when we heard the first shots from the automatic guns trained on us, I realised we were about to be murdered. I immediately hurled myself into the ditch and hid between two corpses. Thus, unharmed and half-fainting, I lay until nearly evening. While lying in the ditch I heard several of the wounded call to the gendarmes shooting them ‘Finish me off, blackguard!’ – ‘You missed me, scoundrel! Shoot again!
Then, when the Germans went off to dinner, an inhabitant of my village called from the ditch: ‘Get up, those of you who are still alive’. I got up and the two of us began to drag out the living from underneath the corpses. I was covered with blood. A light mist hung over the ditch – steam arising from the rapidly congealing mass of dead bodies, from the pools of blood and from the last breath of the dying. We dragged out Theodor Naoumenko and my father, but my father had been killed outright by a dum-dum bullet in the heart. Late at night I reached the house of some friends in the village of Baguerovo and stayed with them until the arrival of the Red Army.”
From the The Trial of German Major War Criminals – Sixtieth Day: Friday, 15th February, 1946.