The holocaust is uncovered in the Ukraine

Villagers greet Soviet soldiers during the liberation of the Ukraine.

Villagers greet Soviet soldiers during the liberation of the Ukraine.

The Soviet Army continued to press hard against the retreating Germans on the Eastern front. As they pressed forward everywhere they found the devastation wrought by war and the effects of the German scorched earth’ policy. They were discovering the there were many individual tragedies and longstanding sorrows amongst the surviving population.

But a deeper level of devastation was also apparent, a devastation that time could not heal. The truth about the murder of entire Jewish communities was now being discovered. It was a truth that sat uneasily with the Soviet outlook, where no single group could be said to have suffered more than another. Yet the Germans had singled out a single group.

Vassily Grossman, travelling with the advancing armies, did his best to put what this meant into words:

There’s no one left in Kazary to complain, no one to tell, no one to cry. Silence and calm hover over the dead bodies buried under the collapsed fireplaces now overgrown by weeds. This quiet is much more frightening than tears and curses.

Old men and women are dead, as well as craftsmen and professional people: tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, jewellers, house painters, ironmongers, bookbinders, workers, freight handlers, carpenters, stove-makers, jokers, cabinetmakers, water carriers, millers, bakers, and cooks; also dead are physicians, prothesists, surgeons, gynaecologists, scientists — bacteriologists, biochemists, directors of university clinics — teachers of history, algebra, trigonometry.

Dead are professors, lecturers and doctors of science, engineers and architects. Dead are agronomists, field workers, accountants, clerks, shop assistants, supply agents, secretaries, nightwatchmen, dead are teachers, dead are babushkas who could knit stockings and make tasty buns, cook bouillon and make strudel with apples and nuts, dead are women who had been faithful to their husbands and frivolous women are dead, too, beautiful girls, and learned students and cheerful schoolgirls, dead are ugly and silly girls, women with hunches, dead are singers, dead are blind and deaf mutes, dead are violinists and pianists, dead are two-year—olds and three-year-olds, dead are eighty-year-old men and women with cataracts on hazy eyes, with cold and transparent ngers and hair that rustled quietly like white paper, dead are newly-born babies who had sucked their mothers’ breast greedily until their last minute.

This was different from the death of people in war, with weapons in their hands, the deaths of people who had left behind their houses, families, fields, songs, traditions and stories. This was the murder of a great and ancient professional experience, passed from one generation to another in thousands of families of craftsmen and members of the intelligentsia.

This was the murder of everyday traditions that grandfathers had passed to their grandchildren, this was the murder of memories, of a mournful song, folk poetry, of life, happy and bitter, this was the destruction of hearths and cemetries, this was the death of the nation which had been living side by side with Ukrainians over hundreds of years …

Khristya Chunyak, a forty-year-old peasant woman from the village of Krasilovka, in the Brovarsky district of the Kiev oblast, told me how Germans in Brovary were escorting a Jewish doctor, Feldman, to be executed.

This doctor, an old bachelor, had adopted two peasant orphans. The locals were very fond of him. A crowd of peasant women ran to the German commandant crying and pleading for Feldman’s life to be saved. The commandant felt obliged to give in to the women’s pleas. This was in the autumn of 1941.

Feldman continued to live in Brovary and treat the local peasants. He was executed in the spring of this year. Khristya Chunyak sobbed and finally burst into tears as she described to me how the old man was forced to dig his own grave. He had to die alone. There were no other Jews alive in the spring of 1943.

See A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugh Davie October 8, 2013 at 10:34 am

Historians are slowly coming to a consensus as time goes by with people such as David Ceserani, Martin Gilbert and Richard Evans being mainstream authors.

The Holocaust is very straightforward in the West, the European Jewish population was shipped off to ghettos in Poland and then onto the extermination camps or later the slave labour camps. Other categories such as the German disabled (T4) were killed locally but the majority of the others such as homosexuals, Communists and Freemasons were shipped to the labour camps.

In the East the situation is a great deal muddier and more brutal. The vast majority of Jews in the Soviet Union were killed locally by shooting by the Einsatzgruppen, who killed approximately 1.3 million Jews and an additional 700,000 people of other categories such as Commissars, members of the Communist Party, etc. This was because Nazi ideology conflated Bolshevism with Judaism and in 1941 the initial action concentrated on Party Jews and sent the remainder of the Jewish population into the ghettos such as the one in Minsk which held 100,000. From 1942 onwards, these were mainly shot locally or sent to the eastern extermination camps such as Maly Trostenets or Treblinka.

The anti-partisan operations, using civilians for de-mining, random acts of violence, etc by a variety of military, para-military and police formations added to civilians caught up in normal military operations accounted for around 2 million deaths in White Russia and 3 million deaths in the Ukraine in addition to a further 4 million starved to death after forcible requestioning of food and 2 million sent to Germany for forced labour. The 13.7 million Soviet citizens killed is greater than the 8 million Red Army soldiers who died – and it takes some effort to kill that many people.

While strictly speaking the Holocaust refers to the attempt to totally eradicate the populations of the Jews and the Gypsies from Occupied Europe nonetheless the scale of this slaughter and what we know about Nazi plans and occupation policies does pose a real question as to whether this level of ethnic cleansing represents a Holocaust. Friedlander proposed this in 1994 and more recently Timothy Snyder (who you quoted) in 2001 proposed that differently named ‘Holocausts’ should be used – The Jewish Holocaust, the Polish Holocaust, etc.

Editor October 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm


You are touching on a controversial area here.

One thing I have discovered in writing the blog is the extent of the suffering of the non Jewish populations of the East at the hands of the Nazis. A very revealing recent study is Timothy Snyders Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, which takes into account of how the population of Eastern Europe suffered under Stalin, then under Hitler, then under Stalin again.

I think one difference is that only the Jews were targeted for complete annihilation of their whole ‘race’. However, from the perspective of a Pole or a Ukrainian who was lined up to be shot almost at random because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I don’t think it made much difference if you were slightly higher up in the Nazi racial rankings.


Hugh Davie October 7, 2013 at 6:59 am

It is harder in Poland & the Soviet Union to make the case for a purely ‘Jewish’ holocaust since so many other groups were included in the ‘special actions’ well. Undoubtedly the Jewish population of these countries was at the top of the German extermination list and were regarded as a ‘special’ category but the Nazi plans went much further. A look at the Generalplan Ost ( shows that large parts of the population were due for extermination and that the implementation of the Kleine Planung started during the war.

The Russian Academy of Sciences in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR at German hands totaled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR. This included 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 2.2 million deaths of persons deported to Germany for forced labor; and 4.1 million famine and disease deaths in occupied territory. There were an additional estimated 3.0 million famine deaths in areas of the USSR not under German occupation. These losses are for the entire territory of the USSR in 1946 to 1991 borders, including territories annexed in 1939-40

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