How it was

How it was

"A People Has Been Brutally Murdered…"
Iu. Smilianskaia, M. Tyaglyi


A people has been brutally murdered. The old craftsmen have been brutally murdered… The cart-horse drivers, the tractor drivers, the truck and car drivers, the woodcutters have been brutally murdered… The trainee bacteriologists and biochemists have been brutally murdered… The grandmothers who could darn socks, bake cookies, make chicken soup and apple strudel have been brutally murdered, and the grandmothers who had none of those talents but who could only love their children and the children of their children – they have been brutally murdered too… The wives who were faithful to their husbands have been brutally murdered, and the wives who were superficial have been brutally murdered… The beautiful university students and happy schoolgirls have been brutally murdered… The ugly ones and the stupid ones have been brutally murdered… The hunchbacks have been brutally murdered… The singers have been brutally murdered… The blind have been brutally murdered… The deaf and dumb have been brutally murdered… The violinists and the pianists have been brutally murdered… The two- and three-year olds have been brutally murdered… The 80-year olds who had cataracts in their cloudy eyes, cold transparent fingers, and quiet voices have been brutally murdered… The screaming infants who, to the last moment, greedily fed at their mothers’ breast have been brutally murdered. All of them brutally murdered, many hundreds of thousands, a million Jews in Ukraine.
Vasilii Grossman*

* From Grossman’s 1943 article "Ukraina bez evreev" [Ukraine without Jews]. A full Russian version of this article can be found in his Na evreiskie temy. Izbrannoe v dukh tomakh, II, Israel: Biblioteka Aliia, 1985, pp. 333-340. For an extended English translation of this passage, see: A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, edited and translated by A. Beevor and L. Vinogradova, New York: Pantheon, 2005, pp. 252-253.

On the night of June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. World War II entered its most decisive, expansive, and most violent stage so far. No one then knew that the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was about to begin.
From the 1920s on, anti-Semitism was a major part of Adolf Hitler’s political platform, and his position on world Jewry was stated clearly and unequivocally in Mein Kampf (My Struggle). At that time no one, possibly not even the book’s author, could have imagined the horrendous enactment of the book’s slogans. In the first years after coming to power in 1933, neither Hitler nor his entourage had yet conceived how the Jewish Question would be solved. The "road to Auschwitz" meandered but led inescapably there.
Along this road, every step was chosen carefully, with consideration taken of negative feedback and the reaction of the public. None of the laws and acts directed against Jews in prewar Germany caused any great protest either there or in European society at large – not the Nuremberg Laws (1935), not the "Kristallnacht" pogrom (November 9-10, 1938), not the deportations to camps in Germany, nor the deportation of Polish-born Jews from Germany to Poland (October 1938). Nevertheless, no one yet spoke of total annihilation. This question, of destroying the whole Jewish people, only arose after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. The destruction of Soviet Jewry was the prolog to the destruction of European Jewry as a whole. And Ukrainian Jews were among the very first to face annihilation. The clearest symbol of the tragedy of Ukraine’s Jews was Babi Yar. How and why did it happen?
The Nazis considered the war against the Soviet Union as a total war to destroy Bolshevism, a world view held diametrically opposed to National Socialism. To be victorious, all means necessary would be employed. According to Nazi ideology, the Jews were thought to be the ideological and biological root of Bolshevism. The conflation of Jews and Bolshevism is reflected in the directives of the German command on the eve of the invasion and thereafter. In fall 1941, for example, Wilhelm Keitel, chief of staff of the German Army (or Wehrmacht) High Command, wrote that "the war on Bolshevism demands energetic and unflinching measures against the Jews, who are the fundamental carriers of the Bolshevik flag."*

* Order from chief of staff of Wehrmacht High Command Keitel dated September 12, 1941, in Unichtozhenie evreev SSSR v gody nemetskoi okkupatsii (1941-1945). Sbornik dokumentov [The Destruction of Jews in the USSR in the Years of the German Occupation (1941-1945). Documents.], Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1992, p. 35.
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