“..Under these skies ..I can actually touch and feel their presence that no longer exists.” Halina Birenbaum.
By definition alone, the term for The Death Camps cannot sustain alone the Camps which administered Death to those sent toward them. The Death Camps were a series of establishments where the systematic nature of the destructive capacity was driven by Hitler’s sheer demand for a Final Solution of The Jewish Question. On an industrial scale, these x6 Death Camps Hitler had established in Poland, for specific reasons and these dealt with the mechanised nature of the Slaughter. Untold numbers of Jews, and others, were dispatched from this life within their confines, or more than 3,600,000 Jews of The Holocaust.
I have now walked under those same skies Halina mentions and I too have felt the presence of all that ‘no longer exists’. So wherever I go in terms of my own references with regard to The Holocaust, there are those who have given their lives so that we can learn. That learning should choose to ignore the terms of intolerance which were allowed to consume ‘their presence’. I am constantly reminded by so many, who experienced these inhuman and atrocious events, and even by those who did not Survive, what humanity has lost. There is with a certainty from those Survivors, all of whom we seek out to this day for an understanding of what is our demand on them.
However, in all of History there is no choice I would sooner make than to reference from those Jews whose message compels us to learn. As we attempt to understand and seek out the comprehension of such events which always continue to escape us, we ask so much of those who seek to leave the awful nature of their tribulations behind. I am here to commend Halina Birenbaum, and I am indebted to her for her dedication to those messages I have been in search of for the past 20 years. Her clear acknowledgement that ‘Hope is the Last to Die’ has driven an element of my appreciation of that very need to comprehend. Halina Birenbaum knows all too well what she, along with all those Jews who managed to Survive all that Hitler threw at them, KNOW!
But there are 6,000,000 of Halina’s fellow Jews whose message has been somewhat blunted by events and are lost in the confines of those spaces assigned to their destruction. Those, whose terse reply to the atrocity inflicted upon them, and whose annihilation has not been allowed any form of justice, which we should demand on their behalf, seek a space in our History which many would deny them. I cannot share other than these Jews’ own ‘personal evidence’ as the reflections of their direst situation. And it is that systematic assault which swallowed 6,000,000 of these Jews whole. But, with those who Survived to add to the testimony of mounting evidence, we have a factual truth which measures the distance from the loss we should now feel belongs to all of humanity.
“..number tatooed on my left arm ..personal evidence from Auschwitz ..attracts ..attention of many people. ..an incomprehensible ..strange mark ….a painful souvenir of ..cruel times of Nazism ..for me ..a kind of certificate of maturity.” Halina Birenbaum.
But I sincerely wish to tackle what it is I feel I have clearly stated, but that some feel I have become entrenched in. For me, there is a distinction between Concentration Camp’s, Labour Camp’s, POW Camp’s and Death Camp’s. While all of these Camps dealt in the Death and even Destruction of those Jews, or others, sent or detained there, it is these x6 Death Camps alone which were clearly elected as other than a containment facility. Now while the vast majority of those Jews who were Killed or were Murdered within the Camp system, where they were expelled from life, it is the Death Camp that was designed solely for the mechanised and industrialised scale of mass murder they can attest to. This fully brings me to a conundrum which Maly-Trostinets presents.
“..carried out ..execution ..70 ..80 people ..executed in ..Minsk ..trench ..dug ..persons ..to die ..placed in front of it ..shot with carbines. ..10 people ..shot ..by an execution force of 30 ..40 men. SS Standartenfuhrer Walter Blume.
Maly-Trostinets was at once a Russian POW Camp some 8 miles from Minsk, and it was clearly established as such and a Labour Camp for the procurement of personnel for military demands. But here, and I have no authority either way to decide or even declare the appropriate status of a Death Camp, though I recognise their form, and this is where I suggest Maly-Trostinets does not conform to the recognised nature of those x6 Death Camps Hitler had established in Poland. I postulate an opinion merely as a choice made to differentiate between the x6 of these Death Camps that are in Poland, and the Concentration Camp’s, of which there were many 1,000’s, that were spread far and wide and wherever Hitler’s forces reigned, including Maly-Trostinets. Over the duration, two Einsatzgruppe’s, both B, under SS Brigadefuhrer Erich Naumann and Einsatzgruppe C under SS Brigadefuhrer Otto Rasch were located at varying times in and around Minsk.
“..Einsatzgruppe B reported regularly ..to ..Reich Main Security Office. Written reports ..every three weeks ..small matters ..by radio. ..reports ..submitted to me.” SS Brigadefuhrer Erich Naumann.
With units of SK1b, EK 7a, EK 7b, EK7e (Vorkommando Moscau) and EK8 heavily involved in and around Minsk and its environs, it was these detachments which singled out the Jews foir Slaughter at Maly-Trostinets. By Sunday 13th. July 1941 Einsatzgruppe B had established a camp in Minsk at the civilian prison, and Jews are murdered in those first days of German occupation. Here is where SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler came to witness for himself what Hitler had ordained as he was present at a Minsk ‘Aktionen’ in August 1941.
Monday September 29th. 1941 “..large scale anti Jewish action ..carried out in ..Lachoisk .. Minsk ..920 Jews ..executed ‘entsprechend behandelt’ ..with ..a kommando of ..SS Division Das ‘Reich’. ..village may now be described as ‘free of Jews’.” OSR 92.
The arrival of the first Jews from Hamburg signalled an altering in the status of Minsk as merely a local Ghetto and this, on November 10th. 1941, was but part of the Reich transports toward Minsk. As we approach May 8th. 1942, the use of the Gassing Vans were put into temporary service at the Killing Site that is Maly-Trostinets. As has been witnessed along the full axis of Einsatz efforts, when the bullet and the shooter became too close for their own comfort, it was decided that the killing apparatus should be removed from the immediacy of the sensitivity of the personnel. Let us not forget it was this exact same personnel which shot 1,250,000 Jewish Men, Women and Their Children.
“..received ..Fuhrer Order concerning ..killing ..Jews ..Gypsies ..Soviets.” SS Brigadefuhrer Erich Naumann.
What I have always sought to suggest, as in those x6 particular Death Camps, which I have seen defined as such, was their capacity to destroy all those Jews, and others, detailed to them for Destruction. This does not diminish in any way the capacity for Murder seen at Dachau, Gross-Rosen, or in fact Maly-Trostinets. At Auschwitz/Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, the mechanised manner and industrialised scale of the Slaughter has been clearly recognised. Their Gassing capabilities have become witness to a mass Slaughter beyond our comprehension and their status, with a Murderous consequence for all those Jews sent toward them, was immense. The Catastrophic effects were felt by more than half of the 6,000,000 People of the Jewish who have become recognised as the Jews of The Holocaust.
“..I am in Warsaw ..I am here. ..hard to grasp who I actually am. But it is actually here that I understand and know everything most precisely.” Halina Birenbaum.
With Hitler’s Final Solution gaining momentum, Belzec nor any of the Aktion Reinhard Death Camps was capable of an influx of any of Minsk’s Jews. der Einsatzgruppe ‘B’, operational throughout Byelorussia was systematically slaughtering the Jewish population there. At will, and with the containment in any of the East’s holding pens, which were being cleared of those POW’s now dead from Disease or mistreatment and even Murder, all was being prepared for a newer Jewish intake. But these Labour Camps and the POW Camps all now made way for the further containment of those Jews who are being steadily forced East. Of those Jews now detained in and around Minsk, Minsk’s Jews too were shot or otherwise Murdered as soon as appropriate measures could be exacted. Killing operations against the Jews in the wider Byelorussian, Russian and Ukrainian arena’s continued with Einsatz aktionen and at a pace unprecedented in all of History.
“..Nebe ..turned ..to ..Werner ..ordered him to have ..me ..to Minsk. ..blow up a bunker ..mentally ill patients inside ..at Mogilev. ..Nebe had ..window bricked in ..gas hose. ..fixed ..exhaust ..touring car. ..five minutes ..nothing ..happened. ..eight minutes ..unable to detect any result. ..second hose fitted onto a transport vehicle belonging to ..regular police. ..another few minutes ..people ..unconscious. ..vehicles ..running ..ten minutes.” SS Sturmbannfuhrer Dr. Albert Widmann.
So what do we do about the status of Maly-Trostinets, as a Russian POW Camp and as a formative Labour Camp under Einsatzgruppe ‘B’s jurisdiction. I guess we have to draw a line in spaces where The Holocaust connects with each of us. We surely must decide on when The Holocaust commenced and when Hitler’s Final Solution was ground to a halt. Otherwise we might be forced to accept the detail of Kielce with 42 Surviving Jews who were Murdered in 1946 by Polish bigots. This, even after so much had become known of what 3,000,000 Polish Jews had been forced to endure and had succumbed to Hitler’s designs for them. More than 1,000 Jewish Survivors were Murdered in Poland, immediately after liberation had freed them from Hitler’s hold.
Or do we include the Jews murdered in the pogroms prior to World War I, in a period between 1903 and 1906 when more than 700 Jews were Murdered for being Jews? At Odessa in 1905 over 400 Jews were killed, at Bialystok in 1906 where as many as 200 Jews were killed, at Kalarash in 1905 where 60 Jews were killed, at Kishinev in 1903 where 49 Jews were killed or at Siedlce in 1906 where 39 Jews were killed, and all of these were prior to Hitler’s rise to power. Of course, these pogroms and anti-Jewish hatreds cannot be allowed to cloud the certainty of what happened to 6,000,000 Jews of Europe. Given Hitler’s rampant hatred for the Jews and the repugnance of an antisemitism which proliferated these areas of the East, we recognise and identify with the labels we have attached to the places of execution, death and destruction. There should be not confusion, no ambiguity over this certainty with what we wish to add to History. Which is where I arrive now to add to an impression which a POW Camp and Labour Camp’s status also wishes to add to our knowledge and appreciation as to why intolerance must never win again.
The villages of Maly-Trostinets and Bolshoi-Trostinets, situated some 8 miles from Minsk were the centre of Einsatzgruppe operations against the Jews of Minsk. The Killing Site at the Blagoveshchena Forest, which was itself about 3 miles from Maly-Trostinets, took those killed in Gassing vans and those Murdered at the edges of the pits dug there. There was a direct and continuing line of transports from Theresienstadt to Maly-Trostinets and while we Remember the 140,000 Jews sent to Theresienstadt, 33,000 of whom Died there, more than 86,000 of these Jews found their way to Auschwitz, Riga and then Minsk. Of those who entrained for Minsk, many died in the Ghetto there, or were Murdered by Einsatz aktionen in and around Maly-Trostinets or in the Blagoveshchena Forest. This was accomplished in both shooting operations and Gassing Vans, not as a systematic operation as we might witness in a Death Camp. Even though the Einsatz aktionen was a systematic sweep of local areas, this cannot constitute the significant differences affords to the x6 Death Camps.
“..SS Brigadefuhrer Zenner and ..SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Dr ..Strauch ..we ..liquidated ..55,000 Jews ..White Ruthenia. ..Minsk ..Jewry ..completely exterminated.” Generalkommisar Wilhelm Kube.
As transports were directed toward Minsk and Maly-Trostinets, these resettlement efforts were interrupted at varying stages. Gassing Vans of der Einsatzgruppe took away 1,000’s from these transports as did EinsatzKommando and SonderKommando units. These aktion groups, who shot many more 1,000’s as part of their overall remit for Hitler’s Final Solution, were a subsidiary force to The Death Camps detail and order. Maly-Trostinets, as a designated destination for Minsk’s Jews, and Jews from the Reich, was both interrupted and inconsistent in that specific detail which designated all Death Camps. The fact that none of the x6 Death Camps came under Einsatzgruppe jurisdiction, whereas Maly-Trostinets did, is another pointer to the obvious difference. Maly-Trostinets similarity’s with any of those Camp’s designated as Death Camp’s were either vague or too dissimilar as to present a non-coherent position of design.
If we look at Lodz Jews who were taken to Chelmno and systematically destroyed in Gassing vans, no whole scale shooting operations were employed. Many Jews of Minsk did make their way to Maly-Trostinets and were killed either en-route, by use of Gassing Vans or more likely shooting operations at Blagoveshchena Forest conducted by Einsatz kommandos. I have no wish to redraw the parameters of what has clearly designated all routes toward eradicating and annihilating the Jews of Europe. However, Maly-Trostinets had more in common with the operations at BabiYar, a Killing Site, than with Auschwitz/Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor or Treblinka, all x6 of Hitler’s Death Camps he had established within Poland.
“..in Treblinka. ..How many answers will I find there. ..I will not run away from ..memories ..from ..stories ..from reading them ..writing about them. I will not flee to god who in this inferno revealed once and for all his nonexistence in such a decisive and unequivocal way.” Halina Birenbaum.
So with a little overview of Maly-Trostinets, I hope I have expressed a valid purpose in that, while All Jews were the Victims, all Jewish Victims were not all Victims in Death Camps or at the hands of der Einsatzgruppe. As of Tuesday May 12th. 1942 and on consecutive Friday’s and Tuesday’s till August, a transport from the Reich made its way toward Minsk. There were some 14 transports of 19,000 Jews from Theresienstadt alone. Many of these were subsequently shot or Gassed into pits in the Blagoveshchena Forest and interred by a special kommando formed there. Some of these burial kommandos where formed to replenish that exhausted kommando or even selected for labour at Maly-Trostinets. On August 4th. 1942 1,000 Jews from Theresienstadt were transported to the Minsk Ghetto and on August 10th. 1942 960 of those Jews were detrained at the Blagoveshchena Forest, Gassed in Gas Vans while been driven to a clearing and interred in the already prepared pits.
On August 25th. 1942 1,000 more of Theresienstadt’s Jews were directed toward the Minsk Ghetto and on August 31st. 1942 978 of those Jews met with the same fate as those Jews who had been Gassed at the Blagoveshchena Forest days before. On September 23rd. 1942 more than 2,000 Jews were transported toward Minsk and murdered at Maly-Trostinets and again on September 26th. 1942 more than 2,000 Jews were transported toward Minsk and murdered at Maly-Trostinets. All told, from September 19th. to September 29th. 1942 more than 11,000 Jews were transported toward Minsk and were murdered en-route to Maly-Trostinets. On October 21st. 1943 2,000 Jews of Minsk and some from Maly-Trostinets were Murdered in reprisal for the Sobibor Rising, which had had a large contingent of Jews from Minsk.
On June 30th. 1944 Hitler’s acolytes had been removed from Maly-Trostinets and an SS contingent set about destroying the remaining detainees. Russian POW’s, Minsk Civilians, Jews and those Jews of the Reich still alive, were grouped together into the wooden structures and burned to death or shot as they attempted to flee the flames. As they torched the whole fabric of the Camp, in line with Blobel’s SK1005, no trace was to remain of this particular Camp. More than 86,000 Jews of Minsk had already been Murdered, but at Maly-Trostinets with 35,000 Jews who had been murdered under Einsatzgruppe ‘B’s authority, Minsk Jewry’s last days were not confined within Maly-Trostinets. But here the similarity begins and ends in the Destruction of the Jewish People. The Death Camps could not be considered other than Death Camps whereas Maly-Trostinets constituted both a POW Camp and a Labour Camp.
Maly-Trostinets was a place of Murder for Jew and non-Jew alike but was not specifically designed to cater for the Jews only, as the initial scale of Operation Barbarossa’s lightening speed of victory would prove for all captured Russian POW’s. Within the x6 Death Camps, others too of course were Murdered, as defined by Hitler’s want or local peculiarity’s, but their design and construct was for a Jewish resolve to the Final Solution. Also, Einsatzgruppe aktionen against Minsk’s Jews was separated out from the Death Camps specific detail, so as to lessen the demands placed upon Einsatz killing operations. This did not become a part of Maly-Trostinets account for more than 35,000 Jews and as many as 65,000 Jews. Not for one moment do I suggest that Jews, and or others, were not Killed, Murdered Gassed, Shot or Exterminated to Death at May-Trostinets. Either on route to Maly-Trostinets or somewhere between Maly-Trostinets and Minsk. the evidence is unequivocal that the Jews were Murdered
“..Only now do I understand how much a person is attached to those places where there is a trace of ..past ..some remnant ..ashes of ..relatives ..echoes of their footsteps ..their customs ..their now silent voices.” Halina Birenbaum.