Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

By James Waller | Go to book overview
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The Massacre at Babi Yar

THE GERMAN INVASION OF THE Soviet Union, code-named Operation Barbarossa, began on June 22, 1941. More than 3 million German soldiers, reinforced by half a million auxiliaries from Germany's allies, attacked the Soviet Union across a broad front, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Special action squads followed the German forces as they advanced east. These squads, the Einsatzgruppen, were composed of four battalion-sized operational groups. The total strength of the four Einsatzgruppen execution units was about three thousand men.

With the Einsatzgruppen, a new stage in the Nazi process of destruction began. The Einsatzgruppen were mobile killing units charged with the murder of anyone whom the Nazis deemed racially or politically unacceptable. These included Soviet political commissars and other state functionaries, partisans, prisoners of war, Roma (Gypsies), and Communist Party leaders. Specifically targeted for annihilation were all Jews in the occupied Soviet territories. Under cover of war and confident of victory, the Germans turned from the forced emigration and imprisonment of Jews to mass murder.

The first sweep of killing began on June 22, 1941, and was completed toward the end of 1941. During this sweep, the mobile killing units reported approximately 100,000 victims a month. The second sweep of killing began in the Baltic area in the fall of 1941 and spread through the rest of the occupied territory during the following year. All told, about 1.3 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other innocent people were killed, one by one, by the three thousand men in the four Einsatzgruppen, their support troops, local police, and collaborators. 1

Einsatzgruppe C began operations from the western Generalgouvernement of Poland and fanned out across the Ukraine toward Kharkov and Rostovon-Don. It carried out mass-murder operations in Lvov, Tarnopol, Zolochev,

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