The mass murder of Jews in the occupied areas of the former Soviet Union began with the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941. The Wehrmacht combat units were accompanied by four SS death squads (Einsatzgruppen A, B, C, D) and by units of the Security Police and the SD, whose mission was the liquidation of all Jews (men, women, and children).
Day after day, the Einsatzgruppen, the police, and the SD units, together with local collaborators and soldiers of the Wehrmacht, carried out this mission — without restraint or compromise. From the Baltic region (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) in the north; through Belorussia, Russia, and Ukraine; and down to the borders of the Caucasian region in the south, they combed every area under their occupation for Jews, murdering each and every one they could lay their hands on.
Entire families — grandparents, parents, and children — were often wiped out in a single day. They were murdered in forests, at Jewish cemeteries, in anti-tank trenches, on riverbanks and in the rivers, and in pits dug along the way (often by the victims themselves).
The horror was revealed in its entirety when the postwar Extraordinary Soviet Commission began to investigate Nazi crimes and discovered that entire Jewish communities had been annihilated. In many cases, their fate was related by their neighbors (some of them former collaborators), as well as by the very few Jews who had survived the murder operations and lived to tell their tale.
Most Jews were shot not far from the cities, towns, and villages where they had lived before the war. Others were shot or suffocated in gas vans in hundreds of localities in the North Caucasus, Stalingrad, and Voronezh regions, in the Kalmyk Autonomous Republic, etc., where they had arrived as refugees from the western areas of the USSR in the early stages of the war. More than 120,000 Jews were deported by the Romanian authorities from Bessarabia and North Bukovina to Transnistria, the area between the Southern Bug and the Dniester that had come under Romanian control on September 1, 1941. Many deportees and local Jews died from disease and the harsh conditions in the ghettos and concentration camps. At the same time, thousands of Jews, including residents of Odessa, were killed by Romanians and Germans at local murder sites. Several thousand Jews who had been deported by the German authorities from Western and Central Europe were killed near the cities of Minsk, Kaunas, and Riga, and in Estonia. More than 14,000 Jews from Carpathian Ruthenia were deported to Podolia by the Hungarian authorities and killed by the Germans.
The Untold Stories - Murder Sites of Jews in Occupied Territories of the USSR project reveals the fates of the mid-sized and smaller communities, and publishes documentation on the nearby murder sites in the German- and Romanian-occupied areas of the former Soviet Union. Of extreme importance, too, are the descriptions of local initiatives to commemorate the murdered Jews. Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research has been intensively researching and identifying a vast amount of relevant documentation, photographs, and testimonies, so that this relatively neglected aspect of Holocaust historiography can now finally be told.
The website currently presents information about the fate of Jews from locations in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Moldova, who were murdered at different mass-killing sites, as well as about the postwar activity of Jews in commemorating the Holocaust victims. All the geographical designations appear as indicated in the official population censuses from the prewar period.
While building the website, we made use of a considerable number of documents, photographs, and video materials from the Yad Vashem Archives and other archives, including video testimonies given by survivors to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, as well as from private collections. Use was also made of Holocaust scholarship and memoirs, along with the Yiddish-, Russian-, Ukrainian-, and Hebrew-language press.
The three main thematic divisions of the website tell concisely and informatively about:
- Community: the prewar life of Jews in each location and their fate during the years of the Nazi occupation
- Murder Sites: the murder operations, the perpetrators, and the places where Jews were killed by the Nazis and their local collaborators
- Commemoration: the postwar activities aimed at commemorating the Holocaust victims.
The Murder Sites and Commemoration sections contain extensive supplementary material presented as “Related Resources.” The Related Resources in the Murder Sites section contain eyewitness reports and documents under the headings of “ChGK Soviet Reports,” “Written Testimonies,” “Written Accounts,” and “German Reports / Romanian Reports.” The Related Resources in the Commemoration section include written testimonies. Each of these sections is accompanied by videos.
The Community section contains links to information from Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names (Pages of Testimony) and to stories of “Righteous Among the Nations,” in cases where these are relevant to the history of the Holocaust in the corresponding communities.
While the process of building the website involved the use of all available materials relevant to the topics, only the most important ones, those of general interest, are published on the site itself. Although they are often closely related, materials that differ in terms of genre and source sometimes appear in different sections of the website, in order to create an overall picture of the topics and events. Occasionally, different sources give contradictory information (e.g., regarding the dates of shootings or the number of victims). In such cases, the text on the website includes all the versions, thereby illustrating the complexity of such a project.
There were more than 2,700 sites of mass killing of Jews by the Nazis, their allies, and their local collaborators in the territory of the USSR. As a result of subsequent political upheavals and shifts of national borders, the official designations of many of these places have changed. For example, Lwów, which had been part of Poland in the interwar period, became known as Lvov in Russian (or Lviv in Ukrainian) following the annexation of Eastern Poland in 1939 and its incorporation into the Ukrainian SSR. The Polish Stanislawów was renamed Stanislav in 1939, and it has been known as Ivano-Frankovsk (Ivano-Frankivs'k in Ukrainian) since 1962. Similar changes also occurred within the pre-World War II borders of the USSR. Propoysk became Slavgorod (Slauharad in Belarusian) in 1945; Proskurov was renamed Khmelnitskii (or Khmelnyts'kyi in Ukrainian) in 1954. Some towns and villages lost their Jewish-sounding names immediately after their liberation by the Red Army in 1944: Kalinindorf was renamed Kalininskoye (present-day Kalynivs'ke); Izrailovka became Berezovatka; Lekert became Snegirevka. A new wave of name changes swept over Ukraine after the dissolution of the USSR, and especially in the 2010s: Dnepropetrovsk became Dnipro; Kirovograd was renamed Kropyvnytskyi, etc.
It is the default policy of Yad Vashem to use the official place names that were in use on the eve of World War II.
We will be grateful for any additions or corrections, which may help resolve some of the outstanding contradictions and further flesh out the historical events.
- Dr. Arkadi Zeltser, Project Director
- Dr. Lea Prais, Project Director in 2008–2018.
- Ms. Shlomit Shulhani, Project Coordinator, Researcher
- Dr. Julia Milovidov, Researcher
- Ms. Dina Katz, Researcher
- Dr. Leonid Rein, Senior researcher of the project
- Mr. Daniel Romanovsky, Researcher
- Mr. Alexander Shneidmesser, Researcher
- Mr. Michael Sigal, Language editor
- Dr. Yisrael Elliot Cohen, Language editor in 2008–2019