Yad Vashem The Untold Stories. The Murder Sites of the Jews in the Occupied Territories of the Former USSR

 
Photograph of a (Yiddish) note, written in pencil, found in the clothes of a female corpse, during an exhumation carried out in October 1944, at the mass murder site of Jews near the village of Antanase, near the town of Obeliai, Rokiskis District, Lithuania
“My dearest,
Before I die, I am writing a few words,
We are about to die, five thousand innocent people,
They are cruelly shooting us,
Kisses to you all,
Mira…”
Translation of a Yiddish note, found in a woman’s clothing, during an exhumation carried out in October 1944, at the murder site of Jews near the village of Antanase, Lithuania
Ivangorod, Ukraine, A German policeman aims his rifle at a woman and her child, 1942
Ivangorod, Ukraine, A German policeman aims his rifle at a woman and her child, 1942.
YVA, Photo Collection 143DO5

About The Untold Stories

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 followed by Einsatzgruppen A, B, C, D (four SS death squads), the Sicherheitspolizei (security police), SIPO, Ordungspolizei (order police), ORPO, and the Sicherheitsdienst (security service), SD, whose mission was the liquidation of all Jews—men, women, and children. The Wehrmacht soldiers themselves also took part in the killings.

Day after day, together with local collaborators, the Einsatzgruppen and the other units carried out this mission, without restraint or compromise. From the Baltic region in the north—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—through Belorussia, Russia, and Ukraine to the Caucasian region in the south, they combed every area under their occupation in search of Jews, murdering each and every one upon capture.

Entire families—grandparents, adults, and children—were often wiped out in a single day. They were murdered in forests, Jewish cemeteries, anti-tank trenches, on riverbanks and in the rivers themselves, and in roadside pits that for the most part had been dug by the victims beforehand.

The true scale of the horror was unveiled when the postwar Extraordinary Soviet Commission began to investigate the Nazi crimes and discovered that entire communities of Jews had been completely destroyed. In many cases, their fate was related by local neighbors—some of whom had collaborated with the Germans—as well as by the very few Jews who had survived the murder operations and lived to tell their tale.

“The Untold Stories” project reveals the fate of the communities and provides documentation on the nearby murder sites in regions of the Soviet Union occupied by Germany and Romania, as well as descriptions of the extremely important local efforts to commemorate the murdered Jews. The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem has been intensively researching and identifying a vast amount of relevant documentation, photographs, and testimonies, so that this relatively neglected part of Holocaust historiography can now begin to be told.

This website currently presents information about the fate of the Jews from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, and Moldova who were killed at different mass-murder sites, as well as about the postwar activity of Jews to commemorate the Holocaust victims.

The construction of this website has made use of a considerable number of documents, photographs, and videos 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. Materials have also been drawn from Holocaust research and memoirs, and from the press in Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew.

 

The three main thematic divisions of the website provide concise and detailed information about:

  1. Community: the prewar life of the Jews in each location and their fate under the Nazi occupation
  2. Murder Sites: the massacres, perpetrators, and places where the Jews were killed by the Nazis and their local collaborators
  3. Commemoration: the postwar activities aimed at commemorating the Holocaust victims.

 

“Murder Sites” contains a description and analysis of all the mass murder events connected to every specific site. Sometimes it was only action, while in other cases, several murder events occurred at the same place during the entire period of occupation—a well-known example of the latter is Ponary near Vilna. Still, the project’s approach to the notion “mass murder operation” is flexible. Along with the sites where significant numbers of Jews were killed, information about villages where several families had lived before the war and were killed in their vicinities may also be included. Another example of such an “expanded” understanding of the murder sites is the identification of localities in North Caucasus, the Kalmyk region, etc., where Jewish evacuees from the western parts of the USSR were murdered.

Each of the three divisions contains extensive supplementary material presented under the heading “Related Resources.” “Related Resources” in the “Murder Sites” section include eyewitness accounts 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 and information from the Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, Pages of Testimony. Each of these sections is accompanied by videos.

While the preparation of this website involved the use of all available materials pertaining to the subject, only the most important ones, those of general interest, appear here. Although they are often closely related, materials that differ in genre and source occasionally appear in different sections of the website to provide an overview of the topics and events. Different sources sometimes give contradictory information regarding the dates of the shootings, or the numbers of victims, for example. In such cases, the texts on this website include all the available information, thereby illustrating the complexity of such a project.

There were more than 2,700 sites of mass killings of Jews by the Nazis, their allies, and their local collaborators in the territories of the USSR. All the geographical terms appear in the articles as indicated in prewar population censuses. As borders and countries have changed over recent decades, the names of many of the cities, towns, and villages have been officially changed. For example, the city of Lwów, which was part of Poland during 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 USSR. Polish Stanislawów was renamed Stanislav in 1939, and it has been known as Ivano-Frankovsk, or Ivano-Frankivsk, since 1962. This also occurred in areas within the pre-World War II borders of the USSR. Thus, Propoysk became Slavgorod, or Slauharad in Belarusian, in 1945, while Proskurov was renamed Khmelnitskii, or Khmelnyt’skyi, in Ukrainian in 1954. Some towns and villages lost their Jewish-sounding names immediately after their liberation by the Red Army in 1944: Kalinindorf (formerly Bolshya Seidemenukha) became Kalininskoye, now known as Kalynivske; Izrailovka became Berezovatka, and Lekert became Snegirevka. After the collapse of the USSR, and especially during the 2010s, there was a new wave of name changes in Ukraine: Dnepropetrovsk became Dnipro, Kirovograd was renamed Kropyvnytskyi, etc.

It is the default policy of Yad Vashem to refer to places by the official names that were used on the eve of World War II. Wherever possible, the project also provides the present-day names or spellings of the localities in the official languages of the countries in the subtitles of the “Community” division. Sometimes Russian names are also added to the subtitles in order to allow users to find the places according to the names that are familiar to them.

We welcome any corrections or additions that could help resolve some of the contradictions and further flesh out the overall narrative.

 

 
Online Guide

Educational Materials

 Video
Mass murder of Jews in Liepaja, Latvia, 1941
To view - click here
Mass Murder of Jews in Liepaja, Latvia, 1941
Archival footage of JUDENEXEKUTION IN LIBAU 1941 (Mass Murder of Jews in Liepaja, Latvia, 1941)
Courtesy of Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv/Transit Film GmbH
Interview with Reinhard Wiener, German photographer of the mass murder in Liepaja. The interview was given on September 27, 1981.
Part I - click here
Part II - click here
Interview with Reinhard Wiener, German photographer of the mass murder in Liepaja. The interview was given on September 27, 1981.
YVA O.33 1222

Photos
Vinnitsa, Ukraine, A German soldier shooting a Jew atop a mass grave, 1943.


Map
The Routes of the Einsatzgruppen Killing Unit


Related Resources

About the Site


This site was created with generous support of:
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany - Claims Conference
The European Jewish Fund
THE FOUNDATION REMEMBRANCE, RESPONSIBILITY AND FUTURE
The Moshe Mirilashvili Center
for Research on the Holocaust
in the Soviet Union
 
The Samson Charity Foundation