In Broad Day­light: The Secret Pro­ce­dures behind the Holo­caust by Bullets

  • Review
By – September 3, 2018

Almost ten years after the pub­li­ca­tion of his award-win­ning study Holo­caust by Bul­lets, Father Patrick Des­bois and his inter­na­tion­al team of vol­un­teers have doc­u­ment­ed how the mass shoot­ing of over 2.2 mil­lion Sovi­et Jew­ish cit­i­zens by Ger­man Ein­satz­grup­pen (SS and Ger­man Mobile Police) took place. Draw­ing on over 4,000 inter­views, new­ly released Pol­ish and Sovi­et archival doc­u­ments, and tes­ti­monies from ear­li­er war crime tri­als, Des­bois, a Roman Catholic priest and pro­fes­sor at George­town University’s Cen­ter for Jew­ish Civ­i­liza­tion, shows how these mur­ders fol­lowed the same pat­tern. All of the killings were done in broad day­light and delib­er­ate­ly involved the non-Jew­ish population.”

The impor­tance of Des­bois’s new study lies in his detailed descrip­tion of how hun­dreds of thou­sands of pri­mar­i­ly poor, rur­al Jews were executed.Usually fol­low­ing the cap­ture of a Jew­ish col­lec­tive set­tle­ment, all men over the age of eigh­teen were imme­di­ate­ly shot. The remain­ing Jews were herd­ed into tem­po­rary wood­en ghet­tos, where they remained for any­where from two days to two weeks. Then they were trans­port­ed to a near­by ravine, stripped naked, and shot in groups of five. Fol­low­ing the shoot­ings, the dead, along with the severe­ly wound­ed, were thrown into the ravine and cov­ered with soil by local inhab­i­tants, who had been spe­cial­ly recruit­ed for this task by the SS.

Local, non-Jew­ish cit­i­zens of the USSR played a crit­i­cal role in the Einsatzgruppen’s suc­cess – from build­ing the tem­po­rary ghet­tos, assem­bling the death march­es,” dig­ging the ditch­es where the Jews were buried, and pro­vid­ing the Ger­mans with a steady sup­ply of rum, vod­ka, and bread.

Unlike ear­li­er stud­ies of the Holo­caust in the pre­war Sovi­et Union, Des­bois also focus­es on the SS’s fre­quent rap­ing of Jew­ish women, in spite of the 1935 Racial Act ban­ning sex­u­al inter­course between Ger­mans and Jews.

Final­ly, Des­bois shat­ters post­war claims of inno­cence (that con­tin­ue to be made through the cur­rent day) by the Russ­ian Repub­lic, Poland, and the Ukraine as to the role played by their non-Jew­ish cit­i­zens in the Holocaust.

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

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