Invasion of Russia
June 22, 1941


German soldiers celebrate early victories in Russia

“The centuries old policy of expulsion was terminated and a new policy of annihilation was inaugurated.”
-Raul Hilberg, Holocaust historian

One of our survivors, Eva Galler, lived under the Russians for eighteen months. Her hometown of Oleszyce, Poland, had been briefly occupied by the Germans in September 1939 before they turned it over to the Russians a few weeks later. Eva’s life abruptly changed again on the morning of June 22, 1941, when Hitler unleashed his armies against the Soviet Union, bringing to an end his twenty-one month “friendship” with Stalin. The German terror began immediately. Public humiliation would precede physical destruction.

The attack on Russia signaled the beginning of the systematic slaughter of the Jews. Prior to the invasion, Hitler harangued two hundred of his high ranking military officers:

“The war against Russia will be such that it cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion. This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, merciless, and unrelenting harshness. All officers will have to rid themselves of obsolete ideologies...German soldiers guilty of breaking international law...will be excused.”

A month after the campaign in Russia began and the German victories mounted, Goering, acting on verbal orders from Hitler, issued these instructions to Heydrich:

“I hereby charge you with making all necessary preparation with regard to organizational and financial matters for bringing about a complete solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe.” The slaughter of Jews had already begun, but now a plan took shape that would attempt to annihilate all the Jews of Europe.

Einsatgruppen

Following closely behind the German army in Russia were the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing squads. In two vast sweeps across Russia in 1941 and ‘42, the Einsatzgruppen murdered over a million Jews. Most were shot on the edge of a pit near their home. This was the Holocaust by bullets. The German army and the SS killers cooperated magnificently in the murder of Jews. The commander of Einsatzgruppe A described his relations with the German army as “very close, yes, almost cordial.” German soldiers, some wearing bathing suits under the hot sun, stood at the killing pits and watched the executions. Some photographed the grisly scenes and shared them with loved ones at home. Himmler was present at one of these massacres. The SS officer von dem Bach-Zelewski complained to him:

 “Look at the eyes of the men in this commando. How deeply shaken they are. These men are finished (“fertig”) for the rest of their lives. What kind of followers are we training here? Either neurotics or savages!”

For the sake of the mental health of the German killers and in view of the great numbers of Jews who were targeted, a different approach to mass-murder was necessary. On December 8, 1941, the Nazis began using gas vans to murder Jews at the death camp in Chelmno, a village in western Poland. In March 1942, the death camp at Belzec went into operation. This place was only a few train stations down the line from Oleszyce, and for nine months Eva Galler watched as the trains rolled by, taking the unsuspecting Jews from all of Europe to the gas chambers at Belzec.

The Times-Picayune gave extensive coverage to the war in Russia from the very first day of the German invasion.

In the early months of the Russian war, information about the murder campaign against the Jews was hard to come by. Western reporters obviously did not have access to the killing fields, and the Nazis’ attempt to destroy the Jewish people was clothed in secrecy. However, the American and British governments knew exactly what was going on and did their best to suppress “the terrible secret.” As for the Soviets, they certainly did not publicize the Nazi annihilation of the Jews.