1941 - 1944
Between 1941 and 1944, more than 2 million Jews were massacred when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In a period of two and half years, the Nazis killed nearly every Jew in the region. The mass murder was part of the Holocaust, Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish people. Until recently, this chapter of Holocaust history was relatively unknown.
The Nazis conducted the majority of the genocide by deporting Jews to death camps, located mostly in Poland. In the Soviet Union, however, the murder was local. Because of the region’s inadequate railway systems and the capacities of the death camps, the Nazis were unable to easily transport the Jews to the camps. Instead, mobile execution units, like the Einsatzgruppen, gathered, shot and killed the Jews on their home soil. Villages became execution sites and villagers became witnesses.
After the executions, the Nazis buried their victims in mass ditches and continued on to another village. With bodies and bullets beneath the ground, the perpetrators left behind little indication of what had occurred. Knowledge of the murder was limited mostly to the Nazis and the neighbors that had been forced to watch. Traumatized and fearful, few of these witnesses spoke about what they had seen.
Because of their silence and the lack of visible evidence, there existed little record of the mass murder that occurred until recently. Some of the murderers were tried in the Nuremberg Trials, and later before the courts in the Western and Eastern Germany, but a comprehensive understanding of the massacre was never achieved. Many remained unaware that it had even taken place.
In 2004, Father Patrick Desbois initiated an effort to thoroughly detail the nearly forgotten history of the genocide. In his ongoing efforts, Father Desbois and Yahad’s research teams ask the aging witnesses to share their memories and videotape their testimony. With their help, they are able to locate the evidence that validates historical fact and helps fill in the gaps in this chapter of the Holocaust. The goal is to identify and record each site of mass execution of Jews, Roma and other victims, to make sure that their traces do not disappear from the earth and that they can be respectfully memorialized. Yahad’s work aims to contribute to awareness and understanding of the “Holocaust by Bullets,” and to the prevention of genocide and mass violence in the world.