Byelaya Tserkov - Massacre of Children


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Byelaya Tserkov - Lazarett - Military Hospital (Tall Trees Private Archive)


Lieutenant - Colonel Groscurth's Report to Commander -in -Chief Sixth Army , Field -Marshall von Reichenau

295th Infantry Division

1. Generalstabsoffizer

Division Command Post

21 August 1941


Report on events in Byelaya Tserkov on 20 August 1941


On 20 August at about 16:00 hours the two divisional chaplains reported to me that some ninety Jewish children had been locked up in a house in the town for twenty-four hours without any food or water. They reported that they had gone to investigate the conditions there after they had received reports from chaplains from the military hospital. These conditions, they told me, were intolerable and an attempt to induce the Orstkommandant to intervene had not met with success. The divisional chaplains recommended that the conditions should be remedied urgently as numerous soldiers were visiting the house and the sanitary conditions were liable to have dangerous repercussions. This was confirmed by a Senior Medical Officer from the military hospital.

Upon receiving this report I went at 16:30 hours together with the ordnance officer, Lieutenant Spoerhase, Divisional Chaplain Dr. Reuss, and an interpreter, Sonderfuhrer Tischuk to the house, which was situated down a side road set back some fifty metres from the road. From the road one could see the house and hear children whimpering. There were about twenty NCO's and men standing in the courtyard. There was no guard post in front of the house. A few armed Ukrainians were standing about in the yard. There were children lying on the window-sills, but the windows were not open.

On the landing on the first floor stood a Ukrainian guard who immediately opened the door of the rooms in which the children were accommodated. In the three interconnecting rooms there was a further Ukrainian guard armed with a rifle. There were about ninety children and several women crammed into the rooms. A woman was cleaning up in the farthermost room, which contained almost only babies. The other rooms were unbelievable filthy. There were rags, nappies and filth all over the place. The half-naked children were covered in flies. Almost all the children were crying or whimpering. The stink was unbearable. A German -speaking woman was claiming she was completely innocent , had never had anything to do with politics and was not Jewish.

Meanwhile an Oberscharfuhrer Jager from the SD had entered the house. I asked him what was going to happen to these children? He informed me that the children's relatives had been shot and the children were also to be eliminated. Without making any comment I went to the Ortkommandantur and demanded an explanation from the commandant. He told me that the matter was out of his competence and that he had no influence over measures being taken by the SD, although he was aware of them. He suggested discussing the matter with the Feldkommandant, Lieutenant -Colonel Riedl. I then went to see him accompanied by the Ortskommandant and the O.I. The Feldkommandant reported that the head of the Sonderkommando had been to see him, had notified him about the execution and was carrying it out with his knowledge. He stated that he had no power to change the Obersturmfuhrer's instructions. I asked the Feldkommandant whether he thought that the Obersturmfuhrer had also received orders from the highest authority to eliminate children as well; I had heard nothing about this. The Feldkommandant replied he was convinced of the correctness and necessity of this order.

I then requested that the area around the house be sealed off so that the troops would have no possibility whatsoever of seeing what was happening inside. I pointed out that the soldiers who were quartered in the vicinity of the house had heard the children whimpering throughout the night, which had already given rise to considerable criticism on their part. I further asked that the transport to the execution should be conducted inconspicuously. I also offered some of the men from the division for guard duty, if the Feldkommandant did not have sufficient manpower.

I further stated that I would immediately instruct Army Group to come to a decision as to whether the execution of the remaining children should proceed or not. The Feldkommandant gave his agreement to this arrangement and emphasised that the divisional commander was the most senior officer in the area and had the competence to issue all the necessary orders. He said he intended to 'adjourn' carrying out any further measures until Army Group's decision was known. He added that he would be requesting an order in writing as a matter of urgency. I had misgivings about interrupting the measures as I thought the children would not be transported until the evening, by which time Army Group would have made its decision known. I was aware that suspending the measures would inevitably lead to complications with the political authorities and wanted to avoid this if possible. However, the Feldkommandant stated that the transport would take place shortly. I then instructed the Feldkommandant to inform the Head of the Sonderkommando that he would have to postpone the transport until a decision had been taken by Army Group.

I did not go to see the Head of the Sonderkommando myself because I wished to establish contact with the Army Group as quickly as possible. I was of the opinion that Army Group should be instructed of the very great importance of this matter immediately and of the fact that the division was not capable of making this decision on its own. The operations officer of Army Group , whom I immediately contacted, stated that the matter had to be handled by Sixth Army HQ. It took me some time to contact the operations officer there. Finally I was told that he would not be able to have a decision from the Commander-in-Chief until the evening.

Meanwhile Obersturmfuhrer Hafner, the head of the Sonderkommando, came to see me asking for confirmation of the division's order, which had been communicated to him. He asked for an order in writing. I refused this, remarking that a definitive decision could be expected very shortly. He declared in a rather un-military tone that he would have to report these instructions to his commanding officer. He had clear orders to carry out the measures. I stated that I had to stick to my instructions and would back them with force if necessary.  I said once again emphatically that the instructions of the political authorities were known to me but that I had to demand that the measures be carried out appropriately, in the interest of maintaining the military discipline of the troops. We would have to wait for the army's decision.

At 19:00 hours I reported the proceedings and measures taken so far to the divisional commander; these met with his approval. At about 20:00 hours we received the army's decision. The measures were to be postponed. Meanwhile during the late afternoon a truck had already been loaded up with children and was standing in front of the house. The Feldkommandant was immediately notified by the O.I. and then the Obersturmfuhrer was brought by the O.I. to Divisional HQ where I communicated the army's instruction to him. An officer from Divisional HQ was responsible for ensuring that the orders were executed correctly. Meanwhile access to the house was cut off on the orders of the Feldkommandant. The barricade consisted partly of armed Ukrainians without papers. This blockade by Ukrainians against German soldiers was not permitted to continue. Meanwhile, the Feldkommandant arranged for water and bread to be supplied to the children.

On 21 August at about 11:00 hours Captain Luley (Abwehr Offizer AOK 6) came together with Standartenfuhrer Blobel and Obersturmfuhrer Hafner to a meeting which had been called by the army. This meeting took place at the Feldkommandant 's office. Captain Luley had had a look at the neighbourhood before his arrival at the division, but had not gone into the house and the children's accommodation. I conveyed the view of the division and made it very clear that the division had only intervened because of the way in which the action was being carried out. The Standartenfuhrer and the Obersturmfuhrer admitted there had been shortcomings in the way things had been run and stated that a way had to be found to settle the matter quickly on the basis of the prevailing conditions. He did not now see himself as still in a position to be able to carry out the shooting.

The Feldkommandant noted critically that the first report on the conditions at the house had come from the divisional chaplains. To this Captain Luley observed that although he himself was a Protestant he considered it preferable for chaplains to limit themselves to the spiritual welfare of the soldiers. To judge from the nature of the comments made by both the Feldkommandant and Captain Luley, they were first, questioning the credibility of the divisional chaplains and, second treating the matter as a case of 'stirring up trouble.' They regarded the report as an exaggeration and an impertinent interference on the part of the divisional chaplains. The Standartenfuhrer made no comments on this.

The O.I. and I rejected these outrageous accusations, pointing out that the divisional chaplains must have initially thought that this was another case of the sort of high-handed behaviour on the part of the Ukrainians which had already forced the division to intervene in Zloczow. During the rest of the conversation the Feldkommandant tried to steer the matter into an ideological context and to start a discussion on fundamental questions. He declared that he considered the extermination of Jewish women and children to be pressingly urgent and to be carried out in whatever form it took. He was at pains to point out that as a result of the division's actions the elimination of the children had been delayed unnecessarily by twenty-four hours. The Standartenfuhrer said he was of the same opinion and added that it would be best if those troops who were nosing around carried out the executions themselves and the commanders who were stopping the measures took command of these troops. I quietly rejected this view, without taking any position as I wished to avoid any personal acrimony.

When we discussed what further measures should be taken the Standartenfuhrer declared that the Herr Oberbefehlshaber recognised the necessity of eliminating the children and wished to be informed once this had been carried out. The Intelligence Officer of Sixth Army High Command  had already confirmed that this indeed was an accurate reflection of Herr Oberbefehlshaber's position. We then settled the details of how the executions were to be carried out. They are to take place during the evening of 22 August. I did not involve myself in the details of this discussion. The measures that I ordered to keep the troops away will be carried out. Afterwards Hauptmann Luley reported the outcome of the discussion to the divisional commander.


SS- Obersturmfuhrer August Hafner on the killing of the children

Then Blobel ordered me to have the children executed. I asked him, 'By whom should the shooting be carried out?' He answered , 'By the Waffen-SS.' I raised an objection and said, 'They are all young men. How are we going to answer to them if we make them shoot small children?' To this he said, 'Then use your men.' I then said, 'How can they do that? They have small children as well.' This tug of war lasted amount ten minutes. I suggested that the Ukrainian militia of the Feldkommandant should shoot the children. There were no objections from either side to this suggestion.

I went out to the woods alone. The Wehrmacht had already dug a grave. The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing round trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it. The Ukrainians did not aim at any particular part of the body. They fell into the grave. The wailing was indescribable. I shall never forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I particularly remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was shot later.

The grave was near some woods. It was not near the rifle-range. The execution must have taken place in the afternoon at about 3:30 or 4:00. It took place the day after the discussions at the Feldkommandanten. Many children were hit four or five times before they died.


August Hafner was born in Mellingen, Switzerland on January 31, 1912. He joined the SS on March 4, 1933, and he served in Einsatzkommando 4a. He was sentenced to serve 8 years in prison in 1973.

Sources

W. Dressen, E.Klee, V.Reiss, Those Were the Days, published   by Hamish Hamilton, London 1991

French. L. MacLean, The Field Men, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA 1999

Photographs: Tall Trees Archives

Holocaust Historical Society 2018