There are a number of Holocaust-related programmes on this week, leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday. This one focused on the mass shootings carried out by the Einsatzgruppen as Nazi troops advanced into the Soviet Union, and the complicity of many local people in those massacres. It made for chilling viewing.
It included aerial photographs and film shot by the Nazis, and records showing the numbers of people killed in each mass shooting. Many of the graves have never been found, but an American team’s working on locating them, using radio wave and imaging technology as well as the film and photos. We saw some of their work.
The programme followed the route of one of the four teams of Einsatzgruppen. So many burial sites, some of them very close to town and village centres, exist, and the numbers killed are so high, that one team of Einsatzgruppen couldn’t have rounded up and killed them all. It’s known that some local people were complicit in the killings. Presenter James Bulgin spoke to a woman whose relatives were killed by fellow Lithuanians from their own town. Local people could also be seen on the photos, watching – as James said, as if it were some sort of spectator sport.
James spoke to a 97-year-old lady who witnessed one of the massacres: it took place in a field next to her home, in a town where 80% of the population was Jewish. We heard how local people forced the Jewish population to the killing site, and Lithuanian policemen then carried out the shootings. The locals then looted the homes of the murdered.
I think the idea of the programme was partly a reminder that the Holocaust didn’t begin with organised death camps, and partly a reminder that many local people participated in the massacres. A Lithuanian author spoke of the abuse she’s received since publishing a book on the subject.
It wasn’t just Lithuania: it was Latvia and Ukraine as well. I’ve been to Babyn Yar, or Babi Yar to use the more familiar Russian name. There’s a memorial there now, but there wasn’t then. The programme showed a filmed account given by a survivor. It’s the best known of the massacres, but it was only one of many.
James explained that, until late 1941, there’d been no programme of mass shootings in Poland. And that there was concern about the mental health of the soldiers carrying out the shootings. He then met a team working to uncover burial trenches in Poland where people were forced into pits and covered with boiling quicklime. As he said, the idea of a Final Solution had been formulated but they were testing different methods of killing.
They eventually, of course, concluded that the answer was gas chambers – first used in 1939, on disabled people. And so the death camps were set up.
This was truly horrible. It can’t be very nice for the teams working to find the mass graves, but they’re doing a job which they feel is very important. And, as James concluded, what happened wouldn’t have been possible without collaborators. All in all, an interesting but chilling hour’s TV.
One thought on “How the Holocaust Began – BBC 2”
Lots and lots of collaborators, I’m afraid. However, if you go by all the novels written about the time, you might get a very different – and thereby wholly inaccurate – idea.
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