Wilhelm Kube’s Paradox in the Holocaust

Wilhelm Kube

Wilhelm Kube was a devout Christian as well as a zealous Nazi. Those 2 aspects of his life clashed a few times during WWII.

In July 1941, just after the German occupation of the western parts of the Soviet Union, he was appointed Generalkommissar for Weissruthenien (now known as Belarus).

As Generalkommissar he was in charge of the extermination of the large Jewish population of his assigned region. He was nevertheless disgusted and outraged by the massacre in  Slutsk in October 1941.  SS Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews without the apermission  of the local Nazi civil administration and Security SS authorities. Local non-Jewish Belarusians were also massacred, causing great resentment among the population.

einsatz

Kube wrote in protest to his supervisor and Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler:

“The town was a picture of horror during the action. With indescribable brutality on the part of both the German police officers and particularly the Lithuanian partisans, the Jewish people, but also among them Belarusians, were taken out of their dwellings and herded together. Everywhere in the town shots were to be heard and in different streets the corpses of shot Jews accumulated. The Belarusians were in greatest distress to free themselves from the encirclement.

I am submitting this report in duplicate so that one copy may be forwarded to the Reich Minister. Peace and order cannot be maintained in Belarus with methods of that sort. To bury seriously wounded people alive who worked their way out of their graves again is such a base and filthy act that the incidents as such should be reported to the Führer and Reichsmarschall.”

In another letter dated December 16 1941 to Hinrich Lohse the Reichskommisar for Ostland.

Hinrich_Lohse

 

“Minsk
Generalkommissar for Byelorussia
To: Reichskommissar for Ostland

I wish to ask you personally for an official directive for the conduct of the civilian administration towards the Jews deported from Germany to Byelorussia. Among these Jews are men who fought at the Front and have the Iron Cross, First and Second Class, war invalids, half-Aryans, even three- quarter Aryans. . .

. . .These Jews will probably freeze or starve to death in the coming weeks.
. . On my own responsibility I will not give the SD any instructions with regard to the treatment of these people. . .

I am certainly a hard man and willing to help solve the Jewish question, but people who come from our own cultural sphere just are not the same as the brutish hordes in this place. Is the slaughter to be carried out by the Lithuanians and Letts, who are themselves rejected by the population here? I couldn’t do it. I beg you to give clear directives [in this matter,] with due consideration for the good name of our Reich and our Party, in order that the necessary action can be taken in the most humane manner.
Heil Hitler!
Wilhelm Kube”

Despite these contradicting feelings he participated in an atrocity on 2 March 1942 in the Minsk ghetto.

minsk_ghetto

During a raid by German and Belarusian police, a group of children were seized and thrown into pits of deep sand to die.

At that moment, several SS officers arrived , among them was  Wilhelm Kube. Kube, immaculate in his uniform, threw handfuls of sweets to the distressed children. All the children died in the sand.

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Nikolai Vavilov and the forgotten tragedy of the Siege of Leningrad.

1200px-Nikolai_Vavilov_NYWTS

What would you to do save something your passionate about but is not necessarily essential to your own existence.Would you sacrifice your life?

9 scientists of the Leningrad seed bank did.

After the Civil War had ended, Russia experienced a terrible famine between 1921 and 1922. Devastated by drought, the country produced a wheat-harvest half of what it had been prior to the war. Lenin understood that something had to be done in order to improve Russian agriculture and to stave off another hunger crisis.

Vavilov, the then Head of the Department of Applied Botany, was elected by the new Soviet Union for a mission to travel to the United States to collect seeds of wild crops for cultivation. He intended these seeds to act as the basis for the creation of frost-hardy, drought-tolerant and disease-resistant varieties.

After returning from a successful trip to America, Vavilov continued his travels, venturing as far as the Middle East, Afghanistan, North Africa and Ethiopia, collecting valuable samples of bread-wheat and rye. By the end of 1924, his seed collection had grown to almost sixty thousand acquisitions, with a total of seven thousand coming from Afghanistan.

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The seeds collected by Vavilov were then deposited in the Leningrad Seedbank. Vavilov and his team envisioned Leningrad’s future to be that of a global seed bank, in which new strains of crops would be cultivated in an effort to end hunger worldwide.

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In September 1941, when German forces began their siege of Leningrad, choking food supply to the city’s two million residents, one group of people preferred to starve to death despite having plenty of ‘food.’

The Leningrad seedbank was diligently preserved through the 28-month Siege of Leningrad.

Capture

While the Soviets had ordered the evacuation of art from the Hermitage, they had not evacuated the 250,000 samples of seeds, roots, and fruits stored in what was then the world’s largest seedbank. A group of scientists at the Vavilov Institute boxed up a cross section of seeds, moved them to the basement, and took shifts protecting them. Those guarding the seedbank refused to eat its contents, even though by the end of the siege in the spring of 1944, nine of them had died of starvation.

Vavilov had travelled five continents to study the global food ecosystem. Calling it a “mission for all humanity’’, he conducted experiments in genetic breeding to increase farm productivity. Even as Russia was undergoing revolutions, anarchy and famines, he went about storing seeds at the Institute of Plant Industry.

Vavilov dreamed of a utopian future in which new agricultural practices and science could one day create super plants that would grow in any environment, thus ending world hunger.

There wasn’t much justice going around in Joseph Stalin’s time. Vavilov wanted to increase farm productivity to eliminate recurring Russian famines. Early on, he defended the Mendelian theory that genes are passed on unchanged from one generation to the next. He became the main opponent of Stalin’s favoured scientist, the Ukrainian Trofim Lysenko.ilysenk001p1Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics and developed a pseudo-scientific movement called Lysenkoism. His quack theories about improved crop yields earned Stalin’s support, following the famine and loss of productivity resulting from forced collectivization in several regions of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. In fact, Lysenko’s influence on Stalin ensured that scientific dissent from his theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in 1948.

Stalin’s collectivisation of private farms had led to reduced yields across the Soviet Union. The dictator now needed a scapegoat for his failure and the famine. He chose Vavilov. In Stalin’s warped view, Vavilov’s was responsible for the famines because his process of carefully selecting the best specimens of plants would take numerous years to bear fruit.

Vavilov was collecting seeds on Russia’s borders when he was picked up by secret service agents. Amidst the chaos of World War II, no one, including his son and his wife, knew where he was.

Vavilov_in_prison

Before his show trial, Stalin’s police, seeking a confession, had subjected Vavilov to 1,700 hours of brutal interrogation over 400 sessions, some lasting 13 hours, carried out by an officer known for his extreme methods. Before his arrest, during the long rise in influence of Lysenko, beginning in the 1920s, Vavilov, unlike Galileo, had refused to repudiate his beliefs, saying, “We shall go into the pyre, we shall burn, but we shall not retreat from our convictions”.

After over a year-and-a-half of eating frozen cabbage and mouldy flour, he died of starvation on January 26 1943.

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Only Tanya is left- The horrors of the Siege of Leningrad.

Tanya-Savicheva

It is not clear if Tanya Savicheva was born on January 23 1930 or January 25 1930,there seems to be a discrepancy in some of the records. The one thing that is clear is she died age 14.

She was the youngest child in the family of a baker father, Nikolay Rodionovich Savichev, and a seamstress mother, Mariya Ignatievna Savicheva. Her father died when Tanya was six, leaving his widow with five children.

During the siege of Leningrad Tanya kept a diary.She lost all her family but she herself was eventually evacuated out of the city in August 1942, along with about 150 other children, to a village called Shatki. But whilst most of the others recovered and lived, Tanya, already too ill, died of tuberculosis on 1 July 1944.

I am only adding one except of her diary which says it all.

Zhenya died on December 28th at 12 noon, 1941

Grandma died on the 25th of January at 3 o’clock, 1942

Leka died March 17th, 1942, at 5 o’clock in the morning, 1942

Uncle Vasya died on April 13th at 2 o’clock in the morning, 1942

Uncle Lesha May 10th, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, 1942

Mama on May 13th at 7:30 in the morning, 1942

The Savichevs are dead

Everyone is dead

Only Tanya is left

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The Space Shuttle-Well kind of

Building of the Soviet Buran spacecraft, 1982

During the Cold War, the USSR built a look-alike space shuttle to compete with the U.S. program.

The development of the “Buran” began in the early 1970s as a response to the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Soviet officials were concerned about a perceived military threat posed by the U.S. Space Shuttle.

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In their opinion, the Shuttle’s 30-ton payload-to-orbit capacity and, more significantly, its 15-ton payload return capacity, were a clear indication that one of its main objectives would be to place massive experimental laser weapons into orbit that could destroy enemy missiles from a distance of several thousands of kilometers. Their reasoning was that such weapons could only be effectively tested in actual space conditions and that to cut their development time and save costs it would be necessary to regularly bring them back to Earth for modifications and fine-tuning.[7] Soviet officials were also concerned that the U.S. Space Shuttle could make a sudden dive into the atmosphere to drop bombs on Moscow.

Moscow lead-xlarge

The construction of the Buran-class space shuttle orbiters began in 1980, and by 1984 the first full-scale orbiter was rolled out. Construction of a second orbiter (OK-1K2, informally known as Ptichka) started in 1988. The Buran programme ended in 1993.

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The first launch attempt on October 29, 1988, ended with a mechanical failure; a platform next to the rocket took so long to retract that the rocket’s computer cancelled the countdown.

The only orbital launch of a Buran-class orbiter occurred at 03:00:02 UTC on 15 November 1988 from Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad 110/37.Buran wasBuran lifted into space, on an unmanned mission, by the specially designed Energia rocket. The automated launch sequence performed as specified, and the Energia rocket lifted the vehicle into a temporary orbit before the orbiter separated as programmed. After boosting itself to a higher orbit and completing two orbits around the Earth, the ODU  engines fired automatically to begin the descent into the atmosphere, return to the launch site, and horizontal landing on a runway.

After making an automated approach to Site 251 (known as Yubileyniy Airfield), Buran touched down under its own control at 06:24:42 UTC and came to a stop at 06:25:24, 206 minutes after launch.

In 1989, it was projected that OK-1K1 would have an unmanned second flight by 1993, with a duration of 15–20 days. Although the Buran programme was never officially cancelled, the dissolution of the Soviet Union led to funding drying up and this never took place.

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The Syrets concentration camp revolt- When enough was enough.

Syrets_(Syretskij_concentration_camp)_Kiev

Before the Nazis retreated from Kiev, they attempted to conceal the many atrocities they had committed at Babi Yar. Paul Blobel, who was in control of the mass murders in Babi Yar two years earlier, supervised the Sonderaktion 1005 in eliminating its traces.

Members_of_a_Sonderkommando_1005_unit_pose_next_to_a_bone_crushing_machine_in_the_Janowska_concentration_camp

For six weeks from August to September 1943, more than 300 chained prisoners were forced to exhume and burn the corpses (using local headstones as bricks to build ovens) and scattered the ashes on farmland in the vicinity (to this day many Ukrainians will not eat cabbage grown on those farms

During the Sonderkommando 1005 exhumations, a group of prisoners secretly armed themselves with tools and scraps of metal they managed to find and conceal. They picked locks with keys they found on victims’ bodies.

Historian Reuben Ainsztein said about these men.

“in those half-naked men who reeked of putrefying flesh, whose bodies were eaten by scabies and covered with a layer of mud and soot, and of whose physical strength so little remained, there survived a spirit that defied everything that the Nazis’ New Order had done or could do to them. In the men whom the SS men saw only as walking corpses, there matured a determination that at least one of them must survive to tell the world about what happened in Babi Yar”

Babi Yar-14

On the night of September 29, 1943, as the camp was being dismantled, an inmate revolt broke out. The prisoners overpowered the guards using their bare hands, hammers and screw drivers. Fifteen people managed to escape. Among them was Vladimir Davіdov, who later served as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials. Among other escapees were Fyodor Zavertanny, Jacob Kaper, Filip Vilkis, Leonid Kharash, I. Brodskiy, Leonid Kadomskiy, David Budnik, Fyodor Yershov, Jakov Steiuk, Semyon Berland, Vladimir Kotlyar.Once Nazi control was re-established in the camp, the remaining 311 inmates were executed.

On December 6, 1943, Soviet authorities took a press party of Western journalists to the site of the Babi Yar massacres. Two of them, Bill Downs and Bill Lawrence, interviewed three Syrets-held Jewish prisoners of war who had been forced to participate in the mass disposal of bodies:

Efim Vilkis, Leonid Ostrovsky, and Vladimir Davidoff. Downs described Vilkis’ account of the prisoner escape:

However, even more incredible was the actions taken by the Nazis between August 19 and September 28 last. Vilkis said that in the middle of August the SS mobilized a party of 100 Russian war prisoners, who were taken to the ravines. On Aug. 19 these men were ordered to disinter all the bodies in the ravine. The Germans meanwhile took a party to a nearby Jewish cemetery whence marble headstones were brought to Babii Yar to form the foundation of a huge funeral pyre. Atop the stones were piled a layer of wood and then a layer of bodies, and so on until the pyre was as high as a two-story house. Vilkis said that approximately 1,500 bodies were burned in each operation of the furnace and each funeral pyre took two nights and one day to burn completely. The cremation went on for 40 days, and then the prisoners, who by this time included 341 men, were ordered to build another furnace. Since this was the last furnace and there were no more bodies, the prisoners decided it was for them. They made a break but only a dozen out of more than 200 survived the bullets of the Nazi Tommy guns.

According to Vilkis, some of the prisoners grew ill or went mad from the experience, and Nazi soldiers killed them as a warning to the rest. Three to five prisoners were shot each day.

When the Red Army took control of the city of Kiev on November 6, 1943, the Syrets Concentration Camp was converted into a Soviet camp for German POWs and operated until 1946.

pow

The camp was subsequently demolished and in the 1950s and 1960s urban development began in the area, which included an apartment complex and a park. The construction of a dam nearby also saw the ravine filled with industrial pulp.

Babi Yar- Like lambs led to the slaughter.

Babi Yar-14

The first of the Babi Yar massacres was particularly sickening because the victims were given some hope before they were butchered.I decided not to put any pictures that are too disturbing in this blog. The story is disturbing enough

Axis forces, mainly German, occupied Kiev on 19 September 1941. Between 20 and 28 September, explosives planted by the Soviet NKVD caused extensive damage in the city; on 24 September an explosion rocked Rear Headquarters Army Group South.Two days later, on 26 September, Maj. Gen. Kurt Eberhard, the military governor, and SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, the SS and Police Leader met at Rear Headquarters Army Group South.

There, they made the decision to exterminate the Jews of Kiev, claiming that it was in retaliation for the explosions.Also present were SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel, commander of Sonderkommando 4c, and his superior, SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Otto Rasch, commander of Einsatzgruppe C. The mass killing would be carried out by units under the command of Rasch and Blobel, who were ultimately responsible for a number of atrocities in Ukraine in the summer and autumn of 1941.

The implementation of the order was entrusted to Sonderkommando 4a, commanded by Blobel, under the general command of Friedrich Jeckeln.This unit consisted of SD and Sipo, the third company of the Special Duties Waffen-SS battalion, and a platoon of the 9th Police Battalion. Police Battalion 45, commanded by Major Besser, conducted the massacre, supported by members of a Waffen-SS battalion. Contrary to the myth of the “clean Wehrmacht”, the Sixth Army under Walter von Reichenau worked together with the SS and SD to plan the mass murder of the Jews of Kiev.

An order was posted:

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“All Jews of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday, September 29, by 8 o’clock in the morning at the corner of Mel’nikova and Dorohozhytska streets (near the Viis’kove cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, linen, etc. Any Jews  who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Jews and appropriate the things in them will be shot.”

On 29 and 30 September 1941, a special team of German SS troops supported by other German units and local collaborators murdered 33,771 Jewish civilians after taking them to the ravine.

The commander of the Einsatzkommando reported two days later:

The difficulties resulting from such a large scale action—in particular concerning the seizure—were overcome in Kiev by requesting the Jewish population through wall posters to move. Although only a participation of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Jews had been expected at first, more than 30,000 Jews arrived who, until the very moment of their execution, still believed in their resettlement, thanks to an extremely clever organization.

According to the testimony of a truck driver named Hofer, victims were ordered to undress and were beaten if they resisted.

The crowd was large enough that most of the victims could not have known what was happening until it was too late; by the time they heard the machine gun fire, there was no chance to escape. All were driven down a corridor of soldiers, in groups of ten, and then shot.

In the evening, the Germans undermined the wall of the ravine and buried the people under the thick layers of earth.According to the Einsatzgruppe’s Operational Situation Report, 33,771 Jews from Kiev and its suburbs were systematically shot dead by machine-gun fire at Babi Yar on 29 September and 30 September 1941.

The money, valuables, underwear and clothing of the murdered victims were turned over to the local ethnic Germans and to the Nazi administration of the city.Wounded victims were buried alive in the ravine along with the rest of the bodies.

Babi Yar-16

Dina Pronicheva, an actress of the Kiev Puppet Theatre, and a survivor.Gave testimony during on 24 January 1946, at a Kiev war-crimes trial of fifteen members of the German police responsible for the occupied Kiev region.

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She was one of those ordered to march to the ravine, to be forced to undress and then be shot. Jumping before being shot and falling on other bodies, she played dead in a pile of corpses.

She held perfectly still while the Nazis continued to shoot the wounded or gasping victims. Although the SS had covered the mass grave with earth, she eventually managed to climb through the soil and escape. Since it was dark, she had to avoid the torches of the Nazis finishing off the remaining victims still alive, wounded and gasping in the grave. She was one of the very few survivors of the massacre and later related her horrifying story to Kuznetsov. At least 29 survivors are known.

Friend and Foe- The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

Bad as World War II and all its horrors were it could have been a lot worse if the Germans didn’t break the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

The impact it would have had if Hitler and Stalin had remained “friends”would have been unfathomable. In all likelihood it might have saved a lot of Soviet and German lives but the outcome for the citizens of the other  European nations would have probably been more devastating.

Molotov–Ribbentrop_Pact_(German_copy)

Japan probably would not have allied themselves with Germany and may not have attacked Pearl Harbor.

These of course are speculations stemming from a “what if ?” scenario, the fact is that Germany and the Soviet Union were allies at the start of the war. at a high cost for Poland.

Following are some impression on how that Soviet -German friendship looked like.

Soviet and German officials having a friendly conversation in the newly captured Polish city of Brest, September 1939.

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German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939

Polen, Siegesparade, Guderian, Kriwoschein

Rolling Soviet tanks and German motorcyclists.

Polen, deutsch-sowjetische Siegesparade, Panzer

Common parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the Invasion of Poland. At the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein

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German and Soviet personnel amid parade display material.

Polen, deutsch-sowjetische Siegesparade

Soviet and German soldiers in Lublin.

Polen, Treffen deutscher und sowjetischer Soldaten

Polish hostages being blindfolded during preparations for their mass execution in Palmiry, 1940.

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Ribbentrop taking leave of Molotov in Berlin, November 1940

Berlin, Verabschiedung Molotows

Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact at 03:15 on 22 June 1941 by launching a massive attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland which marked the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa.

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Vasily Blokhin-Stalin’s butcher

Vasili_Blokhin

Born to a Russian peasant family in 1895, as a young man he quickly earned a reputation for “chernaya rabota”, or “black work”, while serving in the Tsarist army during World War I- gaining recognition from Stalin himself for his covert assassinations, torture, and executions. Blokhin quickly rose through the ranks of Russia’s secret police at the time—the NKVD—eventually becoming the head of the Kommandatura department.

Vasily Blokhin is recorded as having executed tens of thousands of prisoners by his own hand, including his killing of about 7,000 Polish prisoners of war during the Katyn massacre in spring 1940, making him the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history. He was the NKVD major in charge of executing the Polish officers from the Ostashkov camp, and he believed in personally doing the killing that his superiors had ordered him to supervise.

Vasili Blokhin 2

Born in 1885, he was known as the NKVD’s chief executioner, having been hand-picked for this position by Joseph Stalin himself.

CroppedStalin1943

Blokhin personally killed tens of thousand of men and women during Stalin’s Great Purges of the 1930s, so it was only natural that the NKVD would turn to him when it came time to dispatch the officers held in the Soviet prison camps. Along with a team of about thirty NKVD men from Moscow, mainly drivers and prison guards, Blokhin arrived at the NKVD prison in Kalinin (Tver) and set himself up in a sound-proofed cellar room that had a sloping floor for drainage.

Tver Execution room of Polish soldiers buried later at Mednoye- Photograph Katyn Museum

He then put on his special uniform, consisting of a leather cap, long leather apron, and elbow-length gloves. On a table next to him was a briefcase filled with his own personal Walther PPK pistols, for Blokhin, a true artist at his trade, would use no one else’s tools but his own.

After the prisoner’s identity was verified, he was brought handcuffed into the cellar room where Blokhin awaited in his long apron, like some horrible butcher. One guard later testified: “The men held [the prisoner’s] arms and [Blokhin] shot him in the base of the skull…that’s all”. Blokhin worked fast and efficiently, killing an average of one men every three minutes during the course of ten-hour nights – the killings were always done at night, so that the bodies could be disposed of in darkness.

Although this has never been completely proven, historians suspect that Blokhin shot 7,000 men over a period of twenty-eight days, which would make him one of the most prolific murderers of all time. However many people he killed, Blokhin was consistently promoted by his superiors for performing “special tasks”. He lost his job after Stalin died. The cause of Blokhin’s death, in 1955, was listed as suicide.

Katyn massacre
The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria’s proposal to execute all captive members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated 5 March 1940. This official document was approved and signed by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000.

 

The hanging of Masha Bruskina

 

Masha Bruskina

Masha Bruskina was a Russian teenage female partisan. She was a 17 year old Jewish high school graduate and was the first teenage girl to be publicly hanged by the Nazis in Belorussia (Belarus), since the German invasion of Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941.

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Masha Bruskina was born in Minsk, in the Soviet Union, in 1924. A member of a Jewish family, she was forced to live in the Minsk ghetto with her mother, after the arrival of the German Army in July 1941.

Although only seventeen Masha, an ardent member of the Communist Party, joined the Minsk resistance movement. She volunteered as a nurse at the hospital in the Polytechnic Institute, that had been set up to care for wounded members of the Red Army. As well as caring for the soldiers she helped them escape by smuggling into the hospital civilian clothing and false identity papers.

One of the patients informed on Masha and on 14th October she was arrested by the German authorities. She was tortured for several days but refused to give the names of other members of her group. On 20th October she wrote to her mother: “I am tormented by the thought that I have caused you great worry. Don’t worry. Nothing bad has happened to me. I swear to you that you will have no further unpleasantness because of me. If you can, please send me my dress, my green blouse, and white socks. I want to be dressed decently when I leave here.”

In order to frighten the people of Minsk into submission, the commander of the 707th Infantry Division, decided to hold a public hanging. On 26th October 1941, Masha Bruskina and two other members of the resistance, 16 year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich and First World War veteran, Kiril Trus, were taken to the gates of a local yeast factory.

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When they put her on the stool, the girl turned her face toward the fence. The executioners wanted her to stand with her face to the crowd, but she turned away and that was that. No matter how much they pushed her and tried to turn her, she remained standing with her back to the crowd. Only then did they kick away the stool from under her.

There are picture widely available of her dead body hanging on a noose,but I didn’t feel it would to justice to her memory, I am ending this blog with a picture of  herthat shows her beautiful face.In this photo of her, you will see that she has blond hair, but her natural colour was dark. She dyed her hair when she started to work for the underground.

mash2

After hanging for three days, she and the men were taken down and only when her body was traditionally washed before her burial by local people and members of her family, did her dark hair show up.

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The death of Yakov Dzhugashvili-Stalin’s oldest son.

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Everyone knows Joseph Stalin, but most aren’t familiar with his familial life, particularly his eldest son, Yakov.

The tumultuous relationship between father and son created a story that spanned a difficult youth, the German invasion of the Soviet Union and a Nazi concentration camp.

Yakov was born to Stalin’s first wife, in 1907. He was born in what was at the time Imperial Russia, and his mother died of typhus only a few months after his birth.

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Yakov was mostly raised by his other female relatives, his aunts and grandmother. He was encouraged at a young age to go to Moscow to seek out an education.

From his youth onward, Yakov and Stalin did not get along, with Stalin being quite judgmental of his son, looking down on him in almost every way. As a young man, Yakov attempted suicide after a disagreement with his father over Yakov’s Jewish fiancee.

Stalin did not approve of the marriage and after an intense argument, Yakov retired to his bedroom and attempted to shoot himself. However, Yakov survived and was treated for his wounds, but his father was prompted to make remarks on how his son couldn’t even kill himself properly.

Yakov did end up marrying the Jewish girl, a dancer who was already married. He helped her arrange a divorce before marrying her and having two children with her. Afterward, Stalin said that he no longer wanted to have any sort of a relationship with Yakov, as they had nothing in common. He called Yakov a thug and an extortionist.

Yakov joined the Red Army at the outbreak of war in the East in June 1941, serving as a lieutenant in the artillery. On the first day of the war, his father told him to ‘Go and fight’. On 16 July, within a month of the Nazi invasion, Yakov was captured and taken prisoner.

Nazi Officers Interrogating Yakov Stalin

Stalin considered all prisoners as traitors to the motherland and those that surrendered he demonised as ‘malicious deserters’. ‘There are no prisoners of war,’ he once said, ‘only traitors to their homeland’.

Certainly Yakov, by all accounts, felt that he had failed his father. Under interrogation, he admitted that he had tried to shoot himself. His father probably would have preferred it if he had.

Families of PoWs, or deserters, faced the harshest consequences for the failings of their sons or husbands – arrested and exiled. Yakov may have been Stalin’s son but his family were not to be spared. He was married to a Jewish girl, Julia. Stalin had managed to overcome his innate anti-Semitism and grew to be quite fond of his daughter-in-law. Nonetheless, following Yakov’s capture, Julia was arrested, separated from her three-year-old daughter and sent to the gulag. After two years, Stalin sanctioned her release but she remained forever traumatised by the experience.

The Germans made propaganda capital of Yakov’s capture, dropping leaflets in the Soviet Union saying “Do not shed your blood for Stalin! His own son has surrendered! If Stalin’s son has saved himself then you are not obliged to sacrifice yourself either!”

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In 1943, Stalin was offered the chance to have his son back. The Germans had been defeated at Stalingrad and their Field Marshal, Friedrich Paulus, was taken prisoner by the Soviets, their highest-ranking capture of the war. The Germans offered a swap – von Paulus for Yakov. Stalin refused, saying, ‘I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant’. As harsh it may seem, Stalin’s reasoning did contain a logic – why should his son be freed when the sons of other Soviet families suffered – ‘what would other fathers say?’

On 14 April 1943, the 36-year-old Yakov died. The Germans maintained they shot him while he was trying to escape. But it is more likely that after two years of incarceration and deprivation, the news of the Katyn massacre was the final straw. Stalin had ordered the murder of 15,000 Polish officers in the woods of Katyn in May 1940.  The discovery of the mass grave in March 1943 was heavily publicised by the Germans. Yakov, who had befriended Polish inmates, was distraught by the news. ‘Look what you bastards did to these men. What kind of people are you?’ said a German officer to him. He died by throwing himself onto an electric fence.

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