An eyewitness account of einsatzgruppen killings (1942)


Hermann Graebe was a German-born factory manager working in the Ukraine when, in 1942, he witnessed the mass killing of local Jews by an SS einsatzgruppen unit:


 

I, the undersigned, Hermann Friedrich Graebe, make the following declaration under oath:

 

From September 1941 to January 1944 I was director and chief engineer of the Sdolbunow branch of the Josef Jung Construction Company of Solingen. In this capacity one of my duties was to visit the firm’s projects. Under the terms of a contract with the army construction services, the company was building grain warehouses on the old Dubno airfield in the Ukraine.

 

On October 5th 1942, at the time of my visit to the construction offices in Dubno, my foreman, Hubert Moennikes told me that some Dubno Jews had been shot near the building, in three huge ditches about 30 metres long and three metres deep. The number of people killed daily was estimated at around 1,500. The 5,000 Jews who lived in Dubno before the Pogrom were all marked for liquidation. Since the executions took place in the presence of my employee, he was painfully aware of and affected by them.

 

Accompanied by Moennikes, I went to the work area. I saw great mounds of earth about 30 metres long and two metres high. Several trucks were parked nearby. Armed Ukrainian militia were forcing people out, under the surveillance of SS soldiers. The same militia men were responsible for guard duty and driving the trucks. The people in the trucks wore the regulation yellow pieces of cloth that identified them as Jews on the front and back of their clothing.

 

Moennikes and I went straight toward the ditches without being stopped. When we neared the mound, I heard a series of rifle shots close by. The people from the trucks – men, women and children – were forced to undress under the supervision of an SS soldier with a whip in his hand. They were obliged to put their effects in certain areas: shoes, clothing, and underwear separately. I saw a pile of shoes, thousands of pairs, great heaps of underwear and clothing. Without weeping or crying out, these people undressed and stood together in family groups, embracing each other and saying goodbye while waiting for a sign from the SS soldier, who stood on the edge of the ditch.

 

During the fifteen minutes I stayed there, I did not hear a single complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about eight: a man and woman about fifty years old, surrounded by their children aged about one, eight, and ten, and two older girls about 20 and 24. An old lady, her hair completely white, held the baby in her arms, rocking it and singing it a song. The infant was crying aloud with delight. The parents watched the groups with tears in their eyes. The father held the ten-­year-­old boy by the hand, speaking softly to him; the child struggled to hold back his tears. Then the father pointed a finger to the sky and, stroking the child’s head, seemed to be explaining something.

 

At this moment, the SS man near the ditch called something to his comrade. The latter counted off some twenty people and ordered them behind the mound. The family of which I have just spoken was in the group. I still remember the young girl, slender and dark, who, passing near me, pointed at herself, saying, “23.” I walked around the mound and faced a frightful common grave. Tightly packed corpses were heaped so close together that only the heads showed. Most were wounded in the head and the blood flowed over their shoulders. Some still moved. Others raised their hands and turned their heads to show that they were still alive. The ditch was two­-thirds full. I estimate that it held a thousand bodies.

 

I turned my eyes toward the man who had carried out the execution. He was an SS man; he was seated, legs swinging, on the narrow edge of the ditch; an automatic rifle rested on his knees and he was smoking a cigarette. The people, completely naked, climbed down a few steps cut in the clay wall and stopped at the place indicated by the SS man. Facing the dead and wounded, they spoke softly to them. Then I heard a series of rifle shots. I looked in the ditch and saw their bodies contorting, their heads, already inert, sinking on the corpses beneath. The blood flowed from the nape of their necks. I was astonished not to be ordered away, but then I noticed two or three uniformed postmen nearby. A new batch of victims approached the place. They climbed down into the ditch, lined up in front of the previous victims and were shot.

 

On the way back, while rounding the mound, I saw another full truck which had just arrived. This truck contained only the sick and crippled. Women, already naked, were undressing an old woman with an emaciated body, her legs frightfully thin. She was held up by two people and seemed paralyzed. The naked people led her behind the mound. I left the place with Moennikes and went back to Dubno in a car.

 

The next morning, returning to the construction, I saw some thirty naked bodies lying thirty to fifty yards from the ditch. Some were still alive; they stared into space with a set look, seeming not to feel the coolness of the morning air. A young girl of about twenty spoke to me, asking me to bring her clothes and to help her escape. At that moment we heard the sound of a car approaching at top speed; I saw that it was an SS detachment. I went back to my work. Ten minutes later rifle shots sounded from the ditch The Jews who were still alive had been ordered to throw the bodies in the ditch. They then had to lie down themselves to receive a bullet in the back of the neck.