The term holocaust has come to signify only the Nazi killings of Jews. Very little is known widely about how Jews were killed for centuries across countries in Europe. Can Soviet Russia, the most murderous of all regimes, be left out of such depravities? Soviet Russia was long known, by those who read history, as a relentless oppressor of Jews. The 1905 pogrom is the worst recorded. Today, April 20th marks rememberance of Holocaust, New York Times carried an article on the Killing Fields of Soviet Russia, this is not for the faint hearted:
"In the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, Jewish women were forced to swim across a wide river until they drowned. In Telsiai, Lithuania, children were thrown alive into pits filled with their murdered parents. In Liozno, Belarus, Jews were herded into a locked barn where many froze to death.
Holocaust deniers aside, the world is not ignorant of the systematic Nazi slaughter of some six million Jews in World War II. People know of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; many have heard of the tens of thousands shot dead in the Ukrainian ravine of Babi Yar. But little has been known about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of smaller killing fields across the former Soviet Union where some 1.5 million Jews met their deaths. ....
“At first, they had to line up in a row, before they were chased toward the trench. This was done by SS and Latvian home guardsmen. Then the Jews were forced to jump into the trench and to run along inside it until the end. They had to stand with their back to the firing squad. At that time, the moment they saw the trench, they probably knew what would happen to them. They must have felt it, because underneath there was already a layer of corpses, over which was spread a thin layer of sand.”
Ms. Prais said one of the discoveries that had most surprised her was the way in which Soviet Jews who survived the war made an effort to commemorate those who had perished. In distant fields and village squares they often placed a Star of David or some other memorial, despite fears of overt Jewish expression in the Soviet era.
“The silent Jews of the Soviet Union were not so silent,” she said.
The slaughter that some of them had escaped defies the imagination. One case Ms. Prais and her colleagues have cross-referenced involves what happened in the town of Krupki, Belarus, where the entire Jewish community of at least 1,000 was eliminated on Sept. 18, 1941.
A German soldier who took part in the mass killing kept a diary that was found on his body by the Allies, she said. In it, he wrote of having volunteered as one of “15 men with strong nerves” asked to eliminate the Jews of Krupki. “All these had to be shot today,” he wrote. The weather was gray and rainy, he observed.
The Jews had been told they were to be deported to work in Germany, but as they were forced into a ditch, the reality of their fate became evident. Panic ensued. The soldier wrote that the guards had a hard time controlling the crowd.
“Ten shots rang out, 10 Jews popped off,” he wrote. “This continued until all were dispatched. Only a few of them kept their countenances. The children clung to their mothers, wives to their husbands. I won’t forget this spectacle in a hurry....”