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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

When and where did the Holocaust begin?

Why is Germany’s foreign minister publicly ignoring both the opinion of the Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia and the conclusions of researchers in various countries of the world?
4 October, 2016 - 11:29

Who has been and is still writing the history of Ukraine? Their name is legion. Earlier, it was Moscow that laid claim to being the monopolist, but now, in addition to Putin and Zhirinovsky, just about everyone has got down to this business: the Polish parliament, the president of Israel, and, finally, the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He said on September 28 in Berlin (translation of the original text on the official website of Germany’s Embassy in Ukraine): “These days we are honoring for the 75th time the memory of the Babyn Yar massacre victims. The German occupiers, who had seized Kyiv just a few months after attacking the Soviet Union, killed a large number of the Jews who resided in the city. Here, in Babyn Yar, over 33,000 innocent children, women, and men were savagely massacred in 48 hours. Babyn Yar saw the terrible beginning of the Holocaust, an exterminatory campaign against the Jews of Europe. Babyn Yar is a symbol of all the sufferings, injustice, and barbarity that Nazism brought to Europe. We bow our heads in deep sorrow to the victims of those horrible misdeeds committed in the name of Germany, and we are grateful to the people of Ukraine for maintaining friendly relations with us now.”

Yes, indeed, Babyn Yar – along with Auschwitz, Treblinka, Chelmno, and the Warsaw and Lviv ghettos – is a terrible symbol of the triumph of Nazi ideas. But did the Holocaust really begin in Kyiv in late September 1941? And why was it necessary to shift the place of the German Nazis’ “exterminatory campaign against the Jews of Europe” to the land of Ukraine?

It is perhaps the easiest of all things to trace the day the Holocaust began. I failed to find a single reference to scholarly of journalistic investigations that consider Babyn Yar and Kyiv as the “launching pad” of Nazi genocide against Jews. The Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia refers the beginning of the Holocaust to the moment Hitler came to power and describes its four stages:

♦ January 1933 – August 1939: from the moment Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany until the invasion of Poland;

♦ September 1939 – June 1941: from the moment the Third Reich annexed the western areas of the Second Polish Republic and established the “General Government” until the attack on the USSR;

♦ June 1941 – the autumn of 1943: from the moment of attacking the USSR until the complete destruction of ghettos on its territories;

♦ the winter of 1943 – May 1945: from the beginning of a mass-scale deportation of Western European Jews to death camps until the end of the war.

Yet it is unlikely that the Holocaust, i.e., genocide of Jews, began immediately after the Nazis came to power. Yes, there were repressions, pogroms, and deprivation of civil rights (under the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935), but, at the same time, the state- and part-sponsored anti-Semitism was essentially subdued in 1935 (in connection with preparations for the winter and summer Olympics in Germany), and this situation lasted until the second half of 1938, which considerably helped Hitler enlist the support of Western democracies for the Anschluss with Austria and the annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. After this, the Nazis began to put into practice their ideological principles on a full scale. It is, first of all, the “Broken Glass Night” (Kristallnacht). This unofficial name was later applied to a mass-scale government-orchestrated action of direct physical violence and terror against Jews on the territory of Germany (with the annexed regions) on the night of November 10, 1938. As pogroms had begun somewhat earlier and also continued after that night, there is another name of this action – “November 1938 Pogroms.”

According to historians, about 400 Jews were killed or driven to suicide on November 7 to 13, 1938. About 1,400 synagogues, prayer rooms and other places of worship, as well as thousands of shops, dwellings, and Jewish cemeteries were ruined. Over 30,000 Jews were thrown to concentration camps, hundreds of which were killed or died due to unbearable conditions.

When the Nazis occupied Poland, they set up ghettos to which they forcibly resettled Jews. For example, a number of Warsaw areas with a high concentration of the Jewish population were declared a “quarantine zone” in March 1940. About 113,000 Poles were evicted from those areas and replaced with 138,000 Jews from other places. The decision to set up the Warsaw ghetto was made on October 16, 1940, by Governor-General Hans Frank. This ghetto comprised 440,000 persons (37 percent of the city’s population) at the time, with the ghetto’s area accounting for 4.5 percent of that of Warsaw. The Jews who lived in the terrible conditions of densely-populated ghettos starved and suffered from cold. Children’s mortality rate was high. The Nazis set up similar ghettos in other Polish cities and, later, in the occupied Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and western Ukraine. Mass-scale shootings of Jews were carried out in the summer of 1941 in the Baltic countries. And, finally, in January 1942, at the so-called Wannsee Conference in a Berlin suburb, senior SS officials worked out a program of the “final solution of the Jewish issue” which envisioned a total physical elimination of Europe’s Jewish population. Approved by Hitler, this program was kept secret even from the vast majority of Nazi gauleiters who only came to know about it in early 1943 – after the Wehrmacht’s defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad.

In other words, the Holocaust began on the German, not the Ukrainian, soil, and the establishment of Jewish ghettos and death camps on the Nazi-occupied territory in 1940 can be considered as its second stage, while the third stage can be really counted off from Babyn Yar, i.e., Kyiv in the autumn of 1941, where the later approved program of the “final solution of the Jewish issue” was given a “pilot test” of sorts.

But why is Germany’s foreign minister publicly ignoring both the opinion of the Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia and the conclusions of researchers in various countries of the world? Maybe, because it seems convenient to blame Ukraine for all the sins of all 20th-century totalitarian regimes? The logic is as follows: the Ukrainians are now in a situation when they will swallow everything and will not baulk too much, while we will whitewash our own nations at least a little: as Steinmeier said, someone else, not the Germans, did it “in the name of Germany.” For the Poles, Lithuanians, and Latvians will give an immediate rebuff at the level of the government and civil society if they are told that the Holocaust began on their soil, whereas the Ukrainians – mostly the leadership – will keep silent…

I would not like to assume that the German minister’s statement is based on this kind of ideas, but how else can we explain the fact that he shifted the beginning of the Holocaust to no other date and place than late September 1941 and Kyiv – incidentally, much to the joy of all the Russian “fighters against Ukrainian fascism” who began promptly to ascribe the executions of Jews in Babyn Yar to Ukrainian nationalists?