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Slonim, Belarus, 1942

A Mostly Random Sample

At page 71 of The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands[1], Alexander Statiev writes:

The national guards and police in Latvia and Estonia also hunted Jews. Most Latvian Jews who died under the Nazi occupation and those transported to Latvia from Austria, Hungary, and Germany were killed by Latvians rather than Germans.82 The notorious Latvian Arajs Commando Unit with 3,000 men, led by the lawyer Viktors Arajs, killed 26,000 and indirectly facilitated the extermination of 34,000 civilians, mainly Jews. The 18th Latvian Police Battalion, commanded by Major Rubenis, executed all Jews in the Belorussion Slonim town of 1942.83 These executioners were mostly former Aizsargi members and soldiers of the Latvian Army.84

Sources Cited

Before we focus on the tragic events in Slonim, what are Statiev's sources for his contention that Latvians, not Germans, were the primary murderers of Jews both native to Latvia and transported there for execution? Or that Arājs Commando was six times the size it was at the height of the Holocaust, double the size it was during later anti-Jewish and anti-Soviet partisan actions?

82 Document No. 113 in Stepashin, Organy gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti, Vol. 2, Book 2, p. 553; Henriks Trups-Trops, “Die Romisch-Katolische Kirche Letlands in den Jahren des Kommunismus (1940-1990),” Acta Baltica 29/30:91, 1991-1992

We do not have the Trups-Trops source to speak to it directly; however, we understand it documents Soviet represssions directed against the Catholic Church and clergy. It is not clear how this source would be germane to the context here.

Stepashin references a document from the archives of Органы государственной безопасности [Organs of State Security]—the same archives that variously purport the peoples of the Baltics were resettled to Siberia in comfortable coach trains (not cattle cars), with nurses and doctors on board to provide medical care; or that the deported elements were all deserving Nazi agitators and accomplices (victims deported before the German invasion while Stalin and Hitler were allies but labeled as Nazi enemies after the German invasion), criminals and prostitutes.

Regarding Statiev’s citations for events specific to Slonim:

83 Andianov et al., Voina v tylu vraga, pp. 440, 441; Aivars Stranga, "The Holocaust in Occupied Latvia, 1941-1945," in Caune, The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia, p. 167; Document no. 36 in Vladimirtsev and Kokurin, NKVD-MVD v bor'be s banditizmom, p. 132.

Addressing Soviet/Russian sources first:

  • Andianov et al. cites Война в тылу врага [The War Behind Enemy Lines] published by Издательство Политической Литературы [the Political Literature Publishing House]—notably, at the height of the KGB’s concerted efforts, including manufactured evidence and show trials, to discredit Baltic and Ukrainian nationals as Nazis.
  • Document no. 36 in Vladimirtsev and Kokurin cites НКВД-МВД ССР в борьбе с бандитизмом и вооруженным националистическим подпольем на Западной Украине, в Западной Белоруссии и Прибалтике (NKVD-MVD SSSR v bor’be s banditizmom i vooruzhennym natsionalisticheskim podpol’yem na Zapadnoy Ukraine, v Zapadnoy Belorussii i Pribaltike 1939-1956) [NKVD-MVD in the struggle against banditry and armed nationalist guerillas in Western Ukraine, Western Belarus and the Baltics], Moscow: MVD (2008)—a source published by Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) consisting of Soviet era documents which systematically denounced Baltic and Ukrainian partisans as fascist gangs and bandits, published by a government that continues to brand the Latvian Legion as Nazi war criminals convicted at Nuremberg.

Archives making extraordinary claims must provide extraordinary proof. At best, one can state "The Soviet version of events is...". That heretofore closed archives have been opened speaks only to the availability, not quality or reliability, of "revelations".

Last in this set of three is a Latvian source:

  • Aivars Stranga, "The Holocaust in Occupied Latvia, 1941-1945," in Caune, The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia, p. 167.

Stranga is a respected historian and investigator of the Holocaust in Latvia. However, his only mention of anti-Jewish actions by Latvians outside Latvia at the page cited follows: "From 1942 on, members of the Arājs Commando took part also in the execution of Jews outside Latvia, in the first instance in the neighborhood of Minsk in Belorussia.25”, sourced to:

24 Robert G. Waite, "’Reliable Local Residents’: Collaboration in Latvia, 1941–1945" CHL 1: 118–19; for more details about the role of Latvian Auxiliary Police (Schutzmannschaften) in the Holocaust see Ezergailis, Holokausts 357–83.

25Ibid. 201 et passim.

The role of Arājs Commando as German-led participants in the Holocaust is not in dispute. However, the rest is specific neither to Slonim (200 km to the southwest from Minsk) or the 18th Battalion.

We come to our final citation, for the background of volunteers.

84 Swain, Between Stalin and Hitler, p. 59.

Regarding anti-Jewish activities in Daugavpils, Swain, at page 59, notes Latvians admitted to digging and covering pits, but not to executing Jews, and says of them: "These volunteers were primarily former aizsargs and former officers in the Latvian Army122", sourced to "GARF 7021.93.22, p. 70.", the State Archive of the Russian Federation, i.e., Soviet records. Soviet propaganda consistently labeled the Aizsargi (Home Guard) organization and Ulmanis regime as fascists. The Soviets disbanded the Aizsargi immediately upon occupying Latvia and killed or deported 80% of its officer ranks, yet sources purporting to "expose" Latvian fascism regularly repeat the fascist Nazi collaborator accusation, including the assertion that the Aizsargi—which no longer existed—exterminated Jews independent of the Nazis.[2] Also at issue is that Statiev (ultimately) applies a Soviet source about events in Daugavpils to unrelated events in Belarus.

Once we examine the citations and sources behind a clear statement of fact regarding the 18th Battalion and its actions at Slonim and strip away Soviet-era propaganda and discount Soviet records known to be less than factual:

  1. The collaborationist Arājs Commando participated in (German-led) anti-Jewish actions outside the borders of Latvia.
  2. Nothing specfic and reliable about Slonim.
  3. Nothing specific and reliable about the 18th Battalion.

In fact, the 18th Battalion did not exist when the initial killings of Jews took place in Slonim, and were not in Slonim when their Soviet show trial alleged they committed their war crimes.

Inconclusions

Our purpose is not to allege shortcomings in any particular individual's scholarship[3], rather, to illustrate that the sources one chooses can be a slippery slope carrying us away from—not towards—the facts of the matter. So, what can we say, and with what degree of certainty, regarding the 18th Battalion and the Holocaust in Slonim? Prof. Ezergailis’ examination, below, begins with several German reports.


[1]  ISBN 978-0521768337 at Cambridge University Press (publisher), 2010
[2]  Viz., e.g., "... Aizsargi, the fascist militia that collaborated with Nazi Germany and conducted anti-Jewish pogroms of its own during World War II" at Lee, Martin A. The Beast Reawakens, Fascism's Resurgence from Hitler's Spymasters to Today's Neo-Nazi Groups and Right-Wing Extremists, page 296. Routledge, 1999. ISBN: 978-0-415-92546-4. There is no citation for the statement the Aizsargi participated in the Holocaust. Moreover, there is no historical basis for the contention that the Aizsargi or the collaborationist Latvian Sicherheitsdienst (SD) units (Arājs Commando) perpetrated the Holocaust in Latvia independent of the German Einsatzgruppen. Even collaborationist SD units could only carry arms while under direct German supervision—arms were issued when checking in for duty and turned in when checking out. Arms curfew violators risked being shot.
[3]  Statiev's text appeared near the top of the list when we searched for "18th Battalion" and "Slomin" and, except for its certainty of statement, was otherwise chosen at random before examining any citations contained therein.

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