german occupation of the soviet union

Serial killer Andrei Chikatilo was born on October 16, 1936, in a small Ukrainian village outside of Soviet Russia. Chikatilo’s early life was characterised by the terror and impoverishment of World War II. Extreme cold, poverty and starvation were characteristics of this era. Stalin forced small farmers to give their crops to the government to support the war effort and feed all of the people of the Soviet Union, The terror of the nearby Nazi occupation and of bombing was psychologically damaging. It has been reported ,with some question as to accuracy, that Chikatilo’s mother told him that his older brother had been captured and cannibalised. Chikatilo’s terror increased as his father was drafted into military service. His father was captured and held captive, and upon his release from the prison camp was ridiculed as a traitor for surrendering to the Germans rather than being received as a war hero. These wartime events caused emotional impairments in Chikatilo that were manifested in rage, social ineptness, and impotence. the heinous manifestation of his pathology would later result in the murder of 53 women and children, and the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most prolific serial killers. Typical of the Soviet Union, the specifics of Chikatilo’s 12 year criminal career of lust homicides were hidden from public, as Soviet officials vehemently insisted that serial killers did not exist in the Soviet Union and were only a western phenomenon.

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Zinaida Get Your Gun,

A young girl barely the age of 14, Zinaida Portnova experienced the horror of living under German occupation during World War II. When the German Army passed through her home town in Belorussia, they beat her elderly grandparents, hit her over the head with a rifle butt, and stole her cow. Determined to get revenge, Zinaida joined a local resistance group called the “Young Avengers”. Posing as a harmless little girl, she worked as a cook’s aid in a German Army camp where she would secretly poison the food. When suspicion fell upon her, she tasted the food to “prove her innocence” making herself sick but giving her time to escape. Eventually the Gestapo (secret police) caught up and arrested her. During her interrogation, the Gestapo interrogator laid down a pistol in the middle of the table in an attempt to frighten her.  She picked up the pistol and shot him, then shot two guards who rushed into the room. Zinaida escaped the prison but was recaptured. She was executed on January 15th, 1944 (age 17), and posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

[photo: Soldiers of the Soviet Red Army greeting the surviving children of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 27th of January, 1945]

72 years ago, as the Soviet Red Army and the Polish People’s Army advanced westwards to liberate Poland from German Nazi occupation, on the 27th of January, 1945, the First Ukrainian Front of the Red Army under the command of Marshal Ivan Konev arrived at the gates of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, liberating its 54,651 surviving inmates whom the Nazi SS imprisoned. As the Soviet soldiers open the gates inscribed with the fascist slogan “arbeit macht frei”, releasing the surviving prisoners of Auschwitz, they were greeted with utmost joy and relief by the prisoners, as their ordeal of years of the most brutal fascist oppression has finally ended. Entering the concentration camp, the soldiers of the Soviet Red Army discover the horrifying graphic evidence of the Nazis’ torture, human experimentation, and mass extermination of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, invalids, homosexuals, communists, and anyone they deem as “untermensch” (“subhuman”).

Afterwards, the survivors of Auscwhitz were immediately brought to medical attention by the Soviet Red Army to be nurtured back to health. Rudolf Höß, the commandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, was executed by the troops of the Polish People’s Army at the site of the camp on the 16th of April, 1947 after being tried and sentenced to death in Warsaw by the Supreme National Tribunal of the Polish People’s Republic. On the 1st of November, 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolution 60/7 to annually commemorate the 27th of January, the anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp in 1945, as “International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

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October 3rd 1990: German reunification

On this day in 1990, Germany was officially reunited when the German Democratic Republic was abolished and incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany. The country had been split into East and West Germany following its defeat in World War Two, and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allied powers. The United States, Britain and France controlled the Western Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet Union the Eastern German Democratic Republic. The Cold War era ‘iron curtain’ marking the Communist bloc began to falter in 1989, when East Germans used the removal of the Hungarian border fence to flee the oppression of Soviet rule for the safety of West Germany. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which had divided the Western and Eastern sections of the German capital, calls for total reunification rose. Conservative pro-reunification parties won in the first free elections in Soviet-controlled East Germany, and worked to secure closer ties with the West. Economic union occurred in July 1990, followed by total political reunification in October under the government of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. While rightly celebrated as a momentous event in German history, reunification came at the price of the economic collapse of the former East Germany, which plunged Germany into recession. The reunification of Germany was one the major events leading up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, October 3rd, is celebrated in Germany as German Unity Day.

Blina Shifrova, a Russian Jewish Veteran of World War II, Brooklyn, NY. Photograph from Lilla Szász’s photoessay, Comrades.

As members of the Russian army, [Jews] fiercely fought German occupation from 1941 to 1945. In the 1990s because of the post-war anti-Semitism in their own country, they immigrated to the US and settled in the New York City area. Their common experiences in the war, in its aftermath, and as immigrants to the United States bind them deeply to one another. As The New York Times explained, “As Jews who shared both the deprivations of a brutal war against Hitler’s forces and postwar anti-Semitism under a Soviet system they had risked their lives to preserve, their allegiance is not to the former Soviet Union, nor to the Red Army, nor even to Mother Russia, but to one another.”

Operation Barbarossa

A day like today, a June 22, 1941 began Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s attempt to take Russia and his dream of Lebensraum. The dream became a nightmare and would end up assuming the end of the whermacht and Nazism.

The German plan

The operation was designed originally in December 1940, after the failure of the Battle of Britain. Hitler wanted to divide his forces and not repeat the mistake of Napoleon Bonaparte to invade such a vast country with a single block of troops; also various aerial reconnaissance missions along the German-Soviet border were executed. Three army groups assigned to conquer regions and large cities of the Soviet Union after the invasion began were structured.

Army Group North was assigned to the conquest of the Baltic countries and Leningrad.

The most powerful in men and material, Central Army Group would conquer Belarus, taking part in Smolensk before heading to Moscow conquest and occupation of the central regions of Russia.

The Army Group South should take the whole of Ukraine, without neglecting the conquest of Kiev and continue towards the Volga River, aiming to eventually conquer the mountainous Caucasus region, rich in oil.

At the end of the preparations, the Wehrmacht had mobilized about 3.2 million soldiers, to the Soviet border, along with a million soldiers from allied countries and satellites, all prepared to launch a general offensive from the Baltic to the Carpathians , counting with the entry of Romania and Slovakia in the war. There was, however, a discrepancy in goals: while Hitler gave priority to politics and the economy forward as soon as possible to join the Finnish troops in the north and occupy the agricultural wealth of Ukraine in the south, the High Command wanted to destroy the Soviet military power center in Moscow, main communications center of the country. Hitler also had the Japanese support for the campaign, as it was not consulted on it with the Japanese government that after the attack, remained neutral in the conflict.


Maps of operations

German tropps advance during the invasion

German soldiers, exhausted but confident in their victory, take every pated in the fighting to take a photo.

Flamethrower team during Barbarossa

Russian prisoners, some three million of them were captured during the first months of the war.

The fights