They were fighting ‘bandits’ and ‘terrorists’ and people like SS Police Leader Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski were the chief ‘bandit’ hunters. Indeed this the major reason given for the extermination of the Jews initially – they were a ‘security’ threat. What goes around comes around.
In response to cross-examination by Col. Yuri Pokrovsky of the Soviet Union, at the Nuremberg Tribunal, Bach-Zelewski confirmed this:
Pokrovsky: Do you know of any order prescribing the seizure of hostages and the burning of villages as a reprisal for abetting partisan units?
Bach-Zelewski: No. I do not think that written orders to that effect were ever issued, and it is precisely this lack of orders which I considered a mistake. It should, for instance, have been definitely stated how many people could be executed as a reprisal for the killing of one, or of 10 German soldiers.
Pokrovsky: Am I to understand that if certain commanders burned villages as a punitive measure against the local population, they, the commanders, would be acting on their own initiative?
Bach-Zelewski: Yes. These steps would be taken by a commander on his own initiative. Nor could his superior officers do anything against it, since orders emanating from the highest authorities definitely stated that if excesses were committed against the civilian population in partisan areas, no disciplinary or judicial measures were to be taken.
Pokrovsky: And can we assume that the same applied to the seizure of hostages?
Bach-Zelewski: Well, I think that the question of hostages did not arise at all in the anti-partisan struggle. The hostage system was more common in the West. At any rate the term “hostage” was not used in anti-partisan warfare…
Pokrovsky: If I understood you correctly, you replied to a question of my colleague, the American Prosecutor, by saying that the struggle against the partisan movement was a pretext for destroying the Slav and Jewish population?
Pokrovsky: Was the Wehrmacht Command aware of the methods adopted for fighting the partisan movement and for destroying the Jewish population?
Bach-Zelewski: The methods were known generally and hence the military leaders as well. I do not, of course, know whether they were aware of the plan mentioned by Himmler.
Pokrovsky: You have told us that the Germans intended to destroy the Slav population in order to reduce the number of Slavs to 30 million. Where did you get this figure and this order?
Bach-Zelewski: I must correct that: Not to reduce to 30 million, but by 30 million. Himmler mentioned this figure in his speech at the Wewelsburg.
Pokrovsky: Do you confirm the fact that actually all the measures carried out by the German commanders and by the Wehrmacht in the occupied Russian territories were directed to the sole purpose of reducing the number of Slavs and Jews by 30 million?
Bach-Zelewski: The meaning of that is not quite clear to me. Did the Wehrmacht know that the Slav population was to be diminished by 30 million? Would you please repeat the question, it wasn’t quite clear?
Pokrovsky: I asked- Can you actually and truthfully confirm that the measures taken by the Wehrmacht Command in the district administrative areas then occupied by the Germans were directed to the purpose of diminishing the Slavs and Jews by 30 million? Do you now understand the question?
Bach-Zelewski: I believe that these methods would definitely have resulted in the extermination of 30 million if they had been continued, and if the developments of that time had not completely changed the situation.
Pokrovsky: I have no further questions to put to the witness.
SS, SECURITY-BANDITS AND ‘TERRORISTS’