On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded Soviet territory. They did not enter alone - small units of SS and police, some three thousand men in all, were also dispatched on special assignments. Their task to kill the Jews on the spot - Jews, but not only Jews; communists, Gypsies, political leaders, and the intelligentsia were also killed. Order police battalions, Waffen SS units, the Higher SS, and Police Leaders also carried out the mass executions.
Their primary targets, Jews, were concentrated in the areas within easy reach of the German army. Almost nine in ten Jews were urbanized, living in large cities where the rapid advance of the army and the swift action of the mobile killing units left them unaware of their fate, paralyzed, unable to act.
There were five stages to the killing. The invasion was followed immediately by the roundup of Jews and other intended victims. Those rounded up were marched to the outskirts of the city where they were shot. Their bodies were buried in mass graves - large ditches were filled with bodies or people who had been shot one by one and buried layer upon layer.
The residents of these cities could see what was happening. They could hear the shots and the victim's cries. Most often, they remained neutral, neither helping the killer nor offering solace to the victim. Yet neutrality helped the killer, never his victim.
Frequently, local pogroms were encouraged by the Wehrmacht and the SS, especially in Lithuania and Latvia. Every Jew killed brought the Nazi's closer to their goal.
Auxiliary police comprised of local natives became indispensable to the understaffed killing units. Local collaborators volunteered.
Before this phase of the killing ended, more than 1.2 million Jews were killed. Their bodies were piled high in mass graves throughout the occupied Soviet territories. (1)
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