One Day in Kremenchug During the War
Soviet Archives can surely be deemed a “chamber of horrors” at times, especially when it comes to materials on the Second World War. I’ve spent a fair amount of the time over the last decade working in the Extraordinary State Commission collection at the Russian State Archive. ChGK, as it was known, was created in 1942 to document the atrocities the Nazis committed on Soviet territory. The commission collected millions of pages of testimonies, reports, and photographs that document the most brutal military occupation in the modern age. Page after page depicting the violence of the occupation will leave many a reader numb. Yet, no matter how many forensic reports on mass graves, incredibly sad testimonies about lost family members or photo albums of Nazi atrocities I view, when I think about the most haunting document I’ve encountered about the Holocaust I often think of this one:
This document is a daily report from an SS unit about the destruction of the Jewish population in Kremenchug, Ukraine. It simply notes that on November 11, 1941, 16 Jews (6 men, 7 women, and 3 children), in addition to one political komissar, were “liquidated.” The document is stored in the Prague Military Archive, which contains a number of Nazi documents captured after the war. I read it at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Typically, the documents I read in ChGK on the Holocaust (or at least the ones upon which I focus) usually involve victims or bystanders (to what degree some of these bystanders are or are not complicit, one can never be entirely sure), therefore they tend to be laced with some of type of emotion, be it shame, horror, or disquiet — the piece of paper is seemingly filled with something. Many of my friends and colleagues, who work with Nazi materials like this document, operate in much a different universe and thus, have a much different vantage point on the Holocaust. Rather than engaging the horror of a testimony of an individual who has seen his or her entire village and life annihilated, they often stare at a blank page with a quotidian lines about mass murder, like the one above. I don’t know which is more terrifying.
The Holocaust was not simply a Jewish problem, and not an event in Jewish history alone. The Holocaust was born and executed in our modern rational society, at the high stage of our civilization and at the peak of human cultural achievement, and for this reason it is a problem of that society, civilization and culture.
– Zygmunt Bauman “Modernity and the Holocaust”