The “Holocaust by Bullets” in Ukraine | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans

Based on present-day borders, one in every four Jewish victims of the Holocaust was murdered in Ukraine. 

Before the killing centers opened at Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, and Majdanek, more than 1.5 million Jews had already been murdered by the Germans, their Axis allies, and local collaborators in Ukraine, Belarus, and other USSR republics. These were the first victims of the Holocaust. 

They were not transported by trains to the famous killing sites in Poland, with their gas chambers and crematoria that typically characterize the Holocaust in the minds of most people. Instead, these Holocaust victims were taken from their homes, usually by foot, to the outskirts of the cities, towns, and villages where they lived and were brutally shot—face to face or in the back—often in the presence of local residents and non-Jewish neighbors.

The mass shooting of Jewish victims in the summer and fall of 1941 represents the first phase of the Holocaust, often referred to by historians as “the Holocaust by bullets.” It was during this initial phase that special German killing squads (Einsatzkommandos) coordinated the mass murder of Jews by bullets with the help of the SS, Wehrmacht troops, the Romanian military, special “operational squadrons,” order police units, and local collaborators.

The “Holocaust by Bullets” in Ukraine | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans