August 27th in German History: The Sarny Massacre Begins

When discussing the Second World War, one has to remember that battles were important not just in that they determined the outcome of the war. All too often, the military outcomes were life or death matters for civilian populations. When Poland fell in 1939 its occupiers, the USSR and Nazi Germany, set about killing unwanted portions of the population. This process intensified in Eastern Poland when Germany occupied in 1941. The following year, as many as 18,000 Jews were murdered in the town of Sarny in present-day Ukraine.

Sarny has historically been part of Russian Ukraine, but between 1919 and 1939 was controlled by Poland. Germany quickly occupied the city when it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Ukrainian nationalists allied with the Germans and were allowed to loot Jewish homes and businesses for three days following the fall of the city. The Ukrainian Auxiliary Police then took what remained and gave it to the Germans. In April 1942, Germany established a ghetto in the city and forced 6,000 more Jewish people into it. In August they emptied the ghetto and moved the 15,000 people in it to a camp outside the city. They then forced Jews from nearby towns into the camp, killing many along the way. On August 27th, the massacre began. People were taken from the camp and herded to prepared pits on the outskirts of the town. They were then shot by German troops and Ukrainian police. Many tried to escape but most of those who did were killed. In 1945, only 100 survivors were identified.

The massacre was obviously horrible in of itself. To make matters worse, it has largely been forgotten, and attempts to honor the dead have failed. The cemetery established by the remnants of the Jewish community was destroyed in the construction of a soccer stadium. The disgusting lack of respect that the Ukrainian government showed to those killed is proof that the holocaust and the knowledge of it did not end antisemitism or even its influence over government policy.

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