Saturday, December 22, 2018

September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės

Saturday 27 September 1941

HMS Nelson under attack 27 September 1941
"The picture shows the Fiat BR20 attacking, with the splash (right center) of the torpedo which hit the NELSON." Battleship HMS Nelson is participating in Operation Halberd, a supply convoy to Malta. Because of the damage caused by this torpedo, Nelson ultimately must return to Gibraltar for repairs. 27 September 1941 (© IWM (A 6048)).
Holocaust: Having defeated the Red Army from Lithuania, the Germans are still asserting control over all of its towns and villages. On 27 September 1941, the Germans commit a horrifying massacre at Eišiškės, a small town in southeastern Lithuania. While hardly unique in the course of World War II, the Massacre at Eišiškės is representative of similar horrifying incidents across the length and breadth of occupied Europe.

Eišiškės, whose odd name's origins are lost in the mists of history (it was known as Eshishok or Eyshishok at the time), is a traditionally Jewish town. There are indications of Jewish settlement there dating back almost 1000 years. German troops first arrived on 23 June 1941 but had little impact on the town. On 21 September 1941, however, an Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing squad, shows up. With it are Lithuanian auxiliaries who participate in the Einsatzgruppen's activities as they do throughout Lithuania.

Yellow Star of David 27 September 1941
"Two German Jewish women wearing the compulsory Jewish badge. Germany, September 27, 1941" (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
The Einsatzgruppen seize a recently constructed schoolhouse that has not even been put into use and establish their command post there. The Germans then use Eišiškės as a collection point for Jews from the surrounding area. When four thousand Jews are collected and imprisoned in three local synagogues, the SS men and their local auxiliaries take them in groups of 250 to the local Jewish cemetery. The Germans and their helpers have dug pits there, which is the usual custom in such situations. The Jews are ordered to undress and stand at the edges of the pits. Once they are in position, the Lithuanian auxiliaries gun them down so they fall into the pits for easy burial.

A total of 3,446 Jews in Eišiškės perish in this fashion on 27 September 1941. After the war, a memorial stone is placed on the approximate spot of the executions. Today, in the 21st Century, there are no Jews in Eišiškės.

Liberty ship Patrick Henry 27 September 1941
Liberty Ship SS Patrick Henry, one of the first 14 Liberty cargo ships launched at Baltimore Maryland on 27 September 1941. It is generally accepted that the Liberty ships played a major part in the Allied victory of World War II (Library of Congress). 
Partisans: German troops in Yugoslavia launch Operation Užice. This is the first major counter-terrorism operation of modern times. This operation is directed against the "Užice Republic," a Yugoslav partisan stronghold centered around the town of Užice in western Serbia on the banks of the river Đetinja. The Germans are involved because the Italian occupying troops have been unable to retain control over the region. The Germans are ruthless and determined to recover the lost territory by any means necessary. Serbia was known before the war as being friendly to Great Britain, so this is a natural area for an insurgency to break out. However, the partisans are not capable of defending territory against Wehrmacht troops and quickly give ground.

The partisans have been stirring in Czechoslovakia as well (called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia by the German occupiers). The Germans have appointed Konstantin von Neurath, a former Foreign Minister and Minister without Portfolio, as the region's Reich Protector (Reichsprotektor), or top administrator. However, von Neurath is not a particularly ardent supporter of Hitler and is considered "soft" by the top members of the Third Reich. Accordingly today Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) or RSHA, is appointed Deputy Reich Protector.

Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich 27 September 1941
Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich.
Heydrich is known as a cold, ruthless, and utterly depraved official who does whatever it takes to force people to do as instructed. This is exactly the type of individual that Heinrich Himmler wants in charge of a sensitive territory that is close to the heart of the Reich and the source of many of its munitions and equipment. Once Heydrich arrives on 27 September 1941, there is no question that von Neurath is now only a figurehead and Heydrich, who is "in good" with Himmler and other top friends of Hitler, holds the true reins of power (it is quite traditional for this kind of arrangement to exist within the German military, such as with Hindenburg and Ludendorff during World War I).

Manhattan 27 September 1941
The Lower East Side of Manhattan on 27 September 1941, taken by Charles W. Cushman. These shots are original color photographs by Mr. Cushman.
American Homefront: "Blue Champagne" by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Bob Eberly hits No. 1 on the pop charts for its only week at the top.

Manhattan 27 September 1941
The Manhattan skyline on 27 September 1941 as photographed by Charles W. Cushman. These are color originals. While plenty of color film was freely available in 1941, it was prohibitively expensive to buy and have developed. In addition, most news outlets could not use color photographs anyway. Thus, they were quite rare during the 1940s except among serious amateur photographers.

September 1941

September 1, 1941: Two Years In
September 2, 1941: Germans Pushed Back at Yelnya
September 3, 1941: FDR Refuses to Meet with Japanese
September 4, 1941: Hitler Furious at Guderian
September 5, 1941: Germans Evacuate Yelnya
September 6, 1941: Japan Prepares for War
September 7, 1941: Hitler Orders Drive on Moscow
September 8, 1941: Leningrad Cut Off
September 9, 1941: Germans Attack Leningrad
September 10, 1941: Guderian Busts Loose
September 11, 1941: Convoy SC-42 Destruction
September 12, 1941: Starve Leningrad!
September 13, 1941: Zhukov at Leningrad
September 14, 1941: Germany's Growing Casualties
September 15, 1941: Sorge Warns Stalin Again
September 16, 1941: Soviets Encircled at Kiev
September 17, 1941: Iran Conquest Completed
September 18, 1941: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Action
September 19, 1941: Germans Take Kiev
September 20, 1941: Death at Kiev
September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia
September 22, 1941: Defense of Nickel Mines
September 23, 1941: Air Attacks on Leningrad
September 24, 1941: Japanese Spying Intensifies
September 25, 1941: Manstein at the Crimea
September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated
September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės
September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400
September 29, 1941: Babi Yar Massacre
September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins


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