New Evidence on the Murders of the Jews in Brest

From February 2019 and onwards several news sites like the BBC, Reuters, and Israel National News  have reported on the findings of mass graves in the city of Brest in Belarus.

Original photo found here

On the site of the former ghetto from World War Two construction workers have had to suspend building activities as military excavators are now salvaging the remains of murdered children, women and men. Not only bones, but also shoes and personal belongings are found in the ground according to Israel National News.

The map shows the contours of the former ghetto in present day Brest – see more here

The Physical Evidence Adds to the Known Historical Accounts

The yad vashem has summarized the whole story of the Jewish community from the 13th century to 1944.  This includes the pogroms in 1648-1649, 1660 and 1905.  The Soviet occupiers took over the city from September 1939 to June 1941. They closed the Jewish community’s institutions as well as business, and in addition to this the Soviet occupiers deported the city’s wealthy Jews to Siberia.

The German Mass-Killings in Brest

The Jews of the city were killed in series of mass-murder campaigns that began on the same day the National Socialist armies attacked the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941.

In the fall of 1941 the Ghetto was formed to concentrate the Jews of the city. In the fall of 1942 the ghetto was to be destroyed and several killings took place. The Yad Vashem pin points the cemetery, a yard, and the Jewish hospital as the main killing sites.

A Killer Explains

The Brest fortress was one of the crime scenes as well as the local stadium. The testimony of Heinrich M. from the 307th German police battalion accounts of the killing of 6.000 Jewish men shot on the 10th of July 1941 in grueling detail:

“The shooting took place in the following way: the point of the bayonette was placed close to the back of the victim’s head; after that the rifle was inclined 45 degrees and a shot was fired. The skull was often torn away at the spot where the bullet entered. Sometimes, if the rifle was aimed at a larger angle or the victim was holding his head too high at the moment of the shooting, the bullet went through the neck. In such cases, the officers and the platoon heads finished off the condemned ones by shooting them with their guns.”

For more see the source and for an overview of massacres perpetrated by the infamous Einsatzgruppen see e.g. this site report no. 78 contains information of the shooting of 548 persons in Brest.

The Diary of a Victim

“There is a terrified panic amongst the Jews of the ghetto” –Asher Zisman, former internee in the Brest Ghetto, 2nd of June 1942.

The eye-witness account of Asher Zismann, who went into hiding, provides with horrific view into the events which took place as he on the 15th of October 1942 writes:

“The courtyard of the Mizrachi building on Dluga St is full of people. There is great panic. They even buy poison to prepare for every eventuality. Whoever can do so, crosses over to the Aryan side. From mouth to ear it was silently whispered that tonight it would begin… those who returned from the Aryan side report that the police were massing and preparing to surround the ghetto.”
The senses are dulled, one waits for death. From our hiding place we can hear the Jews being taken away like cattle in carriages”

Excerpts from the diary are found here – the diary is cited in this source collection (p. 51) and extensively in this book.

The sources are well-known and the apparent ignorance of the locals expressed in interviews to the BBC only shows that the many know historical sources needs to be continously revisited.


Holocaust and Pokemon Go –

The popularity of the Pokemon Go App has sparked several news articles related to the Holocaust and memorial sites in general. One of the first museums to make a clear statement demanding visitors to stop playing Pokemon Go was United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, (USHMM) This stand made several news agency’s such as BBC write on the story. The Auschwitz’s memorial has also followed suit and others have already done so and more will probably follow. Clearly, it seems that we have reached a limit to what is acceptable behaviour at memorial sites and museums of the Holocaust, but also memorials in general. There seems to be very few actions which can be taken against the usage of the game by the memorial sites other than appealing to peoples’ moral.


The success of Pokemon Go will most likely spark a wave of layered games where reality and graphics are mixed. I believe we in the will see special areas which are blocked for such games.

The many news stories on the game and its users might also evolve into a more general debate of mobile phone usage. Is it for example o.k. to play other phone games at memorial sites and which ones? Would it be inappropriate to send text messages, chat or live stream? How should the museums react – should they block the internet or supply wi-fi while at the same time blocking a host of websites? Should it instead be the developers who should be held responsible?

I don’t have the answers, but it seems we have a reached a point where we need to discuss these issues. What do you think?




Did He Read the Book?

(Reply to journalist Bent Blüdnikow’s review of my book in the national Danish newspaper Berlingske 4th. of June 2015. – other reviews are found here Politiken,  historie-online, RAMBAM).

It did not come as a surprise when Bent Blüdnikow’s review of my book Udsigt til forfølgelse. Det danske udenrigsministerium og de europæiske jødeforfølgelser 1938-1945 // With a View to Persecution. The Danish Foreign Ministry and the Persecution of the European Jews 1938-1945 was not that great. It was placed in Blüdnikow’s usual category of being moralizing and characterized as typical Danish interpretation of the occupation period, which is not a compliment.

Unfortunately, two thirds of the book are not reviewed at all. The main theme of the book which is the Danish diplomats’ knowledge on the persecution of the European Jews remains unmentioned. The diplomat’s gained an extensive knowledge of all the steps in the persecution process from definition to deportation. The mass murder was at the latest acknowledged in the summer of 1943, but the scope of the genocide remained unknown.

However, since the main theme was missing from the review I could not help wondering if he had even read the book?

The title of the review “Look at the occupation in a new manner” shows the review is used to write a debate piece on how the occupation period in Denmark should be interpreted. The newspaper Berlingske often has the same angle on this period, which corresponds to the views of the journalist Bent Blüdnikow. These usually leave little room for the many grey areas during this period and more often than not books which deal with only perpetrators, victims or resistance fighters are recommended. Clearly, he found my book to be in the wrong.

This focus on “saints and sinners” seems to have blocked for a more nuanced critique of the book’s main subject: the Danish Foreign Ministry’s knowledge and understanding of the greatest persecution of a minority in Europe in recent time.

The title of the book is of course selected to reflect the views on the discriminatory measures against Jews. The stripping of basic civil rights, the plunder, and the many deportations from most of Europe. Fortunately, other reviews of the book (Politiken,  historie-online, RAMBAM, ) included several passages on the Danish knowledge on one of the darkest chapters of recent European history.

Journalist Bent Blüdnikow at the same raises some points of concrete critique. Some of which, I will reply to here.

Firstly, the journalist finds it problematic, that I mainly use the Danish Foreign Ministry’s archival material, but if I was reviewing the book, I would probably have looked at the subheading – The Danish Foreign Ministry and the Persecution of the European Jews 1938-1945. This should serve as an indicator for the main source of archival material used in the book, and is a scientifically valid way to define and limit the subject area.

Afterwards he mentions that an article from the Danish-Jewish periodical RAMBAM is missing from my sources. The article is written by Silvia G. T. Fracapane, who was friendly enough to point me in that direction, but unfortunately the book had come too far along in the publishing process to be included. However, the person – Marie, mentioned in the article, is also present in the Foreign Ministry’s archives. The inclusion of the article would not have changed the overall conclusions.

The journalist often criticizes that victims are only mentioned by first name, which according to Bent Blüdnikow doesn’t happen in the rest of the world. However, the explanation is rather simple. The Danish Law forbids passing on such information unless the file date has passed 75 years. Violating this law brings me in risk of a six-month prison sentence. I still wonder how it can be a point of critique –  in a book review – to stay within the boundaries of the law.

Several times the choice of research literature is characterized as one-sided, which probably stems from the fact that the researchers used represents viewpoints, which are not shared by the journalist. However, it is actually hard to find Danish researchers who share the viewpoints of the journalist.

The review ends with a row of rhetorical questions that have the purpose of questioning the validity of the book: ”Who controlled these decisions and why? The fear of Germany was a great factor, writes the author [me], but how? Was it just an expression of the collaborative policy that the ministry’s director, Nils Svenningsen, was a follower of, or did other factors play a role? Did it matter that two of the Ministry’s bosses were hardened Nazis? A fact Bjerre doesn’t even mention.”

Most of the book is actually about the abovementioned questions. Needless to say the Danish Foreign Minister, and from late 1942 an onwards also Prime minister, Erik Scavenius had the decisive role. And then there is the accusation about the two Nazis in the Foreign Ministry. They are mentioned in the book on page 51 and in a footnote in chapter 9 (footnote 17). That is one more reason to wonder – did Bent Blüdnikow even read the book?


German Aryanization Attempts in Denmark?

Denmark is mostly associated with the rescue of the Jews in October 1943, but my Ph.d. project “German Aryanization Attempts in Denmark 1938-1943” will shed new light on Danish-Jewish experience – especially the minorties businesses.

Danish-Jewish business were directly targeted by Nazi-Germany by as early as 1937 causing German companies operating in Denmark to fire Jewish board members or Jewish representatives. At the same time an increasing number of Jewish business’ were facing contract cancellations by German companies.

The Danish government was alerted to this policy by nervous businessmen seeing the import options disappear from Denmark’s second largest trading partner at the time. The Danish government faced a neighbor with a rising military and making claims for areas containing German minorities. Denmark had one of those in the southern part of Jutland, while being unable to secure military alliances. In 1939 the Danish Government openly declared that lay-offs on the basis of race were out of their hands as long as they were done in accordance with Danish Law.

In essence the Danish Government allowed the import of German racial policies on Danish soil, because it viewed as too riskful to protect its’ Jewish minority’s business options.

My dissertation will closer examine the overall consequences of this policy in Denmark and also investigate what happened during the war period.