According to information released by the Belarusian Justice Ministry, 70 years after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Germany is still refusing to recognize the Ozarichi death camp, which had been erected by the Nazi military, as a concentration camp. Since July 2006, the Belarusian Justice Ministry has "repeatedly" addressed this request to the German side, and always received the answer "that it is impossible due to legal obstacles." In March 2010, the German Foreign Ministry unexpectedly explained, "concentration camp lists had been compiled in cooperation with the International Tracing Service" of the Red Cross. The Belarusian Republic then applied to the International Tracing Service, simultaneously sending a letter to François Bellon, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for the Russian Federation, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, "requesting assistance in a thorough and timely consideration of the possibility of recognizing Ozarichi as a concentration camp. For the sake of the victims, the Justice Ministry will do "its utmost" in this matter, declared the Belarusian Justice Ministry.
Nine Thousand Dead in a Single Week
The Ozarichi Concentration Camp was erected under orders of the Supreme Commander of the 9th German Army, Josef Harpe, in March 1944. Units of the 35th Infantry division under the command of Johann-Georg Richert, reinforced by the special commando of the 7-A SS Battle Group B herded at least 40,000 civilians into several barbed wire enclosed and mined pens south of the Belarusian city of Bobruisk. The prisoners were mostly family members of slave laborers - children under thirteen, sickly, mothers with infants and elderly - people for whom the Wehrmacht had no usage. The guards had already shot at least 500 of them on their way to this improvised camp, because they were too weak to continue walking. The others, many of whom had caught typhus, had to survive in the open in the marshlands - defenseless against the cold, lacking medical aid, sanitation, drinking water and food. Within one week at least 9,000 more had died. "There was a gate with barbed wire, small watch towers with soldiers and German shepherds, but nothing else," recalls the survivor Larisa Stashkevich, and explains further that anyone, who even attempted to light a campfire, was immediately gunned down. To at least be able to have a bit of warmth, she laid "behind the corpses" of murdered prisoners.
A Nutritional Burden
With their deadly operation, the Wehrmacht command was first pursuing the objective of eliminating all those behind the front lines, classified "unfit for work" and considered a burden for the foreseeable retreat ahead of the Red Army. The March 8, 1944 entry in the war diary of the 9th Army explained: "For the zone close to the frontlines, it is planned (...) to bring all natives unfit for work to the area to be evacuated and leave them behind, in the retreat from the front, particularly the numerous typhus infected, who, to avoid their possibly contaminating the troops, had been sent to particular villages. The decision to rid ourselves of this nutritional burden in this way has (...) been reached after due consideration and examination of all possible consequences."
Residential Areas Relieved
In their planning, the Wehrmacht commanders apparently had two other aspects under consideration. On the one hand, the sick and starving, to be left behind, were intended, if not to halt the advance of the Soviet army, then at least to slow it down, because the Soviet troops would, first, have to treat those mishandled by the Germans. Moreover, on the other, because of the large number left behind infected with typhus, there was a good chance that many Red Army soldiers would also catch typhus. In any case, the high command of the Ninth Army considered their action a total success: "the consolidation provided an essential relaxation over the entire battle area. Residential areas were relieved making space available for troops. No more provisions were made available for useless mouths. Removing the ill significantly reduced the source of infection."
One of the Worst Crimes
Dieter Pohl, a historian at the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) in Munich, characterized the mass dying in the Ozarichi Concentration Camp as "absolutely one of the worst crimes the Wehrmacht ever committed against civilians." Hans-Heinrich Nolte, a scholar for East European Studies, places the German military's actions in the general context of the German war of predation, exploitation and annihilation against the Soviet Union: "That crime corresponds to how the Wehrmacht treated Soviet prisoners of war in the winter 1941/1942, and had similarities to the starvation of Jews as well as those 'unfit to work' when (...) labor was forced into deportation to the Reich. In many aspects, the crime corresponds to the general character of the German war against the USSR, precisely in the wish of not feeding 'useless' people." In spite of these assessments by renowned scholars, the German government still refuses reparations to the survivors of the Ozarichi Concentration Camp - pointing to current legal standards.