Mass graves in the Soviet Union

Mass graves in the Soviet Union

This page discusses mass graves in the Soviet Union.


Soviet repression and terror

Katyn 1943 exhumation. Photo taken by Polish Red Cross delegation.

The government of the USSR under Stalin murdered many of its own citizens and foreigners.[1] These mass killings were carried out by the security organisations, such as the NKVD, and reached their peak in the Great Purge of 1937-38, when nearly 700,000 were executed by a shot to the base of the skull. Following the demise of the USSR in 1991, many of the killing and burial sites were uncovered. Some of the more notable mass graves include:

Bykivnia - containing an estimated 120,000 - 225,000 corpses[2]

Kurapaty - estimations range from 30,000 to 200,000 bodies found[3]

Butovo - over 20,000 confirmed killed[4]

Sandarmokh - over 9,000 bodies discovered[5]

Many other Stalin-era killing fields have been discovered,[6][7][8] one as recently as 2010.[9] In the areas near Kiev alone, there are mass graves in Uman', Bila Tserkva, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr.[10] Some were uncovered by the Germans during World War II; Katyn and Vinnitsa being the most infamous[11]

In July 2010, a mass grave was discovered at St. Petersburg which contained the corpses of 80 military officers executed during the Bolshevik "Red Terror" of 1918-21.[12]

Operation Barbarossa and the mobile killing squads

On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded Soviet territory. German soldiers were very brutal in their dealings with the Soviets. Small units of SS and police, some three thousand men in all, were also dispatched to kill the unwanted individuals on the spot: Jews, communists, Gypsies, political leaders, and the intellectuals. Almost 90% of the Jews were urbanized, living in large cities where the rapid advance of the army and the swift action of the mobile killing units left them unaware of their fate, paralyzed, unable to act. There were five stages to the killing. The invasion was followed immediately by the roundup of the intended victims. Those rounded up were marched to the outskirts of the city where they were shot. Their bodies were buried in mass graves - large ditches were filled with bodies or people who had been shot one by one and buried in mass graves. The residents of these cities could see what was happening. They could hear the shots and the victim's cries. Most often, they remained neutral, neither helping the killer nor offering solace to the victim. Frequently, local pogroms were encouraged by the Wehrmacht, especially in Lithuania and Latvia. Before this phase of the killing ended, more than 1.2 million Jews were killed.[1]

See also


  1. ^ "Documenting the Death Toll: Research into the Mass Murder of Foreigners in Moscow, 1937–38" By Barry McLoughlin, American Historical Association, 1999
  2. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Casualty Statistics - Biggest Battles and Massacres - Bykivnia
  3. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Casualty Statistics - Biggest Battles and Massacres - Kuropaty
  4. ^ "Former Killing Ground Becomes Shrine to Stalin’s Victims" by Sophia Kishkovsky, The New York Times, June 8, 2007
  5. ^ "Pictorial essay: Death trenches bear witness to Stalin's purges" CNN, July 17, 1997
  6. ^ "Mass grave found containing Stalin victims" LA Times-Washington Post News Service, July 13, 1997
  7. ^ "Mass grave found at Ukrainian monastery", BBC, July 12, 2002
  8. ^ "Wary of its past, Russia ignores mass grave site", by Fred Weir, The Christian Science Monitor, October 10, 2002
  9. ^ Stalin-era mass grave yields tons of bones Reuters. June 9, 2010
  10. ^ Hiroaki Kuromiya, The Voices of the Dead: Stalin's Great Terror in the 1930s. Yale University Press, December 24, 2007. ISBN 0300123892 p. 23
  11. ^ Richard Rhodes. Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. p. 149: "Vinnitsa had already been brutally purged in 1937 and 1938 by the NKVD. In the early summer of 1943, with unparalleled audacity, the SS would publicly exhume the victims of the NKVD killings in Vinnitsa; in three mass grave sites in an orchard, a Russian Orthodox cemetery and a public park near the town stadium, the homicide squad the SS sent from Berlin would find 9,432 bodies, of which 169 were female. With one exception, all the men had been bound, and most of the victims had been killed with shots to the head with small-caliber weapons. The victims had been “enemies of the people,” not specifically Jews, and included a large number of collective farm workers and priests. The Nazi authorities would invite forensic experts from the International Commission of Foreign Medical Examiners to observe the exhumations, hoping to focus international attention on the Soviet atrocities comparable with the attention that followed the discovery earlier in 1943 of the 1940 Soviet massacre of twelve thousand Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, 125 miles west of Moscow.”
  12. ^ More 'red terror' remains found in Russia UPI, July 19, 2010.

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