(Eastern Front)

The Lithuanian city of Vilnius was the spiritual and cultural centre of Eastern European Jewry which was known as “The Jerusalem of Lithuania”. Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania when they invaded the Soviet Union under Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. With the collaboration of the Nazis, Lithuanian leaders were in favour of ethnic cleansing of the Jewish and Polish residents of Vilnius. On the 1st October 1941, the Vilnius Ghetto Yom Kippur Aktion began. Two separate ghettos had been organised, Ghetto I and Ghetto II, in an area situated in the Jewish quarter of Vilnius Old Town.  Ghetto I was used for Jewish people with work certificates and Ghetto II was for Jews without. On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, 1st October 1941) the first of three Aktions took place in Ghetto II. On the 16th October 1941, Jewish people were told they were being transferred to a third ghetto where there was a shortage of workers. They laid down in the street refusing to move where dozens were killed following the order to shoot. The remainder were sent to Ponary, situated south west of Vilnius. On the 21st October 1941 the second Aktion occurred when 1,000 Jews were murdered at Ponary. On the 24th October 1941 about 2,500 were deported from Vilnius to Ponary and murdered. Ghetto II had thus been liquidated and ceased to exist.

In Poland, near the border with the Ukraine, Majdanek concentration camp was opened on the 1st October 1941 by the German occupying forces. As part of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union and following the Battle of Kiev there were a large number of Soviet prisoners-of-war. In July 1941 Reichsführer – S.S. Heinrich Himmler ordered a new concentration camp to be built to hold at least 25,000 POWs. Construction was carried out by 150 Jewish forced labourers and assisted by 2,000 Red Army POWs. By mid-November 1941 only 500 were alive such were the harsh conditions they were subjected to. The site was initially intended as a labour force camp rather than an extermination camp. It was to become one of the largest of Nazi-run concentration camps when seven gas chambers, two wooden gallows and 277 structures were added. By mid-December 1941 barracks for 20, 000 was ready when a typhus epidemic broke out. By January 1942 all the slave labourers, POWs and Polish Jews were dead.

Operation Typhoon was launched on the 2nd October 1941 as part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union codenamed Operation Barbarossa. So successful was the invasion that the German Army, who were better equipped, better led, better trained and more experienced in battle, had plunged deep into the industrial heart of the Soviet Union. The defeat of the Soviet Union depended on the German army subduing them before the onset of winter.  German Dictator Adolf Hitler wished to have defeated the Soviet Union by the end of October 1941 and therefore his army and air force had been sent to the Eastern Front with only their summer kit. On the 6th October 1941 the Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin had recalled Georgy Zhukov from the Leningrad Front to take charge of Moscow’s defence. Zhukov recognised the German army’s vulnerability to the Russian winter and was happy to hold the German’s at bay until the alternative snows and torrential rain halted their advance and they became virtually immobile. German legions were within sight of Leningrad in the north, while to the south German and Romanian troops were threatening the petrochemical and agricultural production in the Ukraine and the Crimean regions. German troops had captured Smolensk in the east which was only 288 km (180 miles) from Moscow. With the approaching winter German Panzer troops were hampered by the muddy ground on the 13th October 1941 owing to the first snowfalls and subsequent thaw. Hitler wanted a push toward Moscow and was confident that would result in “The Last, Great Decisive Battle of the War”.  The German Army continued their advance to Moscow but were hindered by the Red Army’s resistance just at the time when the temperatures began to fall. When the Soviet resistance was overcome the German Panzers continued to press on toward Moscow. On the 15th October 1941 Stalin ordered the government and the Communist Party to evacuate Moscow and to continue to operate from Kuibyshev (Now Samara). Stalin remained in the Soviet capital along with a limited number of officials in order to boost Soviet confidence in the government. Zhukov ordered reinforcements and troops from Siberia began arriving on the 18th October 1941. A Soviet official announcement on the 19th October 1941 stated that the Siege of Moscow had begun.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Nazis incorporated the Polish town of Stanislawow into the Western Ukraine as part of the District of Galicia. On the 12th October 1941 between 10,000 and 12,000 Jews were murdered in the so-called Bloody Sunday massacre. By the order of German S.S. Commander Hans Krueger thousands of Jews were gathered at the town’s market square and were escorted to the Jewish cemetery where mass graves had already been prepared. The Jews were forced to give away their valuables and to show their papers. Groups of men, women and children were ordered to strip naked and proceed to the graves where they were massacred by machine gun and rifle bullets. This Aktion, known as hthe Bloody Sunday massacre was unprecedented in Holocaust history up until that date.

On the south west coast of the Ukraine the massacre of the Jews in the city of Odessa took place between the 22nd and 23rd October 1941. Prior to the Second World War 30% of Odessa’s population, numbering 180,000 were Jewish. Following a two month siege German and Rumanian troops captured Odessa on the 16th October 1941. At the end of the siege approximately 80,000 to 90,000 Jews remained, the rest either having fled or been evacuated by the Soviet Union. On the 22nd October 1941 the Rumanian military commander General Ioan Glogojeanu had established his headquarters in the N.K.D.V. building in readiness to occupy the city. The retreating Soviet troops had planted a radio-controlled mine in the building prior to the surrender of the city. The mine exploded and the building collapsed, killing 67 people of whom 16 were officers including Glogojeanu. The Jewish people and the Communists were held responsible for the explosion. The response was that Rumanian and German troops arrived at Odessa on the 23rd October 1941 with orders to kill 5,000 to 10,000 hostages. Rumanian and German occupiers raided apartments of Odessa citizens and many were either shot or hanged. 5,000 Jews were ordered to the village of Dalnik on the 24th October 1941. The first 50 were marched to an anti-tank ditch and executed by the Lt-Col. Nicolae Deleanu. The city of Odessa lost about 10% of its citizens in the first week of the Rumanian occupation.

The Slovak Republic had gained independence from Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and was placed under the protection of Nazi Germany. Many Jews emigrated before October 1941 and at the same time 15,000 Jews were expelled from Bratislava to the Stobodka Ghetto in Poland on the 22nd October 1941. Originally the Slovak government attempted to deport the Jews as a substitute for providing Slovak workers to help the war effort. The original proposal was that 20,000 male Jews aged 16 and above would be for use as German forced labour. The concern for the Slovak government was that too many retained Jews would be a burden on the state. A financial agreement was reached where slave labour would be supplied by the Slovaks and the Germans would deport the remaining Jews, for them never to return. The Slovak government later claimed they were unaware the Germans were systematically exterminating the Jews under its control.

The battle for Kharkov began on the 6th October 1941. As a city, Kharkov lies directly south of Moscow on the borders of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine. The city was one of the largest Industrial centres of the Soviet Union with the main German objective being the capture of the railway system and the military factories. The Germans needed to secure Kharkov In order to protect their flanks now that the battle for Moscow was under way. By the 21st October 1941 the German 101st Light Division had reached within 6 km (3.75 miles) of the western outskirts of the city. The following day, the 22nd October 1941, a German reconnaissance was ordered to ascertain the Soviet defensive strength. On the same day a Soviet infantry battalion supported by tanks attacked the Germans. The attack was repulsed and two Soviet tanks were disabled. By the 20th October 1941 the Soviet leadership realised they would have to retreat and the evacuation of all the industrial enterprises were almost complete. Before the Germans had a chance to attack, 70 major factories were evacuated by being transported on 320 trains taking equipment away from the city. The Germans occupied the evacuated city on the 24th October 1941.

The port and city of Sevastopol is on the southern point of the Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea. The Axis Powers of Germany and Romania attacked the Soviet defenders for control of city following Operation Barbarossa. This would give the Axis Powers an open route in their drive toward Moscow. By late October 1941 several attempts had been made to capture the city by the Axis Powers, however, these attacks were repelled. The Axis Powers were on the outskirts of the city but the planned major offensive was delayed by heavy rains. The Axis Powers opted to conduct a siege campaign and the Siege of Sevastopol began on the 27th 0ctober 1941.


(Other Theatres) 

India, a multi-religious British Colony, had joined the Allies against Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Second World War and her armies were engaged in various theatres. However, Mahatma Gandhi, a 72 year old anti-colonial nationalist urged his followers to begin a passive resistance against  British rule in India on 3rd October 1941. His opposition to India participating in the Second World War was that India was denied democratic independence from Britain. India was being denied but her troops were fighting for Britain opposing Nazism and Fascism for the freedom of other occupied countries. Despite Ghandi’s opposition, the Indian army numbered just under 200,000 men at the beginning of the war. By the end of the war it had become the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in August 1945. The Indian Army fought for the British Empire mainly in Africa, the Middle East and Burma. Ghandi continued his campaign throughout the war and beyond until India achieved independence in 1947.

Although still neutral the United States of America was operating naval warships in the Atlantic. Two separate incidents involving American warships occurred during this period. In mid-October 1941 the first incident was when U.S.S. Kearney, a Greaves-class destroyer was docked in the U.S.-occupied port of Reykjavik in Iceland. A nearby British convoy was attacked by a wolf pack of German U-boats who had overwhelmed her Canadian escorts. Kearney along with three other U.S. destroyers were ordered to assist. Upon reaching the action Kearney dropped depth charges on the U-boats then followed up with a barrage throughout the night. On the 17th October 1941 U-boat U-568 fired a torpedo at Kearney which struck her on the starboard side. She sailed out of the danger zone when the crew had confined the flooding to the forward fire room then sailed back to Iceland for temporary repairs. The torpedo attack cost the lives of 21 men with a further 22 injured. On the 25th December 1941 Kearney sailed for Boston Massachusetts for permanent repairs. After the permanent repairs Kearney went on to see action in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and other theatres of war. Following the U.S. entry into the Second World War Hitler cited the attack of the wolf pack as an act of provocation which justified the German declaration of war against the U.S. in December 1941. The second incident was after the Clemson-class destroyer U.S.S. Reuben James had joined the Neutrality Patrol guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the U.S. since the beginning of the Second World War. By March 1941 she had joined the established force who escorted convoys sailing for Britain. The U.S. force only escorted convoys as far as Iceland and British escorts took over from there. On the 31stOctober 1941 Reuben James along with 4 other destroyers were escorting Convoy HX156 near Iceland when they were attacked by a German submarine wolf pack. Reuben James positioned herself between the wolf pack and an ammunition ship in the convoy. The Reuben James was torpedoed by U-boat U-552 who had aimed at the merchant ship. The entire bow was blown off when a magazine exploded. The after section floated for a few minutes but the bow sank immediately. 100 members of the crew were killed leaving only 44 enlisted men who survived. All seven officers were among those who did not survive the attack.

In America the policy had been to help the British with financial aid but not joining in the war. In March 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Lease-Lend Bill. On the 30th October 1941 China and the Soviet Union had been included in the approved $1 billion dollar Lease-Lend aid to Britain.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe had started the war with China in 1937. By 1940 Konoe no longer believed that a military solution to the “China Affair” was possible. His aim was to seek a diplomatic solution by having Germany mediate a peace settlement with China. Hideki Tojo, as Army Minister expanded the war with China by placing Japanese troops in the southern part of Vichy French Indochina. Japan and Italy had entered into a tripartite agreement in September 1940 with Germany which included occupied Vichy-France.  The Imperial Conference between Japan and America was fixed to be concluded in early October 1941. The deadline had passed on the 16th October 1941 with no progress to resolve the problem of the “China Affair”. The United States immediately imposed economic sanctions on Japan including a total embargo on all oil and petrol exports. Konoe resign as Prime Minister on the 16th October 1941 as he felt politically isolated and that Emperor Hirohito no longer trusted him. The majority of the government favoured military action. On the 17th October 1941 Tojo became the new Prime Minister of Japan. In his first radio speech Tojo said he favoured “world peace” but also stated his determination to resolve the “China Affair” on Japanese terms. By the 21st October 1941 negotiations between Japan and America appeared to be heading toward failure.

In Luxemburg on the 19th October 1941 the German occupiers declared the territory to be free of Jews. When Germany occupied Luxemburg in May 1940 among the population there were approximately 3,500 Jews. Many of these Jews had arrived in Luxemburg from Germany to escape persecution where they were then encouraged to leave the country for Vichy-France. By October 1941 emigration was forbidden but not before nearly 2,500 had already left. When in Vichy-France the Jews were no better off as they were forced to wear the yellow Star of David badge. Most of them were later deported to concentration camps. In Luxemburg the Nazi authorities began to deport the remaining Jews to concentration camps in Poland. On the 19th October 1941 Luxemburg was declared “Judenfrei” (“cleansed of Jews”).