On June 22, 1941, the full force of the German Wehrmacht—13 armies, 14 mechanized corps, 3 million soldiers—invaded the Soviet Union. In their wake came the SS Einsatzgruppen (“special action groups,” more accurately “mobile killing units”) bent on murdering every political commissar, partisan, disabled person, Roma, and Jew they could find.

At the time, the preferred method was mass shooting, assisted by Soviet citizens who were intensely anti-Semitic and hostile to the Stalinist regime because of the forced collectivization of agriculture a decade earlier—in which hundreds of thousands of kulaks (property-owning peasants) were killed or deported, and which led to the Terror Famine, or Holodomor, in which 6 to 8 million people in grain-producing regions like Ukraine died of starvation and disease.

The Nazis knew just how to whip these hostilities into genocidal hatred. In July they seized Berdichev, a city in central Ukraine whose large Jewish population dated back to 1593. Many Jews had emigrated in the early 20th century, but since 1939 many others had arrived as refugees from Nazi-occupied Poland. Following a template laid down in Poland and repeated throughout the Eastern Front, the Einsatzgruppen herded Berdichev’s 30,000 Jews into a makeshift ghetto. From there, the killers marched their victims into the surrounding forest where deep

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