Heinrich Himmler looks at a young Soviet prisoner of war during an official visit to Shirokaya Street Concentration Camp in Minsk, Belarus, on or about August 15, 1941.
You had to be a hard man to look Himmler in the face like that. This is standing for what’s right, this is a single man who, after losing so much, stands up and stares at Himmler himself. This image is defiance.
Shirokaya was a labor camp that held up to 2,000 prisoners; skilled laborers from the Minsk Ghetto and captured Red Army soldiers that refused to work or operate with the partisans in the forests of Belarus. Jews about to be shipped to Sobibor or Auschwitz from Belarus were also temporarily held there.
While on this inspection tour, Himmler was accompanied by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Karl Wolff who served as Himmler’s Chief of Staff. Wolff can be seen in this view behind Himmler, with his face partially obscured.
That same day, Himmler ordered Einsatzgruppe B Gruppenfuhrer Arthur Nebe to demonstrate his unit’s technique for shooting Jews; Nebe selected 98 Jewish men and two women. According to Wolff, Himmler attended the massacre and questioned one of the condemned, a blond youth. Himmler asked, “Are you a Jew?”.
The man answered, “Yes”. Himmler asked: “Are both your parents Jews?”. Again, he answered “Yes”. Himmler asked, “Do you have any ancestors who were not Jews?”, “No”, the man answered. “Then I can’t help you”, Himmler said.
The blond youth and the other 99 prisoners were shot in the back of the head. As each line of prisoners was executed, they were covered with dirt and another group brought out from far enough away that they could not hear the gunfire.
Himmler, looking closely into the trench where the bodies lay, was nauseated when brain matter and blood sprayed his uniform. Wolff claims it was Himmler’s first view of a dead body.
Most of the 90,000 Jews and 300,000 Soviet soldiers captured when Minsk fell on June 27, 1941, were killed or deported by the time Minsk was liberated in 1944. Everyone behind the wire fence in this photo was likely to be killed by the Nazis before 1943.
In 2010 Telegraph Obituary published a photograph captioned “Greasley confronting Heinrich Himmler (wearing the spectacles) in the PoW camp”. Joseph Horace “Jim” Greasley was a British soldier in the Second World War who was captured in May 1940 by the German Wehrmacht and later became famous for claiming that he escaped from his camp over 200 times in the conduct of a clandestine love affair, returning into captivity each time. However, that information is wrong, the prisoner in the picture is not Greasley.
Historian Guy Walters asserted categorically that the soldier in the picture was not Greasley, stating that the picture is held by the US National Archives and the caption details show it was taken in Minsk (in Belarus) in mid-1941, that it was taken by a photographer for a propaganda film and identifies the soldier as Soviet from his cap, and that the officers in the picture are the same officers who appear in the film with Himmler.
(Photo credit: Bundesarchiv).