Just a Forest

A new journey through Ukraine has begun. From tomorrow on Marla, Jay, Vasyl and I will be on the road to and through Transcarpathia. Today we had a first excursion from Lviv to the neighboring village of Lysynychi, one of the biggest mass killing sites in Ukraine and one of the most unknown. Estimated 90,000 people have been murdered here during the German occupation in World War 2 – mainly Jews but also Ukrainians, Poles and thousands of Italian soldiers. Except of a little memorial there are no visible traces of the crime. To visitors with no background information Lysynychi forest looks just like an ordinary forest.

For Marla, Jay and me it was not the first visit at this horrible place. My friends have been here in 2011 and I in 2013. At that time I was not aware of the memorial for the Jewish victims. Additionally there used to be also a simple wooden cross for the murdered Italians, but it seems it disappeared – at least we couldn’t find it.

After my first visit I quoted survivor Leon W. Wells in my blog post. In 1943 Wells, a Jewish prisoner of Janowska concentration camp, was a member of “Sonderkommando 1005”, which was responsible for the removal of traces of German atrocities. “Action 1005” was the code name of the SS for the opening of mass graves, cremation of corpses and dispersal of all traces of mass murder. Here is Wells’ testimony:

A highway leads to Glinanskiej Road, straight through the Krzywicki woods. At the entrance to the woods a guardhouse and ramp have been errected. A private villa in the woods has been commandeered, and it is now the Schupos’ (German police unit) and mess hall.

From the villa mess hall one can see our tents. They really do look like a circus from a distance. The truck stops, and we are ordered to walk uphill; we go about two hundred and fifty yard to the place where our tents stand, enclosed by two rows of barbed-wire fence, one around the other at a distance of about two feet. The two fences have barbed wire woven between them. The height of the fence is about ten feet. They encircle a square. Each side of the square is about seventy-five feet long.

At opposite sides of the fenced-in area are gates, and near them, on the outside of the fence, are two guardhouses; here the Schupos stay when it rains. Inside the fenced-in area, at a distance of about eight feet from each side of the fence, stand our two tents, about ten feet apart, facing the gates.

In one corner of our fenced-in area is a field kitchen. Close to this are benches, and on this are basins for washing. In the other corner of the area is an open toilet.

Each of the two tents is about twenty-nine feet long by twenty-five feet wide. One tent holds eighty inmates. The rest of the men will live in the other; they are our elite, the foreman, the group leader, the men who clean the camp and keep it in order, the three leathercraftsmen, and some members of the Ash Brigade. I am in this group, too. We are the one who don’t smell, who don’t have direct contact with the bodies. One-third of this second tent is separated by a wall. Forming a shop on one side. On both sides of the wall are double-decker beds. In the middle of the tent is a long table, and on both sides are benches. We have an electric light here. There are searchlights on all four corners of the barbed-wire fence, lighting up the whole area all night long.

About one hundred and fifty yards away from one side of the camp is a hill of white sand several hundred feet hight. This very high hill hides our factory, which changes corpses into ashes. On top of this mountain are two bunkers. To each of this bunkers four Schupos have been assigned; two sleep, one is at the telephone, while the fourth marches outside, back and forth. In addition to the eight Schupos on the hill, there are two Schupos who patrol the area all night long.

Between the sand hill and our camp stands the machine for grinding the bones, and close by the machine a place has been leveled for the Ash Brigade. From now on, only the machine grinds the bones; the Ash Brigade merely picks out the precious metals from the human bone dust.


On Thursday, September 9, 1943, we leave for our first day of work at this new site. There are many graves here, one next to another, starting about one hundred feet from our camp. The corpses in these graves have been in the ground for more than a year. In some of the graves, beside the corpses, there are packages of clothing. We can tell from these packages that the graves contain the victims of December, 1941, action at the „Bridge of Death“.

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