Civilians try to sell their meagre surplus at a market in Nikolayev, Ukraine. An old man has laid out iron scrap and tools on a cloth, while his neighbor offers some old shoes and a suitcase. A couple of German soldiers look on, perhaps shopping for souvenirs to send back home. The Ukrainians are old; all the men fit for army service are either dead, captive, or in the Red Army, fighting to stop the invaders.
Nikolayev is a city on the river Bug. Today, it’s known under its Ukrainian name, Mykolaiv. Less than two months after Operation Barbarossa was launched, Mykolaiv was occupied on 16 August 1941. In September, German forces massacred over 35,000 non-combatants, many of them Jews, in the city and the surrounding area. The massacre was carried out by Einsatzgruppe D under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf, who was later convicted at the Einsatzgruppen trial of the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to death by hanging. The killings were committed by many of the same troops who carried out the massacre at Babi Yar, and the victims were counted and described in an Einsatzgruppen document dated October 2, 1941 as “Jews and Communists”.
The Einsatzgruppen were units tasked with the extermination of those deemed inferior or threats, like Jews, Communists, intellectuals, and other “undesirables”. The Wehrmacht was at least partially involved in the actions of the death squads, and most soldiers knew about the killings, at least through rumors. The propaganda tried to portray the murders as “anti-partisan actions”, and while some partisans were caught and killed, the absolute majority of the victims were innocent civilians.
During the occupation, an underground partisan sabotage group, the “Mykolaiv Center” conducted guerilla activities. The city was liberated on 28 March 1944.