Dawson expands Holocaust history in new book
Greg Dawson was the featured presenter at an educational forum on Feb. 21 at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center in Maitland. His subject was his recently published book, “Judgment Before Nuremberg,” which adds to Holocaust literature by filling a hole in the historical record of World War II: Nazi occupation and terrible crimes committed in Ukraine in the early years of the War.
During his visit to a museum in a small town in eastern Ukraine, Dawson saw photos from the era of Nazi occupation in 1941-1943. He was in the town, which is near the Russian border, to do research for his first book, “Hiding in the Spotlight.” One photo depicted four men who had been hung until dead: three Nazi soldiers and one Ukraine collaborator. There were other photos in the museum that were taken inside the courtroom during the trial. The Russians held the trial, judged the accused, deemed them guilty of treason, and performed the executions in December 1943.
Dawson had been surprised to note the date on the photos. Like many others, he thought the World War II War Crime Trials were not held until 1945 in Nuremberg, Germany.
When his first book was finished and published, Dawson remembered that grisly photo and its early date.
He started searching for information in Holocaust literature and made calls and talked with whomever he could, but found little knowledge and scant mention of the surprising 1943 trial or the great loss of life in Ukraine.
It seemed the event had been dropped from the history of the Holocaust. Dawson suggested that books and popular movies about the Holocaust, like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Schindler’s List,” have provided the details in mainstream thought as if that was all there was to know about it. He realized that something had to be done about the omission of so much history, and it was probably up to him to bring it to light.
His resolution solidified after hearing a newscaster on TV saying, “millions of Jews in Ukraine disappeared during WW II, and no one knows where they went.” This second book, “Judgment Before Nuremberg,” is what Dawson has done to re-educate us all.
Dawson related that in 1941 and 1942 the Jews of Ukraine were shot by the thousands at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen, and crowds of people were locked into vans, the exhaust pipes of which were made to blow into the sealed compartments. These methods were slow and inefficient, and remarkably gruesome. The young German troops, reportedly became so distressed at the horror of their tasks that they would often be unable to continue. Their superiors sent word to headquarters that some other way had to be devised. (The gassing trucks led to the idea in 1942 of developing specially built gas chambers and ovens for use in Auschwitz and other camps. This process was to be more efficient, and being hidden inside of buildings would be useful in maintaining secrecy.)
While doing the research for “Judgment Before Nuremberg,” Dawson learned that in 1943 the Russians expected the war to end soon. The defeat of the Germans in the long winter battle at Stalingrad was a turning point for the German military. The Nazi occupiers in Ukraine were quickly ordered out, as the powers in Berlin did not want to lose another group of their fighting force in addition to their great losses at Stalingrad and in Kharkov near the Russian border, where Dawson’s mother lived when she was a child.
In the few days the occupying Nazis had been given to leave Ukraine, those in the east were ordered to hide their crimes. They were ordered to dig up all corpses in the killing fields and burn them, using surviving Jews as labor. There was not enough time, and there are still fields holding many of the lost. Russian leaders knew of all this but denied it.
Later, after the fall of Communism (1991) in the Soviet Union, Russia memorialized the deaths with monuments in Ukraine, but oddly did not identify the lost as Jews. In 2002 they corrected this omission.
Dawson said that he has found during many talks at schools and before adult groups that almost no one had any idea of the enormity of what happened in the early years of World War II in Ukraine. During one of these talks before an adult group interested in Holocaust literature he asked how many had heard about it, and not one hand was raised.
According to Dawson, three-quarters of a million Jews were viciously murdered in Ukraine before the invention in 1942 of gas chambers and ovens for Auschwitz and other camps. With Dawson’s book the body of Holocaust literature has been expanded and corrected, including the story of that trial and execution of four men that took place in Ukraine before the trials in Nuremberg in 1945. The average reader now has access to a more complete history of that terrible era thanks to Dawson’s persistence and investigative skills.
Dawson’s first book, “Hiding in the Spotlight,” the account of how his mother and her sister escaped death when the Nazis invaded Ukraine, has become a valuable tool for understanding the personal costs of the Holocaust. Dawson’s second book, “Judgment Before Nuremberg,” provides much more information about the history and atrocities in Ukraine in 1941-43 than any previous work about the early years of World War II. Both books are available at the library in the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center in Maitland. Copies may also be purchased at the Holocaust Center.