Inside the photo album of a WWII German soldier lay startling evidence of the blatant acts committed against Jews during the Holocaust. There, among other memories of the WWII years, was a photograph of the execution of the "The Last Jew in Vinnitsa" — or so it was inscribed on the back by the person who took it. Kneeling, his eyes cast to the upper-righthand-side of the photo frame, the so-called Last Jew in Vinnitsa issues a haunting reminder to those who look at him of what a lack of humanity looks like in practice.
The deeds that happened in Vinnytsa, Ukraine, took place on three separate occasions between 1941 and 1942 at the hands of the Third Reich, and estimates put the total number of those who perished at around 28,000 victims. And, though the photograph of The Last Jew in Vinnitsa labels him as the final one, in reality, some Jews were able to make it out of the Ukrainian fields — and they joined the resistance after they did so.
Wehrmacht officer Lieutenant Erwin Bingel was a witness to the mass slayings at Uman and Vinnitsa, and he kept a record of cruel acts he saw committed there. Specifically, he recalled how — prior to the first of the slayings in September of 1941 — members of the Jewish community were rounded up by Wermacht forces under the guise of a "census." He remembered: "The order was for all Jews in the town of Uman and its sub-district, of all ages to assemble for the purpose of a census of the Jewish population. Anyone not complying with this order would be punished 'most severely.'"
When they showed up, Bingel reported that most people were nonplussed; there were tables and bags of lime set up, but these didn't cause immediate concern. However, the horrific situation quickly made itself clear as they were asked to step forward, undress, and line up in front of freshly dug ditches. Then, standing in front of their friends and families, those standing in front of the ditches were shot by Wermacht commandos en mass. As their bodies fell into the ditches — some still moving — the next line of Jews was made to march up. These people, the ones who were next in line, were given the unspeakable task of heaping lime on top of the still-animated bodies.
The photograph of the "Last Jew in Vinnitsa" was taken on the third day of the mass slayings carried out by the Einsatzgruppe C and D paramilitary Third Reich squads. The first of these took place on September 16, 1941, and the second day took place on September 22, 1941. A third carnage occurred in April of 1942 — it's within this time that the infamous photo was taken.
In his recounting of the events of those days in Vinnitsa, Lieutenant Erwin Bingel remembered that no one was spared their impersonal execution. In fact:
"Nor were mothers spared the terrible sight of their children being gripped by their little legs, and put to death with one stroke of the pistol-butt or club, thereafter to be thrown on the heap of human bodies in the ditch, some of which were not quite dead. Not before these mothers had been exposed to this worst of tortures did they receive the bullet that released them from this sight... The air resounded with the cries of the children and the tortured."