Operation Zauberflöte (ii)

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'Zauberflöte' (ii) was a German operation against so-called partisans in the Minsk area of Belorussia and so threatening the lines of communication to Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' in the German-occupied western USSR (17/22 April 1943).

As part of the so-called Bandenbekämpfung (bandit fighting) security doctrine, the operation was conducted by German army and SS police under the overall command of SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Gerret Korsemann, the 'Higher SS and Police Leader for Central Russia'.

The operation, scheduled for 17/22 April 1943, envisaged a sweep of and search through the city, including 130,000 dwellings, for ' 'bandits [largely Jews and other undesirables], Bolshevik terror and saboteur troops, operatives and helpers, signallers and deserters'. The result was to be the eradication of resistance elements within the city and the registration of fugitives for punishment or deportation to Germany.

The units assigned to 'Zauberflöte' (ii) included elements of Generalleutnant Otto Schönherr’s 141st Reserve Division, men of Minsk’s military garrison, SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger’s 'Dirlewanger' Brigade, the 2nd SS Polizeiregiment and the 13th SS Polizeiregiment.

The operation targeted the city of Minsk and its environs, which were to be cleared of all resistance elements, and also involved the arrest of German deserters and the mass deportation to Germany of forced labourers. The operation was complex, and involved the co-ordination of cordons sweeping simultaneously all six of the city’s districts, with an outer security encirclement moving toward an inner security ring.

The operation began at 04.00 on 17 April under the cover of darkness to maximise the effect of surprise for the sweep of the first city district. By the evening of 18 April, the army elements had completed the encirclement of the city centre, which allowed the SS police units to conduct searches of dwellings and ruins. The 'Dirlewanger' Brigade surrounded the Minsk ghetto and provided guards to the forced-labour columns leaving the ghetto. Korsemann instructed the brigade that plunder would be severely punished.

The operation was declared a success by the head of the Bandenbekämpfung effort, SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who was visiting the city. The result included the processing of 76,000 persons, of whom 52,000 were taken to collection points for further processing, 550 were deported to Germany, 700 sent to labour camps in Minsk, 39 arrested and two killed.

A total of 22,000 persons were determined to be travelling by rail without tickets. The commander of the army patrol service at the Reichskommissariat Ostland praised the results of the operation and demanded regular raids at railway stations. To celebrate the success of the operation, the SS police mounted a parade in which von Dem Bach-Zelewski gave a speech.