21

Photograph made by Max Alpert shows a dead boy holding a pigeon. It seems that the child has been tortured before he was killed.

Source: Federal Archive Agency of Russia, Russian state archive of photographic and movie documents, item nr. 0-259138 (Российский государственный архив кинофотодокументов, aрхивный номер: 0-259138)

According to Russian Wikipedia the name of this boy was Victor Ivanovich Cherevichkin and the Germans killed him because he did not kill his pigeons. After they occupied Rostov-on-Don (the hometown of this boy), the issued an order that made illegal to own pet pigeons.

The boy hid his pigeons at home and was killed for that by the Germans.

Why did the Germans not allow people to own pigeons? What made the possession of pigeons so dangerous that it justified the killing of a child?

Update 1 (2019-04-07 00:09 CET): Here is the Original text from Russian Wikipedia article:

22 ноября 1941 года был издан приказ об уничтожении голубей в районах города Ростова. Вопреки предписанию немецкого командования об уничтожении принадлежащих местному населению домашних голубей, подросток в течение недели скрывал имевшихся у него птиц.

28 ноября 1941 года немцы застали Виктора Черевичкина выпускающим нескольких голубей у здания, в котором размещался штаб, и обнаружили в сарае во дворе его дома голубятню.

  • 22
    I do not know the specifics about the German orders, but homing pigeons have been extensively used in warfare to carry messages (I believe there is even a Disney movie about a homing pigeon). – SJuan76 Apr 6 at 22:15
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    If there is an order stating that you cannot have pigeons, then the "crime" is just having the pigeons, even if you do not use them to any military activity. And we all know that the Nazi repression at the Eastern Front was specially brutal. – SJuan76 Apr 6 at 22:24
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    "What made the possession of pigeons so dangerous that it justified the killing of a child?" The Nazis were not known for their just treatment of individuals... – jpmc26 Apr 7 at 9:03
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    @jpmc26 : Neither were the Soviets. So we can't rule out either that the Nazis did the killing, nor that the Soviets did it and used it for propaganda. – vsz Apr 7 at 9:11
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    @vsz Do you have any evidence that it were the Soviets who did that? – Franz Drollig Apr 7 at 11:24
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The Germans were concerned that carrier pigeons would be used to communicate with Soviet forces. Carrier pigeons were used extensively during both World Wars.


From the Rostov-on-Don tourism website:

Черевичкин Виктор Иванович (1925–1941) – ростовский пионер-герой. Когда немцы в 1941 году взяли Ростов-на-Дону, они приказали городским владельцам голубятен уничтожить всех своих птиц. Гитлеровцы опасались, что с помощью почтовых голубей ростовчане будут передавать советским войскам разведывательную информацию. Но Витя не подчинился приказу и тайно продолжал держать голубей, с их помощью наладив связь с партизанами. Но был «раскрыт» и арестован. Перед тем, как его увели на казнь, Витя успел выпустить всех голубей на волю. На Нюрнбергском процессе фото убитого мальчика с голубем в руках было представлено в числе документов, обличающих фашизм. В 1954 году был включен в официальный список пионеров-героев, выпущенного в составе Книги почета Всесоюзной пионерской организации им. В.И. Ленина.

(English translation from the site)

Cherevichkin Viktor Ivanovich (1925-1941) - Rostov pioneer-hero. When the Germans in 1941, took Rostov-on-Don, they ordered the town pigeon owners to destroy all their birds. The Germans feared that using carrier pigeons Rostov will send intelligence information to the Soviet troops. But Victor did not obey the order and secretly continued to keep pigeons, with their help he established the connection with the guerrillas. But he was "discovered" and arrested. Before he was led away to death, Victor managed to release all the pigeons loose. At the Nuremberg trial a photo of a murdered boy with a dove in his hands was represented among all the documents denouncing fascism. In 1954 he was included in the official list of the pioneer heroes, released as part of the Book of Honor All-Union Pioneer Organization of V.I. Lenin.

  • (my emhpasis)

The Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organisation was a Soviet youth organisation not dissimilar to the Scouts. As the Wikipedia article observes:

During the Second World War the Pioneers worked hard to contribute to the war effort at all costs. Thousands of them died in battles as military personnel and in the resistance against Nazi Germany in its occupied territories as partisans and Pioneers under secrecy in enemy-occupied towns and cities, even in concentration camps.

So it is entirely possible that the boy in the picture was a member of the Pioneers, and that he had been actively using his pigeons to communicate with Soviet forces. (It is equally possible that he had been shot for simply having pigeons and thus being suspected of communicating with Soviet forces.)


It is worth noting that the case of Vitya Cherevichny was mentioned in the records of the Trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14 November 1945-1 October 1946, Volume 7, p455. The record states simply that:

"In Rostov-on-Don a pupil of the commercial school, 15-year old Vitya Cherevichny, was playing in the yard with his pigeons. Some passing German soldiers began to steal the birds. The boy protested. The Germans took him away and shot him, at the corner of 27th Line and 2d Maisky Street for refusing to surrender his pigeons. With the heels of their boots the Hitlerites trampled his face out of all recognition."

Note that this makes no mention of Vitya being a member of the Pioneers or of any suspicion that he was in communication with Soviet forces.


I haven't (yet) found an English translation of the "official list of the pioneer heroes", released as part of the Book of Honor of the Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organisation, but I suspect that you'll find more detail there.

  • 1
    So according to this he actively was using them for communication rather than keeping as pets? – Orangesandlemons Apr 6 at 22:25
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    @Orangesandlemons That is the claim on that website. However, I haven't (yet) been able to find an English translation of their source – sempaiscuba Apr 6 at 22:33
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    @Orangesandlemons Although, also note the information that I have added from the records of the Nuremberg trials. – sempaiscuba Apr 7 at 13:33
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    Yes, the new info is a big difference. Oh, and +1 for the thoroughly researched answer – Orangesandlemons Apr 7 at 14:20
  • My grandmother told a story how she moved to a new neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during WWII, and was interviewed by FBI agents after neighbors suggested the wild pigeons near her house could be carrier pigeons and she might be a spy. Considering the differences between the USA and Nazi Germany, a "shoot first and ask questions later" policy about pigeons doesn't seem unusual by - Nazi standards that is. – MAGolding Apr 9 at 20:37
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The pigeons could have been homing pigeons, used to carry information from spies in Rostov-on-Don back to Soviet-controlled territory. There's no way for ordinary police or soldiers to tell if pigeons are homers: there's nothing obvious about them. Banning pigeon-keeping in occupied territory was fairly normal for the time; murdering children for disobeying the occupier's decrees was sadly normal for Nazi-occupied territory.

There's a lot of information about homing pigeons in wartime in the book Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Corera, published by Collins in 2018.

3

My grandmother told a story how she moved to a new neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during WWII, and was interviewed by FBI agents after neighbors suggested the wild pigeons near her house could be carrier pigeons and she might be a spy. Considering the differences between the USA and Nazi Germany, a "shoot first and ask questions later" policy about pigeons doesn't seem unusual - by Nazi standards that is.

1

Pigeons are ubiquitous birds. There really is no such thing as "pet pigeons": pigeons are kept and bred as homing pigeons, and the breeds are distinguishable from city pigeons. There are numerous hobbyist breeders, and the principal competition they engage in is homing contests: they are not bred with a focus on their looks but on speed and reliability. In WWII, there was no such thing as encrypted radios, and radio signals can be intercepted and located. So homing pigeons were of usefulness in WWII. Even assuming that the boy had pigeons for mere pets because they did not pass muster, they would have been of an origin making them usable for homing: maybe not with top speed or reliability, but a sub-par channel is still better than none.

So order and its execution might have been brutish and a war crime. But they were not arbitrary.

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    "In WWII, there was no such thing as encrypted radios." Radiotelegraphy was in widespread use during WWII (how else would you communicate with a submarine?) and you can certainly encrypt the message before sending it. I agree that radios are usually better for agents to receive messages than transmit them, but it's wrong to suggest there was no radio at the time. Remember that Marconi sent radio signals across the Atlantic 40 years before the time we're talking about. Radio wasn't anything new. – David Richerby Apr 7 at 20:22
  • @DavidRicherby - I think that the point was that radio messages used codes. Think like 5 Morse code characters per code group. So GF4VG might mean "airplane". Now the radio signal itself can be coded so such a code table isn't needed. – MaxW Apr 7 at 21:09
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    @MaxW you're describing an encoded message rather than an encrypted message. Encryption also existed during the second world war and is well known to have been used extensively (see, for example, Enigma). Modern encryption isn't fundamentally different from Enigma. It's more secure, and it's faster, and it's more automated, but at its root it still transforms a message to and from a nonsensical series of symbols, just as WWII-era encryption did. – phoog Apr 8 at 4:37
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    I can't help thinking we're arguing the toss here. To me, the original user's underlying point -- that the non-secrecy of radio due to technology limitations argued in favour of pigeons -- seems to stand. – Dannie Apr 8 at 11:53
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    @Dannie One can certainly argue that pigeons have advantages over radio but this answer makes that argument by claiming things that are false. – David Richerby Apr 8 at 12:44

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