On 22 March 1943, a German convoy was attacked by Soviet partisans near Koziri village just 6 km away from Khatyn, resulting in the deaths of four police officers of Schutzmannschaft Batallion 118, which consisted mostly of Ukrainian collaborators, and Red Army prisoner-of-war volunteers and deserters. Among the dead was Hauptmann Hans Woellke, the battalion's commanding officer. Woellke was an Olympic champion in Berlin in 1936 and an acquaintance of Adolf Hitler.
Troops from the Dirlewanger Brigade, a unit mostly composed of criminals recruited for anti-partisan duties, entered the village and drove the inhabitants from their houses and into a shed, which was then covered with straw and set on fire. The trapped people managed to break down the front doors, but in trying to escape, were killed by machine gun fire. 147 people, including 75 children under 16 years of age, were killed – burned, shot or suffocated in fire. The village was then looted and burned to the ground.