Template:Infobox Government agency

Einsatzgruppen (Template:Lang-de;[1], "deployment groups"[2] singular Einsatzgruppe; official full name Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD) were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting. The units targeted Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories; including Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars. The Einsatzgruppen operated throughout the territory occupied by the German armed forces following the German invasions of Poland, in September 1939, and later, of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The Einsatzgruppen carried out operations ranging from the murder of a few people to operations which lasted over two or more days, such as the massacres at Babi Yar (33,771 killed in two days) and Rumbula (25,000 killed in two days). The Einsatzgruppen were responsible for the murders of over 1,000,000 people, and they were the first Nazi organizations to commence mass killing of Jews as an organized policy.

Background[edit | edit source]

The Einsatzgruppen were formed under the direction of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (deputy to Heinrich Himmler) and operated by the Schutzstaffel (SS) before and during World War II.[3] From September 1939 forward the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA – Reich Main Security Office)[4] had overall command of the Einsatzgruppen. Their principal task during the war (according to SS General Erich von dem Bach at the Nuremberg Trials) "... was the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars".[5] The Einsatzgruppen had a leading role in the implementation of the final solution of the Jewish question (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in the conquered territories.

Personnel[edit | edit source]

Each Einsatzgruppe was led by SD, Gestapo and Kripo officers, and its members included recruits from the Orpo, the Waffen-SS, and local volunteers, such as militia groups. Each death squad followed the Wehrmacht Heer (German Army) as it advanced eastwards through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.[6] During the course of their operations, the Einsatzgruppen commanders were authorized to request, and did receive, assistance from the Wehrmacht.[6] Heydrich acted under orders from Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler who supplied security forces on an "as needed" basis to the local SS and Police Leaders.[3]

In occupied territory, the Einsatzgruppen also used the local populace for additional security and personnel (see below). For example, incorporated specifically into Einsatzgruppe D were a number of Albanian, Serbo-Croatian and possibly Bosnian volunteers, who were organized by Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.[7]

According to their own records, the Einsatzgruppen murdered more than one million people, almost all civilians, beginning with the Polish intelligentsia, and swiftly progressed to killing Jews, Gypsies and others throughout Eastern Europe. Historian Raul Hilberg estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the Einsatzgruppen and the SS killed more than 1.3 million Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars in open-air shootings.[8]

History[edit | edit source]

The Einsatzgruppen has its origins in the ad-hoc Einsatzkommando, formed by Reinhard Heydrich to secure government buildings and documents following the Anschluss in Austria in March 1938.[9] This task was the Einsatzgruppen's original mandate: to secure government buildings with their accompanying documentation, and question senior civil servants in lands occupied by Germany.[9]

Czechoslovakia[edit | edit source]

The Einsatzgruppen were founded in the summer of 1938, when Germany was preparing an invasion of Czechoslovakia, scheduled for October 1. The Einsatzgruppen were to travel in the wake of the German armies as they advanced into Czechoslovakia, and secure government papers and offices. Unlike the early Einsatzkommando, the Einsatzgruppen were to be armed and authorized to freely use lethal force to accomplish their mission. The Munich Agreement of 1938 prevented the war for which the Einsatzgruppen were originally founded, but as the Germans occupied the Sudetenland in the fall of 1938, the Einsatzgruppen moved into the region to occupy offices formerly belonging to the Czechoslovak state.

After the occupation of the rest of the Czech portion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, the Einsatzgruppen were re-formed and again used to secure offices formerly belonging to the Czechoslovak government. The Einsatzgruppen were never a standing formation; rather they were ad hoc units recruited mostly from the ranks of the SS, the SD, and various German police forces such as the Ordnungspolizei, the Gendarmerie, the Kripo and the Gestapo, though generally the same personnel were recruited again when a unit was re-activated.[3] Once the overall military campaign ended, however, the Einsatzgruppen units were disbanded.

Poland[edit | edit source]

Main article: Intelligenzaktion
File:Execution of Poles by German Einsatzkomanndo Oktober1939.jpg

An execution of Poles by an Einsatzgruppe in Leszno, October 1939

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1968-034-19A, Exekution von polnischen Geiseln.jpg

Execution of Poles in Kórnik, 20.10.1939

In response to Hitler's plans to invade Poland, Heydrich re-formed the Einsatzgruppen to travel in the wake of the German armies. Heydrich gave the Einsatzgruppen commanders carte blanche to kill anyone belonging to groups that the Germans considered hostile. After the occupation of Poland in 1939, the Einsatzgruppen killed Poles belonging to the upper class and intelligentsia, such as priests and teachers.[10] The mission of the Einsatzgruppen was therefore the forceful depoliticization of the Polish people and the elimination of the groups most clearly identified with the Polish national identity. As stated by Hitler in his Armenian quote, units were sent: "...with orders for them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish race and language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need."[11] "Whatever we find in the shape of an upper class in Poland will be liquidated," Hitler had declared.[12] The massacres committed in Poland in 1939 caused tension with the German Army, who, while having no moral objections to the massacres of Poles, felt these killings were injurious to military discipline.[13]

The first elimination of Polish intelligentsia took place soon after the German invasion of Poland, and lasted from the fall of 1939 until the spring of 1940. The Intelligenzaktion was a plan to eliminate the Polish intelligentsia, Poland's leadership class, realized by Einsatzgruppen and Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz. They used the Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen, a list of targets prepared before war. Sixty thousand Polish nobles, teachers, Polish entrepreneurs, social workers, priests, judges and political activists were killed in ten regional actions.[14][15] The Intelligenzaktion was continued by the German AB-Aktion operation in Poland.

During Operation Tannenberg eight Einsatzgruppen operated in Poland[16][17]:

Western Europe[edit | edit source]

Following the German invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France in May 1940, the Einsatzgruppen once again travelled in the wake of the Wehrmacht, but unlike their operations in Poland, Einsatzgruppen operations in Western Europe in 1940 were within the original mandate of securing government offices and papers. Had Operation Sea Lion, the German plan for an invasion of the United Kingdom, been launched, six Einsatzgruppen were scheduled to follow the invasion force to Britain. The Einsatzgruppen intended for "Sealion" were provided with a list (known as The Black Book after the war) of 2,820 people to be arrested immediately.

Soviet Union[edit | edit source]

Main article: The Holocaust in Belarus
File:Kiev Jew Killings in Ivangorod (1942).jpg

Killing of Jews at Ivangorod, Ukraine, 1942. A woman is attempting to protect a child with her own body just before they are fired on with rifles at close range

Hitler approved the re-establishment of the Einsatzgruppen in the lead-up to Operation Barbarossa, the plan to invade the Soviet Union. His orders were sent out sometime between late June 1940, when planning for Operation Barbarossa first started, and May 1941; the surviving historical record does not permit firm conclusions to be drawn about the precise date.[18] On March 13, 1941 Hitler dictated sub-paragraph B of the "Guidelines in Special Spheres re Directive No. 21 (Operation Barbarossa)", which read:

In the operations area of the army, the Reichsführer SS has been given special tasks on the orders of the Führer, in order to prepare the political administration. These tasks arise from the forthcoming final struggle of two opposing political systems. Within the framework of these tasks, the Reichsführer SS acts independently and on his own responsibility.[19]

Sub-paragraph B was intended by Hitler to prevent the sort of friction that had occurred in Poland in 1939 when several German Army generals had attempted to bring Einsatzgruppen leaders to trial for the murders they had committed.[19]

On March 30, 1941 in a secret speech to his leading generals, Hitler described the sort of war he envisioned against the Soviet Union. Notes taken at the meeting by the Army's Chief of Staff, General Franz Halder, describe:

Struggle between two ideologies. Scathing evaluation of Bolshevism, equals antisocial criminality. Communism immense future danger ... This a fight to the finish. If we do not accept this, we shall beat the enemy, but in thirty years we shall again confront the Communist foe. We don't make war to preserve the enemy ... Struggle against Russia: Extermination of Bolshevik Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia ... Commissars and GPU personnel are criminals and must be treated as such. The struggle will differ from that in the west. In the east harshness now means mildness for the future.[20]

Though General Halder's notes did not record any mention of Jews, the German historian Andreas Hillgruber argued that because of Hitler's frequent contemporary statements about the coming war of annihilation against "Judeo-Bolshevism", his generals would have understood Hitler's call for the destruction of the Soviet Union as also comprising a call for the destruction of the Jewish population therein.[20] In May 1941 Reinhard Heydrich passed on verbally the order to kill the Soviet Jews to the Border Police School of Pretzsch when the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen were being trained for Operation Barbarossa.[21] In spring 1941, Heydrich and the First Quartermaster of the German Army, General Eduard Wagner successfully completed negotiations for co-operation between the Einsatzgruppen and the German Army to allow the implementation of the "special tasks".[22] Following the Heydrich-Wagner agreement on April 28, 1941, Fieldmarshal Walther von Brauchitsch ordered that when Operation Barbarossa began, all German Army commanders were to identify and register at once all Jews in occupied areas in the Soviet Union, and fully co-operate with the Einsatzgruppen.[23]

For Operation Barbarossa, four Einsatzgruppen were created, each numbering 500–990 men to comprise a total force of 3,000.[23] These Einsatzgruppen were under the control of the RSHA; i.e., Reinhard Heydrich and later his successor Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Heydrich gave them a mandate to secure the offices and papers of the Soviet state and Communist Party; to liquidate all of the higher cadres of the Soviet state; and to instigate and encourage pogroms against all local Jewish populations.[24] The men of the four Einsatzgruppen came from the SD, Gestapo, Kripo, Orpo, and Waffen SS.[23] Each Einsatzgruppen in its area of operations was under the operational control of the Higher SS-Police Chiefs.[23] In a further agreement between the army and the SS concluded in May 1941 by General Wagner and Walter Schellenberg, it was agreed that the Einsatzgruppen in front-line areas were to operate under army command while the army provided the Einsatzgruppen with all necessary logistical support.[25]

File:Einsatzgruppen Killing.jpg

An Einsatzgruppe D member about to shoot a Jew kneeling at a mass grave in Vinnitsa, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, in 1942. The photograph is inscribed: "The last Jew in Vinnitsa."

Before Operation Barbarossa began, the men of the German Army and the SS were told it was a “preventive war” forced on Germany by an alleged Soviet attack planned for July 1941. At the same time, a massive propaganda campaign was launched in spring 1941 presenting Barbarossa as an ideological-racial war between German National Socialism and Soviet Communism, or (to use the preferred German phrase) Judeo-Bolshevism.[26] (Later, the Einsatzgruppen would produce much anti-Semitic propaganda depicting the whole Soviet regime as a tool of the Jews.)[27]

After the invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, the Einsatzgruppen's main assignment was to kill civilians, as in Poland, but this time its targets specifically included Soviet Communist Party commissars and Jews.[24] Heydrich drafted new orders on July 2, 1941 stating that the Einsatzgruppen were to execute all Soviet officials of medium rank and above; members of the Comintern; "extremist" Communist Party members; members of the central, provincial and district committees of the Communist Party; Red Army political commissars; and all Communist Party members of Jewish origin.[24] In regards to Jewish populations in general:

No steps will be taken to interfere with any purges that may be initiated by anti-Bolshevik or anti-Jewish elements in the newly occupied territories. On the contrary, these are to be secretly encouraged.[24]

As the German invasion began, a vast series of bloody pogroms broke out, some of which were encouraged by the Germans, and all of which were the spontaneous outbreaks of local anti-Semitism.[28] Within the first few weeks of Operation Barbarossa, 40 pogroms had broken out with about 10,000 Jews killed by local people.[29] The Canadian historian Erich Haberer has written that incidents such as the Jedwabne pogrom were not incidental, but rather "integral" to the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, as without local help, the Germans could not have murdered so many so quickly.[30]

Upon entering Kaunas, Lithuania on June 25, 1941, the Einsatzgruppen released all of the criminals from the local jail and encouraged them to join the pogrom that were underway.[31] Between June 23–27, 1941, 4,000 Jews were killed on the streets of Kaunas by local people, and saw the first massacres of Jews in open pits committed by Lithuanian anti-Semites.[32] Particularly active in the Kaunas pogrom was the so-called "Death Dealer of Kaunas", a young man who murdered Jews with a crow bar at the Lietukis Garage before a large crowd that cheered each killing with much applause; he occasionally stopped to play the Lithuanian national anthem "Tautiška giesmė" with his accordion before resuming the killings[32][33] One German soldier described the scene:

A young man—he must have been a Lithuanian ... with rolled up sleeves was armed with an iron crowbar. He dragged out one man at a time from the group and struck him with the crowbar with one or more blows on the back of his head. Within three-quarters of an hour he had beaten to death the entire group of forty to fifty people in this way. I had a series of photographs of the victims ...

After the entire group had been beaten to death, the young man put the crowbar to one side, fetched an accordion and went and stood on the mountain of corpses and played the Lithuanian national anthem. I recognized the tune and was informed by bystanders that this was the national anthem. The behaviour of the civilians present (women and children) was unbelievable. After each man had been killed, they began to clap and when the national anthem started up they joined the singing and clapping. In the front row there were women with small children in their arms who stayed there right until the end of the whole proceedings.

I found out from some people who knew German what was happening here. They explained to me that the parents of the young man who had killed the other people had been taken from their beds two days earlier and immediately shot, because they were suspected of being nationalists, and this was the young man's revenge.[34]

On July 17, 1941 Heydrich ordered that the Einsatzgruppen were to kill all Jewish Red Army POWs, plus all Red Army POWs from Georgia and Central Asia, as Heydrich viewed them as being possibly Jewish.[35]

After World War II, in an attempt to reduce their own responsibility, several Einsatzgruppen leaders who were brought to trial falsely claimed to have received an order before Operation Barbarossa requiring them to murder all Soviet Jews. There is no evidence to support these assertions; Hedyrich's order to the Einsatzgruppen leaders of June 29, 1941 was to "silently" encourage pogroms, and on July 2, 1941 he ordered the murder only of Jews who were Communist Party members or who held positions in the Soviet government.[36] The German prosecutor Alfred Streim noted the legal implications of this distinction: if an order had been given before Operation Barbarossa for the murder of the entire Jewish population of the Soviet Union, post-war courts would had convicted the Einsatzgruppen leaders only as accomplices to mass murder.[37] However, if it could be established that the Einsatzgruppen had committed mass murder without orders, then the Einsatzgruppen leaders would have been convicted as perpetrators of mass murder (in the legal sense), and would hence have received stiffer sentences.[38] In many cases, the difference between being an accomplice to genocide and a perpetrator could be the difference between life imprisonment and capital punishment.

The Einsatzgruppen leaders on trial claimed during the late 1940s to have been given a written "Führer Order" for the murder of the entire Soviet Jewish population several weeks before Operation Barbarossa from Bruno Streckenbach who was widely believed to be dead.[39] In fact, Streckenbach was a POW in the Soviet Union, and upon his release in 1955, several imprisoned Einsatzgruppen leaders wrote to him asking him to go along with their lie in order to improve their chances of parole.[39] In response, Streckenbach privately denied ever giving such an order, but in order to assist the imprisoned Einsatzgruppen leaders, remained silent in public on the question of whether he had given the order or not, neither confirming nor denying the claim he had passed along a general order for genocide (thereby giving the impression he had without saying so).[39]

The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw wrote that it has been firmly established that the claim that a "Führer Order" for the general genocide before Operation Barbarossa was a post-war fabrication invented by men on trial for their lives, and thus had more to do with their defence than the facts of the matter.[40] Kershaw had argued that it was likely that Hitler's apocalyptic remarks before Barbarossa about the necessity for a war without mercy to “annihilate" the forces of “Judeo-Bolshevism” were taken as both permission and encouragement by the Einsatzgruppen commanders to engage in extreme anti-Semitic violence with discretion being given to each Einsatzgruppen commander about how far he was prepared to go.[41]

In support of this, Kershaw cites the example of the massacre of 1,160 Jewish men at Luzk on July 3, 1941, none of whom were Communist Party members, and all of whom were shot for no other reason than, as the "Einsatzkommando" leader reported to Berlin, to prove to the local Jewish community who were the Herrnvolk (master race) and who were not.[40]

Protests at Byelaya Tserkov[edit | edit source]

Template:Summarize section

In August 1941, General Walther von Reichenau, the commander of the 6th Army ordered his men to assist the Einsatzgruppen and its Ukrainian auxiliaries with killing the Jews of Byelaya Tserkov. Over the course of the following days, virtually the entire adult Jewish population of Byelaya Tserkov was shot, and all that remained were the children together with a few of the women who were dumped off at a school to await their time of execution.[42] As the task of shooting the children was considered to be psychologically difficult, none of the Germans present were willing to shoot the children, so the job was assigned to the Ukrainians. It took several days for the SS to recruit enough Ukrainians to shoot the children with promises of extra pay and free vodka.

In the interval, several soldiers present at Byelaya Tserkov were disturbed by the crying of the children and infants at the school, and asked their chaplains for advice about what to do.[42] The two chaplains attached to the 295th Infantry Division, the Catholic Father Ernst Tewes and the Lutheran Pastor Gerhard Wilczek visited the school, and were appalled by the condition of the frightened, hungry children.[42] The chaplains then asked the local Army commander to free the children, but that effort failed when as Father Tewes later reported, when he "turned out to be a convinced anti-Semitic".[43] Joined by two other chaplains from the 295th Division, a series of protest letters were sent to all in positions of authority asking that the children of Byelaya Tserkov be spared.[43] Using their powers of persuasion, the chaplains' won over a staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Groscurth to their cause, who ordered a postponement of the planned massacre of the children.[43] In areas near the front, the Einsatzgruppen were under Army command, so when Colonel Groscurth ordered the planned massacre to be put on hold, the local Einsatzkommando leader had no choice, but to comply. Ultimately, General von Reichenau himself intervened to order the executions to go ahead. Reichenau was enraged after receiving a protest letter from two of the chaplains' and wrote in response:

The conclusion of the report in question contains the following sentence, "In the case in question, measures against women and children were undertaken which in no way differ from atrocities carried out by the enemy about which the troops are continually being informed".

I have to describe this assessment as incorrect, inappropriate and impertinent in the extreme. Moreover this comment was written in an open communication which passes through many hands.

It would have been far better if the report had not been written at all.[44]

Father Tewes later recalled about his efforts at Byelaya Tserkov that: "All those we wanted to save were shot. Because of our initiative it just happened a few days later than planned".[43]

One SS man who saw the killings of the children at Byelaya Tserkov on 21 August 1941 described them as follows:

I went to the woods alone. The Wehrmacht had already dug a grave. The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it. The Ukrainians did not aim at any particular part of the body. They fell into the grave. The wailing was indescribable. I shall never forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I particulary remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was shot later ... The grave was near some woods. It was not near the rifle-range. The execution must had taken place in the afternoon at about 3.30 or 4.00. It took place the day after the discussions at the Feldkommandanten ... Many children were hit four or five times before they died.[45]

The protests at Byelaya Tserkov were unique as being the only time during the entire war that Wehrmacht chaplains tried to prevent an Einsatzgruppen massacre.[43] The American historian Doris Bergen wrote that all of the four chaplains involved in the protest were well aware of the killings of Jewish adults, and seemed only moved to try to stop the killings when they learned that it was children were to be shot.[43] Bergen further observed the "terrible irony" that a gesture of protest further served the genocidal aims of the regime; the soldiers who were troubled by the crying of the children waiting for their time to die felt that they had "dealt with" this issue by "doing something", namely appealing to Father Tewes and Pastor Wilczek, and that they had no further role to play in this matter.[46]

Baltic states[edit | edit source]

Main article: The Holocaust in Lithuania

As the Einsatzgruppen advanced into the Soviet Union after July 1941, accompanied by Einsatzkommando sub-groups, they transitioned from encouraging pogroms into directly carrying out mass murders of local Jews.[47] This started with the shooting of Jewish men, but as the summer wore on, Jews were shot regardless of age or sex.[48] The killing of Jewish children appeared with increasing frequency in Einsatzgruppen reports after August 15, 1941.[49]

The most murderous group was Einsatzgruppe A, which operated in the formerly Soviet-occupied Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. According to its own reports to Himmler, Einsatzgruppe A killed almost 140,000 people in the five months following the invasion: 136,421 Jews, 1,064 Communists, 653 people with mental illnesses, 56 partisans, 44 Poles, five Gypsies and one Armenian were reported killed between June 22 and November 25, 1941.[50] Later, on November 30, 1941, Einsatzgruppe A reported killing 10,600 Jews from Riga in a single day.[51] Indeed, Einsatzgruppe A was the first Einsatzgruppe that attempted to systematically exterminate all Jews in its area.[52]

As Einsatzgruppe A advanced into Lithuania, it actively recruited local nationalists and anti-Semitic groups. In July 1941, members of the Baltaraisciai movement joined the massacres.[29] A pogrom in Riga, Latvia in early July killed 400 Jews. Latvian nationalist Viktors Arājs and his supporters "heated up" the Riga pogrom with a campaign of arson against synagogues.[53] On July 2, Einsatzgruppe A commander Franz Walter Stahlecker appointed Arājs to head the Arajs Kommando,[29] a Sonderkommando (special commando) of about 300 men, mostly university students. Together, Einsatzgruppe A and the Arājs Kommando killed 2,300 Jews in Riga on July 6–7.[53] Within six months, Arājs and his men would kill about half of Latvia's Jewish population.[54]

Local officials, the Selbstschutz, and the Hilfspolizei played a key role in rounding up and massacring Jewish Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians.[55] These groups helped the Einsatzgruppen and other killing units to identify and find Jews in a very short period of time.[55] The Hilfspolizei were auxiliary police organized by the Germans and recruited from former Latvian Army and police officers, ex-Aizsargi, members of the Pērkonkrusts, and university students. Their task was to assist with the murder of Latvia's Jewish citizens.[54] Similar units were created across Latvia and elsewhere, and provided much of the manpower for the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.[56]

The creation of units such as the Arājs Kommando, the Rollkommando Hamann in Lithuania and the Omakaitse militia in Estonia[57] marked an important change in the massacre of Jews in occupied territories: attacks changed from the spontaneous mob violence of the pogroms to more systematic massacres.[54] With extensive local help, Einsatzgruppe A carried out the first "total extermination programme" of the Shoah.[55] Latvian historian Modris Eksteins wrote:

Of the roughly 83,000 Jews who fell into German hands in Latvia, not more than 900 survived; and of the more than 20,000 Western Jews sent into Latvia, only some 800 lived through the deportation until liberation. This was the highest percentage of eradication in all of Europe. Such thoroughness was not merely imported or imposed by the German conqueror; it had too an expression of the local situation.[30]

Over the course of late 1941, the Einsatzkommandos settled into headquarters in Kovno, Riga and Tallinn. Einsatzgruppe A grew less mobile and faced problems because of its small size. The Germans relied increasingly on the Arājs Kommando and similar groups to perform massacres of Jews.[57]

Such extensive and enthusiastic collaboration with the Einsatzgruppen has been attributed to several factors. Since the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Kresy Wschodnie and other border lands had experienced a political culture of violence.[58] The period of Soviet rule was profoundly traumatic for most people in the Baltic states and lands that had belonged to Poland until 1939; the population was brutalized and terrorized by the unwanted imposition of Soviet rule, and the existing, familiar structures of society were utterly destroyed.[59]

Historian Erich Haberer notes that many survived and made sense of the "totalitarian atomization" of society by seeking conformity with Communism.[60] As a result, by the time of the German invasion in 1941, many had come to see conformity with a totalitarian regime as socially acceptable behaviour; thus, people simply transferred their conformity to the German regime when it arrived.[60] Some formerly Soviet collaborators sought to divert attention from themselves by naming Jews as collaborators, and killing them.[61] It was widely believed that Jews had collaborated more with the Soviets, although this was not the case.[62]

Indeed, Jews were used as scapegoats for many problems around this time. The interwar period had sharpened ethnic antagonism rather than diminishing it,[63] and insecurities about nationalism were often colored with anti-Semitism.[58] The imposition of Soviet rule had been seen as a national humiliation; society was broken up and atomized. Violent acts of national "self-purification" and "redemption" took the form of killing Jews.[64] The German invasion and its accompanying Jewish massacres provided a venue for this fermenting anti-Semitism.

Debate[edit | edit source]

Main article: Functionalism versus intentionalism

The expansion of the range of killings after August 1941 has been the subject of much historical debate. Those historians who take an intentionlist line like Andreas Hillgruber argue that everything that happened after Operation Barbarossa was part of a masterplan he credited Hitler with developing in the 1920s. Hillgruber wrote in his 1967 book Germany and the Two World Wars that for Hitler:

The conquest of European Russia, the cornerstone of the continental European phase of his program, was thus for Hitler inextricably linked with the extermination of these "bacilli", the Jews. In his conception they had gained dominance over Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. Russia thereby became the center from which a global danger radiated, particularly threatening to the Aryan race and its German core. To Hitler, Bolshevism meant the consummate rule of Jewry, while democracy – as it had developed in Western Europe and Weimar Germany – represented a preliminary stage of Bolshevism, since the Jews there won a leading, if not yet a dominant, influence. This racist component of Hitler's thought was so closely interwoven with the central political element of his program, the conquest of European Russia, that Russia's defeat and the extermination of the Jews were – in theory as later in practice – inseparable for him. To the aim of expansion per se, however, Hitler gave not racial, but political, strategic, economic and demographic underpinnings".[65]

The German historian Helmut Krausnick argued that:

What is certain is that the nearer Hitler's plan to overthrow Russia as the last possible enemy on the continent of Europe approached maturity, the more he become obsessed with an idea—with which he had been toying as a "final solution" for a long time—of wiping out the Jews in the territories under his control. It cannot have been later than March 1941, when he openly declared his intention of having the political commissars of the Red Army shot, that he issued his secret degree—which never appeared in writing though it was mentioned verbally on several occasions—that the Jews should be eliminated.[66]

Streim wrote in response that Krausnick had been taken in by the line invented after the war to reduce the responsibility of the Einsatzgruppen leaders brought to trial.[67] Klaus Hildebrand wrote that:

In qualitative terms, the executions by shooting were no different from the technically more efficient accomplishment of the 'physical final solution' by gassing, of which they were a prelude.[68]

Against the intentionalist interpretation, functionalist historians like Martin Broszat argued that the lower officials of the Nazi state had started exterminating people on their own initiative.[69] Broszat argued that the Holocaust began “bit by bit” as German officials stumbled into genocide.[70] Broszat argued that in the fall of 1941 German officials had began "improvised" killing schemes as the "simplest" solution to the "Jewish Question".[71] In Broszat's opinion, Hitler subsequently approved of the measures initiated by the lower officials and allowed the expansion of the Holocaust from Eastern Europe to all of Europe.[72] In this way, Broszat argued that the Shoah was not begun in response to an order, written or unwritten, from Hitler but was rather “a way out of the blind alley into which the Nazis had manoeuvred themselves”.[70] The American historian Christopher Browning has argued that:

Before the invasion, the Einsatzgruppen were not given explicit orders for the total extermination of Jews on Soviet territory. Along with the general incitement to an ideological and racial war, however, they were given the general task of liquidating "potential" enemies. Heydrich's much-debated directive of 2 July 1941 was a minimal list of those who had to be liquidated immediately, including all Jews in state and party positions. It is very likely, moreover, that the Einsatzgruppen leaders were told of the future goal of a Judenfrei [Jew-free] Russia through systematic mass murder.[73]

By contrast, the Swiss historian Philippe Burrin argues that such a decision was not made before August 1941 at the earliest, pointing to orders given by Himmler on July 30, 1941 to the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment and the SS Cavalry Brigade operating in the Pripet Marshes in the Pripyat operation calling for the murder of male Jews only while the Jewish women and children were to be driven into the Marshes.[74] Browning argues that sometime in mid-July 1941 Hitler made the decision to begin general genocide owing to his exhilaration over his victories over the Red Army, whereas Burrin contends that the decision was made in late August 1941 owing to Hitler's frustration over the slowing down of the Wehrmacht.[74] Kershaw argues that the dramatic expansion in both the range of victims and the intensity of the killings after mid-August 1941 indicates that Hitler issued an order to that effect, most probably a verbal order conveyed to the Einsatzgruppen commanders through either Himmler or Heydrich.[75] It remains unclear whether that was a decision made on Hitler's own initiative motivated only by his own anti-Semitic prejudices, or (impressed with the willingness and ability of Einsatzgruppe A to murder Jewish women and children) ordered that the other three Einsatzgruppen emulate Einsatzgruppe A's bloody example.

The Canadian historian Erich Haberer has contended that the “Baltic flashpoint of genocide”, as the killings committed by Einsatzgruppe A between July–October 1941 are known to historians, were the key development in the evolution of Nazi anti-Semitic policy that resulted in the Holocaust.[76] The Baltic area witnessed both the most extensive and intense killings of all the Einsatzgruppen with 90,000–100,000 Jews killed between July and October 1941, which led to the almost total decimation of the Jewish communities in that area.[57] Haberer maintains that the “Baltic flashpoint of genocide” occurred at time when the other Nazi plans for a “territorial final solution” such as the Madagascar Plan were unlikely to occur, and thus suggested to the Nazi leadership that genocide was indeed “feasible” as a “final solution to the Jewish Question”.[76]

Wehrmacht[edit | edit source]

Main article: War crimes of the Wehrmacht

All of these killings took place with the knowledge, approval and support of the German Army in the east.[77] On October 10, 1941 Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau drafted an order to be read to the German Sixth Army on the Eastern Front. Now known as the Severity Order, it read in part:

The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization ... In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception ... For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry.[78]

Upon hearing of Reichenau's Severity Order, Gerd von Rundstedt of Army Group South expressed his "complete agreement" with it, and sent out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging them to send out their own versions, impressing upon their troops the need to exterminate Jews.[79] General Erich von Manstein, in an order to his troops on November 20, stated:

Jewry is the middleman between the enemy at our rear and the still fighting remnants of the Red Army and the Red leadership; more than in Europe, it [Jewry] occupies all key posts of the political leadership and administration, of trade and crafts and forms the nucleus for all disquiet and possible revolts. The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all.[77]

Manstein's only wartime complaint about the actions of the Einsatzgruppen occurred in a 1941 letter to Einsatzgruppen D commanding officer Otto Ohlendorf; since his soldiers were so helpful in assisting Ohlendorf's men to murder Jews, Manstein said, it was unfair that the SS insisted upon keeping all of the murdered Jews' wristwatches for themselves instead of sharing with the Army.[80]

Beyond this trivial complaint, the Army and the Einsatzgruppen worked closely and effectively. On July 6, 1941 Einsatzkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppe C reported from Tarnopol that "Armed forces surprisingly welcome hostility against the Jews".[81] On September 8, Einsatzgruppe D reported that relations with the German Army were "excellent".[81] In the same month, Franz Walter Stahlecker of Einsatzgruppe A wrote that Army Group North had been exemplary in co-operating with his men to murder Jews and that relations with the Fourth Panzer Army commanded by General Erich Hoepner were "very close, almost cordial".[81] In the extreme south, the Romanian Army worked closely with Einsatzgruppe D toward the massacre of Ukrainian Jews;[82] the Romanian Army killed around 26,000 Jews in the Odessa massacre.[83] Moreover, most people on the home front in Germany had some idea of the massacres being committed by the Einsatzgruppen.[84]

The Einsatzgruppen massacres were usually justified under the grounds of anti-partisan operations rather than racist attacks, but the historian Andreas Hillgruber wrote that this claim was just an "excuse" for the Wehrmacht's considerable involvement with the Einsatzgruppen massacres.[85] Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2 million defenceless men, women and children for the reasons of racist ideology cannot possibly be justified, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.[86] In July 1941, when Joseph Stalin appealed for a partisan war, Hitler privately stated on July 16: "The Russians have now issued an order for a partisan war behind our front. This partisan war has its advantage: it allows us to exterminate all who oppose us."[77]

"The Second Sweep"[edit | edit source]

Einsatzgruppe B, C and D did not immediately follow Einsatzgruppe A's example in systematically killing all Jews in their areas. The Einsatzgruppe commanders, with the exception of Einsatzgruppe A's Stahlecker, were of the opinion by the fall of 1941 that it was impossible to kill the entire Jewish population of the Soviet Union in one sweep, and the killings should stop.[87] Thus, an interval passed between the "first sweep" of Einsatzgruppen massacres in summer and fall, and what American historian Raul Hilberg called the "second sweep", which started in December 1941 and lasted into the summer of 1942.[88]

During the interval, the surviving Jews were forced into ghettoes.[82] After staging the Babi Yar massacre in September 1941, Einsatzgruppe C reported to Berlin: "Although 75,000 Jews have been liquidated in this manner so far, today it is already clear that even with such tactics a final solution of the Jewish problem will not be possible."[87] In a further report on September 17, Einsatzgruppe C stated:

Even if were possible to shut out Jewry 100 percent, we would not eliminate the center of political danger.

The Bolshevist work is done by Jews, Russians, Georgians, Armenians, Poles, Latvians, Ukrainians; the Bolshevist apparatus is by no means identical with the Jewish population. Under such conditions we would miss the goal of political security if we replaced the main task of destroying the Communist machine with the relatively easier one of eliminating the Jews ...

In the western and central Ukraine almost all urban workers, skilled mechanics and traders are Jews. If we renounce the Jewish labor potential in full, we cannot rebuild Ukrainian industry and we cannot build up the urban administrative centers.

There is only one way out—a method that the German administration in the Generalgouvernment failed to recognize for a long time: final solution of the Jewish question through complete labor utilization of the Jews.

This would result in a gradual liquidation of Jewry—a development which would be in accord with the economic potentialities of the country.[87]

Einsatzgruppe C's advice that the Germans would be better off using Jewish skills and labour rather than shooting them was not taken up.[87]

Himmler's appointment book shows that he met with Hitler on 18 December 1941, and in response to Himmer's question "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", Hitler is recorded as responding, "als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans").[89] Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer has commented that the remark is probably as close as historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the genocide carried out during the Holocaust.[89] Bauer added that is unclear whether Himmler's question meant that until that point it had not been decided to exterminate the entire Jewish population, or whether such a decision had already been taken and Himmler's question referred merely to the precise means of extermination.[89] At the time of their meeting, death camps were being constructed under Operation Reinhard, Auschwitz was being converted from a concentration camp to a death camp and Chelmno had already opened earlier that month.[89] Thus, Bauer contends that Himmler's question to Hitler could be about whether to deport Soviet Jews to the death camps or continue the existing policy of genocide under the guise of anti-partisan operations.[89]

The "second sweep" started in late December. Einsatzgruppe A had already murdered almost all Jews in its area, and had little else to do, so it shifted its operations into Belorussia to assist Einsatzgruppe B.[90] In Dnepropetrovsk in February 1942, Einsatzgruppe D reduced the city's Jewish population from 30,000 to 702 over four days.[90] Unlike in Germany, where the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 defined as Jewish anyone with at least three Jewish grandparents, the Einsatzgruppe defined as Jewish anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent; in either case, a person's actual religion was irrelevant.[91]

Reflecting the tendency to justify the massacres as a defensive move forced on the Germans by the danger of Jewish partisan attacks, an SS officer wrote to his wife on September 27, 1941:

As I have said, I am in a very gloomy mood. I must pull myself out of it. The sight of the dead (including women and children) is not very cheering [emphasis in the original]. But we are fighting this war for the survivial or non-survival of our people. You back home, thank God, do not feel the full force of that. The bomb attacks have, however, shown what the enemy has in store for us if he has enough power. You are aware of it everywhere you go along the front. My comrades are literally fighting for the existence of our people. The enemy would do the same. I think that you understand me. As the war is in our opinion a Jewish war, the Jews are the first to feel it. Here in Russia, wherever the German soldier is, no Jew remains. You can imagine that at first I needed some time to get to grips with this.[92]

The same SS officer wrote to his children on October 15, 1942:

I have already told you about the shooting – that I could not say "no" here either. But they've more or less said they've finally found a good chap to run the administrative side of things. The last one was all accounts a coward. That's the way people are judged here. But you can trust your Daddy. He thinks about you all the time and is not shooting immoderately. So that's our life.[93]

To help with the "second sweep", the German Order Police and local collaborators provided the extra manpower needed to perform all the shootings.[94] Canadian historian Erich Haberer wrote that, as in the Baltic states, the Germans could not have killed so many Jews so quickly without local help.[94] Haberer points out that the ratio of German Order Police to Schutzmannschaft (Schuma) was 1:10 in both the Reichskommissariat Ukraine and Generalkommissariat Belorussia.[94] In rural areas of Belorussia and Ukraine, the ratio of Order Policeman to Schuma was 1:20, which meant that most Ukrainian and Belorussian Jews were killed by fellow Ukrainians and Belorussians commanded by German officers, rather than Germans themselves.[94]

Gebietskommissar Gerhard Erren, an official of the Ministry of the East run by Alfred Rosenberg, wrote about the town of Slonim in a report dated January 25, 1942:

Upon my arrival there were about 25,000 Jews in the Slonim area, 16,000 in the actual town itself, making up over two-thirds of the total population of the town. It was not possible to set up a ghetto as neither barbed wire nor guard manpower was available. I thus immediately began preparations for a large-scale action.

First of all property was expropriated and all the German official buildings, including the Wehrmacht quarters, were equpped with the furniture and equipment that had been made available ... Any article which could not be used for the Germans were handed over to the town for sale to the local population. Proceeds from their sale were sent to the finance department.

The Jews were then registered accurately according to number, age and profession and all craftsmen and workers with qualifications were singled out and given passes and separate accommodation to distinguish them from the other Jews. The action carried out by the SD on 13 November rid me of unnecessary mouths to feed.

The some 7,000 Jews now present in the town of Sonim have all been allocated jobs. They are working willingly because of the constant fear of death. Early next year they will be rigorously checked and sorted for a further reduction. The plains were extensivley cleansed for a time by the Wehrmacht. Unfortunately, however, this only took place in villages with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. In the Rayon towns all Jews will be eradicated with the exception of all but the most essential craftsmen and skilled workers, after auxiliary work for the east-west movement has been carried out. Since the Wehrmacht is not longer prepared to carry out actions on the plains I shall concentrate all the Jews of the area into two or three Rayon towns. They will work in closed columns only, in order to stamp out once and for all illicit trading and support for the partisans among them. The best of the skilled workers among the Jews will be made to pass their skills on to intelligent apprentices in my craft colleagues, so that Jews will finally be made dispensable in the skilled craft and trade sector, and can be eliminated.[95]

Erren's chauffer described one of the "reduction" actions as follows:

I was holding a whip or a pistol. I was loading or unloading. The men, children and mothers were pushed into the pits. Children were first beaten to death, and then thrown feet [first] into the pits ... There were a number of filthy sadists in the extermination Kommando. For example, pregnant women were shot in the belly for fun and then thrown into the pits ... Before the execution the Jews had to undergo a body search, during which ... anuses and sex organs were searched for valuables and jewels.[96]

The Generalkommissar for Belarus, Wilhelm Kube, in a report dated July 31, 1942 wrote:

It has become apparent during the course of all clashes with partisans in White Russia, in both the former Polish and former Soviet parts of the Generalbezirk, that the Jews, together with the Polish resistance movement and the Moscow Red Army in the east, are the principal supporters of the partisan movement. Consequently, the question of how the Jews in White Russia should be handled is a political matter taking priority over all considerations about the risks to the economy as a whole. Accordingly, it has to be solved not from an economic but from a political point of view.

During the course of extensive discussions with SS-Brigadeführer Zenner and the very competent Leiter of the SD, SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. jur. Strauch, it was established that we have liquidated about 55,000 Jews in the last ten weeks. In the Minsk area [Geiet Minsk-land] the Jews have been completely eradicated, without any negative effect on the workforce. In the mainly Polish area of Lida 16,000 Jews have been liquidated, in Slonim 8,000 Jews. Our preparations for the liquidation of the Jews in the Głębokie area were disrupted when the rear army area preempted us, liquidating 10,000 Jews whom we had been due to eradicate systematically, without any prior liaison with us. (A report on this incursion has already been submitted). On 28 and 29 July about 10,000 Jews were liquidated in the city of Minsk, 6,500 of them Russian Jews-for the most part old people, women and children-and the rest Jews unfit for work, who had mostly been sent from Vienna, Brünn, Bremen and Berlin in November of last year to Minsk on the Führer's orders.[97]

The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper noted that although photographs of the killings were officially forbidden, it was very common for both the men of the Einsatzgruppen and various by-standers to take pictures of the killings to send to their loved ones, which would suggest widespread approval of the massacres.[98]

Final Solution[edit | edit source]

Main article: Final Solution

After a time, it was found that the killing methods used by the Einsatzgruppen were inefficient: they were costly, demoralizing for the troops, and sometimes did not kill the victims quickly enough.[48] During a visit to Russia in August 1941, Himmler witnessed the Einsatzgruppen killings first-hand and concluded that shooting Jews was too much of a "psychological burden" for his men.[48] Out of "care and concern" for the Einsatzgruppen, Himmler felt there was a need for a "humane" way of killing—for the killers, that is, not the victims. Himmler ordered the development of gas vans,[48] and these were used by the Einsatzgruppen for mass killings from 1942.[99]

Still, such measures were thought not to go far enough. At the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich and various leading state officials discussed a more sweeping plan for killing Jews in Europe. This ultimately led to the establishment of Vernichtungslagern or extermination camps containing gas-chambers. Under this and other plans, an estimated six million Jews and five million non-Jews would ultimately lose their lives.[100]

Method of killing[edit | edit source]

File:Chelmno Gas Van.jpg

Nazi gas van used to murder people at Chelmno extermination camp

Einsatzkommando units typically followed close behind Wehrmacht army formations, marching into cities and towns where large numbers of Jews were known to live. Their task among the advancing troops was to recruit Mannschaft – local assistants such as Junaks (Lithuanian former convicts), Gendarmes (Ukrainian policemen) or Hiwis (local Ukranians); concentrate the hostile and sometimes partisan resistant population; and coordinate and perform executions. Once they entered a town, they issued orders requiring Jews and non-Jewish Communists to assemble for deportation out of town. Those who refused to comply were hunted down.

Typically, the gathered people were sent to designated execution sites outside the cities and towns. These massacre sites usually had shallow pits, graves dug in advance (sometimes by forced Jewish laborers) or deep ravines (including one at Babi Yar, near Kiev). Executioners would be waiting, with orders to kill them with machine guns or pistol shots to the head. The killers would also seize the victims' clothing and other belongings; some victims were forced to strip naked just before their execution. Once dead, the victims would be buried with hand shovels or bulldozers. Some victims were only injured, not killed, and were buried alive. A few managed to climb out of the grave and recount this.[101]Template:Full

Some methods and patterns of killing depended on the size of the town:

  • In big cities, mainly in battle zones, the Nazis would create a small local committee of 8 to 12 important Jews, known as the Judenrat, who would be required to summon the local Jews for "relocation". The Jews (including the Judenrat delegates) were marched to previously prepared trenches or natural pits and shot. Such massacres occurred at Babi Yar and Ponary.
  • In conquered urban areas of eastern Europe, Einsatzcommando units would first kill many Jews in nearby locations, such as woods or buildings. The remaining Jews would be confined to ghettos. Death rates inside ghettos from disease and malnourishment were high; groups from the ghetto were periodically taken away and shot or deported to extermination camps. Jews in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas were concentrated in the Kovno Ghetto and sent, thousands at a time, to be slaughtered in the town's 7th and 9th forts (watch towers).
  • In small rural areas, or in battle zones, the Jews were quickly led away and executed in nearby woods and mass graves, often dug by the victims themselves. This happened in the town of Dovno, Ukraine. Occasionally in smaller towns, Jews were locked in abandoned buildings that were set alight or blown up, though this was less common.
  • In towns across Eastern Europe and in death camps, gas vans were used by the Einsatzgruppe as an alternative to shooting. These vans were used, among other places, by Einsatzgruppe D and Einsatzkommando Kulmhof in the death camp Chelmno.

The Jäger Report[edit | edit source]

File:Map used to illustrate Stahlecker's report to Heydrich on January 31, 1942.jpg

Map titled "Jewish Executions Carried Out by Einsatzgruppe A" from the Stahlecker's report. Marked "Secret Reich Matter," the map shows the number of Jews shot in the Baltic region, and reads at the bottom: "the estimated number of Jews still on hand is 128,000."

The Einsatzgruppen kept official records of many of their massacres, and reported to their superiors on their actions. The most notable of these records is the Jäger Report, covering the operation of Einsatzkommando 3 over five months in Lithuania. It is the most precise surviving chronicle of the activities of one individual Einsatzkommando.

Written by Einsatzkommando 3 commander Karl Jäger and sent to Franz Walter Stahlecker, it reports an almost daily running total of the liquidations of 137,346 people, the vast majority Jews, from July 2, 1941 to November 25, 1941. The report documents the exact date and place of massacres, number of victims, and their breakdown into categories (Jews, Communists, criminals, etc.). In total, the report lists over 100 executions in 71 different locations. Jäger wrote: "I can confirm today that Einsatzkommando 3 has achieved the goal of solving the Jewish problem in Lithuania. There are no more Jews in Lithuania, apart from working Jews and their families."

Jäger escaped capture by the Allies when the war ended, assumed a false identity, and was able to assimilate back into society as an agriculturist until his report was discovered in March 1959. Arrested and charged, Jäger committed suicide in June 1959 in a Hohenasperg prison, awaiting trial for his crimes.

Plans for the Middle East[edit | edit source]

An Einsatzgruppe was created in 1942 to kill Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine, according to German historians Klaus-Michael Mallman and Martin Cueppers in a 2006 study. The Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten was standing by in Athens, Greece, and was prepared to go to Palestine once German forces arrived there, to kill the roughly half a million Jews in the Mandate, after first exterminating the Jews of Egypt. Even more far-reaching were the plans to extend the "Final Solution" to India; in the summer of 1942, the exiled Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose living in Berlin asked Himmler for "special SS training" of Bose's fellow anti-British émigrés so that when the Germans reached India, there would be a cadre of SS-trained Indians to work with the Einsatzgruppen in killing the Jews of India.[102] Himmler granted Bose's request, and hundreds of Indian émigrés were enrolled in a RHSA course.[102]

SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Walter Rauff was to lead the mobile death squad; its 24 members would enlist collaborators from the local Arab population, so that the "mass murder would continue under German leadership without interruption." Playing promient roles in engaging in anti-Semitic radio propaganda, in preparing to recruit Arab volunteers to assist Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten once it arrived in Egypt, and in raising the Arab-German Battalion that would also follow Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten to the Middle East were the former Iraqi prime minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.[103] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the commander of the Afrika Korps had promised the full co-operation of his corps in assisting Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten in the murder of the Jewish populations of Egypt, Palestine and elsewhere in the Near East.[104] The American historian Gerhard Weinberg commented that Rommel's willingness to work with the SS in killing the Jews of Egypt and Palestine suggested that he was as every bit committed to the "Final Solution" as his counterparts on the Eastern Front, and that his reputation as a chivalrous officer opposed to Nazi crimes is undeserved.[105] The agreement signed in July 1942 that was to govern relations between the Afrika Korps and Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten was almost identical to the agreement signed in May 1941 between Reinhard Heydrich and Eduard Wagner that governed Einsatzgruppen-Wehrmacht relations on the Eastern front, where in exchange for logistical support, Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten was to serve under Wehrmacht command in front-line areas.[106] Given its small staff of only 24 men, the Einsatzgrupppe Ägypten would have needed as much help as possible from the local Arabs and from the Afrika Korps to kill the roughly 50,000 Jews of Egypt, to say nothing of the half million or so Jews of the Yishuv. The SS leadership was greatly impressed by the way that the Rollkommando Hamann, a "raiding squad" of Lithuanians commanded by 8 SS officers had killed about 137,346 Jews in 1941–42, and believed that death squads of Palestinians, Egyptians, etc. commanded by German officers might likewise achieve similar results in the Near East.[107] The group never left Greece, however; the plans were set aside after the Allied victory at the Battle of El Alamein.[108]

Disestablishment and post-war[edit | edit source]

By 1942, permanent killing centres at Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka, and other Nazi extermination camps, replaced mobile death squads as the primary method of mass killing. The Einsatzgruppen remained active, however, and were still participating in massacres as late as the fall of 1943.

By 1944, the Red Army had begun to push German forces out of Eastern Europe, and the Einsatzgruppen began shutting down activities in order to retreat alongside the regular forces. By late 1944, most Einsatzgruppen personnel had been folded into Waffen-SS combat units or transferred to permanent death camps. Even so, on paper, the SS was still fielding Einsatzgruppen into 1945. SS leaders discussed merging the Einsatzgruppen into the new Werwolf units, designed for guerrilla fighting in occupied Germany; ultimately Werwolf was never an effectual force, either during or after the war. By the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, there were no longer any active Einsatzgruppen units in operation.

At the close of World War II, 24 senior leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were prosecuted in the Einsatzgruppen Trial, part of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials held under United States military authority, variously charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and membership in the SS (which had been declared a criminal organization). Fourteen death sentences and five life sentences were among the judgments; only four executions were carried out, on June 7, 1951; the rest were commuted.

Many SS and Police Leaders who had overseen activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union simply disappeared, were executed for war crimes, or committed suicide prior to their capture. As for the lower ranking members, a large number of them were killed in combat, captured in combat and executed (on the Eastern Front) or imprisoned in Russian camps, where they ultimately died. The lower ranking members who returned to Germany or to other countries were not formally charged (due to their large numbers) and simply returned to civilian life.

Organization (1941)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Einsatzkommando

The Einsatzgruppen were deployed as follows:

Of the four Einsatzgruppen, three were commanded by holders of doctorate degrees, of whom one (Rasch) held a double doctorate.[109]

Einsatzgruppe Leader Subgroups
Einsatzgruppe A
(Baltic Republics)
Dr.Franz Walter Stahlecker
(until March 23, 1942)
  • Sonderkommandos 1 a and 1 b (German for special forces, not to be confused with the Sonderkommandos in the concentration camps)
  • Einsatzkommandos 2 and 3. Attached to Army Group North.
Einsatzgruppe B
Artur Nebe
(until October 1941)
Einsatzgruppe C
(Northern and central Ukraine)
Dr. Otto Rasch
(until October 1941)
Einsatzgruppe D
(Bessarabia, Southern Ukraine, Crimea and Caucasus)
Prof. Otto Ohlendorf
(until June 1942)
  • Sonderkommandos 10 a and 10 b and
  • Einsatzkommandos 11 a, 11 b and 12. All attached to Army Group South.
Einsatzgruppe {?}
(United Kingdom)
Dr. Franz Six
Einsatzgruppe {?}
(Middle East)
Walter Rauff
  • Einsatzkommando Ägypten – planned for Jews resident in the Middle East, including Palestine. Never organized. Reportedly Rauff commanded an Einsatzkommdo against the Tunis Jews.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. LEO Deutsch-Englisches Wörterbuch "einsatzgruppe"
  2. Encyclopaedia Britannica's reflections on the holocaust "The Einsatzgruppen" [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Holocaust History Project, Introduction to the Einsatzgruppen
  4. "Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Vol 20, Day 194". http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/08-03-46.asp. Retrieved 2009 1 3. 
  5. The Trial of German Major War Criminals. Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany. 7th January to 19th January 1946. Twenty-Eighth Day (Part 6 of 10) (nizkor)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Nuremberg Military Tribunal, Einsatzgruppen trial, judgment, pages 414 – 416
  7. Dalin, David; John Rothmann, Alan Dershowitz (2009). Icon of Evil: Hitler's Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam. Transaction Publishers. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-4128-1077-7. http://books.google.com/books?id=QMts5Z36kjAC&pg=PA56#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  8. Headland 1992[page needed]
  9. 9.0 9.1 Streim 1989, page 436.
  10. Browning, Origins of the Final Solution, at pages 16–18.
  11. Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, 2: 263.
  12. Tasks of Einsatzgruppen in Poland
  13. Rhodes 2002, page 9
  14. *Maria Wardzyńska "Był rok 1939 Operacja niemieckiej policji bezpieczeństwa w Polsce. Intelligenzaktion" IPN Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, 2009 ISBN 978-83-7629-063-8
  15. Meier, Anna "Die Intelligenzaktion: Die Vernichtung Der Polnischen Oberschicht Im Gau Danzig-Westpreusen" (The Intelligentsia Action: The Annihilation of the Polish Upper Class in the Danzig-West Prussian Gau)VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, ISBN 3-639-04721-4 ISBN 978-3-639-04721-9
  16. Richard Rhodes, "Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust", Bellona 2008
  17. Bohler Jochen, Matthaus Jurgen, Mallmann Klaus-Michael , Einsatzgruppen in Polen", Wissenschaftl. Buchgesell 2008
  18. Hillgruber 1989, p 94.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Hillgruber 1989, p 95.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Hillgruber 1989, pp 95–96.
  21. Hillgruber 1989, pp 94–95.
  22. Hillgruber 1989, pp 94–96.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Hillgruber 1989, p 96.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Rees 1997, p 177.
  25. Rhodes 2002, p 15.
  26. Förster 2004, p 126.
  27. Marrus 2000, p 100.
  28. Haberer 2001, pp 66–68.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Haberer 2001, p 68.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Haberer 2001, p 66.
  31. Rhodes 2002, pp 40–41.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Haberer 2001, pp 67–68.
  33. Rees 1997 p 179.
  34. Klee, Dressen and Riess (1991), pages 31–32.
  35. Hillgruber 1989, p 97.
  36. Streim 1989, pp 440–441.
  37. Streim 1989, p 439.
  38. Streim 1989. p 439.
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Streim 1989, p 440.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Kershaw 2008, p 258.
  41. Kershaw 2008, pp 258–259.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 Bergen, Doris "Between God and Hitler" page 124.
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References[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Earl, Hilary, The Nuremberg SS-Einsatzgruppen Trial, 1945–1958: Atrocity, Law, and History, Nipissing University, Ontario ISBN 978-0-521-45608-1
  • (German) Krausnick, Helmut, and Wilhelm, Hans-Heinrich: Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges. Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938–1942. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1981, ISBN 3-421-01987-8
  • (German) Stang, Knut: Kollaboration und Massenmord. Die litauische Hilfspolizei, das Rollkommando Hamann und die Ermordung der litauischen Juden. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main [u.a.] 1996, ISBN 3-631-30895-7

External links[edit | edit source]

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