Einsatzgruppen[a] (German: [ˈʔaɪnzatsˌɡʁʊpn̩], "task
forces" or "deployment groups") were
paramilitary death squads of
Nazi Germany that were responsible for
mass killings, primarily by shooting, during
World War II
World War II (1939–45).
Einsatzgruppen were involved in the murder of much of the
intelligentsia and cultural elite of Poland, and had an integral role
in the implementation of the so-called Final solution to the Jewish
question (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in territories conquered by
Nazi Germany. Almost all of the people they killed were civilians,
beginning with the intelligentsia and swiftly progressing to Soviet
political commissars, Jews, and Gypsies as well as actual or alleged
partisans throughout Eastern Europe.
Under the direction of
Heinrich Himmler and the
supervision of SS-
Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the
Einsatzgruppen operated in territories occupied by the German armed
forces following the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and
Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) launched from
occupied Poland in June 1941. The
Einsatzgruppen worked hand-in-hand
with the Orpo Police Battalions on the Eastern Front to carry out
operations ranging from the murder of a few people to operations which
lasted over two or more days, such as the massacre at
Babi Yar with
33,771 Jews killed in two days, and the
Rumbula massacre (with about
25,000 killed in two days of shooting). As ordered by Nazi leader
Adolf Hitler, the
Wehrmacht cooperated with the
provided logistical support for their operations. Historian Raul
Hilberg estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the
related auxiliary troops killed more than two million people,
including 1.3 million Jews. The total number of Jews murdered during
the Holocaust is estimated at 5.5 to 6 million people.
After the close of World War II, 24 senior leaders of the
Einsatzgruppen were prosecuted in the
Einsatzgruppen Trial in
1947–48, charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Fourteen death sentences and two life sentences were handed out. Four
additional Einsatzgruppe leaders were later tried and executed by
1 Formation and Action T4
2 Invasion of Poland
3 Preparations for Operation Barbarossa
3.1 Organisation starting in 1941
4 Killings in the Soviet Union
4.1 Babi Yar
5 Killings in the Baltic states
6 Second sweep
7 Transition to gassing
8 Plans for the Middle East and Britain
9 Jäger Report
10 Involvement of the Wehrmacht
12 See also
13.1 Explanatory notes
14 Further reading
15 External links
Formation and Action T4
Einsatzgruppen were formed under the direction of
Reinhard Heydrich and operated by the
Schutzstaffel (SS) before and during World War II. The
Einsatzgruppen had its origins in the ad hoc
Einsatzkommando formed by
Heydrich to secure government buildings and documents following the
Austria in March 1938. Originally part of the
Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police; SiPo), two units of
Einsatzgruppen were stationed in the
Sudetenland in October 1938. When
military action turned out not to be necessary due to the Munich
Einsatzgruppen were assigned to confiscate government
papers and police documents. They also secured government buildings,
questioned senior civil servants, and arrested as many as 10,000 Czech
communists and German citizens. From September 1939, the
Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office; RSHA) had
overall command of the Einsatzgruppen.
As part of the drive to remove so-called "undesirable" elements from
the German population, from September to December 1939 the
Einsatzgruppen and others took part in Action T4, a programme of
systematic murder undertaken by the Nazi regime of persons with
physical and mental disabilities and patients of psychiatric
Action T4 mainly took place from 1939 to 1941, but the
killings continued until the end of the war. Initially the victims
were shot by the
Einsatzgruppen and others, but gas chambers were put
into use by spring 1940.
Invasion of Poland
Intelligenzaktion and Operation Tannenberg
Execution of Poles in Kórnik, 20 October 1939
In response to Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Poland on 1 September
1939, Heydrich re-formed the
Einsatzgruppen to travel in the wake of
the German armies. Membership at this point was drawn from the SS,
Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service; SD), the police, and the
Gestapo. Heydrich placed SS-
Werner Best in
command, who assigned Hans-Joachim Tesmer (de) to choose
personnel for the task forces and their subgroups, called
Einsatzkommandos, from among educated people with military experience
and a strong ideological commitment to Nazism. Some had previously
been members of paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps.
Heydrich instructed Wagner in meetings in late July that the
Einsatzgruppen should undertake their operations in cooperation with
Ordnungspolizei (Order Police; Orpo) and military commanders in
the area. Army intelligence was in constant contact with
Einsatzgruppen to coordinate their activities with other units.
Initially numbering 2,700 men (and ultimately 4,250 in
Poland), the Einsatzgruppen's mission was to kill members of
the Polish leadership most clearly identified with Polish national
identity: the intelligentsia, members of the clergy, teachers, and
members of the nobility. As stated by Hitler: "... there
must be no Polish leaders; where Polish leaders exist they must be
killed, however harsh that sounds". SS-
Beutel, commander of Einsatzgruppe IV, later testified that Heydrich
gave the order for these killings at a series of meetings in
Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen — lists of people to
be killed — had been drawn up by the SS as early as May 1939, using
dossiers collected by the SD from 1936 forward. The
Einsatzgruppen performed these murders with the support of the
Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz, a paramilitary group consisting of ethnic
Germans living in Poland. Members of the SS, the Wehrmacht, and
Ordnungspolizei also shot civilians during the Polish
campaign. Approximately 65,000 civilians were killed by the end of
1939. In addition to leaders of Polish society, they killed Jews,
prostitutes, Romani people, and the mentally ill. Psychiatric patients
in Poland were initially killed by shooting, but by spring 1941 gas
vans were widely used.
Einsatzgruppen of battalion strength (around 500 men) operated
in Poland. Each was subdivided into five Einsatzkommandos of company
strength (around 100 men).
Einsatzgruppe I, commanded by SS-
Standartenführer Bruno Streckenbach,
acted with 14th Army
Einsatzgruppe II, SS-
Obersturmbannführer Emanuel Schäfer, acted with
Einsatzgruppe III, SS-
Obersturmbannführer und Regierungsrat Herbert
Fischer, acted with 8th Army
Einsatzgruppe IV, SS-
Brigadeführer Lothar Beutel, acted with 4th Army
Einsatzgruppe V, SS-Standartenfürer Ernst Damzog, acted with 3rd Army
Einsatzgruppe VI, SS-
Oberführer Erich Naumann, acted in Wielkopolska
Einsatzgruppe VII, SS-
Udo von Woyrsch
Udo von Woyrsch and
Gruppenführer Otto Rasch, acted in
Upper Silesia and Cieszyn
Though they were formally under the command of the army, the
Einsatzgruppen received their orders from Heydrich and for the most
part acted independently of the army. Many senior army
officers were only too glad to leave these genocidal actions to the
task forces, as the killings violated the rules of warfare as set down
in the Geneva Conventions. However, Hitler had decreed that the army
would have to tolerate and even offer logistical support to the
Einsatzgruppen when it was tactically possible to do so. Some army
commanders complained about unauthorised shootings, looting, and rapes
committed by members of the
Einsatzgruppen and the Volksdeutscher
Selbstschutz, to little effect. For example, when Generaloberst
Johannes Blaskowitz sent a memorandum of complaint to Hitler about the
atrocities, Hitler dismissed his concerns as "childish", and
Blaskowitz was relieved of his post in May 1940. He continued to serve
in the army but never received promotion to field marshal.
The final task of the
Einsatzgruppen in Poland was to round up the
remaining Jews and concentrate them in ghettos within major cities
with good railway connections. The intention was to eventually remove
all the Jews from Poland, but at this point their final destination
had not yet been determined. Together, the
Wehrmacht and the
Einsatzgruppen also drove tens of thousands of Jews eastward into
Preparations for Operation Barbarossa
The Holocaust in Belarus,
The Holocaust in Ukraine, and
The Holocaust in Russia
On 13 March 1941, in the lead-up to Operation Barbarossa, the planned
invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler dictated his "Guidelines in
Special Spheres re: Directive No. 21 (Operation Barbarossa)".
Sub-paragraph B specified that
Heinrich Himmler would
be given "special tasks" on direct orders from the Führer, which he
would carry out independently. This directive was intended to
prevent friction between the
Wehrmacht and the SS in the upcoming
offensive. Hitler also specified that criminal acts against
civilians perpetrated by members of the
Wehrmacht during the upcoming
campaign would not be prosecuted in the military courts, and thus
would go unpunished.
In a speech to his leading generals on 30 March 1941, Hitler described
his envisioned war against the Soviet Union. General Franz Halder, the
Army's Chief of Staff, described the speech:
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
Though General Halder did not record any mention of Jews, German
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 its Jewish population. The genocide was often
described using euphemisms such as "special tasks" and "executive
measures"; Einsatzgruppe victims were often described as having been
shot while trying to escape. In May 1941, Heydrich verbally passed
on the order to kill the Soviet Jews to the SiPo NCO School in
Pretzsch, where the commanders of the reorganised
being trained for Operation Barbarossa. In spring 1941, Heydrich
and the First Quartermaster of the
Wehrmacht Heer, General Eduard
Wagner, successfully completed negotiations for co-operation between
Einsatzgruppen and the German Army to allow the implementation of
the "special tasks". Following the Heydrich-Wagner agreement on 28
April 1941, Field Marshal
Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch ordered that when
Operation Barbarossa began, all German Army commanders were to
immediately identify and register all Jews in occupied areas in the
Soviet Union, and fully co-operate with the Einsatzgruppen.
In further meetings held in June 1941 Himmler outlined to top SS
leaders the regime's intention to reduce the population of the Soviet
Union by 30 million people, not only through direct killing of those
considered racially inferior, but by depriving the remainder of food
and other necessities of life.
Organisation starting in 1941
Further information: List of Einsatzgruppen
For Operation Barbarossa, initially four
Einsatzgruppen were created,
each numbering 500–990 men to comprise a total force of 3,000.
Einsatzgruppen A, B, and C were to be attached to Army Groups North,
Centre, and South; Einsatzgruppe D was assigned to the 11th Army. The
Special Purposes operated in eastern Poland starting
in July 1941. The
Einsatzgruppen were under the control of the
RSHA, headed by Heydrich and later by his successor,
Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Heydrich gave them a
mandate to secure the offices and papers of the Soviet state and
Communist Party; to liquidate all the higher cadres of the Soviet
state; and to instigate and encourage pogroms against Jewish
populations. The men of the
Einsatzgruppen were recruited from the
Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), Orpo, and Waffen-SS. Each
Einsatzgruppe was under the operational control of the Higher SS
Police Chiefs in its area of operations. In May 1941, General
Wagner and SS-
Walter Schellenberg 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. Given their main task was defeating the enemy,
the army left the pacification of the civilian population to the
Einsatzgruppen, who offered support as well as prevented
subversion. This did not preclude their participation in acts of
violence against civilians, as many members of the
Einsatzgruppen in rounding up and killing Jews of their own
Otto Rasch photographed by Allied forces at the Nuremberg Trials,
Heydrich acted under orders from
Reichsführer-SS Himmler, who
supplied security forces on an "as needed" basis to the local SS and
Police Leaders. Led by SD, Gestapo, and Kripo officers,
Einsatzgruppen included recruits from the Orpo, Security Service and
Waffen-SS, augmented by uniformed volunteers from the local auxiliary
police force. Each Einsatzgruppe was supplemented with a reserve
battalion of Orpos and
Waffen-SS as well as support personnel such as
drivers and radio operators. On average, the Orpo formations were
larger and better armed, with heavy machine-gun detachments, which
enabled them to carry out operations beyond the capability of the
SS. Each death squad followed an assigned army group as they
advanced into the Soviet Union. During the course of their
Einsatzgruppen commanders received assistance from the
Wehrmacht. Activities ranged from the murder of targeted groups of
individuals named on carefully prepared lists, to joint citywide
operations with SS
Einsatzgruppen which lasted for two or more days,
such as the massacres at Babi Yar, perpetrated by the Orpo Reserve
Battalion 45, and at Rumbula, by Battalion 22, reinforced by local
Schutzmannschaften (auxiliary police). The SS brigades, wrote
historian Christopher Browning, were "only the thin cutting edge of
German units that became involved in political and racial mass
Many Einsatzgruppe leaders were highly educated; for example, nine of
seventeen leaders of Einsatzgruppe A held doctorate degrees. Three
Einsatzgruppen were commanded by holders of doctorates, one of whom
Gruppenführer Otto Rasch) held a double doctorate.
Einsatzgruppen were created as additional territories were
occupied. Einsatzgruppe E operated in Independent State of Croatia
under three commanders, SS-
Teichmann (de), SS-
Standartenführer Günther Herrmann, and
Standartenführer Wilhelm Fuchs. The unit was subdivided
into five Einsatzkommandos located in Vinkovci, Sarajevo, Banja Luka,
Knin, and Zagreb. Einsatzgruppe F worked with Army Group
South. Einsatzgruppe G operated in Romania, Hungary, and Ukraine,
commanded by SS-
Standartenführer Josef Kreuzer (de).
Einsatzgruppe H was assigned to Slovakia.
Einsatzgruppen K and L,
Emanuel Schäfer and SS-
Hahn, worked alongside 5th and 6th Panzer Armies during the Ardennes
offensive. Hahn had previously been in command of Einsatzgruppe
Griechenland in Greece.
Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos included Einsatzgruppe Iltis
(operated in Carinthia, on the border between Slovenia and Austria)
Standartenführer Paul Blobel, Einsatzgruppe Jugoslawien
Einsatzkommando Luxemburg (Luxembourg),
Einsatzgruppe Norwegen (Norway) commanded by SS-
Walter Stahlecker, Einsatzgruppe Serbien (Yugoslavia) under
Wilhelm Fuchs and SS-
Einsatzkommando Tilsit (de) (Lithuania, Poland),
Tunis (Tunis), commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer
Killings in the Soviet Union
Map of the
Einsatzgruppen operations behind the German-Soviet frontier
with the location of the first shooting of Jewish men, women and
children, 30 July 1941
After the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 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. In a letter dated 2 July 1941 Heydrich
communicated to his SS and Police Leaders that the
to execute all senior and middle ranking
Comintern officials; all
senior and middle ranking members of the central, provincial, and
district committees of the Communist Party; extremist and radical
Communist Party members; people's commissars; and Jews in party and
government posts. Open-ended instructions were given to execute "other
radical elements (saboteurs, propagandists, snipers, assassins,
agitators, etc.)." He instructed that any pogroms spontaneously
initiated by the population of the occupied territories were to be
On 8 July, Heydrich announced that all Jews were to be regarded as
partisans, and gave the order for all male Jews between the ages of 15
and 45 to be shot. On 17 July Heydrich ordered that the
Einsatzgruppen were to kill all Jewish
Red Army prisoners of war, plus
Red Army prisoners of war from Georgia and Central Asia, as they
too might be Jews. Unlike in Germany, where the
Nuremberg Laws of
1935 defined as Jewish anyone with at least three Jewish grandparents,
Einsatzgruppen defined as Jewish anyone with at least one Jewish
grandparent; in either case, whether or not the person practised the
religion was irrelevant. The unit was also assigned to exterminate
Romani people and the mentally ill. It was common practice for the
Einsatzgruppen to shoot hostages.
As the invasion began, the Germans pursued the fleeing Red Army,
leaving a security vacuum. Reports surfaced of Soviet guerrilla
activity in the area, with local Jews immediately suspected of
collaboration. Heydrich ordered his officers to incite anti-Jewish
pogroms in the newly occupied territories. Pogroms, some of which
were orchestrated by the Einsatzgruppen, broke out in Latvia,
Lithuania, and Ukraine. Within the first few weeks of Operation
Barbarossa, 40 pogroms led to the deaths of 10,000 Jews, and by the
end of 1941 some 60 pogroms had taken place, claiming as many as
24,000 victims. However, SS-
Brigadeführer Franz Walter
Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A, reported to his superiors in
mid-October that the residents of
Kaunas were not spontaneously
starting pogroms, and secret assistance by the Germans was
required. A similar reticence was noted by Einsatzgruppe B in
Russia and Belarus and Einsatzgruppe C in Ukraine; the further east
Einsatzgruppen travelled, the less likely the residents were to be
prompted into killing their Jewish neighbours.
A teenage boy stands beside his murdered family shortly before his own
death by the SS. Zboriv, Ukraine, 5 July 1941
All four main
Einsatzgruppen took part in mass shootings from the
early days of the war. Initially the targets were adult Jewish
men, but by August the net had been widened to include women,
children, and the elderly—the entire Jewish population. Initially
there was a semblance of legality given to the shootings, with
trumped-up charges being read out (arson, sabotage, black
marketeering, or refusal to work, for example) and victims being
killed by a firing squad. As this method proved too slow, the
Einsatzkommandos began to take their victims out in larger groups and
shot them next to, or even inside, mass graves that had been prepared.
Some Einsatzkommandos started to use automatic weapons, with survivors
being killed with a pistol shot.
As word of the massacres got out, many Jews fled; in Ukraine, 70 to 90
per cent of the Jews ran away. This was seen by the leader of
Einsatzkommando VI as beneficial, as it would save the regime the
costs of deporting the victims further east over the Urals. In
other areas the invasion was so successful that the
insufficient forces to immediately kill all the Jews in the conquered
territories. A situation report from Einsatzgruppe C in September
1941 noted that not all Jews were members of the Bolshevist apparatus,
and suggested that the total elimination of Jewry would have a
negative impact on the economy and the food supply. The Nazis began to
round their victims up into concentration camps and ghettos and rural
districts were for the most part rendered
Judenfrei (free of
Jews). Jewish councils were set up in major cities and forced
labour gangs were established to make use of the Jews as slave labour
until they were totally eliminated, a goal that was postponed until
Einsatzgruppen used public hangings as a terror tactic against the
local population. An Einsatzgruppe B report, dated 9 October 1941,
described one such hanging. Due to suspected partisan activity near
Demidov, all male residents aged 15 to 55 were put in a camp to be
screened. The screening produced seventeen people who were identified
as "partisans" and "Communists". Five members of the group were hanged
while 400 local residents were assembled to watch; the rest were
Main article: Babi Yar
The largest mass shooting perpetrated by the
Einsatzgruppen took place
on 29 and 30 September 1941 at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of Kiev, a
Ukraine that had fallen to the Germans on 19
September. The perpetrators included a company of Waffen-SS
attached to Einsatzgruppe C under Rasch, members of Sonderkommando 4a
Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, and some Ukrainian
auxiliary police. The Jews of
Kiev were told to report to a
certain street corner on 29 September; anyone who disobeyed would be
shot. Since word of massacres in other areas had not yet reached Kiev
and the assembly point was near the train station, they assumed they
were being deported. People showed up at the rendezvous point in large
numbers, laden with possessions and food for the journey.
After being marched two miles north-west of the city centre, the
victims encountered a barbed wire barrier and numerous Ukrainian
police and German troops. Thirty or forty people at a time were told
to leave their possessions and were escorted through a narrow
passageway lined with soldiers brandishing clubs. Anyone who tried to
escape was beaten. Soon the victims reached an open area, where they
were forced to strip, and then were herded down into the ravine.
People were forced to lie down in rows on top of the bodies of other
victims, and they were shot in the back of the head or the neck by
members of the execution squads.
The murders continued for two days, claiming a total of 33,771
victims. Sand was shovelled and bulldozed over the bodies and the
sides of the ravine were dynamited to bring down more material.
Anton Heidborn, a member of Sonderkommando 4a, later testified that
three days later that there were still people alive among the corpses.
Heidborn spent the next few days helping smooth out the "millions" of
banknotes taken from the victims' possessions. The clothing was
taken away, destined to be re-used by German citizens. Jeckeln's
troops shot more than 100,000 Jews by the end of October.
Killings in the Baltic states
The Holocaust in Lithuania,
The Holocaust in Latvia,
The Holocaust in Estonia
Einsatzgruppe A 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 22 June and 25 November
Upon entering Kaunas, Lithuania, on 25 June 1941, the Einsatzgruppe
released the criminals from the local jail and encouraged them to join
the pogrom which was underway. Between 23–27 June 1941, 4,000
Jews were killed on the streets of
Kaunas and in nearby open pits and
ditches. Particularly active in the
Kaunas pogrom was the
so-called "Death Dealer of Kaunas", a young man who murdered Jews with
a crowbar at the Lietukis Garage before a large crowd that cheered
each killing with much applause; he occasionally paused to play the
Lithuanian national anthem "Tautiška giesmė" on his accordion before
resuming the killings.
As Einsatzgruppe A advanced into Lithuania, it actively recruited
local nationalists and antisemitic groups. In July 1941, members of
the Baltaraisciai movement joined the massacres. A pogrom in Riga
in early July killed 400 Jews. Latvian nationalist
Viktors Arājs and
his supporters undertook a campaign of arson against synagogues.
On 2 July, Einsatzgruppe A commander Stahlecker appointed Arājs to
head the Arajs Kommando, a Sonderkommando of about 300 men, mostly
university students. Together, Einsatzgruppe A and the Arājs Kommando
killed 2,300 Jews in
Riga on 6–7 July. Within six months, Arājs
and his men would kill about half of Latvia's Jewish population.
Local officials, the Selbstschutz, and the Hilfspolizei (Auxiliary
Police) played a key role in rounding up and massacring Jewish
Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians. These groups helped the
Einsatzgruppen and other killing units to quickly identify Jews.
The Hilfspolizei, consisting of auxiliary police organised by the
Germans and recruited from former Latvian Army and police officers,
ex-Aizsargi, members of the Pērkonkrusts, and university students,
assisted in the murder of Latvia's Jewish citizens. Similar units
were created elsewhere, and provided much of the manpower for the
Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
With the creation of units such as the Arājs Kommando and the
Rollkommando Hamann in Lithuania, the attacks changed from the
spontaneous mob violence of the pogroms to more systematic
massacres. With extensive local help, Einsatzgruppe A was the
first Einsatzgruppe to attempt to systematically exterminate all the
Jews in its area. 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
In 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.
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 borderlands had experienced a
political culture of violence. The period of Soviet rule had been
profoundly traumatic for residents of the
Baltic states and areas that
had been part of Poland until 1939; the population was brutalised and
terrorised by the imposed Soviet rule, and the existing familiar
structures of society were destroyed.
Historian Erich Haberer notes that many survived and made sense of the
"totalitarian atomization" of society by seeking conformity with
communism. 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
allegiance to the German regime when it arrived. Some who had
collaborated with the Soviet regime sought to divert attention from
themselves by naming Jews as collaborators and killing them.
Einsatzgruppen SD issued and used dog-tag.
Main article: Rumbula massacre
In November 1941 Himmler was dissatisfied with the pace of the
exterminations in Latvia, as he intended to move Jews from Germany
into the area. He assigned SS-
Obergruppenführer Jeckeln, one of the
perpetrators of the
Babi Yar massacre, to liquidate the
Jeckeln selected a site about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) southeast of
Riga near the Rumbula railway station, and had 300 Russian prisoners
of war prepare the site by digging pits in which to bury the victims.
Jeckeln organised around 1,700 men, including 300 members of the Arajs
Kommando, 50 German SD men, and 50 Latvian guards, most of whom had
already participated in mass killings of civilians. These troops were
supplemented by Latvians, including members of the
Riga city police,
battalion police, and ghetto guards. Around 1,500 able-bodied Jews
would be spared execution so their slave labour could be exploited; a
thousand men were relocated to a fenced-off area within the ghetto and
500 women were temporarily housed in a prison and later moved to a
separate nearby ghetto, where they were put to work mending
Although Rumbula was on the rail line, Jeckeln decided that the
victims should travel on foot from
Riga to the execution ground.
Trucks and buses were arranged to carry children and the elderly. The
victims were told that they were being relocated, and were advised to
bring up to 20 kilograms (44 lb) of possessions. The first day of
executions, 30 November 1941, began with the perpetrators rousing and
assembling the victims at 4:00 am. The victims were moved in
columns of a thousand people toward the execution ground. As they
walked, some SS men went up and down the line, shooting people who
could not keep up the pace or who tried to run away or rest.
When the columns neared the prepared execution site, the victims were
driven some 270 metres (300 yd) from the road into the forest,
where any possessions that had not yet been abandoned were seized.
Here the victims were split into groups of fifty and taken deeper into
the forest, near the pits, where they were ordered to strip. The
victims were driven into the prepared trenches, made to lie down, and
shot in the head or the back of the neck by members of Jeckeln's
bodyguard. Around 13,000 Jews from
Riga were killed at the pits that
day, along with a thousand Jews from Berlin who had just arrived by
train. On the second day of the operation, 8 December 1941, the
remaining 10,000 Jews of
Riga were killed in the same way. About a
thousand were killed on the streets of the city or on the way to the
site, bringing the total deaths for the two-day extermination to
25,000 people. For his part in organising the massacre, Jeckeln was
promoted to Leader of the SS Upper Section, Ostland.
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 thought the killings should stop. An Einsatzgruppe
report dated 17 September advised that the Germans would be better off
using any skilled Jews as labourers rather than shooting them.
Also, in some areas poor weather and a lack of transportation led to a
slowdown in deportations of Jews from points further west. Thus,
an interval passed between the first round of
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. During the interval, the surviving Jews were
forced into ghettos.
Einsatzgruppe A had already murdered almost all Jews in its area, so
it shifted its operations into Belarus to assist Einsatzgruppe B. In
Dnepropetrovsk in February 1942, Einsatzgruppe D reduced the city's
Jewish population from 30,000 to 702 over the course of four
days. The German Order Police and local collaborators provided
the extra manpower needed to perform all the shootings. Haberer wrote
that, as in the Baltic states, the Germans could not have killed so
many Jews so quickly without local help. He points out that the ratio
of Order Police to auxiliaries was 1 to 10 in both
Belarus. In rural areas the proportion was 1 to 20. This meant that
most Ukrainian and Belarusian Jews were killed by fellow Ukrainians
and Belarusians commanded by German officers rather than by
The second wave of exterminations in the Soviet Union met with armed
resistance in some areas, though the chance of success was poor.
Weapons were typically primitive or home-made. Communications were
impossible between ghettos in various cities, so there was no way to
create a unified strategy. Few in the ghetto leadership supported
resistance for fear of reprisals on the ghetto residents. Mass
break-outs were sometimes attempted, though survival in the forest was
nearly impossible due to the lack of food and the fact that escapees
were often tracked down and killed.
Transition to gassing
See also: Final Solution
Magirus-Deutz van found near
Chełmno extermination camp
Chełmno extermination camp is the same
type as those used as gas vans.
After a time, Himmler found that the killing methods used by the
Einsatzgruppen were inefficient: they were costly, demoralising for
the troops, and sometimes did not kill the victims quickly
enough. Many of the troops found the massacres to be difficult if
not impossible to perform. Some of the perpetrators suffered physical
and mental health problems, and many turned to drink. As much as
Einsatzgruppen leaders militarized the genocide. The
historian Christian Ingrao notes an attempt was made to make the
shootings a collective act without individual responsibility. Framing
the shootings in this way was not psychologically sufficient for every
perpetrator to feel absolved of guilt. Browning notes three
categories of potential perpetrators: those who were eager to
participate right from the start, those who participated in spite of
moral qualms because they were ordered to do so, and a significant
minority who refused to take part. A few men spontaneously became
excessively brutal in their killing methods and their zeal for the
task. Commander of Einsatzgruppe D, SS-
Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf,
particularly noted this propensity towards excess, and ordered that
any man who was too eager to participate or too brutal should not
perform any further executions.
During a visit to
Minsk in August 1941, Himmler witnessed an
Einsatzgruppen mass execution first-hand and concluded that shooting
Jews was too stressful for his men. By November he made
arrangements for any SS men suffering ill health from having
participated in executions to be provided with rest and mental health
care. He also decided a transition should be made to gassing the
victims, especially the women and children, and ordered the
recruitment of expendable native auxiliaries who could assist with the
murders. Gas vans, which had been used previously to kill
mental patients, began to see service by all four main Einsatzgruppen
from 1942. However, the gas vans were not popular with the
Einsatzkommandos, because removing the dead bodies from the van and
burying them was a horrible ordeal. Prisoners or auxiliaries were
often assigned to do this task so as to spare the SS men the
trauma. Some of the early mass killings at extermination camps
used carbon monoxide fumes produced by diesel engines, similar to the
method used in gas vans, but by as early as September 1941 experiments
were begun at
Auschwitz using Zyklon B, a cyanide-based pesticide
Plans for the total eradication of the Jewish population of
Europe—eleven million people—were formalised at the Wannsee
Conference, held on 20 January 1942. Some would be worked to death,
and the rest would be killed in the implementation of the Final
Solution of the
Jewish question (German: Die Endlösung der
Judenfrage). Permanent killing centres at Auschwitz, Belzec,
Sobibor, Treblinka, and other Nazi extermination camps replaced mobile
death squads as the primary method of mass killing. The
Einsatzgruppen remained active, however, and were put to work fighting
partisans, particularly in Belarus.
After the fall of Stalingrad in February 1943, Himmler realised that
Germany would likely lose the war, and ordered the formation of a
special task force, Sonderkommando 1005, under SS-Standartenführer
Paul Blobel. The unit's assignment was to visit mass graves all along
the Eastern Front to exhume bodies and burn them in an attempt to
cover up the genocide. The task remained unfinished at the end of the
war, and many mass graves remain unmarked and unexcavated.
By 1944 the
Red Army had begun to push the German forces out of
Eastern Europe, and the
Einsatzgruppen retreated alongside the
Wehrmacht. By late 1944, most
Einsatzgruppen personnel had been folded
Waffen-SS combat units or transferred to permanent death camps.
Hilberg estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the
related agencies killed more than two million people, including 1.3
million Jews. The total number of Jews murdered during the war is
estimated at 5.5 to six million people.
Plans for the Middle East and Britain
According to research by German historians
Klaus-Michael Mallmann and
Martin Cüppers, an Einsatzgruppe was created in 1942 to kill the
half-million Jews living in the
British Mandate of Palestine
British Mandate of Palestine and the
50,000 Jews of Egypt. Einsatzgruppe Egypt, standing by in Athens, was
prepared to go to Palestine once German forces arrived there.
Walter Rauff was to lead the unit. Given
its small staff of only 24 men,
Einsatzgruppe Egypt would have needed
help from local residents and from the
Afrika Korps to complete their
assignment. Its members planned to enlist collaborators from the local
population to perform the killings under German leadership. 
Former Iraqi prime minister
Rashid Ali al-Gaylani
Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and the Grand Mufti
Haj Amin al-Husseini
Haj Amin al-Husseini played roles, engaging in
antisemitic radio propaganda, preparing to recruit volunteers, and in
raising an Arab-German Battalion that would also follow Einsatzgruppe
Egypt to the Middle East. On 20 July 1942, Walther Rauff, who was
responsible for the unit, was sent to
Tobruk to report to Field
Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of the Afrika Korps. However, since
Rommel was 500 km away at the First Battle of El Alamein, it is
unlikely that the two were able to meet. The plans for
Einsatzgruppe Egypt were set aside after the Allied victory at the
Second Battle of El Alamein. Historian Jean-Christoph Caron
opines that there is no evidence that Rommel knew of or would have
supported Rauff's mission.
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 into Britain. They were provided with a list called die
Sonderfahndungsliste, G.B. ("
Special Search List, G.B"), known as The
Black Book after the war, of 2,300 people to be immediately imprisoned
by the Gestapo. The list included Churchill, members of the cabinet,
prominent journalists and authors, and members of the Czechoslovak
Page 6 of the
Jäger Report shows the number of people killed by
Einsatzkommando III alone in the five-month period covered by the
report as 137,346.
Einsatzgruppen kept official records of many of their massacres
and provided detailed reports to their superiors. The Jäger Report,
filed by Commander SS-
Karl Jäger on 1 December 1941
to his superior, Stahlecker (head of Einsatzgruppe A), covers the
Einsatzkommando III in
Lithuania over the five-month
period from 2 July 1941 to 25 November 1941.
Jäger's report provides an almost daily running total of the
liquidations of 137,346 people, the vast majority of them Jews.
The report documents the exact date and place of massacres, the number
of victims, and their breakdown into categories (Jews, Communists,
criminals, and so on). Women were shot from the very beginning,
but initially in fewer numbers than men. Children were first
included in the tally starting in mid-August, when 3,207 people were
Rokiškis on 15–16 August 1941. For the most part
the report does not give any military justification for the killings;
people were killed solely because they were Jews. In total, the
report lists over 100 executions in 71 different locations. Jäger
wrote: "I can state today that the goal of solving the Jewish problem
Lithuania has been reached by
Einsatzkommando 3. There are no more
Jews in Lithuania, apart from working Jews and their families."
In a February 1942 addendum to the report, Jäger increased the total
number of victims to 138,272, giving a breakdown of 48,252 men, 55,556
women, and 34,464 children. Only 1,851 of the victims were
Jäger escaped capture by the Allies when the war ended. He lived in
Heidelberg under his own name until his report was discovered in March
1959. Arrested and charged, Jäger committed suicide on 22 June
1959 in a Hohenasperg prison while awaiting trial for his crimes.
Involvement of the Wehrmacht
War crimes of the Wehrmacht
The killings took place with the knowledge and support of the German
Army in the east. On 10 October 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.
Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt of
Army Group South
Army Group South expressed his
"complete agreement" with the order. He sent out a circular to the
generals under his command urging them to release their own versions
and to impress upon their troops the need to exterminate the
Jews. General Erich von Manstein, in an order to his troops on 20
November, stated that "the Jewish-Bolshevist system must be
exterminated once and for all." Manstein sent a letter to
Einsatzgruppe D commanding officer Ohlendorf complaining that it was
unfair that the SS was keeping all of the murdered Jews' wristwatches
for themselves instead of sharing with the army.
Beyond this trivial complaint, the Army and the
closely and effectively. On 6 July 1941
Einsatzkommando 4b of
Einsatzgruppe C reported that "Armed forces surprisingly welcome
hostility against the Jews". Few complaints about the killings
were ever raised by
Wehrmacht officers. On 8 September,
Einsatzgruppe D reported that relations with the German Army were
"excellent". In the same month, Stahlecker of Einsatzgruppe A
Army Group North had been exemplary in co-operating with
the exterminations and that relations with the 4th Panzer Army,
commanded by General Erich Hoepner, were "very close, almost
cordial". In the south, the Romanian Army worked closely with
Einsatzgruppe D to massacre Ukrainian Jews, killing around 26,000
Jews in the Odessa massacre. The German historian Peter Longerich
thinks it probable that the Wehrmacht, along with the Organization of
Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), incited the Lviv pogroms, during which
8,500 to 9,000 Jews were killed by the native population and
Einsatzgruppe C in July 1941. Moreover, most people on the home
front in Germany had some idea of the massacres being committed by the
Einsatzgruppen. British historian
Hugh Trevor-Roper noted that
although Himmler had forbidden photographs of the killings, it was
common for both the men of the
Einsatzgruppen and for bystanders to
take pictures to send to their loved ones, which he felt suggested
widespread approval of the massacres.
Officers in the field were well aware of the killing operations being
conducted by the Einsatzgruppen. The
Wehrmacht tried to justify
their considerable involvement in the
Einsatzgruppen massacres as
being anti-partisan operations rather than racist attacks, but
Hillgruber wrote that this was just an excuse. He states that those
German generals who claimed that the
Einsatzgruppen were a necessary
anti-partisan response were lying, and maintained that the slaughter
of about 2.2 million defenceless civilians for reasons of racist
ideology cannot be justified.
After the close of World War II, 24 senior leaders of the
Einsatzgruppen were prosecuted in the
Einsatzgruppen Trial in
1947–48, part of the Subsequent
Nuremberg Trials held under United
States military authority. The men were charged with crimes against
humanity, war crimes, and membership in the SS (which had been
declared a criminal organization). Fourteen death sentences and two
life sentences were among the judgments; only four executions were
carried out, on 7 June 1951; the rest were reduced to lesser
sentences. Four additional Einsatzgruppe leaders were later tried and
executed by other nations.
Otto Ohlendorf, 1943
Einsatzgruppen leaders, including Ohlendorf, claimed at the
trial to have received an order before
Operation Barbarossa requiring
them to murder all Soviet Jews. To date no evidence has been
found that such an order was ever issued. German prosecutor
Alfred Streim noted that if such an order had been given, post-war
courts would only have been able to convict the
as accomplices to mass murder. However, if it could be established
Einsatzgruppen had committed mass murder without orders, then
they could have been convicted as perpetrators of mass murder, and
hence could have received stiffer sentences, including capital
Streim postulated that the existence of an early comprehensive order
was a fabrication created for use in Ohlendorf's defence. This theory
is now widely accepted by historians. Longerich notes that most
orders received by the
Einsatzgruppen leaders—especially when they
were being ordered to carry out criminal activities—were vague, and
couched in terminology that had a specific meaning for members of the
regime. Leaders were given briefings about the need to be "severe" and
"firm"; all Jews were to be viewed as potential enemies that had to be
dealt with ruthlessly. British historian Sir
Ian Kershaw argues
that Hitler's apocalyptic remarks before Barbarossa about the
necessity for a war without mercy to "annihilate" the forces of
"Judeo-Bolshevism" were interpreted by
Einsatzgruppen commanders as
permission and encouragement to engage in extreme antisemitic
violence, with each
Einsatzgruppen commander to use his own discretion
about how far he was prepared to go.
Most of the perpetrators of Nazi war crimes were never charged, and
returned unremarked to civilian life. The West German Central
Prosecution Office of Nazi War Criminals only charged about a hundred
former Einsatzgruppe members with war crimes. And as time went
on, it became more difficult to obtain prosecutions; witnesses grew
older and were less likely to be able to offer valuable testimony.
Funding for trials was inadequate, and the governments of
Germany became less interested in obtaining convictions for wartime
events, preferring to forget the Nazi past.
Functionalism versus intentionalism
Glossary of Nazi Germany
Nazi Party leaders and officials
^ Singular: Einsatzgruppe; Official full name:
Sicherheitspolizei und des SD
^ LEO Dictionary.
^ Encyclopædia Britannica.
^ a b Edeiken 2000.
^ a b Streim 1989, p. 436.
^ Longerich 2012, pp. 405, 412.
^ Nuremberg Trial, Vol. 20, Day 194.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 138–141.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 425.
^ a b c Longerich 2010, p. 144.
^ a b Rossino 2003, p. 11.
^ Rossino 2003, pp. 11, 20.
^ a b Evans 2008, p. 17.
^ Rossino 2003, p. 14.
^ Rossino 2003, p. 17.
^ Rossino 2003, p. 12.
^ Browning & Matthäus 2004, pp. 16–18.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 143.
^ Rossino 2003, p. 15.
^ Rossino 2003, p. 16.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 144–145.
^ a b Longerich 2012, p. 429.
^ Evans 2008, p. 15.
^ Longerich 2012, pp. 430–432.
^ Weale 2012, p. 225.
^ Evans 2008, p. 18.
^ Gerwarth 2011, p. 147.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 146.
^ Evans 2008, pp. 25–26.
^ Weale 2012, pp. 227–228.
^ Weale 2012, pp. 242–245.
^ a b Hillgruber 1989, p. 95.
^ Wette 2007, p. 93.
^ Longerich 2012, pp. 521–522.
^ a b Hillgruber 1989, pp. 95–96.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 14, 48.
^ Hillgruber 1989, pp. 94–95.
^ Hillgruber 1989, pp. 94–96.
^ a b Hillgruber 1989, p. 96.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 181.
^ a b c d Longerich 2010, p. 185.
^ Thomas 1987, p. 265.
^ a b Rees 1997, p. 177.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 15.
^ Langerbein 2003, pp. 30–31.
^ Langerbein 2003, pp. 31–32.
^ a b Browning 1998, pp. 10–12.
^ a b
Einsatzgruppen judgment, pp. 414–416.
^ Browning 1998, pp. 135–136, 141–142.
^ Browning 1998, p. 10.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 186.
^ Browning & Matthäus 2004, pp. 225–226.
^ a b MacLean 1999, p. 23.
^ a b c Museum of Tolerance.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 419.
^ Dams & Stolle 2012, p. 168.
^ Conze, Frei et al. 2010.
^ Crowe 2007, p. 267.
^ Mallmann & Cüppers 2006, p. 97.
^ Larsen 2008, p. xi.
^ Shelach 1989, p. 1169.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 197.
^ a b Mallmann, Cüppers & Smith 2010, p. 130.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 523.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 198.
^ Hillgruber 1989, p. 97.
^ Hilberg 1985, p. 368.
^ Headland 1992, pp. 62–70.
^ Urban 2001.
^ a b Longerich 2012, p. 526.
^ a b c Haberer 2001, p. 68.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 193–195.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 208.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 196–202.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 207.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 208, 211.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 211.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 211–212.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 212–213.
^ Headland 1992, pp. 57–58.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 179.
^ a b c Evans 2008, p. 227.
^ Weale 2012, p. 315.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 172–173.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 173–176.
^ a b Rhodes 2002, p. 178.
^ Weale 2012, p. 317.
^ Hillgruber 1989, p. 98.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 41.
^ a b Haberer 2001, pp. 67–68.
^ Rees 1997, p. 179.
^ a b Haberer 2001, pp. 68–69.
^ a b c Haberer 2001, p. 69.
^ a b c Haberer 2001, p. 71.
^ Haberer 2001, pp. 69–70.
^ a b Haberer 2001, p. 70.
^ Rees 1997, p. 182.
^ Haberer 2001, p. 66.
^ Haberer 2001, p. 73.
^ Haberer 2001, pp. 74–75.
^ a b Haberer 2001, p. 76.
^ Haberer 2001, p. 77.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 206–209.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 208–210.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 210–214.
^ a b Hilberg 1985, p. 342.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 549.
^ Hilberg 1985, pp. 342–343.
^ a b Marrus 2000, p. 64.
^ Hilberg 1985, p. 372.
^ Haberer 2001, p. 78.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 353–354.
^ Rees 1997, p. 197.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 52, 124, 168.
^ Ingrao 2013, pp. 199—200.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 163.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 165–166.
^ Longerich 2012, pp. 547–548.
^ a b Rhodes 2002, p. 167.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 551.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 548.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 243.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 280–281.
^ Longerich 2012, pp. 555–556.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 279–280.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 248.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 258–260, 262.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 257.
^ Evans 2008, p. 318.
^ Mallmann, Cüppers & Smith 2010, p. 118.
^ Mallmann, Cüppers & Smith 2010, pp. 124–125.
^ Mallmann, Cüppers & Smith 2010, pp. 127–130.
^ Mallmann, Cüppers & Smith 2010, pp. 103, 117–118.
^ Krumenacker 2006.
^ Caron 2007.
^ Shirer 1960, pp. 783–784.
^ a b c Rhodes 2002, p. 215.
^ a b c Rhodes 2002, p. 126.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 230.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 216.
^ Rabitz 2011.
^ Rhodes 2002, p. 276.
^ a b Hillgruber 1989, p. 102.
^ Craig 1973, p. 10.
^ Mayer 1988, p. 250.
^ Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 43.
^ a b Hilberg 1985, p. 301.
^ Wette 2007, p. 131.
^ Hilberg 1985, p. 30.
^ Marrus 2000, p. 79.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 194.
^ Marrus 2000, p. 88.
^ Klee, Dressen & Riess 1991, p. xi.
^ Wette 2007, pp. 200–201.
^ Hillgruber 1989, pp. 102–103.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 274–275.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 187.
^ Longerich 2010, pp. 187–189.
^ Streim 1989, p. 439.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 188.
^ Longerich 2010, p. 189–190.
^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 258–259.
^ Rhodes 2002, pp. 275–276.
^ Segev 2010, pp. 226, 250, 376.
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