EINSATZGRUPPEN (German: , "task forces " "deployment groups")
Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of
Nazi Germany that
were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during
World War II
World War II (1939–45). The
Einsatzgruppen were involved in the
murder of much of the intelligentsia , including members of the
priesthood , and they played 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 the clergy, before progressing to killing Soviet
political commissars ,
Jews , and Gypsies as well as actual or alleged
Eastern Europe .
Under the direction of
Heinrich Himmler and the
supervision of SS-
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
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
Invasion of Poland
* 3 Preparations for
* 3.1 Organisation starting in 1941
* 4 Killings in the Soviet Union
* 5 Killings in the
* 5.1 Rumbula
* 6 Second sweep
* 7 Transition to gassing
* 8 Plans for the Middle East and Britain
* 10 Involvement of the
* 12 See also
* 13 References
* 13.1 Explanatory notes
* 13.2 Citations
* 13.3 Sources
* 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
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
Agreement , the
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 of the physically and mentally handicapped and
psychiatric hospital patients undertaken by the Nazi regime. 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
INVASION OF POLAND
Execution of Poles in
Kórnik , 20 October 1939
In response to
Adolf Hitler 's plan to invade Poland , Heydrich
Einsatzgruppen to travel in the wake of the German
armies. Membership at this point was drawn from the SS, the
Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service; SD), and the police. Heydrich
Werner Best in command, who chose leaders
for the task forces and their subgroups, called Einsatzkommandos ,
from among educated people with military experience. Some had
previously been members of paramilitary groups such as the
Numbering some 2,700 men at this point, 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". The Sonderfahndungsbuch
Polen — lists of people to be killed — had been drawn up by the SS
as early as May 1939. 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 the
Ordnungspolizei (Order Police; Orpo) 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 operated in Poland. Each
was subdivided into four Einsatzkommandos of company strength.
* Einsatzgruppe I, commanded by SS-
Streckenbach , acted with 14th Army
* Einsatzgruppe II, SS-
Emanuel Schäfer , acted
with 10th Army
* Einsatzgruppe III, SS-
Obersturmbannführer und Regierungsrat
Herbert Fischer, acted with 8th Army
* Einsatzgruppe IV, SS-
Lothar Beutel , acted with 4th
* Einsatzgruppe V, SS-Standartenfürer
Ernst Damzog , acted with 3rd
* Einsatzgruppe VI, SS-
Erich Naumann , acted in
* Einsatzgruppe VII, SS-
Udo von Woyrsch and
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
it was tactically possible to do so. Some army commanders complained
about unauthorised shootings, looting, and rapes committed by members
Einsatzgruppen and the Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz, to little
effect. For example, when
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
Jews and concentrate them in ghettos within major cities
with good railway connections. The intention was to eventually remove
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
Soviet-controlled territory .
PREPARATIONS FOR OPERATION BARBAROSSA
The Holocaust in Belarus ,
The Holocaust in
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
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
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 future.
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
Einsatzgruppen were 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 the
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 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
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 Einsatzgruppe for
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,
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
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
Wehrmacht assisted the
Einsatzgruppen in rounding up and killing
Jews of their own accord.
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 operations, the
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
Einsatzgruppen which lasted for two or more days, such as the
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
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
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-
Obersturmbannführer Ludwig Teichmann
Standartenführer Günther Herrmann , and lastly
Wilhelm Fuchs . The unit was subdivided into five
Einsatzkommandos located in
Banja Luka ,
Zagreb . Einsatzgruppe F worked with Army Group South.
Einsatzgruppe G operated in
Hungary , and
commanded by SS-
Standartenführer Josef Kreuzer (de). Einsatzgruppe
H was assigned to
Einsatzgruppen K and L, under
Emanuel Schäfer and SS-
Ludwig 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) under SS-
Paul Blobel , Einsatzgruppe
Einsatzkommando Luxemburg (Luxembourg),
Einsatzgruppe Norwegen (Norway) commanded by SS-
Walter Stahlecker, Einsatzgruppe Serbien (Yugoslavia) under
Wilhelm Fuchs and SS-
Einsatzkommando Tilsit (de) (Lithuania, Poland), and
Tunis ), commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer
Walter Rauff .
KILLINGS IN THE SOVIET UNION
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. A teenage boy stands beside
his murdered family shortly before his own death by the SS.
Ukraine, 5 July 1941
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
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-
Franz Walter Stahlecker
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 the Einsatzgruppen
travelled, the less likely the residents were to be prompted into
killing their Jewish neighbours.
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 1942.
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 shot.
The largest mass shooting perpetrated by the
place on 29 and 30 September 1941 at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of
Kiev , a city in
Ukraine that had fallen to the Germans on 19
September. The perpetrators included a company of
to Einsatzgruppe C under Rasch, members of Sonderkommando 4a under
Friedrich Jeckeln , and some Ukrainian auxiliary
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
The Holocaust in
The Holocaust in
Einsatzgruppe A operated in the formerly Soviet-occupied Baltic
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 1941.
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
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
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
Arajs Kommando , a Sonderkommando of about 300 men, mostly
university students. Together, Einsatzgruppe A and the Arājs Kommando
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,
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.
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
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.
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
Riga ghetto .
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 uniforms.
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.
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
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
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. During the interval, the surviving
Jews were forced
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
Ukraine and Belarus. In
rural areas the proportion was 1 to 20. This meant that most Ukrainian
Jews were killed by fellow Ukrainians and Belarusians
commanded by German officers rather than by Germans.
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
Magirus-Deutz van found near 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-
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
Zyklon B , a
cyanide-based pesticide gas.
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
Jews living in the
British Mandate of Palestine
British Mandate of Palestine and the
Jews of Egypt.
Einsatzgruppe Egypt , standing by in
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 and the Grand Mufti of
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
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
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.
Operation Sea Lion
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"),
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
Czechoslovak government-in-exile .
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 murdered in
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 in
been reached by
Einsatzkommando 3. There are no more
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 non-Jewish.
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
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.
Erich von Manstein
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 wrote that 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
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
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
Einsatzgruppen leaders as accomplices to
mass murder. However, if it could be established that the
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 punishment.
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
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
Austria and Germany
became less interested in obtaining convictions for wartime events,
preferring to forget the Nazi past.
Functionalism versus intentionalism
* Glossary of
List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
* ^ Singular: Einsatzgruppe; Official full name:
Sicherheitspolizei und des SD
* ^ LEO Dictionary .
* ^ Encyclopædia Britannica .
* ^ Rhodes 2002 , p. 4.
* ^ 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 Evans 2008 , p. 17.
* ^ Browning & Matthäus 2004 , pp. 16–18.
* ^ Longerich 2010 , p. 143.
* ^ Longerich 2010 , pp. 144–145.
* ^ A B Longerich 2012 , p. 429.
* ^ Evans 2008 , p. 15.
* ^ Longerich 2012 , pp. 430–432.
* ^ A B 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.
* ^ Robertson .
* ^ 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.
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REPORT OF EINSATZGRUPPE A UP TO 15 OCTOBER 1941
* United States Holocaust Memorial