Einsatzgruppen
Overview
 


Einsatzgruppen were SS
Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

 paramilitary
Paramilitary
A paramilitary is a force whose function and organization are similar to those of a professional military, but which is not considered part of a state's formal armed forces....

 death squad
Death squad
A death squad is an armed military, police, insurgent, or terrorist squad that conducts extrajudicial killings, assassinations, and forced disappearances of persons as part of a war, insurgency or terror campaign...

s that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories. The Einsatzgruppen operated throughout the territory occupied by the German armed forces following the German invasions of Poland, in September, 1939, and later, of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
Encyclopedia


Einsatzgruppen were SS
Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

 paramilitary
Paramilitary
A paramilitary is a force whose function and organization are similar to those of a professional military, but which is not considered part of a state's formal armed forces....

 death squad
Death squad
A death squad is an armed military, police, insurgent, or terrorist squad that conducts extrajudicial killings, assassinations, and forced disappearances of persons as part of a war, insurgency or terror campaign...

s that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories. The Einsatzgruppen operated throughout the territory occupied by the German armed forces following the German invasions of Poland, in September, 1939, and later, of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The Einsatzgruppen carried out operations ranging from the murder of a few people to operations which lasted over two or more days, such as the massacres at Babi Yar
Babi Yar
Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis during their campaign against the Soviet Union. The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on September 29–30, 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a...

 (33,771 killed in two days) and Rumbula
Rumbula massacre
The Rumbula massacre was the two-day killing of about 25,000 Jews in and on the way to Rumbula forest near Riga, Latvia, during the Holocaust. Save only the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, this was the biggest two-day Holocaust atrocity until the operation of the death camps...

 (25,000 killed in two days). The Einsatzgruppen were responsible for the murders of over 1,000,000 people, and they were the first Nazi organizations to commence mass killing of Jews as an organized policy.

Background

The Einsatzgruppen were formed under the direction of SS-Obergruppenführer
Obergruppenführer
Obergruppenführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was first created in 1932 as a rank of the SA and until 1942 it was the highest SS rank inferior only to Reichsführer-SS...

 Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich , also known as The Hangman, was a high-ranking German Nazi official.He was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia...

 (deputy to Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

) and operated by the Schutzstaffel
Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

(SS) before and during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. From September 1939 forward the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA - Reich Main Security Office) had overall command of the Einsatzgruppen. Their principal task during the war (according to SS General Erich von dem Bach
Erich von dem Bach
Erich Julius Eberhard von Zelewski or Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski , was a Nazi official and a member of the SS, in which he reached the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer .- Slavic origin :...

 at the Nuremberg Trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

) "... was the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 political commissar
Political commissar
The political commissar is the supervisory political officer responsible for the political education and organisation, and loyalty to the government of the military...

s". The Einsatzgruppen had a leading role in the implementation of the final solution
Final Solution
The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust...

 of the Jewish question
Jewish Question
The Jewish question encompasses the issues and resolutions surrounding the historically unequal civil, legal and national statuses between minority Ashkenazi Jews and non-Jews, particularly in Europe. The first issues discussed and debated by societies, politicians and writers in western and...

 (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in the conquered territories.

Personnel

Formed mainly of members from the Orpo
Ordnungspolizei
The Ordnungspolizei or Orpo were the uniformed regular police force in Nazi Germany between 1936 and 1945. It was increasingly absorbed into the Nazi police system. Owing to their green uniforms, they were also referred to as Grüne Polizei...

, the Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

, and local volunteers, e.g. militia groups, and led by SD
Sicherheitsdienst
Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

, Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

and Kripo
Kriminalpolizei
is the standard term for the criminal investigation agency within the police forces of Germany, Austria and the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland. In Nazi Germany during 1936, the Kripo became the Criminal Police Department for the entire Reich...

officers, these death squad
Death squad
A death squad is an armed military, police, insurgent, or terrorist squad that conducts extrajudicial killings, assassinations, and forced disappearances of persons as part of a war, insurgency or terror campaign...

s followed the Wehrmacht Heer (German Army) as it advanced eastwards through Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. During the course of their operations, the Einsatzgruppen commanders were authorized to request, and they did receive, assistance from the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

. Incorporated specifically into Einsatzgruppe D were a number of Albanian, Serbo-Croatian and possibly Bosnian volunteers, who were organized by Mohammad Amin al-Husayni
Mohammad Amin al-Husayni
Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim leader in the British Mandate of Palestine. From as early as 1920, in order to secure the independence of Palestine as an Arab state he actively opposed Zionism, and was implicated as a leader of a violent riot...

, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is the Sunni Muslim cleric in charge of Jerusalem's Islamic holy places, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque.-Ottoman era:...

.

In occupied territory, the Einsatzgruppen also used the local populace
Collaboration during World War II
Within nations occupied by the Axis Powers, some citizens, driven by nationalism, ethnic hatred, anti-communism, anti-Semitism or opportunism, knowingly engaged in collaboration with the Axis Powers during World War II...

 for additional security and personnel. The activities of the Einsatzgruppen were spread through a large pool of soldiers from the branches of the SS and German Reich. Heydrich acted under orders from Reichsführer
Reichsführer-SS
was a special SS rank that existed between the years of 1925 and 1945. Reichsführer-SS was a title from 1925 to 1933 and, after 1934, the highest rank of the German Schutzstaffel .-Definition:...

 Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 who supplied security forces on an "as needed" basis to the local SS and Police Leader
SS and Police Leader
SS and Police Leader was a title for senior Nazi officials that commanded large units of the SS, of Gestapo and of the regular German police during and prior to World War II.Three levels of subordination were established for bearers of this title:...

s.

According to their own records, the Einsatzgruppen murdered more than one million people, almost all civilians, beginning with the Polish
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 intelligentsia
Intelligentsia
The intelligentsia is a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them...

, and then quickly progressing (by 1941) to killing Jews, Gypsies and others throughout Eastern Europe. Historian Raul Hilberg
Raul Hilberg
Raul Hilberg was an Austrian-born American political scientist and historian. He was widely considered to be the world's preeminent scholar of the Holocaust, and his three-volume, 1,273-page magnum opus, The Destruction of the European Jews, is regarded as a seminal study of the Nazi Final...

 estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the Einsatzgruppen and the SS killed more than 1.3 million Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars in open-air shootings.

History

Einsatzgruppen can be traced back to the ad-hoc Einsatzkommando
Einsatzkommando
During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads—up to 3,000 men each—usually composed of 500-1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured...

 formed by Reinhard Heydrich to secure government buildings and documents following the Anschluss
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

 in Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 in March 1938. The task of securing government buildings with their accompanying documentation and the questioning of senior civil servants in lands occupied by Germany was the Einsatzgruppen's original mission.

Czechoslovakia

In the summer of 1938, when Germany was preparing an invasion
German occupation of Czechoslovakia
German occupation of Czechoslovakia began with the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's pretext for this effort was the alleged privations suffered by...

 of Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 scheduled for October 1 of that year, the Einsatzgruppen were founded. The intention was for Einsatzgruppen to travel in the wake of the German armies as they advanced into Czechoslovakia, and to secure government papers and offices. Unlike the early Einsatzkommando, the Einsatzgruppen were to be armed and authorized to freely use lethal force to accomplish their mission. The Munich Agreement
Munich Agreement
The Munich Pact was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without...

 of 1938 prevented the war for which the Einsatzgruppen were originally founded, but as the Germans occupied the Sudetenland
Sudetenland
Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...

 in the fall of 1938, the Einsatzgruppen moved into the region to occupy offices formerly belonging to the Czechoslovak state. After the occupation of the rest of the Czech portion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, the Einsatzgruppen were re-formed and again used to secure offices formerly belonging to the Czechoslovak government. The Einsatzgruppen were never a standing formation; rather they were ad hoc units recruited mostly from the ranks of the SS
Schutzstaffel
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

, the SD
Sicherheitsdienst
Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

, and various German police forces such as the Ordnungspolizei
Ordnungspolizei
The Ordnungspolizei or Orpo were the uniformed regular police force in Nazi Germany between 1936 and 1945. It was increasingly absorbed into the Nazi police system. Owing to their green uniforms, they were also referred to as Grüne Polizei...

, the Gendarmerie
Gendarmerie
A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. Members of such a force are typically called "gendarmes". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a gendarme as "a soldier who is employed on police duties" and a "gendarmery, -erie" as...

, the Kripo and the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

. Once the military campaign had ended, the Einsatzgruppen units were disbanded, though generally the same personnel were recruited again if the need arose for the Einsatzgruppen units to be re-activated.

Poland


In response to Hitlers plans to invade Poland, Heydrich re-formed the Einsatzgruppen to travel in the wake of the German armies. Unlike the earlier operations, Heydrich gave the Einsatzgruppen commanders carte blanche
Full Powers
Full Powers is a term in international law and is the authority of a person to sign a treaty or convention on behalf of a sovereign state. Persons other than the head of state, head of government or foreign minister of the state must produce Full Powers in order to sign a treaty binding their...

to kill anyone belonging to groups that the Germans considered hostile. After the occupation of Poland in 1939, the Einsatzgruppen killed Poles belonging to the upper class and intelligentsia, such as priests and teachers. The mission of the Einsatzgruppen was therefore the forceful depoliticisation of the Polish people and the elimination of the groups most clearly identified with the Polish national identity. As stated by Hitler in his Armenian quote
Armenian quote
The Armenian quote is a paragraph understood to have been included in a speech by Adolf Hitler to Wehrmacht commanders at his Obersalzberg home on August 22, 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland...

, units were sent: "...with orders for them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish race and language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need." "Whatever we find in the shape of an upper class
Upper class
In social science, the "upper class" is the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Members of an upper class may have great power over the allocation of resources and governmental policy in their area.- Historical meaning :...

 in Poland will be liquidated," Hitler had declared. The massacres committed in Poland in 1939 caused tension with the German Army, who while having no moral objections to the massacres of Poles, felt these killings were injurious to military discipline.

The first elimination of Polish intelligentsia took place soon after the German invasion of Poland, and lasted from fall of 1939 until the spring of 1940. The Intelligenzaktion
Intelligenzaktion
Intelligenzaktion was a genocidal action of Nazi Germany targeting Polish elites as part of elimination of potentially dangerous elements. It was an early measure of the Generalplan Ost. About 60,000 people were killed as the result of this operation...

 was a plan to eliminate the Polish intelligentsia, Poland's leadership class, realized by Einsatzgruppen and Selbstschutz
Selbstschutz
Selbstschutz stands for two organisations:# A name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe# A name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence....

. They used the Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen
Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen
Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen – was the proscription list prepared by Germans, before the war, that identified more than 61,000 members of Polish elites: activists, intelligentsia, scholars, actors, former officers, and others, who were to be interned or...

, a list of targets prepared before war. Sixty thousand Polish nobles
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

, teachers, Polish entrepreneurs, social workers, priests, judges and political activists were killed in ten regional actions. The Intelligenzaktion was continued by the German AB-Aktion operation in Poland.

During Operation Tannenberg
Operation Tannenberg
Operation Tannenberg was the codename for one of the extermination actions directed at the Polish people during World War II, part of the Generalplan Ost...

 eight Einsatzgruppe operated in Poland:
  • Einsatzgruppe I (under command – SS-Standartenführer Bruno Streckenbach
    Bruno Streckenbach
    Bruno Heinrich Streckenbach held the rank of SS-Brigadeführer , when he was the head of Amt I : Administration and Personnel of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt , but eventually achieved the rank of SS-Gruppenführer both in Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS...

    , acted with 14th Army)
  • Einsatzgruppe II (under command – SS-Obersturmbannführer Emanuel Schäfer
    Emanuel Schäfer
    Emanuel Schäfer was an SS-Oberführer and a protégé of Reinhard Heydrich in Nazi Germany....

    , acted with 10th Army)
  • Einsatzgruppe III (under command – SS-Obersturmbannführer und Regierungsrat dr. Hans Fischer, acted with 8th Army)
  • Einsatzgruppe IV (under command – SS-Brigadeführer Lothar Beutel
    Lothar Beutel
    Lothar Beutel was a German pharmacist and Schutzstaffel officer who worked on behalf of the Sicherheitsdienst....

    , acted with 4th Army)
  • Einsatzgruppe V (under command – SS-Standartenfürer Ernst Damzog, acted with 3rd Army)
  • Einsatzgruppe VI (under command – SS-Oberführer Erich Naumann
    Erich Naumann
    Erich Naumann was an SS-Brigadeführer, member of the SD. Naumann was responsible for genocide in eastern Europe as commander of Einsatzgruppe B and considered a war criminal.-Early life and career:...

    , acted on Wielkopolska area)
  • Einsatzgruppe z. B.V (under command – SS-Obergruppenführer Udo von Woyrsch
    Udo von Woyrsch
    Udo Gustav Wilhelm Egon von Woyrsch was a high ranking Nazi, who rose to the rank of SS Obergruppenführer and was responsible for numerous murders during The Holocaust.- Early life :...

     i SS-Oberfürer Otto Rasch
    Otto Rasch
    SS-Brigadeführer Otto Rasch was a high-ranking Nazi official in the occupied Eastern territories, commanding Einsatzgruppe C until October 1941. As a commanding officer, he was a Holocaust perpetrator and mass murderer.-Biography:Rasch was born in Friedrichsruh, northern Germany...

    , acted on Upper Silesia
    Upper Silesia
    Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia. Since the 9th century, Upper Silesia has been part of Greater Moravia, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Piast Kingdom of Poland, again of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire, as well as of...

     and Cieszyn Silesia
    Cieszyn Silesia
    Cieszyn Silesia or Těšín Silesia or Teschen Silesia is a historical region in south-eastern Silesia, centered around the towns of Cieszyn and Český Těšín and bisected by the Olza River. Since 1920 it has been divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic...

    )
  • Einsatzkommando 16 (under command – SS-Sturmbannführer dr. Rudolf Tröger, acted on Pomerania
    Pomerania
    Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. Divided between Germany and Poland, it stretches roughly from the Recknitz River near Stralsund in the West, via the Oder River delta near Szczecin, to the mouth of the Vistula River near Gdańsk in the East...

    )

Western Europe

Following the German invasion
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 of the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 in May 1940, the Einsatzgruppen once again travelled in the wake of the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

, but unlike their operations in Poland, the Einsatzgruppen operations in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 in 1940 were within the original mandate of securing government offices and papers. Had Operation Sea Lion, the German plan for an invasion of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, been launched, six Einsatzgruppen were scheduled to follow the invasion force to Britain. The Einsatzgruppen intended for "Sealion" were provided with a list (known as The Black Book
The Black Book
The Black Book was the post-war name given to the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. , the list of prominent British to be arrested in the case of a successful invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany in World War II.-Background:The list was similar to earlier lists prepared by SS like the Special Prosecution...

 after the war) of 2,820 people to be arrested immediately.

Soviet Union

Sometime between late June 1940 when planning for Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 first started and March 1941, orders were approved by Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 for the re-establishment of the Einsatzgruppen (the surviving historical record does not permit firm conclusions to be drawn about the precise date). On March 13, 1941 Hitler dictated sub-paragraph B of the "Guidelines in Special Spheres re Directive No. 21 (Operation Barbarossa)", which read:
"In the operations area of the Army, the Reichsführer SS has been given special tasks on the orders of the Führer, in order to prepare the political administration. These tasks arise from the forthcoming final struggle of two opposing political systems. Within the framework of these tasks, the Reichsführer SS acts independently and on his own responsibility."
Sub-paragraph B was intended by Hitler to prevent the sort of friction that had occurred in Poland in 1939 when several German Army generals had attempted to bring Einsatzgruppen leaders to trial for the murders they had committed On March 30, 1941 in a secret speech to his leading generals, Hitler described the sort of war he wanted Operation Barbarossa to be according to the notes taken by Army's Chief of Staff, General Franz Halder
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

 as:
"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's notes did not record any mention of Jews, the German historian Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

 argued that because Hitler's frequent statements at the same time about the coming war of annihilation against "Judeo-Bolshevism"
Jewish Bolshevism
Jewish Bolshevism, Judeo-Bolshevism, and known as Żydokomuna in Poland, is an antisemitic stereotype based on the claim that Jews have been the driving force behind or are disproportionately involved in the modern Communist movement, or sometimes more specifically Russian Bolshevism.The expression...

, that his generals would have implicitly understood Hitler's call for the total destruction of the Soviet Union as also comprising a call for the total destruction of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. In May 1941 Reinhard Heydrich passed on verbally the order to kill the Soviet Jews to the Border Police School of Pretzsch when the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen were being trained for Operation Barbarossa. In the spring 1941, Heydrich and the First Quartermaster of the German Army, General Eduard Wagner
Eduard Wagner
General Eduard Wagner was a German Artillery officer who was the quartermaster-general of the German Army and a member of the resistance to Adolf Hitler....

 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 April 28, 1941, Fieldmarshal Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

 ordered when Operation Barbarossa began that all German Army commanders were to identify and register all Jews in the occupied areas in the Soviet Union at once and to co-operate fully with the Einsatzgruppen". For Operation Barbarossa, four Einsatzgruppen were created, each numbering between 500-990 men to comprise a total force of 3,000. The men of the four Einsatzgruppen came from the SD
Sicherheitsdienst
Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

, Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

, Kripo
Kriminalpolizei
is the standard term for the criminal investigation agency within the police forces of Germany, Austria and the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland. In Nazi Germany during 1936, the Kripo became the Criminal Police Department for the entire Reich...

, Orpo
Ordnungspolizei
The Ordnungspolizei or Orpo were the uniformed regular police force in Nazi Germany between 1936 and 1945. It was increasingly absorbed into the Nazi police system. Owing to their green uniforms, they were also referred to as Grüne Polizei...

, and Waffen SS. Each Einsatzgruppen in its area of operations were under the operational control of the Higher SS-Police Chiefs. In a further agreement between the Army and the SS concluded in May 1941 by General Wagner and Walter Schellenberg
Walter Schellenberg
Walther Friedrich Schellenberg was a German SS-Brigadeführer who rose through the ranks of the SS to become the head of foreign intelligence following the abolition of the Abwehr in 1944.-Biography:...

, it was agreed that the Einsatzgruppen in front-line areas were to operate under Army command while the Army would provide the Einsatzgruppen with all necessary logistical support.

Before Operation Barbarossa began on June 22, 1941, both the men of the German Army and the SS were told that Barbarossa was a “preventive war” forced on Germany by an alleged Soviet attack planned to occur in July 1941. At the same time, a massive propaganda campaign was launched in the spring of 1941 presenting Barbarossa as an ideological-racial war between German National Socialism and Soviet Communism, or to use the preferred German phrase “Judeo-Bolshevism”

After the invasion
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 which began on 22 June 1941, the Einsatzgruppens main assignment was to kill civilians, similarly as in Poland, but this time particularly the Soviet Communist Party
Communist Party of the Soviet Union
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the only legal, ruling political party in the Soviet Union and one of the largest communist organizations in the world...

 commissar
Commissar
Commissar is the English transliteration of an official title used in Russia from the time of Peter the Great.The title was used during the Provisional Government for regional heads of administration, but it is mostly associated with a number of Cheka and military functions in Bolshevik and Soviet...

s and Jews were targeted. These
Einsatzgruppen were under the control of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA - Reich Main Security Office); i.e., Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich , also known as The Hangman, was a high-ranking German Nazi official.He was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia...

 and later his successor Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Ernst Kaltenbrunner was an Austrian-born senior official of Nazi Germany during World War II. Between January 1943 and May 1945, he held the offices of Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt , President of Interpol and, as a Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS, he was the...

. The original mandate set by Heydrich for the four
Einsatzgruppen sent into the Soviet Union as part of Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 was to secure the offices and papers of the Soviet state and Communist Party; to liquidate all of the higher cadres of the Soviet state; and to instigate and encourage pogrom
Pogrom
A pogrom is a form of violent riot, a mob attack directed against a minority group, and characterized by killings and destruction of their homes and properties, businesses, and religious centres...

s against all local Jewish populations. The orders that Heydrich drafted on July 2, 1941 stated that the
Einsatzgruppen were to execute all Soviet officials of higher and medium rank; members of the Comintern
Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

; "extremist" Communist Party members; members of the central, provincial and district committees of the Communist Party; Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 political commissar
Political commissar
The political commissar is the supervisory political officer responsible for the political education and organisation, and loyalty to the government of the military...

s; and all Communist Party members of Jewish origin. In regards to Jewish populations in general:
"No steps will be taken to interfere with any purges that may be initiated by anti-Bolshevik or anti-Jewish elements in the newly occupied territories. On the contrary, these are to be secretly encouraged."
Throughout their existence in the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen produced much anti-Semitic propaganda depicting the Soviet regime as the tools of the Jews On July 17, 1941, Heydrich ordered that the Einsatzgruppen were to kill all Red Army POWs who were Jewish, plus all Red Army POWs from Georgia and Central Asia because Heydrich viewed them as being possibly Jewish. As the German invasion began, a massive series of bloody pogroms broke out, some of which were encouraged by the Germans, and all of which were the spontaneous outbreaks of local anti-Semitism. Within the first few weeks of Operation Barbarossa, 40 pogroms had broken out with about 10,000 Jews being killed by local people. The Canadian historian Erich Haberer has written that incidents such as the Jedwabne pogrom
Jedwabne pogrom
The Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941 during German occupation of Poland, was a massacre of at least 340 Polish Jews of all ages. These are the official findings of the Institute of National Remembrance, "confirmed by the number of victims in the two graves, according to the estimate of the...

 were not incidental, but rather "integral" to the Holocaust in Eastern Europe as without local help, the Germans could not have murdered so many so quickly. Upon entering Kaunas
Kaunas
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania and has historically been a leading centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the biggest city and the center of a powiat in Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since 1413. During Russian Empire occupation...

 on June 25, 1941, the Einsatzgruppen released all of the criminals from the local jail and encouraged them to join the already existing pogrom. Between June 23–27, 1941, 4,000 Jews were killed on the streets of Kaunas by local people, and saw the first massacres of Jews in open pits committed by Lithuanian anti-Semitics. Particularly active in the Kaunas pogrom was the so-called "Death dealer of Kaunas", a young man who murdered Jews with a crow bar at the Lietukis Garage before a large crowd who cheered each killing with much applause, and then ever so often stopped to play Tautiška giesmė
Tautiška giesme
Tautiška giesmė is the national anthem of Lithuania, also known by its opening words "Lietuva, Tėvyne mūsų" and as "Lietuvos himnas"...

 (the Lithuanian national anthem) with his accordion before resuming the killings One German soldier described the scene:
"A young man--he must have been a Lithuanian-...with rolled up sleeves was armed with an iron crowbar. He dragged out one man at a time from the group and struck him with the crowbar with one or more blows on the back of his head. Within three-quarters of an hour he had beaten to death the entire group of forty to fifty people in this way. I had a series of photographs of the victims...

After the entire group had been beaten to death, the young man put the crowbar to one side, fetched an accordion and went and stood on the mountain of corpses and played the Lithuanian national anthem. I recognized the tune and was informed by bystanders that this was the national anthem. The behaviour of the civilians present (women and children) was unbelievable. After each man had been killed, they began to clap and when the national anthem started up they joined the singing and clapping. In the front row there were women with small children in their arms who stayed there right until the end of the whole proceedings. I found out from some people who knew German what was happening here. They explained to me that the parents of the young man who had killed the other people had been taken from their beds two days earlier and immediately shot, because they were suspected of being nationalists, and this was the young man's revenge.".


After World War II, several Einsatzgruppen leaders who were brought to trial falsely claimed to have received an order before Operation Barbarossa committing them to murder all Soviet Jews as a part of an effort to reduce their responsibility. There is no evidence to support these assertions as proven by Hedyrich's orders to the Einsatzgruppen leaders of 29 June 1941 to "silently" encourage pogroms and of 2 July 1941 for the murder only of Jews who were Communist Party members and/or who held positions in the Soviet government. The German prosectuor Alfred Streim wrote that if an order had been given before Operation Barbarossa for the murder of the entire Jewish population of the Soviet Union, post-war courts would had convicted the Einsatzgruppen leaders only as accomplices to mass murder. If it could be established that the Einsatzgruppen had committed mass murder without orders, then the Einsatzgruppen leaders would have been convicted as perpetrators of mass murder (in the legal sense), and would hence have received stiffer sentences. In many cases, the difference between a perpetrator and an accomplice to genocide could be the difference between capital punishment and life imprisonment.

The
Einsatzgruppen leaders on trial claimed during the late 1940s to have been given a written "Führer Order" for the murder of the entire Soviet Jewish population several weeks before Operation Barbarossa from Bruno Streckenbach
Bruno Streckenbach
Bruno Heinrich Streckenbach held the rank of SS-Brigadeführer , when he was the head of Amt I : Administration and Personnel of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt , but eventually achieved the rank of SS-Gruppenführer both in Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS...

 who was widely believed to be dead. In fact, Streckenbach was a POW in the Soviet Union, and upon his release in 1955, several imprisoned
Einsatzgruppen leaders wrote to him asking him to go along with their lie in order to improve their chances of parole. In response, Streckenbach privately denied ever giving such an order, but in order to assist the imprisoned Einsatzgruppen leaders, remained silent in public on the question of whether he had given the order or not, neither confirming nor denying the claim he had passed along a general order for genocide (thereby giving the impression he had without saying so). The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw
Ian Kershaw
Sir Ian Kershaw is a British historian of 20th-century Germany whose work has chiefly focused on the period of the Third Reich...

 wrote that is firmly established that the claim that a "Führer Order" for the general genocide before Operation Barbarossa was a post-war fabrication invented by men on trial for their lives, and thus had more to do with their defence than the facts of the matter. Kershaw had argued that it was likely that Hitler's apocalyptic remarks before Barbarossa about the necessity for a war without mercy to “annihilate" the forces of “Judeo-Bolshevism” were taken as both permission and encouragement by the Einsatzgruppen commanders to engage in extreme anti-Semitic violence with discretion being given to each Einsatzgruppen commander about how far he was prepared to go. In support of this, Kershaw cites the example of the massacre of 1,160 Jewish men at Luzk
Lutsk
Lutsk is a city located by the Styr River in northwestern Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Volyn Oblast and the administrative center of the surrounding Lutskyi Raion within the oblast...

 on July 3, 1941, none of whom were Communist Party members, and were all shot for no other reason than as the report to Berlin by the
Einsatzkommando leader stated, to prove to the local Jewish community who were the Herrnvolk (master race) and who were not. One SS man who saw the killings at Byelaya Tserkov in August 1941 described them as follows:
"I went to the woods alone. The Wehrmacht had already dug a grave. The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it. The Ukrainians did not aim at any particular part of the body. They fell into the grave. The wailing was indescribable. I shall never forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I particulary remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the hand. She too was shot later...The grave was near some woods. It was not near the rifle-range. The execution must had taken place in the afternoon at about 3.30 or 4.00. It took place the day after the discussions at the Feldkommandanten...Many children were hit four or five times before they died."

Baltic states

As the
Einsatzgruppen (and its sub-groups, the Einsatzkommando
Einsatzkommando
During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads—up to 3,000 men each—usually composed of 500-1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured...

) advanced into the Soviet Union, after July 1941, they increasingly carried out mass murders of the local Jews themselves rather than encouraging pogroms. Initially, the Einsatzgruppen generally limited themselves to shooting Jewish men, but as the summer wore on, increasingly, all Jews were shot, regardless of age or sex. Before August 15, 1941 there is no mention of the killing of Jewish children in any of the Einsatzgruppen reports, but after that date, children were killed with increasing frequency, especially by Einsatzgruppe A. The most murderous of the four Einsatzgruppen was Einsatzgruppe A, which operated in the Baltic states
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

 of Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

, Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 and Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 formerly occupied by the Soviets.
Einsatzgruppe A was the first Einsatzgruppe that attempted to systematically exterminate all Jews in its area.

According to its own reports to Himmler,
Einsatzgruppe A between June 22-November 25, 1941 killed 136,421 Jews, 1,064 Communists, 653 mentally ill people, 56 partisans, 44 Poles, 5 Gypsies and 1 Armenian. As Einsatzgruppe A advanced into Lithuania in June–July 1941, members of the Baltaraisciai movement joined the massacres. In Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

, a pogrom in early July killed 400 Jews, and shortly afterwards, saw 2,300 Jews killed by
Einsatzgruppe A and Latvian collaborators on July 6–7, 1941. Very active in the Riga pogrom were a group of Latvian nationalists led by Viktors Arājs
Viktors Arājs
Viktors Arājs was a Latvian collaborator and Nazi SS officer, who took part in the Holocaust during the German occupation of Latvia and Belarus as the leader of the Arājs Kommando...

 who "heated up" the Riga pogrom by a campaign of arson against synagogues. On July 2, 1941 Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker was Commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and the Sicherheitsdienst for the Reichskommissariat Ostland in 1941/42...

, the commander of
Einsatzgruppe A appointed Arājs to head the Arajs Kommando. Within six months, Arājs and his Sonderkommando (special commando) of about 300 men, mostly university students killed about half of Latvia's Jewish population. The creation of units such as the Arājs Kommando marked an important change in the massacres of Jews from the spontaneous mob violence of the pogroms to a switch over to more systematic massacres. Besides for the special commandos, the Germans organzied the Hilfspolizei
Schutzmannschaft
Schutzmannschaft or Hilfspolizei were the collaborationist auxiliary police battalions of native policemen in occupied countries in East, which were created to fight the resistance during World War II mostly in the Eastern European countries occupied by Nazi Germany. Hilfspolizei refers also to...

 (auxiliary police), who were mostly recruited from former Latvian Army and police officers, ex-
Aizsargi
Aizsargi
Aizsargi Aizsargi Aizsargi (literally: "Defenders", "Guards" was a paramilitary organization, or a militia, in Latvia during the interbellum period (1918–1939). The Aizsargi was created on March 30, 1919 by the Latvian provisional government as a self-defense force, a kind of national guard,...

, members of the Pērkonkrusts
Perkonkrusts
Pērkonkrusts , was a Latvian political party founded in the 1930s. This group adapted fascist ideology to the situation in independent Latvia after 1918. It was the largest and longest-lived organisation of its kind in Latvia...

, and university students to assist with the murder of Latvia's Jewish citizens. Such units as were created in Latvia and elsewhere provided much of the menpower for the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Despite the assistance from collaborators,
Einsatzgruppe A remained active on its accord; on November 30, 1941, Einsatzgruppe A reported that for that day they had killed 10,600 Jews from Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

.

Over the course of the summer and fall of 1941, as the
Einsatzkommandos settled down into their headquarters in Kovno, Riga
Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

 and Tallinn
Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

,
Einsatzgruppe A grew less mobile and that together with the problems caused by its small size led the Germans to rely more upon such units as the Arājs Kommando in Latvia, the Rollkommando Hamann
Rollkommando Hamann
Rollkommando Hamann was a small mobile unit that committed mass murders of Lithuanian Jews in the countryside in July–October 1941. The unit was also responsible for a large number of murders in Latvia from July through August, 1941...

 in Lithuania and the Omakaitse
Omakaitse
The Omakaitse was a militia organisation in Estonia. It was founded in 1917 following the Russian Revolution. On the eve of the Occupation of Estonia by the German Empire the Omakaitse units took over major towns in the country allowing the Salvation Committee of the Estonian Provincial Assembly...

 militia in Estonia to perform the massacres of Jews. Besides death squads like the Arājs Kommando, the
Hilfspolizei and Selbstschutz militia together with local officials played a key role in rounding up and massacring those Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians who happened to be Jewish. Without the help of local officials, the various killing units would not have been able to identify and find Jews in such a short period of time. With extensive local help, Einsatzgruppe A was able to carry out the first "total extermination programme" of the Shoah. The Latvian historian Modris Eksteins
Modris Eksteins
Modris Eksteins is a Canadian historian with a special interest in German history and modern culture. His works include Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age , which won the Ferguson Prize and the Trillium Book Award, and Walking Since Daybreak: A Story of Eastern Europe,...

 wrote:
"of the roughly eighty-three thousand Jews who fell into German hands in Latvia, not more than nine hundred survived; and of the more than twenty thousand Western Jews sent into Latvia, only some eight hundred lived through the deportation until liberation. This was the highest percentage of eradication in all of Europe. Such thoroughness was not merely imported or imposed by the German conqueror; it had to an expression of the local situation".


The reasons for extensive and enthusiastic collaboration with the
Einsatzgruppen were due to a political culture of violence in the Kresy Wschodnie and other border lands of Russia going back to the time of the Revolution of 1905 together with an insecure sense of nationalism often colored with anti-Semitism. During the interwar period, ethnic antagonism had on the whole been sharpened, not diminished. Finally, the experience of Soviet rule in the Baltic states and in the lands that belonged to Poland until 1939 had been a profoundly traumatic experience for most people with the population brutalized and terrorized by the unwanted imposition of Soviet rule, and the existing and familiar structure of society utterly destroyed. In such a context, where the imposition of Soviet rule had been seen as a national humiliation and with society broken up and atomized, many people sought both a scapegoat in the form of the Jews and violent actions of national "self-purification" and "redemption" in the form of killing Jews. During the period of Soviet rule with traditional society destroyed, the best way to survive and make sense of the "totalitarian atomization" of society was to seek conformity with Communism. As a result, many people by the time of the German invasion had come to see conformism with a totalitarian regime as socially acceptable behaviour, which thus transferred over to another totalitarian regime. Many of who had been most enthusiastic with collaborating with the Soviets were often the ones who sought to divert attention from their actions by killings Jews on the grounds that Jews were the ones who had collaborated with the Soviets the most. Although Jews had not in fact collabroated more with the Soviets, it was widely believed that this was the case.

Debate

The expansion of the range of killings after August 1941 has been the subject of much historical debate. Those historians who take an intentionlist
Functionalism versus intentionalism
Functionalism versus intentionalism is a historiographical debate about the origins of the Holocaust as well as most aspects of the Third Reich, such as foreign policy...

 line like Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

 argue that everything that happened after Operation Barbarossa was part of a masterplan he credited Hitler with developing in the 1920s. Hillgruber wrote in his 1967 book Germany and the Two World Wars that for Hitler:
"The conquest of European Russia, the cornerstone of the continental European phase of his program, was thus for Hitler inextricably linked with the extermination of these "bacilli", the Jews. In his conception they had gained dominance over Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. Russia thereby became the center from which a global danger radiated, particularly threatening to the Aryan race and its German core. To Hitler, Bolshevism meant the consummate rule of Jewry, while democracy - as it had developed in Western Europe and Weimar Germany - represented a preliminary stage of Bolshevism, since the Jews there won a leading, if not yet a dominant, influence. This racist component of Hitler's thought was so closely interwoven with the central political element of his program, the conquest of European Russia, that Russia's defeat and the extermination of the Jews were - in theory as later in practice - inseparable for him. To the aim of expansion per se, however, Hitler gave not racial, but political, strategic, economic and demographic underpinnings".
The German historian Helmut Krausnick argued that:
"What is certain is that the nearer Hitler's plan to overthrow Russia as the last possible enemy on the continent of Europe approached maturity, the more he become obsessed with an idea--with which he had been toying as a "final solution" for a long time--of wiping out the Jews in the territories under his control. It cannot have been later than March 1941, when he openly declared his intention of having the political commissars of the Red Army shot, that he issued his secret degree--which never appeared in writing though it was mentioned verbally on several occasions--that the Jews should be eliminated".
Streim wrote in response that Krausnick had been taken in by the line invented after the war to reduce the responsibility of the Einsatzgruppen leaders brought to trial. Klaus Hildebrand
Klaus Hildebrand
Klaus Hildebrand is a German conservative historian whose area of expertise is 19th-20th century German political and military history.- Biography :...

 wrote that:
"In qualitative terms, the executions by shooting were no different from the technically more efficient accomplishment of the 'physical final solution' by gassing, of which they were a prelude".


Against the intentionalist interpretation, functionalist
Functionalism versus intentionalism
Functionalism versus intentionalism is a historiographical debate about the origins of the Holocaust as well as most aspects of the Third Reich, such as foreign policy...

 historians like Martin Broszat
Martin Broszat
Martin Broszat was a German historian specializing in modern German social history whose work has been described by The Encyclopedia of Historians as indispensable for any serious study of the Third Reich. Broszat was born in Leipzig, Germany and studied history at the University of Leipzig and...

 argued that the lower officials of the Nazi state had started exterminating people on their own initiative. Broszat argued that the Holocaust began “bit by bit” as German officials stumbled into genocide. Broszat argued that in the fall of 1941 German officials had began "improvised" killing schemes as the "simplest" solution to the "Jewish Question". In Broszat's opinion, Hitler subsequently approved of the measures initiated by the lower officials and allowed the expansion of the Holocaust from Eastern Europe to all of Europe. In this way, Broszat argued that the Shoah was not begun in response to an order, written or unwritten, from Hitler but was rather “a way out of the blind alley into which the Nazis had manoeuvred themselves”. The American historian Christopher Browning
Christopher Browning
Christopher Robert Browning is an American historian of the Holocaust.-Education:Browning received his bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1968 and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1975. He taught at Pacific Lutheran University from 1974 to 1999, eventually becoming...

 has argued that:
"Before the invasion, the Einsatzgruppen were not given explicit orders for the total extermination of Jews on Soviet territory. Along with the general incitement to an ideological and racial war, however, they were given the general task of liquidating "potential" enemies. Heydrich's much-debated directive of 2 July 1941 was a minimal list of those who had to be liquidated immediately, including all Jews in state and party positions. It is very likely, moreover, that the Einsatzgruppen leaders were told of the future goal of a Judenfrei [Jew-free] Russia through systematic mass murder".
By contrast, the Swiss historian Philippe Burrin argues that such a decision was not made before August 1941 at the earliest, pointing to orders given by Himmler on July 30, 1941 to the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment and the SS Cavalry Brigade
SS Cavalry Brigade
The SS Cavalry Brigade was a unit of the Waffen SS formed in 1940, from cavalry regiments created for occupation duties in German-occupied Poland. Later, while serving in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, the brigade was involved in the genocide of the Jewish population and anti-partisan...

 operating in the Pripet Marshes
Pinsk Marshes
The Pinsk Marshes or Pripyat Marshes are a vast territory of wetlands along the Pripyat River and its tributaries from Brest, Belarus to Mogilev and Kiev ....

 in the Pripyat operation
Pripyat swamps (punitive operation)
"Pripyat swamps" , also "Pripyat march" was the codename of the punitive operation conducted by the German forces in July and August 1941. The operation was aimed at the mass murder of the local Jewish population, brought from the territories of 9 rayons of Byelorussian SSR and 3 rayons of...

 calling for the murder of male Jews only while the Jewish women and children were to be driven into the Marshes. Browning argues that sometime in mid-July 1941 Hitler made the decision to begin general genocide owing to his exhilaration over his victories over the Red Army, whereas Burrin contends that the decision was made in late August 1941 owing to Hitler's frustration over the slowing down of the Wehrmacht. Kershaw argues that the dramatic expansion in both the range of victims and the intensity of the killings after mid-August 1941 indicates that Hitler issued an order to that effect, most probably a verbal order conveyed to the Einsatzgruppen commanders through either Himmler or Heydrich. It remains unclear whether that was a decision made on Hitler's own initiative motivated only by his own anti-Semitic prejudices, or (impressed with the willingness and ability of Einsatzgruppe A to murder Jewish women and children) ordered that the other three Einsatzgruppen emulate Einsatzgruppe A's bloody example.

The Canadian historian Erich Haberer has contended that the “Baltic flashpoint of genocide”, as the killings committed by
Einsatzgruppe A between July–October 1941 are known to historians, were the key development in the evolution of Nazi anti-Semitic policy that resulted in the Holocaust. The Baltic area witnessed both the most extensive and intense killings of all the Einsatzgruppen with 90,000-100,000 Jews killed between July and October 1941, which led to the almost total decimation of the Jewish communities in that area. Haberer maintains that the “Baltic flashpoint of genocide” occurred at time when the other Nazi plans for a “territorial final solution” such as the Madagascar Plan
Madagascar Plan
The Madagascar Plan was a suggested policy of the Nazi government of Germany to relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar.-Origins:The evacuation of European Jews to the island of Madagascar was not a new concept...

 were unlikely to occur, and thus suggested to the Nazi leadership that genocide was indeed “feasible” as a “final solution to the Jewish Question”.

Wehrmacht

All of these killings took place with the knowledge, approval and support of the German Army in the east. On October 10, 1941 General Walther von Reichenau
Walther von Reichenau
Walter von Reichenau was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II.-History:Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe to a Prussian general and joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front...

 drafted an order to be read to his troops under his command stating: "...the soldier must achieve full understanding of the necessity for a harsh but just vengeance against Jewish subhumanity". Upon hearing of Reichenau's Severity Order
Severity Order
The Severity Order was the name given to an order promulgated within the German Sixth Army on the Eastern Front during World War II by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau on 10 October 1941....

, Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

 of Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

 expressed his "complete agreement" with it, and sent out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging them to send out their own versions of the Severity Order, which would impress upon the troops the need to exerminate Jews. General Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

 in an order to his troops on November 20, 1941 stated:
"Jewry is the middleman between the enemy at our rear and the still fighting remnants of the Red Army and the Red leadership; more than in Europe, it [Jewry] occupies all key posts of the political leadership and administration, of trade and crafts and forms the nucleus for all disquiet and possible revolts. The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all."
The only time that Manstein ever saw fit during the war to complain about the actions of the Einsatzgruppen occurred in a 1941 letter to Otto Ohlendorf
Otto Ohlendorf
Otto Ohlendorf was a German SS-Gruppenführer and head of the Inland-SD , a section of the SD. Ohlendorf was the commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe D, which conducted mass murder in Moldova, south Ukraine, the Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus...

, when Manstein complained that since his men were so helpful with assisting Ohlendorf's men with murdering Jews it was really unfair that the SS should insist upon keeping all of the wrist-watches of murdered Jews for themselves instead of sharing with the Army. On July 6, 1941
Einsatzkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppe C, which was operating in Tarnopol at the time sent a report which noted "Armed forces surprisingly welcome hostility against the Jews". On September 8, 1941 Einsatzgruppe D reported that relations with the German Army were "excellent". Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker was Commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and the Sicherheitsdienst for the Reichskommissariat Ostland in 1941/42...

 of
Einsatzgruppe A wrote in September 1941 that Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

 had been exemplary in co-operating with his men in murdering Jews and that relations with the Fourth Panzer Army commanded by General Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner was a German general in World War II. A successful panzer leader, Hoepner was executed after the failed 20 July Plot in 1944.- Life :Hoepner was born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg...

 were "very close, almost cordial". In the extreme south, the Romanian Army worked closely with
Einsatzgruppe D with the massacres of Ukrainian Jews. In Odessa
Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

, the Romanian Army killed about 26,000 Jews in the Odessa massacre. Moreover, most people on the home front in Germany had some idea of the massacres being committed by the
Einsatzgruppen.

The
Einsatzgruppen massacres were usually justified under the grounds of anti-partisan operations, but the historian Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Hillgruber
Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

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

"The Second Sweep"

After December 1941, the other three
Einsatzgruppen began what the American historian Raul Hilberg
Raul Hilberg
Raul Hilberg was an Austrian-born American political scientist and historian. He was widely considered to be the world's preeminent scholar of the Holocaust, and his three-volume, 1,273-page magnum opus, The Destruction of the European Jews, is regarded as a seminal study of the Nazi Final...

 has called the "second sweep", which lasted into the summer of 1942, during which they attempted to emulate
Einsatzgruppe A by likewise systematically killing all Jews in their areas. Hilberg wrote that with the exception of Stahlecker of Einsatzgruppe A, all of the Einsatzgruppe commanders 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 were of the opinion that the killings should stop. Thus, there occurred the interval between the "first sweep" and the "second sweep" of the Einsatzgruppe massacres in the fall of 1941. During the interval, the surviving Jews were forced into ghettoes. After staging the Babi Yar
Babi Yar
Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis during their campaign against the Soviet Union. The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on September 29–30, 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a...

 massacre in September 1941,
Einsatzgruppe C in a report back to Berlin wrote: "Although 75,000 Jews have been liquidated in this manner so far, today it is already clear that even with such tactics a final solution of the Jewish problem will not be possible". In a report of September 17, 1941, Einsatzgruppe C stated:
"Even if were possible to shut out Jewry 100 percent, we would not eliminate the center of political danger.

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

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

There is only one way out--a method that the German administration in the Generalgouvernment
General Government
The General Government was an area of Second Republic of Poland under Nazi German rule during World War II; designated as a separate region of the Third Reich between 1939–1945...

 failed to recognize for a long time: final solution of the Jewish question through complete labor utilization of the Jews.

This would result in a gradual liquidation of Jewry--a development which would be in accord with the economic potentialities of the country".
Einsatzgruppe C's advice that the Germans would be better off using Jewish skills and labour rather than shooting them was not taken up. On 18 December 1941, the appointment book of the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 shows he met with Hitler, and in response to Himmler's question "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", Hitler's response was recorded as "
als Partisanen auszurotten" ("exterminate them as partisans"). The Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer is a historian and scholar of the Holocaust. He is a Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.-Biography:...

 has commented that the remark is probably as close as historians will ever get to a definitive order from Hitler for the genocide carried out during the Holocaust. Bauer added that it was unclear whatever Himmler's question meant that it had not decided until that point to exterminate the entire Jewish population, or alternatively whatever such a decision had already been taken, and Himmler's question just referred to the precise method of extermination. At that point in time in mid December 1941, the Operation Reinhard
Operation Reinhard
Operation Reinhard was the code name given to the Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews in the General Government, and marked the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, the use of extermination camps...

 death camps were under construction, Auschwitz
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

 was being converted from a concentration camp to a death camp and Chelmno
Chelmno extermination camp
Chełmno extermination camp, also known as the Kulmhof concentration camp, was a Nazi German extermination camp that was situated 50 kilometres from Łódź, near a small village called Chełmno nad Nerem . After annexation by Germany Kulmhof was included into Reichsgau Wartheland in 1939...

 had already opened earlier that month. Thus, Bauer contends that Himmler's question to Hitler could be about whatever to deport Soviet Jews to the death camps or continue the existing policy of genocide under the guise of anti-partisan operations.

After the "second sweep" started in late 1941-early 1942, since Einsatzgruppe A had murdered almost all of the Jews in its area, it had little to do and so shifted its operations into Belorussia to assist Einsatzgruppe B. As part of the "second sweep", in Dnepropetrovsk in February 1942 saw Einsatzgruppe D reducing the city's Jewish population from about 30, 000 to 702 over four days. Unlike in Germany, where the Nuremberg Laws
Nuremberg Laws
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party. After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, Nazism became an official ideology incorporating scientific racism and antisemitism...

 of 1935 had defined as Jewish anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents regardless of one's religion, the
Einsatzgruppe defined as Jewish anyone had at least one Jewish grandparent again with no regard to one's actual faith. Reflecting the tendency to justify the massacres as a defensive move forced on the Germans by the danger of Jewish partisan attacks, in a letter to his wife dated September 27, 1941 one SS officer wrote:
"As I have said, I am in a very gloomy mood. I must pull myself out of it. The sight of the dead (including women and children) is not very cheering (emphasis in the original). But we are fighting this war for the survivial or non-survival of our people. You back home, thank God, do not feel the full force of that. The bomb attacks have, however, shown what the enemy has in store for us if he has enough power. You are aware of it everywhere you go along the front. My comrades are literally fighting for the existence of our people. The enemy would do the same. I think that you understand me. As the war is in our opinion a Jewish war, the Jews are the first to feel it. Here in Russia, wherever the German soldier is, no Jew remains. You can imagine that at first I needed some time to get to grips with this".
In another letter dated October 15, 1942 to his children, the same SS officer wrote:
"I have already told you about the shooting-that I could not say "no" here either. But they're more or less said they've finally found a good chap to run the administrative side of things. The last one was all accounts a coward. That's the way people are judged here. But you can trust your Daddy. He thinks about you all the time and is not shooting immoderately. So that's our life".
To help with the "second sweep", the German Order Police and local collaborators provided the extra manpower needed to perform all of the shootings. The Canadian historian Erich Haberer wrote like in the Baltic states, the Germans could not have killed so many Jews so quickly without local help. Haberer points out that the ratio of the German Order Police
Ordnungspolizei
The Ordnungspolizei or Orpo were the uniformed regular police force in Nazi Germany between 1936 and 1945. It was increasingly absorbed into the Nazi police system. Owing to their green uniforms, they were also referred to as Grüne Polizei...

 to the Schutzmannschaft
Schutzmannschaft
Schutzmannschaft or Hilfspolizei were the collaborationist auxiliary police battalions of native policemen in occupied countries in East, which were created to fight the resistance during World War II mostly in the Eastern European countries occupied by Nazi Germany. Hilfspolizei refers also to...

(Schuma) was 1:10 in both the Reichskommissariat Ukraine
Reichskommissariat Ukraine
Reichskommissariat Ukraine , literally "Reich Commissariat of Ukraine", was the civilian occupation regime of much of German-occupied Ukraine during World War II. Between September 1941 and March 1944, the Reichskommissariat was administered by Reichskommissar Erich Koch as a colony...

 and Generalkommissariat Belorussia. In rural areas of Belorussia and Ukraine, the ratio of Order Policeman-Schuma was 1:20, which meant that most Ukrainian and Belorussian Jews were killed by fellow Ukrainians and Belorussians, albeit commanded by German officers rather than by Germans.

Gebietskommissar Gerhard Erren, an official of the Ministry of the East
Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories
The Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories was created by Adolf Hitler on July 1941 and headed by the Nazi theoretical expert and Baltic German, Alfred Rosenberg. Alfred Meyer was Rosenberg's deputy. This ministry was created to control the vast areas captured by the Germans in...

 run by Alfred Rosenberg
Alfred Rosenberg
' was an early and intellectually influential member of the Nazi Party. Rosenberg was first introduced to Adolf Hitler by Dietrich Eckart; he later held several important posts in the Nazi government...

 in a report dated January 25, 1942 wrote about the town of Slonim
Slonim
Slonim is a city in Hrodna Voblast, Belarus, capital of the Slonim District. It is located at the junction of the Shchara and Isa rivers, 143 km southeast of Hrodna. The population in 2008 was 50,800.-Etymology and historical names:...

:
"Upon my arrival there were about 25,000 Jews in the Slonim area, 16,000 in the actual town itself, making up over two-thirds of the total population of the town. It was not possible to set up a ghetoo as neither barbed wire nor guard manpower was available. I thus immediately began preparations for a large-scale action. First of all property was expropriated and all the German official buildings, including the Wehrmacht quarters, were equpped with the furniture and equipment that had been made available...Any article which could not be used for the Germans were handed over to the town for sale to the local population. Proceeds from their sale were sent to the finance department. The Jews were then registred accuaretly according to number, age and profession and all craftsmen and workers with qualifications were singled out and given passes and separate accommodation to distinguish them from the other Jews. The action carried out by the SD on 13 November rid me of unnecessary mouths to feed. The some 7,000 Jews now present in the town of Sonim have all been allocated jobs. They are working willingly because of the constant fear of death. Early next year they will be rigorously checked and sorted for a further reduction.

The plains were extensivley cleansed for a time by the Wehrmacht. Unfortunately, however, this only took place in villages with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. In the Rayon
Raion
A raion is a type of administrative unit of several post-Soviet countries. The term, which is from French rayon 'honeycomb, department,' describes both a type of a subnational entity and a division of a city, and is commonly translated in English as "district"...

 towns all Jews will be eradicated with the exception of all but the most essential craftsmen and skilled workers, after auxiliary work for the east-west movement has been carried out.

Since the Wehrmacht is not longer prepared to carry out actions on the plains I shall concentrate all the Jews of the area into two or three
Rayon towns. They will work in closed columns only, in order to stamp out once and for all illicit trading and support for the partisans among them. The best of the skilled workers among the Jews will be made to pass their skills on to intelligent apprentices in my craft colleagues, so that Jews will finally be made dispensable in the skilled craft and trade sector, and can be eliminated".
The chauffeuer to Erren described one of the "reduction" actions as follows:
"I was holding a whip or a pistol. I was loading or unloading. The men, children and mothers were pushed into the pits. Children were first beaten to death, and then thrown feet [first] into the pits..There were a number of filthy sadists in the extermination Kommando. For example, pregnant women were shot in the belly for fun and then thrown into the pits...Before the execution the Jews had to undergo a body search, during which..anuses and sex organs were searched for valuables and jewels".
The Generalkommissar for Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

, Wilhelm Kube
Wilhelm Kube
Wilhelm Kube was a German politician and Nazi official. He was an important figure in the German Christian movement during the early years of Nazi rule. During the war he became a senior official in the occupying government of the Soviet Union, achieving the rank of Generalkommissar for...

 in a report dated July 31, 1942 wrote:
"It has become apparent during the course of all clashes with partisans in White Russia, in both the former Polish and former Soviet parts of the Generalbezirk, that the Jews, together with the Polish resistance movement and the Moscow Red Army in the east, are the principal supporters of the partisan movement. Consequently, the question of how the Jews in White Russia should be handled is a political matter taking priority over all considerations about the risks to the economy as a whole. Accordingly, it has to be solved not from an economic but from a political point of view. During the course of extensive discussions with SS-Brigadeführer Zenner and the very competent Leiter of the SD, SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. jur. Strauch, it was established that we have liquidated about 55, 000 Jews in the last ten weeks. In the Minsk area [Geiet Minsk-land] the Jews have been completely eradicated, without any negative effect on the workforce. In the mainly Polish area of Lida 16,000 Jews have been liquidated, in Slonim 8,000 Jews. Our preparations for the liquidation of the Jews in the Głębokie area were disrupted when the rear army area preempted us, liquidating 10,000 Jews whom we had been due to eradicate systematically, without any prior liaison with us. (A report on this incursion has already been submitted). On 28 and 29 July about 10,000 Jews were liquidated in the city of Minsk, 6,500 of them Russian Jews-for the most part old people, women and children-and the rest Jews unfit for work, who had mostly been sent from Vienna, Brünn, Bremen and Berlin in November of last year to Minsk on the Führers orders".
The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper noted that although photographs of the killings were forbidden, it was very common for both the men of the Einsatzgruppen and various by-standers to take pictures of the killings to send to their loved ones, which would suggest widespread approval of the massacres.

The Einsatzgruppen were assisted by army units and local anti-Semites in killing half a million more people. They were mobile forces in the beginning of the invasion, but settled down after the occupation. In addition, the Einsatzgruppen were often used to carry out anti-partisan operations in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union.

Final Solution

After a time, it was found that the killing methods used by the Einsatzgruppen were inefficient: they were costly, demoralizing for the troops, and sometimes did not kill the victims quickly enough. During a visit to Russia in August 1941, where he witnessed the Einsatzgruppen killings first-hand, Himmler concluded that shooting Jews was too much of a "psychological burden" for his men. As a result of his "care and concern" for the Einsatzgruppen, Himmler concluded there was a need for a "humane" way of killing (for the killers, not the victims) and ordered the development of the gas vans. Starting in 1942, the Einsatzgruppen began mass killings with gas vans. At the Wannsee Conference
Wannsee Conference
The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. The purpose of the conference was to inform administrative leaders of Departments responsible for various policies relating to Jews, that Reinhard Heydrich...

, the SS and various state officials met to find a more efficient way of killing their victims. This ultimately led to the establishment of Vernichtungslagern or extermination camps containing gas-chambers. Under this and other plans, an estimated six million Jews and five million non-Jews would ultimately lose their lives.

Method of killing

The Einsatzgruppen typically followed close behind Wehrmacht army formations, marching into cities and towns where large numbers of Jews were known to live. Once they entered a town, they issued orders requiring Jews and non-Jewish communists to assemble for deportation out of town. Those who refused to comply were hunted down.
The process was as follows: The Einsatzgruppen's Einsatzkommando units (not to be confused with Jewish gravediggers in the camps) were sent with the advancing military units to coordinate the executions, to concentrate the hostile and sometimes partisan resistant population, and to recruit local assistants - Mannschaft, either "Junaks" (Lithuanian former convicts) or Gendarme
Gendarmerie
A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. Members of such a force are typically called "gendarmes". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a gendarme as "a soldier who is employed on police duties" and a "gendarmery, -erie" as...

s (Ukrainian policemen); then came the Einsatzkommando to execute the Jews and communists. The killings followed several methods and patterns:
  • In conquered urban areas of eastern Europe, many Jews would be killed in nearby locations such as woods or inside buildings. The remaining Jews would be confined to ghettos
    Ghettos in occupied Europe 1939-1944
    During World War II, ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe were set up by the Third Reich in order to confine Jews and sometimes Gypsies into tightly packed areas of the cities...

    . Death rates from disease and malnourishment were high; groups from the ghetto were periodically taken away and shot or deported to extermination camps. An example of this is the Lithuanian city of Kaunas
    Kaunas
    Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania and has historically been a leading centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the biggest city and the center of a powiat in Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since 1413. During Russian Empire occupation...

    ; the Jews of Kaunas were concentrated in a ghetto and sent, thousands at a time, to be slaughtered in the 7th and 9th forts (watch towers) of Kaunas.
  • In small rural areas, or in battle zones, the Jews were quickly led to their deaths in nearby woods and mass graves, which were often dug by the victims. An example of such a case is the town of Dovno in Ukraine.
  • In big cities, mainly in the battle zones, the Nazis would create a small local committee of 8 to 12 important Jews, known as the Judenrat
    Judenrat
    Judenräte were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territory of Poland, and later in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union It is the overall term for the enforcement bodies established by the Nazi occupiers to...

    , who would be required to summon the local Jews for "relocation". The Jews (including the Judenrat delegates) would then be marched to previously prepared trenches or natural pits and shot. Examples are the massacre at Babi Yar
    Babi Yar
    Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis during their campaign against the Soviet Union. The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on September 29–30, 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a...

     and the Ponary massacre
    Ponary massacre
    The Ponary massacre was the mass-murder of 100,000 people, mostly Polish Jews, by German SD and SS and Lithuanian Nazi collaborators Sonderkommando collaborators...

    .
  • Alternatives to execution by firearms existed. The gas van
    Gas van
    The gas van or gas wagon was an extermination method devised by Nazi Germany to kill victims of the regime. It was also rumored that analog of such device was used by the Soviet Union on an experimental basis during the Great Purge-Nazi Germany:...

    s used by Einsatzgruppe D and Einsatzkommando Kulmhof in the death camp Chelmno
    Chelmno extermination camp
    Chełmno extermination camp, also known as the Kulmhof concentration camp, was a Nazi German extermination camp that was situated 50 kilometres from Łódź, near a small village called Chełmno nad Nerem . After annexation by Germany Kulmhof was included into Reichsgau Wartheland in 1939...

     are an example. Another, occasionally used in smaller towns, was to lock the Jews in abandoned buildings, which were then set alight or blown up, though this was rather rare.


Typically, those who were gathered would then be sent to designated sites outside the cities and towns. Usually these massacre sites were graves dug in advance, shallow pits, or deep ravines (including one at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

), where executioners were already waiting with orders to kill them with machine guns or pistol shots to the head. The killers would also seize the clothing and other belongings of the victims, and some victims were forced to strip naked just before their execution. Once dead, the victims would be buried with hand shovels or bulldozers. Some victims were only injured, not killed, and were buried alive. A few managed to climb out of the grave and recount this.

The Einsatzgruppen were assisted by other Axis
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 forces, including designated members of the Wehrmacht, including general Walther von Reichenau
Walther von Reichenau
Walter von Reichenau was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II.-History:Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe to a Prussian general and joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front...

 and the Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

. In the Baltic states and Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, they also recruited local collaborators - Hiwis
Hiwi (volunteer)
Hiwi is a German abbreviation. It has two meanings, "voluntary assistant" and "assistant scientist" .- :...

 - to assist in the killing.

The Jäger Report

The Einsatzgruppen kept track of many of their massacres, and one of the most infamous of these official records is the Jäger Report
Jäger Report
The Jäger Report was written on 1 December 1941 by Karl Jäger, commander of Einsatzkommando 3, a killing unit of Einsatzgruppen A which was attached to Army Group North during the Operation Barbarossa...

, covering the operation of Einsatzkommando 3 over five months in Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

. Written by the commander of Einsatzkommando 3, Karl Jäger
Karl Jäger
Karl Jäger was a Swiss-born SS-Standartenführer and Einsatzkommando leader who perpetrated acts of genocide.-Early life and career:...

, it includes a detailed list summarizing each massacre, totaling 137,346 victims, and states "…I can confirm today that Einsatzkommando 3 has achieved the goal of solving the Jewish problem in Lithuania. There are no more Jews in Lithuania, apart from working Jews and their families." Jäger escaped capture by the Allies when the war ended, assumed a false identity, and was able to assimilate back into society as an agriculturist until his report was discovered in March 1959. Arrested and charged, Jäger committed suicide in June 1959 in prison in Hohenasperg while awaiting trial for his crimes.

Plans for the Middle East

A 2006 study by the German historians Klaus-Michael Mallman and Martin Cueppers says that an Einsatzgruppe was created in 1942 to kill Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. An Einsatzgruppe was standing by in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, and was prepared to go to Palestine, once German forces arrived there, to kill the roughly half a million Jews in the Mandate. The mobile killing unit was to be led by SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Walter Rauff
Walter Rauff
Walter Rauff , was an SS officer in Nazi Germany, attaining the grade of Colonel in June 1944...

. The plan was for the 24 members of the death squad to enlist collaborators from the local Arab population so that the “mass murder would continue under German leadership without interruption.” The group never left Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, however, because the Germans were defeated at the Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

 by the allied forces.

Disestablishment and post-war

By 1942, the permanent killing centers of Auschwitz, Sobibor
Sobibór extermination camp
Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the town of Sobibór, Lublin Voivodeship of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor...

, Treblinka, and other Nazi extermination camps had been established thus significantly reducing the need for active killing groups in the field. The Einsatzgruppen were still active, however, and as late as the fall of 1943 were still participating in massacres.

By 1944, the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 had begun to push German forces out of Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, and the Einsatzgruppen began shutting down activities to begin a retreat along with the regular forces. By late 1944, most personnel of the Einsatzgruppen had also been folded into Waffen-SS combat units or had been transferred to the permanent death camps. Even so, on paper, the SS was still fielding Einsatzgruppen into 1945; there was also some discussion amongst SS leaders on the subject of merging the Einsatzgruppen into the new Werwolf
Werwolf
Werwolf was the name given to a Nazi plan, which began development in 1944, to create a commando force which would operate behind enemy lines as the Allies advanced through Germany itself. Werwolf remained entirely ineffectual as a combat force, however, and in practical terms, its value as...

 units, which were being founded for the purposes of guerrilla fighting in occupied Germany. "Werwolf" during or after the war was never an effectual force; by the time of the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945 there were no longer any active Einsatzgruppen units in operation.

The ultimate authority for the Einsatzgruppen, answerable directly to Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 and Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, were the SS and Police Leader
SS and Police Leader
SS and Police Leader was a title for senior Nazi officials that commanded large units of the SS, of Gestapo and of the regular German police during and prior to World War II.Three levels of subordination were established for bearers of this title:...

s who oversaw all Einsatzgruppen activities and reports in their given area. At the close of World War II, the majority of SS and Police Leaders who had overseen activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union simply disappeared, were executed for war crimes, or committed suicide prior to their capture. As for the lower ranking members, a large number of them were killed in combat, were captured in combat and executed (on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

) or were imprisoned and died in Russian camps. The lower ranking members who returned to Germany or to other countries were not formally charged (due to their large numbers) and simply returned to civilian life.

At the conclusion of World War II, senior leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were prosecuted in the Einsatzgruppen Trial
Einsatzgruppen Trial
The Einsatzgruppen Trial was the ninth of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Nuremberg after the end of World War II. These twelve trials were all held before U.S...

, part of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
The Subsequent Nuremberg Trials were a series of twelve U.S...

 held under United States military authority, variously charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and membership in the SS (which had been declared a criminal organization). Fourteen death sentences and five life sentences were among the judgments, although only four executions were carried out, on June 7, 1951, and the rest of these sentences were commuted
Commutation of sentence
Commutation of sentence involves the reduction of legal penalties, especially in terms of imprisonment. Unlike a pardon, a commutation does not nullify the conviction and is often conditional. Clemency is a similar term, meaning the lessening of the penalty of the crime without forgiving the crime...

.

Organization (1941)

The Einsatzgruppen were deployed as follows:
  • Einsatzgruppe A (commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Stahlecker
    Franz Walter Stahlecker
    Franz Walter Stahlecker was Commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and the Sicherheitsdienst for the Reichskommissariat Ostland in 1941/42...

    ) was assigned to the Baltic area,
  • Einsatzgruppe B (SS-Brigadeführer Arthur Nebe
    Arthur Nebe
    SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe was a member of the NSDAP party with card number 574,307. In July 1931, he joined the SS and his membership number was 280,152. His early career included the Berlin position of Police Commissioner in the 1920s...

    ) to Belarus,
  • Einsatzgruppe C (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch
    Otto Rasch
    SS-Brigadeführer Otto Rasch was a high-ranking Nazi official in the occupied Eastern territories, commanding Einsatzgruppe C until October 1941. As a commanding officer, he was a Holocaust perpetrator and mass murderer.-Biography:Rasch was born in Friedrichsruh, northern Germany...

    ) to north and central Ukraine, and
  • Einsatzgruppe D (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Ohlendorf
    Otto Ohlendorf
    Otto Ohlendorf was a German SS-Gruppenführer and head of the Inland-SD , a section of the SD. Ohlendorf was the commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe D, which conducted mass murder in Moldova, south Ukraine, the Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus...

    ) to Moldova, south Ukraine, the Crimea
    Crimea
    Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

    , and, during 1942, the north Caucasus
    Caucasus
    The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

    .


Of the four Einsatzgruppen, three were commanded by holders of doctorate
Doctorate
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 degrees, of whom one (Rasch) held a double doctorate.

See also

  • Porajmos
    Porajmos
    The Porajmos was the attempt made by Nazi Germany, the Independent State of Croatia, Horthy's Hungary and their allies to exterminate the Romani people of Europe during World War II...

  • Glossary of Nazi Germany
  • List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
  • Einsatzkommando
    Einsatzkommando
    During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads—up to 3,000 men each—usually composed of 500-1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured...


Further reading

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

External links

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