The Holocaust: Einsatzgruppen--Soviet Union


Figure 1.--Here an SS Einsatzcomando is shooting Jews at Dubossary (September 14, 1941). One of countless Jewish killing Aktions going on througout the German occupaied areas of the Soviet Unions. Notice the Russian/Romanian civilans allowed to watch. Dubossary was a town on the Dniester River in eastern Moldova. The Germans occupied Dubossary in (mid-July 1941). They set up a makeshift ghetto (late-August), primarily to concentrate the Jews of the town and surrounding areas. The town was annexed to Romanian Transnistria (September 1). The Jews were ordered to assemble (September 11) and the killing began which is what you see here. The Einsatzgruppen complete the killing (Septenber 28). They had suceeded in murdering some 6,000 Jews. The Romanian Army also carried out killing operations, but this looks more like the work of an Einsatzgruppen comando. Later in the War thousands of Jews from Bessarabia and Moldavia wwre also killed at Dubossary (September 1943).

Hitler made it clear that Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union would be waged with great severity. He issued orders thsat were in effect extinction orders. Despite the orders issued by OKW and subiordinate commands, Hitler had no confidence that the Wehrmacht would execute these orders with the severity he expected. He was still disturbed by what occurred in Poland when the Wehrmacht made arrests for war crimes. Nor did the orders fully describe what he wanted done, namely the mass murder of Jews. Hitler concluded that the Wehrmacht was just not the institution needed to carry out the actions he required. The solution suggested by Heydrich were Einsatzgrupoen. He gave SS Reichführer Himmler the responsibility for carrying out "special tasks resulting from the struggle which has to be carried out between two opposing political systems" (March 1941). Himmler ordered the creation of four Einsatzgruppen (Special Operations Groups). Einsatzgruppen had been sent into Poland, but they were not as large nor did they have the clear instructiond given to the four new Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen were thus significantly expanded and ready for large-scale operations at the onset of Barbarossa (June 1941). They were used barbarically in the Soviet Union in the (summer and fall 1941). Four Einsatzgruppen paramilitary mobile killing units were organized. For some reason, Heydrich decided to form entirely new Einsatzgruppen for Barbarossa. They were entirely new units with new commanders and men. They were orgsnized just before the invasion. The Einsatzgruppen were composed of both Waffen-SS and various police units which by this time were all part of the SS RSHA structure. [Taylor, p. 510.] This time their status was carefully arranged by Heydrich. He met with Eduard Wagner, the Heer Quartermaste. They agreed that at the front the Einsatzgruppen would be under Heer control but that in rear areas the army's authority would be limited to 'tactical matters'. [Harris, p. 176-77, IMT III, 246,290.] It is not clear how much Heydrich told Wagner, but it is unlikely he fully explained the enormity of what he planned to do. Einsatzgruppen A, B. and C) were attached to Army Groups North, Center and South. Einsatzgruppe D was the fourth group which was sent to the Ukraine where there were large numbers of Jews. While the three Einsatzgruppen were formerly under Wehrmacht command, this proved a formality. All four Einsatzgruppen in practice operated independently from the Wehrmscht Army Groups under the direct command of Heydrich an Himmler. It is not clear just how the two divided their responsibilities concerning the Einsatzgruppen, but Heydrish seems to have taken more of the responsibility for operational control. Einsatzgruppe D, unlike the other three Einsatzgruppen, it was not attached to one of the three invading army groups, but operated independently. They were established to follow in the wake of the advanzing Wehrmacht and carry out murder on a large scale. The Einsatzgruppen were nominally under the command of the three Army Groups that conducted Barbarossa. In fact, they followed instructions from Heydrich RSHA. Both Himmler and Heydeich had personnal access to Hiler. Hitler made it clear to the Wehrmacht that he decribed as the "Judeo-Bolshevik intelligentsia" completely eliminated. He appears to have gone much furher with Himmler and Heydrich. He never went further in open statements to the military leadership and precisely what he told the SS can not be proven. there is, however, every reason to think that the barbaritites carried out by the Einsatzgruppen , reflected Hitler's personsl instructions. Heydrixh ordered the Einsatzgruppen commanders to clear the newly conquerred territories of "suspect elemnents". Note that there was no attempt to link the actions with resistence, but simply "suspect elements" Heydrich ordered the commanders to incite local pograms against Jews. The idea was to be able to show that local populatiions had begun the campaign against Jews. SS-Brigadeführer Franz Stahlecker, a protoge of Heydrich from the SD and commander of Einsatzgruppen A explained, "It has to be shown that the local population themselves had taken the first measures on their own as a natural reaction against decades of supression by the Jews." [Streit, pp. 5-6] Their initial orders were not precise, but within a short time became to kill Jews in large numbers and as soon as possible. Some short term ghettoes were estsblished in the Baltic states, but in the Ukraine the killing occurred very quickly without the intermediate step of setting up ghettoes. The orders were to kill Jews, Romany, and Communiust and Goverment officials, but the primary focus was on killing Jews. There were also actions against Ukranian nationalists. They reported killed about 0.7 million Jews in the Soviet territories (Including the Baltic and occupied Poland) seized by the Wehrmacht. Jew were also killed in the areas of Romania that had been occupied by the Soviets, but this was mostly done by the Romanian Army.

The Bloodlands

World War II historians do not commonly discuss how the leaders of the two countries (NAZI Germany and Soviet Union) conceived of national policies that coverged on Eastern Europe in general and the Ukraine in particular. One historian has focused on this in the area he calls the Bloodlands, the region of Eastern Europe that runs from the Baltics, through Poland, Belarus, and south to the Ukraine and eastern Romania. [Snyder] World War II ws an industrial war, but in large measure the agrarin policies of the Soviet Union and NAZI Germany lay at its heart. Here the Ukraine was especially important to both Hitler and Stalin and both deciced to pursue agraian policies premised on genocide. Agricultural policies were central to the plans fornulated by both leaders. Stalin in his First 5 Year Plan launched the rapid industrialization of what was still a largely peasant country. His plan conceived of financing that industrialization by seizing the land of peasant farmers which would allow him to divert resources from the country side to the expanding industrial cities. The peasabts would thus be allowed to keep less of the crops they harvested. Stalin combined this basic policy in the Ukraine. He was concerned about the Soviet Union's ability to hold ont this vital region because of the Ukranian nationalism and resistance to Soviet rule. He thus went even further in the Ukraine, creating a horrible famine to undermine Ukranian nationalism and resistance to Soviet rule. Stalin never spelled out his intentions fully. Hitler was more frank in Mein Kampf where he enuncisted Germany's need for Lebensraum. And this was the goal of Operartion Barbarossa (June 1941). The NAZI killing plan was more clearly detauled in Generalplan Ost. Hitler's agraian policy was also central to the NAZI regime and it also focused on the Ukraine. Hitler concerived that the answer to Germany's dependence on foreign food imports was an agrain policy based on seizing the East, murdering large numbers of the Slavic population, and finally exporting German farmers to rule over the enslaved Slavs that had been allowed to live. The NAZI plan was so horrific that the Ukranians even after Stalin's represive policies and policies turned against the Germans. It is no accident that the great bulk of World War II combat took place in the Bloodlands, about 90 percent of combat. In large measure World War II was fought and decided in this area after the deaths of millions of civilians. A tragic accident of history is here that the Jewish population of Europe was concentrated. And it was here that the killing phase of the Holocaust began.

Barbarossa: War of Extinction

Hitler made it clear that Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union would be waged with great severity. He issued orders thsat were in effect extinction orders. The German Army in Belgium executed 6,000 civilians ahd was acquired aeputation for brutality that lasted the entire war. The Whermact and paramilitary formations killed about 100,000 civilians in Poland (1939). Operation Barbarossa was to be something even more terrible. It woukd be unlike any other campaign in modern history. Hitler made it very clear that the campaign in the East would be conducted differently than any other modern campaign--it was to be a war of extermination. Mass executions of Jewish men, women, and children as well as Communists were carried out. Four SS Einsatzgruppen were responsible for most of the killings, together with local collaborators, but the numbers of Jews encountered was so large that regular Wehrmacht units also participate in the killing. It was not just the Jews that were killed, but also Communist Commisars in the army army and Communist officials. Eventually large numbers of Slavs were to be killed to clear land for German colonization. In the end this war of extinction may have doomed Operation Barbarossa because it precluded the effective utilization of anti-Communist Russians and Ukranians to fight the Red Army.

Hitler's Concerns

Despite the orders issued by OKW and subiordinate commands, Hitler had no confidence that the Wehrmacht would execute these orders with the severity he expected. He was still disturbed by what occurred in Poland when the Wehrmacht made arrests for war crimes. Nor did the orders fully describe what he wanted done, namely the mass murder of Jews. Hitler concluded that the Wehrmacht was just not the institution needed to carry out the actions he required.

The Sollution: Einsatzgruppen

Hitler was pleased with the performance of the first Einsatzgruppen in Poland. The solution suggested by Heydrich to Hitler's concerns anout the temidity of the Wehrmscht were an Einsatzgrupoen effort. Hitler gave SS Reichführer Himmler the responsibility for carrying out "special tasks resulting from the struggle which has to be carried out between two opposing political systems" (March 1941). Himmler ordered the creation of four Einsatzgruppen (Special Operations Groups). Einsatzgruppen had been sent into Poland, but they were not as large nor did they have the clear instructiond given to the four new Einsatzgruppen.

Organization

The Einsatzgruppen were thus significantly expanded and ready for large-scale operations at the onset of Barbarossa (June 1941). They were used barbarically in the Soviet Union in the (summer and fall 1941). Four Einsatzgruppen paramilitary mobile killing units were organized. For some reason, Heydrich decided to form entirely new Einsatzgruppen for Barbarossa. They were entirely new units with new commanders and men. They were orgsnized just before the invasion. The four groups were: Einsatzgruppen A: Einsatzgruppen A was commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Franz Stahlecker, a protoge of Heydrich fom the SD. They were assigned to the northern Army Group driving from East Prussia throuh the Baltics toward Lenningrad. They reported killing 229,052 Jews by the end of 1941. [Krausnick and Wilhelm, p. 619.] Einsatzgruppen B: Einsatzgruppen B waswas commanded by the chief of the RSHA criminal police SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe was attached to the central Army Group striking through White Russia toward Moscow. Einsatzgruppen C: Einsatzgruppen C was commanded by SS-Oberführer Dr. Otto Rasch was attached to the southern Army Group striking through the Ukraine toward Kiev. Einsatzgruppen D: Einsatzgruppen D was commanded by SS-Grupenführer Otto Ohlendorf. He was the intelectual chief of SD-Inland and prepared secret SD public opinion reports. Einsatzgruppen D also was atached to the southern Army Group. [Padfield, p. 339.]

Composition

The Einsatzgruppen were composed of both Waffen-SS and various police units which by this time were all part of the SS RSHA structure. Each Einsatzgruppe was composed of about 600-1,000 men, including support staff. The active members of the Einsatzgruppen were recruited from military and police organizations. We do not yet have details on the recruitment process. They were all Germans, although they worked with some non-German formations. About half of each Einsatzgruppe were recruited from the Waffen-SS, the SS military formation. The rest came from the RSHA police organizations. An example of the personnel composition can be seen from that of Einsatzgruppen A. The active members came from: the Waffen-SS (340), Gestapo (89), SD (35), Order Police (133), and Kripo (133). [Taylor, p. 510.] The Einsatzgruppen were thus mixed groups composed of Gestapo, Kripo (criminal police), and SD officials. They also included Ordnungspolizei which operated in each of the countries over run by the NAZIs and thus by June 1941 had the opportunity to develop increasingly efficient procedures. There were also a force of Wasfen-SS and police regiments with armored cars and anti-tank units. They were organized so that they could call on front-line Wafen-SS units if necessary. This rarely proved necessary. Instead auxiliaries were recruited from the local population of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Many of these people hated the Russians and combined with wide-spread anti-antisemitism were more than willing to assist in the killing. [Padfield, pp. 339-340.]

Recruitment

We do not have details yet on the recruitment process which was entrusted to Heydrich. It seens likely that the commanders by this time realized that their were career benefits awaiting those prepared to kill Jews and others in large numbers. The Einsatzgruppen leaders and their subordinate officers appear to have been carefully selected. Heydrich did not go for uneducated thugs. Rather they were some of the best educated and most cultured men in the SS and associated securityb services. The key qualification was that they be absolutely commited, dedicated NAZIs. Three of the four commanders choden has doctoral degrees (PhDs). Franz Walter Stahlecker (EG A), Otto Rasch (EG C – a double PhD), and Otto Ohlendorf (EG D). The commander of Einsatzgruppe B was Arthur Nebe did not have a doctorate, but at the time was head of the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police-Kripo). Of the 17 initial SK, EK, and Vorkommando leaders, a seven had a doctoral degrees. . Subsequent Einsatzgruppen leaders included an ex-pastor (Ernst Szymanowski alias Biberstein), a physician (Weinmann), and a professional opera singer (Klingelhöfer). These were men that might be consuidered among the best and brightest Germany had to offer.

Command Structure

This time their status was carefully arranged by Heydrich. He met with Eduard Wagner, the Heer Quartermaste. They agreed that at the front the Einsatzgruppen would be under Heer control but that in rear areas the army's authority would be limited to 'tactical matters'. [Harris, p. 176-77, IMT III, 246,290.] It is not clear how much Heydrich told Wagner, but it is unlikely he fully explained the enormity of what he planned to do. Einsatzgruppen A, B. and C) were attached to Army Groups North, Center and South. Einsatzgruppe D was the fourth group which was sent to the Ukraine where there were large numbers of Jews. While the three Einsatzgruppen were formerly under Wehrmacht command, this proved a formality. All four Einsatzgruppen in practice operated independently from the Wehrmscht Army Groups under the direct command of Heydrich an Himmler. It is not clear just how the two divided their responsibilities concerning the Einsatzgruppen, but Heydrish seems to have taken more of the responsibility for operational control. Einsatzgruppe D, unlike the other three Einsatzgruppen, it was not attached to one of the three invading army groups, but operated independently.

Assignment

The Einsatzgruppen were established to follow in the wake of the advanzing Wehrmacht and carry out murder on a large scale. The Einsatzgruppen were nominally under the command of the three Army Groups that conducted Barbarossa. In fact, they followed instructions from Heydrich RSHA. Both Himmler and Heydeich had personnal access to Hiler. Hitler made it clear to the Wehrmacht that he decribed as the 'Judeo-Bolshevik' intelligentsia completely eliminated. He appears to have gone much furher with Himmler and Heydrich. He never went further in open statements to the military leadership and precisely what he personalluy told the SS can not be proven. there is, however, every reason to think that the barbaritites carried out by the Einsatzgruppen, reflected Hitler's personsl instructions. Himmler and Heydrich clearly knew what he wanted and were anxious to deliver.

Training

While the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were preparing detailed plans for operation Barbarossa, the SS were making plans for much more extensive Einsatzgruppen operations in the Soviet Union and training personnel.

Orders

Heydrich ordered the Einsatzgruppen commanders to clear the newly conquerred territories in the Soviet Union of 'suspect elements'. Note that there was no attempt to link the actions with actual resistence, but simply the vague term 'suspect elements'. the initial orders were not precise, but within a short time became to kill Jews in large numbers and as soon as possible. Some short term ghettoes were estsblished in the Baltic states to concentrate the Jews for more efficent killing, but in the Ukraine the killing occurred very quickly without the intermediate step of setting up ghettoes. The orders were to kill Jews, Romany, and Communiust and Goverment officials, but the primary focus was on killing Jews. There were also actions against Ukranian nationlists. Heydrich also ordered the commanders to incite local pograms against Jews. The idea was to be able to show that local populations had begun the campaign against Jews. SS-Brigadeführer Franz Stahlecker, a protoge of Heydrich from the SD and commander of Einsatzgruppen A explained, "It has to be shown that the local population themselves had taken the first measures on their own as a natural reaction against decades of supression by the Jews." [Streit, pp. 5-6] The formal orders were to kill Soviet Commisars and partisans. Because the Germans saw Jews as a key element of both Bolshevism and the partisan menace, from the onset the Einsatzgruppen began killing Jewish men of military age. Heydrich incouraged the commanders to exceed orfers. And very quickly the Eisatzgruppen were began killing women and children as well which upped their tallies. They proudly submitting weekly reports to Berlin of Jews killed, specifying the numbers of men, women, and children. The Ultra code breakers in Blechly Park began decrypting these reports from the inception of Barbarossa.

Jewish Vulnerability

Stalin and Sovier autyhorities unwitingly played into Hitler's hands. Soviet authorities fron the inception of the Soviet state launched an athesim campaign and Stalin intensified it. As part of that campaign, the Soviets did not appeal to religious groups. Thus after Hitler's seizure of power in Germany (January 1933), Soviet propaganda did not focus on the regime's anti-Semitism. And after the NAZI-Sovoiet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939), anti NAZI propaganda virtually disappeared frtom the Soviet media. And for nearly 2 years, the Soviet Union was a loyal NAZI ally with Stalin being careful not to give Hitler any reason for offense. Soviet propaganda did not dwell on matters luke the Nuremberg Laws or Kristallnachr or after the War began, German actions against Jews in Poland and other occupied countries. As a result, Soviet Jews had no real idea of the genocodal nature of the NAZI invaders when Hitler launched Barbarossa (June 1941). And even after Barbarossa began and the Einstazgruppen launched killing actions, Soviet propaganda waas silent. There were reports of killing civilians, but no emphasis was given as to NAZI obsession with killing Jews. Some Soviet Jews appear to have thought that the Germans were better disposed toward Jews than Soviet authorities.

KIlling Methods

SS units at the time of Barbarossa were working on efficent killing methods. For the Eisatzgruppen, fire arms would be used, pistols, rifles and machine guns. One of the killers, 19-year old Hans Friedrich, in the Ukraine escribes hus involovent un the killing. "They [the Jews] had to stand in such a way that when they were shot they would fall into the ditch. That then happened again and again. Someone had to go down into the ditch and check conscientiously whether they were still alive or not, because it never happened that they were all mortally wounded at the first shot. And if somebody wasn’t dead and was lying there injured, then he was shot with a pistol.’ Friedrich revealed that, as he pulled the trigger to kill the Jew in front of him, ‘I only thought: ‘Aim carefully so that you hit’… there’s only one thing, calm hand so that you hit well. Nothing else." He was a committed anti-Semite. NAZI propaganda converted many mild anti-Semites into fervent haters all too willing to kill. He was convinced that Jews had harmed Germany, his family, and hinself personally. It was not uncommon for Germans to havd such feelings that did not even know individual Jews. He confessed in an interview that he had no ‘empathy’ for the Jews he killed, explaining ,‘My hatred towards the Jews is too great." [BBC]

Operations and Death Tolls

The Einsatgruppen in Poland had murdered tens of thousands, both Jews and Polish leaders. In the Soviet Union they would focus primarily on the Jews and here they began planning for killing up to 2 million. [Gilbert, pp. 354-355.] Four Einsatzgruppen followed the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union on June 22. Their brutality and barbarity was unmatched in modern European history and will be an indelible blot on the honor of the German nation. The four Eisatzgruppen and their local allies reported killed about 0.7-1.0 million Jews in the Soviet territories (including the Baltic and occupied Poland) seized by the Wehrmacht. There are no exact accounting, but the Eisatgruppen commanders compiled statistics, hoping to impress their commanders kin Berlkin. Jew were also killed in the areas of Romania that had been occupied by the Soviets, but this was mostly done by the Romanian Army. As the initial instructions given were inprecises, there were differences in the opertations of the various Eisatzgruppen, especially during the first weeks. The only constant was the objective of killing Jews and the fervor with which the process was conducted. The Einsatzgruppen actions ranged from the murder of a few people to operations which lasted over 2 or more days, such as the massacres at Babi Yar (33,771 killed -- two days) and Rumbula (25,000 killed -- two days). One historian describes the measures he took, "Indeed many of the commanders recognized that the executions, particularly of women and children, placed their men under great psychological strain,. Several methods were employed by various commanders to minimize this. In Special Task Group D, Ohlendorf insisted that the murders had to be carried out in what he imagined was a 'military' way. Thus, the firing squads had no contact with their victims until the last moment, and threeriflemen were allocated to each person to be shot. This was designed to alleviate individual guilt among the executi0n squads. Rasch took a different tack. He insisted that every member of his unit participated in the killings, ensuring a sense of collective, and shared guilt." [Weale]

Ultra


Impact

It is not known just when Hitler made the decession to proceed with the extermiantion of European Jews. The decesion to order the Einsatzgruppen to kill Jews in the Soviet Union appears to have nee taken vefore the Dinal Sollution was finalized. If so the pittiless war in the Soviet Union and the Einsatzgruppen killing actions may have been the turning point. Once the killing of Jewish men, women and children was set in motion in he Soviet Union, 'genocide here and now’ as one author describes it, the idea began to percolate through the NAZI hierarchy. [Browning] Why after all just kill Jews in the Soviet Union. It is unclear if this occurred to Hitler on his own or whether men like Heydrich and Himmler broufh the idea to him.

Sources

Browning, Christopher.

Harris, p. 176-7, IMT III, 246,290.

Krausnick, Helmut and Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm. Die Truppe des Weltanschaungskrieges: Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitpolizei und des SD, 1938-42 (Stuttgart: 1981).

Ohlendorf. Nuremberg testimony.

Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (Henry Holt: New York, 1991), 656p.

Streit, C. "The Germany Army and the policies of genocide," in Hirschfeld, ed. Policies of Genocide.

Taylor, Telford. The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials (Little Brown, 1992).

Weale, Adrian. Army of Evil: A History of the SS (2012), 496p.

BBC. BBC2 series, "Auschwitz, the Nazis and the Final" 2005). .






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Created: 9:10 AM 11/28/2011
Last updated: 4:39 AM 4/2/2015