Hitler launched Opperation Barbarosa, his invasion of the Soviet Union, the largest military campaign in human history (June 22, 1941). Preparations were laid for murdering Jews as part of the invasion although the orders were less than clear. The NAZIs in 1939 had not yet worked out what was to be done with the Jews and this was still the case at the time of Barbarossa. As a result, while there were many killings, although on an disorganized and relatively small-scale level. Most Polish Jews were rounded up and forced into medievil gettos. The success of the Wehrmacht in 1939-40 had convinced Hitler and other NAZIs that they could do away with the Jews, although at the time Barbarossa began the territorial approach dominated NAZI thinking. There was no written document specifically ordering the slaughter of Jews. Some time in late-1940 or early-1941 must have ordered SS Commander Heinrich Himmler to prepare for mass killings with the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Hitler did issue orders concerning the execution of political commisars, Soviet officials, and supporters. And the NAZIs viewed Jews as a central support for the Soviet state. Thus the wholesale killing of Jews commenced with Barbarossa. Some Einsatzgruppen began killing only male adult Jews, but this soon degenerated into what ever Jews that game within their grips.
The NAZI genocide had not yet been perfected and large scale gas chambers were not yet operating at Chelmo and the other killing centers Auswitz. The SS created four Einsatzgruppen to accompany the Wehrmacht and kill Jews in large numbers. SD Commander Reinhard Heydrich was in overall command of these killing machines and he was known for his meticulous planning. Most of the Jews were shot. Full details are not available, but we know from the similarities in many of the killing actions that the Einsatzgruppen were well trained and procedures developed for maximum efficency.
Christians for centuries after the fall of Rome (5th century AD) gererally tollerated and coexisted with Jews and anti-Semetic eruptions were limited. At this time there were very few Jews living in Eastern Europe. Beginning with the Crusades (11th century) this began to change. Anti-Semetic laws, vicious programs, and expullsions spread in waves over Western Europe. European Jews fleeing the oppression of Roman Catholic Western Europe moved east to Polandand other Eastern Ruropean states. The Tsars did not tolerate Jews within their empires and as Muscovy expanded their were mass killings in newly acquired cities. The Tsar adopted an openly ant-Semetic policy (1721). Areas conquered by the Russian Army were cleared of Jews, such as the Ukraine (1727). This was normally done with great brutality. Ironically the Jews of Greater Russia developed into the largest and most important Jewish community in the world. This was in large measure the result of the Polish Partitions (1772-95) and the incorporation of Poland into the Tsarist Empire. Russian Jewery became the heart of the Jewish world and the origins of the Zionist movement. The opressive policies of the Tsars also lead many Jes to embrace socialism and revoutionary politics. As many as 5 million Jews are believed to have lived in Russia before World War I and the Revolution. Jews played a oprominant role in the Revolution and Bolshevik movement. Tsarist Russia became the Soviet Union and finally the Confederation of Independent States (CIS) with a deminished, but still very sizeable Jewish population.
Hitler from the earliest phases of the planning for Barbarossa made it clear that this would be a military campaign like no other. He impressed on his military commanders that Barbarossa would be a racial war of extermination. Some time in late-1940 or early-1941 must have ordered SS Commander Heinrich Himmler to prepare for mass killings with the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Hitler did issue orders concerning the execution of political commisars, Soviet officials, and supporters. And the NAZIs viewed Jews as a central support for the Soviet state. Thus the wholesale killing of Jews commenced with Barbarossa. Some Einsatzgruppen began killing only male adult Jews, but this soon degenerated into what ever Jews that game within their grips. Heydrich's SS Einsatzgruppen were responsible for most of the killings, together with local collaborators, but the numbers of Jews encountered are so large that regular Wehrmacht units also participated in the killing, either in the killing itself or in various support roles.
The success of the Wehrmacht in 1939-40 had convinced Hitler and other NAZIs that they could begin the mass slaughter of Jews. There was no written document, but Hitler some time in late 1940 or early 1941 must have ordered Himmler to prepare for mass killings with the invasion of the Soviet Union. [Padfield, p. 324.] Himmler was not the rabid anti-semmite that characterized Hitler and NAZIs like Rosenberg and Streicher. Himmler would also never have taken such a monentous decission on his own authority. Himmler was Hitler's most loyal subordinate. The order had to come from Hitler an it had to be given to Himmler, both because of his loyalty and his command of Reich security forces.
Preparations were laid for murdering Jews as part of the invasion. The NAZIs in 1939 had not yet worked out precisely what was to be done with the Jews. As a result, while there were many killings, most were rounded up and confined into medievel ghettos. The NAZI genocide had not yet been perfected and large scle gas chambers were not yet operating at Chelmo and the othefr death camps. The SS created four Einsatzgruppen to accompany the Wehrmacht and kill Jews in large numbers. Full details are not available, but we know from the similarities in many of the killing actions that the Einsatzgruppen were well trained and procedures developed for maximum efficency. Heydrich was in overall command of these killing machines and he was meticulous for his meticulous planning.
The orders given to the Einsatzgruppen deployed behind the advancing German lines were couched in terms of killing subsersive elements. It is difficult to know Hitler's precise intentions. The fact that some units at first only killed the adult male Jews makes it clear that there was never any blanket orders given to kill Jews. But the killing soon degenerated into killing Jews whrewver they found them. The NAZI view of Jews as a major support of Bolshevism made this inevitable.
Hitler launched Opperation Barbarosa, his invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy he Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the Germna preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The German scaptured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns too the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".
Hitler was pleased with the performance of the first Einsatzgruppen in Poland. 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. In Poland they 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 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.]
The Einsatzgruppen were mixed groups composed of Gestapo, Kripo (criminal police), and SD official. They also included Ordnungspolizei which operated in each of the countries over run by the NAZIs and thus by June 1941 had the oportunity 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 auxileries were recruited from the local population of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Poles, and Ukranians. Many of these people hated the Russians and combined with wide-spread anti-semmitism weremore than willing to assist in the killing. [Padfield, pp. 339-340.]
One of the many chilling aspects of the Hollacaust was how carefully planned it was and how the NAZIs used the devotion of parents to their children to control Jews and make it easier to so effiently kill them. Many were taken by surprise. Before the roundups, Many adults could have tried to escape. There chances were not good, but they would have cmplicated the killing pocess. Most parents, however, could not bare to desert their children. The operations of the Einsatzgruppen appear to have been carefully planned out to take into account these reactions. Presumably with considerable discussin and perhaps even trial runs--althouh here we do not have supporing evidence.
An example of how diobolically planned the killing process was is the murder of the Jews briefly concentrated in getto at Riga. Einsatzgruppen A with Latvian volunteers began the operation to murder the Riga jews on November 30, 1941. Pits had been prepared in the Rumbuli Forrest outside Riga. The Jews were told that they were being resettled. To put them at ease they were allowed to bring suitcases. They marched out of Riga together in family groups wearing overcoats and other warm clothes. The process then involved a gradual separation into smaller and smaller groups where they were gradually divested of their belongings and then clothes until the victims were "overwealmed by their fate". Even when they became aware of what was happening, how cuuld parents even attempt to abandon their children. The Jews were directed off the main road on to a dirt track where they were told to leave their luggage. Then they were marched further and told to deposit their valuables in wooden boxes. Further down the track they had to remive their overcoats. Next their other clothes and shoes. The guards wre tonkeep them moving at a steady pace. By this time they could hear shooting ahead. Then they were sent forward to the rim of the pits in groups of ten. SS Col W. Bruns testified at the Rigal War Trials, "There were no outcries, only light sobbing and crying and soothing words to the children." [Padfield, p. 354.]
The most famed example of Jewish resistance to the NAZI Holocaust was the Bielski Brothers. These brash boys from the village of Stankevich (in modern Belarus) formed a Jewish partisan group to fight the Germans behind the front lines. [Tec and Duffy]
Stalin authorized respected Soviet Jews to help promote support for the Great Patriotic War. They formed the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. The groups efforts were effective. Despite their valuable efforts, they were targeted by Stalin after the War. [Rubenstein]
Duffy, Peter. The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Saved 1,200 Jews and Built a Village in the Forest (Harper Collins, 2003), 297p.
Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.
Krausnick, Helmut and Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm. Die Truppe des Weltanschaungskrieges: Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitpolizei und des SD, 1938-42 (Stuttgart: 1981).
Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (Henry Holt: New York, 1991), 656p.
Rubenstein. Joshua. Stalin's Secret Pogrom.
Tec, Nechama. Defiance: The Bielski Partisans (1993).
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