3) Die Einsatzgruppen

From May 1941, the Sonderkommandos, as so-called Einsatzgruppen were trained by trusted party ideologues for their future special orders in the Boundary Police School Pretzsch/Elbe and in the neighboring cities Dueben and Bad Schmiedeberg.  [Men selected for this training] were overwhelmingly reliable adherents of the NS regime, particularly officers of the Security Police (Kripo and Stapo), members of the SD, the Waffen-SS, and the Order Police.  It was emphasized to the participants that great hardness was going to be demanded of them.

The leadership of the Einsatzgruppen  was given the secret order to shoot all Jews orally.   According to the testimony of Einsatzgruppenfuehrer Ohlendorf in the Nuernberger Einsatzgruppen trial, this liquidation order was taken to mean the “killing” all undesired racial and political elements designated as a “security threat” that were in their reach.  The order applied to four primary groups:

Communist officials, so-called Asiatic inferior groups, Gypsies,  and Jews.  Verdict 3 P Ks 1/62 IG Berlin p 30, JMT  vol 4 p 250 & vol 31 p 39 (Testimony of Ohlendorf) Krausnick p 364, Reitlinger “Die Endloesung” 4th ed.  p 91 & 592, Od vol X p 837 ff, p 840

According to testimony of the Sonderkommandofuehrer Dr. Blume, Heydrich himself  explained to the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandofuehrer in June 1941 that “Eastern Jewry is the reservoir of Bolshevism and therefore, in the Fuehrer’s view, must be annihilated”.  Krausnick p 365.

The Office Chief I at the RSHA at the time [Reichssicherheitshauptamt = Reich Security Headquarters] and SS-Gruppenfuehrer Bruno Steckenbach testified as follows in his interrogation by an attorney before the LG Duesseldorf (Az. U I 11/60:

“Then” ( a time after the Russian invasion began) “I went to Heydrich and asked him, if there was a general order, and who had issued it.  Heydrich then told me that Jews were to be shot based on an order of the Fuehrer [himself].  Any critique or protest is superfluous, as Hitler had emphasized that the Final Solution to the Jewish problem in this fashion was only possible in the framework of the mighty war events currently unfolding”.  Doc vol III p 261

For the Eastern Campaign a total of 4 Einsatzgruppen, namely A, B, C, and D, were organized, under command of the Chief of the Sipo and SD Heydrich.  They were divided into Einsatzkommandos (EK), also sometimes called Sonderkommandos (SK).  JMT vol 31 p 39 ff.

Einsatzgruppe A was under the command of Oberregierungsrat and SS-Brigadefuehrer Dr. Stahlecker and was assigned to the Army Group North.  From about November 1941, it also operated in Belarus.  It consisted of Sonderkommandos 1a and 1b as well as Einsatzkommandos 2 and 3, and was 990-men strong in the fall of 1941.  Doc vol III p 171, Verdict ./. Remmers u Zenner 9 Ks 1/161 LG Koblenz p 28, Krausnick p 361.

Einsatzguprpe B was under the Leader of Office V of the RSHA, Nebe, and was assigned to Army Group Center.  It was stationed in Belarus to November 1941.  The area was then taken over by Einsatzgruppe A.  Einsatzgrupped B consister of SKs 7a and 7b, Eks 8 and 9, as well as the so-called Vorkommando Moscow.

The leader of EK 9 was Dr. Filbert, condemned to life imprisonment by the LG Berlin (3 Ps Ks 1/62).  A subunit of EK 9 executed Jews shortly after the beginning of the Russian campaign, presumably in Lida.  Verdict 3 P Ks 1/62 LG Berlin p 32

Chief of Einsatzgruppe C was SS-Brigadefuehrer Dr. Rasch.  It was assigned to the Army Group South.

Einsatzgruppe D was under SS-Gruppenfuehrer Ohlendorf.  It was assigned to the 11th Army, later the Army Group Caucasus.

Shortly after the Russian campaign began Police Reserve Battalion 9 (relieved by Police Reserve Battalion 3 at the end of 1941) was in turns assigned to individual EK and SK.

Furter, the “z.b.V.-Battalion” of the Waffen-SS was assigned to the Einsatzgruppen and their Commandos.  To carry out their assignments, particularly the annihilation of Jews, the fully motorized Einsatzgruppen and –Kommandos pulled in many foreign units (Lithuanian, Latvian and Ukrainian) as well as division of the local police in the corresponding area.

When German troops crossed the Soviet border 22 June 1941, and in a few months seized broad areas of Belarus and conquered the entire Baltic area,  the Einsatzgruppen followed on their heels, thus Einsatzgruppe A (Stahlbecker) through the Baltic lands up to the region behind the Leningrad Front, Einsatzgrupped B (Nebe) through Belarus to the Moscow Front.  Verdict 9 Ks 1/62 LG Koblenz p 23.

The Einsatzgruppen commenced their bloody handiwork.  The annihilation of Eastern Jews was already in full swing when the Goering’s order of 31 July 1941 went to Heydrich,

“… herewith charge you, to meet all appropriate preparations in organizational, professional and material aspects for a Final Solution to the Jewish Question in the German sphere of influence in Europe… I charge further charge you to lay before me a full draft of all organizational, professional and material measures for carrying out the Final Solution to the Jewish Question to which we are striving”.  Doc vol X p 808 f, Krausnick p 572, doc vol V p 427, IMT vol 26 p 267, doc. Ps – 710.

The Einsatzgruppen had to give running reports on their activities to the RSHA.  To this end, they collected reports from the Einsatzkommandos and the other groups assigned to them.  These reports were analyzed at the RSHA, and distributed to a limited circle of offices as “Reports of Events in the USSR” (EM), continuously numbered and stamped “Secret Reichs Affair”.  In these Einsatzgruppen reports, whose originals can be found in the Document Center in Berlin, one finds reports of the status of the liquidations.  The number rises from report to report, climbing to ten thousands and hundred thousands.  Doc vol VI, Krausnick p 367.

Thus, for example, in the report of 1 February 1941 EK 3 of Einsatzgruppe A, the number of persons shot (predominantly Jews) by this EK in Lithuania, in Vilnius and other places, is given as 137, 448.  Doc vol III p 187 ff

In this report it says, among other things:

“… I can today assert that the goal of solving the Jewish Problem in Lithuania has been reached by EK 3.  In Lithuania, there are no more Jews, exclusive of Jews at forced labor and their families…

The goal, making Lithuania Jew-free, could only be attained by setting up a mobile squad with select men under leadership of SS-Sturmfuehrer Hamann, who … knew how to work with Lithuanian partisans and to get the assistance of the responsible civil authorities.

The execution of such Aktionen is in the main a question of organization.  The decision systematically to make each county Jew-free required a thorough preparation of each individual Aktion and study of the prevailing circumstances in each district.  The Jews had to be collected in one or more sites.  According to the number, a location had to be found for the necessary trenches, and excavated.  The march route from the collection points to the trenches averaged 4 to 5 km.  The Jews were transported to the execution sites in groups of 500, spaced at least 2 km apart.  Doc vol II p 1931

What difficulties and what nerve-wracking work this required, is shown in this example, chosen at random: ….
… escape attempts, which recurred occasionally, were prevented exclusively by my own men at considerable risk to their lives….

The Aktion in Kauen [Kaunas] itself, … can be regarded as a shooting gallery  doc vol 4 p 194

I regard the Aktionen for EK 3 closed, in the main.  The remaining Jews are urgently needed and I can imagine that after this winter these labor forces will still be urgently needed.  I am of the opinion that the sterilization of male workers should begin immediately, to prevent further reproduction.  If a Jewish woman become pregnant anyway, she is to be liquidated…”

A further, particularly illuminating document on the deeds, tasks and modus operandi of the Einsatzgruppen is the comprehensive report of the Chief of  Einsatzgruppe A, Dr. Stahlecker, for the period to 15 October 1941, as well as a further undated (presumably of February 1942) report of this same Einsatzgrupped (the so-called Stahlbecker reports).  Doc vol III p 165 ff, JMT vol 30 p 72, Krausnick p 367

In the 1st report, (covering the period to 15 October 1941), it says, among other things:

“II) Cleansing and securing of the assigned area, execution of self-cleansing Aktionen.

From the consideration that the population of the Baltic countries suffered a great deal during their incorporation into the Soviet Union under the domination of Bolshevism and Jews, it was to be assumed that they… on the retreat of the Red Army, would of their own accord render harmless any enemies remaining in the country.

It must be the job of the Security Police, to start off the self-cleansing operations, and direct them into the proper paths, in order to attain the secret goal as soon as possible.  It is not any less important, to achieve this permanent as provable deed for the future, that the liberated population of its own accord initiated the harshest measures against the Bolshevist and Jewish enemies, without any recognizable involvement by German units.  Doc vol II p 169

In Lithuania this succeeded for the first time in Kaunas through the initiative of the partisans.  It was suprisingly difficult to set a Pogrom of any scope going.  The leader of the above mentioned partisan group Klimatis, who was drawn into this in the first line, succeeded in starting off a pogrom by way of orders to a small Commando he had in place in Kaunas, without it appearing from the outside that there was any German involvement at all.  In the course of the first pogrom, the night of 25/26 June, over 1500 Jews were done away with by the Lithuanian partisans, several synagogues were set on fire or otherwise destroyed, and a Jewish residential area of about 60 buildings was burned down.  In the following nights 2300 Jews were rendered harmless in this way.  In other parts of Lithuania there were similar Aktionen in emulation of the example set in Kaunas, although in smaller in scope, which were also pinned on Communists left behind.

…In this it was fully obvious that only the first days of the occupation offered the possibility for executing pogroms. After the partisans disarmed [the population] self-cleansing operations were forced to cease… doc vol II p 170

… As far as possible, in Kaunas as well as in Riga, it was recorded on movie film and pictures, that he first spontaneous executions of Jews and Communists were done by Lithuanians .  doc vol III p 171

III. Battling Jews

It was obvious from the first that only pogroms could not solve the Jewish Problem in the East.  On the other hand, the security police cleansing work had as comprehensive as destruction of Jews as possible at its goal.  Therefore Sonderkommandos carried out extensive executions in the cities and in the country, with the assistance of selected forces, in Lithuania partisan groups, in Latvia troops of Latvian Auxiliary Police. Doc vol III p 172

The insertion of Einsatzkommandos  was smooth…

… Already after the first major executions in Lithuanian and Latvia, it became obvious that complete annihilation of Jews is not possible at the present time.  As skilled artisans in Lithuania and Latvia were for the most part Jews, and some occupations (particularly glazier, joiner, oven installation, shoemaker) are almost exclusively practiced by Jews, a large portion of Jewish skilled workers are employed in vital capacity, and are at present indispensible for the reconstruction of destroyed cities and for work vital to the war. Doc vol III p 173

… Alongside the organization and execution of executions, in the first days of occupation, ghettos were created in the larger cities.  Doc vol III p 174.

… When Jewish Committees protested, it was explained to them that there was no other way to prevent pogroms. Doc vol II p 175

The identification of Jews with a yellow Star of David on the chest and back … was carried out in short time through corresponding orders of the authorities for the Army region and later by the civil administration.  Doc vol II p 176


The number of Jews liquidated to date can been seen in appendix 8 of the attached appendices.”

According to this appendix, Einsatzgruppe A alone shot 135,567 persons, overwhelmingly Jews, in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Belarus to 15 October 1941.  Doc vol III p 180

In the second, already mentioned undated report of Einsatzgruppe A, which presumably dates from February 1942, this, among other things, is reported:

- Page 56 –

IV.  Jews

“The systematic cleansing in the East encompassed, according to the fundamental orders, the most thorough annihilation of Jews possible.

This goal has been largely reached through the execution of a total of 229,052 Jews, with the exception of Belarus.  The remaining Jews in the Baltic region are urgently required for labor and is housed in ghettos.

- Page 61 –

4) Belarus

Belarussia is, of all the countries in the East, most densely settled with Jews…

The sociological structure of the Jews had, as also in the formerly Polish region, as also the region, [which was] before the Russian-Polish War the Bolshevist region Belarus, a broad underclass of poor Jews.

…The final and thorough annihilation of the Jews left in Belarussian territory after the invasion of Germans collides with certain difficulties.  Jews here form an extraordinarily high proportion of skilled workers, who, in the absence of any other reserves, are indispensible in that region.  Furthermore, the Einsatzgruppe A conquered the area only after the onset of hard frost, which seriously hinders mass executions.

- Page 63 –

The Command in Belarus has been ordered to liquidate the Jews as soon as possible in spite of all difficulties.  It will still take a span of about 2 months – depending on the weather.

The restriction of the remaining Jews into ghettos is also about complete in the cities of Belarus.  They are employed by Wehrmacht offices, the civil administration, and German officials in the widest possible manner…” JMT vol 30 p 71 ff doc 2273-Ps

While the Einsatzgruppen had been shooting  Jews in the newly occupied Eastern territories since the beginning of the Russian campaign, in fall 1941 the first large deportations of Jews from the Reich and the Protectorate to the East took place, to extend the “Final Solution” to these Jews as well.  So, for example, in the time from 18 to 24 November 1941 about 7000 Jews from Hamburg, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt/Main, Vienna, Brno and Bremen were brought to Minsk and placed in the ghetto there.  Krausnick p 391, doc vol III p 253, verdict ./. Remmers & Zenner 9 Ks 1/61 LG Koblenz p 30, 35 ff

The extension of the “Final Solutions” to all Jews under German domination made it necessary to discuss and coordinate the planned measures with the responsible government entities.   This led to the so-called Wannsee Conference,  held in the Interpol building on the Grossen Wannsee 20 January 1942, although it had originally been planned for 9 December 1941.  Krausnick p 391, IMT vol 26 p 200-203, doc vol X p 810 ff

Officials of the participating SS- Posts, as well as Party officials, representatives of the Reichs East Ministry, the Reichs Interior Ministry, those charged with the 4-year plan,  the Reichs Justice Ministry, the Office of the Governor Gerneral, the Ministry of State and Reichs Chancellory all participated in this conference, which was chaired by Heydrich.  Krausnick p 392.

In the relevant paragraphs of the Eichmann minutes the Wannsee Conference, it says:

“… Under corresponding leadership, the Jews in the East are to be appropriately put to work in the course of the Final Solution.  Jews are to be led in road building gangs, in long columns, separated by sexes, in these regions, in the course of which a majority will fall out by natural attrition. Krausnick p 393

The remnant left in the end, must, as it will with no doubt be the fraction most capable of resistance, be treated accordingly, as it, representing a natural selection, would be serve as the seedbed for a new Jewish buildup.”   Doc vol X p 813

It is stated scarcely less clearly in the next to the last paragraph of the minutes, which are cumbersomely written, that:
“…thereafter the most varied kinds of solution possibilities” were discussed, “whereby on the part of Gauleiter Dr. Meyer (East Ministry) as well as Secretary of State Dr. Buehler, the viewpoint was represented that certain preparatory jobs in the course of the Final Solution should be undertaken immediately in the affected regions themselves, in the course of which alarming the local population must be avoided”.
Eichmann interpreted the expression “solution possibilities” as “murder possibilities” in his trial in Jerusalem in 1961.  Krausnick p 394, 395

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