"The Einsatzgruppen Case"


Case No. 9

Activities of the Einsatzgruppen

MR. WALTON: In May and June 1941, the assembling of Einsatzgruppen personnel began, in conformity with the agreements between the Army High Command and the Reich Security Main Office. At first the Border Police School Barracks at Pretzsch in Saxony was designated as an assembly point, but because of the inadequacy of facilities, the neighboring villages of Dueben and Schmiedeberg were also designated as assembly points.

Since the majority of the personnel for the Einsatzgruppen came from military or police organizations, they already understood normal military duties. The course of training given them at the assembly points consisted of lectures and speeches on their new and special functions. After this orientation the Gruppen received their equipment, and were to be committed to action. Events were not long delayed which brought these organizations to their assigned tasks, and their missions were thoroughly understood from the highest-ranking leader of a Gruppe down to the lowest SS man.

On 22 June 1941, with no previous warning, Germany invaded Soviet Russia. The Einsatzgruppen, already alerted, fell in behind the marching columns of the Wehrmacht as an integral part of the machine constructed for swift and total war. Within a space of three days the training grounds in Saxony were empty and all Einsatzgruppen had entered upon the performance of their various missions.

The Tribunal will recall how rapidly the Wehrmacht overran

- 38 -

vast territory in the early months of this aggression. By December 1941, the eastern front extended from Leningrad on the north to the Crimean Peninsula in the south. The Baltic States, White Ruthenia, and most of the Ukraine were in German hands. In this wide land the Einsatzgruppen moved behind the lines of combat. They were deployed from north to south in alphabetical order across the east of Europe.

The precise areas in which they did their work will become apparent as the proof is adduced. And it will be seen that they followed like methods in executing their common mission.

Identity of purpose and of top command were reflected in a common pattern of performance. Some victims were disposed of casually. Political functionaries were shot where found. Prisoners of war who fell in the category of opponents of National Socialism were handed by the Wehrmacht to the Einsatzgruppen and killed.

These swift methods were also applied in disposing of Jews, gypsies, and persons falling under that vague denomination "undesirables." But these latter classes of humans marked for slaughter were large - too large to be disposed of by casual assassination. Their very numbers demanded that they be killed en masse. Accordingly, we find plans and methods adapted to this necessity.

We must remember that the Einsatzgruppen were small forces of 500 to 800 men. Four of these small forces totaling not more than 3,000 men killed at least 1,000,000 human beings in approximately two years' time. These figures enable us to make estimates which help considerably in understanding this case. They show that the four Einsatzgruppen averaged some 1,350 murders per day during a 2-year period; 1,350 human beings slaughtered on the average day, 7 days a week for more than 100 weeks. That is 337 murders per average day by each group of 600 to 800 men during the 2-year period. All these thousands of men, women, and children killed had first to be selected, brought together, held in restraint, and transported to a place of death. They had to be counted, stripped of possessions, shot, and buried. And burial did not end the job, for all of the pitiful possessions taken from the dead had to be salvaged, crated, and shipped to the Reich. Finally, books were kept to cover these transactions. Details of all these things had to be recorded and reported.

Upon entry into a given area and after establishing itself for an extermination operation, an Einsatz unit rounded up those elements of the population marked for slaughter. This was accomplished by special orders to report and by manhunts. It was followed by concentration of the victims under guard to be trans-

- 39 -

ported to a place for execution or at the abbatoir itself. In accomplishing roundups, a common deceit was widely practiced; those who were to die were told to report for "resettlement" - hope was held out to those who had none in fact, and who awaited certain death. The methods of extermination varied little. Mass shooting, the commonest means of slaughter, was described with classic simplicity by Herman Graebe, a German civilian, before the International Military Tribunal. Graebe was in charge of a building firm in the Ukraine. May I read from his statement -

"I walked around the mound, and found myself confronted by a tremendous grave. People were closely wedged together and lying on top of each other so that their heads were visible. Nearly all had blood running over their shoulders from their heads. Some of the people shot were still moving. Some were lifting their arms and turning their heads to show that they were still alive. The pit was already 2/3 full. I estimated that it contained about 1,000 people. I looked for the man who did the shooting. He was an SS man, who sat at the edge of the narrow end of the pit, his feet dangling into the pit. He had a tommy gun on his knees and was smoking a cigarette. The people, completely naked, went down some steps which were cut in the clay wall of the pit and clambered over the heads of the people lying there, to the place to which the SS man directed them. They lay down in front of the dead or injured people; some caressed those who were still alive and spoke to them in a low voice. Then I heard a series of shots. I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying already motionless on top of the bodies that lay before them. Blood was running from their necks. I was surprised that I was not ordered away, but I saw that there were two or three postmen in uniform nearby. The next batch was approaching already. They went down into the pit, lined themselves up against the- previous victims and were shot. When I walked back around the mound, I noticed another truckload of people which had just arrived. This time it included sick and infirm persons. An old, very thin woman with terribly thin legs was undressed by others who were already naked, while two people held her up. The woman appeared to be paralyzed. The naked people carried the woman around the mound. I left with Moennikes and drove in my car back to Dubno.

On the morning of the next day, when I again visited the site, I saw about 30 naked people lying near the pit - about 30 to 50 meters away from it. Some of them were still alive; they looked straight in front of them with a fixed stare and seemed to notice neither the chilliness of the morning nor the workers

- 40 -

of my firm who stood around. A girl of about 20 spoke to me and asked me to give her clothes, and help her escape. At that moment we heard a fast car approach and I noticed that it was an SS detail. I moved away to my site. Ten minutes later we heard shots from the vicinity of the pit. The Jews still alive had been ordered to throw the corpses into the pit; then they had themselves to lie down in this to be shot in the neck." (2992-,PS, Pros. Ex. 38.)

Another form of extermination employed was asphyxiation by lethal gasses in enclosed trucks or vans. Here again the victims were induced to enter these death machines by the promise that they would be transported to other areas for resettlement. As the van left the leading area it was filled with deadly fumes. A few minutes later, when the van reached the disposal point, the corpses were unloaded into prepared excavations which became unmarked mass graves. These, then, were the usual methods used by the Einsatzgruppen. May I now briefly detail some of their activities.

Einsatzgruppe A made a comprehensive report in October 1941 describing what it had been doing. The report gave the total of 121,817 persons killed. The commanding officer stated -

"To our surprise it was not easy at first to set in motion an extensive pogrom against the Jews. Klimatis, the leader of the partisan unit mentioned above, who was used for this purpose primarily, succeeded in starting pogroms on the basis of advice given to him by a small Vorkommando.operating in Kovno and in such a way that no German order or German instigation was noticed from the outside. During the first pogrom in the night from 26 to 26 June, the Lithuanian partisans did away with more than 1,500 Jews, set fire to several synagogues or destroyed them by other means, and burned down a Jewish dwelling district consisting of about 60 houses. During the following nights, approximately 2,300 Jews were rendered harmless in a similar way." (L-180, Pros. Ex. 84.)

Sonderkommando la, which was under the command of the defendant Sandberger, arrested all male Jews over 16 in its area and with the exception of doctors and the Counsel of Elders, they were all executed. The defendant Strauch commanded Einsatzkommando 2. Six months after they began operations, they reported a total of 83,970 executions. The Commissioner General of White Ruthenia had the following to say:

"During detailed consultations with the SS Brigadier General [SS Brigadefuehrer] Zenner and the extremely capable Chief of the SD, SS Lieutenant Colonel [SS Obersturmbann- fuehrer] Dr. jur. Strauch, we found that we had liquidated approximately 55,000 Jews in White Ruthenia during the last

- 41 -

10 weeks. In the Minsk-land area the Jewry was completely exterminated, without endangering the allocation of labor in any way."

The defendant Jost was in command of Einsatzgruppe A on 27 March 1942 when they reported that 15,000 Jews were shot in Cherven. The report pointed out that these acts created a feeling of insecurity and even anxiety in the population of White Ruthenia and that it was impossible to estimate the consequences of such measures. At another time while this Einsatzgruppe was under Jost's command, it reported that it had executed 1,272 persons including those too aged and infirm to work, and political leaders The report adds that 14 of this number of more than 1,000 per. sons slaughtered were either guilty of misdeeds or were criminals. The proof will show, we believe, that this proportion of only 2 percent of the victims shot for crime is not unusual.

- 42 -

Trials of War Criminals Before the Nurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume IV, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 38 - 42

[Home] [ Index]

Electric Zen
Ken Lewis
September 10, 1998
Rev. 1.0