"The Einsatzgruppen Case"


Case No. 9

The Organization of the Einsatzgruppen

During the last years the world has learned much about this " state within the state" which was formed by the SS. Much about

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this new aristocracy of "blood and elite" need not be repeated here. The Einsatzgruppen were part of the SS. They were created at the direction of Hitler and Himmler by Heydrich the Chief of the Security Police and SD, who was Himmler's right hand man, and operated under the direct control of the RSHA, the Reich Security Main Office, one of the most important of the twelve main offices of the SS.

The Einsatzgruppen were formed in the spring of 1941. The sequence of events was as follows:

In anticipation of the assault on Russia, Hitler issued an order directing that the Security Police and the Security Service be called in to assist the army in breaking every means of resistance behind the fighting front. Thereafter, the Quartermaster General of the Army, General Wagner, representing Keitel, the Chief of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht, met Heydrich, Chief of the Security Police and Security Service. These two men reached an agreement concerning the activation, commitment, command, and jurisdiction of units of the Security Police and SD within the framework of the army. The Einsatzgruppen were to function in the rear operational areas in administrative subordination to the field armies, in order to carry out these tasks as directed by Heydrich and Himmler.

The reason why decisions of the highest military and administrative level were necessary for the creation of such small units is shown by the character of their assignment. These "security measures" were defined according to the principles of the Security Police and the SD, the principles of Heydrich, the principles of unmitigated terror and murder. The actions of the Einsatzgruppen in the conquered territories will demonstrate the purpose for which they were organized.

In the beginning four such Einsatzgruppen were formed, each of which was attached to an army group. Einsatzgruppe A was attached to Army Group North, Einsatzgruppe B was attached to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C was attached to Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D was assigned to the llth German Army which was to be nucleus for the formation of a fourth army group after it reached the Caucasus. The function of the Einsatzgruppen was here to insure the political security of the conquered territories both in the operational areas of the Wehrmacht and the rear areas which were not directly under civil administration. These two missions were made known at a mass meeting of the Einsatzgruppen personnel before the attack on Russia. At this meeting Heydrich, Chief of the SIPO and SD, and Streckenbach, chief of the personnel office of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) flatly stated that the task of the

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Einsatzgruppen would be accomplished by exterminating the opposition to National Socialism.

Nor were the commanders of the armed forces ignorant of the task of the Einsatzgruppen. Hitler himself instructed them that it was the mission of these special task forces to exterminate all Jews and political commissars in their assigned territories. The Einsatzgruppen were dependent upon the army commander for their billets, food, and transport; relations between armed forces and the Security Police and SD were close and almost cordial, and the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen reported again and again that the understanding of the army commanders for the task of the Einsatzgruppen made their operations considerably easier.

The normal strength of the Einsatzgruppen was from 600 to 800 men. The officer strength of the Einsatzgruppen was drawn from the SD, SS, Criminal Police (Kripo) and Gestapo. The enlisted forces were composed of the Waffen SS, the regular police, the Gestapo, and locally-recruited police. When occasion demanded, the Wehrmacht commanders would bolster the strength of the Einsatzgruppen with contingents of their own. The Einsatzgruppen were divided into Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkornmandos. These subunits differed only in name. When a rnission called for a very small task force, the Einsatz or Sonderkommandos was capable of further subdivision, called Teilkommando or splinter group.

The activity of the Einsatzgruppen was not limited to the civilian population alone, but reached into prisoner-of-war camps in total disregard of the rules of warfare. Soldiers were screened by Einsatzkommandos personnel in order to find and kill Jews and political commissars. Shortly before the campaign against Russia, Hitler gave an explanation of the ideological background of this fight to the commanders in chief and the highest officers of the three branches of the armed forces. This war, he said, would not be an ordinary war, but a clash of conflicting ideologies. Special measures would have to be taken against political functionaries and commissars of the Soviet Army. Political activities and commissars were not to be treated as prisoners of war, but were to be segregated and turned over to special detachments of the SD which were to accompany the German troops. The carrying-out of this Hitler directive was described by the International Military Tribunal in its judgment that-

"* * * There existed in the prisoner-of-war camps on the eastern front small screening teams (Einsatzkommandos), headed by lower ranking members of the Secret Police (Ge-

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stapo). These teams were assigned to the camp commanders and had the job of segregating the prisoners of war who were candidates for execution according to the orders that had been given, and to report them to the office of the Secret Police." *

When a general expressed concern that the morale of the average German soldier might suffer from the sight of these executions, the Chief of the Office IV of the RSHA assured him cynically that, in the future, this "special treatment" - the euphemistic expression for killing - would take place outside the camps so that the troops would not see them.

Detailed instructions were put into force that no political functionary, commissar, higher-ranking civil servant, leading personality of the economical field, member of the intelligentsia, or Jew, might escape extermination. These purposes were realized in actions we shall now describe.

* Trial of the Major War Criminals. vol. I, p. 230, Nuremberg, 1947

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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. 35 - 38

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Electric Zen
Ken Lewis
September 9, 1998
Rev. 1.0