Nuremberg Trials





When the German Armies, without and declaration of war, crossed the Polish frontier and smashed into Russia, there moved with and behind them a unique organization known as the Einsatzgruppen. As an instrument of terror in the museum of horror, it would be difficult to find an entry to surpass the Einsatzgruppen in its blood-freezing potentialities. No writer of murder fiction, no dramatist steeped in macbre lore, can ever expect to conjure up from his imagination a plot which will shock sensibilities as much as will the stark drama of these sinister bands.

They came into being through an agreement between the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office), the OKW (Armed Forces High Command), and the OKH (Army High Command). The agreement specified that a representative of the Chief of the Security Police and Security Service would be assigned to the respective army groups or armies, and that this official would have at his disposal mobile units in the form of an Einsatzgruppe, sub-divided into Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkommandos. The Kommandos in turn were divided into smaller groups known as Teilkommandos. Only for the purpose of comparison as to size and organization, an Einsatzgruppe could roughly be compared to an Infantry Battalion, an Einsatz- or Sonderkommando to an Infantry Company and a Teilkommando to a platoon.

These Einsatzgruppen of which there were four, (lettered A to D) were formed, equipped and fully ready to march before the attack on Russia began. Einsatzgruppe A which was led by Stahlecker and later the defendant Jost, operated from central Latvia, Lithuania and Esthonia towards the East. Einsatzgruppe B, whose chief was Nebe, succeeded by the defendant Naumann, operated in the direction of Moscow in the area adjoining Einsatzgruppe A to the South. Einsatzgruppe C, led by Rasch and later Thomas, operated in the Ukraine, except for the part occupied by Einsatzgruppe D, which last organization, first under the defendant Ohlendorf and then Bierkamp, controlled the Ukraine south of

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a certain line, which area also included the Crimean peninsula. Later, Einsatzgruppe D took over the Caucasus area.

These Einsatzgruppen, each comprising roughly from 800 to 1,200 men, were formed under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Security Police and SD. The officers were generally drawn from the Gestapo, SD, SS, and the Criminal Police. The men were recruited from the Waffen-SS, the Gestapo, the Order Police and locally recruited police. In the field, the Einsatzgruppen were authorized to ask for personnel assistance from the Wehrmacht which, upon request, invariably supplied the needed men.

At top-secret meetings held in Pretzech and Dueben, Saxony, in May, 1941, the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando leaders were instructed by Heydrich, Chief of Security Police and SD, and Streckenbach, Chief of Personnel of RSHA, as to their mission, and they were introduced to the notorious Fuehrer-Order around which this extraordinary case has arisen.Under the guise of ensuring the political security of the conquered territories, both in the occupational and rear areas of the Wehrmacht, the Einsatzgruppen were to liquidate ruthlessly all opposition to National Socialism -- not only the opposition of the present, but that of the past and future as well. Whole categories of people were to be killed without trace, without investigation, without pity, tears or remorse. Women were to be slain with the men, and the children also were to be executed because, otherwise, they would grow up to oppose National Socialism and might even nurture a desire to avenge themselves on the slayers of their parents. Later, in Berlin, Heydrich re-emphasized this point to some of the Einsatz leaders.

One of the principal categories was "Jews." No precise definition was furnished the Einsatz leaders as to those who fell within this fatal designation. Thus, when one of the Einsatzgruppen reached the Crimean, its leaders did not know what standards to apply in determining whether the Krimtschaks they found there should be killed or not. Very little was known of these

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people, except that they had migrated into the Crimea from a southern Mediterranean country, and it was noted they spoke the Turkish language. It was rumored, however, that somewhere along the arterial line which ran back into the dim past some Jewish blood had entered the strain of these strange Krimtschaks. If this were so, should they be regarded as Jews and should they be shot? An inquiry went off to Berlin. In due time the reply came back that the Krimtschaks were Jews and should be shot. They were shot.

The Einsatzgruppen were, in addition, instructed to shoot Gypsies. No explanation was offered as to why these unoffending people who through the centuries have contributed their share of music and song, were to be hunted down like wild game. Colorful in garb and habit, they have amused, diverted and baffled society with their wanderings, and occasionally annoyed with their indolence, but no one has condemned them as a mortal menace to organized society. That is, no one but National Socialism which, through Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich ordered their liquidation. Accordingly, these simple, innocuous people were taken in trucks, perhaps in their own wagons, to the anti-tank ditches and there slaughtered with the Jews and the Krimtschaks.

The insane also were to be killed. Not because they were a threat to the Reich, nor because someone may have believed they were formidable rivals of the Nazi chieftains. No more excuse was offered for sentencing the insane than was advanced for condemning the Gypsies and the Krimtschaks. However, there was an historical basis for the decrees against the insane. That is, a history going back two years. On September 1, 1939, Hitler has issued his Euthansia decree which ordered the killing of all insane and incurably ill people. It was demonstrated in other trials that this decree was made a convenient excuse for killing off those who were racially undesirable to the Nazis, and who were unable to work. These victims were grouped together under the title of "useless eaters." Since all invaded territories were

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expected to become Reich territory, the same policies which controlled in Germany itself were apparently introduced and put into effect in the occupied lands. But a very extensive interpretation was given to even this heartless decree. Insane asylums were often emptied and the inmates liquidated because the invaders desired to use the asylum buildings.

"Asiatic inferiors" was another category destined for liquidation. This kind of designation allowed a wide discretion in homicide. Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando leaders were authorized to take executive measures on their own responsibility. There was no one to dispute with them as to the people they branded "Asiatic inferiors". And even less was there a curb on homicidal operations when they were authorized to shoot " Asocial people, politically tainted persons, and racially and mentally inferior elements."

And then, all Communist functionaries wee to be shot. Again it was never made quite clear how broad was this classification. Thus, in recapitulation, the Fuehrer-Order, and throughout this Opinion it will be so referred to, called for the summary killing of Jews, Gypsies, insane people, Asiatic inferiors, Communist functionaries, and asocials.

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Musmanno, Michael A., U.S.N.R, Militray Tribunal II, Case 9: Opinion and Judgment of the Tribunal. Nuremberg: Palace of Justice. 8 April 1948. pp. 4 - 8 (original mimeographed copy)

Ken Lewis
March 8, 1998
Rev. 1.1
April 29, 2000