nuremberg military tribunal




Prisoners of War

The extermination program on racial and political grounds also extended to prisoners of war. Even in the first weeks of Germany's war against Russia, large numbers of civilians from the invaded areas were indiscriminantly thrown into prisoner of war camps, run by the P.O.W. department of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. On 17 July 1941, Heydrich issued Operational Order No. 8, which contained "directives" for the Einsatz units "detailed to permanent P.W. camps (Stalags) and Transit camps (Dulags)". These directives not only grossly violated the provisions of the Hague Regulations on prisoners of war and civilians in belligerently occupied territories and of century-old rules and customs of warfare, but outraged every principle of humanity. They provided for nothing less than the cold-blooded mass-murder of prisoners of war, and of civilians held in P.W. camps. The directives state as their "purpose":

"The Wehrmacht must immediately free itself of all those elements among the prisoners of war who must be regarded as Bolshevist influence. The special situation of the campaign in the east, therefore, demands special measures (Italics original) which have to be carried out in a spirit free from bureaucratic and administrative influences, and with an eagerness to assume responsibility."


The directives instruct Einsatz units as to which categories of persons to seek out "above all". This list mentions in detail all categories and types of Russian Government officials, all influential communist party officials, "the leading personalities of the economy", "the Soviet Russian intellectuals", and as a separate category -- the category which was again to yield the largest number of victims of this "action" -- "All Jews"

It, in fact, emphasized that in --

"taking any decisions, the racial origin has to be taken into consideration."


Concerning executions, the directives specified:

- 39 -

"The executions must not be carried out in the camp itself or in its immediate neighborhood. They are not public and are to be carried out as inconspicuously as possible."



"In order to facilitate the execution of the purge, a liason-officer is to be sent to Generalmajor von Hindenburg, Commander-in-Chief of the P.W. camps in the Army Corps Area, East Prussia, in Koenigsberg, Prussia, and to Generalleutnant Herrgott, Commander-in-Chief of the P.W. camps in the General Gouvernment in Kieloe."

Under this program doctors, if found in the POW camps were doomed either because they were "Russian intellectuals" or because they were Jews. However, by 29 October 1941, Heydrich found it necessary to rule:

"Because of the existing shortage of physicians and medical corps personnel in the camps, such persons, even if Jews, are to be excluded from the segregation and to be left in the P.W. camps, except in particularly well-founded cases."


Another passage in this order of Heydrich vividly demonstrates to what extent the Reich went officially in flouting the most basic rules of international law and the principles of humanity:

"The chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen decide on the suggestions for execution on their own responsibility and give the Sonderkommandos the corresponding orders."

It is apparent that all those involved in this program were aware of its illegality:

"This order must not be passed on in writing -- not even in the form of an excerpt. District commanders for Prisoners of war and commanders of Transit camps must be notified verbally."


It is to the credit of an occasional army officer that he objected to this shameful and degrading repudiation of the rules of war. In one report we find:

"As a particularly clear example the conduct of a camp commander in Winniza is to be mentioned who strongly objected to the transfer of 362 Jewish

- 40 -

prisoners of war carried out by his deputy and even started court martial proceedings against the deputy and two other officers."


General Fieldmarshal von Reichenau, commanding the Sixth Army, however, was not so chivalrous as the officer indicated. The report states further:

"Generalfeldmarschall von Reichenau has, on 10 October 1941, issued an order which states clearly that the Russian soldier has to be considered on principle a representative of Bolshevism and has also to be treated accordingly by the Wehrmacht."

Perhaps the nadir in heartlessness and cowardice was reached by these murder groups when on of the kommandos brutally killed helpless, wounded prisoners of war. Einsatzgruppe C, reporting (November 1941) on an execution performed by Sonderkommando 4a, stated:

".....the larger part were again Jews, and a considerable part of these were again Jewish prisoners of war who had been handed over by the Wehrmacht. At Borispol, at the request of the commander of the Borispol POW-Camp, a platoon of Sonderkommando 4a shot 752 Jewish prisoners of war on 14 October 1941 and 357 Jewish prisoners of war on 10 October 1941, amongst them some commissioners and 78 wounded Jews, handed over by the camp physician,"


- 41 -

Musmanno, Michael A., U.S.N.R, Military Tribunal II, Case 9: Opinion and Judgment of the Tribunal. Nuremberg: Palace of Justice. 8 April 1948. pp. 36 - 38 (original mimeographed copy)

Search: Enter keywords... logo

In Association with

[Home] [ Index]

Ken Lewis
March 14, 1998
Rev. 1.1