** World War II: Holocaust Einsatzgruppen USSR Soviet Union -- operations and death toll

The Holocaust: Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union--Operations and Death Toll

Einsatzgruppen killers
Figure 1.--This incomprehensible scene was part of a killing action at Ziboriv in the Western Ukraine/Polish Galicia. In this case ethnic Germans (civilian man standing at the left) are assisting the Einsatzgruppen operations. The Einsatzgruppen C men have already murdered this boy's family (July 5, 1941). They are forcing him to stand by their bloody corpses to record their accomplishment. For some reason, they wanted to get them together in a photograph before shooting him as well. Actions like this large and small were taking place throughout the Soviet Union while the Wehrmacht surged east as part of Barbarossa and the Einsatzgruppen followed in their wake. It was the Holocaust by bullet and 0.7-1.0 million Jews were murdered in only a few months. Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-A0706-0018-030.

The Einsatgruppen in Poland had murdered tens of thousands, both Jews and Polish leaders. In the Soviet Union they would focus primarily on the Jews and here they began planning for killing up to 2 million. [Gilbert, pp. 354-355.] Four Einsatzgruppen followed the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union on June 22. Their brutality and barbarity was unmatched in modern European history and will be an indelible blot on the honor of the German nation. Heydrish chose his Einstazgruppen very carefully, he wanted men who were highly educated as well as fanatical NAZIs. Three of the four commanders held doctoral degrees. One was a double PhD. Dr Franz Walter Stahlecker (Einsatzgruppe A), Dr. Dr Otto Rasch (EG C), Dr Otto Ohlendorf (EG D) all held doctorates. Einsatzgruppe B was commanded by Artur Nebe, then head of the Criminal Police (Kripo). Subsequent commanders included an ex-pastor (Ernst Szymanowski alias Biberstein), a physician (Weinmann), and a professional opera singer (Klingelhöfer). These men were not SA bully boy ruffians or gangsters. They were considered back in Germany and by themselves to b cultured, respected men. Each Einsatzgruppe was divided into two or three Sonderkommandos (SK) and Einsatzkommandos (EK) subunits. The distinction was that the Sonderkommandos operated in the army operational areas whilst the Einsatzkommandos were to work in rear areas. As Barbarossa developed, this concept was discarded. The Wehrmacht advanced so rapidly that all of the Einsatzgruppen units were conducted in rear areas. With the onset of Barbarossa, these four battalion-size mobile killing groups following the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union. The four Einsatzgruppen and their local allies reported killed about 0.7-1.0 million Jews in the Soviet territories (including the Baltic and occupied Poland) seized by the Wehrmacht. There are no exact accounting, but the Einsatgruppen commanders compiled statistics, hoping to impress their commanders kin Berlin. As the initial instructions given were imprecise, there were differences in the operations of the various Einsatzgruppen, especially during the first weeks. The only constant was the objective of killing Jews and the fervor with which the process was conducted. The Einsatzgruppen actions ranged from the murder of a few people to operations which lasted over 2 or more days, such as the massacres at Babi Yar (33,771 killed -- two days) and Rumbula (25,000 killed -- two days). One historian describes the measures he took, "Indeed many of the commanders recognized that the executions, particularly of women and children, placed their men under great psychological strain,. Several methods were employed by various commanders to minimize this. In Special Task Group D [EG D], Ohlendorf insisted that the murders had to be carried out in what he imagined was a 'military' way. Thus, the firing squads had no contact with their victims until the last moment, and three riflemen were allocated to each person to be shot. This was designed to alleviate individual guilt among the execution squads. Rasch took a different tack. He insisted that every member of his unit participated in the killings, ensuring a sense of collective, and shared guilt." [Weale]

Einsatzgruppe A (EG-A)

Einsatzgruppe Commander, Dr Franz Walter Stahlecker (1900-42), was trained as a jurist. He was an important police official and protege of Reihard Heydrich. His career was side tracked because of disagreements with his mentor, an unwise career move. He was chosen to head Einsatzgruppen A, hoping to get his career in the NAZI security apparatus (RSHA) back on track. Einsatzgruppe A was slated for operations in the Baltics. He was also given command of the the Sicherheitspolizei (SIPO) and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in the Reichskommissariat Ostland. He would say that he was particularly pleased with the 'understanding attitude' adopted by the Wehrmacht. Einsatzgruppe A staged in East Prussia and then followed Army Group North into Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia with Leningrad the ultimate objective. It was the largest Einsatzgruppen with 990 men. They were organized into 7 sub-units: Sonderkommandos 1a an1b and Einsatzkommandos 1a, 1b, 1c, 2, and 3). Einsatzgruppe A would prove to be the most murderous of the four Einsatzgruppen. The killing began immediately. They fanned out from East Prussia across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia moving toward Leningrad (St. Petersburg). They murdered Jews in Kovno, Riga, and Vilna as well as myriad towns and villages throughout the Baltics. The Germans conducted the first killing action at Kovno, murdering 1,500 Jews (June 25) and 2,300 (June 26). Often short-term ghettos were set up to collect the Jews for planned killing actions. EGA is responsible for the Rumbula massacre (November 30 and December 8, 1941). EG A murdered some 25,000 Latvian and German Jews from the Riga Ghetto. They were marched into the Rumbula forest, stripped of their possessions and clothing and shot. Except for the Babi Yar massacre in the Ukraine, this was the largest Holocaust atrocity until the operation of the death camps in Poland. EG-A because the instructions provided were vague began killing all the male Jews of military age they found. They also fond that they could incite killing actions by local people. The brutal Soviet behavior the Baltics left many people with a desire for vengeance. Many connected the Jews with the Soviets. At Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city, they released Jews from prison in a pre-arranged vigilante action. Lithuanians armed with clubs beat the helpless Jews to death. A local zealot became known as the 'Death Dealer'. After participating in the beatings, climbed on top of the bodies and played the Lithuanian national anthem on an accordion. The Red Army stand before Leningrad meant that Stahlecker and his murder squads could not get at the city's substantial Jewish population. Stahlecker before the Red Army 1941 winter offensive reported that Einsatzgruppe A had killed some 249,420 Jews. Soviet partisans killed Stahlecker in an action near Krasnogvardeysk (March 23, 1942). His mentor, Heydrich, was killed a few months later, by the Resistance in Czechoslovakia.

Einsatzgruppe B (EG-B)

Einsatzgruppe B staged in the General Government around Warsaw, German occupied Poland. The initial composition was 665 men. The initial coomander was SS-Gruppenführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Arthur Nebe (June-November 1941). He was also head of the Criminal Police (Kripo). Other commanders included: SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Erich Naumann (November 1941 - March 1943), SS-Standartenführer Horst Böhme (12 March-28 August 1943), SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Erich Ehrlinger (28 August 1943 - April 1944), SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Heinrich Seetzen (28 April-August 1944), and SS-Standartenführer Horst Böhme (12 August 1944). They followed Army Group Center into Eastern Poland and Belorussia toward Smolensk and Minsk. They carried out large killing actions at Grodno, Minsk, Brest-Litovsk, Slonim, Gomel, and Mogilev. They operated with five Sonderkommandos (7a, 7b. 7c, 8, and 9) Army Group Center was the strongest formation the Wehrmacht. It was destroyed by the Red Army Bagration Offensive (June-August 1944). This is why EG-B was disbanded during August 1944.

Einsatzgruppe C (EG-C)

Einsatzgruppe C also staged in occupied Poland, around the Krakow (Cracow) area. They began with 700 men. followed Army Group South into the western Ukraine toward Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don. They reportedly murdered 118,341 people. The commanders included: SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Dr. Dr. Otto Rasch (June-October 1941), SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Max Thomas (October 1941-29 April 1943), and SS-Standartenführer Horst Böhme (6 September 1943 - March 1944). It was composed of Einsatzkommandos (4a, 4b, 5, and 6). EGD oprated in the northern Ukraine. The largest killing operations were carried out at Lvov, Tarnopol, Zolochev, Kremenets, Kharkov, Zhitomir, and Kiev. Units of Einsatzgruppe detachment 4a famously in 2 days murdered 33,771 Kiev Jews in the ravine at Babi Yar (late-September 1941). The essential way the killing took place was to use some pretext if the Jews had no already been rounded up. They then marched them or transported them to a convenient killing ground such as a ravine, gorge, forest, or pre-dugged trench. In some cases the Jews had to dig their own graves. Then they were shot. Rasch according to one historian "insisted that every member of his unit participated in the killings, ensuring a sense of collective, and shared guilt." [Weale] Many Jews were killed in small numbers, such as the action here at Zboriv (July 5, 1941) (figure 1). Others were killed in the thousands. The Babi Yar action, unlike many smaller actions, is well documented. The Jews in Kiev were informed by placards posted around the city by Ukrainian militia to assemble at 8:00 a.m. on September 29, 1941, at a cemetery near a railroad siding for 'resettlement'. They were instructed to bring food, warm clothing, documents, money, and valuables. [Dawidowicz, 103-04.] A German officer at his trial stated, "It was like a mass migration . . . the Jews sang religious songs on the way." When they reached the railroad siding, the Germans and Ukrainian militia took their food and belongings. It was only then that the victims began to realize what was happening. The Germans began driving the Jews into new, narrower more controllable lines. The lines moved very slowly. Then after a long march the Jews reached a passageway formed by German soldiers with truncheons and police dogs. They were beaten through. The dogs attacked those who fell or tried to run away. Those who fell as well as the weak and injured were stamped on by the pressure of the Jews being driven forward bu the soldiers. Finally terrified as well as bruised and bloodied and numbed by the total incomprehensibility of what was happening to them, they emerged onto a grassy clearing-- Babi Yar. Ahead was the steep ravine. The ground was strewn with clothing of those who had gone before. The Ukrainian militiamen, supervised by Germans, ordered the Jews to undress. Those who refused or were slow were attacked, beaten, and their clothes ripped off. This was done so the clothes could be used, but more importantly to find hidden valuables. There were naked, bleeding, and injured people everywhere. Screams, shouting,hysterical laughter, and weapon firing added to the chaos." [Dawidowicz, pp. 106-07.] Finally the naked victims were lined up at edge of the ravine and dispatched machine gunners organized in teams to to keep up with the steady stream of Jews arriving. The killing went on for 2 days. EG C at this one action murdered some 33,700 men, women, and children.

Einsatzgruppe D (EG-D)

Einsatzgruppe D also operated in the southern Ukraine with Army Group South, specifically the 11th Army. The at the onset of Barbarossa was tasked with 11th Army was tasked with invading the Crimea and the pursuit of enemy forces on the flank of Army Group South during the drive into the Soviet Union. They worked closely with the Romanian 3rd Army and associated units. EG-D Commanders included SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Dr. Otto Ohlendorf (June 1941 - July 1942) and SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor der Polizei Walther Bierkamp (July 1942 - March 1943). They had 600 men deployed in five Einsatzkommandos (10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, and 12. EG-D conducted major killing operations in the southern Ukraine, the Crimea, and the Caucuses. Large killing operations were carried out at Nikolayev, Kherson, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosiya, and in the Krasnodar region. The different commanders varied only in details of the killing procedures. A historian tells us, "Ohlendorf insisted that the murders had to be carried out in what he imagined was a 'military' way. Thus, the firing squads had no contact with their victims until the last moment, and three riflemen were allocated to each person to be shot. This was designed to alleviate individual guilt among the execution squads." [Weale] Jew were also killed in the areas of Romania that had been occupied by the Soviets, but this was mostly done by the Romanian Army. Most Einsatzgruppen were disbanded in late-1944. EG-D was the exception, it was disbanded earlier (July 1943), largely because the huge Soviet victory at Kursk mean that the German position in the southern Ukraine was no longer tenable.


Dawidowicz, "What is the Use of Jewish History?".


Weale, Adrian. Army of Evil: A History of the SS (2012), 496p. .

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Created: 4:59 AM 4/2/2015
Last updated: 4:59 AM 4/2/2015