The Commissar Order was a decree, signed by Adolf Hitler on June 6, 1941, specifying the treatment, often summary execution, of Soviet political officers captured by German forces in the Soviet Union. It was treated as a war crime by the Nuremberg Trials, since uniformed political officers in organized military units were entitled to prisoner of war status as lawful combatants.
Motivation and implementation
Hitler routinely referred to "Bolshevism" as a Jewish plot, and thus the existential enemy of Nazism. He wrote, in the order, "The originators of barbaric, Asiatic methods of warfare are the political commissars.... Therefore, when captured either in battle or offering resistance, they are to be shot on principle." The order was cancelled in May 1942 when German field commanders concluded it inclreased resistance.
It was distributed by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, of which the chief, Wilhelm Keitel, and the head of operations, Alfred Jodl, were deemed also to be responsible. Both were executed by order of the four-power Trial of the Major War Criminals.
Lawful combatant status was further clarified in the 1949 Third Geneva Convention.
- Commissar Order, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum