From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.
See also: Einsatzgruppen Case (NMT)

In general German military terminology, an Einsatzgruppe (plural Einsatzgruppen) is a temporary unit for a specific purpose, comparable to the English task force. Within the context of the Second World War and the Holocaust, after the invasion of Russia, they were mobile killing units that followed the armies, ostensibly for rear area security and principally for killing Jews, Soviet officials, and other Nazi undesirables. The term came into common use in the context of the Operation Barbarossa invading the Soviet Union, but the function started with the invasion of Poland, killing political undesirables and possible threats. The largest execution in the Polish campaign was perpetrated by Russians, not Germans, at the Katyn Forest.

Note that the actual invasion of the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941. Earlier incarnations were brutal but not genocidal. Less well-known versions had operated in the takeover of Austria, the Anschluss, and the annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Einsatzgruppen operated in both the Polish and Russian campaigns. His first instructions to the groups were issued in September 1939, three weeks after the invasion of Poland. [1] The actions of these units were not part of the Einsatzgruppen Case at the Nuremberg Military Tribunals.

The genocidal groups, which killed approximately 2 million people, were organized as part of the preparation for Operation Barbarossa. They all reported to the then head of the SS security organization, the RSHA, commanded by Reinhard Heydrich.


Personnel were drawn from a variety of RSHA personnel, including the Waffen SS, ORPO (regular police), SD, Gestapo and KRIPO (criminal police), as well as local police and foreign auxiliaries. While regular military units were not directly assigned to the RSHAgroups, Army commanders were concerned they were brutalizing troops. On 6 February 1940, Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, chief of the Army in Poland, complained

It is wholly misguided to slaughter some 10,000 Jews and Poles, as it is happening at the moment; such methods will eradicate neither Polish nationalism not the Jews from the mass of the population.[2]

Leaders in the Soviet campaign were tried in the Einsatzgruppen Case of the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, with most being executed or imprisoned.

Austria and the Sudetenland

As Nazi Germany began military expansion, Heydrich created Einsatzgruppen, then, before the RSHA was established, under the SIPO and SD. Their immediate missions were "the seizure of key buildings and documentation, the establishment of functioning intelligence operations, and the identification and elimination of real and perceived opponents of German rule. Einsatzkommandos (Operations Detachments) first went into Austria after the Anschluss in March 1938 and into the Sudetenland after its annexation in early October 1938. They secured documentation and intelligence information, and identified and arrested “enemies.”.[3]

Polish campaign

Six main battalion-sized groups were organized, and five attached to each of the armies going into Poland, one based in Posen, and one in Silesia. They had subordinate company-sized Einsatzcommandos. [4]

Group Commander(s) Attached to and strength width=50%Area of operations
I Bruno Streckenbach 14th Army
II Emanuel Schaefer 10th Army
III Hans Fischer 8th Army
IV Lothar Beutel 3rd Army
V Ernst Damzog 4th Army
VI Erich Naumann Posen area
z.B.v Udo von Woyrsch Eastern Upper Silesia and Western Galicia killing Polish intellectuals in the area of Katowice, Poland, and deporting Jews Jews of Danzig, West Prussia, Poznan, and Upper Silesia into the interior of Poland

Even though they did not do mass killings, they generated Army protests. Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, who commanded the 8th Army in the attack on Poland and then was Military Governor of the occupied country, wrote memos of complaint, between November 1939 and February 1940, to Army Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch. Blaskowitz documented many instances of raping, horsewhipping, murder and looting of Jewish and Polish shops, by both the Einsatzkommandos and other SS personnel, and warned that the SS “might later turn against their own people in the same way.” [5]

Soviet campaign

There were four main battalion-sized groups, and some smaller independent Einsatzkommandos.[6]

Group Commander(s) Attached to and strength width=50%Area of operations[7]
A Franz Walter Stahlecker Army Group North
  • 990 men
From East Prussia across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia toward Leningrad (now St. Petersburg); Kovno, Riga, and Vilna.
B Artur Nebe Army Group Centre
  • 665 men
From Warsaw across Belorussia toward Smolensk and Minsk, massacring Jews in Grodno, Minsk, Brest-Litovsk, Slonim, Gomel, and Mogilev, among other places.
C Otto Rasch Army Group South'
  • 700 men
began operations from Krakow (Cracow) and fanned out across the western Ukraine toward Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don. Its personnel directed massacres in Lvov, Tarnopol, Zolochev, Kremenets, Kharkov, Zhitomir, and Kiev, where famously in two days in late September 1941 units of Einsatzgruppe detachment 4a massacred 33,771 Kiev Jews in the ravine at Babi Yar.
D Otto Ohlendorf 11th Army
  • 600 men
southern Ukraine and the Crimea, especially in Nikolayev, Kherson, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosiya, and in the Krasnodar region.


Their primary means of killing was by shooting and burial in mass graves. Different commanders had different ideas on the method of shooting; some insisted on machine guns so no individual had clear responsibility for killing, while others insisted that every unit member shoot at individual victims, to bond them to the effort. With either method, there was a high degree of stress on the units, with rampant alcoholism, mental breakdowns and suicide.[8]

After Erich von Bach-Zelewski had witnessed an execution with Himmler, he said tohim

Look at the eyes of the men in this Kommando, how deeply shaken they are! These men are finished [fertig] for the rest of their lives. What kind of followers are training here? Either neurotics or savages![9]

Hoess and Adolf Eichmann worked to find an alternative, less stressful killing method, assuming it would be a gas. By November 1942, however, they had not found one, and had not even considered methods for disposing of large numbers of bodies. [10]


  1. Reinhard Heydrich (21 September 1939), Heydrich's Instructions to Chiefs of Einsatzgruppen, Jewish Virtual Library
  2. Saul Friedlander (2007), The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780060190439, p. 30
  3. Reinhard Heydrich, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
  4. Gordon Williamson, The SS: Hitler's Instrument of Terror, Zenith, p. 90
  5. Johannes Blaskowitz, Jewish Virtual Library
  6. Eitzatzgruppen, Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
  7. Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads), U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
  8. Rudolf Hoess, Hoess, Commandant at Auschwitz, p. 163, quoted in Lifton, p. 159
  9. Raul Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews, Quadrangle, 1967, p. 646, quoted in Lifton, p. 159
  10. Robert Jay Lifton (1986), The Nazi Doctors: medical killing and the psychology of genocide, Basic Books,pp. 159-160}}