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Einsatzgruppen: The Nazi Killing Squads

The Einsatzgruppen were special SS mobile formations tasked with carrying out the mass murder of Jews, communist functionaries, and others deemed unfit to live by the Nazis.

Execution of Poles in October, 1939

How the Einsatzgruppen moved into Russia in the wake of the advancing Wehrmacht

They were first seen in action in Austria and the annexed parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938, as German forces occupied all (in the case of Austria) or certain regions (in the case of Czechoslovakia) of these countries in relatively peaceful annexations to the Reich.

For the Polish campaign in 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of Reich Security, formed 6 major Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei; five of these units were attached to the advancing German army, whilst the other unit was designated for service in the Posen (Poznan) district.

The total strength of the Einsatzgruppen during the Polish campaign, was approximately 2,700 men. Their prime role was the arrest of the politically unreliable, confiscation of weapons, police intelligence and actions against Jews.

Shooting Jews in Kovno, 1942

From 1 September to 25 October 1939, over 500 towns and villages were burned and over 16,000 people were executed by the Einsatzgruppen.


Far more infamous were the Einsatzgruppen which were formed in the spring of 1941 for the campaign against Russia. Adolf Hitler issued an order that the Security Police and Security Services would assist the army in combating resistance behind the front lines.

The Einsatzgruppen commanders were carefully selected by Heydrich from the best educated and most fanatical Nazis.

VIDEO: EINSATZGRUPPEN:PART 1 (The videos are in French. Sorry about that. But worth seeing.)

The image on this page just below movie EINSATZGRUPPEN:PART 1 is a screen shot straight out of the movie Schindler's List. The scene is 1h:25m into the movie. The guy with the gun is Ralph Fiennes.  
-- Steve Blackwell

Three of the four commanders held a doctorate, whilst one was a double PhD; Dr Franz Walter Stahlecker ( Einsatzgruppe A), Dr. Dr Otto Rasch ( C), Dr Otto Ohlendorf (D). Einsatzgruppe B was commanded by Artur Nebe, then head of the Criminal Police (Kripo).


The Einsatzgruppen’s general method of execution was shooting, although some gas vans were used. The victims were ordered to report to a central location, or were rounded up in organised man-hunts, often using local militia. Usually they were taken to remote spots and shot.


When conducting executions by shooting, the Germans would frequently use existing ravines, sand-pits, quarries, or abandoned Russian anti-tank ditches. If no such facility existed then the Germans would make the victims dig their own graves.


Very precise records of the Einsatzgruppen activities were maintained. The Commanders in the field were required to send regular operational reports to Heydrich in Berlin. Many of these reports have survived, and were used at War Crimes trials at Nürnberg.


Most Einsatzgruppen were disbanded as late as 1944. Einsatzgruppe D was the exception, being disbanded in July 1943, but in those few short years their combined deadly activity had claimed over seven hundred thousand lives.

The Einsatzgruppen commanders and officers were tried at Nürnberg and elsewhere. Seven were executed, including Blobel, Ohlendorf, Naumann and Schöngarth, but whilst over 50 Einsatzgruppen officers were brought to trial, the sentences they received were frequently lenient in comparison to the severity of their crimes.

Text Source: holocaustresearchproject.org


Killing in Latvia


Shooting the communists in Russia


Communists again



SS-SD unit Somewhere in Russia


Another day at the office?


Poland 1939


This is how the death squads moved



Lubny, Soviet Union. October 1941.

Execution of Jews in Dubossary September 14, 1941


Killing of Jews in Ivangorod. The mother tries to shelter her child as she is being shot


Execution of Poles by German Einsatzkomanndo October 1939

Personal card of Paul Blobel. He was one of the chief officers of Einsatzgruppen



Further reading on Einsatzgruppen

Warning: Richard Rhodes's "Masters of Death" is one of the most horrific books you're ever likely to read. It details very completely the history of the roving death squads who followed Adolf Hitler's armies into the conquered territories of the Soviet Union and unleashed the opening salvos of what would later become known as The Holocaust. Many people today think of The Holocaust in terms of Auschwitz and the other death camps. What tends to be forgotten is that the Eisatzgruppen units that started the mass killings of Jews racked up a death toll at least as high as those of the camps. And in most instances, the murders by these minions were even less humane, if that's possible.


Anonymous said...

I recommend a book "Warsaw Rising" of Norman Davies. Where is very detailed explained origin of the members of this kind of commando and man other things.

Anonymous said...

One of the images posted here is actually a doctored still from Schindler's List.


The scene is when Amon Goeth is trying to kill a Rabbi for 'slacking' at making hinges.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but the picture last but one (men in car) are definitely NOT any Einsatzgruppe-men. Used to know personally the uscha rear seat left. Furthermore - even not germans.

Anonymous said...

It is a mistake to think that those pictures are more true that the victors' ones. Soldier and specially SS where under a constant propagand. Does propagand makes true photos? It is not because victors decided which photos to use in their propagand after the war that nazi propagand can be consider as true pictures because not selected after the war. The purpose of the nazi regime, and this untill its end was to show germans as superior race. To be photographer in the German army and above all in the SS troups, you had to show Germans as superior racian heroes.
By your answer, it shows maybe more that you got impressed only by pictures which give some dynamism and make runing adrenalyn because of so incredible scene. I see it a bit as perversion. If we can say of a picture that it is a true one, it may be more about the clandestin ones. You are not pro-nazi, sure, but you are suggesting that the SS coudl be called the greatest warriors... so a bit heroes. Your are precisely suggesting that what the nazis wanted to show about their nation was true. I do not think that to suggest it showing such pictures is relly wise. If you answer me that in your title you metioned also : "Or Mere Mad Fanatics?", I tell you that everybody knows it. Why this question? why do you need to ask this question? I guess that the wiser questions should be Mere Mad Fanatics? or ordinary men? That is the question and it is also the book I advice you to read. "Ordinary men, Reserve Police Batalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland" from Christopher R. Browning.
And modify a bit this page.

Anonymous said...

I hope you noticed, that a lot of the pictures shown in this capter are fakes and/or film-stills.
Nobody wants to denie the facts of atrcities, but pictures like these are no documents, which can be proved. Let Hollywood an (Soviet ?) propaganda out of historical discussions.

Anonymous said...

Soviet Union lost 25+ millions of it,s people. Germans were animals. Soviets had mercy to Germany, I laugh on raping of German woman. What if Stalin create the same groups to eliminate "cleanest race"?

magural said...

Have you ever heard about Katyn massacre? Or NKVD ? Read before you post such opinions on merciful Soviets.

Anonymous said...

I often wonder why Stalin did not demand of the western allies that they surrender every SS soldier they had in their POW cages. A million or more German soldiers would have been shipped off to Siberia for nkvd processing. Given the murderous rampage of the German army in general and the SS in particular, both vengeance and justice would have been well served.

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