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Flag of the Schutzstaffel.svg
The Einsatzgruppen was controlled by the Schutzstaffel (SS)
Einsatzgruppen murder Jews in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942.jpg
Einsatzgruppen kill Jews in Ukraine. This woman is trying to protect her child with her own body.
Agency overview
Formed c. 1939
Jurisdiction Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Nazi-occupied Europe
Employees About 3,000 c. 1941
Minister responsible Heinrich Himmler, Head of the SS
Agency executives Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Einsatzgruppen (1939–1942)
Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Head of the Einsatzgruppen (1943–1945)
Parent agency Flag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Allgemeine SS and Reich Main Security Office
Murdered 2 million people, including 1.3 million Jews

Einsatzgruppen were a paramilitary group in Nazi Germany. They were part of the Schutzstaffel (SS). They helped make The Holocaust happen by murdering about 12 million people throughout Europe. Almost all of the people they killed were civilians.

Sometimes, the Einsatzgruppen would kill only a few people at once. Other times, they would kill thousands of people in a few days. For example, at Babi Yar, the Einsatzgruppen killed 33,771 Jewish people in two days.

Most of the people the Einsatzgruppen killed were Jews. They killed between 5 and 6 million Jews.[1]p. 257 However, they also killed hundreds of thousands of Polish people, Soviets, and Roma people in Eastern Europe.

After Nazi Germany lost World War II, 24 leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. Sixteen were convicted. Fourteen were sentenced to death, and two were sentenced to life in prison. Other countries later tried four other Einsatzgruppen leaders, convicted them, and sentenced them to death.[1]pp=274–275

Creation and Action T4

SS leader Reinhard Heydrich created the Einsatzgruppen around 1938.[2]

At first, in October 1938, Heydrich sent the Einsatzgruppen to the Sudetenland. Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, wanted to take over the Sudetenland. He was ready to use the Nazi military to invade the area. However, in the Munich Agreement, world powers agreed that Hitler could have the Sudetenland. The Einsatzgruppen helped take over government buildings, and took all the government papers they could find. They also arrested about 10,000 Czech communists and German citizens.[3][4]pp. 405, 412

From September to December 1939, the Einsatzgruppen took part in the Nazis' Action T4 program. The Nazis believed that people with physical, intellectual, and mental disabilities did not deserve to live. Action T4 was a plan to kill them all. At first, the Einsatzgruppen and other Nazis shot these people. However, by spring of 1940, the Nazis started using gas chambers so they could kill people with disabilities more quickly.[5]pp. 138–141

Invasion of Poland

See also: Invasion of Poland (1939) and Soviet invasion of Poland

In 1939, Hitler decided to invade Poland. Heydrich decided the Einsatzgruppen would follow the regular German Army.[4]p. 425 Their job would be to kill the most important people in Polish society, like clergy, teachers, and members of the academia. They would also kill anyone who refused to agree with Nazi ideas or rules.[5][6]p. 144 Adolf Hitler said: "...there must be no Polish leaders; where Polish leaders exist they must be killed[.]"[5]p. 143 The Einzatsgruppen followed this plan by killing about 65,000 civilians by the end of 1939. These people included Polish leaders, Jews, prostitutes, Roma people, and people with mental illnesses.[4][7]pp. 430–432

Finally, the Einsatzgruppen forced the surviving Jews in Poland to move to ghettos in big Polish citiies. The Nazis planned to get rid of all the Jews in Poland, but they had not yet decided where to send them.[8]pp. 227–228, 242-245 With the help of the German Army, the Einsatzgruppen also forced tens of thousands of Jews eastward into the part of Poland that the Soviet Union had taken over.[4]p. 429

Operation Barbarossa

See also: Operation Barbarossa
Polish farmers killed by Einsatzgruppen

In 1941, Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union. He called this plan Operation Barbarossa. Hitler hated communism. He wanted to take over the communist Soviet Union, and kill communism for good.[9]pp. 95–96

In May 1941, Heydrich gave the Einsatzgruppen an order to kill the Jews in the Soviet Union.[9]pp. 94–95

In June 1941, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, told other SS leaders that the Nazis planned to kill up to 30 million people in the Soviet Union. The Einsatzgruppen would play an important part in this by murdering people who the Nazis thought were inferior. However, the Nazis would also use other strategies, like starvation, to kill other Soviets.[5]p. 181

The Einsatzgruppen were divided into seven battalions.[8]p. 225 Hitler's army invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. A few weeks later, the Einsatzgruppen started working in eastern Poland, which was controlled by the Soviet Union.[4]p. 185 Heydrich gave them three main jobs:[10]p. 177

  1. To take control of all of the offices and papers that belonged to the Soviet Union and the Communist Party;
  2. To kill all of the top leaders of the Soviet Union; and
  3. To start and encourage pogroms (riots and murders) against Jews

The Einsatzgruppen did these jobs in many ways. Sometimes, they would make lists of people who they thought were enemies, and would then murder them. Other times, they would perform massacres of thousands of people over a few days. For example, at Babi Yar, one Einsatzgruppen battalion killed 33,771 Jews in two days; in the Rumbula massacre, another killed about 25,000 people in two days.[11][12]

More Einsatzgruppen are created

As the Nazis took over more and more countries, they created more Einsatzgruppen. They also created smaller groups called Einsatzkommando and Sonderkommando. These included:

Killings in the Soviet Union

Orders to kill

After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen's main job was still to kill civilians, like they did in Poland. However, this time, Heydrich ordered the Einsatzgruppen to kill:

A teenage boy stands beside his murdered family just before he is shot. Ukraine, July 1941
  • Commissars (officers in the Soviet government)
  • All top and middle-ranking members of Comintern, a group that supported world communism
  • All top and middle-ranking members of the Communist Party
  • All extremist Communist Party members
  • All Jews that held jobs in the government or the Community Party

Between July 8 and July 17, Heydrich also ordered the Einsatzgruppen to kill:

  • All male Jews between the ages of 15 and 45[5]p. 198
  • All Jewish prisoners of war from the Soviet Red Army
  • All Red Army prisoners of war from Georgia and Central Asia, since they might be Jews too[9]p. 97
  • All of the Roma people they could find, and all people with mental illnesses[20]


The Red Army retreated. However, Heydrich thought there were Soviet guerrilla fighters still in the area and thought local Jews were helping them. He ordered the Einsatzgruppen to encourage anti-Jewish pogroms in the newly occupied territories.[21] Pogroms (some of which the Einsatzgruppen started) broke out in Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine.[4]p. 526 Within the first few weeks of Operation Barbarossa, 10,000 Jews were killed in 40 different pogroms. By the end of 1941, about 60 pogroms had happened, killing up to 24,000 people.[4]p. 526

All of the main Einsatzgruppen took part in mass shootings from the beginning of the war.[5]pp. 196–202 At first, they shot only adult Jewish men. However, by August, they were shooting all Jews, including women, children, infants, and the elderly. At first, they killed people in firing squads. When this became too slow, the Einsatzkommandos began to shoot larger groups next to, or even inside, mass graves.[5]p. 207 As news about these killings spread, many Jewish people ran away.

The Nazis began to send people to concentration camps and ghettos. Rural areas were mostly Judenfrei (free of Jews).[5]pp. 211–212 The Nazis created forced labour gangs so they could make use of the Jews as slaves until the Nazis had killed them all. The Nazis had put off that goal until 1942.[5]pp. 212–213

Killings in the Baltic States

Einsatzgruppe A worked in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These countries had been occupied by the Soviet Union before the Nazis took them over. Einsatzgruppe A killed about 140,000 people between June and November 1941.[9]p. 98

When Einsatzgruppe A entered Kaunas, Lithuania, a pogrom was happening. They let all of the criminals out of jail and encouraged them to join the pogrom. In four days, 4,000 Jews were killed in the pogrom.[1]p. 41

The head of Einsatzgruppe A let a violent anti-Semitic man named Viktors Arājs start a smaller Einsatzgruppe called the Arājs Kommando. Together, the two groups killed 2,300 Jews in Riga, Lithuania. Within six months, the Arājs Kommando killed about half of the Jews in Latvia.[22]

Groups like the Arājs Kommando were created in Lithuania and Estonia too. With their help, Einsatzgruppe A was able to kill almost every Jew in its area.[10]p. 182

Rumbula massacre

In November 1941, Himmler decided that Latvians were not being killed fast enough. He wanted to move Jews from Germany into Latvia. He ordered that everyone living in the ghetto in Riga, Latvia, be murdered.[1]pp. 206–209

The Nazis told the people in the ghetto they were being sent to another place to live. They told them to bring their things and valuables.[1]pp. 208–210

The Nazis moved people towards a nearby forest a thousand at a time. They shot people who tried to run away or could not walk fast enough. They took the things the Jews had brought with them, and made them take off their clothes. Then, fifty at a time, they made the victims lie down in a mass grave and shot them.[1]pp. 208–210

In two days, about 25,000 people were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen.[1]pp. 210–214

Killing with poison gas

A Nazi gas van used to murder people with poison gas

After a while, Himmler realized that the Einsatzgruppen's methods were not the best way to kill people as quickly and cheaply as possible.[10]p. 197 He also found that many Einsatzgruppen had trouble killing so many people. Some had physical and mental health problems, and others became alcoholics.[1]pp. 52, 124, 168 Himmler made a final decision after watching a mass execution in August 1941. He decided that shooting Jews was too stressful for his men.[4]pp. 547–548

Himmler decided that the answer to this problem was to kill Jews (and others) with poison gas.[1]p. 167 Starting in 1942, all of the main Einsatzgruppen began killing people using gas vans, which had been used to kill people with disabilities early on in Action T4. In these vans, carbon monoxide exhaust fumes from the vans' engines were pumped into the back of the truck, killing the victims inside. However, by September 1941, Nazis at Auschwitz concentration camp had begun experimenting with Zyklon B, a cyanide-like pesticide.[5]pp. 280–281

At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, the Nazis officially decided to kill all of the Jews in Europe (11 million people). Some would be worked to death. Others would be killed in extermination camps (death camps).(German: Die Endlösung der Judenfrage).[4]p. 555-556 The Nazis created death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bełżec extermination camps with the goal of killing as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. These death camps replaced the Einsatzgruppen as the Nazis' main strategy of mass murder and genocide.[5]pp. 279–280

At first, the Einsatzgruppen were sent to fight partisans – people in Nazi-occupied territories who continued to fight back against the Nazis.[1]p. 248 However, by 1944, most Einsatzgruppen had become part of Waffen-SS fighting units or sent to guard death camps.

Jäger Report

The Jäger Report

The Einsatzgruppen kept careful records of their mass murders so they could write reports to their supervisors. The Commander of Einsatzgruppe A filed the Jäger Report on December 1, 1941. it talks about Einsatzgruppen A's actions in Lithuania.

The report says that Einsatzgruppen A killed 137,346 people.[1]p. 215 Most were Jews, but others were communists, criminals, and other Nazi "enemies."[1]p. 126 Starting in mid-August, when 3,207 people were murdered, the victims included children.[1]p. 126

In February 1942, Jäger changed his estimates of how many people the Einsatzgruppen killed. He said there were 138,272 victims, including:[1]p. 126

  • 48,252 men (35%)
  • 55,556 women (40%)
  • 34,464 children (25%)

Jäger also said that only 1,851 of the victims (1.3%) were not Jewish.[1]p. 126

Other reports

Many other papers and reports written by the Einsatzgruppen talk about how many people the different units killed. For example, one researcher looked at over 200 Operational Situation Reports (reports from the Einsatzgruppen to their bosses about what they were doing). He also looked at letters and reports written by Einsatzgruppen bosses. He found that as of 1942, Einsatzgruppen A, B, C, and D had killed almost a million people:[23]

As Of: Einsatzgruppe: Smaller Group: Number Killed:
July 1942 A 206,942
December 1942 B 134,298
Sonderkommando 7A 1,344
Sonderkommando 7B 6,788
Sonderkommando 7C 4,660
Einsatzkommando 8 74,740
Einsatzkommando 9 41,340
November 1942 C 118,341
Einsatzkommando 4A 59,018
Einsatzkommando 4B 6,329
Einsatzkommando 5 150,000
Einsatzkommando 6 5,577
D 91,728

Related pages


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Rhodes, Richard (2002). Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-375-70822-7 . 
  2. Edeiken, Yale F. (August 22, 2000). "Introduction to the Einsatzgruppen". Holocaust History Project. Archived from the original on April 30, 2013. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  3. Streim, Alfred (1989). "The Tasks of the SS Einsatzgruppen, pages 436–454". In Marrus, Michael. The Nazi Holocaust, Part 3, The "Final Solution": The Implementation of Mass Murder, Volume 2. Westpoint, CT: Meckler. p. 436. ISBN 0-88736-266-4 . 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Longerich, Peter (2012). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6 . 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5 . 
  6. Browning, Christopher; Matthäus, Jürgen (2004). The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942. Comprehensive History of the Holocaust. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 16-18. ISBN 978-0-8032-1327-2 . 
  7. Evans, Richard J. (2008). The Third Reich at War. New York: Penguin Group. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-14-311671-4 . 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Weale, Adrian (2012). Army of Evil: A History of the SS. New York; Toronto: Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-451-23791-0 . 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hillgruber, Andreas (1989). "War in the East and the Extermination of the Jews". In Marrus, Michael. Part 3, The "Final Solution": The Implementation of Mass Murder, Volume 1. The Nazi Holocaust. Westpoint, CT: Meckler. pp. 85–114. ISBN 0-88736-266-4 . 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Rees, Laurence (1997). The Nazis: A Warning From History. Foreword by Sir Ian Kershaw. New York: New Press. ISBN 1-56584-551-X . 
  11. Browning, Christopher R. (1998). "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland" (PDF). London; New York: Penguin. pp. 135-136, 141-142. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  12. Robertson, Struan. "The genocidal missions of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in the General Government (Poland) 1942–1943". Hamburg Police Battalions during the Second World War. Regionalen Rechenzentrum der Universität Hamburg. Archived from the original on February 22, 2008. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 MacLean, French L. (1999). The Field Men: The SS Officers Who Led the Einsatzkommandos—The Nazi Mobile Killing Units. Schiffer Military History. Madison, WI: Schiffer. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-7643-0754-6 . 
  14. Crowe, David (2007). Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of his Life, Wartime Activities and the True Story Behind the List. New York: Basic Books. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-465-00253-5 . 
  15. Mallmann, Klaus-Michael; Cüppers, Martin (2006). Crescent and Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs and Palestine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-3-534-19729-3 . 
  16. Shelach, Menachem (1989). "Sajmište: An Extermination Camp in Serbia". In Marrus, Michael Robert. The Victims of the Holocaust: Historical Articles on the Destruction of European Jews. 2. Westport, CT: Meckler. p. 1169. 
  17. "Book review: Tasks of the Einsatsgruppen by Alfred Streim". Museum of Tolerance Online Multimedia Learning Center, Annual 4, Chapter 9. Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  18. Larsen, Stein Ugelvik (2008) (in German). Meldungen aus Norwegen 1940–1945: Die geheimen Lagesberichte des Befehlshabers der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD in Norwegen, 1. Munich: Oldenburg. p. xi. ISBN 978-3-486-55891-3 . 
  19. Mallmann, Klaus-Michael; Cüppers, Martin; Smith, Krista (2010). Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine. New York: Enigma. p. 130. ISBN 1-929631-93-6 . 
  20. Headland, Ronald (1992). Messages of Murder: A Study of the Reports of the Security Police and the Security Service. London: Associated University Presses. pp. 62-70. ISBN 0-8386-3418-4 . Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  21. Urban, Thomas (September 1, 2001). "Poszukiwany Hermann Schaper" (in Polish). Rzeczpospolita (204). Archived from the original on November 24, 2007. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  22. Klee, Ernst (2005) (in German). Das Personenlexicon zum Dritten Reich. Fischer Taschenbuch Vlg. p. 18.

    Template-specific style sheet:

    ISBN 978-3596160488
  23. Ronald Headland (1992). "Tables of Killing Statistics: Einsatzgruppe A, B, C, and D". Messages of Murder: A Study of the Reports of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service, 1941-1943. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 98–101. ISBN 0838634184 .