Home PageIndex to ResourcesThe Courage to RememberGlossary of the HolocaustEducational Resources36 Question About the HolocaustLibrary On-Line BooksBookstore
MLC Logo Simon Wiesenthal Center
Annual 3

To the Editors of the SWC Annual:

Translated by Norma von Ragenfeld-Feldman and Henry Friedlander.

You published an essay (SWC Annual 4:309-28) by Oberstaatsanwalt Alfred Streim, the distinguished director of the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes (Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen) in Ludwigsburg, reviewing the study of the Einsatzgruppen written by Hans- Heinrich Wilhelm and me.1 The ongoing controversy between Mr. Streirn and me about the well-known criminal activities of the Einsatzgruppen concerns the important question of when the order to kill all Jews in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union was issued to the formations of the security police (Sipo)-that is, Gestapo and Kripo-and the SS security service (SID).

After personally examining the pertinent documents, testimonies of participants, and available reports on the events in the occupied Soviet territories, I concluded that this order was transmitted as a Fiffirer Order by Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Sipo and SID, to the Einsatzgruppen chiefs as well as the chiefs of the particular Einsatzkommandos or Sonderkommandos (which constituted the Einsatzgruppen) prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. By contrast, Alfred Streim concludes on the basis of the evidence at hand that

the general order for the destruction of the Jews was not issued to the Einsatzgruppen prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union; rather, it was issued weeks later, approximately between the beginning of August 1941 at the earliest and September 1941 at the latest.2
Further, Mr. Streim argues that in the several weeks after the invasion "always only male Jews of draft age were executed for reasons permissible under martial law; anyhow, that is what they were told."3 If I understand Mr. Streim correctly, the "they" in this somewhat questionable qualification refers to the former members of the Einsatzgruppen testifying after the war. Mr. Streim sees their testimonies confirmed by Heydrich's undoubtedly important "letter of 2 July 1941 advising the persons designated as Higher SS and Police Leaders [HSSPF] for the Soviet areas that only Jews in party and state positions and similar 'elements' were to be executed."4 It is my view, however, that Heydrich on this occasion chose not to say more in writing. But above all, other available testimonies, as well as the contemporaneous situation reports of the Einsatzgruppen (Ereignismeldungen UdSSR) on their criminal activities, which were communicated by the Central Office of Reich Security (RSHA) to a limited number of people, convey'an impression of actual events in the occupied Soviet territories in June and July 1941 that deviates considerably from the above-mentioned testimonies and statements.

Heydrich instructed, among others, the offices of the Gestapo in Tilsit and Allenstein (East Prussia) to undertake "cleansing operations" (Rein igungsaktionen) in the occupied (Lithuanian) territories located just beyond the German border in order to "relieve" the Einsatzgruppen. (These operations are not to be confused with the self-cleansing efforts by anticommunist or anti-Jewish groups, that is, the pogroms, which by order of Heydrich were to be secretly encouraged by the Einsatzgruppen.) Heydrich's instruction to the East Prussian offices had consequences that are highly relevant for our present controversy concerning the order to shoot the Jews. One has to consider the fact that the heads of the above-mentioned offices were neither in Pretzsch in May-June 1941, when the Einsatzgruppen were assembled and detailed, nor in Berlin on 17 June 1941, when Heydrich, as he wrote on 2 Julv, issued his directives to the chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommanclos. If the heads of the East Prussian offices were to shoot Jews in the Lithuanian border region, they first needed to receive the appropriate order since the thought would never have occurred to them-this much can be said with certainty-that it was their job to shoot Jews in that border strip.

On the basis of findings in the Ulm trial and also in the Aurich trial,5 we can now consider what actually did occur: SS Brigadefahrer Dr. Walther Stahlecker, hurrying from Pretzsch in advance of his Einsatzgruppe A, appeared on 22 June 1941 (the date was corrected by the Aurich court to read 23 June) at the Gestapo office in Tilsit. Referring to the special authority he had received, Stahlecker conveyed to Hans Joachim Bohme, the head of the Gestapo office, the order "to subject all Jews, including women and children, as well as Lithuanians suspected of communism, to special treatment [that is, execution]" within the approximately 25-kilometer wide strip east of the German border. He countered "technical" objections with the argument that this was a Fiffirer Order. In fact, in the border town of Garsden, 201 Jews and "suspected communist" Lithuanians, who had been imprisoned the day before, were thereupon already shot on 24 or 25 June 1941. Furthermore, according to the (contemporaneous) Einsatzgruppen Situation Report No. 19 of 11 July 1941, in at least seven other localities of the border region another 1,542 persons, most of them Jews, were already killed between 26 June and 10 July, bringing the total to 1,743 persons. By 18 July 1941, Situation Report No. 26 recorded the number, as reported by the Gestapo of Tilsit, of "altogether 3,302" persons shot.

What can we learn about the composition and age of the victims? Using the detailed Ulm verdict, published verbatim in 1966,6 we find, regarding the massacre of Garsden, that

the prisoners consisted entirely of Jews, ranging from the young to the aged, with the exception of a few Lithuanian communists.7
Further, we read that
the victims were primarily only male Jews ranging from youths to the old. This has been shown by Situation Report No. 14 of 6 July 1941, page 2, . . . indicated by the defendants [four names listed] and attested by the witnesses [eight names listed].8
Moreover, the court found that various members of the Schupo-Kommandos. . wanted an explanation ... why almost only Jews and among them persons up to seventy years old as well as so many young people were shot.9
Regarding the shooting of 214 male Jews and Lithuanian communists, the court noted that "at the arrival of the defendant Bohme there were approximately 180 male Jews, ranging from youths to the aged, in the marketplace."10 In Georgenburg, the court noted, the following happened on 3 July 1941: "All told 322 persons were shot, among them five women and a few Jewish children who did not want to get separated from their parents."11

Thus I cannot agree with Mr. Streim's conclusion that

the Ulm court proceedings and court decision demonstrate that up to the beginning of August only able-bodied men were shot and, of course, here and there a woman who was described as a communist or as some other "element hostile to the Reich."12
Contrary to this, the Ulm court decision reads:
Between 26 June 1941 and 10 July 1941 a total of 316 persons, among them ten women, were shot near Augustowo in at least two killing operations.13
And nowhere in the Ulm court decision do I find confirmation for Mr. Streim's contention that "also men not of draft age" were, in addition to women and children, "incarcerated in camps."14

Although the Ulm court did indeed find that with a few exceptions women and children were incarcerated, the court decision does mention that Stahlecker issued repeated reminders to execute women and children and that a colleague of Bohme reproached him for his "lack of single-mindedness" because, "probably due to some inner inhibitions," he somewhat delayed the execution of women and children.15 These statements provide circumstantial evidence that the order transmitted by Stahlecker on 23 June also demanded the shooting of women and children. Furthermore, the executions that started by 24 June 1941 in the Lithuanian border strip speak for themselves. These were not only established by the Ulm proceedings but also recorded in the contemporaneous reports issued by the RSHA.

In his review Mr. Streim mentions that on 29 June and 1 July 1941 Heydrich "instructed the Einsatzgruppen 'silently' to instigate pogroms by the indigenous population" of the occupied territories, and argues that "if Hitler's destruction order had already existed at that time, it would not have been necessary to instigate pogroms."16

First, I must point out that the Nazi leadership realistically gauged the possible effects of pogroms. It did not at all, as stated in a 1973 decision of a Disseldorf court, "originally count on the native population to carry out, as part of the 'self-cleansing efforts,' the liquidation of Jewish people under their own direction."17 On the contrary, in his notorious "comprehensive report (Gesaintbericht) up to 15 October 1941" the above-mentioned Stahlecker, chief of Einsatzgruppe A, admitted quite openly:

It was to be expected from the outset that the Jewish problem in the Ostland would not be solved by means of pogroms only.18
Moreover, on 29 June 1941 Heydrich himself commented to the chiefs of the four Einsatzgruppen, and on 2 July 1941 informed the Higher SS and Police Leaders in the East, that "for obvious reasons such a procedure is possible only at the beginning of the military occupation." The question why the Nazi leadership nevertheless eagerly wanted the instigation of pogroms has again been answered by Stahlecker who, with cynical though plausible frankness, justified this from a Nazi perspective in his comprehensive report:
Following orders, the security police was determined to solve the Jewish Question with all possible means and most decisively. But it was agreeable if, at least in the beginning, the security police would not be publicly associated with the unusually harsh measures that would even attract attention in German circles. It had to be shown to the world that the native population itself implemented the first measures as a natural response to the decades of Jewish oppression and to the communist terror of the recent past.
Stahlecker's explanation leaves no doubt about the following: the chief of Einsatzgruppe A already knew before he tried to stage pogroms that "unusually harsh measures" had been ordered by his highest superiors and that these should follow upon the pogromswhich, as he also said in his report, were "of course" only possible in the "first days after the occupation." These were the measures he "was determined" to carry out "according to orders." Thus I think it highly unlikely that Stahlecker understood the "unusually harsh measures" actually to mean only the execution of Jews "in party and state positions." At any rate, in his two comprehensive reports19 he referred to "fundamental orders" calling for "as comprehensive an elimination (umfassende Beseitigung) of the Jews as possible," or "as total an elimination (restlose Beseitigung) of Jewry as possible." Indeed, as the investigation by the Ulm court shows, Stahlecker had issued an identical order to the Gestapo in Tilsit on 23 June 1941.

In this connection it is also interesting to note another fact: a proposal by Heinrich Himmler for a new version of the "Guidelines for Dealing with the Jewish Question," issued by the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories on 29 January 1942-at a time when even in Mr. Streim's view the order to eliminate all Jews had already been in force for more than four months-still stated that, in the event more Soviet territory would be occupied, "possible action taken by the civilian population against the Jews ... must not be obstructed when it is compatible with the necessity of maintaining law and order at the rear of the fighting troops.20 Thus, even a farreaching order for the execution of the Jews did not, in the eyes of Himmler and Heydrich, make the instigation of local pogroms politically superfluous. Quite the contrary.

Mr. Streim argues that "the Einsatzgruppen situation reports, the so-called Jager Report, and the evidence of the majority of former members of the Einsatzgruppen show that for the most part Heydrich's directives were carried out during the first weeks of the Russian campaign.21 In other words, only Jews in party and state positions were to be executed.

Looking at the "Comprehensive Listing of the Executions Carried Out in the Area of Einsatzkommando 3 until I December 1941," known as the Jager Report and also mentioned by Mr. Streirn,22 I find that it lists the following executions in the month of July 1941: 20 communist functionaries (another entry notes that of eight communist functionaries executed; "six of them [were] Jews"), 136 Lithuanian and Russian communists, two Lithuanian women and one Pole (without further explanation), one German communist, and three murderers. In addition, during July 1941 the Report lists the execution of 4,102 Jewish men and 135 Jewish women; not even once does the Report give a reason for their execution, and certainly not a reason along the line advocated in Heydrich's 2 July 1941 letter to the Higher SS and Police Leaders.

The "operations" of Einsatzkommando 3, headed by Karl Jdger, began on 4 July, after his "assumption of the security police tasks in Lithuania ... on 2 July 1941," with the first round of execution"16 Jewish men and 47 Jewish women-in Fort VII of the old fortress of Kovno. Already on 6 July this was followed by the shooting of 2,514 Jews in the same place. (Immediately preceding this entry, Jager notes: "The executions carried out by Lithuanian partisans on my instruction and my order.") I think it impossihle that a large number of these 2,930 Jews occupied "party and state offices."

Although the Jdger Report records 135 Jewish women executed by the end of July 1941 and another 604 by the middle of August, it can nevertheless be established, as Mr. Streim has justifiably indicated, that from the middle of August on, the number of Jewish women executed increased considerably and, also during this time, the number of murdered Jewish children began to reach into the thousands. But these facts in no way compel us-particularly if we consider the high number of 739 Jewish women murdered prior to the middle of August-to accept the view that the order to the Einsatzgruppen to shoot all Jews in the occupied territories was issued only in the middle of August. Clearly we are dealing here only with the total implementation of a basic order that had already been received, but whose actual execution the chiefs of Einsatzkommando 3 as well as those of Einsatzkommando Tilsit may have delayed somewhat.

Dr. Walter Blume, former chief of Sonderkommando 7a, testified on 11 May 1971: "As far as I was concerned, Heydrich's overall objectives (Rahmenbefehl) applied from the beginning to women and children also."23 Obersturmbannfiihrer Karl Tschierschky, former head of Department III (SD) of Einsatzgruppe A, testified on 14 May 1971: "On the basis of my talk with Stahlecker, I assumed that the liquidation order referred from the beginning to all Jews, that is, including women and children.24 Former Obersturmfiihrer S. from Einsatzkommando 9, one of the subordinate functionaries who were not invited to the meeting of 17 June 1941 between Heydrich and the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos in Pretzsch or Berlin, and who therefore did not receive more precise information about the tasks of the Einsatzgruppen, gave this testimony: "The actual order to destroy the Jews was issued shortly after operations commenced in Russia.25 Concerning Obersturmbannffihrer Dr. Alfred Filbert, former chief of Einsatzkommando 9, S. testified: "He also announced to us the aforementioned actual order. . . . To carry out the executions, the Jews were taken out of their homes and immediately marched or driven to their execution."26

It is hardly conceivable that these executions were-or could have been- restricted to Jews in "party and state positions." Using the more precise findings of the Berlin court that investigated him, we learn that Dr. Filbert announced the Fuhrer Order for the execution of the Jews on 29 or 30 June 1941 during his stay in the East Prussian town of Treuburg (where, at any rate, the German border was crossed on 1 July).27 And a Munich court found that Dr. Otto Bradfisch told his men that "Hitler has ordered that all of occupied Russia is to be freed of Jews (judenfrei)" when his Einsatzkommando 8 executed 800 and 100 Jews, respectively, in two killing operations in Bialystok in the first half of July 1941.28 Streim argues that Bradfisch himself was supposedly "only informed about the order in approximately the middle of July 1941" by Arthur Nebe, the chief of Einsatzgruppe B.29 This, however, would still be before the time suggested by Streim for the order of destruction (that is, the beginning of August to September).

Karl Jager, however, testified in 1959, as did Dr. Blume, that in Berlin Heydrich declared before "circa fifty SS leaders" (on 17 June 1941) that in case of war with Russia "all Jews," or at least "the Jews," would "have to be shot."30 In a subsequent interrogation Jager did make the comment that "in Pretzsch ... nothing was said about shooting the Jews" and that "the speech by Heydrich in Berlin containing the comment that during operations in the East the Jews are to be shot ... [was] not repeated." And he added: "It also was not stated that this was a strict order to shoot the Jews in the East." But the later testimonies obviously refer to the events in Pretzsch, because in the course of the second interrogation Jager declared that at his "arrival at Kovno" (according to his aforementioned report, on 2 July 1941) "the executions of the Jews ... [were] already in progress." Jager then added that "these executions were supposed to have been carried out by the Lithuanian auxiliary police (Hilfspolizei). " As to "whether Erich Ehrlinger [chief of Sonderkommando lb, which had already entered Kovno a few days earlier] or Wolf [presumably a functionary of Sonderkommando lb], together with their people, played an active role," Jager was unable to say. Jager noted however, that "they certainly tolerated it, because otherwise the shootings by the Lithuanians would not have continued."31 And Jager added: "I myself did not stop these executions either, since the fact that the Jews in the East must be shot had been decided by Heydrich's speech on the occasion of the Berlin Conference." There is also Jager's noteworthy comment during his first interrogation: "I think it absolutely impossible that a written order to shoot the Jews in the East came from any office whatever."

In contrast to Alfred Streim, I am persuaded by these considerations that at a date as early as 17 June 1941, Heydrich did not want to speak about an order for the killing of all Jews and thus chose to issue in writing (in his letter to the HSSPF of 2 July 1941) only an order for the shooting of "Jews in party and state positions." The objections raised against this interpretation include, for example, the argument that Einsatzbefehle Nos. 8 and 9 (17 and 21 July 1941) ordered the selection (Aussonderung) and execution of "all Jews" in Soviet POW camps. But this argument is based on an erroneous interpretation committed even by some experts. To be sure, it is said of these "executions" that they were "forbidden inside the camp" or its immediate environs, and it is also unmistakably true that executions would be carried out. At first, however, the orders required only that "all Jews" should be located, in addition to "other elements to be eliminated," and that "the number of persons who were to be finally regarded as suspect" should be reported weekly to the RSHA, which would "thereupon ... immediately [report] the next measures" to be taken. Characteristically, for the time being, an explicit order for the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war who had been "singled out" was avoided. Only Einsatzbefehl No. 14 of 29 October 1941 decreed that "the Einsatzgruppen chiefs decide on their own responsibility on the proposed executions and issue the appropriate directives."32

Stahlecker's handwritten conclusion added to a memorandum of 6 August 1941, evidently drafted by a staff member of Einsatzgruppe A, shows that as late as the beginning of August even he continued to exercise great care when discussing the secret of the criminal orders given to the Einsatzgruppen.33 Later on, however, in October 1941 and January 1942, he spoke frankly in his comprehensive reports about the "basic orders" that had been issued "to eliminate the Jewish people as completely as possible."34 The author of the August 1941 draft memorandum criticized "The Guidelines for the Treatment of the Jews,"35 drafted by order of Reichskommissar Ostland Hinrich Lohse (although they were by no means very mild and in no way intended to obstruct "further measures, especially by the security police"), because they "failed to consider that in the East a radical treatment of the Jewish Question is possible for the first time." In his handwritten comment Stahlecker not only demanded a thoroughgoing verbal discussion "of all these questions," but also objected especially that "the draft ... to a great extent touches on general orders from higher authority to the security police that cannot be discussed in writing."36 Not too much imagination is required to figure out what was meant by the "general orders from higher authority to the security police." Later on, as indicated above, Stahlecker did not hesitate to call them by their real name (although classified as Geheime Reichssache).

To support his thesis that "the order for destruction was issued between early August and September 1941," Mr. Streim in a summation points to a number of sources, including "the report of Einsatzgruppe D at the end of August 1941, 'The solution of the Jewish Question has ... been initiated.' "37 Here several words are omitted that seem to me of some importance. The full wording of the lines quoted by Mr. Streirn from Situation Report No. 63 of 25 August 1941 is as follows: "The solution of the Jewish Question too, as one of the most important problems, has already been initiated, even if hesitantly." I can hardly imagine that in August 1941 an Einsatzgruppe would have dared to report to its superiors in Berlin that it was tackling the solution of the Jewish Question with hesitation. An examination of the context, however, shows that the quoted report refers not at all to the activity of Einsatzgruppe D itself, but to the attitude of the Romanian authorities in the Russian territory occupied by Romanian troops. Somewhat earlier in the report we find the following statement: "Of the tasks which the Romanian administration has first taken up, the following should be mentioned." The next paragraph reads: "The efforts made in the economic area are concentrated on bringing in the harvest . . ."; and two paragraphs later: "The solution of the Jewish Question, as one of the most important problems, has already been initiated, even if hesitantly." Without doubt, then, the issue here is the conduct of the Romanians.

If Alfred Streim shares this view, then I would have to reply that the critical statement made by Einsatzgruppe D concerning the hesitant attitude of the Romanians toward the Jewish Question would rule out the possibility of using the date indicated by the report of Einsatzgruppe D as evidence for the time at which the order for the execution of the Jews in the East was issued to the Einsatzgruppen themselves. In fact, the activities of Einsatzgruppe D can serve as a striking illustration of the validity of my interpretation, when we consider the report of 9 July 1941 from its Sonderkommando 10b describing the massacre in Czernowitz on 8 and 9 July 1941 as a "major operation" in which "more than 500 Jews" were killed.38

Also, Goring's well-known letter to Heydrich, presented in final form to Goring for his signature on 31 July 1941, authorizing Heydrich to make "all preparations ... for a final solution of the Jewish Question in the German sphere of influence in Europe," cannot count as reliable evidence for the date when the order for the destruction of the Jews in the occupied Soviet territories was issued to the Einsatzgruppen. As Heydrich's reference to this authorization at the so-called Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942 shows, Goring's authorization applied to the Jews of Europe outside the occupied Soviet territories, while the orders given to the Einsatzgruppen had in general already been set by March 1941. How little Goring's authorization influenced the concrete tasks of the Einsatzgruppen is illustrated by the fact that only on 25 January 1942 did Heydrich send a copy of his "letter of appointment-39 to the commanders (BdS) and inspectors (IdS) of the Sipo and SD, four other offices of the Sipo and SD, as well as to the four Einsatzgruppen, for their "information and consideration." Why did Heydrich do so at that time? Because the Wannsee Conference had taken place five days earlier, his authorization thus beginning to have practical consequences, and because he could now conclude his own communication with the significant sentence: "Preparations have been started." After all, of the first extermination camps, Chelmno was already in operation, and Belzec was under construction.

On the basis of several eyewitness testimonies, Mr. Streirn in his review explicitly questions the reliability of Otto Ohlendorf's claim that Bruno Streckenbach, chief of Office I (personnel) in the RSHA, transmitted-"by order of Himmler and Heydrich"-the Fiffirer Order for the execution of the Jews in the occupied Soviet territories to the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos in Pretzsch. If the statements cited by Mr. Streirn are correct, then it is curious, on the other hand, that several witnesses testified that Streckenbach's aforementioned disclosures resulted in heated discussions at the time.40 Incidentally, even if Ohlendorf did urge his codefendants in Nuremberg to point to a Fuhrer Order so that they could from the outset use the defense of duress under orders, such a maneuver would in no way preclude the possibility that the Fuhrer Order had indeed been transmitted at that time.

As far as the events in Pretzsch are concerned, the testimony of former SS Sturmbannfahrer Karl Hennicke, who in 1941 headed Office III (SD) of Einsatzgruppe C, seems to me remarkable. He testified that a few days before Heydrich held a general "roll call" in Pretzsch (where he "did not mention liquidations"), there took place "a meeting of the chiefs of the [Einsatzlgruppen, of the leaders of the [Einsatz]kommandos, and of the heads of Office IV [Gestapo] of the Einsatzgruppen." Karl Hennicke added: "I still remember that we, the chiefs of the Offices III, found it somewhat strange that we were not invited to these talks."41 Former SS Sturmbannfiffirer Ernst Ehlers, who testified in my presence at the Tilbingen trial against Dr. Erhard Kroeger, reported that the Fuhrer Order was announced at such a meeting, in which about 40 people participated.42

Concerning the credibility of Ohlendorf's testimonies, it surpasses, on the whole noticeably, the credibility of Dr. Otto Rasch's testi- monies used by Mr. Streim. After all, on 5 November 1945 Ohlendorf testified in his first affidavit 43-at a time when the Einsatzgruppen situation reports were not yet accessible-that the number of persons shot by his Einsatzgruppe D was "approximately 90,000 men, wo- men, and children," which was virtually correct. According to Situaiion Report No. 190 of 8 April 1942, the number was 91,678.44 Yet Rasch did not hesitate to declare under oath in Nuremberg on 24 June 1947 "that he had never been in Shitomir, Lemberg, Rowno, or Kiev and never led [Einsatz1gruppe C in an operation."45 His presence (and not merely his presence) in Lemberg, however, was attested by Giinther Herrmann, the chief of Sonderkommando 4b, as well as by Erwin Schultz, the chief of Einsatzkommando 5.46

Dr. Hans Surholt, defense counsel for Rasch, was or course clever enough to choose another line of defense. As stated by him, the directives to the Einsatzgruppen gave no indication of an operation, "such as the one the prosecution now [at Nuremberg] presents as a crime against humanity or a war crime.47 These statements amounted to the rather skillful argumentation that his client had originally accepted appointment as a high functionary of the Einsatzgruppen, while in reality he was ignorant-that is to say, unsuspecting-of the tasks assigned to these formations; suddenly confronted with questionable but strict execution orders while he found himself in the middle of the area of operations (in the field, so to speak, facing the enemy), he could no longer extricate himself from his duties. The defense counsel obviously thought there was no need to take into account that the order, ostensibly given by Heydrich, to "execute" Jews in party and state positions without trial and verdict was already criminal. At any rate, as Dr. Surholt said in his opening statement for Rasch, HSSPF Friedrich Jeckeln had "delivered" the order to Rasch-"it could have been in August but also in September 1941"-to shoot all Jews, including women and children.48

To this information, the above-mentioned Erwin Schulz, Chief of Einsatzkommando 5, added that in August 1941 the Einsatzkommando chiefs of Einsatzgruppe C had been ordered to a meeting in Shimotir, at which their commander, Dr. Rasch, "disclosed to them that by order of Jeckeln, the HSSPF Russia-South, measures taken against the Jews had to be more drastic; as of now, also [sic] Jewish women and children were to be executed."49 As Dr. Surholt explained in his opening statement:

This order appeared so incredible to Rasch that he immediately went to Berlin to get further clarification there. Upon reaching Cracow the first evening, he telephoned SS Gruppenfiihrer Heydrich in order to consult with him. Heydrich confirmed the content as well as the compulsory nature of the order and added explicitly that this was a direct order of the Fijhrer that had to be carried out at all cost. Rasch does not deny that he transmitted the orders he received to his subordinate units, although he personally did not agree with, indeed rejected, these orders. [Had he not done so, I he would have been assigned by way of a concentration camp to the so-called "Lost Unit" (Verlorenen Haufen), whose members were methodically exterminated through assignment to operations with especially dangerous tasks.50
In Situation Report No. 24 of 16 July 1941 from Lemberg, Dr. Rasch, allegedly outraged by the killing order, reported as "measures by the Einsatzgruppe" the execution of "ca. 7, 000 Jews in retaliation for their inhuman atrocities" (apparently instigated by the Soviet NKVD) against members of the Ukrainian national movement. "Dr. Rasch," Erwin Schulz testified at Nuremberg, "was charged with the supervision of these executions [sic]. . . . I myself saw Dr. Rasch at the scene of the executions."51 In further sworn testimony, Schulz asserted that -SS Brigadefahrer Dr. Rasch exemplified particular ruthlessness."52

In addition, it follows from the I February 1963 testimony of Giinther Herrmann, former chief of Sonderkommando 4b, that there was obviously no need for an order, such as the one allegedly delivered by Jeckeln, for Rasch to execute at least all male Jews as if it had been ordered: "The order to execute in Russia all elements hostile to the Reich, among them also the Jews [sic], was transmitted to me by Dr. Rasch only in Lemberg."53 Note the words "the Jews," which did not mean particular categories of Jews. Herrmann said "only" in Lemberg, because he had been neither in Pretzsch nor in Berlin, where at least he assumed this order had been issued. Thus, in terms of time, the phrase "only in Lemberg" meant the first days of July 1941, since an advance unit of Herrmann's Sonderkommando 4b had already entered Lemberg on 30 June, whereupon the staff of Einsatzgruppe C followed in the early morning of I July 1941. In its verdict against Herrmann, the court found that he regarded the order, which, as I have said, Rasch communicated to him in the beginning of July, to refer "at first only [sic] to male Jews."54

At any rate, in my view Herrmann's testimony contradicts the downplayed version of Rasch's defense counsel, which claimed that the operations of Einsatzgruppe C followed "upon the consideration of military necessity," with executions only allowed in cases of murder, looting, and sabotage.55 It is of course possible that Jeckeln, a fanatical Jew-hater, took the opportunity of his meeting with Rasch to impress upon him-with or without an order from Himmler-the order for the executions, obviously issued and implemented earlier, and to specify the meaning of the execution order with greater precision as applying "also to women and children." Furthermore, it is possible that at a meeting with the Einsatzkommando chiefs in the "the beginning of August," as was attested by Erwin Schulz, Rasch instructed them accordingly. It is certain, however, that for the Nuremberg trial Rasch transformed Jeckeln's disclosures into the decisive Fuhrer Order to the Einsatzgruppen calling for the murder of the Jews, thus pushing the date for the order to as late a time as possible, but still using Jeckeln's impressive attestation to argue "duress under order" for the remainder of his time in office, while classifying all massacres committed earlier by his unit as "reprisal measures."

Indeed, he had used this tactic while serving as Einsatzgruppen chief. After his unit had shot 80,000 people, he charged only 8,000 of them with "activity directed against Germany and [with] Bolshevist activity," while the other 72,000 people were all said to have been liquidated as retaliation.56 These, however, were at no time retaliatory operations but rather disguised extermination measures which, in compliance with the basic order to which Rasch referred when he met Herrmann, began to be implemented in Sokal as early as 27 June and reached their first peak in Lemberg.

Mr. Streim concedes that "we still do not know who delivered the order to the Einsatzgruppen."57 If his thesis that the Fuhrer Order for the destruction of the Jews was issued in August 1941 at the earliest is correct, then the name of the Nazi official who delivered the order at that time to the Einsatzgruppen, who had already been stationed for some time in the area of operations, would be known to us. Of course, many Einsatzkommandos had by the middle of August already executed thousands of Jewish men, and in Lithuania one of them had already killed over 700 women. For the thesis that the Higher SS and Police Leaders, Himmler's "plenipotentiaries," had passed on the order, Rasch's report about the appearance of Jeckeln is just as insufficient as evidence as the vague answer Jeckeln himself gave in response to Streckenbach's question whether Himmler had issued the Fuhrer Order to the Higher SS and Police Leaders so that they could transmit it to their subordinate units: "Yes, that's just about how it was."58

Characteristically, after hearing the disclosures that allegedly horrified him, Rasch did not turn to Himmler, Jeckeln's superior, but to Heydrich. His doing so conformed to the fact that as Chief of the Sipo and the SID, Heydrich alone was in charge of the "Einsatzgruppen of the Sipo and the SID" during the first months of the Russian campaign. His position is well illustrated by the "collection of operation orders and other instructions for operations in the East," of which "100 copies" are recorded for 2 March 1942.59 As the result of an order by Himmler, undoubtedly arranged by Heydrich himself, Heydrich reserved unto himself, through the creation of the Central Intelligence Transmission Agency, the sole right to inform Himmler about results of Einsatzgruppen operations, including "all their reports, inquiries, and communications." True, the Higher SS and Police Leaders had the authority occasionally to give instructions to the mobile units; also, their position of power undeniably grew in the course of the war. But it is for me inconceivable that Heydrich would not reserve unto himself the right to transmit as significant an order as the Fuhrer Order.

As far as Einsatzgruppen A, C, and D are concerned, I have established on the basis of their reports that they carried out mass shootings of Jews at the end of June or during the first ten days of July 1941. But the reports of Einsatzgruppe B, headed by SS Gruppenfiihrer Nebe and first active in Lithuania and soon thereafter in White Russia, supply particularly good evidence for an answer to the controversial ques ' tion about the date the order of destruction was issued and to which groups of Jews it applied. As far as the day-by-day accounts provided by the situation reports are concerned, it is necessary to remember that the operations mentioned had, as a rule, occurred several days before the reporting. Thus it is all the more striking to find the following in Situation Report No. 21 of 13 July 1941, based on a report from Einsatzgruppe B:

The activity of all units has turned out satisfactorily. Above all, the liquidations have become routine and take place daily in increased numbers.60
In the same report a statement made in the first person, which is rare and apparently stems from Nebe himself, reads as follows:
In Grodno and Lida only 96 Jews have been executed during the first days. I have given orders that this be considerably increased.
The first quotation and particularly the second one seem hardly compatible with the notion that the order of destruction at that time applied only to "Jews in party and state positions" or to "able-bodied Jews."

The same situation report also mentions that during a sifting of prisoners in the civilian prison camp in Minsk, "1,050 Jews [were] immediately liquidated," and "the liquidation ... of Asiatics [has also] begun." Finally we read that Sonderkommando 7a, and above all Einsatzkommando 9 in Vilna, "at first [shot] 321 Jews by July 8," and that in addition "approximately 500 Jews and other saboteurs [sic]" are "currently [being] liquidated on a daily basis" by Einsatzkommando 9 with the aid of the Lithuanian security forces (Ordnungsdienst). Moreover, Situation Report No. 32 of 24 July, also based on reports from Einsatzgruppe B, mentions that in Minsk "the whole Jewish intelligentsia (teachers, professors, lawyers, etc., except phy sicians) has now been liquidated."

The chief of Einsatzgruppe B claimed that he and his unit carried out the orders of the RSHA with precision, although we have seen that the details provided by the report were totally incompatible with instruction to restrict the executions to Jews in party and state posi tions and to able-bodied Jews. In Situation Report No. 17 of 9 July 1941, Nebe stated in his own words that "on the basis of the direc tives from the RSHA ... the liquidations of state and party officials [have been] carried out in all the cities [previously mentioned]." Did he also mean thereby the Jews that had been shot; that is, did he tacitly include them in these categories? Obviously not! Because he added: "Concerning the Jews, they were treated in the same way in accordance with the orders."61 This was certainly a suspicious euphemism for what really did happen to the Jews. But if Nebe, the crafty chief of Einsatzgruppe B, could really make the claim for himself to have followed the orders issued by the RHSA, then these must have read very differently from those of 2 July 1941 communicated by Heydrich in writing to the Higher SS and Police Leaders. After all, the operations reported by Einsatzgruppe B itself far surpassed Heydrich's orders, as did the operations of the other Einsatzgruppen.

True, one or another fanaticized noncommissioned officer might sometimes have overstepped the boundaries of certain orders. But it is not plausible that all Einsatzkommando chiefs should have done so at the onset of an operation in such a horrifying manner without a corresponding order that was issued about the same time as they arrived in the area of operations. After all, the statistics reported in the surviving reports show that by the end of July 1941 the numbers of Jews shot had already reached about 44,000.

Helmut Krausnick


1. Helmut Krausnick and Hans Heinrich Wilhelm, Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges: Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, 1938-1942, Publication of the Institut fur Zeitgeschichte (Stuttgart, 1981).

2. Alfred Streim, "The Tasks of the SS Einsatzgruppen," SWC Annual 4 (1987): 312. Emphasis added.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 314.

5. Landgericht (LG) Ulm, Ks 2/57, 29 Aug. 1958; LG Aurich, 2 Ks 1/63 (1 16/63), 26 June 1964.

6. H. G. van Dam and Ralph Giordano, KZ-Verbrechen vor deutschen Gerichten: Einsatzkommando Tilsit, der Prozess zu Ulm (Frankfurt, 1966).

7. Ibid., p. 102, and also pp. 110, 112.

8. Ibid., 150. Emphasis in the original.

9. Ibid., p. 105.

10. Ibid., p. 218.

11. Ibid., p. 316.

12. Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 315.

13. van Dam and Giordano, KZ-Verbrechen vor deutschen Gerichten, p. 274.

14. Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 315.

15. van Dam and Giordano, KZ-Verbrechen vor deutschen Gerichten, pp. 36971.

16. Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 314.

17. LG Dilsseldorf, Urteil gg. Giinther Herrmann u.A., 8 Ks 3/70, 12 Jan. 1973.

18. Nuremberg Doc. L-180 (15 Oct. 1941).

19. Nuremberg Docs. L-180 and PS-2273.

20. Institut filr Zeitgeschichte, Fb 104/1: Der Reichsfiihrer SS, S 11 A 2 Nr. 87 11/42- 176.

21. Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 314.

22. Kommandeur Einsatzkommando 3, SS StandartenfCthrer Karl J5ger, to Befehlshaber Einsatzgruppe A, SS BrigadeNihrer Dr. Walther Stahlecker, Kovno 10 Dec. 1941, facsimile reproduction in NS-Prozesse. Nach 25 Jahren Strafverfiolgung: Mk~liclikeiten-Grenzen-Er~gebnisse, ed. Adalbert Rilckerl (Karlsruhe, 1971), appendix without pagination; Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 324 (note 22).

23. Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufkl5rung von NSVerbrechen, Ludwigsburg [hereafter cited as ZStL1, 201 AR-Z 76/59, Vol. 8, pp. 10f.

24. ZStL, 11 AR-Z 76/59, p. 7149.

25. ZStL, 202 AR-Z 152/1959, Vol. 1, pp. 197f.

26. [bid.

27. LG Berlin, (500) 3 P (k) Ks 1/62 (23/61), 22 June 1962.

28. LG Munich 1, 22 Ks 1/61, IV 32/61, 21 June 1961.

29. Alfred Streim, Die Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener im "Fall Barbarossa": Eine Dokumentation (Heidelberg and Karlsruhe, 1981), p. 85.

30. For the Jiger testimonies, see ZStL, 207 AR-Z 14/1958, p. 1887.

31. In fact, a Situations- und Lagebericht of I July 1941 from SS Obersturmbannfiihrer Ehrlinger in Kovno to the RSHA and to Einsatzgruppe I (soon thereafter renamed Einsatzgruppe A) shows that one of the two auxiliary police companies in the old fort of Kovno, which was "subordinate" to the Sonderkom~nanclo and made up of "reliable [Lithuanian] partisans ... [was] carrying out the executions" (Institut ffir Zeitgeschichte, Fb 101/29). Furthermore, the verdict against Ehrlinger of 20 Dec. 1961 states that from 29 June 1941 on, at least 185 Jews (but over 250 Jews according to several other existing statements) were "shot" in several operations "by members [of] Einsatzkommando 1b, in part also with the support of the Lithuanian auxiliary police" (LG Karlsruhe, VI Ks 1/60, pp. 26-29).

32. Nuremberg Docs. NO-3414 and NO-3422.

33. Riga, Staatsarchiv, Folder Einsatzgruppe A, Stab.: "Entwurf iiber die Aufstellung vorldufiger Richtlinien ftir die Behandlung der Juden im Gebiet des Reichskommissariates Ostland," Novosselje, 6 Aug. 1941. This document was kindly placed at my disposal by Prof. Gerald Fleming, London.

34. Nuremberg Docs. L-180 and PS-2273.

35. Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal [Blue Series], 42 vols. (Nuremberg, 1947-49), 27: 19-29.

36. See note 33 above.

37. Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 314.

38. Nuremberg Doc. NOKW-3453.

39. Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, Fb 104/1: "Chef der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 847/41."

40. Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, Gh 02.40/41: Staatsanwaltschaft (StA) Hamburg, Antrag auf gerichtliche Voruntersuchung im Ermittlungsverfahren gg. Bruno Streckenbach, 147 Js 31/67, 29 Dec. 1969, pp. 179, 181ff., 189, 194f.

41. LG Hamburg, (54) 4/70: interrogation Hermicke, 12 May 1971.

42. LG Tiibingen, Urteil gg. Erhard Kroeger, Ks 1/68, 31 July 1969.

43. Nuremberg Doc. PS-2620.

44. Nuremberg Doc. NO-3359.

45. Nuremberg Doc. NO-5120.

46. ZStL, Il 201 AR-Z 76/59, Vol. 11, p. 249; and Nuremberg Doc. NO-3644.

47. Quoted in Alfred Streim, "Zur Erbffnung des allgerneinen Judenvernichtungsbefehls gegenUber den Einsatzgruppen," in Der Mord an den Juden im zweiten Weltkrieg: Entschlupbildung und Verwirklichung, ed. Eberhard Jackel and JiIrgen Rohwer (Stuttgart, 1985), pp. 108-9.

48. Nuremberg Doc., Case 9 (German version), pp. 316ff.

49. ZStL, 201 AR-Z 76/59, Vol. 6, pp. 64f.

50. See note 48 above.

51. Nuremberg Doc. NO-3644.

52. Nuremberg Doc. NO-3841.

53. ZStL, 11201 AR-Z 76/59, Vol. 11, p. 249.

54. LG DUsseldorf, 8 Ks 3/70, 12 Jan. 1973.

55. See note 48 above.

56. Nuremberg Doc. NO-2830: Ereignismeldung UcISSR, No. 132 of 12 Nov. 1941.

57. Streim, "Tasks of SS Einsatzgruppen," p. 316. Emphasis added.

58. ZStL, AR-Z 76/59, Sonderband 1, p. 157.

59. See Institut ffir Zeitgeschichte, Fa 213/3: "Sammlung von Einsatzbefehlen und sonstigen Anweisungen ffir den Osteinsatz."

60. Nuremberg Doc. NO-2937.

61. The above mentioned situation reports are to be found in Nuremberg Docs. NO- 2937, NO-2933, and NO-2955.

Chap 16
[Home] [Index] [Courage to Remember] [Glossary of the Holocaust] [Educational Resources] [36 Questions About Holocaust] [Library] [Bookstore]

Copyright © 1997, The Simon Wiesenthal Center
9760 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90035