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As operational units of the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service; SD) and Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police; Sipo), the Einsatzgruppen (Action Squads) accompanied the German army during the Nazi conquests of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Their main task was to eliminate political opposition.

In September 1939, six Einsatzgruppen in Poland murdered about 15,000 Poles and Jews. During preparations for invading the Soviet Union, four Einsatzgruppen were charged with eliminating political and ideological opponents. Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich chose the commanders from the senior staff of the SD/Sipo. Each Einsatzgruppe was divided into Sonderkommandos (Special Squads) and Einsatzkommandos.

Einsatzgruppe A was commanded first by Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker, attached to Army Group North, and operated from the Baltic States to the Leningrad area. It consisted of Sonderkommandos SK1a, SK1b, and Einatzkommandos EK2, EK3, and EK1c (Vorkommando Leningrad). It numbered about 1,000 men.

Einsatzgruppe B, headed by Arthur Nebe (chief of Kripo, the criminal police), was attached to Army Group Center, which operated between Belorussia and Moscow. It was divided into SK7a, SK7b, EK8, EK9, and Vorkommando (Advance Squad) Moskau (SK7c). It had 655 men.

Einsatzgruppe C, commanded by Dr. Otto Emil Rasch, was attached to Army Group Center in northern and central Ukraine. The unit was divided into SK4a, SK4b, EK5, and EK6. It numbered 750.

Einsatzgruppe D, headed by Professor Otto Ohlendorf, was attached to the Eleventh Army in southern Ukraine, Crimea, and Ciscaucasia. It was divided into SK10a, SK10b, EK11a, EK11b, EK12. It had about 600 men.

On 2 July 1941, in a letter to Einsatzgruppe commanders, Heydrich mentioned that beside Communist functionaries, “Jews in the party and state apparatus” were to be executed. In practice, the order was quickly applied to all Soviet Jews. From the first days of the invasion of the USSR, the Einsatzgruppen murdered thousands of Jews in L’vov, Luts’k, Brest-Litovsk, Pinsk, and elsewhere. On 29–30 September 1941, EK4a under Paul Blobel massacred the Jews of Kiev in Babi Yar and in early January 1942 murdered the Jews of Kharkov in Drobitskyi Yar. The Einsatzgruppen were disbanded in 1943. They were responsible for the death of about 3 million Soviet Jews, including Jewish prisoners-of-war from the Red Army.

Between 1947 and 1949, Einsatzgruppe and Einsatzkommando commanders were brought to justice by the American Military Tribunals at Nuremberg. Of the 24 defendants, 14 were sentenced to death, but only 4 were executed. The rest had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment or less.

Suggested Reading

Yitzhak Arad, Shmuel Krakowski, and Shmuel Spector, eds., The Einsatzguppen Reports (New York, 1989); Helmut Krausnick and Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges: Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, 1938–1942 (Stuttgart, 1981).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 557, Einsatzgruppen, Records, 1941-1942.