SS Einsatzgruppen: Nazi Death Squads 1939–1945

Gerry van Tonder

In June 1941, Adolf Hitler, whose loathing of Slavs and Jewish Bolsheviks know no bounds, launched Operation Barbarossa, throwing 4,000,000 military personnel, supported by tanks, artillery and aircraft into the Soviet Union. Operational groups of the German Security Service, SD, followed into the Baltic and the Black Sea area. Their orders: neutralize or exterminate elements hostile to Nazi domination – the ‘final solution’ was activated.

Combined SS and SD headquarters were set up in Riga (northern), Mogilev (middle) and Kiev (southern), each with subordinate units of the SD, the ‘Einsatzgruppen’, and lower echelons of ‘Einsatzkommandos’.

Communist and Soviet NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) agents were targeted, and from August 1941 to March 1943, 4,000 Soviet and communist agents were arrested and executed. In addition, far greater numbers of communists were shot to ensure political and ethnic purity in the occupied territories.

Einsatzgruppe A, under the notorious Adolf Eichmann, executed 29,000 persons – listed as ‘Jews’ or ‘mostly Jews’ – in Latvia and Lithuania in the early stages of the operation. In the Einsatzgruppe C report for September 1941, there was a comment, ‘50,000 executions “foreseen” in Kiev’. In five months in 1941, Einsatzkommando III commander, Karl Jäger, reported killing 138,272: 48,252 men, 55,556 women and 34,464 children.

Partisans were next to be added to the pogrom. With the aid of informants, partisan hideouts and villages were sought out, where Einsatzgruppen slaughtered thousands.

The Einsatzgruppen were death squads – their tools the rifle, the pistol and the machine gun. It is estimated that the Einsatzgruppen executed more than 2 million people between 1941 and 1945. This included 1.3 million Jews. 

The Rhodesian Soldier