Tag Archives: Einsatzgruppen Trial

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I am continuing on with my series on Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s closing arguments while serving as the Chief American Prosecutor at the Major War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg. These crimes are not without relevance today, thus it is important for us to revisit them, for as I noted yesterday, quoting Yehuda Bauer, the Holocaust did not deviate from human norms.

For me it is a difficult subject, for I served in and supported a war that by any standard of legal and moral judgement would have met the criteria that we prosecuted the Nazis for in 1945. I should have known better because I had studied the Nazi crimes and had been the student of a professor who served as an interrogator and interpreter during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. But in the moment of hysteria after the attacks of September 11th 2001 and my belief in the integrity of Secretary of State Colin Powell, I allowed my good sense to be persuaded that an act of aggressive war that resulted in war crimes, and might even include crimes against humanity was perfectly legal.

I went to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. I worked with advisors to Iraqi Army, Border Troops, Police, Port of Entry, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams In Al Anbar Province. I came back from Iraq a very different man. I saw the lies. I came to love and appreciate the Iraqis and what they had suffered under both Saddam Hussein and our invasion and occupation. I can still see the maimed bodies, the destroyed cities and hamlets, the crippled children, as well as the wounded Marines in my mind. I pray and hope that the Iraqis that I served alongside did not become victims of ISIS after I left the country.

I am haunted by it to this day, and I no longer trust the supposedly good intentions of the American government, and in the age of Donald Trump fear for our nation and the world. A year ago the American Border Patrol fired CS gas, a riot control agent that is banned for use in combat across the international border into Mexico at unarmed Central American refugees, many of whom were women and children. The reason was that they “felt endangered” because some in the sea of refugees threw rocks across the border at the border control officers, who were dressed in body armor and Kevlar helmets with face masks. Rocks were going to do nothing to them.

While this was not war, there is a principle and law of war that American law enforcement officers frequently violate, the principle of proportionality. I’m sorry, but firing CA gas at unarmed refugees on the opposite side of the border for throwing rocks is not proportional. They had not breached the border and were also facing Mexican Federal Police. I have to wonder what is next. After that President Trump says that he has authorized U. S. Military personnel to use deadly force against rock throwers, and his former Chief of Staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly issued a “cabinet order” something never heard of before, allowing U. S. Military personnel to engage refugees believed to be endangering Border Control agents, in what appears to be a direct violation of Posse Comitatus. Add to those issues the use of drone strikes, by the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations, both DOD and CIA, against often insignificant targets that that more often than not have many women and children in them, and finally the pardoning of convicted war criminals by President Trump, and firing the only administration who stood in his way, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer. Since I first wrote this post the actions of President Trump against American citizens, refugees, allies, and his dereliction of duty in the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic which has cost close to 275,000 American lives to date, condemn Trump as a mass murderer and being guilty of Crimes Against Humanity. Had former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Miley not stood against him he would have invoked the Insurrection Act of 1807 in order to crush his opponents using military force.

But I digress. When I read these accounts my mind is taken back to the subject of war crimes, and based on my expertise and study of the crimes of the Nazis, not to mention the Japanese in the Second World War, I automatically default to those settings.

So, I will stop with my words and go back to those of Robert Jackson at Nuremberg, because they are so pertinent today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Robert Jackson’s Closing Argument Continued…

Immediately after the seizure of power the Nazis went to work to implement these aggressive intentions by preparing for war. They first enlisted German industrialists in a secret rearmament programme. Twenty days after the seizure of power Schacht was host to Hitler, Goering and some twenty leading industrialists. Among them were Krupp von Bohlen of the great Krupp armament works and representatives of I. G. Farben and other Ruhr heavy industries. Hitler and Goering explained their programme to the industrialists, who became so enthusiastic that they set about to raise three million Reichsmarks to strengthen and confirm the Nazi Party in power. Two months later Krupp was working to bring a reorganised association of German industry into agreement with the political aims of the Nazi Government. Krupp later boasted of the success in keeping the German war industries secretly alive and in readiness despite the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty, and recalled the industrialists’ enthusiastic acceptance of “the great intentions of the Fuehrer in the rearmament period of 1933-1939”.

Some two months after Schacht had sponsored his first meeting to gain the support of the industrialists, the Nazis moved to harness industrial labour to their aggressive plans. In April, 1933, Hitler ordered Dr. Ley “to take over the trade unions”, numbering some 6 million members. By Party directive Ley seized the unions, their property and their funds. Union leaders, taken into “protective custody” by the SS and SA, were put into concentration camps. The free labour unions were then replaced by a Nazi organization known as the German Labour Front, with Dr. Ley at its head. It was expanded until it controlled over 23 million members. Collective bargaining was eliminated, the voice of labour could no longer be heard as to working conditions, and the labour contract was prescribed by “trustees of labour” appointed by Hitler. The war purpose of this labour programme was clearly acknowledged by Robert Ley five days after war broke out, when he declared in a speech that:

“We National Socialists have monopolised all resources and all our energies during the past seven years so as to be able to be equipped for the supreme effort of battle.”

The Nazis also proceeded at once to adapt the Government to the needs of war. In April, 1933, the Cabinet formed a Defence Council, the working committee of which met frequently thereafter. In the meeting of 22nd May, 1933, at which defendant Keitel presided, the members were instructed that:

“No document must be lost since otherwise the enemy propaganda would make use of it. Matters communicated orally cannot be proven; they can be denied by us in Geneva.”

In February, 1934 -and, your Honours, dates in this connection are important -with defendant Jodl present, the Council planned a mobilization calendar and mobilization order for some 240,000 industrial plants. Again it was agreed that nothing should be in writing so that “the military purpose may not be traceable”.

On 21st May, 1935, the top secret Reich Defence Law was enacted. Defendant Schacht was appointed Plenipotentiary General for War Economy with the task of secretly preparing all economic forces for war and, in the event of mobilization, of financing the war.

Schacht’s secret efforts were supplemented

in October, 1936, by the appointment of defendant Goering as Commissioner of the Four-Year Plan, with the duty of putting the entire economy in a state of readiness for war within four years.

A secret programme for the accumulation of the raw materials and foreign credits necessary for extensive rearmament was also set on foot immediately upon seizure of power. In September of 1934, the Minister of Economics was already complaining that:

“The task of stock-piling is being hampered by the lack of foreign currency; the need for secrecy and camouflage also is a retarding influence.”

Foreign currency controls were at once established. Financing was delegated to the wizard Schacht, who conjured up the MEFO bill to serve the dual objectives of tapping the short-term money market for rearmament purposes while concealing the amount of these expenditures.

The spirit of the whole Nazi administration was summed up by Goering at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, which included Schacht, on 27th May, 1936, when he said: “All measures are to be considered from the standpoint of an assured waging of war.” The General Staff, of course, also had to be enlisted in the war plan. Most of the generals, attracted by the prospect of rebuilding their armies, became willing accomplices. The Minister of War von Blomberg and the Chief of Staff General von Fritsch, however, were not cordial to the increasingly belligerent policy of the Hitler regime, and by vicious and obscene plotting they were discredited and removed in January, 1938. Thereupon, Hitler assumed for himself supreme command of the armed forces and the positions of von Blomberg and of von Fritsch were filled by others who became, as Blomberg said of Keitel, “a willing tool in Hitler’s hands for every one of his decisions”. The generals did not confine their participation to merely military matters. They participated in all major diplomatic and political manoeuvres, such as the Obersalzberg meeting where Hitler, flanked by Keitel and other top generals, issued his virtual ultimatum to Schuschnigg.

As early as 5th November, 1937, the plan to attack had begun to take definiteness as to time and victim. In a meeting which included the defendants Raeder, Goering and von Neurath, Hitler stated the cynical objective:

“The question for Germany is where the greatest possible conquest could be made at the lowest possible cost.”

He discussed various plans for the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia, indicating clearly that he was thinking of these territories not as ends in themselves, but as means for further conquest. He pointed out that considerable military and political assistance could be afforded by possession of these lands, and discussed the possibility of constituting from them new armies up to a strength of about 12 divisions. The aim he stated boldly and baldly as the acquisition of additional living-space in Europe, and recognized that “The German question can be solved only by way of force.” Six months later, emboldened by the bloodless Austrian conquest, Hitler, in a secret directive to Keitel, stated his “unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future”.

On the same day, Jodl noted in his diary that the Fuehrer had stated his final decision to destroy Czechoslovakia soon and had initiated military preparations all along the line. By April the plan had been perfected to attack Czechoslovakia “with lightning swift action as the result of an ‘incident’”.

All along the line preparations became more definite for a war of expansion, on the assumption that it would result in a world-wide conflict. In September, 1938, Admiral Carls officially commented on a “Draft Study of Naval Warfare against England”:

“There is full agreement with the main theme of the study.

1. If, according to the Fuehrer’s decision, Germany is to acquire a position as a world power, she needs not only sufficient colonial possessions but also secure naval communications and secure access to the ocean.

2. Both requirements can only be fulfilled in opposition to Anglo-French interests and will limit their positions as world powers. It is unlikely that they can be achieved by peaceful means. The decision to make Germany a world power therefore forces upon us the necessity of making the corresponding preparations for war.

3. War against England means at the same time war against the Empire, against France, probably against Russia as well, and a large number of countries overseas; in fact, against one-third to one-half of the whole world.

It can only be justified and have a chance of success if it is prepared economically as well as politically and militarily and waged with the aim of conquering for Germany an outlet to the ocean.”

This Tribunal knows what categorical assurances were given to an alarmed world after the Anschluss, after Munich, after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, that German ambitions were realised and that Hitler had “no further territorial demands to make in Europe.” The record of this trial shows that those promises were calculated deceptions and that those high in the bloody brotherhood of Nazidom knew it.

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As early as 15th April, 1938, Goering pointed out to Mussolini and Ciano that the possession of those territories would make possible an attack on Poland. Ribbentrop’s Ministry wrote on 26th August, 1938:

“After the liquidation of the Czechoslovakian question, it will be generally assumed that Poland will be next in turn.”

Hitler, after the Polish invasion, boasted that it was the Austrian and Czechoslovakian triumphs by which “the basis for the action against Poland was laid”. Goering suited the act to the purpose and gave immediate instructions to exploit, for the further strengthening of the German war potential, first the Sudetenland, and then the whole Protectorate.

By May of 1939 the Nazi preparations had ripened to the point that Hitler confided to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others, his readiness “to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity”, even though he recognized that “further successes cannot be attained without the shedding of blood”. The larcenous motives behind this decision he made plain in words that echoed the covetous theme of Mein Kampf:

“Circumstances must be adapted to aims. This is impossible without invasion of foreign States or attacks upon foreign property. Living-space in proportion to the magnitude of the State is the basis of all power -further successes cannot be attained without expanding our living-space in the East ….”

While a credulous world slumbered, snugly blanketed with perfidious assurances of peaceful intentions, the Nazis prepared not as before for a war but now for the war. The defendants Goering, Keitel, Raeder, Frick and Funk, with others, met as the Reich Defence Council in June of 1939. The minutes, authenticated by Goering, are revealing evidence of the way in which each step of Nazi planning dovetailed with every other. These five key defendants, three months before the first panzer unit had knifed into Poland, were laying plans for “employment of the population in wartime”, and had gone so far as to classify industry for priority in labour supply after “five million servicemen had been called up”. They decided upon measures to avoid “confusion when mobilization takes place”, and declared a purpose “to gain and maintain the lead in the decisive initial weeks of war”. They then planned to use in production prisoners of war, criminal prisoners, and concentration camp inmates. They then decided on “compulsory work for women in war time”. They had already passed on applications from 1,172,000 specialist workmen for classification as indispensable, and had approved 727,000 of them. They boasted that orders to workers to report for duty “are ready and tied up in bundles at the labour offices”. And they resolved to increase the industrial manpower supply by bringing into Germany “hundreds of thousands of workers” from the Protectorate to be “housed together in hutments”.

It is the minutes of this significant conclave of many key defendants which disclose how the plan to start the war was coupled with the plan to wage the war through the use of illegal sources of labour to maintain production. Hitler, in announcing his plan to attack Poland, had already foreshadowed the slave labour programme as one of its corollaries when he cryptically pointed out to the defendants Goering, Raeder, Keitel, and others that the Polish population “will be available as a source of labour”. This was part of the plan made good by Frank, who as Governor-General notified Goering, that he would supply “at least one million male and female agricultural and industrial workers to the Reich”, and by Sauckel, whose impressments throughout occupied territory aggregated numbers equal to the total population of some of the smaller nations of Europe.


Here also comes to the surface the link between war labour and concentration camps, a manpower source that was increasingly used and with increasing cruelty. An agreement between Himmler and the Minister of Justice, Thierack, in 1942 provided for “the delivery of anti-social elements from the execution of their sentence to the Reichsfuehrer SS to be worked to death”. An SS directive provided that bedridden prisoners be drafted for work to be performed in bed. The Gestapo ordered 46,000 Jews arrested to increase the “recruitment of manpower into the concentration camps”. One hundred thousand Jews were brought from Hungary to augment the camps’ manpower. On the initiative of the defendant Donitz concentration camp labour was used in the construction of submarines. Concentration camps were thus geared into war production on the one hand, and into the administration of justice and the political aims of the Nazis on the other. The use of prisoner-of-war labour, as then planned in that meeting, also grew with German needs. At a time when every German soldier was needed at the front and forces were not available at home, Russian prisoners of war were forced to man anti-aircraft guns against Allied planes. Field-Marshal Milch reflected the Nazi merriment at this flagrant violation of International Law, saying: “… This is an amusing thing, that the Russians must work the guns.”

The orders for the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war were so ruthless that Admiral Canaris, pointing out that they would “result in arbitrary mistreatments and killing”, protested to the OKW against them as breaches of International Law. The reply of Keitel was unambiguous. He said:

“The objections arise from the military conception of chivalrous warfare! This is the destruction of an ideology! Therefore I approve and back the measures”.

The Geneva Convention would have been thrown overboard openly, except that Jodl objected because he wanted the benefits of Allied observance of it while it was not being allowed to hamper the Germans in any way.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel

Other crimes in the conduct of warfare were planned with equal thoroughness as a means of ensuring victory of German arms: In October, 1938, almost a year before the start of the war, the large-scale violation of the established rules of warfare was contemplated as a policy, and the Supreme Command circulated a most secret list of devious explanations to be given by the Propaganda Minister in such cases. Even before this time commanders of the armed forces were instructed to employ any methods of warfare so long as they facilitated victory. During the progress of the war the orders increased in savagery. A typical Keitel order, demanding the use of the “most brutal means”, provided that .

“… It is the duty of the troops to use all means without restriction, even against women and children, so long as they ensure success.”

Hitler with Grand Admiral Erich Raeder 1939


The German naval forces were no more immune from the infection than the land forces. Raeder ordered violations of the accepted rules of warfare wherever necessary to gain strategic successes. Donitz urged his submarine crews not to rescue survivors of torpedoed enemy ships, in order to cripple merchant shipping of the Allied Nations by decimating their crews.

Thus, the WAR CRIMES against Allied forces and the CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY committed in occupied territories are incontestably part of the programme for making the war because, in the German calculations, they were indispensable to its hope of success.

Similarly, the whole group of pre-war crimes, including the persecutions within Germany, fall into place around the plan for aggressive war like stones in a finely wrought mosaic. Nowhere is the whole catalogue of crimes of Nazi oppression and terrorism within Germany so well integrated with the crime of war as in that strange mixture of wind and wisdom which makes up the testimony of Hermann Goering. In describing the aims of the Nazi programme before the seizure of power, Goering stated that the first question was to achieve and establish a different political structure for Germany, which would enable Germany to object against the Dictate (of Versailles), and to make not only a protest, but an objection of such a nature that it would actually be considered.

Hermann Goering

With these purposes, Goering, admitted that the plan was made to overthrow the Weimar Republic, to seize power, and to carry out the Nazi programme by whatever means were necessary, whether legal or illegal.

From Goering’s cross-examination we learn how necessarily the whole programme of crime followed. Because they considered a strong State necessary to get rid of the Versailles Treaty, they adopted the Fuehrerprinzip. Having seized power, the Nazis thought it necessary to protect it by abolishing parliamentary government, and suppressing all organized opposition from political parties. This was reflected in the philosophy of Goering that the opera was more important than the Reichstag. Even the “opposition of each individual was not tolerated unless it was a matter of unimportance”. To insure the suppression of opposition a secret police force was necessary. In order to eliminate incorrigible opponents, it was necessary to establish concentration camps and to resort to the device of protective custody. Protective custody, Goering, testified, meant that:

“People were arrested arid taken into protective custody who had not yet committed any crime but who could be expected to do so if they remained free.”

The same war purpose was dominant in the persecution of the Jews. In the beginning, fanaticism and political opportunism played a principal part, for anti-Semitism and its allied scapegoat, mythology, were the vehicle on which the Nazis rode to power. It was for this reason that the filthy Streicher and the blasphemous Rosenberg were welcomed at Party rallies and made leaders and officials of the State or Party. But the Nazis soon regarded the Jews as foremost amongst the opposition to the police State with which they schemed to put forward their plans of military aggression. Fear of their pacifism and their opposition to strident nationalism was given as the reason that the Jews had to be driven from the political and economic life of Germany. Accordingly, they were transported like cattle to the concentration camps, where they were utilised as a source of forced labour for war purposes.

At a meeting held on 12th November, 1938, two days after the violent anti-Jewish pogroms instigated by Goebbels and carried out by the Party Leadership Corps and the SA, the programme for the elimination of Jews from the German economy was mapped out by Goering, Funk, Heydrich, Goebbels, and the other top Nazis. The measures adopted included confinement of the Jews in ghettoes, cutting off their food supply, “aryanizing” their shops, and restricting their freedom of movement. Here another purpose behind the Jewish persecutions crept in, for it was the wholesale confiscation of their property which helped to finance German rearmament. Although Schacht’s plan to use foreign money to ransom the entire race within Germany was not adopted, the Jews were stripped to the point where Goering was able to advise the Reich Defence Council that the critical situation of the Reich exchequer, due to rearmament, had been relieved “through the billion Reichsmark fine imposed on Jewry, and through profits accrued to the Reich in the aryanization of Jewish enterprises”.

A glance over the dock will show that, despite quarrels among themselves, each defendant played a part which fitted in with every other, and that all advanced the Common Plan. It contradicts experience that men of such diverse backgrounds and talents should so forward each other’s aims by coincidence. The large and varied role of Goering was half militarist and half gangster. He stuck his pudgy finger in every pie. He used his SA bullies to help bring the gang into power. In order to entrench that power he contrived to have the Reichstag burned, established the Gestapo, and created the concentration camps. He was equally adept at massacring opponents and at framing scandals to get rid of stubborn generals. He built up the Luftwaffe and hurled it at his defenceless neighbours. He was among the foremost in harrying Jews out of the land. By mobilising the total economic resources of Germany he made possible the waging of the war which he had taken a large part in planning. He was, next to Hitler, the man who tied the activities of all the defendants together in a common effort.

Einsatzgruppen Trial, SS General Otto Oldendorf 


The parts played by the other, defendants, although less comprehensive and less spectacular than that of the Reichsmarschall, were nevertheless integral and necessary contributions to the joint undertaking, without any one of which the success of the common enterprise would have been in jeopardy. There are many specific deeds of which these men have been proven guilty. No purpose would be served -nor indeed is time available -to review all the crimes which the evidence has charged against their names. Nevertheless, in viewing the conspiracy as a whole and as an operating mechanism, it may be well to recall briefly the outstanding services which each of the men in the dock rendered to the common cause.

To be continued…

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“Each Assumed the Right to Decide the Fate of Men, and Death was the Intended Result of his Power and Contempt” : The Einsatzgruppen Trial Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nazi crimes against humanity in Poland and the Soviet Union I want to spend just a bit of time discussing the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen who were tried at Nuremberg beginning on September 29th 1947.  It was nearly a miracle that these men would face justice, for the evidence that condemned them had not been found until most of the war crimes trials were over, resources And personnel for the American War Crimes Tribunals drying up, and with the Cold War looming a growing impatience of Americans and Germans alike to end the trials due to the growing Soviet threat.

But in the charred ruins of Berlin, American investigations discovered a treasure trove of documents about crimes that had not been brought to justice. A young Jewish-American lawyer named Benjamin Ferencz volunteered to take on the prosecution of these masters of mass murder. Ferencz, a distinguished graduate of Harvard Law School, and veteran of the Second World War, was the youngest man on the prosecution team, and though a brilliant researcher, and investigator, he  had never served as a prosecutor for any trial. But no other prosecutors were available as the Americans attempted to wrap up the remaining trials.

Ferencz reviewed the evidence recovered from the ruins of the Reichs Security Main Office, and realized that the crimes committed had to be prosecuted. He brought the evidence to Brigadier General Telford Taylor admitted his office’s lack of resources but told Ferencz that if he took the case he would add it.

The evidence was some of the most damning of all the War Crimes trials because it came from the unedited reports submitted by the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and their subordinate units. Eventually, twenty-three of these men were selected for trial, unfortunately some of the most guilty were either dead, or missing, including the man these men reported to and who relentlessly drove them to kill more Jews faster, even if it harmed the German war effort; SD Standartenführer Adolf Eichmann who seemed to have to disappeared off the face of the earth, but with the help of the Vatican was beginning a new life under a false name in Argentina.

On July 29th the following Einsatzgruppe leaders filed into the dock In Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice.

SS-Major General Otto Ohlendorf, Chief of Einsatzgruppe D. Graduated in law and political science from the Universities of Leipzig and Goettingen. A one-time practicing barrister in the courts of Alfeld-Leine and Hildesheim.

SS-Brigadier General Heinz Jost, Chief of Einsatzgruppe A. Specialized in law and economics when he studied at the Universities of Giessen and Munich.

SS-Brigadier General Erich Naumann, Chief of Einsatzgruppe B. Left school at age of 16 and entered commercial firm. Later became officer of police.

SS-Brigadier General Otto Rasch. Doctor of Law and Economics, former mayor of Wittenberg.

SS-Brigadier General Erwin Schulz. Studied law at University of Berlin and later became staff member of Dresden Bank.

SS-Brigadier General Franz Six. Full time university professor.

SS-Colonel Paul Blobel. Former architect.

SS-Colonel Walter Blume. Graduated in law at University of Erlangen.

SS-Colonel Martin Sandberger. Studied jurisprudence at Universities of Munich, Freiburg, Cologne and Tuebinger. Assistant judge in Inner Administration of Wuerttemberg.

SS-Colonel Willy Seibert. Graduated from University of Goettingen in 1932 in economics.

SS-Colonel Eugen Steimle. Studied history, Germanic languages and French at the Universities of Tuebingen and Berlin.

SS-Colonel Ernst Biberstein. Former clergyman.

SS-Colonel Werner Braune. Graduated in law from University of Jena and obtained degree of Doctor of Juridical Science.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Walter Haensch. Studied law at Leipzig University and trained as “Referendar.”

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Nosske. Studied banking, economics and law. Became assessor and “entered Administration of Justice” at Halle.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Ott. Began career in administrative office of German Workers’ front in Lindau.

SS-Lieutenant Colonel Eduard Strauch. Graduate Erlangen University. Member Intelligence service, press officer, disciplinary officer general SS.

SS-Major Woldemar Klingelhoefer. Voice teacher and opera singer.

SS-Major Lothar Fendler. Doctor in dentistry.

SS-Major Waldemar Von Radetzky. Linguist. Worked with import firm.

SS-Captain Felix Ruehl. Commercial Clerk. Lived in England for one year.

SS-First Lieutenant Heinz Hermann Schubert. High School education; apprentice to lawyer and “registrator.” In civil administrative service.

SS-Master Sergeant Mathias Graf. Independent business man and civil servant.

Telford Taylor spoke at the beginning of the trial:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.”

Well educated, cultured for the most part, schooled in the law and justice, cultured and articulate. It seemed that men who were being charged with killing between a million and a million and a half people would look and act  like barbarians, but these men didn’t look anything like murderers, yet all of these men in the dock shared one expression, the firm resolution that drove them across the steppes and swamps of Russia to fulfill Hitler’s diabolical mission of exterminating the Jewish-Bolshevik menace and conquer the Lebensraum that would secure the Thousand Year Reich. 

But all were committed to the cause, and to it they gave what should have been the best years of their lives. But working under the direction of Eichmann they compiled statistics like like the sports reporters of the 1990s reporting the exploits of baseball home run hitters on steroids, each report exacting in detail, and numbing to read.  Einsatzgruppe B sent a report to the RHSA on October 15th 1941 cited the following:

After announcing that 71,105 Jews had been executed in Lithuania, the Einsatz commander, Walter Stahlecker appended an inventory of all persons killed by his organization, just as a regional office of a national or transnational corporation might cite its monthly or quarterly profits:

“Total: Jews | Communists | Total

Lithuania           80,311 | 860 | 81,171
Latvia                 30,025 | 1,845 | 31,868
Estonia.              474 |     684    |1,158
White Ruthenia 7,620 |            |7,620
Total:               118,430 | 3,387 | 121,817

to be added to these figures: In Lithuania and Latvia Jews annihilated by pogroms: 5,500 Jews, Communists and partisans executed in old-Russian area: 2,000 Lunatics executed: 748 (correct total 130,065): 122,455 Communists and Jews liquidated by State Pol. and Security Service Tilsit during search actions: 5,502 Total: 135,567”

Justice Michael Musmanno who tried the case wrote:

“Like election returns, the figures on executions came pouring into Eichmann’s office in Berlin, and with the characteristic Teutonic precision and passion for orderliness the reports were duly mimeographed and tabulated, copies were distributed and originals filed.”

But why? The report filed by the Commander of Einsatzgruppe C wrote after reporting some 51,000 executions in the Ukraine, announced the reason why: 

 “These were the motives for the executions carried out by the Kommandos: Political officials, looters and saboteurs, active Communists and political representatives, Jews who gained their release from prison camps by false statements, agents and  informers of the NKWD, persons who, by false depositions and influencing witnesses, were instrumental in the deportation of ethnic Germans, Jewish sadism and revengefulness, undesirable elements, partisans, politrucks, dangers of plague and epidemics, members of Russian bands, armed insurgents… provisioning of Russian bands, rebels and agitators, drifting juveniles …” and then came the all inclusive phrase: “Jews in general.”

In his opening Ferencz said:

“May it please your Honors. Vengeance is not our goal, nor do we seek merely a just retribution. We ask this Court to affirm by international penal action man’s right to live in peace and dignity regardless of his race or creed. The case we present is a plea of humanity to law… 

“Each of the defendants in the dock held a position of responsibility or command in an extermination unit. Each assumed the right to decide the fate of men, and death was the intended result of his power and contempt. Their own reports will show that the slaughter committed by these defendants was dictated, not by military necessity, but by that supreme perversion of thought, the Nazi theory of the master race. We shall show that these deeds of men in uniform were the methodical execution of long-range plans to destroy ethnic, national, political, and religious groups which stood condemned in the Nazi mind.”

Where Ferencz ended his associate, Peter Walton, from Georgia took up the opening statement:

“These small forces totaling not more than three thousand men killed at least one million human beings in approximately two years’ time. These figures enable us to make estimates which help considerably in understanding this case. They show that the four Einsatzgruppen averaged some 1,350 murders per day during a two-year period; 1,350 human beings slaughtered on the average day, seven days a week for more than one hundred weeks … All these thousands of men, women, and children killed had first to be selected, brought together, held in restraint, and transported to a place of death. They had to be counted, stripped of possessions, shot, and buried. And burial did not end the job, for all of the pitiful possessions taken from the dead had to be salvaged, crated, and shipped to the Reich. Finally, books were kept to cover these transactions. Details of all these things had to be recorded and reported.”

I will leave it at that for tonight.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Bearing Witness and Resisting Genocide in Real Time Hermann Graebe and Axel von Dem Bussche at Dubno 1942

Hermann Graebe after the War 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have been writing about the Nazi campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union. These posts have included the actions of  Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann’s Einsatzgruppen, Nazi Plans and policies, the military and legal precedents to genocide, the complicity of the German Army and many of their senior leaders  in the genocide conducted against the Jews.

The things I have written about are not pleasant, but in a sense, despite the words of the Generals who issued criminal orders, The vast numbers killed by the Einsatzgruppen and a few incidents of individual actions against the Jews. All that being said it is really hard to grasp the killings of millions. Most of us can grasp the death of one or maybe two human beings, but to try to conceptualize the deaths of hundreds of thousands or millions is far above what we can imagine. Mass numbers of dead human beings become statistics, they certainly were to Adolf Eichmann who took in the daily numbers killed by the Einsatzgruppen and recorded them like sports reporters reporting statistics.

But when reads the detailed account of a family of eight representing four generations going to their deaths it hits home more. The following is the testimony of  Hermann Friedrich Graebe, a civilian German engineer and project manager for the Josef Jung Construction Company  in the Ukraine. While working on a project at Dubno where among his laborers were Jews. He testified at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and as a result had so many threats on his life that he emigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco until his death in 1986.

Before this he worked to save as many Jewish workers as possible when alerted to an Einsatzgruppen killing operation in Rovno. Although he was promised that his workers would be spared, he found that seven had being seized and were going to be killed. Hi account of that experience follows:

Hermann Friedrich Graebe, was a manager and supervisor engineer in charge of a German building firm in Sdolbunow, Ukraine, assigned to rebuilding aircraft hangers at the former Soviet airfield. Graebe narrated in graphic language how many Einsatzgruppen mass murder operations were conducted.

When he heard that one of these horrifying performances was being rehearsed in his town he called on the commanding officer of the area, SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Puetz, to make inquiries, since he, Graebe, employed a few Jewish workers he wished to protect. Sturmbannfuehrer Puetz denied the rumors. Later, however, Graebe ascertained from the Area Commissioner’s deputy, Stabsleiter Beck, that what he heard was true, but Beck exacted from Graebe the promise not to disclose the secret. In exchange for this promise, he supplied Graebe with a certificate which was to protect his workers when the storm of blood should burst. This amazing document reads:

“Messrs. JUNG ROVNO:

The Jewish workers employed by your firm are not affected by the pogrom (Aktion). You must transfer them to their new place of work by Wednesday, 15 July 1942, at the latest. From the Area Commissioner Beck”

That evening the Einsatzgruppen killers lashed through the streets of Rovno like a hurricane. Graebe described it:

“The people living there were driven on to the street just as they were, regardless of whether they were dressed or in bed. Since the Jews in most cases refused to leave their houses and resisted, the SS and militia applied force. They finally succeeded, with strokes of the whip, kicks and blows, with rifle butts in clearing the houses. The people were driven out of their houses in such haste that small children in bed had been left behind in several instances. In the street women cried out for their children and children for their parents. That did not prevent the SS from driving the people along the road, at running pace, and hitting them, until they reached a waiting freight train. Car after car was filled, and the screaming of women and children, and the cracking of whips and rifle shots resounded unceasingly. Since several families or groups had barricaded themselves in especially strong buildings, and the doors could not be forced with crowbars or beams, these houses were now blown open with hand grenades. Since the Ghetto was near the railroad tracks in Rovno, the younger people tried to get across the tracks and over a small river to get away from the Ghetto area. As this stretch of country was beyond the range of the electric lights, it was illuminated by signal rockets.

All through the night these beaten, hounded and wounded people moved along the lighted streets. Women carried their dead children in their arms, children pulled and dragged their dead parents by their arms and legs down the road toward the train. Again and again the cries “Open the door! Open the door!” echoed through the Ghetto.” 

Despite the immunity guaranteed Graebe’s Jewish workers by Stabsleiter Beck, seven of his employees were seized and taken to the collecting point. Graebe’s narrative continued:

“I went to the collecting point to save these seven men. I saw dozens of corpses of all ages and both sexes in the streets I had to walk along. The doors of the houses stood open, windows were smashed. Pieces of clothing, shoes, stockings, jackets, caps, hats, coats, etc. were lying in the street. At the comer of the house lay a baby, less than a year old with his skull crushed. Blood and brains were spattered over the house wall and covered the area immediately around the child. The child was dressed only in a little shirt.

The commander, SS Major Puetz, was walking up and down a row of about 80-100 male Jews who were crouching on the ground. He had a heavy dog whip in his hand. I walked up to him, showed him the written permit of Stabsleiter Beck and demanded the seven men whom I recognized among those who were crouching on the ground. Dr. Puetz was very furious about Beck’s concession and nothing could persuade him to release the seven men. He made a motion with his hand encircling the square and said that anyone who was once here would not get away. Although he was very angry with Beck, he ordered me to take the people from 5 Bahnhofstrasse out of Rovno by 8 o’clock at the latest.

When I left Dr. Puetz, I noticed a Ukrainian farm cart, with two horses. Dead people with stiff limbs were lying on the cart, legs and arms projected over the side boards. The cart was making for the freight train. I took the remaining 74 Jews who had been locked in the house to Sdolbunow.

Five thousand Jews were killed in this pogrom.” 

Hermann Graebe Receiving his Honors from Yad Vashem 

For his actions to save these Jews, Graebe was recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. As powerful as his actions were in this incident it was his testimony at the Einsatzgruppen Trial which are even more chilling.

“I, the undersigned, Hermann Friedrich Graebe, make the following declaration under oath:

From September 1941 to January 1944 I was director and chief engineer of the Sdolbunow branch of the Josef Jung Construction Company of Solingen. In this capacity one of my duties was to visit the firm’s projects. Under the terms of a contract with the army construction services, the company was building grain warehouses on the old Dubno airfield in the Ukraine.

On October 5th 1942, at the time of my visit to the construction offices in Dubno, my foreman, Hubert Moennikes told me that some Dubno Jews had been shot near the building, in three huge ditches about 30 metres long and three metres deep. The number of people killed daily was estimated at around 1,500. The 5,000 Jews who lived in Dubno before the Pogrom were all marked for liquidation. Since the executions took place in the presence of my employee, he was painfully aware of and affected by them.

Accompanied by Moennikes, I went to the work area. I saw great mounds of earth about 30 metres long and two metres high. Several trucks were parked nearby. Armed Ukrainian militia were forcing people out, under the surveillance of SS soldiers. The same militia men were responsible for guard duty and driving the trucks. The people in the trucks wore the regulation yellow pieces of cloth that identified them as Jews on the front and back of their clothing.

Moennikes and I went straight toward the ditches without being stopped. When we neared the mound, I heard a series of rifle shots close by. The people from the trucks – men, women and children – were forced to undress under the supervision of an SS soldier with a whip in his hand. They were obliged to put their effects in certain areas: shoes, clothing, and underwear separately. I saw a pile of shoes, thousands of pairs, great heaps of underwear and clothing. Without weeping or crying out, these people undressed and stood together in family groups, embracing each other and saying goodbye while waiting for a sign from the SS soldier, who stood on the edge of the ditch.

During the fifteen minutes I stayed there, I did not hear a single complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about eight: a man and woman about fifty years old, surrounded by their children aged about one, eight, and ten, and two older girls about 20 and 24. An old lady, her hair completely white, held the baby in her arms, rocking it and singing it a song. The infant was crying aloud with delight. The parents watched the groups with tears in their eyes. The father held the ten-­year-­old boy by the hand, speaking softly to him; the child struggled to hold back his tears. Then the father pointed a finger to the sky and, stroking the child’s head, seemed to be explaining something.

At this moment, the SS man near the ditch called something to his comrade. The latter counted off some twenty people and ordered them behind the mound. The family of which I have just spoken was in the group. I still remember the young girl, slender and dark, who, passing near me, pointed at herself, saying, “23.” I walked around the mound and faced a frightful common grave. Tightly packed corpses were heaped so close together that only the heads showed. Most were wounded in the head and the blood flowed over their shoulders. Some still moved. Others raised their hands and turned their heads to show that they were still alive. The ditch was two­-thirds full. I estimate that it held a thousand bodies.

I turned my eyes toward the man who had carried out the execution. He was an SS man; he was seated, legs swinging, on the narrow edge of the ditch; an automatic rifle rested on his knees and he was smoking a cigarette. The people, completely naked, climbed down a few steps cut in the clay wall and stopped at the place indicated by the SS man. Facing the dead and wounded, they spoke softly to them. Then I heard a series of rifle shots. I looked in the ditch and saw their bodies contorting, their heads, already inert, sinking on the corpses beneath. The blood flowed from the nape of their necks. I was astonished not to be ordered away, but then I noticed two or three uniformed postmen nearby. A new batch of victims approached the place. They climbed down into the ditch, lined up in front of the previous victims and were shot.

On the way back, while rounding the mound, I saw another full truck which had just arrived. This truck contained only the sick and crippled. Women, already naked, were undressing an old woman with an emaciated body, her legs frightfully thin. She was held up by two people and seemed paralyzed. The naked people led her behind the mound. I left the place with Moennikes and went back to Dubno in a car.

The next morning, returning to the construction, I saw some thirty naked bodies lying thirty to fifty yards from the ditch. Some were still alive; they stared into space with a set look, seeming not to feel the coolness of the morning air. A young girl of about twenty spoke to me, asking me to bring her clothes and to help her escape. At that moment we heard the sound of a car approaching at top speed; I saw that it was an SS detachment. I went back to my work. Ten minutes later rifle shots sounded from the ditch The Jews who were still alive had been ordered to throw the bodies in the ditch. They then had to lie down themselves to receive a bullet in the back of the neck.”

Hermann Graebe, a civilian, chose to risk his life to save people who were doomed to death. Survivors of the massacre remembered his efforts.

Survivors of Dubno Massacre honoring the dead in 1945 

Another accidental witness was a German Army Lieutenant, Axel von dem Bussche, whose regiment was in the area but refused to participate in the action, but Bussche decided to witness what was really happening. He was so traumatized by what he saw that he joined the resistance cell in Army Group Center. After this experience he declared that there were only three ways left to preserve his honor as an officer: to die in battle, to desert, or to rebel against the government that had ordered this and all other massacres. He chose the last option, justifying his intention to kill Hitler by his legal right to defend others against unlawful, ongoing, criminal attacks. I wonder if any American Officers would choose the same course today if President Trump continues down the road to authoritarian dictatorship and attacking, jailing, or killing those that oppose him.

Von dem Bussche volunteered for two of the early operations to kill Hitler which each failed because Hitler changed his plans at the last moment. In January 1944 he was severely wounded in action and spent months in an SS Hospital recovering from the loss of his leg. Because of his wounds, and long absence from the conspiracy no conspirators arrested after the failed the July 20th plot exposed his involvement in previous attempts on Hitler’s life.


Axel von dem Bussche 

He survived the war and became a diplomat for the new West German Republic. He died in 1993, the last of the anti-Hitler conspirators to die.

Both Hermann Graebe and Axel von dem Bussche saw evil, and each in their own way decided to do what they could to stop it. Graebe, took action in the moment, Von dem Bussche, made the conscious decision to break his personal oath to Hitler and was involved in two assassination attempts.

The actions of both of these men who risked their lives to either save lives directly or to kill and overthrow the leader who had ordered genocide and war crimes. I wonder how many Americans would do either if they had to make such a choice. I know what I would do. I would  do whatever necessary to save a vengeful racist dictator’s intended victims, or whatever I could do to put an end to such a man’s rule. As another of Hitler’s Victims said in 1933:

In April 1933 while speaking of the responsibility of Christians and the church to stand against injustice he wrote in his essay The Church and the Jewish Question: 

“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

If a Christian makes the decision to draw a line around the Church and not to act to protect the people created by God outside of it in order to buttress their political and social power he or she does not know Jesus the Christ. If in the coming months or years I am put in the place to make such a choice, I will not hesitate to stake my life on my actions to both rescue the victims and to put a spike into the wheel, and the heart of injustice.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“These men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.” The Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union 1941-44


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another part of  series of articles on the actions of Hitler’s SS and their Einsatzgruppen during their campaign of mass murder in Eastern Europe. This section is about the campaign in Russia. It is even more troubling than the previous sections, because in Russia, all pretense of civilization was dropped and even the German Army was heavily engaged in committing some of the most heinous and evil atrocities ever committed by a supposedly civilized and allegedly Christian people.

Likewise, it is important to remember that much of what happened before February 1942 occurred before the decision to implement the Final Solution and the beginning operations of the massive extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka in Poland. The latter three were simply extermination centers, while Auschwitz-Birkenau served a multiplicity of roles: death camp, medical experimentation center, work camp which provided laborers for German industry, and camp for Polish political dissidents. I will deal with these camps in future articles. 

The tragedy is that other nations and people’s including Americans, British, French and the Belgians, as well as the Spanish, not to mention the Russians, Chinese, Turks, Japanese, Rwandans, and so many other have committed genocide, but nothing in their litany of genocide can compare with the Nazi Holocaust, even when the numbers added up to more. This is because nearly every ministry of the German Government was involved in them, and the Nazi Party, its officials, German Government ministries, the military and police, and German industry were involved to an extent not seen before or since.

The leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were according to General Telford Taylor:

“These defendants are not German peasants or artisans drafted into the Wehrmacht. They are not uneducated juveniles. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, and a former clergyman. They are, in short, men of education, who were in full possession of their faculties and who fully understood the grave and sinister significance of the program they embarked upon. They were part of the hard core of the SS. They did not give mere lip service to Himmler’s atrocious racial doctrines; they were chosen for this terrible assignment because they were thought to be men of sufficient ruthlessness to carry them out. They are hand-picked fanatics; every one of them was an officer of the SS … They are not unhappy victims, unwillingly pushed into crime by the tyranny of the Third Reich; these men, above all others, themselves, spread the Nazi doctrine with fire and sword.” (From “The Eichmann Kommandos: Hitler’s Executioners and the Einsatzgruppen Trial” by Justice Michael Musmanno, 1964)

Had not files been unearthed in the ruins of Berlin by a young Jewish American investigator, Benjamin Ferencz, the crimes of the Einsatzgruppen might never had been uncovered, or their leaders tried. Ferencz reported back to his superior Brigadier General Telford Taylor that he had evidence that another trial had to be added to the Nuremberg trials. Taylor agreed, and Ferencz, the youngest member of the prosecution team was appointed to prosecute these men, although he had never tried a case in his life.  


Benjamin Ferencz Prosecuting the Accused during the Einsatzgruppen Trial, Ferencz is the last surviving prosecutor or defense attorney from the Nuremberg Trials still living, he was a driving force in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which the United States has yet to Join. 


The actions of the Nazis, if they were simply limited to just the Germans of that period could be explained away as a exception, but it is not. That is what makes these heinous crimes so troubling, as the people who committed them were not that different than us, or our own ancestors. Despite those the genocides perpetrated by others, those of the Nazis against the Jews are unique in their execution and evil. The entire police and military power of a nation were used first against their fellow citizens, and then against the Jews of every country they conquered or occupied in Europe. It was unique and thus the evil perpetrated by them was in a league of its own.

Eventually I will be revising these articles significantly and use them in a book that I have already begun to write “Walk, Remember, Bear Witness: Ensuring the Holocaust is not Forgotten after the Last Survivors and Witnesses Have Passed Away” This revision includes minor updates to grammar as well as to clarifying what was written in earlier editions which can be found on this site. All of these revised articles will need to be converted into a word document that I can edit and add new material and update footnotes and references. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

einsattzgruppen map

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological race war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the fall of France and during the opening stages of the Battle of Britain, when German and the Soviet Union were supposedly committed to their non-Aggression Pact, signed just before the invasion of Poland. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made“his intentions plain” to the Army leadership of his desire to invade and destroy the Soviet Union, and the head of the OKH, Field Marshal  “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” 119 Accordingly his staff at OKH began preparations for the offensive in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion, the proposed invasion of Great Britain.

A war on multiple fronts was what all senior German officers feared, and the fact that Britain was still in the war and had opened yet another front in the Middle East against Italy which required German troops to keep the Italians from collapsing, Hitler decided to open another front.  He announced his intention to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.” 120 Field Marshal Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.” 121

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” 122although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and during the campaign, the goal of destroying the Red Army was of paramount importance to the destruction of the Soviet Union. Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….” 123

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, versus territorial gain, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” 124 The ideological prominence set the stage for the invasion and on March 3rd 1941 Hitler announced this to his assembled Generals by announcing:

“the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….” 125

                                 Ordungspolizei  Officers in Russia 

The Jews remained the primary target of Hitler since he saw Jews and Bolsheviks as one. Because that was so important to him personally he realized that the task of eliminating the Jews was one that had to be conducted by Heinrich Himmler’s SS. He noted, that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” 126

Reichskommissarscivilian overlords from the Nazi Party political leadership, mostly those with experience as Gauleiters would be appointed to administer conquered areas.  However, since  normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolsheviks Hitler noted that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsfuhrer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” 127 The “primary task” of the SS Einsatzgruppen and Police battalions was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” 128 yet the orders were vague enough not to offend the sensibilities of Army leaders and did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” 129


Wehrmacht Soldiers (not SS or Police) hanging civilians in Russia 

As with almost all German operations which involved cooperation between the Army and the SS, the parties ensured very precise legal definitions and that existing agreements between the agencies, German laws, and army doctrine were followed. On 13 March an agreement was reached between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS represented by SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg  which stated in part, that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.” 130Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler’s SS units would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” 131

einsatzgruppe troops and victims

                                         Rounding up Jews in Russia

A further instruction was issued by Wagner on 26 March which gave the Army’s agreement for the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone. The agreement spelled out the coordinating instructions between the Einsatzgruppen and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear. Cooperation between the Army and the SS was based on already existing agreements between the SS and the Army, notably the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.” 132

Zentralbild – IML / 1.8.1962 II.Weltkrieg 1939-45 Der überlebende halbwüchsige Sohn dieser ermordeten Familie wird an die Mordstelle herangeführt. Von dem hinter ihm stehenden faschistischen deutschen Offizier wurde er durch Genickschuss ermordet. (The surviving teenage son of this murdered family is brought to the scene of the murder. He was murdered by a shot in the neck by the fascist German officer standing behind him.) 5.7.1941 in Slorow, Ukraine A 0706/18/30 

The most significant agreement that the Army reached with the SS was the Commissar Order. This order, sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” was used war as evidence at Nuremberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial. The order specified that the Army would cooperate with the SS and kill Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army who were taken prisoner, as “they were not prisoners of war.” Another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” 133

This was a major break that the Wehrmacht made with its previous commitment to abide by the provisions of the Geneva and Hague Conventions. The new order noted a new attitude regarding political commissars and their protections under international law:  “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” 134 Yet another new order released by Keitel’s OKW, the Army’s “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.” 135 The inclusion of the Jews made the Wehrmacht a willing accomplice to every charge leveled against German political and government organizations at Nuremberg.

einsatzgruppen executions
Jewish Women Being Finished off In Russia

Shortly before the Commissar Order was issued Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that the war against the Soviet Union would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” 136

Hitler told the generals that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” 137 He explained that he understood that his orders were beyond their comprehension but insisted, “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” 138

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. The notes are chilling to read as none of the Generals present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant them:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”139

220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1970-052-08,_Franz_Halder

                        Colonel General Franz Halder, Chief Of OKH

According to Von Brauchitsch a number of Generals protested the orders that Hitler was previewing in the briefing, and demanded that he take their protest to Hitler. 140 Von Brauchitsch refused to protest the order directly or otherwise bring it up to Hitler, but issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nuremberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” 141

But that was a lie, as during the campaign against the Soviet Union, von Brauchitsch told his commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” 142 General Walter Warlimont noted that Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.”143

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” 144

At Nuremberg Keitel attempted to shift blame for order the to the Army High Command OKH under Halder. But his argument was easy to disprove because the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nuremberg. Keitel stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” 145

Some Wehrmacht commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS, but in the campaign such refusals to publish the orders made little difference. One writer stated that “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.” 146

 


Einsatzgruppe Mass Killing and Grave 

The orders coming from Hitler, and signed by Keitel were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” 147 as I noted in my article about the Legal and Military Foundations of Genocide. The effect of these orders was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, even when operating with or near the Army “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” 148 Additionally the Security Divisions of the Army, which were in charge of rear area security, were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” 149 Even worse, other army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders” as the situation dictated, and few commanders refused to honor such requests. 150

Jews Digging their graves. 

Adolf Eichmann 

For the campaign against the Soviet Union, Himmler had his deputy, SS Obergrüppenfuhrer Reynard Heydrich, the Head of the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, assisted by Heydrich’s SD Deputy, SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Adolf Eichmann, the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated Einsatzgruppen A-D.

SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker, Einsatzgruppen A 


Einsatzgruppe A
 was assigned to Army Group North; it was commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker. Stahlecker was killed in action against partisans in early 1942 and was replaced by SS Brigadeführer Heinz Jost.

Einsatzgruppe B was assigned to Army Group Center, and it was commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Arthur Nebe. Nebe returned to his job as Chief of the Kriminal Polizei at the Reichs Security Main Office in October 1941. He was ordered by the head of the Gestapo, SS General Heinrich Müller in the 50 British Officer escapees of Stalag Luft III, the Great Escape for execution in March 1944, and would be involved in the plot to kill Hitler. He went into hiding but was betrayed by a former mistress was arrested and executed at the personal order of Hitler. He was succeeded by SS Brigadeführer Erich Naumann. 

Einsatzgruppe C was assigned to Army Group South and was commanded by SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch. Rasch who had been careful to ensure that every officer under his command personally murdered Jews was removed from his position in October 1941 and not returned to service in the SS. Units under his command conducted the Babi Yar Massacre, at Kiev in September 1941. He was employed by a German Oil company until the end of the war. He was a defendant at the Einsatzgruppen Trials but charges were dismissed due to his declining health and inability to take part in his defense. He died in 1948 while in custody. He was followed as commander of Einsatzgruppen C by SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Max Thomas. 

Otto Ohlendorf (standing) at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and in Uniform (below)

Lastly, Einsatzgruppe D was assigned to General Erich von Manstein’s 11th Army, which had the responsibility for operations along the Black Sea coast and the conquest of Crimea. It was commander by SS-Gruppenführer Prof. Otto Ohlendorf. During his command his units executed over 90,000 Jews, and at trial he offered no excuses but was brutally honest and unrepentant in what he had done.

The Einsatzgruppen were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were The equivalent of battalions. The largest Einsatzgruppe was Einsatzgruppe A in the North with 990 assigned personnel 151while Einsatzgruppe D was the smallest and had only 550 troops assigned. 152 These units all had SS, SD or Police commanders. Though these units were not large, they also had the support of nine Ordungspolizei battalions, which were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the operations of the Einsatzgruppen153

The Importance of the Ordnungspolizei Battalions

The police contingent would grow to be a massive force. By 1943, these Ordnungspolizei battalions would be grouped into regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 local non-German auxiliaries. 154 These units acted in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. 155

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Himmler was so secretive that he initially did not reveal the intent and planned use of the Ordnungspolizei units to the Einsatzgruppen commanders. Instead he told them that they had a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” 156 Understanding the effect of these operations on the Ordungspolizei commanders and their personnel,  Himmler told them that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.” 157

Russian Jew about to be executed in 1941 by Einsatzgruppe NCO, note the witnesses that include regular Army Personnel 

The actions of all of the units are well documented; those of the most notorious, the Einsatzgruppen, but also the active and reserve Ordnungspolizei Battalions, the Army Security Divisions, and other Army or Luftwaffe units that directly aided or supported the killing of the Jews, and the locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions 158  which ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.” 159

Babi Yar 

Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” 160 An Einsatzgruppen D report numbered 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” 161   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” 162 The total killed for all groups by early 1942 was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. 163 Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in their operational areas as well. In Odessa, “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.” 164

To further cloud the ethics and morality, the operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations. Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations” 165 while Wehrmacht Security divisions cooperating with the SS “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” 166 The German attitude in Russia by 1941-1942 was that “all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.”” 167

Walter_von_Reichenau

                               Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau

Field Marshal Von Reichenau, commander of the German 6th Army issued an order in which he stated:

“The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the art of war but also a bearer of a ruthless national ideology and the avenger of the bestialities which had been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” 168

Likewise the distinguished Panzer commander, General Herman Hoth issued his own order of 17 November 1941 urging his troops to exact revenge on the Jews and Communists:

“Every trace of active or passive resistance or of any kind of machinations by the Bolshevik – Jewish agitators are [sic] to be immediately and pitilessly rooted out. The necessity of severe measures against elements foreign to people and kind must be understood precisely by the soldiers. These circles are the spiritual pillars of Bolshevism, the tablebearers [priests] of its murder organization, the helpers of the partisans. It consists of the same Jewish class of people which have done so much to harm our Fatherland and by its hostile activity…and anti-culture, which promotes anti-German currents in the whole world and which wants to be the bearer of revenge. Their annihilation is a law of self-preservation. Any soldier criticizing these measures has no memory of the former traitorous activity lasting for years carried on among our own people by Jewish-Marxist elements.” 169

 Piaśnica_digging_of_the_graves

                                        Jews digging their own graves

The commander of the Wehrmacht’s 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.” 170 The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.” 171

einsatzgruppen-brutal-germans-nazi-death-squads1

Einsatzgruppe men and Ordungspolizei in action above and below: Yale Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book “On Tyranny” wrote: “The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Einsatzgruppe_A

The Wehrmacht’s complicity in these measures is demonstrated in the order drafted by Warlimont and signed by Keitel on 13 May 1941. That order, the “Decree on Exercising Military Jurisdiction in the Area of Barbarossa and Special Measures by the Troops” made it clear that international conventions regarding the treatment of civilians would not be observed in the Soviet Union. The order, relying on the historic precedent of German military law in regard to partisan activity stated:

I “Treatment of crimes committed by enemy civilians”

“1. Until further order the military courts and the courts martial will not be competent for crimes committed by enemy civilians.”

2. Francs-tireurs will be liquidated ruthlessly by the troops in combat or while fleeing. “

3. Also all other attacks by enemy civilians against the armed forces, its members, andauxiliaries will be suppressed on the spot by the troops with the most rigorous methods until the assailants are finished (niederkaempfen)”

4. Where such measures were not taken or at least were not possible, persons suspected of the act will be brought before an officer at once. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. Against localities from which troops have been attacked in or treacherous manner, collective coercive measures be applied immediately upon the order of an officer of the rank of at least battalion etc., commander, if the circumstances do not permit a quick identification of individual perpetrators.”

II. “Treatment of crimes committed against inhabitants by members of the Wehrmacht and its auxiliaries”

1. With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht or by its auxiliaries prosecution is not obligatory, even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or misdemeanor….” 172

Hitler was quite clear in his intent when he told General Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.” 173Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.””174

All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Einsatzgruppen, Ordnungspolizei, Army, and Local Security  killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. 175

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                                  Jewish Women Awaiting Execution 

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed. 600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. 176Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure. 177

Most are included included in the total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths, but those starved were killed as prisoners, and not in combat, attesting to the inhumanity of their German captors. 178

But still the Jews as an indistinguishable part of the Jewish-Bolshevik menace, were the number one target of the Nazis wherever they went, especially in the Soviet Union. The distinguished German historian Karl Dietrich Bracher wrote, “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” 179

arthur nebe

                   Arthur Nebe, from Jew killer to anti-Hitler plotter

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” 180 Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. 181At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.” 182

Even commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were affected. Arthur Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.” Nebe became an active participant in the July 20th plot against Hitler 183and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” 184 Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti- partisan operations, would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942. 185 Himmler would state in his Posen speech given in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.” 186

Proud and Unrepentant: Ohlendorf and Jost on Trial at Nuremberg 

While while the Einsatzgruppen, Ordungspolizei battalions, the Wehrmacht Security Divisions, and locally recruited forces continued their Jew Hunts, another even more ghastly plan was being launched against the Jews in Nazi occupied territory. The Endlösung of the Jewish Problem had been set in motion.

To be continued…

Notes

119 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

120 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

121 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

122 Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

123 Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg, Translated byNorman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

124 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openlyideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

125 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150 126 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

125 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150 126 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

127 Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

128 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

129 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354 Again another deception.

130 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

131 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

132 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

133 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

134 Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

135 Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

136 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

137 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.135

138 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

139 Hebert, Valerie Genevieve, Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg University of Kansas Press, Lawrence Kansas 2010 pp.77-78

140 Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what VonRundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

141 Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

142 Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

143 Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

144 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

145 Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

146 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

147 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

148 Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

149 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

150 Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

151 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

152 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167 153 Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164 154 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

155 Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated

156 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

157 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

158 Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

159 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360 160 Ibid. Friedlander TheYears of Extermination p.207 161 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360 162 Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

163 Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

164 Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas,Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews.

165 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

166 Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

167 Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

168 Ibid. Hebert p.94

169 Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

170 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

171 Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

172 Ibid, Hebert p.86

173 Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

174 Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

175 Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

176 Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

177 Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

178 Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

179 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

180 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

181 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

182 Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

183 Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

184 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363 185 Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363 186 Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

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War Crimes and War Criminals: Criminal Orders and Cooperation Equals Genocide


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about War crimes, war criminals, and bringing them to justice while pointing out that some commanders, even in criminal nations have opposed and disobeyed such orders.

What caused me to revisit the subject was watching the biographical documentary of Benjamin Ferencz, the last remaining prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Ferencz prosecuted the Einsatzgruppen Trial. The Einsatzgruppen were four units composed of SS, SD, Waffen SS, and Order Police personnel, with a combined strength of about 3,000 personnel, commanded by SS, or SD Colonels or Generals. They had the mission of exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet Communist Party officials, or Red Army Commissars. They received additional support from Order Police Battalions, Wehrmacht Security Divisions, government and party officials in charge of the occupied territories, and from the Wehrmacht Army Group, Army, Army Corps, and Division Commanders in their areas of operations. The Einsatzgruppen murdered nearly a million and a half people up close and personal with pistols, rifles, and machine guns at close range over mass graves. They also pioneered the use of gas vans. Many of their actions took place before the decision to implement the Final Solution. Without the cooperation of of the Wehrmacht, Government occupation authorities, and the Order Police they could not have murdered so many people.

Contrary to the myth of a clean Wehrmacht, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                            Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                           Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Commanders in the East used Keitel’s order as carte blanche authority to be even more severe than Keitel’s order specified. Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein to his Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten by historians and military men who admired his strategic, operational, and tactical acumen.


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                          The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human.Once human beings decide that other human beings are less than human, then all bets are off, and that includes Americans. Over our history we have shown a taste for barbarity when we believe our opponents are less than human.

There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism, as well as Catholic Germany. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe