Death squads (1941–1943)
|A cold water immersion experiment at Dachau concentration camp presided over by Professor Holzlohner (left) and Dr. Rascher (right)|
The German invasion of the
Soviet Union in June 1941 opened a new phase. The Holocaust intensified after the Nazis occupied , where close to 80 percent of Lithuanian Jews were exterminated before the end of the year. Lithuania
The Soviet territories occupied by early 1942, including all of
Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Moldova and most Russian territory west of the line Leningrad-Moscow-Rostov, contained about three million Jews, including hundreds of thousands who had fled in 1939. The remaining three million were left at the mercy of the Nazis. Poland
Members of the local populations in certain occupied Soviet territories participated substantially in the killings of Jews and others.
Lithuania, Latvia and western , locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the very beginning of the German occupation. Ukraine
The Latvian Arajs Kommando was an example of such an operation.To the south, Ukrainians killed approximately 24,000 Jews.
In addition, Latvian and Lithuanian units left their own countries, and committed murders of Jews in
, and Ukrainians served as concentration and death camp guards in Poland.Ustaše militia in Croatian areas also carried out acts of persecution. Belarus
Many of the mass killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice.
German witnesses to these killings emphasized the participation of the locals. Ultimately it was the Germans who organized and channelled the local participants in the Holocaust.
The massacres committed by the Einsatzgruppen were usually justified under the grounds of anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations, but the German historian Andreas Hillgruber wrote that this was just a mere "excuse" for the German Army's considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia and the term war crimes and crimes against humanity were indeed correct labels for what happened.
Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2 million defenceless men, women and children for the reasons of racist ideology cannot possibly be justified for any reason, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.
Raul Hilberg writes that the German Einsatzgruppen commanders were ordinary citizens; the great majority were university-educated professionals.
They used their skills to become efficient killers, according to Michael Berenbaum.
The large-scale killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories was assigned to SS formations called Einsatzgruppen ("task groups"), under the overall command of Heydrich. These had been used on a limited scale in
in 1939, but were now organized on a much larger scale. Einsatzgruppe A (commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Stahlecker) was assigned to the Baltic area, Einsatzgruppe B (SS-Brigadeführer Artur Nebe) to Poland Belarus, Einsatzgruppe C (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch) to north and central Ukraine, and Einsatzgruppe D (SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Ohlendorf) to Moldova, south Ukraine, the Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus. Of the four Einsatzgruppen, three were commanded by holders of doctorate degrees, of whom one (Rasch) held a double doctorate.
According to Ohlendorf at his trial, "the Einsatzgruppen had the mission to protect the rear of the troops by killing the Jews, Gypsies, Communist functionaries, active Communists, and all persons who would endanger the security." In practice, their victims were nearly all defenseless Jewish civilians (not a single Einsatzgruppe member was killed in action during these operations). By December 1941, the four Einsatzgruppen listed above had killed, respectively, 125,000, 45,000, 75,000, and 55,000 people—a total of 300,000 people—mainly by shooting or with hand grenades at mass killing sites outside the major towns.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tells the story of one survivor of the Einsatzgruppen in , when they killed 1,600 Jews on April 6, 1942, the second day of Passover Piryatin, Ukraine