The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: places/germany/nuremberg/commissar.001

Lines: 462

Archive/File: holocaust/einsatzgruppen commissar.001
Last-Modified: 1994/03/19

           "Barbarossa: The Commissar and Partisan Orders 

   In planning the attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler decreed that
   even the minimal restraints practiced in Poland were to be
   abandoned.  Under the tutelage of Rosenberg, he had written in Mein
   Kampf: 'Fate itself seems desirous of giving us a sign.  By handing
   Russia to bolshevism, it robbed the Russian nation of that
   intelligentsia which previously brought about and guaranteed its
   existence as a state.  (Hitler, 654-655) Today it can be regarded
   as almost totally exterminated and extinguished.  It has been
   replaced by the Jew.  And the end of Jewish rule in Russia will
   also be the end of Russia as a state.'

   Therefore, Hitler now ordered that the Jews, bolshevism, and Soviet
   Russia were to be exterminated' together so that Germany could
   colonize and exploit the lands of the East.  On March 31, 1941,
   Keitel, at Hitler's behest, issued the first of a number of
   directives to the Wehrmacht on the 'Treatment of Political and
   Military Russian Officials.' This, which came to be known as the
   'Commissar Order,' stipulated: 'The Armed Services must rid
   themselves of all those elements among the prisoners of war
   considered as the driving forces of bolshevism.  The special
   conditions of the eastern campaign demand special measures which
   they can carry out on their own responsibility, free from
   bureaucratic and administrative influences.  

   'Political representatives and commissars are to be eliminated....
   Identification as a political functionary is sufficient proof.'
   (NCA, 1519 PS, Treatment of Political Commissars, Mar.  31, 1941.)
   Presenting the account of Barbarossa to the tribunal, Sidney Alder-
   man turned the focus to Rosenberg: 'Equally elaborate planning and
   preparation were engaged in by the conspirators to ensure the
   effectuation of the political aims of their aggression.  For the
   accomplishment of their purpose the Nazi conspirators selected as
   their agent the Defendant Rosenberg.' (IMT, vol.  3, p.  351.)

   On April 2, Rosenberg, who had been drifting in the backwaters of
   power, was summoned by Hitler and named Reich Commissar (upgraded
   three months later to Reich Minister) of the Eastern Territories.
   At last the Baltic German, who had longed to be foreign minister
   but had had to content himself with the leadership of the party's
   Aussenpolitischer Amt (Foreign Political Bureau), felt vindicated.
   As political head of the occupied lands he would be able to give
   vent to his hatred of the Soviet Union and indulge his misanthropic

   [Hitler once said, 'Rosenberg is rabid against the Russians only
   because they would not allow him to be a Russian.' (Rauschning, p.
   132.) In 1930 the party's ideologist had published a
   seven-hundred-page book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, that
   became, along with Mein Kampf one of the two great unread
   bestsellers of the Third Reich.  'We now realize,' Rosenberg wrote,
   'that the central supreme values of the Roman and Protestant
   churches, being a negative Christianity, do not respond to our
   soul.  (NCA, 2891 PS, Excerpts from Alfred Rosenberg's Myth of The
   Twentieth Century.  Munich: Hoheneichen Verlag, 1941, 215.)
   Liberalism preached: Freedom, generosity, freedom of trade,
   Parliamentarianism, emancipation of women, equality of mankind,
   equality of sexes, etc., that is to say, it sinned against a law of
   nature, that creative actions can only come from the working of
   polarized potentials, that a potential of energy is necessary to
   produce work of any kind, to create culture.  The German idea today
   demands in the midst of the disintegration of the old effeminate
   world: Authority, type-creating energy, self-elimination,
   discipline, protection of racial character, recognition of the
   eternal polarity of the sexes.  (NCA, 2891 PS, op.  cit., p.  533.)

   'The idea of honor--national honor--does not permit Christian love,
   nor the humanity of the Freemasons, nor Roman philosophy.' (NCA,
   2891 PS, op.  cit.  p.  514.)]

   'Military conflict with the USSR will result in an extraordinarily
   rapid occupation of an important and large section of the USSR,'
   Rosenberg postulated.  'It is very probable that military action on
   our part will very soon be followed by the military collapse of the
   USSR....  After the military collapse of the Soviets in Europe,
   very small forces would be needed to dispose of the Moscow tyranny
   in Central Asia.' (NCA, 1015 PS, Rosenberg Memo of Apr.  2, 1941,
   on the USSR.) Germany would annex the most strategic areas of the
   Soviet Union and break up what was left into a half-dozen or more
   subject states.  

   Both Hitler and Goering were obsessed with the necessity of keeping
   the German people well fed and content, no matter what privation
   the populations of conquered lands might undergo.  Despite all of
   Hitler's victories, the preponderance of Germans longed for peace;
   and if their stomachs started growling, the rebellious spirit that
   had undermined support for the troops in World War I might revive.
   Goering decreed: 'In the occupied territories only those people who
   work for us are to be supplied with an adequate amount of food....
   All food supplies for the troops in the Eastern Territories have to
   be furnished by the occupied territories themselves.  On no account
   will I permit an increased supply from the Reich, which would lead
   to a decrease of rations for the German civilian population.  The
   morale at home would suffer.  The home front has to take enough
   already.' (NCA, EC 3, Economic Notes for Reporting Period of August
   15 - September 16; September 18, 1941)

   Rosenberg informed his officials: 'The job of feeding the German
   people stands, this year, without a doubt at the top of the list of
   Germany's claims on the East.' Dividing European Russia into a
   'black soil' agricultural zone of the south and an industrialized
   'forest zone' of the center and north, Rosenberg continued: 'We see
   absolutely no reason for any obligation on our part to feed also
   the Russian people with the products of that [agricultural] surplus
   territory.  We know that this is a harsh necessity, bare of any
   feelings.  (NCA, 1058 PS, Rosenberg Talk to Staff, June 20, 1941.)

   'The consequences will be cessation of supplies to the entire
   forest zone, including the essential industrial centers of Moscow
   and St.  Petersburg [Leningrad].  

   'All industry in the deficit area, particularly the manufacturing
   industries in the Moscow and Petersburg region as well as the Ural
   industrial region, will be abandoned.  

   'Germany is not interested in the maintenance of the productive
   power of these territories, except for supplying the troops
   stationed there.  .  .  .  The population of these areas, in
   particular the urban population, will have to face the most serious
   distress from famine....  

   'Many tens of millions of people in this area will become redundant
   and will either die or have to emigrate to Siberia.  Any attempt to
   save the population there from death by starvation by importing
   surpluses from the black soil zone would be at the expense of
   supplies to Europe.  It would reduce Germany's staying power in the
   war, and would undermine Germany's and Europe's power to resist the
   blockade.  This must be clearly and absolutely understood....

   'One must always bear in mind that the Great Russian people,
   whether under czarism or bolshevism, is always an irreconcilable
   enemy not only of Germany, but also of Europe.' (NCA, EC 126,
   Economic Policy Directive for Economic Organization East, May 23,

   With utter callousness and tyrannical calculation Hitler and his
   cohorts were preparing to turn the clock back to the Dark Ages when
   the Mongol hordes had swept out of Asia to raid and devastate
   Europe.  This time, however, the barbarians would issue out of the
   West to savage the East.  

   To Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Hitler predicted: 'You have
   only to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come
   crashing down.' (Clark, p.  43.) In the weeks immediately following
   the onslaught of June 22, 1941, the prediction seemed astute.  By
   mid-July the German army was two-thirds of the way to Moscow.
   Hitler met with Goering, Rosenberg, Keitel, Lammers, and Bormann to
   proclaim the victory and gloat over the spoils.  'It is essential
   that we do not publicize our aims before the world; there is no
   need for that,' the Fuhrer cautioned.  'The main thing is that we
   ourselves know what we want.  We ought to act here in exactly the
   same way as we did in the cases of Norway, Denmark, Holland, and
   Belgium [which Hitler intended to absorb into the Greater German
   Reich].  In these cases too we did not publish our aims.  Therefore
   we shall emphasize again that we were forced to occupy, administer,
   and secure a certain area.  Nobody shall be able to recognize that
   it initiates a final settlement.  This need not prevent our taking
   all necessary measures--shooting, resettling, and so forth--and we
   shall take them!  

   'But,' Hitler continued, 'we do not want to make people into
   enemies prematurely.  Therefore, we shall act as though we wanted
   to exercise a mandate only.  At the same time we must clearly know
   that we shall never leave these countries.  On principle, we now
   have to face the task of cutting up the giant cake according to our
   needs, in order to be able: First, to dominate it; second, to
   administer it; and third, to exploit it.' (NCA, L 221, Memorandum
   for the Record, July 16, 1941.)

   In accordance with Rosenberg's proposals, Hitler announced that the
   Baltic countries, the Crimea, the Caucasus oil region, the Volga
   basin, and the nickel-rich Kola Peninsula were to be annexed
   outright.  The Ukraine would become a protectorate governed by Nazi
   overlords.  Even allies were not to be trusted: 'One ought not to
   be dependent on the good will of other people.  We have to plan our
   relations with Romania in accordance with this principle.  This we
   have to consider, and we have to draw our frontiers accordingly.'
   (Ibid.) (Mussolini once remarked that, after the Fuhrer finished
   dividing up the world, 'there was nothing left but the moon.')

   In accordance with his perceptions of pacification, Hitler had,
   prior to the attack, amplified his prescription for terror: 'In
   view of the vast size of the occupied areas in the East, the forces
   available for establishing security in these areas will be
   sufficient only if all resistance is punished not by legal
   prosecution of the guilty, but by the spreading of such terror by
   the occupying forces as is alone appropriate to eradicate every
   inclination among the population to resist.' (NCA, C 52, Supplement
   to Order No.  33, July 23, 1941.) So that the troops might have a
   free hand to rampage, Hitler ordered 'the prosecution of offenses
   against civilians through courtmartial only if it is considered
   necessary for the maintenance of discipline or the security of the
   troops; for instance, to cases of serious offenses which are based
   on sexual acts without restraints, which derive from criminal
   tendency, or which are a sign that the troops threaten mutiny.'
   (NCA, 886 PS, Decree for the Conduct of Courts Martial in the
   District 'Barbarossa,' May 13, 1941.)

   To Hitler's great irritation, however, he now discovered that many
   of the Wehrmacht commanders were sabotaging both this and the
   Commissar Order by failing to pass them on through the chain of
   command.  Dismissing the protestations of the army generals that
   the Commissar Order constituted a violation of international law
   and would lead to retaliation by the Soviets, Hitler snapped that
   Russia was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention and would kill
   the Germans taken prisoner anyway; so German treatment of Soviet
   captives was immaterial.  Jodl, unburdening himself to Colonel
   Hinkel, related: 'For five and a half years he did not stop
   denouncing the lack of brutality of the German army.' (Int.  of
   Jodl by Hinkel, Aug.  29, 1945.)

   The task of segregating and liquidating commissars and Jews from
   the ranks of the POWs was, consequently, turned over to Heydrich,
   who, drawing on the experiences of the ad hoc 'action groups' that
   had operated in Poland, had previously established four
   Einsatzgruppen, totaling three thousand men, to operate in the
   conquered territory.  Specifically included in the extermination
   order by Hitler were 'leading personalities of the state
   authorities; the leading personalities of the business world;
   members of the Soviet-Russian intelligentsia; all Jews; all persons
   who are found to be agitators or fanatic Communists.' (NCA, 502 PS,
   Directive for the Chief of the Security Police, July 17, 1941.)

   To reassure the executioners that, in performing their dirty work,
   they were an elitist group pursuing the highest goals of the Third
   Reich, Hitler directed that 'the members of the Einsatzkommando
   must be constantly impressed with the special importance of the
   missions entrusted to them.' (Ibid.)

   The Commissar Order undermined the task of the counterintelligence
   officers of the Abwehr who were responsible for extracting
   information from Soviet prisoners of war and enlisting intelligence
   agents.  In mid-September, when there were already 1.5 million men
   in the camps, (Int. of Veli Gajun Chan by Hinkel, Sept. 14, 1945.)
   and more pouring in every day, Admiral Canaris, the
   head of the Abwehr, made an attempt to have the order rescinded.
   Since he knew that any appeal on humanitarian grounds would simply
   harden Hitler's resolve, he based his argument on German

   'The Russian decree for prisoners of war complies with the
   principles of International Law and to a very large extent the
   Geneva Convention.  Since the eighteenth century there has
   gradually been established that war captivity is neither revenge
   nor punishment, but solely protective custody.  This principle was
   developed in accordance with the view held by all armies that it is
   contrary to military tradition to kill or injure helpless people,
   and in the interest of all belligerents in order to prevent
   mistreatment of their own soldiers in case of capture.' 

   By giving the Einsatzkommando free rein to weed out and execute
   prisoners 'along principles which are unknown to the Wehrmacht
   authorities, ' Canaris argued, 'the will to resist of the enemy
   troops will be extremely strengthened by the enemy intelligence
   service....  Instead of taking advantage of the tensions among the
   populations of the occupied territories for the benefit of the
   German administration, the mobilization of all internal opposition
   forces of Russia for unified hostility will be facilitated.'
   Finally, Canaris pointed out, the result would be Soviet
   retaliation: 'It will be impossible to protest against the bad
   treatment of German soldiers in Soviet Russian captivity.' (NCA, EC
   338, Directive for the Treatment of Soviet Prisoners of War, Sept.
   15, 1941.)

   To the last argument, Keitel, whose youngest son had already been
   killed on the Russian front, retorted: 'I consider it useless!  The
   objections arise from the military concept of chivalrous warfare!
   This is the destruction of an ideology!  Therefore, I approve and
   back the measures.' (Ibid.)

   The barbarity and horrors of the Commissar Order were exacerbated
   by the chaos of its implementation.  At Nuremberg, General Lahousen
   told Colonel Amen during a pretrial interrogation: 'It was left
   entirely to the judgment of the man in charge of the detail whom he
   wished to call a Communist.  So in practice anybody whom he did not
   like he could call a Communist and thus have him executed.' (Int.
   of Lahousen by Amen, Sept.  5, 1945.) Testifying before the
   tribunal, Lahousen continued: 'Particularly, of course, if someone
   were a Jew or of a Jewish type or could otherwise be classified as
   racially inferior he was picked for execution.  Other leaders of
   the Einsatzkommando selected people according to their
   intelligence.  Some had views all of their own and usually most
   peculiar, so that I felt compelled to ask [Gestapo Chiefl Muller:
   'Tell me, according to what principles does this selection take
   place?  Do you determine it by the height of a person or the size
   of his shoes?'' (IMT, vol.  2, p.  458.)

   The two basic criteria, in fact, were whether a man had been
   circumcised or had the 'Mongolian' features that Himmler and
   Goebbels proclaimed as the mark of 'subhumans.' Though several
   ethnic groups, especially Muhammadans, were prepared to break away
   from the Soviet Union, they, like the Jews, were circumcised, and
   the Einsatzkommando consequently cut as wide a swathe through Islam
   as through Judaism.  Veli Gajun Chan, the president of the National
   (Liberation) Movement of Turkestan, who had his headquarters in
   Berlin, was, at the start of Barbarossa, arrested, together with
   his family.  For two weeks he was examined by the Gestapo for
   Semitic origins, and then released.  Since the Russians had
   deported all of the Turkestani intelligentsia and nobility,
   together with their families, and many had settled in Poland,
   several hundred thousand of them came under German control.  The
   Einsatzkommando herded them, together with Turkestani prisoners of
   war from the Russian army, into sixteen camps, where they all --
   including women and children -- were paraded before SS officers.
   Those who had long, hooked noses or slanted eyes or were
   circumcised were ordered to turn left, taken to a nearby ditch, and
   shot.  Gajun, who was allowed to visit the camps after being
   classified 'reliable,' was horror struck.  When he returned to
   Berlin, Gajun (who spoke fluent German but no Russian) went to see
   Count von der Schulenburg, the former German ambassador in Moscow,
   and told him: 'People are wretched, starved, underfed, living in
   holes in the ground, and now and again the Gestapo shot some,
   actually shot some in front of my eyes!' Schulenburg reported to
   Ribbentrop, who, after checking with Hitler, relayed the message
   that nothing could be done.  Gajun, thereupon, informed the
   International Red Cross in Switzerland and the Turkish ambassador
   in Berlin, and stirred up such a brouhaha that a commission was
   formed by Rosenberg to look into the conditions in the camps, where
   typhus had become epidemic.  

   In practice, however, little changed.  'It is a matter of common
   knowledge,' Gajun recounted to Colonel Hinkel, 'that the execution
   of circumcised men still went on during the invasion of the Crimea.
   Every German who was there can tell you.  I met a colonel who told
   me how astonished he was when he saw agents of the Gestapo execute
   Turks.' (Int.  of Veli Gajun Chan by Hinkel, Sept.  21, 1945.) All
   together, Gajun estimated, between 300,000 and 400,000 Turkestanis
   had been shot or had died in the camps.  (Int.  of Veli Gajun Chan
   by Hinkel, Sept.  14, 1945.)

   Although Hitler ordered that Jews and commissars were to be
   screened out before they reached POW camps, the procedure proved
   impractical, and many were not 'selected' before they arrived in
   the Reich.  Those weeded out were then sent to concentration camps
   for execution.  At Auschwitz, to which Russian prisoners were
   dispatched to clear land and build factories, the officers and
   'commissars' were initially executed one at a time with a shot in
   the back of the neck at the so-called Black Wall, adjacent to the
   Bunker (camp prison).  This was a laborious procedure that wore on
   the nerves of the SS executioners.  In October 1941, however, an SS
   officer named Arthur Johann Breitwieser noticed that one of his
   companions, charged with delousing the camp laundry, was instantly
   knocked out when exposed to a whiff of Zyklon B, the gas that was
   used as a disinfectant.  

   To Breitwieser, this seemed to offer the possibility of more
   efficient and less time-consuming executions.  After ordering the
   half-submerged lower level of the Bunker sealed, Breitwieser had
   several cans of the blue pellets, which vaporize when exposed to
   air, dropped in among the one thousand Russians awaiting execution.

   Two days later the camp inmates detailed to remove the bodies were
   met by a fearsome sight.  Men with contorted faces had locked
   themselves together in their death agonies, torn out each other's
   hair, and bitten off their fingers.  Their flesh and their clothes
   had fused into gelatinous blobs that sometimes disintegrated when
   the members of the detail tried to pick them up. (Naumann, pp. 59, 
   112, 134.)

   Infamous as the Commissar order was, it was responsible for only a
   relatively small proportion of the deaths among the Russian POWs.
   Since Goering and Rosenberg postulated that the Germans had no
   obligation to feed Russians, and the Wehrmacht had difficulty
   supplying its own troops, most prisoners were left to starve to
   death, either deliberately or through indifference.  A high-ranking
   Wehrmacht officer reported to Keitel: 'The fate of the Soviet
   prisoners of war [is] a tragedy of the greatest extent.  

   'The native population within the Soviet Union is absolutely
   willing to put food at the disposal of the prisoners of war.
   Several understanding camp commanders have successfully chosen this
   course.  However, in the majority of cases, the camp commanders
   have forbidden the civilian population to put food at the disposal
   of the prisoners, and they have rather let them starve to death.

   'Even on the march to the camps, the civilian population was not
   allowed to give the prisoners of war food.  In many cases, when
   prisoners of war could no longer keep up on the marches because of
   hunger and exhaustion, they were shot before the eyes of the
   horrified civilian population, and the corpses were left.' (NCA, 
   081 PS, 'Prisoners of War,' Feb. 28, 1942.)

   Since the occupiers were, in fact, intent on stripping the land of
   everything edible, the captives were herded onto open ground fenced
   with barbed wire, and there, without shelter or tools, left to
   graze like cattle on grass, roots, and bark.  Men died in layers
   huddling together for warmth.  The living ate the dead, and
   cannibalism became epidemic. (Lahousen Affidavit, Lahousen 
   Interrogation Records, Nov. 20, 1945.)

   Goering, his corpulence covered with a great sable coat that the
   Italian foreign minister, Count Ciano, described as 'something
   between what automobile drivers wore in 1906 and what a high-grade
   prostitute wears to the opera,'(Ciano, 443) chucklingly told the Italian
   foreign minister that the Soviet prisoners, 'after having eaten
   everything possible, including the soles of their boots, have begun
   to eat each other and, what is more serious, have eaten a German
   sentry.' (Ciano, 465.)

   One SS leader suggested to Himmler that two million prisoners be
   shot immediately so as to thin out the ranks and give the remainder
   a better chance for survival.  (Clark, p.  207.) A high-ranking
   German political officer noted: 'It is especially peculiar that the
   food supplies are deficient only for prisoners of war from the
   Soviet Union, while complaints about the treatment of other
   prisoners of war, Polish, Serbian, French and English, have not
   become vociferous.  It is obvious that nothing is so suitable for
   strengthening the power of resistance of the Red Army as the
   knowledge that in German captivity a slow, miserable death is to be
   met.' (NCA, 294 PS, Memorandum of Otto Brautigam, Oct.  25, 1942.)

   By and large the Russian soldiers did, indeed, cease to surrender.
   The fighting took on the savagery of the hegira that Hitler had
   proclaimed.  Units overwhelmed by the Wehrmacht's tidal wave but
   never subdued resurfaced everywhere behind the German lines and
   were augmented by stragglers and escaped prisoners until they
   totaled at least a quarter million men, often joined by women and
   children.  The partisans assumed control of a third or more of some
   areas, imposed their own quotas on the harvest of local farmers,
   and interdicted the tenuous German supply lines by raiding convoys
   and blowing up trains to gather booty.  

   At first, Hitler professed to see but one more opportunity for his
   brand of nihilism in the flare-up of guerrilla warfare.  'The
   Russians have now ordered partisan warfare behind our front,' he
   told his intimates on July 16.  'This partisan war, again, has
   some advantage for us.  It enables us to eradicate everyone who
   opposes us.' (NCA, L 221, op. cit.)" (Conot, 215-226)

                               Work Cited

   Ciano, Count Galeazzo. Ciano's Diary. London and Toronto: Heinemann,
   1947, as cited in Conot      

   Clark, Alan. Barbarossa. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1965, as 
   cited in Conot

   Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg. New York: Harper & Row, 1983

   Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1943, as
   cited in Conot

   Naumann, Bernd. Auschwitz. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966, as
   cited in Conot

   Rauschning, Hermann. The Voice of Destruction. New York: G.P.
   Putnam's Sons, 1940, as cited in Conot


   IMT. International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major War Criminals;
   the published transcipts of the trial. 

   NCA. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggession, the 10-volume compendium of the
   prosecution's agruments.

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.