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 It has been replaced by the Jew.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 philosophy. [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, 1941.) 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 self-interest: '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 Abbreviations: 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.
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