During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads (term used by Holocaust historians) – up to 3,000 men each – usually composed of 500–1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Polish intellectuals, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured territories often far behind the advancing German front. After the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army began to retreat so rapidly that the large Einsatzgruppen had to be split into dozens of smaller commandos (Einsatzkommandos), responsible for systematically killing Jews and, among others, alleged Soviet partisans behind the Wehrmacht lines. Several Einsatzkommando officers were tried and hanged after the war (see Einsatzgruppen Trial).
As a military term, the German Einsatzkommando (Operational Command) is roughly equivalent to the English task force and is still in use for German paramilitary organizations, such as SEK and Einsatzkommando Cobra.
Organization of the Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen (German: special-ops units) were paramilitary groups originally formed in 1938 under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich – Chief of the SD, and Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police, SiPo). They were operated by the Schutzstaffel (SS). Per a Hitler-Himmler directive, the Einsatzgruppen were re-formed in anticipation of the 1941 assault on Russia. The Einsatzgruppen were once again under the control of Reinhard Heydrich as Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA—Reich Main Security Office); and after his death, under the control of his successor, Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
Hitler ordered the SD and the Security Police to suppress the threat of native resistance behind the Wehrmacht's fighting front. The Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner (representing Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht) met Heydrich and agreed to the activation, commitment, command, and jurisdiction of Security Police and SD units in the Wehrmacht's table of operations and equipment (TOE): in the rear operational areas, the Einsatzgruppen were to function in administrative sub-ordination to the field armies in order to effect the tasks assigned them by Heydrich. Their principal task (during the war), according to SS General Erich von dem Bach, at the Nuremberg Trials: "was the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars". They were a key component in the implementation of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (German: Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in the conquered territories. These killing units should be viewed in conjunction with the Holocaust.
The military commanders knew the task of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen depended upon their sponsoring army commander for billet, food, and transportation. Relations between the regular army and the SiPo and the SD were close. Einsatzgruppen commanders reported that the understanding by Wehrmacht commanders of Einsatzgruppen tasks made their operations considerably easier.
In the beginning of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941), four Einsatzgruppen were formed, each attached to an Army group: Einsatzgruppe A to Army Group North; Einsatzgruppe B to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C to Army Group South, and Einsatzgruppe D to the 11th German Army. Einsatzgruppen officers were drawn from the SD, the Waffen-SS, the Criminal Police (Kripo), and the Gestapo. The enlisted men were from the Waffen-SS, the regular police, the Gestapo, and the locally-recruited police. When occasion demanded, German Army commanders bolstered the strength of the Einsatzgruppen with their own regular-army troops.
The earliest Einsatzgruppen in occupied Poland
The first eight Einsatzgruppen of World War II were formed in the course of the 1939 invasion of Poland. They were composed of the Gestapo, Kripo and SD functionaries, and deployed during the classified Operation Tannenberg (codename for murder of Polish civilians) and the Intelligenzaktion lasting till the spring of 1940; followed by the German AB-Aktion which ended in late 1940. Long before the attack on Poland, the Nazis prepared a detailed list identifying more than 61,000 Polish targets by name, with the help of German minority living in the Second Polish Republic. The list was printed as a 192-page-book called Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen (Special Prosecution Book–Poland), and composed only of names and birthdates. It included politicians, scholars, actors, intelligentsia, doctors, lawyers, nobility, priests, officers and numerous others – as the means at the disposal of the SS paramilitary death squads aided by Selbstschutz executioners. By the end of 1939 already, they summarily killed around 50,000 Poles and Jews in the annexed territories, including over 1,000 POWs. The SS operational groups were assigned Roman numerals for the first time on September 4, 1939. Before that, their names were derived from the names of cities in the German language.
- Einsatzgruppe I or EG I–Wien (under the command of SS-Standartenführer Bruno Streckenbach), deployed with the 14th Army
- Einsatzgruppe II or EG II–Oppeln (under SS-Obersturmbannführer Emanuel Schäfer), deployed with the 10th Army
- Einsatzgruppe III or EG III–Breslau (under SS-Obersturmbannführer und Regierungsrat Hans Fischer), deployed with the 8th Army
- Einsatzgruppe IV or EG IV–Dramburg (under SS-Brigadeführer Lothar Beutel), deployed with the 4th Army
- Einsatzgruppe V or EG V–Allenstein (under SS-Standartenfürer Ernst Damzog), deployed with the 3rd Army
- Einsatzgruppe VI (under SS-Oberführer Erich Naumann), deployed in Wielkopolska area
- Einsatzgruppe z. B.V (under SS-Obergruppenführer Udo von Woyrsch and SS-Oberfürer Otto Rasch), deployed in Upper Silesia and Cieszyn Silesia
- Einsatzkommando 16 or EK–16 Danzig (under SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Tröger), deployed in Pomerania.
Einsatzgruppe A—attached to the Army Group North—was assembled in Gumbinnen—in east Prussia—on 23 June 1941. Stahlecker—the first commander of the unit—ordered it to concentrate along the Lithuanian border. Soviet troops withdrew from the Lithuanian temporary capital Kaunas (Kovno) the day before, and the city was taken over by Lithuanians during the anti-Soviet uprising. On 25 June, the Einsatzgruppe entered Kaunas with the units of the German army.
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Dr. Franz Walter Stahlecker (22 June 1941–23 March 1942)
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Heinz Jost (29 March–2 September 1942)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Dr. Humbert Achamer-Pifrader (10 September 1942–4 September 1943)
- SS-Oberführer Friedrich Panzinger (5 September 1943–6 May 1944)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Dr. Wilhelm Fuchs (6 May–10 October 1944)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Martin Sandberger (June 1941–1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Bernhard Baatz (1 August 1943–15 October 1944)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Erich Ehrlinger (June–November 1941)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Walter Hoffmann (As Deputy) – (January–March 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Eduard Strauch (March–August 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Erich Isselhorst (30 June–1 October 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Martin Sandberger (June 1942–1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Tschierschky (1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Erich Isselhorst (November 1942–June 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Bernhard Baatz (June–August 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Hermann Hubig (June–October 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Manfred Pechau (October–November 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Kurt Graaf (1 August-28 November 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Batz (June–4 November 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Eduard Strauch (4 November–2 December 1941)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Rudolf Lange (3 December 1941–1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Manfred Pechau (October 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Reinhard Breder (26 March 1943–July 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Oswald Poche (30 July 1943–2 March 1944)
- SS-Standartenführer Karl Jäger (June 1941–1 August 1943)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Dr. Wilhelm Fuchs (15 September 1943–27 May 1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Hans-Joachim Böhme (11 May–July 1944)
The Jäger Report is the most precise surviving chronicle of the activities of one Einsatzkommando. It is a tally sheet of the actions of Einsatzkommando 3 — a running total of their killings of 136,421 Jews (46,403 men 55,556 women, 34,464 children), 1,064 Communists, 653 mentally disabled, and 134 others, from 2 July-1 December 1941. A second, major sweep occurred in 1942, before death camp killing replaced Einsatzkommando open-pit executions. Einsatzkommando 3 operated in the Kovno (Kaunas) district, west of Vilna (Vilnius) in contemporary Lithuania.(See also Rollkommando Hamann)
Einsatzgruppe B 
The operational command of Einsatzgruppe B – attached to the Army Group Center – was established a few days after the invasion of the Soviet Union, under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe. It departed from the city of Poznań (Posen) on 24 June 1941, with 655 men from the Security Police, Gestapo, Kripo, SD, Waffen-SS and the 2nd Company of Reserve Police Battalion 9. On 30 June 1941 Himmler visited the newly-formed Bezirk Bialystok district and pronounced that more forces were needed in the area, due to potential risks of partisan warfare. The chase after the Red Army's rapid retreat left behind a security vacuum, which required urgent deployment of additional personnel.
Scrambling to meet the "new threat" Gestapo headquarters in Zichenau (Ciechanów) formed a lesser known unit called the kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg which departed from sub-station Schröttersburg (Płock) under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper (* 1911), with the mission to kill Jews, communists and the NKVD collaborators across the local villages and towns. On July 3 additional formation of Schutzpolizei arrived in Białystok, summoned from the General Government. It was led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Wolfgang Birkner, veteran of Einsatzgruppe IV from the Polish Campaign of 1939. The relief unit, called Kommando Bialystok, was sent in by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Eberhard Schöngarth on orders from the Reich Main Security Office, due to reports of Soviet guerrilla activity in the area with Jews being of course immediately suspected of helping them out. On 10 July 1941, Schaper's unit was split into smaller Einsatzkommandos due to requirements of Operation Barbarossa. On 14 November 1941, Gruppenführer Nebe told Berlin that, up until then, 45,000 persons had been eliminated. A further report, dated 15 December 1942, established that the Einsatzgruppe B had shot a total of 134,298 people. After 1943, the mass killings of Einsatzgruppe B diminished, and the unit was decommissioned in August 1944.
- SS-Gruppenführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Arthur Nebe (June–November 1941)
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Erich Naumann (November 1941–March 1943)
- SS-Standartenführer Horst-Alwin Böhme (12 March–28 August 1943)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Erich Ehrlinger (28 August 1943–April 1944)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Heinrich Seetzen (28 April–August 1944)
- SS-Standartenführer Horst-Alwin Böhme (12 August 1944)
Around 5 July 1941, Arthur Nebe consolidated Einsatzgruppe B near Minsk, establishing a headquarters and remaining there for some two months. The Gruppenführer determined that Sonderkommando 7a and Sonderkommando 7b and the Vorkommando Moskau would follow the Army Group Center, while Einsatzkommandos 8 and 9 clean up to the sides of the spearhead. In compliance, Einsatzkommando 8 reached Bialystok on 1 July, passed through Slonim and Baranovichi, and began systematic mass killing operations in southern Bielorussia.
On 5 August, Gruppenführer Nebe moved his Einsatzgruppen command to Smolensk, where the Vorkommando Moskau was concentrated. On 6 August, Einsatzkommando 8 reached Minsk, remaining there until 9 September 1941. From Minsk, it reached Mogilev, which became its general headquarters, and from there Einsatzkommando 8 effected successive killings in Bobruisk, Gomel, Roslavl, and Klintsy systematically attacking the local Jewish communities, and killing the inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Einsatzkommando 9 was put to work; they had left Treuburg, in eastern Prussia, and reached Vilna on 2 July. Their main theater of mass killing operations were Grodno and Bielsk-Podlaski (Biala-Podlaska). On 20 July it moved its headquarters to Vitebsk, and then exterminated the citizens of Polotzk, Nevel, Lepel, and Surazh. The command progressed to Vtasma, and from there they killed the communities of Gshatsk and Mozhaisk in the Moscow vicinity. The Soviet counter-offensive forced the Einsatzkommando to withdraw to Vitebsk on 21 December 1941. Anticipating the fall of Moscow, the Vorkommando Moskau advanced to Maloyaroslavets, earlier captured by the Wehrmacht on 18 October 1941. In practice, Sonderkommandos 7a and 7b operated behind the vanguard of the army. The actions were fast, in order to prevent the Jews from escaping the advancing German Army. To the south and east of Smolensk and Minsk, the two Sonderkommandos left a wake of dead civilians, from Velikiye Luki, Kalinin, Orsha, Gomel, Chernigov and Orel, to Kursk.
Sonderkommando 7a led by Walter Blume, was attached to the 9th Army under General Adolf Strauß. SK 7a entered Vilna on 27 June and remained there until 3 July. Soon Vilna was in the command sphere of Einsatzgruppe A, and Sonderkommando 7a was transferred to Kreva near Minsk. The Sonderkommando was active in Vilna, Nevel, Haradok, Vitebsk, Velizh, Rzhev, Vyazma, Kalinin, and Klintsy. It executed 6,788 people.
- SS-Standartenführer Walter Blume (June–September 1941)
- SS-Standartenführer Eugen Steimle (September–December 1941)
- SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Matschke (December 1941–February 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Albert Rapp (February 1942–28 January 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Helmut Looss (June 1943–June 1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Gerhard Bast (June–October/November 1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Günther Rausch (June 1941 – January/February 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Ott (February 1942–January 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Josef Auinger (July 1942–January 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl-Georg Rabe (January/February 1943–October 1944)
See also Vorkommando Moskau
- SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Bock (June 1942)
- SS-Hauptsturmführer Ernst Schmücker (June 1942–1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Blühm (1942–July 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Eckhardt (July–December 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Otto Bradfisch (June 1941–1 April 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Heinz Richter (1 April–September 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Erich Isselhorst (September–November 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans-Gerhard Schindhelm (7 November 1942–October 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Rendörffer (?)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Alfred Filbert (June–20 October 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Oswald Schäfer (October 1941–February 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Wilhelm Wiebens (February 1942–January 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Friedrich Buchardt (January 1943–October 1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Kämpf (October 1943–March 1944)
The Vorkommando—also known as Sonderkommando 7c—was to operate in Moscow, until it became apparent that Moscow would not fall; it was incorporated to Sonderkommando 7b, where it was active in Smolensk and executed 4,660 people.
- SS-Brigadeführer Professor Dr. Franz Six (20 June–20 August 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Waldemar Klingelhöfer (August–September 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Erich Körting (September–December 1941)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Friedrich Buchardt (December 1941–January 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich-Wilhelm Bock (January–June 1942)
The Einzatzgruppe was attached to the Army Group South and executed 118,341 people.
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Dr. Dr. Otto Rasch (June–October 1941)
- SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Max Thomas (October 1941–29 April 1943)
- SS-Standartenführer Horst-Alwin Böhme (6 September 1943–March 1944)
- SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel (June 1941–13 January 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Erwin Weinmann (13 January–27 July 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Eugen Steimle (August 1942–15 January 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Schmidt (January–February 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Theodor Christensen (March–December 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Günther Herrmann (June–October 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Braune (2 October 1941–21 March 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Walter Hänsch (March–July 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer August Meier (July–November 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Sühr (November 1942–August 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Waldemar Krause (August 1943–January 1944)
- SS-Oberführer Erwin Schulz (June–August 1941)
- SS-Sturmbannführer August Meier (September 1941–January 1942)
- SS-Standartenführer Dr. Erhard Kröger (June–November 1941)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Robert Möhr (November 1941 – September 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Ernst Biberstein (September 1942–May 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Sühr (August–November 1943)
The Einsatzgruppe was attached to the 11th Army. It was established in June 1941 and operated until March 1943. Einsatzgruppe D conducted operations in northern Transylvania, Cernauti, Kishinev and across the Ukrainian Crimea. In March 1943 it was re-deployed in Ovruch as an anti-partisan unit called Kampfgruppe Bierkamp, named after its new commander Walther Bierkamp. The Einsatzgruppe D was responsible for the killing of over 91,728 people.
- SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Dr. Otto Ohlendorf (June 1941–July 1942)
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Walther Bierkamp (July 1942–March 1943)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Heinrich Seetzen (June 1941–July 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Kurt Christmann (August 1942–July 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Alois Persterer (June 1941–December 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Eduard Jedamzik (December 1942–February 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Zapp (June 1941 – July 1942)
- Fritz Mauer (July–October 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Gerhard Bast (November–December 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Hersmann (December 1942–May 1943)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Unglaube (June–July 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Bruno Müller (July–October 1941)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Rudolf Werner Braune (October 1941–September 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Schultz (September 1942–February 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Gustav Nosske (June 1941–February 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Erich Müller (February–October 1942)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Günther Herrmann (October 1942–March 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Ludwig Teichmann (August 1941–April 1943)
- SS-Standartenführer Günther Herrmann (April 1943–1944)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Wilhelm Fuchs (October–November 1944)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer und Oberregierungsrat Joachim Deumling (March 1943–January 1945)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Franz Sprinz (January–May 1945)
- SS-Sturmbannführer und Regierungsrat Rudolf Korndörfer (May–September 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Anton Fest (September 1943–1945)
- SS-Hauptsturmführer Willi Wolter (June 1943–September 1944)
Commando was a part of Mass murders in Piaśnica known as "Pommern Katyń". In few mass executions between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940 in Piasnica Wielka summary was executed 23 000 Polish intelligentsia.
- Gestapo SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Tröger (1939-1940)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer und Oberregierungsrat Johannes Thümmler (July–September 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Freitag (September 1943–October 1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer und Regierungsrat Rudolf Korndörfer (September 1943)
- SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Wilhelm Fuchs (April 1941–January 1942)
- SS-Oberführer Emanuel Schäfer (January 1942)
Planned Einsatzkommando units
- Einsatzkommando-6 – planned for the United Kingdom (England and Scotland) and headed by Dr. Franz Six (remark: Operation Sea Lion never took place)
- Einsatzkommando Ägypten – planned for Jewish residents in the Middle East, including Palestine (Israel today).
- Thomas Urban, reporter of the Süddeutsche Zeitung; Polish text in Rzeczpospolita, Sept 1-2, 2001
- Alexander B. Rossino, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., "Polish 'Neighbors' and German Invaders," Polin, Volume 16, 2003.
- Digital version of the Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen (Special Prosecution Book-Poland), at the Silesian Digital Library (Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa), Poland. Retrieved May 9, 2012.]
- Christopher R. Browning (2007). "Poland, laboratory of racial policy". The Origins of the Final Solution. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 31–34. ISBN 0803259794. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- Tadeusz Piotrowski (2007). "Nazi Terror (Chapter 2)". Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration With Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. McFarland. ISBN 0786429135. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
- Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, Bellona 2008
- Jochen Bohler, Jurgen Matthaus, Klaus-Michael Mallmann, Einsatzgruppen in Polen, Wissenschaftl. Buchgesell 2008.
- AB-Aktion, Shoah Resource Center, International Institute for Holocaust Research. Washington, DC.
- Piotr Semków, IPN Gdańsk (September 2006). "Kolebka (Cradle)" (PDF direct download: 3.44 MB). Bulletin No. 8–9 (67–68). Institute of National Remembrance. pp. 143 of 152. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
- Tomasz Szarota (December 2–3, 2000). "Do we now know everything for certain? (translation)". Gazeta Wyborcza. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- (Polish) Thomas Urban, "Poszukiwany Hermann Schaper", Rzeczpospolita, 01.09.01 Nr 204
- "Einsatzgruppe D. Organizational structure". The Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
- Elżbieta Grot, "Ludobójstwo w Piaśnicy z uwzględnieniem losów mieszkańców powiatu wejherowskiego." (Genocide in Piaśnica with a discussion of the fate of the inhabitants of Wejherow county", Public Library of Wejherowo,
- Trials of War Criminals Before the Nurenberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10, Volume IV, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 35–36
- MacLean, French (1999). The Field Men: The SS Officers Who Led the Einsatzkommandos – the Nazi Mobile Killing Units, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 978-0764307546