Arthur Nebe

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Arthur Nebe
Bundesarchiv Bild 101III-Alber-096-34, Arthur Nebe.jpg
Arthur Nebe
Born (1894-11-13)13 November 1894
Berlin, German Empire
Died 21 March 1945(1945-03-21) (aged 50)
Berlin, Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Rank SS-Gruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei
Commands held Kriminalpolizei, Einsatzgruppe B
Battles/wars World War I, World War II
Awards Iron Cross, War Merit Cross, Nazi Party Long Service Award, Police Long Service Award, Wound Badge, Sudetenland Medal

About this sound Arthur Nebe  (13 November 1894 – 21 March 1945) was a member of the German Nazi Party (NSDAP) with card number 574,307. In July 1931, he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS), with membership number was 280,152, later reaching the rank of SS-Gruppenführer.[1] His early career included the Berlin position of Police Commissioner in the 1920s. In 1942–1943, he was the President of Interpol which fell under the control of Nazi Germany during the Anschluss in 1938. Nebe perpetrated mass murder in the Holocaust, serving as commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B deployed in the Bezirk Bialystok district (modern Belarus) behind Army Group Centre during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Nebe commanded the Kripo (Criminal Police) until he was denounced and executed after the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944.[2]

Before World War II[edit]

Early life and police career[edit]

Born in Berlin in 1894, the son of an elementary school teacher, Nebe volunteered for military service in the 17th Pioneer Battalion during World War I, where he was wounded twice by gas. He was discharged as an Oberleutnant on 30 March 1920. From 1918–19, he was a member of the Freikorps Grenzschutz Ost (East Border Patrol). He tried unsuccessfully to get a job at an Osram lamp factory and with the volunteer firefighters in Berlin.

In 1920 Nebe joined the Berlin detective force[3] known as the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo; Criminal Police) and attained the rank of Police Commissioner in 1924. That same year, he married Elise Schaeffer and they had a daughter, Gisela (born 1926).

He joined the Nazi Party on 1 July 1931.[3] Nebe became the Nazis' liaison in the Berlin criminal police, with links to the SS group led by Kurt Daluege. In early 1932 Nebe and other Nazi detectives formed the NS (National Socialist) Civil Service Society of the Berlin Police.[3] Following the Nazi seizure of power, Daluege recommended Nebe, in April 1933 to be Chief Executive of the State Police.

In October 1933 Nebe was ordered by Rudolf Diels, then head of the Gestapo, to arrange the liquidation of Hitler's rival Gregor Strasser. In 1933 he came to know Hans Bernd Gisevius, then an official in the Berlin Police Headquarters, who introduced him to Hans Oster.

1939 photograph; shown from left to right are Franz Josef Huber, Arthur Nebe, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, planning the investigation of the bomb assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler of 8 November 1939 in Munich.

Head of Kripo[edit]

In July 1936, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) became the criminal police department for the entire Reich. It was merged, along with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) or Security Police. At that point, Reinhard Heydrich was in overall command of the SiPo (Gestapo and Kripo) and the SD. Nebe was appointed head of the Kripo.[4] As chief of the Kripo, Nebe reported to Heydrich. His aversion to Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler grew even though he continued to regularly lunch with them.[5] On 27 September 1939, the SiPo was folded into the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA. The Kripo became Department V of the RSHA.[6] Department V was also known as the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (Reich Criminal Police Department or RKPA). Nebe promoted the preventative mission of the Kripo to "exterminate criminality" and fostered Nazi ideology in the police department.[7]

Nebe's ties to mass murder may originate in 1939, when he lent a commissioner of his Criminal Investigation Department, "one Christian Wirth of Stuttgart," to the euthanasia organisation.[8] Also in 1939, Nebe, as head of Kripo, was involved in the discussions around the upcoming campaigns against Sinti and Roma. Nebe's thinking at the time included possibly sending Berlin's Gypsies to the planned reservations for the Jews and others in the East.[7]

World War II[edit]

Einsatzgruppe B[edit]

In 1941, just prior to Operation Barbarossa, Himmler selected Nebe to command Einsatzgruppe B to operate behind Army Group Center in the east after the invasion of the Soviet Union. In August 1941, Himmler attended a demonstration of a mass-shooting in Minsk arranged by Nebe. Just after the shooting, Himmler vomited. After regaining his composure, Himmler decided that alternate methods of killing should be found.[9] He told Heydrich that he was concerned for the mental health of the SS men.[10] Himmler wanted Nebe to come up with something less distressing. Nebe decided to try experimenting by murdering Soviet mental patients first with explosives near Minsk and then with automobile exhaust at Mogilev.[11]

Nebe, with the technical assistance of Albert Widmann, experimented with several different methods as a means to kill mental patients; the Einsatzgruppenwere supplied with was gas vans:

....The idea of the gas van originated with SS-Brigadeführer Artur Nebe [sic], commander of Einsatzgruppe B, which operated in territories close to the central front and which had carried out in Belorussia large-scale shooting actions of Jews, communists, and other "asocial elements". Nebe...was familiar with the euthanasia program and killing by gas.

In September 1941, Einsatzgruppe B was faced with the task of liquidating the patients of the lunatic asylums in the cities of Minsk and Mogilev. Nebe decided to find a simpler way for his men to kill the mentally diseased, other than by shooting them. He contacted Kripo headquarters and asked for their help in carrying out the killing of the insane with either explosives or poison gas. Dr. Widmann of the Criminal Police was sent to Nebe in Minsk, but before he left, Dr. Widmann discussed with the director of the Criminal Police Technological Institute, Dr. Heess, ways of using the carbon monoxide gas from automobile exhaust for killing operations in the East, based on the experience gained from the euthanasia program. Dr. Widmann took to Minsk 400 kgs of explosive material and the metal pipes required for the gassing installations.

Nebe and Dr. Widmann carried out an experimental killing using explosives. Twenty-five mentally ill people were locked into two bunkers in a forest outside Minsk. The first explosion killed only some of them, and it took much time and trouble until the second explosion killed the rest. Explosives therefore were unsatisfactory.

A few days later an experiment with poison gas was carried out by Nebe and Dr. Widmann in Mogilev. In the local lunatic asylum, a room with twenty to thirty of the insane was closed hermetically, and two pipes were driven into the wall. A car was parked outside, and one of the metal pipes that Dr. Widmann had brought connected the exhaust of the car to the pipe in the wall. The car engine was turned on and the carbon monoxide began seeping into the room. After eight minutes, the people in the room were still alive. A second car was connected to the other pipe in the wall. The two cars were operated simultaneously, and a few minutes later all those in the room were dead.

After these experimental executions, Nebe came up with the idea of constructing a car with a hermetically sealed cabin for killing purposes. The carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust would be channeled into the sealed cabin, in which the victims stood. Nebe discussed the technical aspects of the idea with Dr. Heess and together they brought the proposal before Heydrich, who adopted it.[12]

Another source states that instead of adding a second car, the first car was replaced with a truck.[13] The idea to use gas was partly inspired by an incident involving Nebe. One night after a party Nebe had driven home drunk, parked in his garage and fell asleep with the car engine running. He nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes.[13]

Under Nebe's command, Einsatzgruppe B also engaged in public hangings used as a terror tactic on the local population. An Einsatzgruppe B report, dated 9 October 1941, described one such hanging. Due to suspected partisan activity in the area around the settlement of Demidov, all males aged fifteen to fifty-five in Demidov had been put in a camp to be screened. The screening produced seventeen people identified as 'partisans' and 'communists.' 400 local residents were assembled to watch the hanging of five members of the group; the rest were shot.[14]

Through 14 November 1941, Einsatzgruppe B reported the killing of 45,467 people. That same month, Nebe was posted back to Berlin.[14]

Stalag Luft III murders[edit]

In March 1944, after the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III POW camp, Nebe was ordered by Heinrich Müller, Chief of the Gestapo to choose 50 of the 73 captured prisoners to be executed in the Stalag Luft III murders.[15]

1944 plot against Adolf Hitler[edit]

Arthur Nebe was involved in the 20 July 1944 bomb plot against German dictator Adolf Hitler. As part of the plot, Nebe was to lead a team of 12 policemen to kill Himmler but the signal never reached him.[16] After the failure of the assassination attempt he went into hiding on an island in the Wannsee but was later arrested after a rejected mistress betrayed him. Nebe was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court) and according to official records, was executed in Berlin at Plötzensee Prison on 21 March 1945, by hanging with piano wire from a meat hook[17] as that was the punishment ordered by Hitler – who wanted the July 20 conspirators to be "hanged like cattle".[18]


Historians have a negative view of Nebe and his motivations, despite his participation in the 20 July plot. Robert Gellately describes Nebe's views as virulently racist and antisemitic.[7] Martin Kitchen characterizes Nebe as an opportunist who saw the SS as the police force of the future and describes him as "energetic and enthusiastic mass murderer, who seized every opportunity to undertake yet another massacre"; yet, he "was clearly unable to stand the strain and was posted back to Berlin.".[19]

Gerald Reitlinger characterizes Nebe's reasons to join the Einsatzgruppen as "placation" and desire to hold on to his position in the Criminal Police Department, which since 1934 was being "invaded by amateur Gestapo men" and was thereafter taken over by Heydrich. He writes: "If Nebe did in fact retain his office till 1944, it was because of the five months he spent in Russia, or, as his friend Gisevius politely referred to, at the front."(emphasis in the original)[20] Reitlinger calls Nebe as "a very questionable member of the Resistance Circle at the time of the great bomb plot."[8]

Assessing the 20 July conspirators and their complicity in war crimes, Christian Gerlach refers to Nebe as "notorious mass murderer." He writes:

"Von Schlabrendorff claimed that he and von Tresckow had convinced themselves that "under the mask of the SS leader lurked a committed anti-Nazi..., who invented pretexts for sabotaging Hitler's murderous orders. We succeeded in saving the lives of many Russians. The Russian population often expressed their thanks to us." [...] According to von Schlabrendorff, von Tresckow personally brought Nebe to the army group [of conspirators]. Nothing was said about the 45,467 murder victims of Einsatzgruppe B by November 1941, the point at which Nebe returned to Berlin."[21]

Gerlach expresses doubts that Nebe falsified Einsatzgruppe B reports, specifically to "sabotage Hitler's murderous orders." He discusses these claims using the phrases "it is said" and "allegedly." Gerlach further puts von Schlabrendorff's claims in the context of the 20 July participants' memoirs and 'existing discourse' on the opposition group within the high command of Army Group Center. He writes: "Especially with reference to the murder of the Jews, [it is said that] 'the SS' had deceived the officers by killing in secret, filing incomplete reports or none at all; if general staff offices protested, the SS threatened them." Gerlach concludes: "This is, of course, nonsense."[22]

Guenter Lewy lays out additional charges that tie Nebe to genocide. These include:[11]

  • "As head of the RKPA," (the Kripo or Criminal Police), "Nebe played a leading role in the formulation of Gypsy policy".[23]
  • Nebe told Adolf Eichmann to put Gypsies with the Jews on the transports to Nisko, in October 1939.
  • In September 1941, Nebe helped give a course named 'The Jewish Question with special attention to the partisan movement', which included the murdering of 32 people at Mogilev.
  • In 1944, Nebe suggested to Grawitz that the Gypsies interned at Auschwitz would be good people to use for medical experiments at the Dachau concentration camp (Himmler had asked Grawitz for advice on the question).
  • Bernhard Wehner of the RKPA stated Nebe was worried the Allies would punish him for his crimes, and that this was the only reason he joined the resistance.

Awards and decorations[edit]

In fiction[edit]



  1. ^ Biondi, Robert, ed., SS Officers List: SS-Standartenführer to SS-Oberstgruppenführer (As of 30 January 1942), Schiffer Military History Publishing, 2000, p. 10.
  2. ^ Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, p. 84.
  3. ^ a b c Browder, George C. (1990). Foundations of the Nazi Police State – The Formation of SIPO and SD. University of Kentucky. pp. 57, 62, 86, 87, 90, 116, 119, 121–122, 125, 191, 233–237, 241–242. ISBN 0-8131-1697-X. 
  4. ^ Williams, Max. Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volumes 1, p. 77.
  5. ^ Balfour, Michael Leonard Graham (1988). Withstanding Hitler in Germany, 1933–45. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-00617-1. 
  6. ^ Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, p. 83.
  7. ^ a b c Gellately, Robert (2002). Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. Oxford Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0192802910. 
  8. ^ a b Reitlinger, Gerald (1957). The SS – Alibi of a Nation 1922–1945. Viking Press. p. 279. ISBN 0-306-80351-8. 
  9. ^ Longerich 2011, p. 547.
  10. ^ Gerwarth 2011, p. 199.
  11. ^ a b Lewy, pp. 204–208
  12. ^ Yitzhak Arad (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 10–11
  13. ^ a b Laurence Rees. Auschwitz: A New History, 2006, p. 53.
  14. ^ a b Headland, Ronald (1992). Messages of murder: a study of the reports of the Security Police and the Security Service. Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3418-4. 
  15. ^ Andrews, Allen (1976). Exemplary Justice. London: Harrap. ISBN 978-0-245-52775-3. 
  16. ^ Balfour, p. 164
  17. ^ Koch, H. W. In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany, p. 291
  18. ^ Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 1393
  19. ^ Kitchen, Martin (2008). The Third Reich: Charisma and Community. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4058-0169-0. 
  20. ^ Reitlinger, p. 237
  21. ^ Gerlach, Christian (2004). War Of Extermination: The German Military In World War II, edited by Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann, Chapter 6: Men of July 20 and the War in the Soviet Union. Berghahn Books. p. 129. ISBN 1-57181-232-6. 
  22. ^ Gerlach, pp 128-129
  23. ^ Lewy, p. 207


Government offices
Preceded by
Reinhard Heydrich
President of Interpol
Succeeded by
Ernst Kaltenbrunner