13 November 1894|
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||21 March 1945
Berlin, Nazi Germany
|Rank||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|
Arthur Nebe (help·info) (13 November 1894 – 21 March 1945) was a key functionary in the security and police apparatus of Nazi Germany. Nebe rose through the ranks of the Berlin and Prussian police forces to become head of Nazi Germany's Criminal Police (Kripo) in 1936, which was folded into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) in 1939.
Nebe perpetrated mass murder during the Holocaust, serving as commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B deployed largely in modern-day Belarus behind Army Group Centre during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In late 1941, he was posted back to Berlin and resumed his career within the RSHA. Nebe commanded the Kripo until he was denounced and executed after the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944.
- 1 Before World War II
- 2 World War II
- 3 Assessment
- 4 References
Before World War II
Born in Berlin in 1894, the son of a Berlin school teacher, Nebe volunteered for military service and served with distinction during World War I. In 1920 Nebe joined the Berlin detective force, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo; Criminal Police), and attained the rank of Police Commissioner in 1924.
Nebe was a "conservative nationalist". In July 1931, he joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP number 574,307) and the Schutzstaffel (SS number 280,152). He later obtained the rank of SS-Gruppenführer. 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. In 1933 he came to know Hans Bernd Gisevius, then an official in the Berlin Police Headquarters (after the war, Gisevius would produce an apologetic account of Nebe's Nazi era activities). In 1935 Nebe was appointed head of Prussian criminal police.
Head of Kripo
In July 1936, the 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 Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (Security Service), the intelligence service of the SS and the Nazi Party. Nebe was appointed head of Kripo and, as chief, reported to Heydrich.
On 27 September 1939, Himmler ordered the creation of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA); the new organisation encompassed all security services and police, except for the uniformed service. The RSHA was divided into main departments, including SiPo and Kripo, which became Department V of the RSHA. Department V was also known as the Reich Criminal Police Office (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, or RKPA). Nebe embraced the preventative mission of the Kripo to "exterminate criminality" and fostered Nazi ideology within the police department. Under Nebe's leadership, equipped with arbitrary powers of arrest and detention, the Kripo acted more and more like the Gestapo, including the liberal use of preventative custody, and large-scale roundups of so-called asocials.
Nebe's ties to mass murder may originate in 1939, when he lent a commissioner in his Criminal Police Office, Christian Wirth of Stuttgart, to the euthanasia organisation. Also in 1939, as head of Kripo, he was involved in the discussions around the upcoming campaigns against Sinti and Roma. Nebe's thinking at the time included the possibility of sending Berlin's Gypsies to the planned reservations for the Jews and others in the east.
World War II
In 1941, just prior to Operation Barbarossa the Nazi invasion of Russia, Nebe volunteered to command Einsatzgruppe B, a mobile killing unit, which was to operate behind Army Group Center in the east after the invasion of the Soviet Union. The unit's task was to exterminate Jews and other "undesirables", such as communists, Gypsies, "Asiatics", and mental patients in the territories that the Wehrmacht had overrun. It was also common practice for the Einsatzgruppen to shoot hostages and prisoners of war handed over by the army for execution.
Around 5 July 1941, Nebe consolidated Einsatzgruppe B near Minsk, establishing a headquarters and remaining there for some two months. The killing activities progressed apace. In a 13 July Operational Situation Report, Nebe reported 1,050 Jews had been liquidated in Minsk, and that in Vilna, the liquidation of the Jews was underway, and that five hundred Jews were shot daily. In the same report Nebe remarked that: "only 96 Jews were executed in Grodno and Lida during the first days. I gave orders to intensify these activities". He also reported that the liquidations were being brought into smooth running order and that the shootings were carried out "at an increasing rate". The report also announced that in Minsk Einsatzgruppe was now killing non-Jews.
In the 23 July report, Nebe advanced the idea of a "solution to the Jewish problem" being "impractical" in his region of operation due to "the overwhelming number of the Jews"; there were too many Jews to be killed by too few men. By August 1941, Nebe came to realize that his Einsatzgruppe's resources were insufficient to accomplish the murder of the expanded quota of Jews, resulting from the inclusion of women and children.
New killing methods
In August 1941, Himmler attended a demonstration of a mass-shooting of Jews in Minsk arranged by Nebe after which he vomited. Regaining his composure, Himmler decided that alternate methods of killing should be found. He told Heydrich that he was concerned for the mental health of the SS men. Himmler turned to Nebe to devise a more "convenient" method of killing, particularly one that would spare executioners elements of their grisly task. Murder with carbon monoxide gas, already in use in the Reich as part of the euthanasia program, was contemplated, but deemed too cumbersome for the mobile killing operations in the east.
Nebe decided to try experimenting by murdering Soviet mental patients, first with explosives near Minsk, and then with automobile exhaust at Mogilev. To that end, he ordered Dr. Albert Widmann, a member of the criminal-technical institute of the RKPA, to come to Minsk with 250 kilograms (550 lb) of explosives and exhaust hoses. The next day Widmann, Nebe, and an explosives expert carried out their first experiment in prepared bunkers in the Minsk area. According to testimony presented at Widmann's postwar trial:
One of the bunkers was loaded with explosives and 24 mental patients were put into it. Nebe gave the signal to detonate, but the resultant explosion failed to kill the patients. Several of them emerged from the bunker covered in blood and screaming loudly. Thereupon more explosives were brought up, the wounded patients were forced back into the bunker, and a second explosion finally finished the job. The bunker had become quiet and parts of bodies could be seen hanging from nearby trees.
Two days later, Nebe and Widmann carried out another killing experiment: five mental patients from Mogilev were placed in a hermetically sealed room, with pipes leading to the outside. At first, a passenger car was used to provide the gas, but it failed to kill the patients, so a truck was added; the patients were dead within 15 minutes. Nebe and Widman concluded that killing with explosives was impractical, while gassing held promise as vehicles were readily available, and could be used as needed.
After these experimental killings, Nebe thought of remodeling a vehicle with a hermetically sealed cabin for killing. The carbon monoxide from the vehicle's exhaust would be channelled into the sealed cabin in which the victims stood. He discussed the technical aspects of the idea with a specialist from Kripo's Technology Institute and together they brought the proposal before Heydrich, who adopted it.
The idea to use gas was partly inspired by an incident in Nebe's past. One night after a party, Nebe had driven home drunk, parked in his garage, and fallen asleep with the engine running nearly dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes.
Despite little interference from insurgents in the rear during the first months of the invasion, the Wehrmacht's aggressive rear security doctrine, and the use of the "security threat" to disguise genocidal policies, resulted in close cooperation between the army and the security apparatus behind the front lines. A three-day field conference was organized at Mogilev by General Max von Schenckendorff, chief of Army Group Centre's rear area, to create an "exchange of experiences" for the Wehrmacht rear unit commanders. Participating officers were selected on the basis of their "achievements and experiences" in security operations already undertaken; participants included representatives of the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) (English: Army High Command) and Army Group Centre.
The conference began on 24 September and focused on "combatting partisans" (Bekämpfung von Partisanen) and reflected Schenkenckendorff's views on the need for total eradication of the partisans as the only way to secure territory behind the armies. Talks presented included: the evaluation of Soviet "bandit" organisations and tactics, why it was necessary to kill political commissars immediately upon capture, and gaining intelligence from local collaborators. The speakers included: Nebe; Higher SS and Police Leader Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski; Max Montua, commander of Police Regiment Center; Hermann Fegelein, commander of the SS Cavalry Brigade; and Gustav Lombard, commander of the 1st SS Cavalry Regiment. Nebe's talk focused on the role of the SD in the common fight against "partisans" and "plunderers". He also covered the "Jewish question", with particular consideration to the anti-partisan movement.
The conference included three field exercises. On the second day, participants travelled to the settlement of Knyazhichi (German: Knjaschitschi). According to the after-action report, "suspicious strangers" (Ortsfremde), that is partisans, could not be found but the screening of the population revealed fifty-one Jewish civilians, of whom thirty-two were shot. The conference participants were presented with the default targeting of Jews in anti-partisan warfare. A 16-page executive summary of the conference was distributed to the Wehrmacht troops and police units in the rear area. The conference, while ostensibly "anti-partisan training", was "to promote the annihilation of Jews for racial reasons". There was a dramatic increase in atrocities against Jews and other civilians in the last three months of 1941.
Under Nebe's command, Einsatzgruppe B committed public hangings to terrorise the local population. An Einsatzgruppe B report, dated 9 October 1941, stated that, due to suspected partisan activity near Demidov, all male residents aged fifteen to fifty-five were put in a camp to be screened. Seventeen people were identified as "partisans" and "Communists" and five were hanged in front of 400 local residents assembled to watch; the rest were shot. Through 14 November 1941, Einsatzgruppe B reported the killing of 45,467 people; thereafter, Nebe returned to Berlin and resumed his duties as head of the Kripo.
Persecution of Gypsies
Guenter Lewy wrote that Nebe participated in genocides:
- "As head of the RKPA," (the Kripo or Criminal Police), "Nebe played a leading role in the formulation of Gypsy policy".
- Nebe ordered Adolf Eichmann to put Gypsies with Jews on the transports to Nisko, in October 1939.
- 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, after Himmler had asked Grawitz for advice.
- Bernhard Wehner of the RKPA said that Nebe was worried the Allies would punish him for his crimes and that this was the only reason he joined the resistance.
Stalag Luft III murders
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 fifty of the seventy-three recaptured prisoners to be killed in what became known as the Stalag Luft III murders.
1944 plot against Adolf Hitler
Arthur Nebe was involved in the July 20 plot against Adolf Hitler. He was to lead a team of twelve policemen to kill Himmler but the signal never reached him. After the failed 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 People's Court and, according to official records, was executed in Berlin at Plötzensee Prison on 21 March 1945, by being hanged with piano wire from a meat hook on Hitler's orders that the bomb plotters were to be "hanged like cattle".
Historians have a uniformly negative view of Nebe and his motives, despite his participation in the 20 July plot. Robert Gellately writes that Nebe's views were virulently racist and antisemitic. Martin Kitchen casts Nebe as an opportunist, who saw the SS as the police force of the future, and as an "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".
Comprehensive reports filed by the Einsatzgruppen have been analyzed by historian Ronald Headland as "historical 'Messages of Murder'" that provide insights into the worldview of its leadership. Headland writes that the reports "bear witness to the fanatic commitment of the Einsatzgruppen leaders to their mission of extermination"; their ideology and racism are evident in the "constant debasement of the victims" and "ever present racial conceptions concerning Jew, Communists, Gypsies and other 'inferior' elements". Headland concludes that Nebe was an ambitious man who may have volunteered to lead an Einsatzgruppe unit for careerist reasons, to get a "military decoration", and to curry favor with Heydrich. Any misgivings he may have entertained as to the feasibility of the undertaking failed to prevent him from overseeing the murder of close to 50,000 people in the five months he spent as commander of his unit.
Gerald Reitlinger describes Nebe's reasons for joining the Einsatzgruppen as "placation" and a desire to hold on to his position in the Criminal Police Department, which, since 1934, had been "invaded by amateur Gestapo men" and was later taken over by Heydrich. "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'." Reitlinger called Nebe a very questionable member of the Resistance Circle at the time of the great bomb plot.
Alex J. Kay writes that "the role, character and motivation of those involved both in planning—and in some cases carrying out—mass murder and in the conspiracy against Hitler deserve to be investigated more closely". He places Nebe in this category, with Franz Halder, chief of the OKH, and Georg Thomas, head of the Defence, Economy and Armament Office in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) (English: Supreme Command).
Several apologetic accounts produced by bomb plotters described Nebe as a professional police officer and a dedicated member of the German resistance. In 1947, Hans Gisevius described Nebe's position at the head of Einsatzgruppe B as a "brief command at the front". Gisevius changed his story in the 1960s, when Nebe's role with the Einsatzgruppen was exposed. In Wo ist Nebe? (Where is Nebe ), Gisevius claimed that Nebe was reluctant to accept the posting but had been persuaded to take it by the opposition leaders Hans Oster and Ludwig Beck, who had allegedly wanted Nebe to retain a key role in Heydrich's apparatus. Gisevius also claimed that Nebe exaggerated the number of victims in reports to Berlin by adding a zero to the number of those killed.
Historian Christian Gerlach, writing about the 20 July conspirators and their complicity in War crimes of the Wehrmacht, refers to Nebe as a "notorious mass murderer". He discusses the role of Henning von Tresckow and his adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, who were members of the resistance, and writes:
Schlabrendorff claimed that he and 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 Schlabrendorff, 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.
Gerlach doubts that Nebe falsified Einsatzgruppe B reports, to "sabotage Hitler's murderous orders". Gerlach puts Schlabrendorff's claims in the context of bomb plotters' memoirs and "existing discourse" on the opposition group within the high command of Army Group Center: "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. (...) This is, of course, nonsense."
The historian Waitman Wade Beorn writes: "...some have argued that [Nebe] deliberately inflated the numbers of Jews he reported killed. Yet all evidence indicates that he was quite content to play his role in Nazi genocide and that his subsequent displeasure with the regime may have stemmed from the imminent Nazi defeat but not opposition to the Holocaust".
- Lewy 2000, p. 204.
- Browder 1990, p. 57.
- Biondi 2000, p. 10.
- Browder 1990, p. 125.
- Browder 1990, p. 231.
- Williams 2001, pp. 61, 129.
- Browder 1990, pp. 233, 241.
- Gellately 2001, p. 75.
- Gellately 2001, pp. 45–46.
- Reitlinger 1957, p. 279.
- Gellately 2001, pp. 107–108.
- Beorn 2014, p. 98.
- Headland 1992, pp. 62–70.
- Headland 1992, p. 74.
- Beorn 2014, p. 110.
- Headland 1992, p. 197.
- Headland 1992, pp. 199–201.
- Beorn 2014, p. 190.
- Longerich 2012, p. 547.
- Gerwarth 2011, p. 199.
- Heberer 2008, p. 232.
- Lewy 2000, pp. 204–208.
- Dederichs 2009, p. 106.
- Arad 1987, pp. 10–11.
- Rees 2006, p. 53.
- Beorn 2014, pp. 95–96.
- Blood 2006, p. 167.
- Beorn 2014, pp. 99–101.
- Beorn 2014, pp. 101–106.
- Headland 1992, pp. 57–58.
- Headland 1992, p. 94.
- Andrews, Allen (1976). Exemplary Justice. London: Harrap. ISBN 978-0-245-52775-3.
- Balfour 1988, p. 164.
- Koch, H. W., p. 291
- Shirer 1960, p. 1393.
- Gellately 2001, p. 46.
- Kitchen 2008, pp. 235–236, 254.
- Müller & Uberschär 1997, p. 223.
- Headland 1992, pp. 208–211.
- Reitlinger 1957, p. 237.
- Kay 2011, p. 156.
- Lewy 2000, p. 205.
- Gerlach 2004, p. 129.
- Gerlach 2004, pp. 128–129.
- Beorn 2014, p. 270.
- Arad, Yitzhak (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21305-3.
- Balfour, Michael Leonard Graham (1988). Withstanding Hitler in Germany, 1933–45. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-00617-1.
- Biondi, Robert, ed. (2000) . SS Officers List: (as of 30 January 1942): SS-Standartenfuhrer to SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer: Assignments and Decorations of the Senior SS Officer Corps. Atglen, PA: Schiffer. ISBN 978-0-7643-1061-4.
- Beorn, Waitman Wade (2014). Marching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-72550-8.
- Blood, Phillip W. (2006). Hitler's Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Nazi Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-59797-021-1.
- Browder, George C. (1990). Foundations of the Nazi Police State – The Formation of SIPO and SD. University of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-1697-6.
- Boog, Horst; Förster, Jürgen; Hoffmann, Joachim; Klink, Ernst; Müller, Rolf-Dieter; Ueberschär, Gerd R. (1998). Attack on the Soviet Union. Germany and the Second World War. IV. Translated by Dean S. McMurry; Ewald Osers; Louise Willmot. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-822886-4.
- Dederichs, Mario R. (2009) . Heydrich: The Face of Evil. Drexel Hill, PA: Casemate. ISBN 978-1-935149-12-5.
- Gellately, Robert (2001). Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820560-9.
- Gerlach, Christian (2004). "Chapter 6: Men of July 20 and the War in the Soviet Union". In Hannes Heer; Klaus Naumann. War of Extermination: The German Military In World War II. Berghahn Books. ISBN 1-57181-232-6.
- Gerwarth, Robert (2011). Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11575-8.
- Heberer, Patricia (2008). "Justice in Austrian Courts? The Case of Josef W. and Austria's Difficult Relationship with its Past". In Patricia Heberer and Jürgen Matthäus. Atrocities on Trial: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Prosecuting War Crimes. University of Nebraska Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-8032-1084-4.
- 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.
- Kay, Alex J. (2011) . Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940–1941. New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-84545-186-8.
- Kitchen, Martin (2008). The Third Reich: Charisma and Community. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4058-0169-0.
- Lewy, Guenter (2000). The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-512556-8.
- Longerich, Peter (2012). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6.
- Müller, Rolf-Dieter; Uberschär, Gerd (1997). Hitler's War in the East 1941–1945: A Critical Assessment. New York: Berghan Books. ISBN 978-1-84545-501-9.
- Rees, Laurence (2006). Auschwitz: A New History. Public Affairs. ISBN 978-1-58648-357-9.
- Reitlinger, Gerald (1957). The SS – Alibi of a Nation 1922–1945. Viking Press. ISBN 0-306-80351-8.
- Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-62420-0.
- Williams, Max (2001). Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography. 1. Church Stretton: Ulric. ISBN 978-0-9537577-5-6.
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