Evidence for the Implementation 
of the Final Solution

Christopher R Browning

Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington  

Part I

Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V  

Expert Opinion , written by Christopher R. Browning, currently Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, on Instructions of Davenport Lyons and Mishcon de Reya, Solicitors, for the Purposes of Assisting the Queen’s Bench Division in the High  Court in London in the Case between David John Cawdell Irving, Plaintiff, and Penguin Books Limited and Deborah E. Lipstadt, Defendants.

The report reproduced here with the permission of  Christopher Browning1, was introduced in the course of a libel trial brought by David Irving, which was held in London in 2000.  David Irving, who has written extensively on Third Reich history2, entered the suit against the American scholar Deborah E Lipstadt, author, and Penguin Books, publisher, of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, 1993.  In that publication Lipstadt had made the claim that David Irving was a Holocaust denier.  Christopher Browning's submission was one among a number3 of important reports submitted at the trial. The case was lost by the plaintiff. Further background information is available at the Holocaust Denial on Trial Web site. 

Table of Contents    

I.   Qualifications to give historical evidence      

II.  Purpose of this Expert Opinion Report           

III. Implementation of the Final Solution            

IV.  Documentary Evidence for the Systematic Mass Killing of Jews by Shooting                                     

A.   Scale of Killing                          

B.   Escalation                                

C.   Camouflage Language                       

D.   Implications                              

V.   Evidence for the Killing of Jews through Gas in Chelmno, Semlin, and the Camps of Operation Reinhard (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka)                            

A.   Documentary Evidence for the Emergence of a Program to Kill the Jews of Europe Europe

B.   Documentary Evidence Concerning the Gassing of Jews at Semlin, Chelmno, and on occupied Soviet territory in gas vans 

1.  Semlin                                

2.  Chelmno                               

3.  Einsatzgruppen on Soviet Territory     

C.   Documentary Evidence concerning the Operation Reinhard Camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka  

D.   Eyewitness Testimony concerning Gassing at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka   

1. German Visitors

2. German Camp Personnel

3. Non-German Guards

4. Nearby Poles

5. Jewish Escapees

E.   Documentary Evidence concerning Atkion Reinhard (alternatively spelled Reinhardt)           

I.  Qualifications to give historical evidence:

     I am a Professor of History at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, where I have taught since 1974.  Beginning the the fall semester of 1999, I will take up a new position as the Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill.  I received my B.A. in History from Oberlin Colege in 1967, and my M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern European History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1968 and 1975 respectively.

     My scholarly career has been devoted to the study of National Socialist Germany and the Holocaust.  I have published four books in this field:  The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office (New York:  Holmes & Meier, 1978);  Fateful Months:  Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985; revised and expanded edition, 1991);  Ordinary Men:  Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York:  HarperCollins, 1992), with translations in German, Dutch, French, Italian, and Swedish; and The Path to Genocide (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1992), with translations in German and Italian.  In addition I have published more than thirty-five articles and delivered my than thirty-five scholarly papers in the field.  In early 1999 I delivered the George Macaulay Treveylan Lectures at Cambridge University. 

     I have been engaged as an expert witness for five cases involving accusations of "war crimes" under the Nazi regime:  the Wagner case in Australia, the Grujicic and Kisluk cases in Canada, and the Serafimovich and Sawoniuk cases in the United Kingdom. 

II.   Purpose of the Expert Opinion Report

     I have been asked to write a report the addresses the following issues: 

1.  What is the documentary evidence concerning the implementation of a policy to kill the Jews on German-occupied Soviet territory through shooting.

2.  What is the state of evidence concerning the implementation of a policy to kill Jews by means of gas in camps other than Auschwitz, and particularly in the camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

3.  What is the state of evidence concerning the emergence and existence of an overall plan of the Nazi regime to kill the Jews of Europe.

4.  What is the state of evidence concerning the importance and purpose of the Wannsee Conference.

5.  What is the state of evidence concerning the naming and purpose of "Operation Reinhard."  

III.  Implementation of the Final Solution

     The Nazi regime implemented the Final Solution or mass murder of the European Jews caught within its empire primarily by two methods--shooting and gassing.  In the territories occupied by Germany after June 22, 1941 (with the exception of the district of Bialystok and partial exception of the district of Galicia), shooting was the most common method employed to kill Jews.  The Jews of central and western Poland i.e. the Polish territory held by Germany since September 1939, and those deported from all over Europe to Poland during the war for the most part perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, and the gas vans of Chelmno.

     The evidence for these killing operations is of four types used commonly by scholars in the writing of history and judicial authorities in the conducting of trials:  1) contemporary documentation;  2) witness testimony recorded later (from survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders); 3) material evidence; and 4) circumstantial evidence.  Because the Nazi regime sought to destroy not only the Jews of Europe but also the documentary evidence and material evidence (i.e. the mass graves and death camps), the evidence with which scholars and judicial authorities can work is both less than complete and not symmetrical for the two killing methods.  In particular, the documentation of mass killing by shooting in the territories occupied by Germany after June 1941 is quite extensive, while documents relating to gassing in Poland is scant.  For gassing, therefore, witness testimony and circumstantial evidence play a much larger role.  

IV.  Documentary Evidence for Systematic Mass Killing of Jews by Shooting:

     Prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Reinhard Heydrich (Himmler's deputy and Chief of the Security Police and Security Service) assembled four mobile SS units known as Einsatzgruppen.  They were designated A, B, C, and D for the Baltic, Central, Southern, and Romanian fronts respectively.  The four Einsatzgruppen were in turn divided into smaller units referred to as Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkommandos.  By agreement with the German army, these SS units were permitted to move forward with the advancing German military and operate up to the front lines. 

     In the rear areas police functions were exercised by the Order Police, which included rural police stations of the Gendarmerie, urban police stations of the Schutzpolizei, mobile Police Battalions, and growing auxiliary police units composed of native recruits working on behalf of the Germans called Schutzmannschaften.  Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and Chief of German Police, also designated three Higher SS and Police Leaders (North, Central, and South) to coordinate all joint police activities behind the front. 

     By far the richest collection of surviving documents relevant to the systematic mass murder of Jews through shooting are the reports from the Einsatzgruppen recorded in the so-called Ereignismeldungen or Event Reports compiled by Heydrich's staff in Berlin.  One hundred and ninety-five Event Reports were compiled between June 23, 1941, and April 24, 1942. [1]  

     Eleven "Activity and Situation Reports (Tätigkeits- und Lageberichte) of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and SD in the USSR" were also compiled by Heydrich's staff between July 31, 1941, and March 31, 1942.  These Activity and Situation Reports summarized the contents of the Event Reports (bi-monthly for August and September 1941 and otherwise monthly) and were widely circulated throughout the German government. [2]   Three other reports originating from the Einsatzgruppen (two by the commander of Einsatzgruppe A, Franz Stahlecker, [3] and one by his subordinate, the commander of Einsatzkommando 3, Karl Jäger, [4] as well as a series of orders from Heydrich are also significant. [5]  

     One reason for this extensive reporting from the Einsatzgruppen and its systematic compilation in Berlin is revealed by a message from Heinrich Müller, the head of the Gestapo within Heydrich's Security Police, to the four Einsatzgruppen on August 1, 1941.  "The Führer is to be kept informed continually from here about the work of the Einsatzgruppen in the East." [6]  

     These collections of Einsatzgruppen documents certainly constitute the primary though not the only documentary sources for the killing operations into the spring of 1942.  Thereafter, for contemporary written records, the historian is dependent upon a mixed collection of German documents originating from a number of sources, such as the Higher SS and Police, the civil administration of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, the mobile Police Battalions, the Gendarmerie stations, and the military.

     This report will not attempt a complete history of the destruction of Soviet Jewry as reflected in these German documents.  Rather it will focus on four issues:  1) the scale of killing; 2) the steady escalation of the categories of Jews targeted for execution;  3) the use of open and camouflage language in the documents; and 4) the implications for our wider understanding of Nazi Jewish policy and the Final Solution.  

A.  Scale of killing:

     The various reports and documents are incomplete concerning the total number of Jews and others executed by various German and collaborator units on occupied Soviet territory.  Nonetheless, if one simply adds the summary numbers contained in the surviving documents, even the partial total gives a sense of the scale on which the killing was carried out.

Einsatzgruppe A:

Einsatzkommando 2 reported having shot 34,193 people by February 2, 1942. [7]

Einsatzkommando 3 reported having killed 133,346 people by November 25, 1941. [8]

Einsatzgruppe B reported on November 14, 1941, that its "total number" (Gesamtzahl) of "liquidations" (Liquidierungen) had reached 45,467. [9]

Einsatzgruppe C:

Sonderkommando 4a reported having shot 59,018 people as of November 40, 1941, and

Sonderkommando 5 reported having shot 36,147 people as of December 7, 1941. [10]

Einsatzgruppe D reported having shot 91,678 people as of April 8, 1942. [11]

     These cumulative totals do not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish victims.  The Jäger Report (summarizing the activities of Einsatzkommando 3 in Lithuania up to December 1941), however, does identify all its victims, of which only 2,042 or barely 1.5% were non-Jewish (mostly identified as communist functionaries or mentally-ill).  Einsatzgruppe D did not make this distinction in its cumulative totals, but it often did in its bi-weekly reports.  For instance, on November 5, 1941, it reported killing 11,037 Jews and 31 communist officials in the previous two weeks. [12]   For the period November 16-December 15, 1941, it reported executing 17,645 Jews, 2,504 Krimchaks (categorized racially as Jews), 824 Gypsies, and 212 communists. [13]   For the last two weeks of December 1941, it reported shooting 3,176 Jews, 85 partisans, 12 looters, and 122 communists. [14]   For the first two weeks of January 1942, it reported a rare reversal, in which 1,639 communists and partisans were reported shot along with 685 Jews. [15]   For the latter half of January, it reported shooting 3,286 Jews, 152 communists, 84 partisans, and 79 looters and saboteurs, and asocials. [16]  

     By the estimate of Einsatzgruppe C in late October, it had "liquidated" (liquidiert) some 80,000 people, of which 75,000 were Jews. [17]    Sonderkommando 4a conceded that "the total number...of those executed included, in addition to a relatively small number of political functionaries, active communists, people guilty of sabotage, etc., above all Jews...." [18]   Einsatzkommando 5 occasionally offered specific breakdowns of its victims as well.  For instance, for the period November 2-18, 1941, it shot 10,650 Jews, 15 political officials, 21 saboteurs and looters, and 414 hostages. [19]   For the week of November 23-30, 1941, it reported shooting 2,615 Jews, 64 political functionaries, and 46 saboteurs and looters.  And for the following week it reported shooting 1,471 Jews, 60 political functionaries, and 47 saboteurs and looters. [20]   In short, there is compelling evidence to conclude that the overwhelming majority of the people reported executed by the Einsatzgruppen were in fact Jews.

     In addition to giving figures for the four Einsatzgruppen themselves, the Event Reports occasionally record killings by other units as well, though in a much less complete fashion.  For example, a police unit operating on Soviet territory just over the border from the town of Tilsit in East Prussia was credited with liquidating 3,302 persons in the first weeks after the invasion. [21]   An additional Einsatzgruppe "for special purposes" operated in the areas immediately across the demarcation line in Belarus and the Ukraine once the original four Einsatzgruppen had moved further east.  For the last ten days of July, this unit was credited with 3,947 executions. [22]   For several periods in August, it was credited with an additional 12,652 killings. [23]   The Higher SS and Police Leader South, Friedrich Jeckeln, was reported to have killed 44,125 persons, "mostly Jews," in August. [24]   (meist Juden)  He was subsequently credited with 10,000 Jews in Dniepropetrovsk and 15,000 Jews in Rowno (the latter with help from EK 5). [25]   Transferred to become Higher SS and Police Leader North in November 1941, the same Jeckeln was credited with reducing the Jewish population of Riga from 29,500 to 2,600 in late 1941. [26]

     For the period beyond the spring of 1942, other documents provide a glimpse of continued killing of Jews on a massive scale.  On July 31, 1942, the head of the civil administration in western Belarus, Wilhelm Kube, reported from Minsk that in the previous ten weeks some 55,000 Jews had been killed in his district. [27]   On December 26, 1942, the Higher SS and Police Leader for South Russia, the Ukraine, and the Northeast submitted a report on the campaign against the partisans for the three-month period from September 1 to December 1, 1942.  Three days later, on December 29, 1942, the report was retyped in the so-called Führer-type (especially large type that Hitler could read without his glasses) and retitled:  

Reports to the Führer on combatting partisans. 

Report No. 51. 

Russia South, Ukraine, Bialystok. 

Results of the antipartisan campaign from 1.9. to 1.12.1942.

The report was signed by Heinrich Himmler.  On the top of the front page was the initialed hand-written note:  "submitted 31.12.42."  The report noted for August, September, October, and November in the category of "bandits" a total of 1,337 killed in battle, 737 executed immediately after battle, and 7,828 executed after interrogation.  In the category of "accomplices and suspects," the report had two sub-categories:  on a line for "executed," it listed 14,256.  On a separate line for "Jews executed," it listed 363,211. [28]  

     Why would Himmler include the killing of 363,211 Jews in a report to Hitler on anti-partisan warfare?  According to Himmler's appointment book, on December 18, 1941, he and Hitler had discussed the "Jewish question."  The result of their conversation was noted succinctly:  "to be annihilated as partisans." [29]   (Als Partisanen auszurotten)  In short, annihilating Jews and solving the so-called "Jewish question" under the cover of killing partisans was the agreed-upon convention between Hitler and Himmler.  

1 Among his most important publications on the Holocaust are: The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office (1978), Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (1985); Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (1992), The Path to Genocide (1992). 

2 The War Path: Hitler's Germany 1933-1939 (1977), Hitler's War 1939-1942 (1977), Hitler's War 1942-1945, Göring: A Biography (1989).  For a comprehensive analysis of his writings see the report by the historian Richard J Evans, submitted at the trial.

3 See Hitler's Role in the Persecution of the Nazi Regime by Peter Longerich, The Systematic Character of the Nationalist Socialist Policy for the Extermination of the Jews by Peter Longerich, and the Van Pelt Report.

Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V 

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 26/03/02 11:30:22
©S D Stein

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