Evidence for the Implementation 
of the Final Solution

Christopher R Browning

Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington  

Part II

Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V  

B.  Escalation: 

     The categories of Jews targeted for killing by the Germans steadily expanded.  There is no surviving copy of pre-invasion orders to the Einsatzgruppen concerning the killing of Jews.  The most specific document in this regard is a summary "in compressed form" (in gedrängter Form) of pre-invasion instructions to the Einsatzgruppen that Heydrich passed on to the Higher SS and Police Leaders of July 2, 1941.  According to Heydrich, the Einsatzgruppen had been instructed "to execute" (zu exekutieren) communist functionaries, "Jews in party and state positions" (Juden in Partei- und Staatsstellungen), and "other radical elements (saboteurs, propagandists, snipers, assassins, agitators, etc."  They were also instructed to "promote" (fördern) pogroms, euphemistically dubbed "self-cleansing attempts" (Selbstreinigungsversuchen), by local anti-Jewish elements but "without trace" (spurenlos) of German involvement.  Finally, Heydrich noted that Himmler had explicitly ordered that he be kept continuously and fully informed of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen. [30]   On July 17, 1941, Heydrich issued another written order for the execution of all Jews found in German POW camps. [31]

     From the very beginning it was clear these instructions did not limit the shooting of Jews to those strictly in "party and state positions" but rather were understood and interpreted broadly to encompass the shooting of large numbers of adult male Jews.  Moreover, this interpretation was immediately approved by Himmler and Heydrich.  On June 24, 25, and 27, the Security Police in Tilsit organized three mass executions totalling 526 victims who were "primarily Jews." (vorwiegend Juden)  The reason given was that the Jewish population had supported the Red Army, and that in two incidents four Germans had been shot at from behind.  In one execution every male Jew in the town of Krottingen was shot, and "only Jewish women and children were left." (nur jüdischen Frauen und Kinder verblieben sind)   Further executions were carried out in Augustowo.  "The Reichsführer-SS [Himmler] and the Gruppenführer [Heydrich], who by coincidence were present there, had themselves briefed on the measures implemented by the Tilsit Security Police and approved them completely." [32]   By early July the Tilsit Security Police and its subordinate border police stations reported shooting a total of 1,743 people, and one week later this figure had increased to 3,302. [33]

     Numerous Einsatzgruppen reports of July indicate that adult male Jews, and particularly professionals and community leaders, were targeted.  For example, for Einsatzgruppe C: "Leaders of Jewish intelligentsia (in particular teachers, lawyers, Soviet officials) liquidated." [34]   For Einsatzgruppe A:  "Actions against the Jews are going on in an ever-increasing number.  ...The Latvians drive the Jewish families out of town, while they arrest the men.  ...The arrested Jewish men are shot without delay and interred in previously prepared graves." [35]   And for Einsatzgruppe B:  "In Minsk, the entire Jewish intelligentsia has been liquidated (teachers, professors, lawyers, etc. except medical personnel)." [36]   And:  "The emphasis of the operational activity was directed first of all against the Jewish intelligentsia." [37]   As noted already, the Tilsit commando killed all the adult male Jews of Krottingen but not the Jewish women and children.  Only Einsatzkommando 3, however, gave an exact statistical breakdown between male and female Jewish victims.  For the period July 22-August 3, 1941, it reported killing 1,349 male Jews and 172 female Jews. [38]

     The escalation of the killing campaign to include Jewish women and children began in early August 1941, with clear impetus from the top SS leaders.  When the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment was preparing to sweep the Pripet Marshes, it received an "explicit order" (ausdrücklicher Befehl des RF-SS) from Himmler on August 1, 1941:  "All Jews must be shot.  Drive the female Jews into the swamp." [39]   The reply of SS-Sturmbannführer Magill demonstrated that he fully understood the purpose of Himmler's order, namely the killing of Jewish women and children through drowning, and he explained the inadequacy of the method:  "Driving women and children into the swamps did not have the intended success, because the swamps were not so deep that a sinking under could occur." [40]

     The War Diary of Police Battalion 322 shows a similar transition.  In early August its third company carried out executions of all adult male Jews but still spared Jewish women and children on its march from Bialystok to Minsk.  Then the chief of the Order Police met with Higher SS and Police Leader von dem Bach-Zelewski in Minsk on August 29, and the following day Police Battalion 322 was assigned to a "thorough Jewish action" (gründliche Judenaktion) or roundup in the Minsk.  On September 1 third company took part in the execution of the Jews who had been seized, including 64 Jewish women.  The inclusion of Jewish women was justified by their alleged failure to wear the Jewish star.  By early October the Battalion was shooting Jews "of both sexes" (beiderlei Geschlechts) without providing any explanation or rationalization. [41]

     Once again the detailed statistics of Jäger's Einsatzkommando provide the clearest evidence of the transition.  On August 6, 1941, Jäger was informed by Stahlecker that the latter had received "general orders from above that cannot be discussed in writing." [42]   Beginning on August 15, 1941, Jäger's statistics demonstrate a sharp increase in the number of Jews being shot and the inclusion of large numbers of Jewish women and children. [43]

     Beginning in late September, the killing campaign escalated once again when entire communities of Jews (with the exception of indispensable skilled workers) were killed in so-called "large-scale actions."  (Grossaktionen)  On September 19, following a decision "to liquidate the Jews of Zhitomir definitively and radically," the ghetto was emptied and 3,145 Jews were shot.  The massacre of over 33,000 Jews in Kiev followed on September 29-30. [44]   "On November 6 and 7, 1941, the action against Jews that had been prepared for some time was carried out in Rovno, where about 15,000 Jews were shot." [45]   Beginning on November 30, 1941, the Higher SS and Police Leader North reduced the Jewish population of the Riga ghetto from 29,500 to 2,600. [46]   In December Einsatzgruppe B  reported the elimination of the Bobruisk and Vitebsk ghettos through the shooting of 5,281 and 4,090 Jews respectively. [47]   In early December 1941 Einsatzgruppe D noted that some 10,000 Jews lived in Simpferpol;  two months later, it noted that almost 10,000 Jews had been executed there. [48]   Such actions aiming at total extermination of the Jewish population were not limited to large cities.  Following killing actions in smaller cities and rural areas, entire towns and then even entire regions were repeatedly proclaimed "free of Jews." [49]

     In early 1942, Heydrich reported:  "While the Jewish question in the Ostland (by which he presumably meant the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) can be seen as practically solved and cleansed, progress continues to be made on the clarification of this problem on other occupied territories in the east." [50]   Outside the Baltic the pace of killing slowed temporarily in the winter of 1941-42 for two reasons.  As SS-Sturmbannführer Hofmann, head of the Security Service in Minsk, explained to a meeting of officials from the civil administration: 

At present a complete liquidation of the Jews is not possible due to the frost, because the ground is too frozen to dig pits which would then be available as mass graves for the Jews.  A complete eradication of the Jews was also not possible, because workers were still needed from among the ranks of the Jews.

Nonetheless, Hofmann assured his listeners that "in the spring large-scale executions would be initiated again." [51]

     With the warming weather in the spring of 1942, large-scale killing did indeed begin again.  On March 2-3, 1942, 5,721 Jews were executed in Minsk, Vileyka, and Baranovichi, and later in the month 15,000 Jews were killed in Chevron. [52]   As noted from the Kube's report of July 31, 1942, on the killing of 55,000 Jews in six weeks in the Minsk region, and "Report No.51 for the Führer" on the execution of 363,211 Jews in the Ukraine and Bialystok in the four months of August through November, the killing was particularly intense in the summer and fall of 1942. 

     At this point, even the Jewish skilled workers important to the German war economy were no longer spared, as can be seen from documentation relating to the killing of the Jews in the region of Brest-Litovsk in the fall of 1942.  Informed of the impending "overall resettlement of the Jews" (generelle Umsiedlung der Juden), the SS and Polizeistandortführer in Brest-Litovsk, Friedrich Wilhelm Rohde, pleaded:  "Insofar as the Jewish question is solved in Brest, I foresee severe economic damage resulting from the lack of lab  or."  He was supported by the local commissioner (Gebietskommissar) Franz Burat: "Although the total resettlement of the Jews from the Kreisgebiet is desirable from the political standpoint, from the standpoint of labor mobilization, I must plead unconditionally for leaving the most needed artisans and manpower." [53]  

     These appeals were in vain.  On October 15-16, 1942, the 20,000 Jews of Brest, including 9,000 workers, were shot. [54]   The war diary and reports of Police Regiment 15 show that the Jews working in camps and on state farms in the region were also executed. [55]   The totality with which Jewish labor was executed in this region can be seen from a subsequent report of the military armaments commando:  "Then, in October 1942, there were large-scale Jewish evacuations in Volhynia as a result of which every Jew was removed from all the factories, and the factories came to a complete standstill for a shorter or longer time, or production dwindled to a mere fraction." [56]  

     In late July 1942 Himmler wrote emphatically:  "The occupied eastern territories will be free of Jews.  The carrying out of this very difficult order has been placed on my shoulders by the Führer.  No one can take this responsibility from me." [57]   In the end, this included even the skilled Jewish workers providing irreplaceable manpower for the German war economy.


C.  Camouflage Langauge:

     The documents concerning the killing of Jews on occupied Soviet territory contain both open and camouflage language.  Often the documents speak frankly of shootings, executions, extermination, liquidation, etc.  Elsewhere they use words such as "special treatment," "evacuation," "deportation," and "resettlement."  Many times one or more rationalizations are given to justify the mass killing of Jews as a response to or "reprisal" for some alleged provocation, and sometimes the documents claim that the Jews were "convicted" and the executions were carried out "according to martial law."  On other occasions, however, the goal of making these territories "free of Jews" through killing is openly admitted, and Jews are killed for no other reason than being Jewish.  The large number of surviving documents for this region allows a more careful examination of this use of language.

     The implication that Jews were investigated, convicted, and shot "according to martial law" (standrechtlich) for alleged individual offenses is dispelled by Einsatzgruppe C's own reporting.  It noted that by late October 1941, 80,000 persons had been "liquidated."  However, only 8,000 of these were persons "who on the basis of investigation could be proven guilty of anti-German or bolshevik activities.  The remainder were finished off on the basis of reprisal measures."  In the same report, Einsatzgruppe C reported that 75,000 of its 80,000 victims were Jews.  Clearly the killing of the vast majority of these 75,000 Jews was not the result of individual offenses that led to investigation, conviction, and execution "according to martial law." [58]   Moreover, the claim of legal proceedings in connection with shootings was at times clearly formulaic and transparently specious.  For instance, Sonderkommando 4a reported shooting 740 people in the first week of November "according to martial law."  Included in the list of victims, however, were only three political functionaries and one saboteur; the rest of the victims were 137 Jews and 599 mentally ill persons. [59]   

     As indicated by Einsatzgruppe C, many killings of Jews were explained or justified as "reprisals," that is collective punishment of the Jewish community for some alleged transgression by unidentified individuals.  This involved a variety of accusations:  refusing to work, incitement and spreading rumours, looting or plundering, supporting the partisans, and sabotage.  On other occasions, the shooting of Jews was justified because of insufficient food supplies or because the Jews were deemed a source of infectious disease or were simply too old and unfit for work. [60]  

     On two occasions in the Einsatzgruppen reports, however, the reasons for executions are spelled out systematically.  Among the reasons listed by Einsatzgruppe C was quite simply:  "Jews in general." [61]   (Juden allgemein)  Einsatzgruppe A also listed reasons for shooting: alongside participation in the communist party, sedition, partisan activity, and espionage, was quite simply:  "Belonging to the Jewish race." [62]   (Zugehörigkeit zur jüdischen Rasse)  In short, Jews were to be killed for being Jewish, whether a pretext was listed or not.  And in fact many executions were reported without any alleged justification whatsoever.  Jews were killed for whom they were, not for what they had done.

     The term "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) appears in the Events Reports for the first time in No. 21 of July 13, 1941.  The report notes that by July 8 the Einsatzkommando in Vilna had "liquidated" 321 Jews.  Furthermore, the report explained how this was done, namely that 150 Lithuanians were recruited "to take part in the liquidation of the Jews.   ...They arrested the Jews and put them into concentration camps where they were subjected the same day to special treatment. (italics mine)  This work has now begun, and thus about 500 Jews, saboteurs among them, are liquidated daily." [63]   Einsatzgruppe B reported in one paragraph that 640 Jews from the Nevel ghetto had been "liquidated."  In the very next paragraph it reported that in Janovichi 1,025 Jews "were subjected to special treatment." [64]   (wurden...sonderbehandelt) 

     One month later Einsatzgruppe B reported a long list of actions, in which various terms were used interchangeably to indicate killing.  In Belowchstchina 272 Jews were "liquidated." (liquidiert)  In Mogilev Einsatzkommando 8 and the Order Police "led 113 Jews to liquidation." (brachte 113 Juden zur Liquidierung)  In Schidow, 627 Jews were "liquidated.  In a further action another 812 male and female persons were subjected to special treatment.  Without exception they were racially and mentally inferior elements."  (liquidiert.  In einer weiteren Aktion wurden noch 812 männliche und weibliche Personen der Sonderbehandlung unterzogen.  Es handelte sich durchweg um rassisch und geistig minderwertige Elemente.)  In Minsk, Einsatzkommando 8 "executed" (exekutierte) 41 persons, "primarily" (vorwiegend) Jews.  In Talka, "222 Jews were led to liquidation." (222 Juden zur Liquidierung gebracht wurden)  Then in Marina-Gorka, "996 male and female Jews were subjected to special treatment." (wurden 996 männliche und weibliche Juden der Sonderbehandlung unterzogen)  In Borisov 83 Jews were "shot." (erschossen)  In Krupka and Sholpenitsche 912 and 833 Jews respectively were "liquidated." (liquidiert)  "The Rayon Krupka can now be considered free of Jews." (Die Rayhon Krupka kann damit als judenfrei angesehen werden.)  In Bobruisk Einsatzkommando 8 "executed" (exekutierte) 418 persons, including "rebellious Jews." (widersetzlichen Juden)  Then on October 8, 1941, the "total liquidation of the Jews in the ghetto of Vitebsk began.  The number of Jews handed over to special treatment came to some 3,000."  (der restlosen Liquidierung der im Ghetto in Witebsk befindlichen Juden begonnen.  Die Zahl der zur Sonderbehanldung gelangenden Juden beläuft sich auf etwa 3000.)  In Ostrovno 169 Jews were "shot" (erschossen), and finally 52 Jews who had fled from Gorodok were "specially treated." (sonderbehandelt) [65]   A subsequent report stated:  "In Vitebsk, the ghetto was evacuated.  During this process a total of 4,090 Jews of both sexes were shot." [66]   (In Witebsk wurde das Ghetto geräumt, wobei insgesamt 4090 Juden beiderlei Geschlechts erschossen wurden.)  In short, the term "special treatment" (and in this case also "evacuation") was often used interchangeably with "liquidated," "executed," and "shot" in the reports, without any serious pretense that it was supposed to camouflage what was happening.

     "Resettlement" and "deportation" are also terms the appear in German documents in a similar fashion.  For instance, the Gendarmerie district leader of Brest reported:  "On October 15 and 16, 1942, the Jewish action was carried out in Brest-Litovsk.  Simultaneously the complete resettlement of the Jews in the Kreisgebiet Brest-Litovsk also occurred.  In all some 20,000 Jews have been resettled up until now."  Two pages later in the same report, he explained the activities of his police station using different language.  "Participation in the action against the Jews in the city and Kreisgebiet Brest-Litovsk since October 15, 1942.  Up until now some 20,000 Jews have been shot." [67]

     Einsatzgruppe D reported that it had begun preparations for "the deportation of 12-13,000 Jews, Krimchaks, and Gypsies" in early December 1941. [68]   In a later document, Einsatzgruppe D noted that "Krimchaks...usually counted as part of the Jewish population."  Thus the inclusion of the Krimchaks and Gypsies in the fate of the Jews occasioned no special notice among the population. "Their extermination, together with that of the actual Jews and the Gypsies in the Crimea, was accomplished for the most part by the beginning of December 1941." [69]

     Thus SS documents for internal use openly employed terms like "special treatment," "evacuation," "resettlement," and "deportation" interchangeably with execution, shooting, liquidation, and extermination.  In documents for external use, however, such language was often used to camouflage what the SS was doing or intended to do.  The most blatant and cynical act of deception and camouflage can be seen by juxtaposing the internal documents of Einsatzgruppe A with its communications to the civil administration in its region in August 1941.  On July 27, 1941, the Reichskommissar for the Ostland, Hinrich Lohse, had issued a set of provisional guidelines for the treatment of the Jewish population without either consulting Stahlecker or delineating any role for the SS.  Higher SS and Police Leader North, Hans Adolf Prützmann, urged Stahlecker to meet with Lohse to discuss the matter. [70]   Stahlecker instead sent Jäger a three-page position page, which Jäger was to transmit to Lohse orally, as they were both in Kovno. [71]   Stahlecker explained that Lohse's guidelines, providing for ghettoization and forced labor of Jews at the moment and "resettlement" (Umsiedlung) later, were in conflict with the orders that had been given to Einsatzgruppe A.  Instead of ghettoization in the cities, Stahlecker sketched out a plan of "Jewish reservation areas" (Judenreservatsräume) in the open spaces, where the Jews would be separated by sex to prevent further procreation.  Work shops and factories would eventually be constructed there to exploit Jewish labor.  The reservations would also facilitate "the later collective deportation of the Jews to a reservation outside Europe."  In a handwritten note at the end, Stahlecker added that the Lohse draft "to a great extent touches on general orders from higher authority to the Security Police that cannot be discussed in writing." [72]  

     This scenario of deporting the Jews first to reservations in the open spaces of the Ostland and then later out of Europe was designed only for outside consumption, as Stahlecker's own documents show.  In his summary report of October 15, 1941, he wrote:  "It was expected from the start that the Jewish problem would not be solved solely through pogroms.  On the other hand the goal of security police cleansing work, according to basic orders, was the most complete removal possible of the Jews.  Extensive executions in the cities and flat lands were therefore carried out through special units, to whom selected manpower - in Lithuanaia partisan troops and in Latvia troops of the Latvian auxiliary police - were attached." [73]   Indeed, the nature of the orders Stahlecker had received from higher authority but could not put in writing are suggested by Jäger's statistics:  his unit began the systematic killing of Jewish women and children on August 15, just days after receiving Stahlecker's position paper. [74]  

D. Implications:

     The systematic mass-murder of Jews on occupied Soviet territory primarily through shooting, with the explicit goal of making these territories "free of Jews," is clearly visible in the surviving German documents.  Both method and goal are transparent.  The commanders in the field were explicitly told to report extensively, as both Hitler and Himmler were to be kept well informed.  Clearly their reports were intended to show that government policy was being carried out with zeal and efficiency.  Their actions were neither the unauthorized initiatives of a few rogue commanders nor the product of a sporadic breakdown in discipline in the heat of battle. 

     Such a thorough documentation does not exist concerning the fate of the Jews from the rest of Europe.  What can be learned from these documents concerning the intentions and actions of the regime and its use of language is essential, however, in interpreting the scantier documentation, evaluating the credibility of eyewitness testimony, and drawing conclusions from circumstantial evidence.

previous  Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V  next

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 14/03/02 16:45:25
©S D Stein

Faculty of Economics and Social Science Home Page