The impact of Operation Barbarossa on the emergence of mass extermination centers

Operation Barbarossa was carried out, were one of the most brutal and destructive battles of World War II. The launch of activities in the east was also a turning point in the Nazi plan to "solve the Jewish question."

Four Einsatzgruppen (A, B, C and D) were formed, which were divided into Einsatzkommandos and Sonderkommandos. An Einsatzgruppen unit counted between 600 and 990 members who belonged to: SS, SD, Gestapo, Kripo, policemen from the 9th reserve police battalion from Berlin and the secret police unit Leitender Dienst. These units were subordinated to the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), headed by Reinhard Heydrich.

The Einsatzgruppen were to deal with Jews, fanatical communists, civil servants and the Soviet intelligentsia. German expansion during the war was perfectly prepared in ideological, theoretical and tactical terms. The scenario of mass executions was usually similar. Victims were gathered in one place and then shot. Bodies were thrown into mass graves, often dug by prisoners themselves, in nearby forests. Germany, upon entering Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine, freed the population from the terror created by the communists. Local people participated in the mass murders of Jews and communists. Often, there were also local policemen and officials who took part in round-ups, executions and pointed out where the enemies of the Third Reich were. As early as June 25-29, 1941, a pogrom against the Jewish population took place in Kaunas, carried out by Lithuanian nationalists and inspired by the Germans. One of the first known pogroms in which local people also took part took place in Lviv from June 30 - July 5, 1941. Five thousand Jews were killed then. According to German documents, the massacre was unambiguously carried out by Ukrainian volunteer militia and soldiers of Ukrainian subversive battalions on vacation. On the other hand, the massacre of Jews in Babi Jar, near Kiev, where 40,000 people were killed, was primarily the work of Ukrainian police formations. In Biała Cerkiew, in September 1941, Nazi murderers killed 1,100 adult Jews, but refused to shoot 560 children. At that time, Ukrainian "police" were called to help, who carried out this part of the execution without any hesitation. At first, the target of the special forces were men, but from August 1941 they were also ordered to murder women, children and the elderly.

It is estimated that Einsatzgruppen murdered at least 900,000 victims. However, there were many more victims of mass murders, where the victims were mainly Jews and, to a lesser extent, the Soviets - also thanks to the help of the already mentioned local people. Some sources mention up to 1,500,000 - 2,000,000 victims. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) The largest massacres took place in Babi Jar near Kiev, the Rumbula forest near Riga, in Lviv, Rivne, Kharkov, Odessa, Vilnius and Kaunas. Accurate determination of the number of victims of mass extermination is impossible, because most orders were given orally and the mass murders of Jews and communists were carried out by local people before the arrival of the Einsatzgruppen. However, few photographs and video recordings have survived. The victims were shot and tortured to death, and their bodies were buried in mass graves.

SS leaders began to fear that the scale of the massacre which their people carried out could adversely affect their mental health. Therefore, they began to experiment with alternative methods of killing, e.g. gassing people in specially adapted trucks, which were later used in the Kulmhof extermination camp (from December 1941) and in Bełżec at the initial stage of the camp's operation.

Gassing victims in vans was not a complete success, because their use was no less stressful for the Einsatzgruppen than the slaughter. In addition, there were also activities of emptying trucks from the bodies of murdered victims.

It is time to move on to the new phase of killing, consisting of bringing victims to the executioners. At the turn of 1941 and 1942, the Nazis built camps in the occupied territories of Poland, whose sole purpose was to kill people on an industrial scale. The camps in Chełmno, Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka were established to murder hundreds of thousands of people using carbon monoxide gas. They were located in densely forested areas, away from the  local population. However, they were well connected in terms of railway. As early as September 1941, experimental killing with "Cyclone B" was carried out in Auschwitz. Stationary extermination centers were already the next stage of genocide. It is true that Einsatzgruppen in the east functioned practically until 1944, but the largest number of crimes was committed in the first phase of the invasion of the USSR, i.e. in the years 1941–1942. The above-mentioned events had a very large, but not exclusive, impact on the establishment of mass extermination centers.

Einsatzgruppen in east
Einsatzgruppen massmurder
Einsatzgruppen execution

Archival photos - public domain. If copyright has been violated, please contact me. The photos have been added for information, not for profit or for surreptitious advertising.