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Einsatzgruppen and the Hidden Holocaust

March 21, 2016



Introduction Pg. 1
History Pg. 2-5
Random Facts Pg. 2
Ment. Distress of
Soldiers Pg. 3
Film Summaries Pg. 4
Tower of Faces Pg. 5

Works Cited Pg. 6

When most people think of the Holocaust, they imagine

concentration camps, but not many people know about the
mobile killing squads called Einsatzgruppen. I had never heard
of this term before and began to search for more information.

Shannon Still

Einsatzgruppen and the Hidden Holocaust

March 21, 2016

There were four killing squads, also known as

Random Facts

Einsatzgruppen; the largest having at least nine hundred

Not everyone died while

men(NatGeo). As German armed forces invaded the Soviet

in the gas vans; some

were shot after being
gassed(Montague 163).

The term gas van was

not coined until after

World War II. Most
Germans referred to them
as Sonderwagen,
Spezialwagen or S-wagen
vehicles(Montague 199).

At least one million Jews

were killed[by
Einsatzgruppen] between
July and December
1941(Polonsky 253).

Not all bodies were

Union in 1941, Einsatzgruppen followed and systematically

murdered thousands of Jews and other
undesirables(Bachrach 42). The Germans were able to keep
the majority of people in the dark. Even the soldiers did not
know what they would be doing until they reached their
destination(Totalwar). In order to round up undesirables, or
the mentally ill, handicapped, and Communist leaders,
medical facilities were seized. Newly appointed directors
would create patient lists which supposedly sent the mentally
ill and the handicap to different medical facilities(Montague
15). In reality, the people were taken to fields or ravines at the

buried in mass graves,

some where given to the
Institute of Forensic
Medicine of Poznan
University(Montague 21).

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Einsatzgruppen and the Hidden Holocaust

Mental Distress
of Soldiers
Could the development of the
killing techniques, by the
Einsatzgruppen, be linked to the
concern of mental welfare for
Nazi soldiers? Evidence strongly
supports this theory. Many of the
soldiers would drink alcohol in
order to forget what they did and
when [soldiers] described their
actions, they used code words
like special treatment and
special action(Bachrach 43).
This shows that not all soldiers
could easily kill innocent people.
Himmler, the military commander,
experienced the psychological
hardship(Montague 199) after
witnessing a mass execution.
Nazi leadership decided mass
shootings were inefficient and
caused the soldiers psychological
distress. Einsatzgruppen resorted
to gas vans which spared the
killers the emotional
stress(Bachrach 48). Though
the vans were intended to relieve
psychological stress, they actually
caused emotional instability, both
for the soldiers and the public.
While in transit, cries[could be]
heard from inside the
van(Montague 206). It is highly
probable that the creation of
concentration camps relied
heavily on protecting soldiers
from emotional strain.

March 21, 2016

edge of town(Bachrach 42) where the murder process took

Victims of Einsatzgruppen were forced to undress and
relinquish any valuables hidden on the person (Bachrach 42).
During the beginning of operations, the Jews would dig their
own graves(Eins. Actual Foot.). German soldiers would force
the Jews to stand either at the opening of the graves or in the
graves and then used rifles to execute them(Eins. Actual Foot.).
As the war progressed, Nazi leaders decided this process was
taking too much time and effort(Eins. Actual Foot.). They would
have to manufacture a better execution method.
In an attempt to kill more people in a shorter time period,
German soldiers began to use mass graves(Eins. Actual Foot.).
Jews and undesirables still had to be stripped of all clothing and
valuables. Occasionally, off-duty soldiers would take pictures of
the naked Jews as they waited to be forced into the grave(Eins.
Actual Foot.). Unlike the first phase of the Einsatzgruppen, the
mass graves drew many spectators from nearby villages, towns,
or cities(NatGeo). People watched their neighbors die and most
did nothing to stop the Germans.
In order to fit more bodies in the grave, the Jews had to
lie down in rows(Actual foot). Each new group had to lie on top
of the deceased(Bruns 2). Typically, the masses were killed
using machine guns and sometimes grenades were thrown
in(Buscher 465). Once the grave reached capacity, either

Shannon Still

Einsatzgruppen and the Hidden Holocaust

Film Summaries
Einsatzgruppen Actual

Footage(Time 3:09)
This video contains real
footage of mobile killing squads as
they killed Jews. The video discusses
the process of the mass shootings
and one of the largest mass graves,
Babi Yav.

WWII Einsatzgruppen

B Soldier Te!s His

Story(Time 1:10-3:55)

March 21, 2016

soldiers or prisoners of war would fill it in(Buscher 465). Due

to the fact that no one checked to see if there were any
survivors, many people were buried alive(Buscher 465). It is
possible that screams and moans could be heard for a few
days following the shootings.
The shooting method probably would have continued
throughout World War II if Hemric Himmler, military
commander of the Nazi army, had not attended a mass
execution. According to reports, Himmler became distressed
and allegedly screamed, Kill them faster(NatGeo). To save
the soldiers from the mental stress of shooting people, the

Watch this video to hear

a man talk about his time serving

Nazis tried to think of a more efficient killing method.

chambers on wheels(Montague 199). Though no documents

Eventually, Nazi leaders approved the use of gas

can prove who invented the concept of a gas chamber on

Nat Geo Hitlers Hidden

Holocaust(Time 45
This documentary delves
into the creation and
development of Einsatzgruppen.
The video also includes the
testimony(10:34-13:27) of Zvi
Michaeli, a man who survived a
mass execution in 1941.

wheels, there is some documentation that links the origin and

development of the gas van to 1939 when Herbert Lange
traveled from Poznan to Berlin for consultations concerning
the development of a mobile euthanasia
institute(Montague 199). According to Jovan Byford, a
historian, Once the exhaust pipe was placed in the required
position, a ten to fifteen minute ride was enough to kill as
many as one hundred people locked in the back(6).
Customarily, the vans would drive to a pre-dug mass grave
and bury the bodies(Byford 6). Though the gas vans were

Shannon Still

Einsatzgruppen and the Hidden Holocaust

The Tower of
The Holocaust Museum
in Washington D.C. has a threestory room that is filled with
photographs of people from
Eishyshok, Lithuania(Tower of
Faces). This town was
obliterated by Einsatzgruppen in
1941. 3,443 men, women, and
children were massacred in two
The only evidence left of
these people comes from a
historian, Yaa Eliach,, who
tracked down over 1,500 pictures
of the victims(Nat Geo). Those
pictures make up the Tower of
Faces in the Holocaust Museum.

March 21, 2016

supposed to save the German soldiers from mental anxiety,

Nazi leadership discovered that the vans did not meet their
exception in regards to aiding the soldiers psychological wellbeing or efficient extermination.
The most prevalent dilemma centered on the victims as
they were being transported and disposed of. Van drivers
could choose when the people were killed which meant some
of the victims could have been alive during transport to the
grave(Montague 205). After being loaded into the van, many
victims would scream and try to escape(Montague 206). There
are reports of overturned gas vans caused by the Jews
struggling to breakout(NatGeo). The vans were also
vulnerable to mechanical faults and therefore
unreliable(Byford 17). Finally, the Nazis would force prisoners
to pull the bodies from the trucks and bury them which meant
man-power would have to be spared to transfer and guard the
prisoners(Byford 17). The number of difficulties associated
with the gas vans led to the creation of concentration
camps(Polonsky 253) which are most often linked with the
idea of the Holocaust.

Shannon Still

Einsatzgruppen and the Hidden Holocaust

March 21, 2016

Works Cited
Bachrach, Susan D. Tell Them We Remember: The Story of the Holocaust. Boston: Little,
Brown, 1994. Print.
Bruns, Generalmajor. "Major General Brunss Description of the Execution of Jews outside
Riga on December 1, 1941, Surreptitiously Taped Conversation (April 25, 1945)."
Interview by Capt'd Gttingen. GHDI Documents. GHDI, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Buscher, Frank M., and Michael Phayer. "German Catholic Bishops and the Holocaust,
1940-1952." German Studies Review 11.3 (1988): 463. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 24 Feb.
Byford, Jovan. "Survivor Testimony and the Writing of History in Socialist Yugoslavia."
Project MUSE [Johns Hopkins UP]. N.p., 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
"Einsatzgruppen Actual Footage." YouTube. YouTube, 8 July 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
Mass Execution of Lithuanian Jews by Members of the Wehrmacht and the Lithuanian SelfProtection Unit [Selbstschutz] (1942). 1942. GHDI. GHDI Images. By Bildarchiv
Kulturbesitz. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Montague, Patrick. Chemno and the Holocaust: The History of Hitler's First Death Camp.
Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2012. Print.
"NatGeo Hitlers Hidden Holocaust." YouTube. YouTube, 21 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.
Polonsky, Antony. ""The Conquest of History?" Toward a Usable Past in Poland Lecture 2:
The Problem of the Dark Past." Harvard Ukrainian Studies 27.1/4 (2004): 251-70.
JSTOR. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
" WWII Einsatzgruppen B Soldier Tells His Story." YouTube.
YouTube, 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
"Tower of Faces." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust
Memorial Council, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Ukrainian Jews Are Shot by Members of a Mobile Killing Squad [Einsatzgruppe] (1941).
1941. GHDI. GHDI Images. By Archiv Hoffmann. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

Shannon Still