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After the German army invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, a new stage in
the Holocaust began. Under cover of war and confident of victory, the Germans
turned from the forced emigration and imprisonment of Jews to mass murder.
Special action squads, or Einsatzgruppen, made up of Nazi (SS) units and police,
moved with speed on the heels of the advancing German army. Their job was to kill
any Jews they could find in the occupied Soviet territory. Some residents of the
occupied regions, mostly Ukrainians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, aided these German
mobile killing squads by serving as auxiliary police.

The mobile killing units acted swiftly, taking the Jewish population by surprise. The
killers entered a town or city and rounded up all Jewish men, women, and children.
They also took away many Communist party leaders and Roma (Gypsies). Victims
were forced to surrender any valuables and remove their clothing, which was later
sent for use in Germany or distributed to local collaborators. Then the killing squad
members marched their victims to open fields, forests, and ravines on the outskirts
of conquered towns and cities.There they shot them or gassed them in gas vans and
dumped the bodies into mass graves.

On September 21, 1941, the eve of the Jewish New Year, a mobile killing squad
entered Ejszyszki, a small town in what is now Lithuania. The killing squad members
herded 4,000 Jews from the town and the surrounding region into three synagogues,
where they were held for two days without food or water. Then, in two days of
killing, Jewish men, women, and children were taken to cemeteries, lined up in front
of open pits, and shot to death. Today there are no Jews in Ejszyszki. It was one of
hundreds of cities, towns, and shtetls whose Jews were murdered during the
Holocaust. The rich culture of most of these Jewish communities was lost forever.

The killing squads murdered more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of
other innocent people. At Babi Yar, near Kiev, about 34,000 Jews were murdered in
two days of shooting. Only a few people in the general population helped their
Jewish neighbors escape. Most people were afraid that they too might be killed.

The massacres of innocent men, women, and children in Babi Yar and other towns
were not the crimes of hoodlums or crazy men. The executioners were "ordinary"
men who followed the orders of their commanding officers. Many of the killers had

wives and children back in Germany. Propaganda and training had taught many
members of the mobile killing squads to view their victims as enemies of Germany.
Some killers drank heavily to dull their thoughts and feelings. In addition, when they
described their actions they used code words like "special treatment" and "special
action" instead of "killing" or "murder" to distance themselves from their terrible
crimes.

KEY DATES
JUNE 22, 1941
KILLING SQUADS DEPLOYED AGAINST JEWS
German mobile killing squads, called special duty units (Einsatzgruppen), are
assigned to kill Jews during the invasion of the Soviet Union. These squads follow
the German army, as it advances deep into Soviet territory, and carry out massmurder operations. At first, the mobile killing squads shoot primarily Jewish men.
Soon, wherever the mobile killing squads go they shoot all Jewish men, women, and
children, without regard for age or gender. By the spring of 1943, the mobile killing
squads will have killed more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of partisans,
Roma (Gypsies), and Soviet political officials.

SEPTEMBER 29-30, 1941


ABOUT 34,000 JEWS KILLED AT BABI YAR
The Germans order the Jewish residents of Kiev to assemble on Melnik Street for
resettlement outside the city. In reality, those who report are directed along Melnik
Street toward the Jewish cemetery and the ravine, called Babi Yar. Jews are forced to
hand over their valuables, disrobe, and move into the ravine in small groups.
German killing squads and Ukrainian auxiliary units shoot them. The massacre
continues for two days. About 34,000 Jewsmen, women, and childrenare killed
in this operation. In the months that follow, thousands more Jews are shot at Babi
Yar. Many non-Jews, including Roma (Gypsies) and Soviet prisoners of war, are also
killed in the ravine.

DECEMBER 1, 1941
A KILLING SQUAD COMMANDER REPORTS 137,346 KILLED
In the so-called "Jaeger Report," SS Colonel Karl Jaeger reports on the killings his
unit carried out in Lithuania between July 2 and December 1, 1941. He reports that

his squad killed 137,346 Jewish men, women, and children. Jews in the cities of
Kovno, Ukmerge, and Vilna are killed in a series of massacres throughout the
summer of 1941. Almost all Jews living in small Lithuanian towns and villages are
killed. Jaeger reports that only about 35,000 Jews remain, mostly as forced laborers
in the Kovno, Vilna, and Siauliai ghettos.
https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005130

Einsatzgruppen (in this context, mobile killing units) were squads composed
primarily of German SS and police personnel. Under the command of the German
Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei; Sipo) and Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst; SD)
officers, the Einsatzgruppen had among their tasks the murder of those perceived to
be racial or political enemies found behind German combat lines in the occupied
Soviet Union.

These victims included Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and officials of the Soviet state and
the Soviet Communist party. The Einsatzgruppen also murdered thousands of
residents of institutions for the mentally and physically disabled. Many scholars
believe that the systematic killing of Jews in the occupied Soviet Union by
Einsatzgruppen and Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) battalions was the first step of
the "Final Solution," the Nazi program to murder all European Jews.

During the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Einsatzgruppen followed
the German army as it advanced deep into Soviet territory. The Einsatzgruppen,
often drawing on local civilian and police support, carried out mass-murder
operations. In contrast to the methods later instituted of deporting Jews from their
own towns and cities or from ghetto settings to killing centers, Einsatzgruppen
came directly to the home communities of Jews and massacred them.

The German army provided logistical support to the Einsatzgruppen, including


supplies, transportation, housing, and occasionally manpower in the form of units to
guard and transport prisoners. At first the Einsatzgruppen shot primarily Jewish
men. By late summer 1941, however, wherever the Einsatzgruppen went, they shot
Jewish men, women, and children without regard for age or sex, and buried them in
mass graves. Often with the help of local informants and interpreters, Jews in a
given locality were identified and taken to collection points. Thereafter they were
marched or transported by truck to the execution site, where trenches had been
prepared. In some cases the captive victims had to dig their own graves. After the
victims had handed over their valuables and undressed, men, women, and children

were shot, either standing before the open trench, or lying face down in the
prepared pit.

Shooting was the most common form of killing used by the Einsatzgruppen. Yet in
the late summer of 1941, Heinrich Himmler, noting the psychological burden that
mass shootings produced on his men, requested that a more convenient mode of
killing be developed. The result was the gas van, a mobile gas chamber surmounted
on the chassis of a cargo truck which employed carbon monoxide from the truck's
exhaust to kill its victims. Gas vans made their first appearance on the eastern front
in late fall 1941, and were eventually utilized, along with shooting, to murder Jews
and other victims in most areas where the Einsatzgruppen operated.

The Einsatzgruppen following the German army into the Soviet Union were
composed of four battalion-sized operational groups. Einsatzgruppe A fanned out
from East Prussia across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia toward Leningrad (now St.
Petersburg). It massacred Jews in Kovno, Riga, and Vilna. Einsatzgruppe B started
from Warsaw in occupied Poland, and fanned out across Belorussia toward Smolensk
and Minsk, massacring Jews in Grodno, Minsk, Brest-Litovsk, Slonim, Gomel, and
Mogilev, among other places. Einsatzgruppe C began operations from Krakow
(Cracow) and fanned out across the western Ukraine toward Kharkov and Rostov-onDon. Its personnel directed massacres in Lvov, Tarnopol, Zolochev, Kremenets,
Kharkov, Zhitomir, and Kiev, where famously in two days in late September 1941
units of Einsatzgruppe detachment 4a massacred 33,771 Kiev Jews in the ravine at
Babi Yar. Of the four units, Einsatzgruppe D operated farthest south. Its personnel
carried out massacres in the southern Ukraine and the Crimea, especially in
Nikolayev, Kherson, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosiya, and in the Krasnodar region.

The Einsatzgruppen received much assistance from German and Axis soldiers, local
collaborators, and other SS units. Einsatzgruppen members were drawn from the
SS, Waffen SS (military formations of the SS), SD, Sipo, Order Police, and other
police units.

By the spring of 1943, the Einsatzgruppen and Order Police battalions had killed
over a million Soviet Jews and tens of thousands of Soviet political commissars,
partisans, Roma, and institutionalized disabled persons. The mobile killing methods,
particularly shooting, proved to be inefficient and psychologically burdensome to
the killers. Even as Einsatzgruppen units carried out their operations, the German

authorities planned and began construction of special stationary gassing facilities at


centralized killing centers in order to murder vast numbers of Jews.