Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution: Electronic Edition, by Browning, Christopher R.

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D. Implications >>

[Introduction] Documentary Evidence for the 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 government2. Three other reports originating from the Einsatzgruppen (two by the commander of Einsatzgruppe A, Franz Stahlecker3 , and one by his subordinate, the commander of Einsatzkommando 3, Karl Jäger4 , as well as a series of orders from Heydrich are also significant5 .
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.


1. The Ereignismeldungen or Event Reports are found in Bundesarchiv, R 58.
2. The Tätigkeits- und Lageberichte are found the Political Archives of the German Foreign Office, Inland II 431. They are not published in full in: Peter Klein, ed., Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten Sowjetunion 1941/42: Die Tätigkeits- und Lageberichte des Chefs der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (Berlin, 1997). This book also contains many other relevant documents.
3. The first Stahlecker report of 15.10.41 is Nürnberg Document 180-L, printed in IMT, vol. 27. The second, undated draft report is Nürnberg Document PS-2273.
4. Karl Jäger's report of 1.12.41. entitled "Gesamptaufstellung der im Bereich des EK. 3 bis zum 1. Dez. 1941 durchgefürten Exekutionen," Special Archives Moscow (hereafter SAM), 500-1-25.
5. The most complete collection can now be found in Klein, Die Einsatzgruppen.
6. Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten Sowjetunion 1941/42, p. 342 (Müller to Einsatzgruppen A, B, C, D, 1.8.41). (Dem Führer soll von her aus lfd. Berichte über die Arbeit der Einsatzgruppen im Osten vorgelegt werden.)
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accessed 12 March 2013