Einsatzgruppen: special death squads

1941-1942 Soviet Union

After the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis organised Einsatzgruppen (special units) in the newly conquered territories. These ‘death squads’ were set up to kill Jews and communist officials. They received help from the Wehrmacht (regular German army).

The units summoned their victims to report at a central point or rounded them up in raids. Then, they executed them on the edge of ravines or alongside the holes they had had to dig. Sometimes, they put Jews in ghettos first and killed them later.

One of the most notorious massacres took place at the ravine of Babi Jar near Kiev in September 1941. An attack by the NKVD (the Soviet secret service) had damaged the army headquarters of the Germans. The Nazis decided to exterminate the Kiev Jews in retaliation.

Einsatzgruppe C put up pamphlets summoning the Jews to report for migration. More than 30,000 Jews headed the summons. They were then taken to the ravine of Babi Jar. Once they got there, they were forced to undress and hand over all their belongings. Then they were shot.

In this way, Einsatzgruppe C and its local collaborators murdered 33,771 Jews within two days. By the end of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered around 300,000 Jews. Six months later, the number had risen to approximately half a million. The victims were Jews as well as tens of thousands of Soviet officials, partisans, disabled people, and Roma.