Primary Source: SS Einsatzgruppen Affidavit

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The SS Einsatzgruppen were a task force of Nazi Germany's military set up to kill civilian enemies in conquered territories. Learn about their war crimes and their final punishment during the Nuremberg Trials in this lesson.

The SS Einsatzgruppen

The Nazi German government was obsessed with finding persons that they deemed to be enemies of the state. Members of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, were tasked with finding enemies both within Germany and within their conquered territories. These paramilitary police were some of the most feared Nazis in all of occupied Europe, responsible for identifying persons like Jews, Roma gypsies, and Slavs to be arrested. The SS also organized and administered the concentration camps that killed millions of persons in the Holocaust. Heinrich Himmler, architect of the Holocaust, was the chief commander of the SS, and responsible for organizing their activities and their operational strategies.

An organization within the SS, called the Einsatzgruppen or Protection Squadron, were responsible for carrying out executions in conquered territories, moving with the German army. Their mass killings targeted partisans, rebels, and anyone else who might pose a threat to the German army, although often they massacred anyone they came across simply to avoid the chance of leaving behind a potential enemy. Estimates of their death squads suggest they may have killed as many as two million civilians, mostly throughout Eastern Europe as the German army spread through Poland and the Soviet Union.

Some members of the SS Einsatzgruppen fled the country after World War II. Those who were caught were prosecuted in the Nuremberg Trials from 1947 to 1948 on charges of crimes against humanity. Of the 24 most senior leaders of this organization, 14 were sentenced to death and two were given life sentences; four of the ''survivors'' would later be tried and executed by the justice system of other countries.

During the trials, Otto Ohlendorf gave an affidavit, a sworn testimony, about the SS Einsatzgruppen's activities during the war. Let's take a look at the document now. You can see a digital copy of it at

Text of SS Einsatzgruppen Affidavit:

I, Otto Ohlendorf, being first duly sworn, declare:

I was Chief of the Security Service (SD). Amt III of the Main Office of the Chief of the Security Police and the SD (RSHA), from 1939 to 1945. In June 1941 I was designated by Himmler to lend one of the Special Commitment Groups (Einsatzgruppen), which were then being formed, to accompany the German armies in the Russian campaign. I was the Chief of the Einsatzgruppe D. Chief of the Einsatzgruppe A was Sahlocker. Department Chief in the Foreign Office. Chief of Einsatzgruppe B was NEBE, Chief of Amt V (KRIPO) of the Main Office of the Chief of the Security Police and the SD. (LSHA) Chief of Einsatzgruppe C was first RASCH (or RASCHE) and then THOMAS. Himmler stated that an important part of our task consistent of the extermination of Jews--women, men and children--and of Communist functionaries. I was informed of the attack on Russia about four weeks in advance.

According to an agreement with the Armed Forces High Command and Army High Command, the Special Commitment Detachments (Einsatzcommandos) within the army group or the army were assigned to certain army corps and divisions. The Army designated the areas in which the Special Commitment Detachments (Einsatzkommandos) had to operate. All operational directives and orders for the carrying out of executions were given through the Chief of the SIPO and the SD (RSHA) in Berlin. Regular courier service and radio communications existed between the Einsatzgruppen and the Chief of the SIPO and the SD.

The Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos were commanded by personnel of the GESTAPO, the SD or the Criminal Police. Additional men were detailed from the Regular Police (Ordnungspolizei) and the Waffen SS. Einsatzgruppe D consisted of approximately 400 to 500 men and had about 170 vehicles at its disposal.

When the German Army invaded Russia, I was leader of the Einsatzgruppe D in the southern sector, and in the course of the year, during which I was leader of the Einsatzgruppe D, it liquidated approximately 90,000 men, women and children. The majority of those liquidated were Jews, but there were among them some Communist functionaries too.

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