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Genocide

The Wehrmacht leadership agreed in principle with Hitler's ideological war goals. However, as a result of their experience with the Einsatzgruppen in the war against Poland, they pressed for a clarification of the duties and jurisdiction of all the units involved. In March 1941, the Wehrmacht High Command accepted the proviso that, in the army areas of operation, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-SS, »will be entrusted, on behalf of the Führer, with special tasks for the preparation of the political administration tasks which derive from the decisive struggle which will have to be carried out between the two opposing political systems. Within the framework of these tasks, the Reichsführer-SS will act independently and on his own responsibility.«

Without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht, however, the Einsatzgruppen and the units of Higher SS and Police Leaders would have been unable to realize the mass murder of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. The Wehrmacht established military administration headquarters in the field and in towns and villages; these headquarters were the seat of executive power in the area as long as a particular territory was under military administration. All such Wehrmacht headquarters were charged with registering the Jewish population of the region, forcing Jewish inhabitants to wear a readily visible mark on their clothing, and confining Jews to the ghettos. Besides implementing these anti-Jewish measures, Wehrmacht units were also involved in executions. Numerous commanding officers expressly legitimated the mass murder of the Soviet Jews in their daily orders.

Members of the military administrations in the occupied Soviet territories also filled their coffers with the property of those murdered by confiscating it, in agreement with the Wirtschaftsstab Ost, as »Jewish property.« In their reports the Einsatzgruppen repeatedly emphasized the smooth and ready cooperation with various levels of the Wehrmacht.

Krivoy Rog

In late August 1941 one of the Ukrainian centers of iron ore mining, Krivoy Rog, a city with about 200,000 inhabitants, was occupied by Wehrmacht units. The local administration was at first in the hands of Field Headquarters (V) 538; Field Headquarters (V) 246 took over on September 20, 1941. Immediately after taking control of the city, the military administration issued orders to implement anti-Jewish measures.

Jewish citizens were forced to wear an arm band and recruited for slave labor. They were prohibited from buying goods freely and butchering animals according to kosher practices. The staff of the local headquarters confiscated Jewish property and permitted the collection of »contributions« from Jewish inhabitants by the Ukrainian city administration. There was, however, no Jewish ghetto in Krivoy Rog.

Not far from Krivoy Rog in the rayon [district] of Shirokoye, under the command of the same field headquarters, the 2nd company of Police Battalion 318 had begun murdering the Jewish population. The same was about to happen in Krivoy Rog. The local city headquarters reported on October 15, 1941 that Krivoy Rog was about to be made »Jew-free.« In the Iljitsch mines outside of the city an as yet unidentified police unit which belonged to the Higher SS and Police Leadership of Russia South joined with Ukrainian auxiliary police in murdering about 2500 Jewish civilians and 800 Jewish prisoners of war. The latter group had been selected from a Wehrmacht prisoner of war camp.

 

Photos of the victims on the way to being executed,
presumably October 15, 1941
Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein, Abt. 352, Kiel, Nr. 2477, Lichtbildmappe

 

 

Kamenez-Podolsk

In July 1941 Hungarian troops who were fighting side-by-side with the German Wehrmacht forced several thousand Jews to cross the border from Hungary into the Ukrainian city of Kamenez-Podolsk. The local German field commander informed his higher-ups that he was unable and unwilling to provide food for the refugees. Consultations on what was to become of these people dragged on into August.

Since Kamenez-Podolsk was scheduled to be turned over to the German civilian administrators on September 1, 1941, those responsible increased pressure for a more rapid solution. In the decisive meeting on August 25, 1941, conducted by Major i.G. Hans Georg Schmidt von Altenstadt, Chef der Abteilung Kriegsverwaltung beim Generalquartiermeister des Heeres [major at the General Staff, head of the Department of War Administration under the General Quartermaster of the Army], high-ranking representatives of the military and the civilian administration noted that the Leader of the Higher SS and Police in Russia South, Friedrich Jeckeln (who was not present at the meeting), hoped that »the liquidation of these Jews would be carried out by September 1, 1941.«

On August 29, right on schedule, Jeckeln reported to Berlin that his units in Kamenz-Podolsk had shot not only the Jews who had previously been driven out of Hungary, but also the local Jews, a total of 23,600 people. From the perspective of the Wehrmacht, the way was now clear for turning the town over to the German civilian administration.

Jews on the way to being executed in Kamenez-Podolsk, August 27, 1941.
Photographer: Gyula Spitz
United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum, 28214—28217

 

 

   

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