19 September 1941, an advanced party from Paul Blobel’s
(Einsatzgruppe C) arrived
The city was home to Ukraine’s largest Jewish population. At a meeting between Jeckeln
, and Kurt Eberhard
, Jeckeln set his sights on eliminating Kiev’s entire Jewish population and arranged for other units, including some Ukrainian auxiliaries
, to help with the task.
Soon after, announcements on the streets of Kiev instructed all members of the Jewish community to meet at 8 a.m. on 29 September at a particular downtown location. All Jews
were to bring official documents, warm clothing, linen, and any valuables. Those who failed to show up would be hunted down and shot. On the appointed day, a large crowd gathered. German and Ukrainian forces arranged them into a purposefully staggered line. Then, according to eyewitness Sergei
, “in tight columns of one hundred each” the Jews “were marched to the adjoining Babi Yar
Another account by Lev Ozerov
notes that at Babi Yar “an entire office operation with desks had been set up….”
A truck driver named Höfer
describes what he saw:
The Ukrainians led them past a number of different places where one after the other they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes and overgarments and also underwear. They also had to leave their valuables in a designated place. There was a special pile for each article of clothing. It all happened very quickly and anyone who hesitated was kicked or pushed by the Ukrainians to keep them moving.
Removing the victims’ clothing before shooting them generated two main advantages: the clothes could later be sold on for profit and, in terms of control
, earlier executions confirmed that naked victims were less likely to make a run for it.
The Babi Yar
was about 150 metres long, 30 metres wide and a good 15 metres deep. Two or three narrow entrances led to this ravine through which the Jews were channeled. When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of the Jews who had already been shot. This all happened very quickly. The corpses were literally in layers. […] When the Jews reached the ravine they were so shocked by the horrifying scene that they completely lost their will. It may even have been that the Jews themselves lay down in rows to wait to be shot. […] there was a ‘packer’ at either entrance to the ravine. These ‘packers’ were Schutzpolizisten, whose job it was to lay the victim on top of the other corpses so that all the marksman had to do as he passed was fire a shot.
The packers helped to ease the psychological burden on the shooters by ensuring victims were facedown and thus faceless, robbing them of their individuality.
There were so many people to kill that the shootings continued until darkness, with the action resuming at first light the following morning.
divided his men into groups of 30, with each group spending an hour each on shooting duties.
With specialist contributors who collected clothing and valuables, channeled victims into the ravine, and “packed” the victims to await the arrival of the marksmen who shot them, Jeckeln
had developed a bureaucratized, assembly-line process of mass murder. With more civilians killed in less time, this massacre overshadows that in Kamianets-Podilskyi
. Despite Jeckeln’s record-breaking feat, his report to Berlin tersely noted, “Special commando 4a, together with Einsatzgruppe C
Headquarters and two commando groups of the South Police
Regiments, executed 33,771 Jews in Kiev on 29 and 30 September 1941.”
At the same time that Nebe and Fritzsch
were undertaking their gassing experiments, Jeckeln’s application of means-to-end formal rationality
enabled him to destroy a greater number of civilians than any other unit yet. A secret official report noted at the time that the key to this staggering result was Jeckeln
’s application of some “extremely clever organization” to overcome the usual “difficulties resulting from such a large-scale action.”
As Yaacov Lozowick
observes, “It seems no accident that the orderly, well-planned murder of 33,000 Jews took place at Kiev at the end of this period, rather than at Lvov near the beginning.”
Much like Milgram would later do at Yale during his pilot studies, project manager
Jeckeln also gradually and systematically refined his procedure of harm infliction. And with more time, Jeckeln’s “factory-orientated approach”
underwent further refinements; the division of labor
increased with ever more specialist functionaries performing ever more refined specialist tasks, including a reliance on specialist shooters who were willing and capable of doing more than their fair share of the dirty work.
At a mass shooting eight weeks after the Babi Yar
In the pits…there were to be only a few active marksmen, each of whom used a machine pistol set on single shot. Walking over his victims, a “shooter” could fire fifty shots and then receive a new magazine from a comrade whose sole responsibility was refilling cartridges […] After a number of magazines, the marksmen would take a break. Row after row, marching block after marching block was to be killed in this manner, in accordance with Jeckeln
’s minutely worked out method….
Thus, as Angrick
put it, with time and increasing experience Jeckeln came to prefer deploying in the pits “a small circle of truly emotionless SS men,” “primarily his ‘old’ men…who had ‘already done’ something like this” at earlier executions.
Still, due to the highly stressful nature of such work, Jeckeln
felt it was necessary to rotate with “additional men for the relief….”
Because, during the campaign, Jeckeln received the aid of various military units—Wehrmacht
regiments, Einsatzkommando units, Police battalions, and Ukrainian auxiliary forces—his “one best way
” of massacring civilians soon spread elsewhere. If Germans in the armed forces decided in the future to deploy Jeckeln’s “controlled” shooting process—and as we shall see, they did—“calculable” and highly “efficient” results of around 15,000 people killed per day became “predictable.” Jeckeln
’s inherently bureaucratic mass shooting process
advanced all four components of a formally rational system.
It is Jeckeln’s process (along with the innovations by other contributors, like Einsatzkommando 3
’s Karl Jäger
) that best explains the rising curve of murder statistics in the Soviet interior after mid-August 1941. And Jeckeln’s increasingly bureaucratized shooting process—with its division of labor
, specialization of labor, clear responsibilities, written records, rules and procedures, impersonality of relations—could do so because as Weber
The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organization. The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the non-mechanical modes of production.
I therefore challenge the so-called de-bureaucratization
argument during the Holocaust by bullets
In fact, the rational evolution of the execution process and the record-breaking Babi Yar
massacre in particular can, I believe, be described more precisely as a modern bureaucratic process
Despite the increased bureaucratization, an earlier problem persisted. Even some of the “ordinary” executioners, who after several months of killing had risen to the top of Himmler’s shooter attrition process, were still in need of, as Jeckeln
put it, “relief….” For example, Kurt Werner
, a marksman at the Babi Yar
massacre, admitted after that, “It’s almost impossible to imagine what nerves of steel it took to carry out that dirty work down there. It was horrible….”
Like the Obedience study’s Mrs. Rosenblum, Werner only seems concerned about his pain. With a seemingly endless supply
of Soviet Jews
to kill, the question
was how much longer could the most calloused of German killers like Werner keep it up? Shooting squad reports such as the one Jeckeln
submitted to Berlin
after Babi Yar
rarely mention any psychological problems among the perpetrators. However, as Headland
noted earlier, officials were constantly aware of the issue and gave it a great deal of attention.
As Rudolf Höss
said after the war,
Many gruesome scenes are said to have taken place, people running away after being shot, the finishing off of the wounded and particularly of the women and children. Many members of the Einsatzkommando [Nazi shooting squads], unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad.
In confirmation of much of this, in November 1941, lawyer Helmuth von Moltke
wrote in a letter to his wife that at least one hospital existed “where SS men are cared for who have broken down while executing women and children.”
neuropsychiatrist who treated many of those affected believed that about 20% of men suffered from psychological disorders associated with the shootings.
Even those German executioners who did not break down, as Annette Schücking
, a female aid based in the East, reported, “all had an intense need to talk.”
Despite the ongoing psychological problems, Jeckeln
still proved capable of obtaining high body counts. Perhaps this is why on 10 October 1941, Heydrich
mused about deporting Germany’s Jews to new camps in Einsatzgruppe C
’s area of operations in Ukraine.
It is no coincidence that Einsatzgruppe C
happened to fall under Jeckeln’s umbrella of control
Indeed, a week later, on 18 October, after meeting with the General Government’s
SS and Police Leader Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger
and the previously mentioned Odilo Globocnik
, Himmler ordered the cessation of Jewish emigration.
Himmler would now be in charge of when the Reich
Jews would leave Germany and where they would be sent. In reaction to Hitler
’s earlier decision during the September
“euphoria of victory,” around mid-October the RSHA (Eichmann)
started organizing trains packed with German
(from cities including Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Breslau)
east. However, somewhat mysteriously, the plan to send German
was soon dropped. Instead, these trains were redirected to Minsk (Belarus)
(Latvia), and, most proximately, Lódź
(Poland). In the German university town of Göttingen
, locals—presumably victims of British air raids—reacted to this news by “flooding” the NSDAP
district office with applications for the soon-to-be-vacated Jewish apartments.
Because these German Jews
were limited to leaving with no more than 50 kilograms of luggage,
the household effects they had to leave behind—furnishings, appliances, textiles, and such—were passed on to “deserving” Germans.
The deportation of trainloads of these Western Jews
to various eastern
cities signaled significant movement in the Nazi regime’s solution to the “Jewish question
.” Eichmann, the SS’s people-moving expert, knew that if the SS was to succeed, it would need to draw on the expertise, resources, and support of other German governmental agencies. But doing so would require that the usually secretive SS discloses its intentions to others. With such cooperation in mind, on 29 November Eichmann
sent invitations on Heydrich’s behalf to almost a score of mostly high-ranking civil servants from certain government agencies, for example, the Transportation Ministry
. The meeting, scheduled for 9 December, has become known as the Wannsee Conference
Heydrich attached to the invitations a 31 July 1941 mandate from Göring
that reinforced that he (Heydrich) had total control
over resolving the Jewish question
and therefore, all invitees were to cede to his needs. Those invited were the people whose acquiescence Heydrich
would demand, and whose help and resources Eichmann
would need, to resolve once and for all the persistent and expanding “Jewish question.” And it was at this meeting that a new plan would be revealed.
But soon after the invitations were sent out, Germany was struck by several significant blows on the military front lines. First, in the Soviet interior, the onset of winter from about November 1941 saw the Nazi war machine grind (freeze?) to a halt. Then, beginning on 5 December the Soviets managed to muster a forceful counteroffensive. Germany’s lightening victory over the Soviets would not come as easily as Hitler
had so confidently anticipated. The resumption of the successful march to victory would have to await the spring thaw. The second and immediately more disconcerting blow to the German military came just a few days later on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor—an act which caused the USA to declare war on Japan
. Due to the Axis
Pact between Italy
, and Germany, the USA’s declaration of war against Japan required Germany to declare war against the USA. If the USA could free itself from a predictably difficult campaign against the Japanese in the Pacific, the already stretched Nazi war machine would face, on multiple front lines, a new, highly industrialized, and no doubt awesome foe.
In response to these military setbacks, on 12 December 1941, Hitler, according to Goebbels
’ diary, “decided to make a clean sweep [of the Jews].”
An entry in Himmler’s diary, dated 18 December, confirms that around this point in time the policy toward all Jews changed. “Jewish question
| exterminate as partisans.”
For the previous six months, Soviet Jews
had been the targets of genocidal actions, so this statement was obviously not specifically directed at them. Powerful Jews in the Reich
, Europe, and America were, as far as Hitler was concerned, behind Germany’s recent military setbacks.
All such groups, at least those within reach, would now pay the price.
But how exactly were all the Western Jews
transported to the East to be killed? As shown, over the previous few months, a variety of trial-and-error experiments had taken place—some of which indicated strong signs of probable success. Still, as Hilberg
As of November 1941, there was some thinking about deporting Jews to the
so they could be killed by these experienced shooters. That is why German
were transported to Minsk, Riga, and Kovno.
If so, why were most of these cities located in Einsatzgruppe A
’s northwestern sphere and none in Jeckeln
’s southwestern territories? Put differently, why was the Nazi’s most effective executioner being excluded from this tentative plan? The answer to this question is that he was not excluded—in mid-October 1941 Himmler decided to replace Hans-Adolf Prützmann
(Higher SS and Police Leader of Northern Russia) with
the far more “efficient” Jeckeln.
By November, Jeckeln, with his team intact, had relocated to the north (based in the Latvian capital of Riga).
to his own testimony after the war, nearing mid-November Jeckeln received orders from Himmler for his first assignment: liquidate the 25,000–28,000 Latvian Jews
in the Riga ghetto
incapable of productive labor.
For this assignment, Jeckeln intended to apply his trusted “Kiev model….”
He settled on a site in a clearing in the Rumbuli forest
about 10 kilometers south of Riga.
On 25 November 1941, about 250 kilometers south of Riga, the first of the Reich Jews
arrived on Eichmann’s
trains at the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. The nearly 3000 German Jews
on board—mainly women and men and a small number of children—were met by Karl Jäger’s
efficient Einsatzkommando 3
and were soon after shot.
Back in Riga, on 30 November Jeckeln
implemented his plan to liquidate the Latvian Jews
in the Rumbuli forest
. But the previous evening a train with 1000 Jews from Berlin arrived.
On his own initiative, Jeckeln decided to also kill the new arrivals first thing in the morning, instead of housing them in the recently vacated Riga ghetto
Einsatzgruppe A’s Dr. Rudolf R. Lange (not to be confused with T4’s Herbert Lange) tried to defy Jeckeln’s decision. Lange not only stood up to Jeckeln but also informed both Heydrich and an immediately furious Himmler what was taking place. Himmler’s order to Jeckeln that this particular trainload of Jews was not to be shot arrived too late—all were killed earlier in the day. It is not clear why Himmler wanted to save, for the meantime, this particular transport.
What is clear is that although many more trainloads of Western Jews
soon followed, most were not shot. Instead, these Reich Jews
were housed in the Lódź
, and Riga ghettos
Indecision in the Eastern territories seems to have set in. As Browning
notes, “In the last months of 1941, the total mass murder of the deported Reich Jews was clearly not yet being implemented.”
One explanation for the hesitancy is that the onset of winter made grave digging in the permafrost impossible.
This may be part of the answer, although such conditions did not seem to stop Jäger and Jeckeln
’s winter massacres.
Much of this mystery must then be explained by the fact that the shooting squads were struggling with the increased psychological burden associated with having to shoot Western Jews
. Wilhelm Kube
, the Generalkommissar for White Ruthenia
based in Minsk, highlighted the problem when he noticed that two young Jewish women from Germany appeared to have fully Aryan features. Although in the 1930s, he was rightfully described by one scholar as “an inveterate antisemite”
—and described Minsk Jews
as “indigenous, animalistic hordes”
—it appears Kube developed strong second thoughts about the “Final Solution” when it came to shooting Jews from “our cultural milieu.”
And until “a more discrete and ‘humane’ way” could be found, Kube refused to shoot Reich Jews.
Soon after, however, Heydrich
overruled Kube’s reluctance and these Western Jews
were eventually shot. But of course, for those implementing these orders, if the most seasoned of German executioners struggled to kill every Eastern
Jew placed before them, it is not difficult to imagine they faced heightened psychological difficulties when ordered to shoot civilians from the west who dressed, sounded, and sometimes looked much like themselves. Most of these Jews did not resemble the images promoted in Nazi propaganda: poor Eastern
Jews whose impoverished appearances were a side effect of the wartime condition imposed on the ghettos by the Nazis themselves. Perhaps Jeckeln
could find a solution. However, it appears the SS-Reichsführer was quickly losing faith in his chief executioner. At a meeting on 4 December, Himmler told Jeckeln:
shooting is too complicated an operation…For shooting, he [Himmler] said, one needs people who can shoot, and…this affects people poorly, therefore Himmler said further, it would be best to liquidate the people by using gassing vehicles, which had been prepared in Germany according to his instructions, and that by using these gassing vehicles the troubles connected with shooting would fall to the wayside.
, more bad news followed. The day before this meeting Rudolf Lange
was promoted to Chief of the KdS Latvia.
Of course, it was from September 1941 Höss’s Zyklon-B
gassing technique and Nebe’s gas van innovations held the potential to provide an apparently more “humane” means of killing civilians. By the time of the above meeting between Himmler and Jeckeln, the SS in Berlin had already placed an order with Prüfer
from Topf & Sons
for a crematorium to be built in Mogilev (near Minsk),
which, according to Gerlach
, they intended to combine with a gas chamber “not to kill the remaining local Jews
but those of Western and Central Europe.”
An extermination camp for Jews was being planned for Mogilev
and since the German military had priority use over the Soviet railway, the emerging plan was to transport the Jews to the camp by boat along the Bug
, and Dnieper rivers
In fact, in Mogilev, “Not only was a large crematorium ordered, but HSSPF Hamburg Rudolf Querner
apparently also ordered large quantities of Zyklon-B
gas from Tesch & Stabenow
, and HSSPF Ostland
in Riga [Jeckeln] expected this gas to be delivered.”
If, indeed, Jeckeln
supported this delivery of Zyklon-B to Mogilev, it would suggest that even he conceded that gassing was probably the more preferable means of killing Western Jews
. The decision to use gassing technology in Minsk (stationary chamber) and gas vans in Riga on “Old Reich” Jews
“not fit for work” can be traced to a letter written by Erhard Wetzel (racial advisor in the Eastern Ministry) to Hinrich Lohse
(Reichskommissar for the Ostland) on 25 October 1941:
…[T4’s Victor] Brack of the Führer’s Chancellery
has already declared himself willing to work on the production of the required accommodation as well as the gassing apparatus.
Gas vans were indeed sent to Riga and parts for Prüfer’s crematorium were delivered to Mogilev where they sat awaiting construction. Infrastructure along the waterways had been too badly damaged for boat transport, and as a result, in 1942 the plan was abandoned.
Also important, by early December 1941, as Himmler spoke to Jeckeln
, Nebe’s gas vans had already started rolling off the production line and were being sent to the East. Therefore, as Himmler implied at this meeting, he no longer needed Jeckeln
’s specialist skill-set at the last link in the machinery of destruction. With other options on the horizon, the problematic shootings were no longer needed and Jeckeln’s star role in Nazi Jewish policy was over. Pending the arrival of the vans, leaders like Kube passed on the usual shooting duties to their Latvian and Lithuanian collaborators.
Kube’s solution actually highlights what, in the absence of the new killing technology, became the German executioners’ most popular self-invented strain resolving coping mechanisms that reduced (eliminated?) their “burdening of the soul