Thursday, December 01, 2011

Stahlecker and Rasch on Extermination

Stahlecker and Rasch were the leaders of Einsatzgruppe A and C respectively in the summer of 1941. It is therefore significant that they agreed on the fate of the Jews.

Himmler had visited Riga in late July, 1941. On August 6, 1941, Stahlecker wrote a draft that rejected Lohse’s ghettoization proposals of July 27 and proposed instead that policy should focus on “the radical possibilities for dealing with the Jewish Problem” that had “emerged for the first time in the Ostland”. He referred to “general orders from above that cannot be discussed in writing,” and stated that, unlike in the General Government, “Perspectives derived from the need to use the Jews for labour will simply not be relevant for the most part in the Ostland."[1] Stahlecker was silent on the fate of non-working Jews, but stated that the small number of working Jews would be subject to a “ruthless exploitation” that would produce “a significant easing of the later transportation of Jews.” This could only mean that non-working Jews were already to be killed immediately whilst working Jews were to be decimated by forced labour to leave only a rump that would have to be resettled later. In many ways, this foreshadowed the Wannsee Protocol.

Stahlecker’s intentions clearly reached the head of EK 3, Karl Jäger. Beginning on August 15, 1941, Jäger's statistics demonstrate a sharp increase in the number of Jews being shot and the inclusion of large numbers of Jewish women and children.[2] His report on the shootings noted that some workers and families had been spared for forced labour but stated that “I am of the view that the sterilization program of the male worker Jews should be started immediately so that reproduction is prevented. If despite sterilization a Jewess becomes pregnant she will be liquidated.” Meanwhile, an OKW file document revealed the first intimations that gassing was an option being considered in the Ostland.[3]

Stahlecker’s view of decimation by labour was shared by Einsatzgruppen C leader Otto Rasch. In August, Rasch advocated the use of Jews in the Pripet marches.[4] On September 17, Rasch[5] suggested that an “extensive labour utilization” should be used to achieve a “gradual liquidation of the Jews.”[6]

What can we conclude from this episode? There was an intention to kill all Jews who could not work. Working Jews were being spared in some cases but it was intended that they would be sterilized and/or forcibly separated by sex. Jews would therefore definitely have died out by the next generation.

Most significantly, extermination was seen as being possible at this time without an explicit order to kill every single Jew. The killing of non-working Jews, allied with a ban on reproduction among working Jews, would have achieved the same result, albeit more slowly.

[1] Longerich, Holocaust, pp.232-34, citing Betrifft: Entwurf über die Aufstellung vorläufiger Richlinien für die Behandlung der Juden im Gebiet des Reichskommissariates Ostland, 6.8.41, LCHA.

[2] Jäger report of EK 3, 1.12.41, RGVA 500-1-25, p.115.

[3] Otto Dov Kulka und Eberhard Jäckel (eds), Die Juden in den geheimen Stimmungsberichten 1933-1945. Düsseldorf, 2004, p.454, citing Dok. 563, Reisebericht des Ia des Wehrwirtschafts- und Rüstungsamts des OKW über seinen Besuch im Abschnitt der Wirtschaftsinspektion Nord, 11.8.41.

[4] EM 52, 14.8.41.

[5] Rasch previously ran the Soldau camp in East Prussia and paid SK Lange to operate a gas van to kill mental patients at the site; see Rediess to Wolf, 7.11.1940, NO-2909; Rasch testimony to SS investigation of Soldau, 16.6.43, NO-1073.

[6] EM 86, 17.9.41.


  1. Note: I am grateful to Nick Terry for the gassing reference (footnote 3). I should also stress that the families of working Jews were being spared, not just the workers themselves, and this was noted in Jäger's report so is not a post-hoc interpretation.

  2. Goebbels wrote in his diary about his Nov. 1941 trip to Vilnius:

    "Thousands (of Jews) have been shot, and even now hundreds more as well. They have now all been rounded up into their ghettos. That they have not all been killed is due only to the fact that the Jews control the entire Vilnian handcraft industry, and the Lithuanians are completely dependent on them.
    The Jews are the lice of civilized man. They must somehow be eradicated (ausrotten), otherwise they will again play their tormenting and troublesome role. Only if one advances with the necessary brutality can one be finished with them. When they are spared, one will later be their victim."

    Shows that non expendable workers were spared while others were not.

  3. Indeed, Goebbels converges strongly with Jäger's report: the Nazis wanted to kill work Jews but felt constrained by economics. That would change later.

  4. "Today I can confirm that our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved by EK 3. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from Jewish workers and their families.

    The distance between from the assembly point to the graves was on average 4 to 5 Km.

    I consider the Jewish action more or less terminated as far as Einsatzkommando 3 is concerned. Those working Jews and Jewesses still available are needed urgently and I can envisage that after the winter this workforce will be required even more urgently. I am of the view that the sterilization program of the male worker Jews should be started immediately so that reproduction is prevented. If despite sterilization a Jewess becomes pregnant she will be liquidated."

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  6. Note to Jonathan's note: if the reference in note 3 refers to the August 11th (1941) mention about jewish wowen whom "Man sprach davon, daß sie später durch Vergasung beseitigt werden sollen" in a report about the treatment of the Jews of Libau, then Götz Aly, in his 1995 work (« Endlösung » Völkerverschiebung und der Mord an den europäischen, Fischer) should be credited as the first having identified this particularly interesting quote (page 333).

  7. Has it ever been clearly determined how many Jews within the USSR are believed to have died? Father Desbois wrote that "1.5 million Jews" were killed in the Ukraine alone.

    Thank you.


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