Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Update: The SS versus the Civil Administration in the area of Einsatzgruppe A

Author: Jonathan Harrison
A key issue in the history of Nazi occupation policies in the USSR is identifying the point at which each SS unit was instructed, or allowed to, kill all Jewish men, women and children in its area. In the Critique here, I noted the document of Einsatzgruppe A leader Stahlecker of 6.8.41 [see VEJ 7, pp. 511-514 (Dok. 181)] that took issue with the guidelines issued by Der Reichskommissar für das Ostland, Lohse, which Stahlecker felt did not allow the SS to exploit "the radical possibilities for dealing with the Jewish Problem" that had "emerged for the first time in the Ostland," in light of "general orders from above that cannot be discussed in writing." I have also blogged this year on disputes between EK 3 leader Jaeger and the civil administrator Gewecke in Schaulen regarding the desire of the SS to kill Jewish workers and their families. Below I discuss a further important document, namely Operational Situation Report [hereafter EM] 53, and specifically an important passage written by Einsatzgruppe A (presumably Stahlecker).

The passage reads as follows:
B. Political Situation

Clarification of the general political situation in the entire occupied area has not yet been achieved. The uncertainty of the population leads to rumors, although everywhere there are voices advocating an attitude of patience, waiting until the end of the fighting.

Since July 25th the Reichskommissar for Ostland, Gauleiter Lohse, and the Military Commander, Lieutenant-General Bremer, are operating in Kaunas. District commissars have been assigned to Lithuania and to the areas west of the Dvina, and they have gradually started their work. It appears that nowhere are there concrete plans and guiding principles. The commissars started their work in various ways. While the town commissar in Kaunas proceeded promptly in [initiating] the first actions, in a manner similar to those in Polish areas, district commissars approached the competent Einsatzkommandos with the request to execute Communists and Jews. Elsewhere, among them Kaunas, talks were arranged between the responsible commanders of the Security Police and the district commissars which will, hopefully, result in successful cooperation.

The Reichskommissar for Ostland in Kaunas has prepared a draft of a decree concerning guidelines for the treatment of Jews in the area of the Reichskommissariat Ostland and has handed it to the Higher SS and Police Commander.

The draft is similar to those issued in Holland, the Polish areas, etc. We foresee its distribution among the Higher SS and Police Commandos. However, it doesn't mention the cooperation with or the competence of the Security Police.
What conclusions can be inferred from this? In mid-July, the policy in Kaunas had been to set up a ghetto because, as noted in EM 19, "Further mass shootings are no longer possible." However, in Vilnius, EK 9 operated through "daily liquidation quotas" [EM 24, 16.7.41] in which, via "Special Treatment...about 500 Jews, saboteurs amongst them, are liquidated daily [EM 21, 13.7.41]." Lohse, on the other hand, had agreed that "The countryside is to be cleansed of Jews" but had also stipulated that "As far as possible the Jews are to be concentrated in cities or in sections of large cities, where the population is already predominantly Jewish. There, ghettos are to be established, and the Jews are to be prohibited from leaving these ghettos." This was unacceptable to Stahlecker, who favoured "an almost one hundred percent immediate cleansing of the entire Ostland of Jews [6.8.41, VEJ 7, pp. 511-514 (Dok. 181), here p.514]."

Stahlecker believed that he had been given the green light to proceed with the total extermination of Jewish men, women and children when Himmler visited Riga on July 30 and announced an intention to "set up police formations consisting of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, etc., employing them outside of their own home areas [EM 48, 10.8.41]." However, Himmler had not given him authority to proceed independently of Lohse because, on August 10, Stahlecker was still complaining that:
After this task is completed, they will be used as police units, also outside their own home areas. Since the Army Group urgently demands a quick solution because of the difficult situation with the partisans and the difficulties involving the dual front, the Einsatzgruppe urgently asks for general instructions how to deal with this question [EM 48, 10.8.41].
It would therefore appear at this point that the policy of Himmler (and by implication Hitler) was to incentivize and encourage the SS to kill all Jewish men, women and children but not to interfere directly in their political struggles with the Reichskommissar.

In response to this impasse, Jaeger's EK 3 simply proceeded to kill every Jew in its path until it was impeded by the direct intervention of Gewecke and Lohse in the case of Schaulen. As a result, by the end of 1941, the Jewish population of Lithuania had been reduced to around 43,000, concentrated in the ghettos of Schaulen, Vilnius and Kaunas [Arad, here, p.247].

Himmler had, to some degree, delegated the battle for control over the rate of extermination to local level, where it was fought out between the SS, civil administration and Wehrmacht. There was fundamental agreement that Jews would eventually be exterminated in the Ostland (Lohse had prefaced his guidelines with "as long as, further measures for the final solution are not possible...") but the SS wanted this to be "an almost one hundred percent immediate cleansing" whereas Lohse saw the civil administration as performing a holding operation, such as was taking place in the General Government, pending victory in the war and a decision to exterminate the Jews on a Europe-wide basis. Stahlecker and Jaeger escalated killing measures, with Himmler's implied backing, to pre-empt what they saw as Lohse's power grab over these Jews.

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