During World War II, the Nazi GermanEinsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads (term used by Holocaust historians) – up to 3,000 men total – usually composed of 500–1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Polish intellectuals, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured territories often far behind the advancing German front. After the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army began to retreat so rapidly that the large Einsatzgruppen had to be split into dozens of smaller commandos (Einsatzkommandos), responsible for systematically killing Jews and, among others, alleged Soviet partisans behind the Wehrmacht lines. Several Einsatzkommando officers were tried and hanged after the war (see Einsatzgruppen Trial).
As a military term, the German Einsatzkommando (Operational Command) is roughly equivalent to the English task force and is still in use for German paramilitary organizations, such as SEK and Einsatzkommando Cobra.
Einsatzgruppen (German: special-ops units) were paramilitary groups originally formed in 1938 under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich – Chief of the SD, and Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police, SiPo). They were operated by the Schutzstaffel (SS). Per a Hitler-Himmler directive, the Einsatzgruppen were re-formed in anticipation of the 1941 assault on Russia. The Einsatzgruppen were once again under the control of Reinhard Heydrich as Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA—Reich Main Security Office); and after his death, under the control of his successor, Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
Hitler ordered the SD and the Security Police to suppress the threat of native resistance behind the Wehrmacht's fighting front. The Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner (representing Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht) met Heydrich and agreed to the activation, commitment, command, and jurisdiction of Security Police and SD units in the Wehrmacht's table of operations and equipment (TOE): in the rear operational areas, the Einsatzgruppen were to function in administrative sub-ordination to the field armies in order to effect the tasks assigned them by Heydrich. Their principal task (during the war), according to SS General Erich von dem Bach, at the Nuremberg Trials: "was the annihilation of the Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet political commissars". They were a key component in the implementation of the "Final Solution of the Jewish question" (German: Die Endlösung der Judenfrage) in the conquered territories. These killing units should be viewed in conjunction with the Holocaust.
The military commanders knew the task of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen depended upon their sponsoring army commander for billet, food, and transportation. Relations between the regular army and the SiPo and the SD were close. Einsatzgruppen commanders reported that the understanding by Wehrmacht commanders of Einsatzgruppen tasks made their operations considerably easier.
The earliest Einsatzgruppen in occupied Poland
The first eight Einsatzgruppen of World War II were formed in the course of the 1939 invasion of Poland. They were composed of the Gestapo, Kripo and SD functionaries, and deployed during the classified Operation Tannenberg (codename for murder of Polish civilians) and the Intelligenzaktion lasting till the spring of 1940; followed by the German AB-Aktion which ended in late 1940. Long before the attack on Poland, the Nazis prepared a detailed list identifying more than 61,000 Polish targets by name, with the help of German minority living in the Second Polish Republic. The list was printed as a 192-page-book called Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen (Special Prosecution Book–Poland), and composed only of names and birthdates. It included politicians, scholars, actors, intelligentsia, doctors, lawyers, nobility, priests, officers and numerous others – as the means at the disposal of the SS paramilitary death squads aided by Selbstschutz executioners. By the end of 1939 already, they summarily killed around 50,000 Poles and Jews in the annexed territories, including over 1,000 POWs. The SS operational groups were assigned Roman numerals for the first time on September 4, 1939. Before that, their names were derived from the names of cities in the German language.
Einsatzkommando 16 or EK–16 Danzig (under SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Tröger), deployed in Pomerania.
Map, included in a report Stahlecker sent to his superiors in October 1941, summarizes murders committed by Einsatzgruppe A under his command-220,250. (Estonia is "Judenfrei" (963 killed); Latvia (35,238 killed); Lithuania (138,421 killed); Belarus (41,828 killed); Russia (3,800 killed))
Einsatzgruppe A—attached to the Army Group North—was assembled in Gumbinnen—in east Prussia—on 23 June 1941. Stahlecker—the first commander of the unit—ordered it to concentrate along the Lithuanian border. Soviet troops withdrew from the Lithuanian temporary capitalKaunas (Kovno) the day before, and the city was taken over by Lithuanians during the anti-Soviet uprising. On 25 June, the Einsatzgruppe entered Kaunas with the units of the German army.
The Jäger Report is the most precise surviving chronicle of the activities of one Einsatzkommando. It is a tally sheet of the actions of Einsatzkommando 3 — a running total of their killings of 136,421 Jews (46,403 men 55,556 women, 34,464 children), 1,064 Communists, 653 mentally disabled, and 134 others, from 2 July-1 December 1941. A second, major sweep occurred in 1942, before death camp killing replaced Einsatzkommando open-pit executions. Einsatzkommando 3 operated in the Kovno (Kaunas) district, west of Vilna (Vilnius) in contemporary Lithuania.(See also Rollkommando Hamann)
Einsatzgruppe B 
The operational command of Einsatzgruppe B – attached to the Army Group Center – was established a few days after the invasion of the Soviet Union, under the command of SS-GruppenführerArthur Nebe. It departed from the city of Poznań (Posen) on 24 June 1941, with 655 men from the Security Police, Gestapo, Kripo, SD, Waffen-SS and the 2nd Company of Reserve Police Battalion 9. On 30 June 1941 Himmler visited the newly formed Bezirk Bialystok district and pronounced that more forces were needed in the area, due to potential risks of partisan warfare. The chase after the Red Army's rapid retreat left behind a security vacuum, which required urgent deployment of additional personnel.
Scrambling to meet the "new threat" Gestapo headquarters in Zichenau (Ciechanów) formed a lesser known unit called the kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg which departed from sub-station Schröttersburg (Płock) under the command of SS-ObersturmführerHermann Schaper (* 1911), with the mission to kill Jews, communists and the NKVD collaborators across the local villages and towns. On July 3 additional formation of Schutzpolizei arrived in Białystok, summoned from the General Government. It was led by SS-HauptsturmführerWolfgang Birkner, veteran of Einsatzgruppe IV from the Polish Campaign of 1939. The relief unit, called Kommando Bialystok, was sent in by SS-ObersturmbannfuhrerEberhard Schöngarth on orders from the Reich Main Security Office, due to reports of Soviet guerrilla activity in the area with Jews being of course immediately suspected of helping them out. On 10 July 1941, Schaper's unit was split into smaller Einsatzkommandos due to requirements of Operation Barbarossa. On 14 November 1941, Gruppenführer Nebe told Berlin that, up until then, 45,000 persons had been eliminated. A further report, dated 15 December 1942, established that the Einsatzgruppe B had shot a total of 134,298 people. After 1943, the mass killings of Einsatzgruppe B diminished, and the unit was decommissioned in August 1944.
SS-Gruppenführer und Generalmajor der PolizeiArthur Nebe (June–November 1941)
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der PolizeiErich Naumann (November 1941–March 1943)
SS-Standartenführer Horst-Alwin Böhme (12 March–28 August 1943)
SS-Oberführer und Oberst der PolizeiErich Ehrlinger (28 August 1943–April 1944)
SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Heinrich Seetzen (28 April–August 1944)
SS-Standartenführer Horst-Alwin Böhme (12 August 1944)
On 5 August, Gruppenführer Nebe moved his Einsatzgruppen command to Smolensk, where the Vorkommando Moskau was concentrated. On 6 August, Einsatzkommando 8 reached Minsk, remaining there until 9 September 1941. From Minsk, it reached Mogilev, which became its general headquarters, and from there Einsatzkommando 8 effected successive killings in Bobruisk, Gomel, Roslavl, and Klintsy systematically attacking the local Jewish communities, and killing the inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Einsatzkommando 9 was put to work; they had left Treuburg, in eastern Prussia, and reached Vilna on 2 July. Their main theater of mass killing operations were Grodno and Bielsk-Podlaski (Biala-Podlaska). On 20 July it moved its headquarters to Vitebsk, and then exterminated the citizens of Polotzk, Nevel, Lepel, and Surazh. The command progressed to Vtasma, and from there they killed the communities of Gshatsk and Mozhaisk in the Moscow vicinity. The Soviet counter-offensive forced the Einsatzkommando to withdraw to Vitebsk on 21 December 1941. Anticipating the fall of Moscow, the Vorkommando Moskau advanced to Maloyaroslavets, earlier captured by the Wehrmacht on 18 October 1941. In practice, Sonderkommandos 7a and 7b operated behind the vanguard of the army. The actions were fast, in order to prevent the Jews from escaping the advancing German Army. To the south and east of Smolensk and Minsk, the two Sonderkommandos left a wake of dead civilians, from Velikiye Luki, Kalinin, Orsha, Gomel, Chernigov and Orel, to Kursk.
SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Kämpf (October 1943–March 1944)
The Vorkommando—also known as Sonderkommando 7c—was to operate in Moscow, until it became apparent that Moscow would not fall; it was incorporated to Sonderkommando 7b, where it was active in Smolensk and executed 4,660 people.
SS-Brigadeführer Professor Dr. Franz Six (20 June–20 August 1941)
The Einsatzgruppe was attached to the 11th Army. It was established in June 1941 and operated until March 1943. Einsatzgruppe D conducted operations in northern Transylvania, Cernauti, Kishinev and across the Ukrainian Crimea. In March 1943 it was re-deployed in Ovruch as an anti-partisan unit called Kampfgruppe Bierkamp, named after its new commander Walther Bierkamp. The Einsatzgruppe D was responsible for the killing of over 91,728 people.
SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Dr. Otto Ohlendorf (June 1941–July 1942)
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der PolizeiWalther Bierkamp (July 1942–March 1943)
SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Heinrich Seetzen (June 1941–July 1942)
SS-Sturmbannführer Dr. Kurt Christmann (August 1942–July 1943)
SS-Oberführer und Oberst der Polizei Wilhelm Fuchs (October–November 1944)
SS-Obersturmbannführer und Oberregierungsrat Joachim Deumling (March 1943–January 1945)
SS-Sturmbannführer Franz Sprinz (January–May 1945)
SS-Sturmbannführer und Regierungsrat Rudolf Korndörfer (May–September 1943)
SS-Obersturmbannführer Anton Fest (September 1943–1945)
SS-Hauptsturmführer Willi Wolter (June 1943–September 1944)
Digging the graves
Victims before the execution
Mass execution in Piaśnica
The Commando was involved in a series of mass executions known as "Pommern Katyń" between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940 in Piasnica Wielka. During that period approximately 12,000 to 16,000 Poles, Jews, Czechs, and Germans were murdered.