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The Evolution of Mass Murder by Nazis

German troops initiated Operation Barbarossa on June 22nd, 1941, an unexpected attack on the Soviet Union. The Nazis did not consider Operation Barbarossa a typical military conflict, stating they could not show mercy or respect for international law. Germany deemed this a security threat and an impediment to the rapid pacification of occupied territories (5). Nazis considered the fight a battle against the German’s chief racial and ideological enemy (5). They assumed their enemies, Bolsheviks, would not fight in line with humanity principles or respect international law, with political commissars treating German prisoners hatefully, cruelly, and inhumanely (4). According to the Nazis, this assumption was enough to warrant immediate murder if these people were encountered in battle or resisted German occupation. They declared Bolshevism the most significant threat to Europeans and the Soviet regime, a Jewish front to rule other countries. Nazis assumed control over large swaths of the Soviet Union interior, gaining control over many Jewish communities from the Baltics to Ukraine. They would commit heinous war crimes during this occupation, seeking to eliminate the Jews, considering it an easy and glorious chapter that would remain hidden from the world (34).

The German army’s rear consisted of four Einsatzgruppen, special groups tasked with dealing with the German nation’s ideological opponents. These units were instructed to kill the people’s commissars, Jews occupying state and party functions, and radical elements such as propagandists, saboteurs, agitators, assassins, and snipers (8). However, Heydrich also told the Einsatzgruppen leaders to discreetly encourage and refrain from interfering with any purges that would have been initiated by anti-Jewish or anti-Communist elements in the occupied Soviet Union territories (8). At first, the Nazis only murdered Jewish men, as in Kovno, June 1941 (9, 10) but turned their attention to the entire Jewish population, as evidenced in Lviv one month later (13). The most brutal single massacre occurred in Babi Yar, on the outskirts of Kyiv, in September 1941, where 33,771 Jews were executed by members of Einsatzgruppen C (24).

Himmler’s SS faced two issues when expanding its genocidal policy within the Nazi’s sphere of influence. It needed an effective suitable killing method and an efficient transportation method for Jewish victims to where Nazi soldiers would kill them. For instance, Field Post Office No. 32704 B. Nr 40/4 wrote a letter to SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Rauff in Berlin (1945) claiming that despite camouflaging the special group’s vans, civilians in regions referred to them as ‘death vans’, illustrating an understanding of what the Nazi were doing (38). The Nazis sought a method that would not affect the killers physically and avoid giving victims a chance to run away if they were asked to remove corpses from the vans (39). The Einsatzgruppen began using mobile gas chambers disguised as buses on December 7th, 1941, evidenced in areas such as Chelmno in Prewar (46). Nazi soldiers would load victims from an area such as Lodz and move them to a small-gauge railway line once they arrived (42). They would transport them into the village of Chelmno and transfer them to trucks that would move them to the castle (42).

Gas killings were deemed the most effective by Nazi planners and were implemented from 1942 with extermination centers such as Auschwitz, evidenced as the first of these permanent sites. These euthanasia programs were installed in Bełżec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek, beginning operation in September 1942 (56). Centers such as Auschwitz used Zyklon B, a poisonous gas used to kill people, manufactured by the German Vermin-Combating Corporation.

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