Thursday, January 3, 2008

Police Battalions of the Third Reich by Stephen Campbell

Thus far the only book I've read on Police Battalions has been that of Browning's "Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution." This is an organization that not much has been written about when compared to the Army, SS, SD, and probably a wide variety of other organizations within Nazi Germany. Yet these were the troops that were involved in some of the more horrific crimes that took place on the Eastern Front. For this the author deserves praise, he's taken a topic that few know much about and given those, like myself, a solid base from where to start further research if at some point it comes to that. There are quite a few pictures throughout the book and many times it will become apparent that when one is viewing pictures from the Holocaust these men, more than occasionally, were most likely amongst those in the pictures. Their uniforms resembled the army's except they were green instead of gray, not something easy to spot in black and white photos.

The first chapter explains the organization of Police Units, who they answered to, what they were equipped with, how they were numbered, and what their responsibilities were.

The second chapters deals with the German invasion of Poland. With the estimated 1.8 million German troops that crossed the border came 21 police battalions. With the invasion the Nazis also began their Operation Tannenburg which was to target a variety of members of the Polish population with the intent of erasing the memory of Poland as a state for good. The Einsatzgruppen were created for the job, of the 4,250 personnel assigned to the Einsatzgruppen 2,250 were men from police battalions. The army was told that these men were there to ensure rear area security, a viable excuse and one used to gain 'freedom of action' for Himmler and Heydrich. According to the author this invasion was the first time that buildings were burned with human beings inside of them. While Germans were more or less 'experts' at burning down Synagogues by this time it had never been done with Jews inside. Einsatzgruppen actions in Poland would change that, although their activities were day and night compared to what they would reap when the Soviet Union would be invaded. The discipline of the Einsatzgruppen at times outraged the army officers. The commander of the Special Operations Group of the Einsatzgruppen was even asked by the Army to be put in front of a court martial. Keeping in mind that this was not in regards to the activities he and his men were performing but rather the way in which they were going about performing them (which included looting, raping, and the burning down of synagogues). Himmler made the commander in question a "special commander of the Police" in response. Within a span of some three weeks the Einsatzgruppen were able to burn 500 towns and villages and 16,376 people were executed. Police battalions were then sent to a variety of villages and towns with Jewish populations of under 500 to transfer them to urban ghettos. At times it would be decided that it was easier to march Jews off to a hastily dug ditch outside of town than proceed with their resettlement in a ghetto. At the end of the chapter the author gives a list of the Polish Battalions and their 'group compositions' which participated in Poland, quite useful and interesting! Many would later go on to participate in the war against the Soviet Union.

Third chapter deals with the invasion of the Soviet Union where the 'total war' based on Hitler's genocidal ideas and intrigues finally came to fruition. The Einsatzgruppen here consisted of 3,000 men of whom 500 belonged to the police. Yet, throughout the entire campaign, if one takes into account rotations and transfers at least 10,000 German police served in one capacity or another with the Einsatzgruppen. Thus far one mistake on the author's part is to state that when the German army entered Soviet regions which encompassed Ukraine and the Baltics they were greeted as "friends and liberators" while many in the Baltics and Ukraine did greet the Wehrmacht MANY more did not and would fight against them as Partisans and with the Red Army. For Ukraine specifically this welcoming would be most present in the Western regions which were only incorporated in 1939 when Poland was divided between the Soviets and the Germans. Throughout the first year of occupational duties police battalions would perform 'special tasks' this would mainly include rounding up and shooting Jews, Communists, etc. When the Moscow Counter-Offensive started many of these battalions would be used in the front lines to shore up collapsing lines, especially in Army Group North. After they were released from front line duties and participated in the final year, 1942, of large-scale executions by squads with rifles and/or machine guns. This period also saw the rise of indigenous police units which began to carry out the job of mass murder under German supervision. Throughout the rest of the war police battalions would participate in anti-Partisan sweeps and operations and in the last year of the war help make up Kampfgruppen which were desperately trying to stop the Soviet advance on Germany. Luckily for those police battalion members who were able to survive is the fact that the Nuremberg "trials did not consider the police a criminal organization."

The fourth chapter recounts the partisans and their activities as well as how the Germans tried to stop/annihilate them. Security divisions were responsible for the rear areas but with the Soviet Union being so large and there only being 9 security divisions for all three army group's rear areas, it was not a small task to silence all the opposition in the rear. Police battalions which entered the Soviet Union were assigned to security divisions; for example, Army Group North in 1941 and for the beginning of 1942 had three police battalions each assigned to one of three security divisions. The same could be seen for Army Groups South and Center, three battalions for three divisions. As the war progressed the policing was carried out more by indigenous units which were easily recruited during the beginning period of the war. The three operations usually undertaken by the police battalions was the patrolling of areas, "search and destroy missions", and real military operations which usually took place against armed partisans.

The fifth chapter quickly tackles the issue of auxiliaries. Their creation in the beginning of the war had as much to do with the fact that they could point out who the Jews were and other "undesirables" and were willing to assist in murdering their former neighbors for a price. As early as late July in 1941 indigenous units were being created to help in the mass murdering process throughout the rear areas of the Soviet Union. The Polish population offered 15,000 in terms of auxiliaries while in Ukraine in 1941 eighteen battalions at around 500 each (this of course excludes the men who would later join the SS Galicia division), Estonia produced twelve battalions, etc.

The last chapter, six, is on the Holocaust. The author asks the usual question of how could it be that such an event could occur and how is it that the Jewish people could stand by and do nothing, reacting via the partisan movement or in other ways much later on in the war. A fictional account is given of a city in Ukraine and the way that a usual German aktion would take place against its Jewish population. It will easily ring true to all those who are familiar with the Holocaust and German actions in the east, it is a quick recounting with an inevitable conclusion and one that occurred hundreds if not thousands of times throughout the former Soviet Union.

This marks the beginning of the appendices. The six chapters listed above take up some 40 pages, with many pictures intermixed with text. It is a good background to the actions of these men and the rest of the book goes into specific police battalions and what they were responsible for, where they were raised, stationed, participated, etc. A treasure trove for those who want specifics in regards to various actions on the Eastern Front. A few examples include Police Battalion 3 (Reserve) whose 1st company "was responsible for the death of 48,000 people" while working with Einsatzgruppe B and Einsatzkommando 8. For those interested in the Holocaust this book is a must read, highly recommended. This is an organization that few paid attention to while the limelight was on the SS, yet these men were just as responsible for the genocides going on in the East.

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