The German Einsatzgruppen were German mobile death squads that carried out the mass murder of civilians, Communists, Gypsies, and intellectuals caught behind the lines of the advancing German army in Eastern Europe.
The originated during the Anschluss as ad-hoc Einsatzkommandos formed by Reinhard Heydrich to secure government buildings and documents while also interrogating civil servants in lands occupied by Germany.
With the beginning of the Second World War Einsatzgruppen acting under the command of SS and police officials performed different tasks in Western and Eastern Europe. In occupied Poland for example, they were entrusted with killing Polish intelligentsia, resisters and Jews, while in France and other west European countries they continued their original mission of securing governmental institutions.
During the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Einsatzgruppen followed the German army as it advanced deep into Soviet territory.
The Einsatzgruppen following the German army into the Soviet Union were composed of four battalion-sized operational groups. Einsatzgruppe A moved out from East Prussia across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia toward Leningrad. It massacred Jews in Kovno, Riga, and Vilna. Einsatzgruppe B started from Warsaw in occupied Poland, and penetrated across Belorussia toward Smolensk and Minsk, massacring Jews in Grodno, Minsk, Brest-Litovsk, Slonim, Gomel, and Mogilev, among other places. Einsatzgruppe C began operations from Krakow moving across the western Ukraine toward Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don. Its personnel directed massacres in Lvov, Tarnopol, Zolochev, Kremenets, Kharkov, Zhitomir, and Kiev, where famously in two days in late September 1941 units of Einsatzgruppe detachment 4a massacred 33,771 Kiev Jews in the ravine at Babi YarOf the four units, Einsatzgruppe D operated farthest south. Its personnel carried out massacres in the southern Ukraine and the Crimea, especially in Nikolayev, Kherson, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosiya, and in the Krasnodar region.
By the spring of 1943, the Einsatzgruppen and Order Police battalions had killed over a million Soviet Jews and tens of thousands of Soviet political commissars, partisans, Roma, and institutionalized disabled persons According to their own records, the Einstatsgruppen murdered more than one million people, almost all civiliansSome estimate the total as high as 1.5 million victims.