The Einsatzgruppen

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Following the German army into battle were the Einsatzgruppen.

These volunteer killing squads were made up of thousands of elite SS officers. One of their main tasks was to kill all Jewish men, women and children in the areas that were being conquered.

The method was usually to take them out of the town or village to a forest or open land, make them dig pits and undress, and then to shoot them all.

During the last five months of 1941 the Einsatzgruppen, supported by local collaborators from across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine, murdered over 500,000 Jews.

By December 1941, 80 per cent of the Jews of Lithuania had been murdered. Within a further 12 months most of the Jews of Western Ukraine and Belorussia had also been murdered, along with a large number of Jews from Romania.

Local people gained

There was a long tradition of antisemitism in Eastern Europe. In addition, however, local people gained from the death of the Jews because they were given possessions and sometimes the properties of the victims. Subsequently, in many areas, some of the local villagers and townsfolk willingly took part (collaborated) in atrocities against their Jewish neighbours. Others stood by and watched, we call these people bystanders.