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[ OSR's #8 - #195 ]













Otto Ohlendorf       




Otto Ohlendorf

Otto Ohlendorf was the Head of Amt lll of the Reich Main Security Office during the Second World War and organiser of mass murders in the Southern Ukraine in 1941 and 1942.


He was born in Hoheneggelsen on 4 February 1907, the son of a peasant farmer. Educated at a humanistic Gymnasium in Hildesheim, he later studied law at the Universities of Leipzig and Gottingen, graduating in July 1933.


In October 1933 he became Assistant to Professor Jessen at the Institute of World Economy at the University of Kiel. He specialised in the study of National Socialism and Italian fascism – he was subsequently the only top SS leader to be familiar with the syndicalism elements and organisational structure of fascist Italy.


In January 1935 Ohlendorf became departmental head at the Institute of Applied Economic Science before entering the SD and working under Professor Reinhard Hohn in the following year.  Parallel to his promising academic career, the intelligent, idealistic Ohlendorf had been active in the National Socialist Students’ League in Kiel and Gottingen as well as teaching at the Party school in Berlin in 1935.


He had been one of the first members of the newly constituted NSDAP back in 1925, when he was only eighteen years old, entering the SS a year later and also fulfilling various SA duties in his home district. The highly educated lawyer and economist was promoted to Major in the SD in 1938 and the following year became head of Amt lll of the RSHA, a position he retained until the end of the Second World War.


Ohlendorf’s security services provided intelligence information of a unique kind in the Third Reich, prying into the lives and thoughts of ordinary citizens in Nazi Germany and acting as a secret and relatively candid recorder of “public opinion,” for the benefit of the leadership.


Although Ohlendorf’s research workers were secret police agents, his activities were much disliked by Himmler, who characterised the SD chief as an ”unbearable Prussian, without humour, defeatist and anti-militarist and a professional debunker.”


When Himmler organised his special extermination units for service in Russia, Major General Ohlendorf’s bureaucratic career was interrupted  - from June 1941 to June 1942 he was made Commander of Einsatzgruppen D, which operated at the extreme southern end of the eastern front.


Attached to the Eleventh Army, the academically trained bloodhound and his units in the Ukraine were responsible for the execution of 90,000 men, women and children, mostly Jews.


Ohlendorf giving testimony at Nuremberg

In contrast to some other group commanders, Ohlendorf ordered that several of his men should shoot the victims at the same time “to avoid direct personal responsibility”, as he claimed later at Nuremburg War Crimes trial, it was “psychologically, an immense burden to bear” for the executioners.


As for the mass murder of Jews in Nikolaiev, Kherson, Podolia and the Crimea which his units carried out, Ohlendorf later defended it from the dock as a historically necessary task to secure “lebensraum” for the German Reich in the East. Recalling precedents such as the murder of gypsies in the Thirty Years War and even the Biblical Israelites extirpation of their enemies, Ohlendorf asserted that history would regard his firing squads as no worse than the “push-button killers” who dropped the atom bomb on Japan.


Having completed his stint as an organiser of mass murders, Ohlendorf returned quietly to the Reich Ministry of Economics, where in November 1943 he became the manager of a committee on export trade and a delegate to the Central Planning Board.


Promoted to SS Lieutenant- General in November 1944, Ohlendorf still retained his post as head of Amt lll in the RSHA, he even figured as a “liberal” member in Himmler’s entourage, suggesting at the end of the war that the Reichsfuhrer – SS surrender himself to the Allies in order to vindicate the SS against the “calumnies” of its enemies.


Himmler’s right- hand man, Walter Schellenberg, seriously proposed Ohlendorf as the member of a cabinet list which would be presentable to the Allies. His judges at Nuremburg took a very different view of the attractive, youthful- looking secret service chief, describing him as a Jekyll and Hyde character, some of whose acts defied belief.



Excerpts from Ohlendorfs testimony


Col. Amen: So that before you commenced to march into Soviet Russia you received orders at this conference to exterminate the Jews and Communist functionaries in addition to the regular professional work of the Security Police and SD; is that correct?


Ohlendorf: Yes.


Col. Amen: Did you, personally, have any conversation with Himmler respecting any communication from Himmler to the chiefs of army groups and armies concerning this mission?


Ohlendorf: Yes. Himmler told me that before the beginning of the Russian campaign Hitler had spoken of this mission to a conference of the army groups and the army chiefs - no, not the army chiefs but the commanding generals - and had instructed the commanding generals to provide the necessary support.


Col. Amen: So that you can testify that the chiefs of the army groups and the armies had been similarly informed of these orders for the liquidation of the Jews and Soviet functionaries?


Ohlendorf: I don't think it is quite correct to put it in that form. They had no orders for liquidation; the order for the liquidation was given to Himmler to carry out, but since this liquidation took place in the operational area of the army group or the armies, they had to be ordered to provide support. Moreover, without such instructions to the army, the activities of the Einsatzgruppen would not have been possible.


Col. Amen: Did you have any other conversation with Himmler concerning this order?


Ohlendorf: Yes, in late summer of 1941 Himmler was in Nikolaiev. He assembled the leaders and men of the Einsatzkommanos, repeated to them the liquidation order, and pointed out that the leaders and men who were taking part in the liquidation bore no personal responsibility for the execution of this order. The responsibility was his, alone, and the Führer's.


Col. Amen: And you yourself heard that said?


Ohlendorf: Yes.



Col. Amen: Do you know how many persons were liquidated by Einsatz Group D under your command?


Ohlendorf: In the year between June 1941 to June 1942 the Einsatzkommandos reported ninety thousand people liquidated.


Col. Amen: Did that include men, women, and children?


Ohlendorf: Yes.


Col. Amen: On what do you base those figures?


Ohlendorf: On reports sent by the Einsatzkommandos to the Einsatzgruppen.


Col. Amen: Were those reports submitted to you?


Ohlendorf: Yes.



Col. Amen: And after they were shot what was done with the bodies?


Ohlendorf: The bodies were buried in the antitank ditch or excavation.


Col. Amen: What determination, if any, was made as to whether the persons were actually dead?


Ohlendorf: The unit leaders or the firing-squad commanders had orders to see to this and, if need be, finish them off themselves.


Col. Amen: And who would do that?


Ohlendorf: Either the unit leader himself or somebody designated by him.


Col. Amen: In what positions were the victims shot?


Ohlendorf: Standing or kneeling.


Col. Amen: What was done with the personal property of the persons executed?


Ohlendorf: All valuables were confiscated at the time of the registration or the rounding up and handed over to the Finance Ministry, either through the RSHA or directly. At first the clothing was given to the population, but in the winter of 1941-42 it was collected and disposed of by the NSV.


Col. Amen: All their personal property was registered at that time?


Ohlendorf: No, not all of it, only valuables were registered.


Col. Amen: What happened to the garments which the victims were wearing when they went to the place of execution?


Ohlendorf: They were obliged to take off their outer garments immediately before the execution.


Col. Amen: All of them?


Ohlendorf: The outer garments, yes.



Col. Amen: Were all victims, including the men, women, and children executed in the same manner?


Ohlendorf: Until the spring of 1942, yes. Then an order came from Himmler that in the future women and children were to be killed only in gas vans.


Col. Amen: How had women and children been killed previously?


Ohlendorf: In the same was as the men - by shooting.


Col. Amen: What, if anything, was done about burying the victims after they had been executed?


Ohlendorf: The Kommandos filled the graves to efface the signs of execution, and then labor units of the population levelled them.


Col. Amen: Referring to the gas vans that you said you received in the spring of 1942, what order did you receive in respect to the use of these vans?


Ohlendorf: These vans were in the future to be used for killing of women and children.


Col. Amen: Will you explain to the Tribunal the construction of these vans and their appearance?


Ohlendorf: The actual purpose of these vans could not be seen from the outside. They looked like closed trucks, and were so constructed that at the start of the motor, gas was conducted into the van causing death in ten to fifteen minutes.




 Col. Amen: In what manner did you determine which Jews to be executed?


Ohlendorf: That was not part of my task; but the identification of the Jews was carried out by the Jews themselves, since the registration was handled by a Jewish Council of Elders.


Col. Amen: Did the amount of Jewish blood have anything to do with it?


Ohlendorf: I can't remember the details, but I believe that half-Jews were also considered as Jews.


Col. Amen: What organization furnished most off the officer personnel of the Einsatz groups and Einsatzkommandos?


Ohlendorf: I did not understand the question.


Col. Amen: What organization furnished most of the officer personnel of the Einsatz groups?


Ohlendorf: The officer personnel was furnished by the State Police, the Kripo, and, to a lesser extent by the SD.




Ohlendorf: Whenever possible I sent a member of the staff of the Einsatzgruppen to witness the executions but this was not always feasible since the Einsatzgruppen had to operate over great distances.


Col. Pokrovsky: For what purpose was an inspector sent?


Ohlendorf: To determine whether or not my instructions regarding the manner of the execution were actually carried out.


Col. Pokrovsky: Am I to understand that the inspector was to make certain that the execution had actually been carried out?


Ohlendorf: No, it would not be correct to say that. He was to ascertain whether the conditions which I had set for the execution were actually being carried out.


Col. Pokrovsky: What manner of conditions had you in mind?


Ohlendorf: One: exclusion of the public; two: military execution by a firing-squad; three: arrival of transports and carrying out of the liquidation in a smooth manner to avoid unnecessary excitement; four: supervision of the property to prevent looting. There may have been other details that I no longer remember. At any rate, all ill-treatment, whether physical or mental, was to be prevented through these measures.


Col. Pokrovsky: You spoke of ill-treatment. What did you mean by ill-treatment at the executions?


Ohlendorf: If, for instance, the manner in which the executions were carried out caused excitement and disobedience among the victims, so that the Kommandos were forced to restore by means of violence.


Col. Pokrovsky: What do you mean by "restore order by means of violence"? What do you mean by suppression of the excitement amongst the victims by means of violence?


Ohlendorf: If, as I have already said, in order to carry out the liquidation in an orderly fashion it was necessary, for example, to resort to beating.




Col. Pokrovsky: You were the man by whose orders people were sent to their death. Were Jews only handed over for execution by the Einsatzgruppe or were Communists - "Communist officials" you call them in your instructions - handed over for execution along with the Jews?


Ohlendorf: Yes, activists and political commissars. Mere membership in the Communist Party was not sufficient to persecute or kill a man.


Col. Pokrovsky: Were any special investigations made concerning the part played by persons in the Communist Party?


Ohlendorf: No, I said on the contrary that mere membership of the Communist Party was not, in itself, a determining factor in persecuting or executing a man; he had to have a special political function.


Col. Pokrovsky: Did you have any discussions on the murder vans sent from Berlin and on their use?


Ohlendorf: I did not understand the question.


Col. Pokrovsky: Had you occasion to discuss, with your chiefs and your colleagues, the fact that motor vans had been sent to your own particular Einsatzgruppe from Berlin for carrying out the executions? Do you remember any such discussion?


Ohlendorf: I do not remember any specific discussion.


Col. Pokrovsky: Had you any information concerning the fact that members of the execution squad in charge of the executions were unwilling to use the vans?


Ohlendorf: I knew that the Einsatz-kommandos were using the vans.




Otto Ohlendorf

During the trial against Einsatzgruppen leaders, Ohlendorf was the chief defendant, and was also a key witness in the prosecution of many other indicted war criminals.


Ohlendorf's frank, apparently reliable testimony was attributed to his distaste for the corruption that was rampant in Nazi Germany and a stubborn commitment to duty. He expressed no remorse for his actions and famously, would seem to have been more concerned about the moral strain on those carrying out the executions than those actually being executed.


Ohlendorf was sentenced to death in April 1948, he spent three and a half years in detention before being hanged, along with three other Einsatzgruppen commanders, in Landsberg prison on 8 June 1951.







Who’s Who in Nazi Germany by Robert S Wistrich published by Routledge, London and New York 1995.

The Final Solution by G. Reitlinger, published by Vallentine and Mitchell 1953.






Copyright:  CW & CL H.E.A.R.T  2007



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