Why did local people collaborate with the Einsatzgruppen?

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German police and Ukrainian collaborators force Jewish prisoners to undress before they are shot. Chernigov, Soviet Union, 1942. ushmm 06754.jpg

German police and Ukrainian collaborators force Jewish prisoners to undress before they are shot. Chernigov, Soviet Union, 1942. © 2012 USHMM.

 

Think!

Read the text and the two German documents:

  • To what extent was collaboration by local non-Jews an integral part of the Nazi extermination of Jews in the east?

 

  • What other factors contributed to level of collaboration of local non-Jews in the murder of Jews as the German army invaded the Soviet Union?

In the summer of 1941, as the Wehrmacht invaded lands held by the Soviet Union the Nazi leadership expected groups of local non-Jews to carryout atrocities against their Jewish neighbours (See above). The SS and Wehrmacht instructions ordered that locals would be encouraged to attack the Jews. The Nazis also decreed (see above) that the Werhmacht must not hinder or become involved in these ‘local’ actions.

But, why did local non-Jews carry out these atrocities against people with whom they had lived alongside? Why is it the case that 80 per-cent of killings in the east were carried by local people in collaboration with the Einsatzgruppen?

Firstly, a long tradition of religious antisemitism existed in Eastern Europe. Jews and Christians were economically dependent on each other. However, they were isolated from each other because of their religious beliefs. For centuries Jews had been the scapegoats blamed for all the wrongs inflicted on them by the landowners.

Secondly, in those areas previously occupied by the Soviet Union, local non-Jews felt that the Jews had collaborated or supported the Soviet administrations.

In addition, local people stood to gain from the death of their Jewish neighbours. During the pogroms and Einsatzgruppen aktions, non-Jews were given (or took) the possessions and properties of their Jewish victims.

Furthermore, the brutality of life in Eastern Europe, and the conditions of war brutalised many people who were encouraged by the Germans to murder, rob and steal.

Willing collaborators

Subsequently, in many areas, local villagers and townsfolk willingly collaborated in the atrocities that were perpetrated against their Jewish neighbours. Whilst some were involved, others (bystanders) stood by and watched, as these savage attacks were carried out against the Jews.