Arthur Nebe (help·info) (13 November 1894 – 21
March 1945) was a key functionary in the security and police apparatus
Nazi Germany and a
Nebe rose through the ranks of the
Berlin and Prussian police forces
to become head of Nazi Germany's Criminal Police (Kripo) in 1936,
which was folded into the
Reich Main Security Office
Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) in 1939.
Prior to the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Nebe
volunteered to serve as commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B. The
killing unit was deployed in the
Army Group Centre Rear Area, in
modern-day Belarus, and reported over 45,000 victims by November 1941.
In late 1941, Nebe was posted back to
Berlin and resumed his career
within the RSHA. Nebe commanded the
Kripo until he was denounced and
executed after the failed attempt to kill
Adolf Hitler in July 1944.
Following the war, Nebe's career and involvement with the 20 July plot
were the subject of several apologetic accounts by the members of the
plot, who portrayed him as a professional policeman and a dedicated
anti-Nazi. The notions that Nebe's motivations were anything other
than Nazi ideology have since been discredited by historians who
describe him as an opportunist and an "energetic", "enthusiastic" and
"notorious" mass murderer driven by racism and careerism.
1 Before World War II
1.1 Police career
1.2 Head of National Criminal Police
2 World War II
2.1 Einsatzgruppe B
2.1.1 Mass killing operations
2.1.2 New killing methods
Mogilev conference and escalation of violence
2.2 President of
Stalag Luft III
Stalag Luft III murders
2.3 1944 plot against Adolf Hitler
Before World War II
Berlin in 1894, the son of a
Berlin school teacher, Nebe
volunteered for military service and served with distinction during
World War I. In 1920 Nebe joined the
Berlin detective force, the
Kriminalpolizei (Kripo; Criminal Police). He attained the rank of a
police inspector in 1923 and the rank of Police Commissioner in
Nebe was a "conservative nationalist", who embraced the shift of the
country "to the right in the 1930s". In July 1931, he joined the
Nazi Party (NSDAP number 574,307) and the
Schutzstaffel (SS number
280,152). Nebe became the Nazis' liaison in the
police, with links to an early
Berlin SS group led by Kurt Daluege. In
early 1932, Nebe and other Nazi detectives formed the NS (National
Socialist) Civil Service Society of the
Berlin Police. In 1933 he
came to know Hans Bernd Gisevius, then an official in the Berlin
Police Headquarters; after the war, Gisevius produced an apologetic
account of Nebe's Nazi era activities. In 1935 Nebe was appointed head
of Prussian Criminal Police. He later obtained the rank of
SS-Gruppenführer, an SS equivalent to the rank of a police
Head of National Criminal Police
From left to right: Franz Josef Huber, Nebe, Heinrich Himmler,
Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, November 1939 in Munich.
In July 1936, the Prussian Criminal Police became the central criminal
investigation department for Germany, the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt. It
was amalgamated, along with the secret state police, the Geheime
Staatspolizei (Gestapo), into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo), with
Reinhard Heydrich in overall command. Nebe was appointed head of the
Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, reporting to Heydrich. The addition of
Kripo to Heydrich's control helped cement the foundations of the
police state. It also led to an "overlap" of personnel from the SD,
Kripo to leadership positions in the police and security
forces in Germany.
On 27 September 1939, Himmler ordered the creation of the Reich Main
Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA); the new
organisation encompassed the intelligence service, security services,
secret state and criminal police. The RSHA was divided into main
departments, including the Kripo, which became Department V of the
RSHA. Department V was also known as the Reich Criminal Police
Office (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, or RKPA). Kripo's stated mission,
which Nebe embraced, was to "exterminate criminality". Under his
leadership, equipped with arbitrary powers of arrest and detention,
Kripo acted more and more like the Gestapo, including the liberal
use of so-called protective custody and large-scale roundups of
In 1939, Nebe lent a commissioner in his Criminal Police Office,
Christian Wirth of Stuttgart, to the euthanasia organisation, which
ran the programme of involuntary euthanasia of the disabled. Also
in 1939, as head of Kripo, he was involved in the discussions around
the upcoming campaigns against the
Sinti and Roma. Nebe wanted to
include sending Berlin's Gypsies to the planned reservations for the
Jews and others in the east. In October 1939, Nebe ordered Adolf
Eichmann to put Gypsies with Jews on the transports to Nisko.
World War II
Just prior to the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation
Einsatzgruppen mobile death squads which had operated
in Poland were reformed and placed once again under the overall
command of Reinhard Heydrich. Nebe volunteered to command
Einsatzgruppe B, which operated behind
Army Group Center after the
invasion of the Soviet Union. The unit's task was to exterminate Jews
and other "undesirables", such as communists, Gypsies, "Asiatics", the
disabled, and psychiatric hospital patients in the territories that
Wehrmacht had overrun. The
Einsatzgruppen also shot hostages and
prisoners of war handed over by the army for execution.
Mass killing operations
Around 5 July 1941, Nebe consolidated Einsatzgruppe B near Minsk,
establishing a headquarters and remaining there for two months. The
killing activities progressed apace. In a 13 July Operational
Situation Report, Nebe stated that 1,050 Jews had been killed in
Minsk, and that in Vilna, the liquidation of the Jews was underway,
and that five hundred Jews were shot daily. In the same report
Nebe remarked that: "only 96 Jews were executed in Grodno and Lida
during the first days. I gave orders to intensify these activities".
He also reported that the killings were being brought into smooth
running order and that the shootings were carried out "at an
increasing rate". The report also announced that in Minsk
Einsatzgruppe was now killing non-Jews.
In the 23 July report, Nebe advanced the idea of a "solution to the
Jewish problem" being "impractical" in his region of operation due to
"the overwhelming number of the Jews"; there were too many Jews to be
killed by too few men. By August 1941, Nebe came to realize that
his Einsatzgruppe's resources were insufficient to meet the expanded
mandate of the killing operations, resulting from the inclusion of
Jewish women and children since that month.
New killing methods
In August 1941, Himmler attended a demonstration of a mass-shooting of
Minsk arranged by Nebe after which he vomited. Regaining his
composure, Himmler decided that alternative methods of killing should
be found. He told Heydrich that he was concerned for the mental
health of the SS men. Himmler turned to Nebe to devise a more
"convenient" method of killing, particularly one that would spare
executioners elements of their grisly task. Murder with carbon
monoxide gas, already in use in the Reich as part of the euthanasia
program, was contemplated, but deemed too cumbersome for the mobile
killing operations in the occupied Soviet Union.
Nebe decided to try experimenting by murdering Soviet mental patients,
first with explosives near Minsk, and then with automobile exhaust at
Mogilev. The idea of using gas was partly inspired by an incident
in Nebe's past. One night after a party, Nebe had driven home drunk,
parked in his garage, and fallen asleep with the engine running, thus
nearly dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes.
To conduct the experiments, he ordered chemist Albert Widmann, a
member of the criminal-technical institute of the RKPA, to come to
Minsk with 250 kilograms (550 lb) of explosives and exhaust
hoses. The next day Widmann, Nebe, and an explosives expert carried
out their first experiment in prepared bunkers in the
According to testimony presented at Widmann's postwar trial:
One of the bunkers was loaded with explosives and 24 mental patients
were put into it. Nebe gave the signal to detonate, but the resultant
explosion failed to kill the patients. Several of them emerged from
the bunker covered in blood and screaming loudly. Thereupon more
explosives were brought up, the wounded patients were forced back into
the bunker, and a second explosion finally finished the job. The
bunker had become quiet and parts of bodies could be seen hanging from
Two days later, Nebe and Widmann carried out another killing
experiment: five psychiatric patients from
Mogilev were placed in a
hermetically sealed room, with pipes leading to the outside. At first,
exhausts from a passenger vehicle were vented into the room, so that
the carbon monoxide would kill those inside. However, this method
failed to kill the patients, so a truck was added; the patients were
dead within 15 minutes. Nebe and Widmann concluded, that killing with
explosives was impractical, while gassing "held promise", as vehicles
were readily available, and could be used as needed.
After these experimental killings, Nebe thought of remodelling a
vehicle with a hermetically sealed cabin for killing. The carbon
monoxide from the vehicle's exhaust would be channelled into the
sealed cabin in which the victims stood. He discussed the technical
aspects of the idea with a specialist from Kripo's Technology
Institute and together they brought the proposal before Heydrich, who
Mogilev conference and escalation of violence
The Wehrmacht's aggressive rear security doctrine, and the use of the
"security threat" to disguise genocidal policies, resulted in close
cooperation between the army and the security apparatus behind the
front lines. Nebe, as the Einsatzgruppe B commander, participated in a
three-day field conference at
Mogilev in late September 1941.
Organised by General Max von Schenckendorff, chief of Army Group
Centre's rear area, the conference was to serve as an "exchange of
experiences" for the
Wehrmacht rear unit commanders.
Participating officers were selected on the basis of their
"achievements and experiences" in security operations already
undertaken. In addition to Nebe, the speakers included: Higher SS
and Police Leader Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski; Max Montua, commander
of Police Regiment Center; Hermann Fegelein, commander of the SS
Cavalry Brigade; and Gustav Lombard, commander of the 1st SS Cavalry
Regiment. Nebe's talk focused on the role of the SD in the common
fight against "partisans" and "plunderers". He also covered the
"Jewish question", with particular consideration to the anti-partisan
movement. Following the conference, a 16-page executive
summary was distributed to the
Wehrmacht troops and police units in
the rear area. There was a dramatic increase in atrocities against
Jews and other civilians in the last three months of 1941.
Under Nebe's command, Einsatzgruppe B committed public hangings to
terrorise the local population. An Einsatzgruppe B report, dated 9
October 1941, stated that, due to suspected partisan activity near
Demidov, all male residents aged fifteen to fifty-five were put in a
camp to be screened. Seventeen people were identified as "partisans"
and "Communists" and five were hanged in front of 400 local residents
assembled to watch; the rest were shot. Through 14 November 1941,
Einsatzgruppe B reported the killing of 45,467 people; thereafter,
Nebe returned to
Berlin and resumed his duties as head of the
Stalag Luft III
Stalag Luft III murders
Following the assassination attempt on Heydrich, Nebe assumed the
additional post of President of the International Criminal Police
Commission, the organization today known as Interpol, in June 1942.
Anschluss in 1938, the organization had fallen under the
Nazi Germany and was headed by Heydrich until the time of
his death. Nebe served in this capacity until June 1943, when he was
replaced by Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
In March 1944, after the "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III
prisoner-of-war camp, Nebe was ordered by Heinrich Müller, Chief of
the Gestapo, to select and kill fifty of the seventy-three recaptured
prisoners in what became known as the "
Stalag Luft III
Stalag Luft III murders".
Also in 1944, Nebe suggested that the Roma interned at
be good subjects for medical experiments at the Dachau concentration
camp, after Himmler had asked Ernst-Robert Grawitz, a high-ranking SS
doctor, for advice.
1944 plot against Adolf Hitler
Nebe was involved in the
July 20 plot
July 20 plot against Adolf Hitler; he was to
lead a team of twelve policemen to kill Himmler, but the signal to act
never reached him. After the failed assassination attempt, Nebe
fled and went into hiding on an island in the Wannsee. He was arrested
in January 1945, after a former mistress betrayed him. Nebe was
sentenced to death by the People's Court on 2 March and, according to
official records, was executed in
Plötzensee Prison on 21
March 1945 by being hanged with piano wire from a meat hook, in
accordance with Hitler's order that the bomb plotters were to be
"hanged like cattle".
Historians have a uniformly negative view of Nebe and his motives,
despite his participation in the 20 July plot.
Robert Gellately writes
that Nebe's views were virulently racist and antisemitic. Martin
Kitchen casts Nebe as an opportunist, who saw the SS as the police
force of the future, and as an "energetic and enthusiastic mass
murderer, who seized every opportunity to undertake yet another
massacre". Yet, according to Kitchen, he "was clearly unable to stand
the strain and was posted back to Berlin".
Comprehensive reports filed by the
Einsatzgruppen have been analyzed
by historian Ronald Headland as "historical 'Messages of Murder'" that
provide insights into the worldview of its leadership. Headland
writes that the reports "bear witness to the fanatic commitment of the
Einsatzgruppen leaders to their mission of extermination"; their
ideology and racism are evident in the "constant debasement of the
victims" and "ever present racial conceptions concerning Jew,
Communists, Gypsies and other 'inferior' elements". Headland concludes
that Nebe was an ambitious man who may have volunteered to lead an
Einsatzgruppe unit for careerist reasons, to get a "military
decoration", and to curry favor with Heydrich. Any misgivings he may
have entertained as to the feasibility of the undertaking failed to
prevent him from overseeing the murder of close to 50,000 people in
the five months he spent as commander of his unit.
Gerald Reitlinger describes Nebe's reasons for joining the
Einsatzgruppen as "placation" and a desire to hold on to his position
in the Criminal Police Department, which, since 1934, had been
"invaded by amateur
Gestapo men" and was later taken over by Heydrich.
"If Nebe did in fact retain his office till 1944, it was because of
the five months he spent in Russia, or, as his friend Gisevius
politely referred to, 'at the front'." Reitlinger called Nebe a very
questionable member of the Resistance Circle at the time of the great
Alex J. Kay writes that "the role, character and motivation of those
involved both in planning—and in some cases carrying out—mass
murder and in the conspiracy against Hitler deserve to be investigated
more closely". He places Nebe in this category, with Franz Halder,
chief of the OKH, and Georg Thomas, head of the Defence, Economy and
Armament Office in the Oberkommando der
Wehrmacht (OKW) (English:
Several apologetic accounts produced by the conspirators behind the 20
July plot described Nebe as a professional police officer and a
dedicated member of the German resistance. In 1947, Hans Gisevius
described Nebe's position at the head of Einsatzgruppe B as a "brief
command at the front". Gisevius changed his story in the 1960s, when
Nebe's role with the
Einsatzgruppen was exposed. In Wo ist Nebe?
(Where is Nebe ), Gisevius claimed that Nebe was reluctant to
accept the posting but had been persuaded to take it by the opposition
Hans Oster and Ludwig Beck, who had allegedly wanted Nebe to
retain a key role in Heydrich's apparatus. Gisevius also claimed that
Nebe exaggerated the number of victims in reports to
Berlin by adding
a zero to the number of those killed. In addition, a Swedish
police official active in the
Interpol during the war years, Harry
Söderman, described Nebe and Karl Zindel (de), a key RSHA figure
responsible for persecution of the Roma, in his 1956 book as
“professional policemen,... very mild Nazis”.
Historian Christian Gerlach, writing about the 20 July conspirators
and their complicity in War crimes of the Wehrmacht, refers to Nebe as
a "notorious mass murderer". He discusses the role of Henning von
Tresckow and his adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, who were members
of the resistance, and writes:
Schlabrendorff claimed that he and Tresckow had convinced themselves
that "under the mask of the SS leader lurked a committed anti-Nazi...,
who invented pretexts for sabotaging Hitler's murderous orders. We
succeeded in saving the lives of many Russians. The Russian population
often expressed their thanks to us". [...] According to
Schlabrendorff, Tresckow personally brought Nebe to the army group [of
conspirators]. Nothing was said about the 45,467 murder victims of
Einsatzgruppe B by November 1941, the point at which Nebe returned to
Gerlach doubts that Nebe falsified Einsatzgruppe B reports, to
"sabotage Hitler's murderous orders". Gerlach puts Schlabrendorff's
claims in the context of bomb plotters' memoirs and "existing
discourse" on the opposition group within the high command of Army
Group Center: "Especially with reference to the murder of the Jews,
[it is said that] 'the SS' had deceived the officers by killing in
secret, filing incomplete reports or none at all; if general staff
offices protested, the SS threatened them. (...) This is, of course,
The historian Waitman Wade Beorn writes: "...some have argued that
[Nebe] deliberately inflated the numbers of Jews he reported killed.
Yet all evidence indicates that he was quite content to play his role
in Nazi genocide and that his subsequent displeasure with the regime
may have stemmed from the imminent Nazi defeat but not opposition to
Bernhard Wehner of the
Kripo stated that Nebe was
worried the Allies would punish him for his crimes and that this was
the only reason he joined the resistance.
^ Lewy 2000, p. 204.
^ a b c Browder 1990, p. 57.
^ a b Zentner & Bedürftig 1997, p. 641.
^ a b Biondi 2000, p. 10.
^ Browder 1990, p. 125.
^ Friedlander 1995, p. 55.
^ Browder 1990, pp. 240, 241.
^ Gellately 2001, p. 75.
^ Gellately 2001, pp. 45–46.
^ Reitlinger 1957, p. 279.
^ Gellately 2001, pp. 107–108.
^ a b c d e Lewy 2000, pp. 204–208.
^ Beorn 2014, p. 98.
^ Headland 1992, pp. 62–70.
^ Headland 1992, p. 74.
^ Beorn 2014, p. 110.
^ Headland 1992, p. 197.
^ Headland 1992, pp. 199–201.
^ Beorn 2014, p. 190.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 547.
^ Gerwarth 2011, p. 199.
^ Heberer 2008, p. 232.
^ Rees 2006, p. 53.
^ Dederichs 2009, p. 106.
^ Arad 1987, pp. 10–11.
^ Beorn 2014, pp. 95–96.
^ Förster 1998, pp. 1204–1205.
^ Blood 2006, p. 167.
^ Beorn 2014, pp. 99–101.
^ Beorn 2014, pp. 101–106.
^ Headland 1992, pp. 57–58.
^ Headland 1992, p. 94.
^ a b Deflem 2002.
^ Andrews 1976, p. 67.
^ Balfour 1988, p. 164.
^ Shirer 1960, p. 1393.
^ Gellately 2001, p. 46.
^ Kitchen 2008, pp. 235–236, 254.
^ Müller & Uberschär 1997, p. 223.
^ Headland 1992, pp. 208–211.
^ Reitlinger 1957, p. 237.
^ Kay 2011, p. 156.
^ Lewy 2000, p. 205.
^ Gerlach 2004, p. 129.
^ Gerlach 2004, pp. 128–129.
^ Beorn 2014, p. 270.
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President of Interpol
Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos
Franz Walter Stahlecker
Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski
Gustav Adolf Nosske
Karl Eberhard Schöngarth
Udo von Woyrsch
8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer
Schutzmannschaft (Belarusian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian,
Lithuanian Security Police
Burning of the Riga synagogues
Kaunas June 1941
Kaunas 29 October 1941
Ninth Fort November 1941
Gully of Petrushino
The Black Book
Special Prosecution Book-Poland (Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen)
Wehrmacht Army Group Rear Areas during the German–Soviet War,
Army Group Rear Area
Army High Command
Army Group North
Army Group Centre
Army Group South
Franz von Roques
Karl von Roques
Edwin von Rothkirch
Max von Schenckendorff
221st (Police Battalion (PB) 309)
Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski
Police and SS Detachments
Einsatzgruppen (PB 9)
Police Regiment North
Police Regiment Centre
Police Regiment Centre (PB 307, PB 316, PB 322)
Police Regiment South (PB 45, PB 303, PB 314)
Special Purpose (PB 304, PB 315, PB 320)
SS Cavalry Brigade
1st SS Infantry Brigade
2nd SS Infantry Brigade
Persecution of Soviet prisoners of war
Hitler's speech of 30 March 1941
War crimes trials
High Command Trial
War crimes of the Wehrmacht
Myth of the clean Wehrmacht
Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945
Hitler's War in the East 1941−1945
Hitler's Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Nazi Occupation of Europe
Marching into Darkness: The
Wehrmacht and the Holocaust
The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality
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