Arthur Nebe

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Arthur Nebe
Bundesarchiv Bild 101III-Alber-096-34, Arthur Nebe.jpg
Arthur Nebe
Born (1894-11-13)13 November 1894
Berlin, German Empire
Died 21 March 1945(1945-03-21) (aged 50)
Berlin, Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Rank SS-Gruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei
Commands held Kriminalpolizei, Einsatzgruppe B
Battles/wars World War I, World War II
Awards Iron Cross, War Merit Cross, Nazi Party Long Service Award, Police Long Service Award, Wound Badge, Sudetenland Medal

About this sound Arthur Nebe  (13 November 1894 – 21 March 1945) was a key functionary in the security and police apparatus of Nazi Germany. In the 1920s, Nebe served as Berlin Police Commissioner; he rose through the ranks to become head of Nazi Germany's Criminal Police (Kripo) in 1936, which was folded into Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) in 1939. Nebe perpetrated mass murder in the Holocaust, serving as commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B deployed largely in modern day Belarus behind Army Group Centre during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

In late 1941, Nebe was posted back to Berlin and resumed his career within RSHA. In 1942–1943, he was the President of Interpol which fell under the control of Nazi Germany during the Anschluss of Austria in 1938. Nebe commanded the Kripo until he was denounced and executed after the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944.

Before World War II

Early life and police career

Born in Berlin in 1894, the son of an elementary school teacher, Nebe volunteered for military service in the 17th Pioneer Battalion during World War I, reaching the rank of Oberleutnant. From 1918–19, he was a member of the Freikorps.

In 1920 Nebe joined the Berlin detective force[1] known as the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo; Criminal Police) and attained the rank of Police Commissioner in 1924. That same year, he married Elise Schaeffer and they had a daughter, Gisela (born 1926).

In July 1931, he joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) with card number 574,307 and also the Schutzstaffel (SS), with membership number 280,152.[2] He later obtained the rank of SS-Gruppenführer.[2] Nebe became the Nazis' liaison in the Berlin criminal police, with links to the 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.[1] Following the Nazi seizure of power, Daluege recommended Nebe to the position of Chief Executive of the State Police in April 1933.

In October 1933 Nebe was ordered by Rudolf Diels, then head of the Gestapo, to arrange the liquidation of Hitler's rival Gregor Strasser. In 1933 he came to know Hans Bernd Gisevius, then an official in the Berlin Police Headquarters.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R98680, Besprechung Himmler mit Müller, Heydrich, Nebe, Huber2.jpg
1939 photograph; shown from left to right are Franz Josef Huber, Arthur Nebe, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, planning the investigation of the bomb assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler of 8 November 1939 in Munich.

Head of Kripo

In July 1936, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) became the criminal police department for the entire Reich. It was merged, along with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) or Security Police. At that point, Reinhard Heydrich was in overall command of the SiPo (Gestapo and Kripo) and the SD. Nebe was appointed head of Kripo.[3] As chief of Kripo, Nebe reported to Heydrich. His aversion to Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler grew even though he continued to regularly lunch with them.[4]

On 27 September 1939, Himmler ordered the creation of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA); the new organisation encompassed all security police, divided into main offices, including SiPo and Kripo, which became Department V of the RSHA.[5] Department V was also known as the Reich Criminal Police Department (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, or RKPA). Nebe embraced the preventative mission of the Kripo to "exterminate criminality" and fostered Nazi ideology in the police department. Under Nebe's leadership, equipped with arbitrary powers of arrest and detention, the Kripo acted more and more like the Gestapo, the secret political police, including the liberal use of preventative custody and large-scale roundups of 'asocials'.[6][7]

Nebe's ties to mass murder may originate in 1939, when he lent a commissioner of his Criminal Investigation Department, "one Christian Wirth of Stuttgart", to the euthanasia organisation.[8] Also in 1939, Nebe, as head of Kripo, was involved in the discussions around the upcoming campaigns against Sinti and Roma. Nebe's thinking at the time included possibly sending Berlin's Gypsies to the planned reservations for the Jews and others in the East.[9]

World War II

Einsatzgruppe B

In 1941, just prior to Operation Barbarossa, Nebe volunteered to command Einsatzgruppe B, a mobile killing unit, which was to operate behind Army Group Center in the east after the invasion of the Soviet Union. The unit's task was to exterminate Jews and other undesirables, such as communists, Gypsies, 'Asiatics' and mental patients, in the territories that the Wehrmacht had overrun. It was also common practice for the Einsatzgruppen to shoot hostages and prisoners of war, handed over by the army to be executed.[10][11]

Killing operations

Around 5 July 1941, Nebe consolidated Einsatzgruppe B near Minsk, establishing a headquarters and remaining there for some two months. The killing activities progressed apace. In a 13 July 'Operational Situation Report', Nebe reported that in Minsk 1,050 Jews had been liquidated, that in Vilna the liquidation of the Jews was underway, and that five hundred Jews were shot daily.[12] However,Einsatzgruppe B's activities were also stymied by inefficiencies. In the same report Nebe remarked with dissatisfaction 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 liquidations 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.[13][14]

In the 23 July report, however, 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'. In essence, there were too many Jews to be killed by too few men.[15] By August 1941, Nebe came to realize that his Einsatzgruppe's resources were insufficient to accomplish the murder of the expanded number of targeted Jews resulting from the inclusion of women and children.[16]

New killing methods

In August 1941, Himmler attended a demonstration of a mass-shooting in Minsk arranged by Nebe. Just after the shooting, Himmler vomited. After regaining his composure, Himmler decided that alternate methods of killing should be found.[17] He told Heydrich that he was concerned for the mental health of the SS men.[18] Himmler turned to Nebe to devise a more 'convenient' method of killing, particularly one that would spare the executioners elements of their grisly task. Murder with carbon monoxide gas – already in use in the Reich as part of the the euthanasia program – was contemplated, but deemed too cumbersome for the mobile killing operations in the East.[19]

Nebe decided to try experimenting by murdering Soviet mental patients first with explosives near Minsk and then with automobile exhaust at Mogilev.[20]

Nebe, with the technical assistance of Albert Widmann, experimented with several different methods as a means to kill mental patients; the Einsatzgruppenwere supplied with was gas vans:

In September 1941, Einsatzgruppe B was faced with the task of liquidating the patients of the lunatic asylums in the cities of Minsk and Mogilev. Nebe decided to find a simpler way for his men to kill the mentally diseased, other than by shooting them. He contacted Kripo headquarters and asked for their help in carrying out the killing of the insane with either explosives or poison gas. Dr. Widmann of the Criminal Police was sent to Nebe in Minsk, but before he left, Dr. Widmann discussed with the director of the Criminal Police Technological Institute, Dr. Walter Heess, ways of using the carbon monoxide gas from automobile exhaust for killing operations in the East, based on the experience gained from the euthanasia program. Dr. Widmann took to Minsk 400 kgs of explosive material and the metal pipes required for the gassing installations.

Nebe and Dr. Widmann carried out an experimental killing using explosives. Twenty-five mentally ill people were locked into two bunkers in a forest outside Minsk. The first explosion killed only some of them, and it took much time and trouble until the second explosion killed the rest. Explosives therefore were unsatisfactory.

A few days later an experiment with poison gas was carried out by Nebe and Dr. Widmann in Mogilev. In the local lunatic asylum, a room with twenty to thirty of the insane was closed hermetically, and two pipes were driven into the wall. A car was parked outside, and one of the metal pipes that Dr. Widmann had brought connected the exhaust of the car to the pipe in the wall. The car engine was turned on and the carbon monoxide began seeping into the room. After eight minutes, the people in the room were still alive. A second car was connected to the other pipe in the wall. The two cars were operated simultaneously, and a few minutes later all those in the room were dead.

After these experimental executions, Nebe came up with the idea of constructing a car with a hermetically sealed cabin for killing purposes. The carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust would be channeled into the sealed cabin, in which the victims stood. Nebe discussed the technical aspects of the idea with Dr. Heess and together they brought the proposal before Heydrich, who adopted it.[21]

Another source states that instead of adding a second car, the first car was replaced with a truck.[22] The idea to use gas was partly inspired by an incident involving Nebe. One night after a party Nebe had driven home drunk, parked in his garage and fell asleep with the car engine running. He nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes.[22]

Mogilev conference

Despite low threat from insurgents in the rear in the first months of the invasion, Wehrmacht's aggressive rear security doctrine and the use of the civilian 'danger' as a cover for genocidal policies resulted in close cooperation between the army and the security apparatus behind the front lines. One of the examples of such cooperation was a three-day field conference organized in the town of Mogilev by General Max von Schenkenckendorff, chief of Army Group Center's rear area, to create an 'exchange of experiences' for the benefit of Wehrmacht's rear unit commanders.[23] Participating officers were selected based on their 'achievements and experiences' in operations already undertaken. Participants also included representatives of the OKH and Army Group Centre.[24]

The conference got underway on 24 September and focused on 'combatting partisans' (Bekämpfung von Partisanen) and reflected von Schenkenckendorff's views on the need of total eradication of the 'partisans' as the only way to secure the rear. Talks presented included the evaluation of Soviet 'bandit' organisation and tactics; why it was necessary to execute political commissars immediately upon capture; and gaining intelligence from local collaborators. The speakers included Nebe; 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; Gustav Lombard, commander of the 1st SS Cavalry Regiment; and others. 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.[25][26]

The conference included three field exercises. On the second day, participants traveled to the settlement of Knyazhichi (Knjaschitschi in the German rendering). According to the after-action report, 'suspicious strangers' (Ortsfremde), that is 'partisans', could not be found, but the screening of the population revealed 51 Jewish civilians. Of these, 32 people were shot. Thus the conference participants were presented with the default targeting of Jews as part of the anti-partisan warfare. The final product of the conference was a 16-page executive summary, which was distributed to the Wehrmacht troops and the police units in the rear area. The conference, while ostensibly an 'anti-partisan training', was in fact a means 'to promote the annihilation of Jews for racial reasons', as a post-war West German court put it. The conference marked a dramatic increase in the violence against Jews and other civilians in the last three months of 1941.[27]

Under Nebe's command, Einsatzgruppe B engaged in public hangings used as a terror tactic on the local population. An Einsatzgruppe B report, dated 9 October 1941, described one such hanging. Due to suspected partisan activity in the area around the settlement of Demidov, all males aged fifteen to fifty-five in Demidov had been put in a camp to be screened. The screening produced seventeen people identified as 'partisans' and 'communists'. 400 local residents were assembled to watch the hanging of five members of the group; the rest were shot.[28]

Through 14 November 1941, Einsatzgruppe B reported the killing of 45,467 people. That same month, Nebe was posted back to Berlin.[29]

Stalag Luft III murders

In March 1944, after the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III POW camp, Nebe was ordered by Heinrich Müller, Chief of the Gestapo to choose 50 of the 73 captured prisoners to be executed in the Stalag Luft III murders.[30]

1944 plot against Adolf Hitler

Arthur Nebe was involved in the 20 July 1944 bomb plot against German dictator Adolf Hitler. As part of the plot, Nebe was to lead a team of 12 policemen to kill Himmler but the signal never reached him.[31] After the failure of the assassination attempt he went into hiding on an island in the Wannsee but was later arrested after a rejected mistress betrayed him. Nebe was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court) and according to official records, was executed in Berlin at Plötzensee Prison on 21 March 1945, by hanging with piano wire from a meat hook[32] as that was the punishment ordered by Hitler – who wanted the July 20 conspirators to be "hanged like cattle".[33]

Persecution of the Gypsies

Guenter Lewy lays out additional charges that tie Nebe to genocide. These include:[20]

  • "As head of the RKPA," (the Kripo or Criminal Police), "Nebe played a leading role in the formulation of Gypsy policy".
  • Nebe told Adolf Eichmann to put Gypsies with the Jews on the transports to Nisko, in October 1939.
  • In 1944, Nebe suggested to Grawitz that the Gypsies interned at Auschwitz would be good people to use for medical experiments at the Dachau concentration camp (Himmler had asked Grawitz for advice on the question).
  • Bernhard Wehner of the RKPA stated Nebe was worried the Allies would punish him for his crimes, and that this was the only reason he joined the resistance.


Historians have a uniformly negative view of Nebe and his motivations, despite his participation in the 20 July plot. Robert Gellately describes Nebe's views as virulently racist and antisemitic.[34] Martin Kitchen characterizes Nebe as an opportunist who saw the SS as the police force of the future and describes him as "energetic and enthusiastic mass murderer, who seized every opportunity to undertake yet another massacre"; yet, he "was clearly unable to stand the strain and was posted back to Berlin".[35]

Comprehensive reports filed by the Einsatzgruppen have been analyzed by Ronald Headland as "historical 'Messages of Murder'"[36] and provide insight into Nebe's thinking while in command of his killing unit. Headland concurs with Gellately's and Kitchen's positions. He finds 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". At the same time, Headland casts Nebe as an ambitious man who may have volunteered to lead an Einsatzgruppe unit for selfish reasons: he wanted a 'military decoration' and to curry favor with Heydrich. Any misgivings he may have entertained as to the feasibility of the undertaking did not prevent him from murdering close to 50,000 people in the five months he spent in command of his unit.[37]

Similarly, Gerald Reitlinger characterizes Nebe's reasons to join the Einsatzgruppen as "placation" and desire to hold on to his position in the Criminal Police Department, which since 1934 was being "invaded by amateur Gestapo men" and was thereafter taken over by Heydrich. He writes: "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." (emphasis in the original) Reitlinger calls Nebe as "a very questionable member of the Resistance Circle at the time of the great bomb plot".[38]

Alex J. Kay notes 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, alongside Franz Halder, chief of the OKH General Staff, and Georg Thomas, head of Defence Economy and Armament Office in the OKW.[39]

Apologetic accounts

Several apologetic accounts were produced by members of the 20 July plot to describe Nebe as a professional police officer and a dedicated member of the German resistance. First such account was included in the memoirs by Nebe's acquaintance Hans Gisevius in 1947, in which he described Nebe's Einsatzgruppe command as a "brief command at the front". Gisevius changed his story in the 1960s when Nebe's role with the Einsatzgruppen became common knowledge. In the 1966 book called 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 leaders Hans Oster and Ludwig Beck, who had wanted Nebe to retain a key role in Heydrich's apparatus. Gisevius also claimed that Nebe reported the exaggerated numbers of victims to Berlin and in fact the number of those killed were only 4,500, and not 45,000.[40]

Another apologetic account was put forth by Fabian von Schlabrendorff, an adjutant to Henning von Tresckow, who were both key members of the resistance. Assessing the 20 July conspirators and their complicity in War crimes of the Wehrmacht, the historian Christian Gerlach refers to Nebe as a "notorious mass murderer" and writes:[41]

Von Schlabrendorff claimed that he and von 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 von Schlabrendorff, von 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 Berlin.

Gerlach expresses doubts that Nebe falsified Einsatzgruppe B reports, specifically to "sabotage Hitler's murderous orders". He discusses these claims using the phrases "it is said" and "allegedly". Gerlach further puts von Schlabrendorff's claims in the context of the 20 July participants' memoirs and 'existing discourse' on the opposition group within the high command of Army Group Center. He writes: "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." Gerlach concludes: "This is, of course, nonsense."[42]

The historian Waitman Wade Beorn concurs with Gerlach's assessment, stating that "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 the Holocaust".[43]

Awards and decorations



  1. 1.0 1.1 Browder 1990, pp. 57, 62, 86, 87, 90, 116, 119, 121–122, 125, 191, 233–237, 241–242.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Biondi 2000, p. 10.
  3. Williams 2001, p. 77.
  4. Balfour 1988.
  5. Gellately 2001, p. 75.
  6. Gellately 2001, pp. 45-46.
  7. Lewy 2000.
  8. Reitlinger 1957, p. 279.
  9. Gellately 2001, pp. 107-108.
  10. Beorn 2014, p. 98.
  11. Headland 1992, pp. 62-70.
  12. Headland 1992, p. 74.
  13. Beorn 2014, p. 110.
  14. Headland 1992, p. 197.
  15. Headland 1992, pp. 199-201.
  16. Beorn 2014, p. 190.
  17. Longerich 2012, p. 547.
  18. Gerwarth 2011, p. 199.
  19. Heberer 2008, p. 232.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lewy 2000, pp. 204-208.
  21. Arad 1987, pp. 10-11.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Rees 2006, p. 53.
  23. Beorn 2014, pp. 95-96.
  24. Boog et al. 1998, pp. 1204-05.
  25. Blood 2006, p. 167.
  26. Beorn 2014, pp. 99-101.
  27. Beorn 2014, pp. 101-106.
  28. Headland 1992, pp. 57-58.
  29. Headland 1992, p. 94.
  30. Andrews, Allen (1976). Exemplary Justice. London: Harrap. ISBN 978-0-245-52775-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Balfour 1988, p. 164.
  32. Koch, H. W. In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany, p. 291
  33. Shirer 1960, p. 1393.
  34. Gellately 2001, p. 46.
  35. Kitchen, Martin (2008). The Third Reich: Charisma and Community. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4058-0169-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Müller & Uberschär 1997, p. 223.
  37. Headland 1992, pp. 208-211.
  38. Reitlinger 1957, p. 237.
  39. Kay 2011, p. 156.
  40. Lewy 2000, p. 205.
  41. Gerlach 2004, p. 129.
  42. Gerlach 2004, pp. 128-129.
  43. Beorn 2014, p. 270.


Further Reading

  • Lumsden, Robin (2002). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine–SS. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan. ISBN 978-0-7110-2905-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Government offices
Preceded by
Reinhard Heydrich
President of Interpol
Succeeded by
Ernst Kaltenbrunner