The famous photo above is from some film footage taken by the Germans in Lithuania in 1941. I saw the film years ago in a TV documentary.
Here is the back story: The Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in 1940 and annexed the country with the approval of Germany. On June 22, 1941, the Germans broke their non-aggression pact with the Russians and invaded the Soviet Union, but before getting into Russia, they first invaded Lithuania, which had a large ethnic German population and a small number of Jews. Before the Germans arrived, some of the Lithuanians started killing the Jews of their own volition.
A few years ago, I visited the mansion where the Wannsee Conference was held on January 20, 1942. In Section 5 of the Wannsee museum, which is entitled “Mass Executions,” I read about the shooting of the Jews by the Einsatzgruppen. In the last 10 years or so, the subject of the Einsatzgruppen has become extremely popular and all the little school kids know the meaning of the term so I won’t take the time to explain it.
All of the exhibits in the Wannsee museum were in German only when I visited, but I bought a book that had English translations so that I could read everything. There was a telex message from Reinhard Heydrich on display, dated June 29, 1941 and addressed to the four Einsatzgruppen leaders.
Here is the English translation of Heydrich’s telex message:
Efforts to carry out purges on the part of anti-Communist or anti-Jewish groups in the territories to be newly occupied must not be hampered. On the contrary, they are to be provoked although without leaving traces – if necessary intensified and carefully guided in the right direction. This must be done in such a way that these local ‘self defense groups’ will not be able to claim later on that they were given instructions or political assurances.
The Lithuanians had already started killing the Jews before the Germans got there, and when the Germans arrived, they didn’t stop the killing because of the orders that Heydrich had given to the Einsatzgruppen leaders. Note the German soldiers in the background of the photo above.