On 6th June 1941 Hitler issued his infamous Commissar Order, making it clear to his military commanders that the forthcoming invasion of Soviet Russia was to be different from other wars. Hitler saw the battle against “Jewish Bolshevism” as a battle of annihilation – to be fought outside the international rules of war. The written order was only circulated to the most senior military commanders with the instruction that it should be passed on by oral orders to lower ranks.
Under the Soviet system political commissars were attached to all military units as secondary commanders. For those who were captured by the Germans and identified as being associated with the Soviet political system, whether attached to military units or not, there was little hope. Yet their end was probably mercifully swift, when compared with the starvation that was to kill hundreds of thousands of other Russian prisoners of war.
6 June 1941
Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars
In the battle against Bolshevism, the adherence of the enemy to the principles of humanity or international law is not to be counted on. In particular the treatment of those of us who are taken prisoner in a manner full of hatred, cruelty and inhumanity can be expected from the political commissars of every kind as the real pillars of opposition.
The troops must be aware that:
1. In this battle mercy or considerations of international law with regard to these elements is false. They are a danger to our own safety and to the rapid pacification of the conquered territories.
2. The originators of barbaric, Asiatic methods of warfare are the political commissars. So immediate and unhesitatingly severe measures must be undertaken against them.
They are therefore, when captured either in battle or offering resistance, as a matter of routine to be dispatched by firearms.
2. …Political commissars as agents of the enemy troops are recognizable from their special badge—a red star with a golden woven hammer and sickle on the sleeves…. They are to be separated from the prisoners of war immediately, i.e. already on the battlefield. This is necessary, in order to remove from them any possibility of influencing the captured soldiers.
These commissars are not to be recognized as soldiers; the protection due to prisoners of war under international law does not apply to them. When they have been separated, they are to be finished off.