The operational command of Einsatzgruppe B, attached to the Army Group Center, was established under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe a few days after the German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland code-named Operation Barbarossa. Einsatzgruppe B departed from the occupied city of Poznań (Posen) on 24 June 1941, with 655 men from the Security Police, Gestapo, Kripo, SD, Waffen-SS and the 2nd Company of Reserve Police Battalion 9. On 30 June 1941 Reichsleiter Heinrich Himmler visited the newly formed Bezirk Bialystok district and pronounced that more forces were needed in the area, due to potential risks of partisan warfare. The chase after the Red Army’s rapid retreat left behind a security vacuum, which required urgent deployment of additional personnel.
Scrambling to meet the “new threat”, Gestapo headquarters in Zichenau (Ciechanów) formed a lesser known unit called Kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg, which departed from the sub-station Schröttersburg (Płock) under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper, with the mission to kill Jews, communists and the NKVD collaborators across the local villages and towns in the Bezirk. On 3 July additional formation of Schutzpolizei arrived in Białystok from the General Government. It was led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Wolfgang Birkner, veteran of Einsatzgruppe IV from the Polish Campaign of 1939. The relief unit, called Kommando Bialystok, was sent in by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Eberhard Schöngarth on orders from the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), due to reports of Soviet guerrilla activity in the area with Jews being of course immediately suspected of helping them out. On 10 July 1941, Schaper’s unit was split into smaller Einsatzkommandos due to requirements of Operation Barbarossa.
In addition to mass shootings, 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 were detained in a camp for screening. The screening produced seventeen people identified as ‘partisans’ and ‘communists’. Thereafter, 400 local residents were assembled to watch the hanging of five members of the group; the rest were shot.
On 14 November 1941, Nebe told Berlin that, up until then, 45,000 persons had been eliminated. A further report, dated 15 December 1942, established that the Einsatzgruppe B had shot a total of 134,298 people. After 1943, the mass killings of Einsatzgruppe B diminished, and the unit was decommissioned in August 1944.
SS Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, but was soon released for medical reasons.
from his death of old age in his nineties is no information. SS Hauptsturmführer Wolfgang Birkner was killed in the Pomorze Province on 24 March 1945, age 31. .SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Eberhard Schöngarth was captured by the allies at the end of the war in Europe. After an investigation into his background, he was charged with the crime of murdering a downed Allied pilot (on 21 November 1944) and tried by a British Military Court in Burgsteinfurt. He was found guilty of this war crime on 11 February 1946 and sentenced to death by hanging. Schöngarth was executed by Albert Pierrepoint on 16 May 1946, age 43, at Hameln Prison.