Mass murder of political officers of the Red Army (incorrectly labeled as “commissars” by the Nazis) was indisputably the most mysterious (and the most idiotic) of Nazi crimes.
The most mysterious because to this day it is not known even roughly how many Soviet “commissars” were murdered (or even if these murders took place at all). The only execution reports in existence were sent to the Army High Command (OKH) in Berlin by Army Group North then commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb.
According to those reports, 268 political officers had been shot between June and December of 1941. However, it is not known for sure whether these executions did take place or whether commanders of the armies in Army Group North simply lied to please their commander-in-chief. I am inclined to believe the latter for the reasons I will explain shortly.
The order was obviously illegal according to German law then in force because it flagrantly violated the 1929 Geneva Convention on the treatment of the POW that Nazi Germany never discarded.
Hence, the Nazis were bound by both international and domestic law to adhere to that convention (which clearly prohibited the summary execution of any POW) even when the other side (the Soviet Union) did not.
This order was idiotic because it could have been exactly what have prevented Nazi Germany from winning the “lightning war” on the Eastern front. And thus very well could have cost the Nazis their war, their state, their civilization and for many (including Adolf Hitler himself) his very life.
The first draft of Kommissarbefehl (officially Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars) was written by General of the Artillery (three-star general) Eugen Müller who was the one of the deputies of Franz Halder – Chief of Staff of the OKH.
Although he had the third highest rank in the Army (after Field Marshal and Generaloberst), Müller was essentially a military lawyer – hence it is no surprise that he was tasked with writing a legal document (which ironically was blatantly illegal).
The final text of the order was issued by OKH (signed by Supreme Commander of the German Army Walther von Brauchitsch) on June 6th, 1941 – two weeks before commencement of Operation Barbarossa.
Due to a fundamentally criminal nature of the Kommissarbefehl, only 340 commanders received the typed copy (meaning that distribution of written orders stopped at the divisional level). Lower-level commanders were to be informed orally.
Now let’s take a very close and very detailed look at the text of that infamous order.