Because of his deeply entrenched habit of issuing oral (and often very broad) directives, we do not know for sure when Hitler ordered the development of the “Commissars’ Order”.
Most likely, he gave the corresponding directive – either to Head of OKW (Wehrmacht High Command) Wilhelm Keitel or (more likely) directly to Chief of the OKH General Staff Franz Halder sometime around March 30th, 1941.
On that date, Hitler addressed over 200 senior Wehrmacht officers in the Reich Chancellery. In that speech (devoted mostly to the upcoming war with the Soviet Union), he explicitly declared that political officers in the Soviet Armed Forces had to be “liquidated” without mercy because Germany was fighting the existential ideological war with the USSR.
To win this war, Germany had to eradicate the Bolshevist ideology; and to wipe it out, it was necessary to physically exterminate its bearers – the “Bolshevist commissars” in the Armed Forces and the “Communist intelligentsia” in the civilian administration.
There is some indication (but not a definite proof) that the Hitler’s real reason to order the Kommissarbefehl was a bit different. It is a well-known fact that Karl Marx – the founder of Marxism (and thus ultimately of Bolshevism – its Russian strain) was Jewish by blood (although baptized Protestant).
The individual responsible for bringing Bolsheviks to power (and the subsequent commander-in-chief of Bolshevist armed forces) Leon Trotsky was a Jew. The titular head of Russian Bolshevist state Yakov Sverdlov was a Jew. Grigory Zinoviev – the CEO of Comintern – organization established by the Bolsheviks with the explicit objective to Bolshevize the whole world was Jewish.
In fact, most of the leaders of the Soviet Russia and of the Bolshevist coups in Europe (as well as the author of Weimar Constitution and some of the influential Weimar leaders) were Jewish.
From these irrefutable facts, Adolf Hitler made an understandable, but totally erroneous conclusions – that just about all Soviet “commissars” and the “Communist intelligentsia” were Jewish.
Hitler was right about the reality of the Bolshevist existential threat to Germany, Europe, the whole Western Civilization and the whole world. He was, however, hopelessly wrong about the nature of that threat (and thus of the very real existential war between Germany and the Soviet Union).
He perceived it as a racial war with the mythical “Jewish race” (which existed only in Nazi imagination). And with the “Judeo-Bolshevist ideology”, which in reality was the Russian-Marxist messianism.
He also deeply (and incorrectly) believed that to win this war, German (“Aryan”) race had to completely exterminate its opponent. Either geographically (by deporting all Jews from all German-controlled territories) or physically – by murdering them.
According to his very much twisted logic, this physical annihilation had to start with the most powerful and influential (and thus the most dangerous) Jews. With political officers in the military and civilian managers in the Communist party, government, economy, etc.
He could not have been more wrong. First, although initially the share of Jews in the Armed Forces, in the Communist Party and in the civilian administration was disproportionately high (to put it mildly), the Great Purge of 1936-38 drastically reduced it.
Consequently, by 1941, Jews both in the military and in the civilian government were in a small minority, not in an overwhelming majority as Hitler (incorrectly) perceived.
Second, unlike the Third Reich, the Soviet Union was not about Bolshevism at all. It was all about the unlimited power of and world domination by but one individual – the “Red Tamerlane” Joseph Stalin.
Who (contrary to a very popular misconception), was no Bolshevism at all. In fact, he was a typical Asian despot and conqueror, a reincarnation (of sorts) of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.
For him Bolshevism was simply a convenient tool for attaining the absolute power inside his country and conquering the outside world. Convenient because it was both an excellent disguise and a highly efficient detonator for the real drive that Stalin used to motivate the “Soviet people” to conquer the world for him.
This drive was Russian imperial Orthodox messianism and I will cover it in the appropriate detail in the very next chapter of this book.
Consequently, Adolf Hitler had a totally erroneous perception of how the Soviet Union and its Armed Forces were managed. It was run not by the Party officials in the civilian life and political officers in the Armed forces, but by the government bureaucrats (“apparatchiks”) and security services (the much-feared NKVD) on the civilian side and by regular commanding officers in the military.
Hence the physical extermination of even all “commissars” in all branches of the Soviet Armed forces would not have made any significant impact on the fighting capabilities of the Red Army.
In fact, it could have (and sometimes did – when the “commissars” died from “natural causes”) made the latter far more efficient as it would have eliminated totally redundant officers and thus considerably simplified the system of command.
After the war, several German generals (including Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein) were tried and convicted for war crimes which included carrying out the “Commissars’ Order”.
However, it was only one of the charges (and a relatively minor ones). None of the defendants was sentenced to death or life imprisonment and all served eight years in jail at most.