Military Wiki
Arthur Nebe
Arthur Nebe
Born (1894-11-13)13 November 1894
Died 21 March 1945(1945-03-21) (aged 50)
Place of birth Berlin, German Empire
Place of death Berlin, Nazi Germany
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Rank SS-Gruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Gruppenführer
Battles/wars World War I, World War II

SS-Gruppenführer About this sound Arthur Nebe  (13 November 1894 – 21 March 1945) was a member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) with card number 574,307. In July 1931, he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) and his membership number was 280,152.[1] His early career included the Berlin position of Police Commissioner in the 1920s. In 1942–1943, he was the President of Interpol which fell under the control of Nazi Germany during the Anschluss in 1938. Nebe perpetrated mass murder in the Holocaust, serving as commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B deployed in the Bezirk Bialystok district (modern Belarus) behind Army Group Centre during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[2] Nebe commanded the Kripo (Criminal Police) until he was denounced and executed after the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944.[3]


Born in Berlin in 1894, the son of an elementary school teacher, Nebe volunteered for military service in the 17th Pioneer Battalion during World War I, where he was wounded twice by gas.

In 1920 Nebe joined the Berlin detective force[4] Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo (literally, "Criminal Police", a similar organization to the United Kingdom's Criminal Investigation Department) and attained the rank of Police Commissioner in 1924. Nebe joined the Nazi Party on 1 July 1931. He became a contributing member of the SS on the same day.[4] Nebe became the Nazis' liaison in the Berlin criminal police, with links to the SS group led by Kurt Daluege. In early 1932 Nebe and other Nazi detectives formed the NS (National Socialist) Civil Service Society of the Berlin Police.[4] Following the Nazi seizure of power, Daluege recommended Nebe, in April 1933 to be as Chief Executive of the State Police.

In October 1933 Nebe was ordered by Rudolf Diels, then head of the Gestapo, to arrange the liquidation of Hitler's rival Gregor Strasser. This began the process of turning Nebe against the Nazis. In 1933 he came to know Hans Bernd Gisevius, then an official in the Berlin Police Headquarters and Gisevius introduced him to Hans Oster.

1939 photograph; shown from left to right are Franz Josef Huber, Arthur Nebe, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, planning the investigation of the bomb assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler of 8 November 1939 in Munich.

In July 1936, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) became the criminal police department for the entire Reich. It was merged, along with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) or Security Police. At that point, Reinhard Heydrich was in overall command of the SiPo (Gestapo and Kripo) and the SD. Nebe was appointed head of the Kripo.[5] As chief of the Kripo, Nebe reported to Heydrich. His aversion to Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler grew even though he continued to regularly lunch with them.[6] On 27 September 1939, the SiPo was folded into the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA. The Kripo became Department V of the RSHA.[7] Department V was also known as the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (Reich Criminal Police Department or RKPA).

In 1938, Nebe joined forces with future fellow conspirator Dr. Karl Sack (Judge Advocate-General of the Wehrmacht) against Himmler and Heydrich's plot against General Werner von Fritsch.[8] That same year, Hans Oster recruited Nebe into the conspiracy for the September 1938 coup attempt, a plot to overthrow Hitler if he went to war with Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland. Nebe supplied the conspirators with information regarding SS strength, logistics, and safehouses throughout the Berlin area.

World War II

Einsatzgruppe B

In 1941, just prior to Operation Barbarossa, Himmler selected Nebe to command Einsatzgruppe B behind Army Group Center in the east. Included among his work in the east, Nebe, with the technical assistance of Albert Widmann, experimented with several different methods as a means to kill mental patients:

...the Einsatzgruppen looked for additional and simpler methods for mass killings. The new facility developed and supplied to the Einsatzgruppen was gas vans. The idea of the gas van originated with SS-Brigadeführer Artur Nebe [sic], commander of Einsatzgruppe B, which operated in territories close to the central front and which had carried out in Belorussia large-scale shooting actions of Jews, communists, and other "asocial elements". Nebe, as former leader of the Reich's Criminal Police Department (Kripo) [sic], was familiar with the euthanasia program and killing by gas.

In September 1941, Einsatzgruppe B was faced with the task of liquidating the patients of the lunatic asylums in the cities of Minsk and Mogilev. Nebe decided to find a simpler way for his men to kill the mentally diseased, other than by shooting them. He contacted Kripo headquarters and asked for their help in carrying out the killing of the insane with either explosives or poison gas. Dr. Widmann of the Criminal Police was sent to Nebe in Minsk, but before he left, Dr. Widmann discussed with the director of the Criminal Police Technological Institute, Dr. Heess, ways of using the carbon monoxide gas from automobile exhaust for killing operations in the East, based on the experience gained from the euthanasia program. Dr. Widmann took to Minsk 400 kgs of explosive material and the metal pipes required for the gassing installations.
Nebe and Dr. Widmann carried out an experimental killing using explosives. Twenty-five mentally ill people were locked into two bunkers in a forest outside Minsk. The first explosion killed only some of them, and it took much time and trouble until the second explosion killed the rest. Explosives therefore were unsatisfactory.
A few days later an experiment with poison gas was carried out by Nebe and Dr. Widmann in Mogilev. In the local lunatic asylum, a room with twenty to thirty of the insane was closed hermetically, and two pipes were driven into the wall. A car was parked outside, and one of the metal pipes that Dr. Widmann had brought connected the exhaust of the car to the pipe in the wall. The car engine was turned on and the carbon monoxide began seeping into the room. After eight minutes, the people in the room were still alive. A second car was connected to the other pipe in the wall. The two cars were operated simultaneously, and a few minutes later all those in the room were dead.
After these experimental executions, Nebe came up with the idea of constructing a car with a hermetically sealed cabin for killing purposes. The carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust would be channeled into the sealed cabin, in which the victims stood. Nebe discussed the technical aspects of the idea with Dr. Heess and together they brought the proposal before Heydrich, who adopted it.[9]

Another source states that instead of adding a second car, the first car was replaced with a truck.[10] The idea to use gas was partly inspired by an incident involving Nebe. One night after a party Nebe had driven home drunk, parked in his garage and fell asleep with the car engine running. He nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust fumes.[10]

Of his work in the east, historian Gerald Reitlinger stated:

The headquarters of Nebe's extermination group were at Minsk and later Smolensk, where he was in touch with another old friend, Colonel Hans Oster, who was attached to Central Army Group headquarters. Nebe is said to have fought against Heydrich's orders and disclosed them to the Oster circle, who had used him as an information post for the past four years. No doubt that is why Heydrich's reports credit Nebe's stewardship with the quite modest score of 46,000 executions as against Stahlecker's 221,000.[11]

Foreseeing the crimes in which he would be involved, he tried to escape it by asking for a move to the International Police Commission but is said to have been persuaded by Ludwig Beck and Hans Oster to accept the appointment, which would place him in a position where he could give them information on what was happening inside the SS and the Gestapo.[12] He worked with Henning von Tresckow and Fabian von Schlabrendorff to reduce the atrocities committed, and often massaged the numbers reported to his superiors (including one claim that his task force was responsible for more than 45,000 killings).[13]

He returned from Russia convinced that the war would end with the military defeat of Germany. In late 1942 after the Wannsee Conference, Nebe informed his fellow conspirators of the plans for the so-called Final Solution.

A different picture of Nebe is shown through the August 1941 mass-shooting of 100 people in Minsk. On Himmler's request, Nebe held the demonstration. Himmler attended the shooting; just after the event, he vomited. After regaining his composure, Himmler decided that alternate methods of killing should be found.[14] He told Heydrich that he was concerned for the mental health of the SS men.[15] Himmler wanted Nebe to come up with something less distressing. Nebe decided to try experimenting by murdering Soviet mental patients first with explosives near Minsk and then with automobile exhaust at Mogilev.[16]

In March 1944, after the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III POW camp, Nebe was ordered by Heinrich Müller, Chief of the Gestapo (Amt IV, or Department 4, of the RSHA), to choose 50 of the 73 captured prisoners to be executed in the Stalag Luft III murders.[17] It is reputed that this selection caused Nebe distress.[18]

Historian Guenter Lewy lays out other issues which question Nebe's innocence. These include:[16]

  • "As head of the RKPA," (the Kripo or Criminal Police), "Nebe played a leading role in the formulation of Gypsy policy".[19]
  • Nebe told Adolf Eichmann to put Gypsies with the Jews on the transports to Nisko, in October 1939.
  • In September 1941, Nebe helped give a course named 'The Jewish Question with special attention to the partisan movement', which included the murdering of 32 people at Mogilev.
  • In 1944, Nebe suggested to Grawitz that the Gypsies interned at Auschwitz would be good people to use for medical experiments at the Dachau concentration camp (Himmler had asked Grawitz for advice on the question).
  • Bernhard Wehner of the RKPA stated Nebe was worried the Allies would punish him for his crimes, and that this was the only reason he joined the resistance.

1944 plot against Adolf Hitler

Arthur Nebe was involved in various plots including the 20 July 1944, bomb plot against German dictator Adolf Hitler. As part of the plot, Nebe was to lead a team of 12 policemen to kill Himmler but the signal never reached him.[20] Historian Reitlinger characterized Nebe as "a very questionable member of the Resistance Circle at the time of the great bomb plot."[11] After the failure of the assassination attempt he went into hiding on an island in the Wannsee but was later arrested after a rejected mistress betrayed him. Nebe was sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court) and according to official records, was executed in Berlin at Plötzensee Prison on 21 March 1945, by hanging with piano wire from a meat hook[21] as that was the punishment ordered by Hitler – who wanted the July 20 conspirators to be "hanged like cattle".[22]

Awards and decorations


  • Hans-Bernd Gisevius: Wo ist Nebe? Erinnerungen an Hitlers Reichskriminaldirektor. Zuerich, Droemer, 1966

In fiction

  • In the novel Fatherland, set in an alternate history in which Germany has won the Second World War, Arthur Nebe is depicted as an SS-Oberstgruppenführer, still commanding the Kriminalpolizei in the 1960s.
  • Nebe plays a significant role in Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir novels where he survives the war under an assumed name and is part of a secretive ex-SS member group called "the Org".
  • Nebe is mentioned in Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes as involved in early tests to use gas chambers for mass killings of Jews.

Notes and references

  1. Biondi, Robert, ed., SS Officers List: SS-Standartenführer to SS-Oberstgruppenführer (As of 30 January 1942), Schiffer Military History Publishing, 2000, p. 10.
  2. Tomasz Szarota (December 2–3, 2000). "Do we now know everything for certain? (translation)". Gazeta Wyborcza. Retrieved May 13, 2011. 
  3. Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, p. 84.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Browder, George C. (1990). Foundations of the Nazi Police State – The Formation of SIPO and SD. University of Kentucky. pp. 57, 62, 86, 87, 90, 116, 119, 121–122, 125, 191, 233–237, 241–242. ISBN 0-8131-1697-X. 
  5. Williams, Max. Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volumes 1, p. 77.
  6. Balfour, Michael Leonard Graham (1988). Withstanding Hitler in Germany, 1933–45. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-00617-1. 
  7. Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, p. 83.
  8. von Schlabrendorff, Fabian (1994). The Secret War Against Hitler. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-2190-5. 
  9. Yitzhak Arad (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 10–11
  10. 10.0 10.1 Laurence Rees. Auschwitz: A New History, 2006, p. 53.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Reitlinger, Gerald (1957). The SS – Alibi of a Nation 1922–1945. Viking Press. pp. 182–183. ISBN 0-306-80351-8. 
  12. Hoffman, Peter (2005). German Resistance to Hitler. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-35086-3. 
  13. Heer, Hannes; Klaus Naumann (2004). War Of Extermination: The German Military In World War II. Berghahn Books. pp. 129. ISBN 1-57181-232-6. 
  14. Longerich 2011, p. 547.
  15. Gerwarth 2011, p. 199.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Lewy, pp. 204–208
  17. Andrews, Allen (1976). Exemplary Justice. London: Harrap. ISBN 978-0-245-52775-3. 
  18. Carroll, Tim (2004). The Great Escapers. Mainstream Publishers. ISBN 1-84018-904-5. 
  19. Lewy, p. 207
  20. Balfour, p. 164
  21. Koch, H. W. In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany, p. 291
  22. Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 1393
Government offices
Preceded by
Reinhard Heydrich
President of Interpol
Succeeded by
Ernst Kaltenbrunner

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