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Heinrich Himmler's report Number 51 from 1 October 1942 to 1 December 1942 detailing killings of "bandits" and Jews in Southern Russia, Ukraine, Bialystok.

Bandenbekämpfung is a German-language term that means "bandit fighting" or "combating of bandits". In the context of German military history, Bandenbekämpfung was an operational doctrine that was part of countering resistance or insurrection in the rear during wars. The doctrine of "bandit-fighting" provided a rationale to target any number of groups, from armed guerrillas to civilian population, as "bandits" or "members of gangs". As applied by the German Empire and then Nazi Germany, it became instrumental in the genocidal programs implemented by the two regimes, including the Holocaust.

Origins and practice

The term was first used during the Thirty Years' War. The first applications of Bandenbekämpfung in practice was the Herero and Namaqua genocide, the campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment that the German Empire undertook in German South West Africa (modern-day Namibia) against the Herero and Nama people.[1]

During World War II, the term Bandenbekämpfung supplanted Partisanenkämpfung (anti-partisan warfare) to become the guiding principle of Nazi Germany's security warfare and occupational policies. Immediately after the start of war in Europe, and especially during the German-Soviet War, 1941–45, these doctrines amalgamated with the Nazi regime's genocidal plans for the racial reshaping of the Eastern Europe to secure "living space" (Lebensraum) for Germany.[2]

Officially launched under the Bandenbekämpfung name in 1942, the program was headed by SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zalewski. Implemented by units of the SS, Wehrmacht and Order Police, Bandenbekämpfung as applied by the Nazi regime and directed by the SS across occupied Europe led to mass crimes against humanity and was an instrumental part of the Holocaust.[3]

Führer Directive 46

Original caption reads: "Soviet Union: Execution of partisans. 21 January 1941" (Source: PK 666).

In July 1942, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was appointed to lead the security initiatives in rear areas. One of his first actions in this role was the prohibition of the use of "partisan" to describe counter-insurgents. "Gangs" and "members of gangs" (Banden) were supposed to be used instead. The organisational changes, putting experienced SS killers in charge, and language that criminalised resistance, whether real or imagined, presaged the transformation of security warfare into massacres.[4] The radicalisation of "anti-bandit" warfare saw further impetus in the Führer Directive 46 of 18 August 1942, where security warfare's aim was defined as "complete extermination". The directive called on the security forces to act with "utter brutality", while providing immunity from prosecution for any acts committed during "bandit-fighting" operations.[5]

The directive designated the SS as the organisation responsible for rear-area warfare in areas under civilian administration. In areas under military jurisdiction (the Army Group Rear Areas), the Army High Command had the overall responsibility. The directive declared the entire population of "bandit" (i.e. partisan-controlled) territories as enemy combatants. In practice, this meant that the aims of security warfare was not pacification, but complete destruction and depopulation of "bandit" and "bandit-threatened" territories, turning them into "dead zones" (Tote Zonen).[5]

See also



  1. Blood 2006, p. xx.
  2. Shepherd 2008.
  3. Hale 2011, p. xx.
  4. Westermann 2005, pp. 191–192.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Geyer & Edele 2009, p. 380.


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