Created after the German invasion of Poland in World War II to deal with the Jewish population in that country. Headed by Adolf Eichmann, Department IV-D-4 (sometimes simply referred to as Dienststelle Eichmann or "The Eichmann Authority") was initially responsible for Jewish "deportations and emigration".

First, it was mandated that all Jews over the age of six would be required to wear a yellow Star of David. This served the dual purpose of marking known Jews and creating a visible stigma that would discourage sympathetic Gentiles from helping them. To ensure tight supervision they were then required to live in specially designated areas (ghettoes). This type of treatment was calculated psychological warfare, breaking the spirit of its targets and reducing the possibility of resistance later on.

Starvation and disease killed tens of thousands in the ghettoes, but these methods of dealing with the Jewish question were repugnant to refined German sensibilities. By 1941 Eichmann was ready to put a swifter and more efficient system in place on a large scale, making use of the Einsatzgruppen - special SS units that followed frontline troops into occupied areas. It is telling that at this time "emigration" was dropped from IV-D-4's departmental description, which was changed to "Jewish affairs and deportations". Emigration was no longer an option, and the Einsatzgruppen were ordered to pursue a policy of total extermination.

The procedure was as follows: groups of several hundred Jews were ordered to pack their belongings and were marched out of town with the explanation that they were being relocated. Once outside the city they were ordered to drop their suitcases and were marched to a long trench. They knelt at the edge and the soliders, in a practiced move, shot each of them through the head and kicked them forward into the mass grave.

While Eichmann was pleased with the results - the number of victims swiftly climbed into the millions - he felt the system still had severe flaws. Shooting people was expensive, and the grisly slaughter was beginning to have demoralizing effects on the troops that carried it out. German mental patients had been dealt with by routing exhaust fumes into the sealed interiors of trucks, and Eichmann researched ways in which this could be expanded and applied to whole populations.

Initial experiments revealed that engine exhaust killed too slowly, and SS troops removing the bodies experienced ill effects from lingering fumes. Eichmann's ultimate solution, hit upon in 1942, centered on large stationary camps with gas chambers disguised as showers, using the insecticide Zyklon B. They could be set up far from civilian populations and made to look harmless by the planting of flowerbeds and such. This system quickly spread from Poland to the rest of the countries occupied by the Third Reich.

info: Eichmann In My Hands by Peter Z. Malkin and Harry Stein

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