Towards the end of World War Two, and in the years after, groups of Jewish fighters roamed Europe and beyond seeking out senior Nazi officials who had escaped detection. The task of these Jewish Revenge Squads was simple – to kill those Nazis they found who they believed were guilty of being complicit in the Holocaust.
The first known action taken by the Jewish Revenge Squads came in Occupied France. D-Day (June 6th 1944) had set in motion the end of the occupation of France but this took time to achieve. While Nazis were still in parts of France, these squads set out to find those who they believed were guilty of crimes against humanity. Effectively, these squads took the law into their own hands as the men they found were given no formal trial as their guilt was taken as read. They operated for sixteen years between 1944 and 1960 and were responsible for the deaths of about 1,500 high-ranking Nazi officials. Whether the Allied High Command knew about their activities during the war is not known but it is almost certain that they did not.
During World War Two, these revenge squads were primarily made up of Jewish Allied soldiers. After the war Holocaust survivors also joined them. Among themselves, they were referred to as ‘Din’ squads – ‘din’ being the Hebrew for revenge. They operated in teams of three or four. Some were members of a formal unit established by Winston Churchill in 1944 called the “Jewish Brigade”.
“It seemed to me indeed appropriate that a special unit of the race which has suffered indescribable treatment from the Nazis should be represented in a distinct formation among the forces gathering for their final overthrow.” (Churchill)
6,000 men volunteered for this unit. It would appear that some from the Jewish Brigade were also members of ‘Din’ squads.
Officially, all captured Nazis were under the Geneva Convention. It was made clear that senior Nazis had to be imprisoned to allow for interrogation. However, the ‘Din’ squads had no intention of being held to this order.
One ‘Din’ unit, acting on intelligence, raided a house in Austria where it was thought a Nazi Party official was living. The team of three found the house littered with jewellery and clothes. The lady of the house told the three revenge squad men that it all had once belonged to Jews. The ‘Din’ men told the man and his wife that they would be executed there and then for crimes against humanity. In a plea bargain, the former Nazi Party official handed to the revenge squad a list of the names and addresses of senior SS officers. The names and addresses of the lower ranking officers were handed over to British Intelligence but the unit kept the names of the more senior SS men.
“When the bastards realised we were Jews, you could almost smell the funk. I did take a great deal of pleasure in making them kneel and pointing my gun at them. I made more than one member of the master race mess his pants with fright.” (Anonymous Revenge Squad member)
Probably the most infamous person killed by the revenge squads was Dr. Ernst-Robert Grawitz. He was the chief medical officer of the SS and it is said that the gas chambers used in the death camps were his idea. Surviving Nazis believed that he had committed suicide but a ‘Din’ unit claimed responsibility. Other senior Nazis dealt with by the revenge squads included Paul Giesler, who was in charge of Munich during the Nazi rule, SS Colonel Dr. Hans Geschke and SS Lieutenant Kurt Mussfeld, who oversaw the ovens at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The last person killed by the revenge squads was Aleksander Laak who had run the Jagala concentration camp in Estonia. Under his rule, 100,000 had been murdered. In 1960 Laak must have thought he was safe in Canada but a revenge squad found him and hanged him.
“We were quite happy to do to the Nazis what they had done to the Jews. I strangled them myself once…….it took three to four minutes,” (Zeer Keren)