The Einsatzkommando was responsible for some of the most heinous crimes against humanity carried out by the Nazi regime. The Einsatzkommando was under the control of the Reichsicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, literally – Reich Security Main Office), which was a part of the structure of the SS. The RSHA brought all the state security formations – the secret state police (Gestapo), the criminal police (Kripo), and the Nazi Party security service Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Reyhard Heydrich headed the RSHA from 1938 until his assassination in 1942.

The Einsatzkommando was organized into several Einsatzgruppen, which operated in the wake of the German army. First employed in Austria in 1938, during the Polish campaign the Einsatzgruppen followed behind the German army and murdered the Polish elite – priests, intelligentsia, aristocrats and political leaders. Many Jews were also arbitrarily murdered in the Polish campaign, while the large part of Polish Jewry was forced into ghettos. The Einsatzkommando thus became a key actor in the implementation of the Final Solution.

After the German invasion of the USSR, five Einsatzgruppen totaling some 3000 men followed the German army. By November 1941, they had murdered some 600 000 Jews. The Einsatzgruppen also targeted soviet political commissars, Ukrainian partisans and Ukrainian nationalists. Einsatzgruppen C and D operated on Ukrainian territory; Einsatzgruppe C, under the command of SS Standartfuhrer Paul Blobel was responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews, intelligentsia and Ukrainian nationalists at Babyn Yar near Kyiv in 1941.