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Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,212 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
In Masters of Death, Richard Rhodes gives full weight, for the first time, to the part played by the Einsatzgruppen - the professional killing squads deployed in Poland and the Soviet Union, early in World War II, by Himmler's SS. And he shows how these squads were utilized as the Nazis made two separate plans for dealing with the civilian populations they wanted to destro ...more
Paperback, 335 pages
Published December 18th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,853)
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This book is definitely not for the faint of heart! Little has been written about the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazis' mobile killing squads, in large part because their story is so gruesome. One passage that stood out particularly in my mind was a story about how a bunch of Jews, including women and children, were pushed into a pit and then slaked lime was poured over them. Slaked lime is a powerful corrosive and these people essentially dissolved while fully alive. Their sufferings were so awful tha ...more
Patrick Belair
I've had this book for a while now,I really didn't know what to expect.More facts that we already know, some one else's take on the facts.I was very surprised by this book,the content of this story is truly disturbing,We all know about the executions the starvation,beatings etc.
What it contains is a true and detailed history of the final solution from the planning to it's implementation and near success.Of course 6 million dead is not trivial.The shear scope of Himmler and Hitlers plans boggles
Melody Boggs
Anyone who considers himself a Holocaust historian--or anyone who enjoys reading of the Holocaust for knowledge and remembrance's sake--needs to pick up this book at some point in his life. This book is both easy to read yet nearly unbearable to get through. Rhodes makes a clear argument of how the Einsatzgruppen were able to kill as many people as they did--using Lonnie Athens' theory of violent-socialization--through mass shootings and other executions. He draws from an historical record compr ...more
Sep 27, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
WARNING! This book is very graphic and disturbing. It is truly a horror story of a different sort.

After reading this book, I once told someone, "If a movie were made about this book, without being edited for content, it would be very difficult to watch. It is that graphic and horrifying." MASTERS OF DEATH begins innocently enough, drops you right in the middle of the Holocaust, and shows you the true face of evil.
Michael Flanagan
Sep 03, 2011 Michael Flanagan rated it really liked it
Shelves: ww-2, holocaust, nazi
Rhodes delivers a book like few others, the sheer horrific nature of the subject is delivered in such a way that pulls at your soul. A difficult book to read at times but a must for all if only to remind us why it can never happen again. Rhodes gives a masterful mix of fact and firsthand accounts from both sides and delves into the question how can humanity visit the horror of the holocaust on itself.
Aug 01, 2011 Felisha rated it it was amazing
The most brutal book I have ever read in my life but the largest treasure trove of SS-Einsatzgruppen information I've yet to run across. If you're into history, particularly that of the Holocaust, I suggest this book - but please be warned that the violence is graphic, gruesome, and absolutely heartbreaking at best. It certainly gives a better understanding of how it all got going but it definitely leaves you feeling haunted by memories that are not your own.
Dec 13, 2014 charlie rated it really liked it
Richard Rhodes has written many great books. The subject matter in this one is so intense and mind-bogglingly horrific that to review it like a good GoodReads member trivializes it's subject matter. Is it worth one's time? Unless you are already an expert on the subject, learning more about this topic is one of the essential (albeit painful) experiences of any member of humanity.
Sep 14, 2014 Russ rated it liked it
This is quite possibly one of the hardest books I've ever had to read in terms of content, as it concerns mass murder on an industrial scale in stomach churning detail. The story is of the setting up of the Ensatzgruppen in Nazi Germany before the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Their task was to destroy the Jewish communities in those areas conquered by the Nazis, by lining them up, shooting them, & burying the bodies in pits, over and over and over again.
Whilst this is a harrow
Jan 25, 2014 Justin rated it really liked it
An omnivorous intellect who has written incisively and authoritatively on a wide variety of subjects, Richard Rhodes here deploys his skills to not just describe, but also to explain the phenomenon of the Einsatzgruppen within the Holocaust.

In so doing he makes practical application of the research and "violent socialization" theories of Professor Lonnie Athens, which he had previously explored in his book Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. Like many (perhaps even most)
Aug 11, 2015 John rated it really liked it
This is an important addition to the historical record of the killing fields of eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, focusing on the actions of the SS Einsatzgruppen in the Holocaust from the conquest of Poland in 1939 to the wind-down of these murder squads in 1943, when the death camps came on-stream to ramp up the death rate. The main victims were Jews, but gentile intelligentsia, communist functionaries, gypsies, and others were also targeted.
It contains mention of Hitler's rationalizatio
Gwen Burrow
Jan 05, 2013 Gwen Burrow rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
One of the most difficult books I've read. Reviews had told me that it was gruesome -- too gruesome for some to finish. One reader couldn't get past page 30. But I bought it, read it (about thirty minutes at a time; no more), and finished it for one simple reason: I wanted to know. I wanted to know the name of every Jew that died by bullets, by beating, by gas, by burning alive, by suffocating beneath the bodies in the mass graves. It kills me that I will never know them all. That I will never k ...more
Trey Allen
Dec 08, 2015 Trey Allen rated it really liked it
Rhodes's novel, Masters of Death, displays a very detailed and graphic image of the Holocaust. If you do not like books about gruesome deaths and very descriptive events of death I would not recommend this novel for you. On the other hand if you love books like this, Masters of Death is perfect for you. This Novel was one of the hardest books I have ever had to read, not because it was to hard to read, but because the descriptiveness of death almost made me sick to my stomach.

The author obvious
Nov 12, 2007 Stephan rated it it was amazing
A much more engaging read than Goldhagen's book. It posits vaguely similar ideas (about the militarization of German society, and how it led to organizations like the Einsatzgruppen), but is a much easier read for interested parties who are not WWII history specialists. It has also escaped the criticisms which Goldhagen's book has received (which is not to say I would recommend skipping Goldhagen's book if you are a WWII history buff, but if you have a casual interest, this is a better choice).
May 25, 2011 Tony rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
After about fifty pages into this history, I could no longer go on. The descriptions of the violence were too graphic for me. A previous book that I read by this author, “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” won a Pulitzer Prize. I don’t think that this one will receive a very wide audience.
Jonathan Hedgpeth
Aug 27, 2008 Jonathan Hedgpeth rated it liked it
Thoroughly depressing as one would expect. It is mostly about the psychotic nature of the Einsatzgruppen. The most morbidly interesting parts were about how members of the Einsatzgruppen lost their minds because of all the killing they were doing. This ofcourse necessitated the more industrial methods of the Final Solution. Sickening.
Feb 08, 2012 Lysergius rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Step by step Rhodes deepens the awful sense of the utter evil of the Holocaust. The numbers of the dead blur and lose all meaning - One has to try hard to remember that these are individual lives that are being systematically destroyed. Truly a war against the Jews.
John Christy
Apr 08, 2015 John Christy rated it it was amazing
This is a truly disturbing account of the machinations behind the gas chambers and death camp systems created by the Nazis. While most have learned of the industrialized slaughter of 6 millions Jews, and millions more political prisoners, homosexuals, Gypsies and more... what most do not know is that this industrialization was developed due to difficulties encountered by the regime in "sanitizing" their newly conquered lands by the use of Special Action Groups, "Einsatzgruppen". Himmler himself ...more
Oct 27, 2013 Art rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: holocuast
Well written, not for the faint of heart and covers a subject that mostly gets a general overview in most holocaust history's but not often covered in this amount of detail.
Arthur Sperry
Apr 12, 2015 Arthur Sperry rated it it was amazing
Excellent and well-researched book about the Einsatzgruppen and the Holocaust. It is very sad and depressing, but an important book.
Feb 01, 2016 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Masters of Death digs in to one specific group that contributed to the Holocaust, the Einsatzgruppen. These were the men that were deployed out into the field and were the first to go into the cities and clean them out. They didn’t work in the concentration camps, but instead carried their work out on the scene. This was read for my Masters level class on the Nazis and introduced me to a whole new element of the Holocaust that I was previously ignorant to.

That being said, this was not a quick re
Greg Hickey
Dec 17, 2015 Greg Hickey rated it really liked it
"Those who cannot remember the pastare condemned to repeat it." GeorgeSantayana's well-worn quotation applies to nearly all reading and writing of Holocaust history, and Richard Rhodes' Masters of Death is no different. In it, Rhodes chronicles the misdeeds of the SS-Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi death squads which followed the German army's invasion of Eastern Europe and murdered over 1.3 million Jewish civilians at gunpoint(over 2 million peopleincluding non-Jewish civilians). These events were the ...more
Oct 02, 2015 KB rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book looks at the murdering of Jews in Eastern Europe as the German army pushed East and controlled more territory. It was no secret even in the early years of the war that Europe's Jewish population was a major target for Nazi Germany's war aims, but large killing centres like Auschwitz did not arise until later in the war. Rhodes shows readers how the killing of Jews began with the Einsatzgruppen before more 'effective' ways came about.

The book is divided into two parts: the first gives s
Dan Cohen
Jul 12, 2014 Dan Cohen rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is certainly a well written and well researched book on an interesting subject. At his best, Rhodes is a masterful popular historian and I've yet to read a duff book by him. However, I did find it a little same-y as I read the book. We're treated to descriptions of one appalling massacre after another, then another, then another, and after a while they were hard to distinguish in my memory. Although they are described well, and it's hard to see how the book could have been written different ...more
Jun 07, 2013 Dachokie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-ii
The Grim Details …

Six million is a number that will always be synonymous with the Holocaust. While it may shockingly convey the magnitude of loss, the figure somehow comes across as disturbingly clinical in the way it overshadows the multitude of hideous incidents that contributed to the final figure. Richard Rhodes’ MASTERS OF DEATH shines a light on the gut-wrenching atrocities committed by roving bands of German Einsatzgruppen in Eastern Europe to facilitate the Nazi pursuit of Jewish-free Le
Shawn Fairweather
Sep 29, 2011 Shawn Fairweather rated it liked it
I am having trouble trying to decide between giving 3 or 4 stars, but I have come to the conclusion that if I can’t decide if it’s worthy or not of 4 then it probably isn’t. Rhodes provides a variably detailed recap of the atrocities carried out by Himmler and his Eastern Front SS however in many ways the work reads like the back of a baseball card, which I agree with in many ways because in order for the reader to get their arms around the topic, they need to see beyond the vivid gore to unders ...more
Jul 15, 2008 Graham added it
Lords of Life and Death: 'Masters of Death' by Richard Rhodes is the disturbing account of the SS-Einsatzgruppen death squads that roamed the occupied territories of the eastern front of WW2. They were tasked with the liquidation of all Jews, as well as other enemies of the Third Reich such as partisans, gypsies, and communists. These death squads preceded the death camps that usually come to mind when speaking of the holocaust. Before the gas chambers and crematoriums, victims were simply round ...more
Betsey Brannen
Apr 16, 2013 Betsey Brannen rated it really liked it
Surprisingly, this was a very quick read. A patron returned it, I picked up around 10 a.m. and was finished around 10 p.m.

If it is a subject in which one would not be interested, the read probably wouldn't be as quick. However, the Einsatzgruppen are often a glossed over subject in world history (unless you took a class specifically on the Holocaust). Rhodes does an absolutely excellent job of portraying both those who were ruthless and relentless in their kills to the people who had more troubl
Dec 13, 2010 Judy rated it it was amazing
Rhodes provides an in-depth and moving account of the actions of the Einsatzgruppen in Eastern Europe and Russia during World War II. He examines everything from organization to motives behind killing to psychological damage. Of particular note are the two chapters that he devotes to the Reichsfuhrer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, which gives the reader a better understanding of Himmler's childhood and decisions made in adulthood.

Rhodes is incredibly detailed in his descriptions of individual killing act
Oct 30, 2015 Brooksie rated it really liked it
In a nutshell: it is dry, tedious, full of statistics and fine details. It is also engrossing, thorough and (most importantly) objective. Not a book for a Holocaust or Nazi "beginner," so to speak; a little background knowledge goes a long way here. I would recommend for those looking for more information on the inner workings of this branch of the Holocaust.
May 17, 2009 Kelly rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust recounts the history of mass shootings in Eastern Europe that preceded the development of concentration camps. It describes some events that defy belief--the murder of a hundred small children by shooting, the use of quicklime to chemically burn people to death. It is a gruesome book, but I found it to be too much like a text book. There wasn’t much detail on survivors, partially because almost no one escaped these mass s ...more
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Richard Lee Rhodes is an American journalist, historian, and author of both fiction and non-fiction (which he prefers to call "verity"), including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), and most recently, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation a ...more
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