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

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  872 ratings  ·  56 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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Community Reviews

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Jim
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.
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
Meaghan
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
Gwen Burrow
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
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
...more
Russ
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
...more
Michael Flanagan
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.
charlie
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.
Justin
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)
...more
Jonathan Hedgpeth
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.
Art
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.
Dan Cohen
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
Dachokie
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
...more
Shawn Fairweather
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
Graham
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
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
...more
Judy
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
...more
Kelly
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
Brenda
Very informative but horribly disturbing. I had no idea the extent of the murders carried out outside of the camps. A must read for those interested in the Holocaust.
Mandy
I know it is interesting, but it was so hard to get through. This is a topic that I wanted to learn about and I thoroughly struggled with this text.
Nancy Bielski
This was a really good, detailed account of the Einsatzgruppen's destruction of the Eastern Jewish population. I liked how instead of just giving accounts of what happened, Rhodes looked at the psychology of the perpetrators. I think many people ask "How could people do that to each other?" when reading about the Holocaust. Rhodes attempts to explain the psychology behind the mass murderers. I found this very thorough without being too dense and detailed. I read Saul Friedlander's The Exterminat ...more
Claire
This book starts out slowly, and covers everything from the psychology of building a killer to the multiple -graphic -ways in which people may be murdered with maximum humiliation. I thought this was an extremely well-researched and difficult to read book. It is fascinating and horrifying, and explains clearly how the Nazis moved toward the Final Solution, as well as how (and why) they changed killing methods. I saw the author on a History Channel program, which motivated me to read the book. No ...more
Iain
This book brilliantly explores one of the darkest chapters in human history and is not for the delicate or squeamish. Rhodes casts an unblinking eye on the abhorrent horror of the SS Einsatzgruppen and all the vulgar barbarity they brought down on the Jews and many other groups as the preyed behind the front lines of the Wehrmacht. Having studied the history of both world wars is some detail, Rhodes enlightens a dark abyss for the reader to understand how the "masters of death" carried out and j ...more
Rev.
I am currently writing a book that involves the Einsatzgruppen and this book was a veritable goldmine of information. It feels really strange to write something that positive even related to a topic this dark. The sections about Himmler, while I realize were somewhat important to explaining who this man was, I felt were irrelevant to the general subject matter. I wanted to know more about men like August Hafner and Paul Blobel. However, I realize that a lot of that sort of information probably j ...more
Stephan
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).
Rick West
A very disturbing and violent read. Millions of unarmed men, women and children were brutality murdered...Richard Rhodes forces the reader to look at what that meant not only for individual victims and their families but also how it affected the people doing the killing. He forces you to continue watching long after you decide it’s time to turn and run...

This work reminded me of "This Way for Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" by
Tadeusz Borowski that I read in the 1970s.


Felisha
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.
Tony
Rhodes, Richard. MASTERS OF DEATH: THE SS EINSATZGRUPPEN AND THE INVENTION OF THE HOLOCAUST. (2002). No *.
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.
Kaarthik Anebou
This books provides a lot of excerpts that happened in east/west Germany with regard to the "resettlement" of Jews. Very good and concise history of how Jews were treated. If you had read "Commandant Auschwitz" by Rudolph Hoes, you can partly understand the attitude & behaviour of German soldiers towards Jews. Overall a must read for anyone interested to know the Holocaust better.
Lewis
The Holocaust wasn't just about the extermination camps. Prior to the camps being built, Hitler ordered the formation of the "Einsatzgruppen", 4 death battalions assigned to exterminate the Jews in the occupied Nazi territories. The most famous of the "actions" of one of the Einsatzgruppen was the the murder of thousands of Jews at Babi Yar, near Kiev in 1941.
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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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