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The Stab in the Back: The Destructive Power of Myth in the Life of a Nation

stab-in-the-back

In light of the many historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by pseudo “historians” like the infamous David Barton it is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens. Some myths can be positive and inspiring, but others can lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents. They also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them. A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  This was a fundamental belief for him and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, nazi germany, philosophy

“Unparalleled Bestiality” Hitler’s Racial and Ideological War in Poland and Russia

babi yar

 

As part of my academic work I teach military ethics as related to the Just War Theory. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I deal with the implication of participating in war crimes. It is a serious subject and in the class I attempt to make my students, all relatively senior officers as uncomfortable as possible. I use a number of examples from the major war crimes trials at Nuremberg as well as the Generals Trial. I had an exceptionally good class over the past several weeks and that caused me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I have written in the past. I have published a version of this before but I have made some additions and expect that like my work on Gettysburg that this work too will be an ongoing project.

I think part of why I write about this is that the witnesses of and those who confronted these crimes and tried the criminals are dying. Very few are left, and those still alive were very junior and very young. For years there has been a closet industry of Holocaust deniers and in many places neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups are rising up. It is something that causes me great concern.

As I went through previous notes and research I felt a tenseness and revulsion for the actions of those that ordered, committed or condoned these crimes, men who were like me professional officers. I realize how easily it is that as Spencer Tracy playing an American justice at the Judges trial at Nuremberg in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg said: “under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.”

September 29th 2014 will be the 73rd anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. It was committed by members of the SS Einsatzgruppen C near Kiev shortly after the German Army captured that city. 33,771 Jews were exterminated by the members of Sonderkommando 4b of Einsatzgruppen C as well as Police battalions. About 10,000 others, mainly Communist Officials and Gypsies were rounded up and killed in the same operation. The victims were stripped of all of their belongings taken to a ravine and shot. It was the second largest killing action by Einsatzgruppen in the war. It was committed by men who either believed that the people that they were killing were sub-human, or did not have the courage to stand up and say no.

Babi Yar is just one example of how civilized people can get can commit great atrocities in the name of ideology and race, and it does not stand alone. The tragic fact is that it really doesn’t take much to condition people to go commit such crimes; just teach people from childhood that people of certain races or religions are less than human. Then subjugate them to incessant propaganda and then turn them loose using the pretext that they are killing terrorists or insurgents.

The article deals with the ideological as well as military reasons that brought about Babi Yar and so many other atrocities committed by the Nazis during the campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union.

einsattzgruppen map

Einsatzgruppen Massacre sites (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Introduction

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.” [1]

Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.” [3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms. [4]

Following the Peace of Westphalia wars in Europe typically emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources either to expand empires or promote some kind of self-sufficiency. The Thirty Years War, which was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia had a heavy religious component which added to its brutality. However the root of much of this conflict was about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren. [5]

The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars. [6]

Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…” [7] This does have merit, Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum or living space was a type of colonialism. However, Tooze’s argument does not take away from the basic premise that Germany’s war in the east was at its heart motivated by ideological factors.

hitler

Adolf Hitler

German Anti-Semitism and Adolf Hitler

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler was born in Linz Austria during a time when various Pan-German and Ant-Semitic groups, publications and propaganda were widespread. As a young man Hitler moved to Vienna hoping to become an artist, something that he found little commercial success. While struggling to make a living in Vienna he was exposed to a culture far different from the provincial city of his youth, a city that had much culture but was also a meeting ground for the various peoples that populated the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Slavs and many Jews. While many of the Germanic or Austrian Jews were outwardly little different from their Christian neighbors the Jews from Eastern Europe repulsed Hitler.

Hitler’s lack of success, struggle with poverty and resentment of others led him to the writings of the Pan-Germanic and Anti-Semitic movements. His years in Vienna were foundational as he as he absorbed the ideas of these Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups through newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna Hitler began to connect the Jews with Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.” [10]

Hitler’s racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.” [11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews [12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.” [13]

Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.” [14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism” [15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.  By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.” [16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.” [17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” [18]

When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.” [19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.” [20]It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…” [21]

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Wilhelm Keitel: “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

Race, Anti-Semitism and the German High Command

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen.

The campaigns in Poland and the Soviet Union were characterized by the rise of a “political-ideological strategy.” [22] Operation “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.” [23] Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.” [24]

Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.” [25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.” [26]

Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” [27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.” [28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.” [29]

This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve. [31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation. [32]As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.”” [33]Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.”” [34]

ss recruiting poster

Waffen SS Volksdeutsch Recruiting Poster

Hitler’s racial ideology was central to his worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war. [35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.” [36] British historian and military theorist B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….” [37]

While Liddell-Hart might be excused by lack of knowledge of some German army atrocities he could not have been ignorant. It was not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities but many of the men who he interviewed. In doing this Liddell-Hart and others presented a myth as truth. [38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.” [39] British military historian Kenneth Macksey confronted the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.” [40]

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,” [41] and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism” [42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany. [43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.” [44]

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….” [45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.” [46]Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.” [47]Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.” [48]

anti-jewish poster

Anti-Jewish Poster: He is guilty for the war

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…” [49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.” [50]

Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised Hitler that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.” [51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….” [52]

This ideological component added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.” [53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.” [54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.” [55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches. [56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’s role in security against looters and others. [57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War. [58]

The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.” [59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.” [60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.” [61]He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.” [62]

The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found its legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits. [63] Leiber’s principles were written for the Federal Army of the United States during the U.S. Civil War. Propagated as General Order 100 and signed by Abraham Lincoln the sections dealing with irregular forces and partisans dealt with this in section IV of that code:

Article 82 stated: “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.”

Article 84 stated: “Armed prowlers, by whatever names they may be called, or persons of the enemy’s territory, who steal within the lines of the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or of destroying bridges, roads or canals, or of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires, are not entitled to the privileges of the prisoner of war.”

Article 85 stated: “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” [64]

The German Army adapted that code and incorporated it in its doctrine for dealing with partisans. In response to their experience in France during the Franco-Prussian War the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei. [65]

von trotha

Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.” [66] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations. [67]

This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.” [68]Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed. [69]General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy. [70]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.” [71] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.” [72] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.” [73]

Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….[74] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.” [75] Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.” [76]

Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.” [77]General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.” [78] This was the interpretation of Manstein as well. [79] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.” [80]

In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.” [81] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” [82]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech by his generals, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.” [83] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army. [84]

einsatzgruppe troops and victims

Einsatzgruppen Troops gathering Ukrainian Jews for Execution Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.” [85]Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.” [86] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the Sicherhietsdienst. [87]

Two additional Einsatzgrüppen were formed shortly after the invasion. [88]Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies. These regiments were formed from the Concentration Camp guard units and eventually became the nucleus of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf.  [89] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages, [90] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 Poles to be arrested including intellectuals, political leaders and clergy. [91]

To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.” [92] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in the traditional doctrinal terms of the Ettapen, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…” [93] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen and moral courage it could have considerably restricted or even halted the terror campaign. [94].

himmler1

Heinrich Himmler: Implementer of Hitler’s Ideas Authorizes formation of Einsatzgruppen

The ensuing campaign in Poland demonstrated Hitler’s true intent. Heydrich talked about “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September barely a week after the beginning of the invasion. [95] As the German armies advanced into Poland slicing through the badly deployed and inadequately equipped Polish Army the Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande followed in their wake, conducting mass arrests and executions of those Poles deemed to be a threat.

Many army leaders were worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas as the armies advanced. In some cases that concern became a paranoid mindset and some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.” [96]

Yet some of the actions by Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was thrown out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.” [97] Another unit, the Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders.” The conclusion drawn by the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.” [98]

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews, [99] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Colonel General Franz Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.”” [100]

It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline. [101]Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions. Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.” [102]

After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz the military commander, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,” [103] expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.” [104]

While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction to Army objections according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and called their ideas “childish.” [105] others that objected were also relieved of their commands or reassigned. General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities. [106]

SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.” [107]While the army remained, it was no longer in charge and would actively assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities against civilians. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…” [108]

ordungspolizei

Ordungspolizei in Action: Street Cops Become Executioners

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units were composed of mobilized city police and rural constabulary police and would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years. [109] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraum as Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919. [110] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union. [111]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the ultimate test of Hitler’s ideological at war. Planning for the war with the Soviet Union began after the Fall of France and during the beginning stages of the Battle of Britain. On 21 July 1940 Hitler made “his intentions plain” to the Army leadership and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.” [112] Detailed preparations for the offensive began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.” [113] Field Marshal Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.” [114]

The military plan initially focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,” [115]although the political and geographic objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign. Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….” [116]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.” [117] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….” [118]

Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.” [119] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….” [120] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,” [121] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.” [122]

This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.” [123]  Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.” [124]

A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.” [125]

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order. This order is sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nurnberg as against Keitel, Jodl and High Command of the Wehrmacht during the later Generals Trial.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….” [126] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [127] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.” [128]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…” [129] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.” [130] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” [131]

General Franz Halder, Chief of the OKH, or the Army High Command took notes on Hitler’s speech. They are chilling to read as none present could have understood them in any other way than Hitler meant:

“Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality….We must forget the comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before nor after the battle. This is a war of extermination….We do not wage war to preserve the enemy….War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist Commissars and of the Communist intelligentsia….this is no job for military courts. The individual troop commanders must know the issues at stake. They must be leaders in the fight….This war will be very different from war in the West. In the East harshness today means leniency in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”[132]

Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch. [133] Von Brauchitsch refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order on his own authority “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurmeberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.” [134] Yet Von Brauchitsch later would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” [135] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.” [136]

At Nuremberg Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.” [137]Keitel blamed the Army High Command OKH under Halder, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nurnberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.” [138]

Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.” [139] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….” [140] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.” [141] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.” [142] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.” [143]

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppe troops finishing off Jewish Women

For the campaign in the Soviet Union the SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to Army Group North, Einsatzgruppe B to Army Group Center, Einsatzgruppe C to Army Group South and Einsatzgruppe D to the 11th Army.  The Einsatzgruppe were not standardized in manpower or equipment. In size they were battalion equivalents the largest Einsatzgruppe being A in the North with 990 assigned personnel [144]while Einsatzgruppe D had only 550 troops assigned. [145] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces to supplement the Einsatzgruppen. [146]

The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries. [147] These units would act in concert with nine Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security. [148] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.” [149] Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.” [150]

The actions of these units are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions [151] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.” [152] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.” [153] Einsatzgruppen D report number 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” [154]   By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.” [155] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews. [156] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.” [157]

ordungspolizie officers

Many Anti-Jewish Massacres were Labeled “Anti-Partisan” Operations

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations [158] while Wehrmacht Security divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.” [159] The attitude by 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.”” [160]

General Von Reichenau issued an order in which he stated:

“The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the art of war but also a bearer of a ruthless national ideology and the avenger of the bestialities which had been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” [161]

Russland, Generale v. Bock, Hoth, W. v. Richthofen

Herman Hoth

Likewise the distinguished Panzer commander General Herman Hoth issued his own order of 17 November 1941 urging his troops to exact revenge on the Jews and Communists:

“Every trace of active or passive resistance or of any kind of machinations by the Bolshevik -Jewish agitators are [sic] to be immediately and pitilessly rooted out. The necessity of severe measures against elements foreign to people and kind must be understood precisely by the soldiers. These circles are the spiritual pillars of Bolshevism, the tablebearers [priests] of its murder organization, the helpers of the partisans. It consists of the same Jewish class of people which have done so much to harm our Fatherland and by its hostile activity…and anti-culture, which promotes anti-German currents in the whole world and which wants to be the bearer of revenge. Their annihilation is a law of self-preservation. Any soldier criticizing these measures has no memory of the former traitorous activity lasting for years carried on among our own people by Jewish-Marxist elements.” [162]

The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.” [163] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.” [164]

The Wehrmacht’s complicity in these measures is demonstrated in the order drafted by Warlimont and signed by Keitel on 13 May 1941. That order, the “Decree on Exercising Military Jurisdiction in the Area of Barbarossa and Special Measures by the Troops” made it clear that international conventions regarding the treatment of civilians would not be observed in the Soviet Union. The order, relying on the historic precedent of German military law in regard to partisan activity stated:

I. “Treatment of crimes committed by enemy civilians “1. Until further order the military courts and the courts martial will not be competent for crimes committed by enemy civilians. “2. Francs-tireurs will be liquidated ruthlessly by the troops in combat or while fleeing. “3. Also all other attacks by enemy civilians against the armed forces, its members, and auxiliaries will be suppressed on the spot by the troops with the most rigorous methods until the assailants are finished (niederkaempfen) “4. Where such measures were not taken or at least were not possible, persons suspected of the act will be brought before an officer at once. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot. Against localities from which troops have been attacked in or treacherous manner, collective coercive measures be applied immediately upon the order of an officer of the rank of at least battalion etc., commander, if the circumstances do not permit a quick identification of individual perpetrators.

II. “Treatment of crimes committed against inhabitants by members of the Wehrmacht and its auxiliaries “1. With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht or by its auxiliaries prosecution is not obligatory, even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or misdemeanor….” [165]

Hitler was quite clear in his intent when he told General Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.” [166]Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.”” [167]All told during the campaign against the Soviet Union the Germans killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews. [168]

By 1942, over two million Soviet POW’s had been killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos. [169]Eventually about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure, [170] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths. [171] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.” [172]

arthur nebe

The Killer Becomes a Victim: Arthur Nebe’s experience commanding an Einsatzgruppe so traumatized him that he would be reassigned and then become active in the attempt to kill Hitler and lose his life

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.” [173] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder. [174]At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.” [175]

Even commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were affected. Arthur Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.” Nebe became an active participant in the July 20th plot against Hitler [176]and a fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.” [177] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan operations, would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942. [178] Himmler would state in his Posen speech given in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.” [179]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and the Soviet Union was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.” [180]He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.” [181]Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.” [182] General Walther Von Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.” [183] Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.” [184]

The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.” [185] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers and then there was the matter of their oath to Hitler and what they saw as personal honor. General Alfred Jodl told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg that “In war the moral pressure of obedience and the stigma of high treason are pretty hard to get around.” [186]

Jodl’s superior Keitel stated his helplessness before Hitler saying to Gilbert “What could I do? There were only 3 possibilities: 9a) refusal to follow orders, which naturally meant death; (b) resign my post, or (c) commit suicide. I was on the point of resigning my post 3 times, but Hitler made it clear that he considered my resignation in time of war the same as desertion. What could I do?” [187] This was obviously an after the fact excuse by Keitel who had been present in Hitler’s headquarters since the beginning and had witnessed the explosive General Heinz Guderian explode in rage against Hitler in 1945.

SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.” [188] Many in the Army as it has been shown were not only knowledgeable about the crimes committed but urged their soldiers to participate in these crimes.

Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D testified at the Einsatzgruppe Trial that “Einsatzgruppen reported all of their tasks to the army commanders, and that together, they and the army agreed on the time, place, and possible support of the troops for any particular “liquidation action[s].” [189]

Some individuals did attempt to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.” [190]Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.” [191] Field Marshall Erwin Rommel knew of crimes being committed against the Jews and others through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.” [192]

einsatzgruppen trial

Partial Justice: The Einsatzgruppen Trial

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia, Syria and other nations.

It is something that we should not forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925

Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Traslated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press, New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979

Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966.

Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart

Lieber, Franz Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996

Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1981, Copyright 1959 and 1960

Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007

Messinger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General DaCapo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005

Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003

Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York. 1990

Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY.

Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002

Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004

Sofsky, Wolfgang. The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp. Translated by William Templer. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ 1997. Originally published as Die Ordnung des Terros: Das Konzentrationslager. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1993

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970.

Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983

Stein, George H. The Waffen SS 1939-1945: Hitler’s Elite Guard at War. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1966

Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977

Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977

Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984.

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006

Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995

Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books,  New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005

Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002

Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954

[1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

 

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

 

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

 

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

 

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” See Friedlander p.xvi

 

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddell-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach. The time was also around the beginning of the Cold War and the Berlin Blockade when many American and British leaders were trying to end the war crimes trials and bring the West Germans into the new anti-Communist alliance.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

 

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

 

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

[65] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[66] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[68] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[69] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung, Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[70] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation

[71] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[72] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[73] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[74] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[75] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

[76] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

[77] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[78] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[79] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[80] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[81] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[82] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[83] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[84] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

 

[85] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[86] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[87] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[88] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[89] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37

[90] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[91] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[92] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[93] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[94] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[95] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[96] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[97] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[98] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for Verfügungstruppe which was the early designation of the SS Totenkopf Verbande and some other Waffen SS Units.

[99] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[100] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[101] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[102] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[103] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[106] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[107] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[108] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[109] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[110] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[111] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[112] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[113] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[114] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[115] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[116] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[117] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 The campaign against the Soviet Union was to be much more openly ideological as compared to the campaign in Poland.

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[119] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[120] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[122] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354 Again another deception.

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[125] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[126] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[127] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

 

[128] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[129] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[130] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[132] Hebert, Valerie Genevieve, Hitler’s Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg University of Kansas Press, Lawrence Kansas 2010 pp.77-78

[133] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[134] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[135] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[136] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[137] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[138] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[139] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[140] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[143] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[144] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[145] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[146] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[147] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[148] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated

[149] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[150] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[151] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[154] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[155] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[156] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[157] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews

[158] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[159] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[160] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[161] Ibid. Hebert p.94

[162] Ibid. Hebert pp.94-95

[163] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[164] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[165] Ibid, Hebert p.86

[166] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[167] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[168] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[169] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[170] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[171] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[172] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

 

[173] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[174] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[175] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[176] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[177] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[178] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[179] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[180] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[181] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[182] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[183] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[184] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[185] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[186] Gilbert, Gustave Nuremberg Diary DaCapo Press 1995 copyright G.M. Gilbert 1947 p.290

[187] Ibid. Gilbert p.26

[188] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[189] Ibid. Hebert p.92

[190] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[191] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[192] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Harper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

 

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“Unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…”: Terror and Ideology in the German Campaigns In Poland and Russia


The following is an article that I first published on this site in 2009 “The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia.” Since I am getting ready to write a number of articles on the subject of politicized military and police forces, the Concentration Camps and the Einsatzgrüppen I wanted to give my readers an overview of the subject. The focus is the ideology that framed and justified to the perpetrators the mass murders of Jews, Poles, Russians and others during the German invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union. I will be writing about policy as well as key personalities involved in the planning and execution of these crimes over the coming months since I have renewed my studies of the crimes and their prosecution at Nuremberg over the past year. In a sense this article is simply an introduction to more specific articles that I will write.  

Peace, Padre Steve+

Introduction: Ideology and Genocide 

Architects of Annihilation: Heinrich Himmler with Adolf Hitler 

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.[1] Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the German Grossraum.”[3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms.”[4]

Previous wars emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources be they for empire or self sufficiency. The Thirty Years War had a heavy religious component but was more about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren.[5] The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars.[6] While Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…”[7] this argument does not take away from the basic premise that the war was at its heart ideological.

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. His years in Vienna were foundational as he absorbed the ideas of Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups and newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna he made the connection between the Jews and Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.”[10] His racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.”[11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs and Lebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews[12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.”[13] Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.”[14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism”[15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.

By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.”[16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.”[17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.” [18] When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.”[19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.”[20] It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…”[21]

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen. It was characterized by the rise of “political-ideological strategy”[22] in which “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.”[23]

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.”[24] Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.”[25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.”[26] Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.”[27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.”[28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.”[29] This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….”[30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve.[31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation.[32] As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.””[33] Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.””[34]

Ideology was key to Hitler’s worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war.[35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with the Einsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.”[36] B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….”[37] While he might be excused by lack of knowledge of German army atrocities, not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities, it helps present a myth as truth.[38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.”[39] Kenneth Macksey confronts the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.”[40]

Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,”[41] and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism”[42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany.[43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” along with the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.”[44] Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….”[45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.”[46] Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.”[47] Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.”[48]

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…”[49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.”[50] Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.”[51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….”[52] This added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.”[53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.”[54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.”[55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopf division were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches.[56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with the Landwehr’s role in security against looters and others.[57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War.[58] The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.”[59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.”[60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.”[61] He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.”[62] The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits.[63] In response, the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei.[64]

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.”[65] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations.[66] This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.”[67] Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed.[68] General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy.[69]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.”[70] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.”[71] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

Einsatzgrüppen in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.”[72] Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….”[73] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.”[74]

General Johannes Blaskowitz 

Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.”[75] Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.”[76] General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.”[77] This was the interpretation of Manstein as well.[78] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.”[79] In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.”[80] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.”[81]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.”[82] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army.[83]

SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich: Hitler’s Hangman

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.”[84] Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.”[85] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the SS Intelligence Service the SD or Sicherhietsdienst.[86] Two additional groups were formed shortly after the invasion.[87] Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies.[88] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages,[89] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 people to be arrested.[90] To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.”[91] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in a traditional manner, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…”[92] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen it could have considerably restricted the terror campaign.[93] .

The campaign demonstrated Hitler’s intent. Heydrich talked about the “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September.[94] The Army moved east with the Einsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande, conducting arrests and executions in its wake.  The Army worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas, and a paranoia developed as some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.”[95] Yet some actions against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was throw out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.[96] Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders,” and the conclusion of the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.”[97]

These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews,[98] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.””[99] It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline.[100] Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions.

Einsatzgruppe Members killing Polish Jews

Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.”[101] After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,”[102] expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.”[103] While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and their ideas “childish.”[104] Likewise General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities.[105] SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.”[106] While the army remained, it was not longer in charge and would assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…”[107]

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on the Ordungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years.[108] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraum as Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919.[109] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union.[110]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the penultimate test of Hitler’s ideology. Planning began after 21 July, when Hitler made “his intentions plain” and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.”[111] Detailed preparations began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.”[112] Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.”[113] The plan focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,”[114] although these objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign.  Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….”[115]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.”[116] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….”[117] Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.”[118] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….”[119] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,”[120] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.”[121] This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.”[122] Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.”[123] A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.”[124]

Police Battalion in the Soviet Union

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order, sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nuremberg as against Keitel and the High Command of the Wehrmacht.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….”[125] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [126] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.”[127]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…”[128] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.”[129] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.”[130]

Himmler visiting POW Camp holding Red Army Prisoners, most would die in German Captivity

Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch,[131] who refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurnberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.”[132] Yet Von Brauchitsch would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.”[133] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.” [134] Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.”[135] Keitel blamed the Army High Command, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nuremberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.”[136] Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.”[137] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….”[138] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.”[139] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.”[140] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.”[141]

SS Brigadefuhrer Otto Ohlendorf Commander of Einstazgruppe D

The SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D with “A” being assigned to Army Group North, B to Army Group Center, C to Army Group South and “D” to 11th Army.  They were not standardized in manpower or equipment, the largest unit being A in the North at 990 personnel[142] and D with only 550.[143] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces.[144] The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries.[145] These units would act in concert with 9 Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security.[146] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.”[147] Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.”[148]

Nazi actions are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions[149] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.”[150] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.”[151] Einsatzgruppen D report 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.”[152] By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.”[153] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews.[154] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.”[155]

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations[156] while Wehrmacht Security divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.”[157] The attitude in 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.””[158] The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.”[159] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.”[160] Hitler told Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.”[161] Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.””[162] All told the German killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews.[163] By 1942, 2 million Soviet POW’s were killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos.[164] All told 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure,[165] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths.[166] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.”[167]

SS Gruppenfuhrer Arthur Nebe: “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.”

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.”[168] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder.[169] At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.”[170] Even commanders were affected, Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.”[171] A fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.”[172] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan efforts would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942.[173] Himmler would state in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.”[174]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and Russia was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.”[175] He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.”[176] Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

Einsatzgruppen Trial at Nuremberg 

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.”[177] General Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.”[178] Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.”[179] The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.”[180] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly Nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers. SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.”[181] Some individuals attempted to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Some like Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.”[182] Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.”[183] Rommel knew of crimes through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.”[184]

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia and other nations.

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Notes

[1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county.

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” Friedlander p.xvi

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddle-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,

New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[65] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[66] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[68] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung , Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[69] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books. Pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation.

[70] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[71] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[72] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[73] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[74] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

[75] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General. Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

[76] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[77] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[78] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[79] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[80] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[81] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[82] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[83] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

[84] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[85] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[86] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[87] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[88] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37 These would become the nucleus of the Totenkopf Division

[89] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[90] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[91] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[92] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[93] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[94] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[95] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[96] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[97] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for the SS Totenkopf Verbande

[98] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[99] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[100] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[101] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[102] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[103] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[106] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[107] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[108] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101mand the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[109] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[110] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[111] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[112] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[113] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[114] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[115] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[116] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 More openly ideological as compared to Poland.

[117] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[119] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[120] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354  Again another deception.

[122] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[125] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[126] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

[127] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[128] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[129] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[130] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[132] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[133] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[134] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[135] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[136] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[137] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[138] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[139] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[140] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[143] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[144] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[145] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[146] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated.

[147] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[148] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[149] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[150] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[151] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[154] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[155] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews.

[156] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[157] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[158] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[159] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[160] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[161] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[162] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[163] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[164] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[165] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[166] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[167] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

[168] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[169] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[170] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[171] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[172] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[173] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[174] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[175] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[176] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[177] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[178] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[179] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[180] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[181] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[182] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[183] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[184] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Harper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

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The Stab in the Back: How Historical Myths, Lies and Propaganda Destroy Nations

The Stab in the Back

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case inGermanyfollowing the First World War.

While today I am writing about Germany it is important to know that historical myths can become powerful and terribly destructive forces when unleashed in troubled times. This is in fact a lot of what we are seeing in the American body politic at this time as the most extreme views on the political right and left now define the major parties in this country. Some of these myths are no more than appeals to patriotism and times that Americans assume had to be better than they are now. Others are defined by ideology and still others by lies, deceit and hatred directed upon those that the purveyors of such use to demonize and dehumanize those that oppose their agendas.  The scary part that I see as a historian, military officer and Priest is that what is happening now especially on the extreme political right could lead us as a nation down paths that others have gone down before, paths that only lead to destruction. The really scary part is that many people who are in no way extreme often fall for the lies of extremists on both sides of the political spectrum and suffer later for their complicity in allowing extremists to run roughshod.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.  So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germanyfrom 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of  Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  This was a fundamental belief for him and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germanyand saw no reason to fear the United Stateswhen “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that he “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s  declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of theUnited Statesreinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat saveWilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held theUnited Statesto be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that theUnited Statescould have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on theUnited States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

The myths popularized by the extreme political right in Germany after the First World War led to a greater tragedy for the world when Hitler’s Nazi Party used myths, lies and distortion to demonize, marginalize and ultimately murder large segments of its own population and bring destruction to all of Europe.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States. The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events.  It is the duty of historians, philosophers, ethicists, moral theologians and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.

The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.  One can only hope that the American political leadership as well as media will be wiser than the leaders of Germany in the last few years of the Weimar Republic.  One has to be very careful when allowing overheated rhetoric and the use of myths, lies and distortion by political figures, pundits and even preachers no matter what political extreme they belong and just how much we may agree with their politics.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

The Current American Crisis and Drawing Comparisons from the End of the Imperial Germany

Revolution: Members of the Spartacists Bund in Berlin

Introduction

There are times when great nations face catastrophe. It is something that has befallen every world power at one time or another. Therefore it should not be a surprise if the United States despite the claims of those supporting American Exceptionalism succumbs to some great crisis which fundamentally changes it.  While I do not proclaim the end of the United States it does appear that we are experiencing events which have the potential of reducing our status as a great power and plunge the nation into political and economic chaos.  Some including California Governor Jerry Brown have compared the current state of the country to the division of the country in the American Civil War.

Likewise since there are some leaders of the loud and influential Tea Party movement who openly talk about revolution it is important to know what can happen if there is a political or economic collapse that leads to revolution at home while troops are still in combat. All of this happened in Germany in 1918.  In our current time such a possibility is higher than at any time in American History. Thus I feel we are in a potentially perilous time where long standing institutions are in crisis even while wars rage around the world.

However I do not, for all the vitriol spent believe that our current crisis is comparable to the Civil War except the absolute contempt that the opposing sides hold each other. The Civil War was a war which pitted region against region and our divisions know few geographic boundaries and even the “Red State versus Blue State” divide is deceiving.  It is my belief that what we are experiencing is much more similar to the crisis faced by Imperial Germany at the end of the First World War.  Then Germany was about to concede the loss of the war despite having known enormous battlefield success that lasted until the summer of 1918 when the tide of the war turned irreversibly against them as Allies collapsed and pulled out of the war was coupled with battlefield defeats, economic ruin and massive political and social unrest. The result of the collapse of Imperial Germany was a civil war and the foundation of the ill-fated Weimar Republic which eventually succumbed to the extremism and dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party of Germany, the Nazis.

The German Revolution of 1919 and civil war is important for those who study highly developed states when they enter a period of social and political upheaval usually following military defeat that causes the society to question or even overthrow the established order.  The end of Imperial Germany and the establishment of the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1918 is a prime example.   This paper concerns the first years of the Republic, and the dependency of the Majority Socialist leadership to the General Staff and their use of Freikorps to quell revolutionary chaos and avert the establishment of a Soviet State.

Members of the Leftist “People’s Naval Division” occupied the government quarter and terrorized Berlin

This study begins with the establishment of the Republic and concludes with the Kapp Putsch.  This is an era that is seldom referenced by political or military leaders in western states and historians themselves are often divided in their interpretation of the subject.  The study of this period is vital to those who study politically polarized societies which are either war weary or have suffered the shock of military defeat coupled with a government which is blamed for the events.  Thus, it is important to study the relationship of the military to the government and in particular the military’s relationship to politicians who have little connection to or affinity for the military, its traditions and culture and the often adversarial relationship of these politicians to military leadership which often sees them as adversaries.  The period also shows how actions of those who in their antipathy to the military create a climate where the military loathes the civilian leadership and the government.  The results of such conditions can endanger the society as a whole and ultimately usher in periods of great tragedy.  This occurred in Weimar Germany with the result that the military in the later years of the Republic neither the military nor the Majority Socialists could not work together against the Nazi takeover of the state.  However, the first years of the relationship set the tone and foredoomed the Republic.

The Complexity of the Situation

General Wilhelm Groener convinced Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and helped forge an alliance between the Majority Socialists and the Army to head off a Soviet style Revolution

The history of Weimar, particularly that of the military and Freikorps in their relationship to the Republic is complex.  Not only is the relationship between the military and government complex, but the Freikorps themselves, their organization, leadership and political affiliation were not monolithic as is sometimes maintained,[i] nor were the Freikorps the direct ancestors of the Nazi SS/SA organizations despite often similar ideology,[ii] nor can they dismissed by saying that they were composed of “former soldiers and officers ill-disposed to return to civilian life.”[iii] The Freikorps’ association with the Army and Republic is more complex than some historians assert.  Despite the right wing leanings of many of units and fighters and future association of some to the Nazis, the blanket claim that the Freikorps were forerunners of the Nazi movement is not supportable.[iv]

It is true that without Freikorps support in Munich, along with support of the Thule Society, business leaders and others “that the transition of the DAP into the Hitler party could not have taken place.”[v] It is also true that elements of the Freikorps branded too revolutionary and unruly for service in the Army continued as secret societies and affiliated themselves with various right-wing political groups.[vi] Likewise a case can be made that the fierceness of many Freikorps veterans, younger leaders of the Army helped lay the foundation for the brutality of both the Army and Waffen SS as they prosecuted the Second World War.[vii] Yet simply because certain aspects of a subject are true does not make for a broader “truth.”  Heinz Höhne argues the reverse of what some have written in regard to the relationship of the Freikorps and Reichswehr to the Nazis, that in fact the Nazis did not issue from the Freikorps, but rather that many former members of the Freikorps, Imperial Army or the Reichswehr were attracted to the Nazis, particularly to the SS by its “philosophy of “hardness” and its attitude of bellicosity per se, basically unconnected with ideology.”[viii] Others historians state similar views especially those that study the relationship of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  Thus the thesis of this paper is that the historiography like the period itself is complex; that the composition, leadership and motivations of the Freikorps were not monolithic, nor were they beloved by the Reichswehr, nor were they the “trailblazers” for the Nazi movement.  The focus of this paper is on the relationship of the Reichswehr and the Freikorps to the Republic to the Kapp Putsch and the dangers of a relationship built on necessity without mutual trust.  Such a relationship is dangerous and can lead to unintended consequences.   This paper will explore the first years of the Weimar Republic and specifically look at several key events that were pivotal in the relationship between the Army and Freikorps and the Majority Socialists.

The Supporting Literature

The literature covering this period includes both well written academic histories and popular works which attempt to present a particular view. Additionally there are biographical works which shed some light on the subject. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 by Harold Gordon Jr. is perhaps the best study of the Freikorps and their relationship to the state and the army.  Gordon’s work is exceptional in documenting the numbers, types, political affiliation, action and ultimate disposition of the Freikorps.  The History of the German General Staff by Walter Goerlitz; The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by John Wheeler-Bennett, The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten and The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig are all extremely valuable in exploring the relationship between the military and the Republic.  The best of the general histories of the period, which focus on the National Socialist state are The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich. Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart is one of the best for telling the story of the fall of the Empire and the revolution in Germany.  Watt’s account is well written and documented work and touches on other factors affecting the new republic including Versailles and Allied political actions. The final chapter of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 gives a good account of the Army’s role in the end of the Empire and beginning of the Republic.  Andreas Dorpalen’s Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic adds an interesting dimension of Hindenburg’s role in the republic’s formation and negotiations between Groener, Noske and Ebert. Steven Ozments’ A Mighty Fortress is superficial in its treatment of the period.  Nigel Jones’ Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler is an interesting and somewhat entertaining but not very well documented tending to “broad brush” in a sensational way the Freikorps having none of the detail or nuance of Gordon, Craig, or Carsten on the Freikorps, nor the depth of Goerlitz or Wheeler-Bennett on the Republic’s relationship with the Army, or the attitude of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Gerald Reitlinger’s The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945 and Heinz Höhne’s The Order of the Death’s Head all add some information which details early Nazi involvement in the period, but are less useful to this early period most of their work focuses on later events.  Of other works, Kenneth Macksey’s Why the Germans Lose at War has an insightful but short chapter dealing with this period and Wolfram Wette’s The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality offers an interesting and at times provocative look at anti-Semitism in the German military in the years following the First World War.  Carlos Caballero Jurado’s The German Freikorps 1918-1923 is a short but very detailed study of those organizations and their actions.  B.H. Liddell-Hart who has a small chapter on General Hans Von Seeckt in The German Generals Talk which though it does not deal with the events in this paper make for interesting commentary on later actions of former Reichswehr officers who served the Nazi state.

A number of biographies touch on actions of German Officers who played key roles in World War Two.[ix] Most auto-biographies gloss over the Weimar period; however Admiral Erich Reader’s memoir Grand Admiral offers the insight of a naval officer with some direct observation of the revolution and the Kapp Putsch.  General Heinz Guderian in Panzer Leader omits his service in the Baltic “Iron Division.”  Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s memoirs has a brief section covering the period, but one comment is typical attitude toward of many officers throughout its existence:

“My cup of bitterness was full when I saw my devoted work rewarded by a warrant for my arrest for an alleged putsch against the socialist-influenced command of my III Bavarian Army Corps. Notwithstanding the degrading episodes during my imprisonment after 1945, I do not hesitate to describe this as the most humiliating moment of my life.”[x]

One thing that has to be noted about all the memoirs is that each of the writers was writing after the German Defeat and their imprisonment. Many times their words mask other actions and attitudes that are  not mentioned, thus while an important source one also has to have some suspicions when using them even the unintentional errors that come from time as well as the human tendency to have a somewhat selective memory.

Analysis

President Friedrich Ebert and his military commanders including General Hans Von Seeckt (2nd from right)

This paper will first examine the formation of the Freikorps by the Army and the Ebert government in response to uprisings by armed groups of leftists and the effectiveness of the Freikorps in putting down the various uprisings.   We will then address the relationship of the Army with the Majority Socialists and then move on to the crisis engendered by the Kapp Putsch.

The relationship of the Republic to the Army was born in the moment of crisis of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the armistice discussions with the Allies.  Beset by revolts in key naval bases and mutinies aboard ships of the High Seas Fleet and unrelenting Allied pressure on the German armies in the west the situation continued to deteriorate as the “red flag was flying in all the principle cities, soldiers behind the front were electing soldiers councils Russian fashion.”[xi] Revolutionary and defeatist propaganda spread by the radical left wing of the Independent Socialists and Spartacus League spread through the country and even affected combat units,[xii] while the “Majority Socialists had found out that the militant factions of the Independents had secretly armed themselves out of funds supplied by the Soviet ambassador and adopted the slogan “all or nothing.””[xiii] The situation had deteriorated so badly that Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League “was announcing the establishment of a Soviet regime from the steps of the Imperial Palace.”[xiv]

Under these dire conditions, General Wilhelm Groener who had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster General called an emergency meeting of fifty “of his most senior army commanders.”[xv] In response to his question of whether the troops would follow the Kaiser and oppose the revolts only one answered in the affirmative, and eight responded that “there was no hope of using regular Army units to quell unrest at home.”[xvi] On November 9th Groener went to the Kaiser on behalf of the Supreme Command and in response to a suggestion that the Kaiser lead the Army back and suppress the revolts boldly stated “The Army will march home in peace and under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands no longer behind Your Majesty.”[xvii] The Emperor abdicated fleeing to Holland and Friedrich Ebert leader of the Majority Socialists was named Chancellor on November 9th and upon hearing the news, Philipp Scheidemann, without consulting Ebert announced that Ebert was Chancellor and “Long live the great German Republic!”[xviii] The mobs were not placated by the announcement and far left organizations with the Independents “had no intention of letting the revolution stop there.”[xix] In the streets of Berlin soldiers sold their weapons and vehicles officers were attacked by crowds on the streets and whenever “crowds found an Army officer; they tore off his epaulettes and medals.”[xx] Everywhere mutual recrimination was in the air, soldiers “blamed revolutionaries for the betrayal and stab-in-the back while revolutionaries blamed officers for all the costs and losses of the war.”[xxi]

Groener called Ebert promising the Army’s support of the new government in return for the government’s assistance to the Army in the maintenance of discipline and supply.[xxii] He also drafted a letter signed by Hindenburg pledging the Army’s loyalty and telling him that “the destiny of the German people is in your hands….”[xxiii]One source notes: “Thus, in half a dozen sentences over a telephone line a pact was concluded between a defeated army and a tottering semi-revolutionary regime; a pact destined to save both parties from the extreme elements of revolution but, as a result of which the Weimar Republic was doomed at birth.”[xxiv]

The High Command was able to bring the Army home in good order following the armistice but upon arriving most units “melted away like snow under a summer sun,”[xxv] those which remained were often shells of their former selves beset by soldier’s councils and leftist revolutionaries.  To support the government the High Command issued a directive stating that it “put itself as the disposal of the present government led by Ebert without any reservation.”[xxvi] Yet in December delegates of the National Assembly continued to sow resentment in the military by military discipline be placed in the hands of soldiers’ councils, that all badges of rank be removed with all decorations of insignia and honor.[xxvii] Reaction was heated,[xxviii] but despite this Groener, Colonel Walter Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War and the Republic’s Defense Minister, Gustav Noske endeavored to find forces to combat the growing revolution and rebellious military units.  The choice was not hard, the Army was of no use, so called “democratic forces” were in most cases both unreliable and ineffective, while only the Freikorps “provided suitable material for the immediate creation of an efficient, combat-ready army.”[xxix] Thus the Freikorps became the instrument of necessity to ensure that the government was not swept away by a Soviet style revolution.

Gustav Noske and General Von Luttwitz. Luttwitz would lead the Reichswehr and Freikorps units that participated in the Kapp Putsch

Gustav Noske, of the Majority Socialist party “saw himself as a patriot, a man of action…who had no time for theories…and was one of the few Socialists that the Supreme Command trusted.”[xxx] He had already distinguished himself by helping to bring under control the sailors revolts in Kiel by forming a loyal “Naval Brigade”[xxxi] and he  “realized that the government must have a dependable military force behind it if it was to survive and rule Germany” and the “old Officer Corps must be the backbone of any such force.”[xxxii] The Army had melted away and units of the workers and soldiers councils were poorly trained, organized and led “”fought against the government as often as for it” and “were of little practical value to either the government or the rebels.”[xxxiii] In the chaos of a Spartacus, now called the German Communist Party uprising and vacuum of political leadership of January 1st 1919 agreed to become defense minister stating “Someone must be the bloodhound, I won’t shirk the responsibility!”[xxxiv]

Noske reviewing Freikorps Hulsen. Many of the Freikorps were composed of professional soldiers and brought into the Reichswehr

Noske helped by the High Command helped organize volunteer units led by officers and NCOs composed of reliable veterans.  Freikorps varied in size from divisions to companies and were led by Generals down to Sergeants and even a Private First Class.  Their greatest success was in early 1919 when the Republic was beset by “Red” revolutions in many major cities.  Without the use of the Freikorps by the government it is unlikely that the Republic would have survived.[xxxv] On January 4th Ebert and Noske reviewed the troops of General Maercker’s Freiwillege Landesjaegerkorps and Maercker informed them that every volunteer had pledged loyalty to the government, seeing the discipline and order Noske told Ebert “Don’t worry. Everything going to turn out all right now.”[xxxvi] On January 5th 1919 mobs attacked the Chancellery and the officers of the Socialist Vörwarts newspaper and Noske led the Freikorps[xxxvii] to regain control of the city[xxxviii] and crush the revolt during which “Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were lynched by the officers of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.”[xxxix] In March after a period of uneasy calm the Freikorps, now reinforced by the 2nd Naval Brigade, or Ehrhardt Brigade[xl] were called upon to put down the revolt of the “People’s Naval Division.”[xli] Making liberal use of heavy weapons including tanks the Freikorps inflicted heavy losses on the leftists with over 1500 dead and 12,000 wounded in the uprising.[xlii] Other revolts were crushed and the Freikorps reached their zenith in Württemberg where Freikorps led by Lieutenant Hahn, a Social Democrat put down leftist revolts[xliii] and in Bavaria where Independents and Communists had taken the city with their “Bavarian Red Army which numbered nearly 25,000 men[xliv] on April 7th. After failed attempts by the Socialist government to retake Munich, they asked for Berlin’s help.  Violence and massacres of citizens by the various leftist groups inflamed the Freikorps, including the Ehrhardt Brigade and the revolt was crushed by May 2nd.[xlv] Dorpalen calls the Freikorps ruthlessness “completely unwarranted in view of the weakness of the opposing forces” and noted though they broke the leftist powers they deepened the nations’ cleavages”[xlvi] while Macksey writes that “where Freikorps’ brutality stained the pages of history there was invariably a forgoing or simultaneous record of excess by their sworn opponents.”[xlvii]

The Erhardt Brigade in Berlin during the Kapp Putsch

The Provisional Reichswehr was established on March 6th 1919 and the High Command began to assemble it from the Freikorps, remaining Army units and Republican defense forces.  Some Freikorps were brought into the new Army in total, but the tumult had not yet ceased.  There was a great distrust between many in the Army, the remaining Freikorps and the Socialists.  The crisis was precipitated by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Noske and others threatened resignation over the war guilt clauses, but Groener warned that if the treaty was rejected the Army could not win against the Allies if hostilities were renewed.[xlviii] The treaty imposed harsh limitations on the German Army which many bitterly resented, however, Seeckt, the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that it was “more important to keep the Army in being and preserve the possibility of a military resurrection.”[xlix] Yet the government had lost the support of the Officer Corps and many looked to General Walther von Lüttwitz, the Reichswehr’s senior commander for leadership.[l]

Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant Commander) Erhardt commander of the 2nd Naval Brigade whose announced demobilization triggered the Kapp Putsch. Erhardt would have to flee after the Nazi takeover. Even revolutionaries become victims as revolutions end

Other right-wing groups and individuals made plans to overthrow the government.  They favored revolt against the government, but “their political aims were hazy.”[li] Seeckt and Reinhardt felt it necessary to demobilize Freikorps who’s ill-discipline and political radicalism was a “danger to the consolidation desired by the army command.”[lii] This movement climaxed with the alliance of Lüttwitz to Wolfgang Kapp and was triggered by the orders disbanding the 2nd and 3rd Naval Brigades in compliance with Versailles and due to their radical views.[liii] In spite of the opposition of his chief of staff Von Lüttwitz began planning a coup to save Germany.[liv] The conspirators showed “little regard for coordination of effort and a quite amazing ability to work at cross purposes.”[lv] On March 12th without consulting Kapp, Lüttwitz and Ehrhardt launched the Putsch and Ehrhardt’s brigade in full battle dress entered Berlin. At this point the Reichswehr command froze; officers refused to condone the putsch but at the same time refused to support Noske and Reinhardt who demanded armed opposition,[lvi] while Navy officers openly supported it.[lvii] Seeckt declared that “Troops do not fire upon troops!” and “When at occurs, then the true catastrophe, which was avoided with so much difficulty on November 9, 1918 will really occur.”[lviii] The coup died amid massive strike by workers and lack of popular support but the damage was done.  Noske resigned, many officers in were discredited[lix] and dismissed including Lüttwitz and Admiral Von Trotha, who openly supported the coup,[lx] though Raeder says that Von Trotha and the Navy staff only” thought of anything of complete loyalty to the government.”[lxi] The relationship which had endured the dire days of the Republic was ended.  The Reichswehr would emerge a lean and highly trained organization and remain a power broker in the Republic but the animosity between the Army and the Socialists that they could not stand together against the Nazis despite a mutual interest in doing so.[lxii]

Conclusion

The end of Weimar and the beginning of a nightmare

The period was a critical and complex and should be studied by anyone living in a state with a powerful military tradition and institutions in crisis.  Unlike popular notions, the Freikorps were diverse and not the seed-bed of the Nazi movement and though many former members would become Nazis.  Several, including Ehrhardt narrowly escaped death at Nazi hands.[lxiii] Freikorps were viewed by Army leadership as an expedient force that could not remain in the service once the Army was functional.

Key lessons include that the military cannot become a “state within a state,” and that both military and civilian leaders must seek to bridge any gulf that separates them in times of crisis.  In Weimar both the military and the Socialists thoroughly distrusted one another with the result that they eventually, despite early success[lxiv] worked against each other in later years.  Actions by both Socialists and the military ultimately subverted the Republic and ensured its demise and Seeckt’s policy of separation from politics “tended toward a renunciation of the soldier’s potential restraining influence on adventurous statesmen.”[lxv] Such is the fateful lesson for today.


[i] Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, U.K. 1987 and 2004.  This is Jones assertion and he attempts to make the tie using careers of some individuals who served both in Freikorps and either in the Nazi Party or Military and attitudes common in many Freikorps with similar attitudes found in the Nazi movement.  The 2004 edition of his work includes an introduction by Michael Burleigh echoing his sentiments.

[ii] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group. London, U.K. and New York, NY. 2003. pp.227-229.  Evans discusses the fact that the Nazis did have a number of Freikorps veterans but at no point makes the connection that the Freikorps are a direct ancestor.

[iii] Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004 p.246

[iv] Gordon, Harold J. Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1957.  Gordon’s work is perhaps the most detailed study involving the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. He is exceptional in discussing the relationship of both with the various political parties including the Nazis.  He refutes this assertion throughout the book.

[v] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. Translated by Jean Steinberg. Praeger Publications, New York, NY 1970. Originally published as Die Deutsche Diktatur: Enstehung, Struktur, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Koln und Berlin. 1969. p.101

[vi] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954 pp. 91-92

[vii] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004. p.28

[viii] Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966. p.54.

[ix] These include Macksey’s biographies of Kesselring and Guderian , Richard Giziowski’s The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Peter Padfield’s Dönitz: the Last Führer, David Fraser’s biography of Field Marshal Rommel Knight’s Cross, Messenger’s work on Von Rundsedt, The Last Prussian, and Höhne’s Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy all provide brief but interesting views of the actions and attitudes of these officers during the revolution and during the  Weimar period.

[x] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953 pp.18-19

[xi] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.200

[xii] Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957 pp.4-5 Gordon recounts the story of an entire replacement train revolting when it reached the front which had to be disarmed by a shock battalion.

[xiii] Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968. p.186

[xiv] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954. p.18

[xv] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997 p.445

[xvi] Ibid. Herwig. p.445

[xvii] Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966 p.6.  It is noted by a number of author’s that Groener did this, to maintain the unity of Germany and prevent its division.

[xviii] Ibid. Watt. p.196  Watt notes Ebert’s reaction as being enraged as the proclamation of the Republic technically “invalidated the existing constitution; Germany was now technically without a government.” (p.197)

[xix] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xx] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xxi]Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.65

[xxii] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955 pp.347-348.  Craig gives an interesting account noting the Groener’s call to Ebert shows recognition of the legitimacy of the new government and notes that the offer was somewhat conditional.

[xxiii] Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964 p.26

[xxiv] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.21

[xxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxvi] Ibid. Carsten. p.11. This was of critical importance as Carsten later notes that the Army realized that the government could not survive without its support.  Groener was perhaps the officer who most recognized the situation and endeavored to ensure that “the best and the strongest element of the old Prussia, was saved for the new Germany, in spite of the revolution.” (p.12)

[xxvii] Ibid. Carsten. p.18 Carsten produces the bulk of the English translation of these points and notes that the anti-military feeling had become widespread.

[xxviii] Ibid. Giziowski. p.66  Giziowski recounts the speech of Hermann Goering in response to the announcement. This shows how such treatment can breed anger and resentment in a military that feels it has been betrayed after serving its country in a long and difficult war: For four long years we officers did our duty and risked all for the Fatherland. Now we have come home, and how do they treat us? The spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. I will tell you that the people are not to blame for such conduct. The people were are comrades…for four long years.  No, the ones who have stirred up the people, who have stabbed this glorious army in the back…. I ask everyone here tonight to cherish a hatred, a deep and abiding hatred, for these swine who have outraged the German people and our traditions.  The day is coming when we will drive them out of our Germany.”

[xxix] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxx] Ibid. Watt. p.168

[xxxi] Ibid. Gordon. pp. 19 and 24.  This was the 1st Marine Brigade, or Brigade Von Roden of which elements would later serve in under the command of other Freikorps such as the Guards Calvary Rifle Division.

[xxxii] Ibid. Gordon. p.14

[xxxiii] Ibid. Gordon. p.18

[xxxiv] Ibid. Watt. p.239

[xxxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426

[xxxvi] Ibid. Watt. p.247

[xxxvii] Thee forces included the Landesjaegerkorps and Guards Cavalry Rifle division.

[xxxviii] Ibid. Gordon. p.30

[xxxix] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.36

[xl] This was one of two additional Naval Brigades formed by Noske after the success of Naval Brigade Von Roden.  It was one of the most combat effective but unfortunately violent and radical of the Freikorps, it would as we will see be a key unit in the Kapp Putsch but would not be absorbed into the Reichswehr.

[xli] This unit was not a Navy unit at all but was composed of many who were criminals and other rabble. See Gordon, Carsten and Watt.

[xlii] Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001 p.12

[xliii] Ibid. Gordon. p.42  His units were known as Security Companies.

[xliv] Ibid. Jurado. p.13

[xlv] Ibid. Gordon. pp.47-49. An estimated 550 people including 200 innocent bystanders were killed in the fighting.

[xlvi] Ibid. Dorpalen. p.29

[xlvii] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.45

[xlviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. pp.57-59

[xlix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.216

[l] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.61

[li] Ibid. Carsten. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Carsten. pp.74-75

[liii] Ibid. Carsten. p.76  Another consideration is that Noske, Reinhardt and Seeckt all were seeking to retire Lüttwitz.

[liv] Ibid. Gordon. p.97

[lv] Ibid. Craig. p.376

[lvi] Ibid. Carsten. pp.78-79

[lvii] Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976. p. 78.  Canaris also had been suspected of complicity in the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht but was acquitted. (pp.56-71)

[lviii] Ibid. Gordon. pp.114-115

[lix] Among them Maercker who had been such a strong supporter of the Republic in the early days.

[lx] Ibid. Carsten. p.98

[lxi] Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral. Translated from the German by Henry W. Drexell. United States Naval Institute, Annapolis MD, 1960. Da Capo Press edition published 2001. p.111. This is interesting as almost all histories implicate the Navy High Command of either some complicity or at least agreement with the Putsch participants.

[lxii] The final part in the drama would come when General Kurt Von Schleicher became the last Chancellor before Hitler.  Schleicher had assisted Groener and Noske in the early days of the Republic and often attempted to use the Army’s influence in politics. He was fatally short sighted and was a victim of the SS “night of Long Knives” which was directed against the SA.

[lxiii] Ibid. Jones. p.266  Others such as Gerhard Rossbach had similar experiences.  Korvettenkapitän Löwenfeld of the 3rd Naval Brigade became an Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris , who was implicated in the Kapp Putsch but kept his career would later head the Abwehr and die in a concentration camp.

[lxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426  Gordon has a good discussion of this topic in his conclusion.

65 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979. p.18 Liddell-Hart’s analysis of the results of the Reichswehr’s disconnection from the larger society and political process is remarkable due to current trends in the American military which like the Reichswehr has become somewhat more conservative and disconnected from society, exceptionally technically proficient but not adept in politics or grand-strategy.

 

Works Cited

 

Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism. Translated from the German by Jean Steinberg with an introduction by Peter Gay.  Praeger Publishers, New York, NY. 1970 Originally published in Germany as Die deutsche Diktator: Entstehung, Struktur, Folgen den Nationalsozialismus by Verlag Kiepenheuer und Witsch. Koln und Berlin.

 

Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966

 

Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955

 

Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964

 

Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Books, New York, NY and London, UK. 2003

 

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997

 

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

 

Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957

 

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

 

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997

 

Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976.

 

Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966.

 

Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed the Way for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, UK 1987

 

Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001

 

Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953.

 

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979

 

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

 

Macksey, Kenneth. Kesselring: The German Master Strategist of the Second World War. Greenhill Books, London, UK 2000.

 

Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004

 

Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004

 

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954

 

Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968

 

Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, UK  2006. Translated from the German by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag Gmbh, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 2002

 

 

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A Politician Plays at Being a Waffen SS Mann: Learning all the Wrong Lessons from History

Richard Iott (second from right) with fellow re-enactors

Republican Congressional Candidate Richard Iott placed himself on the national political landscape because he likes history. You might say that he is a “history buff” or a person that is not a trained historian who dabbles in “history” as a hobby or that obsesses on the technical details of a period especially in relationship to military history.  History buffs tend to focus on the parts of history that they find interesting and really are not interested in the comprehensive study as a discipline. As such many history buffs, especially re-enactors become ensnared by their interest in a historical period in such a manner that they do not see the obvious dangers in their hobby and become apologists for those that they pretend to be, especially if the groups have a history of supporting evil.  Richard Iott has taken part in various types of historical reenactments for many years. His involvement with the 2/SS Panzer Pioneer Battalion 5 of the SS-Wiking Panzer Division shows that he and his unit have mythologized the role of the Waffen SS in World War II and its history on the Eastern Front.

Iott demonstrates his own lack of awareness in the following quote:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things. I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that’s incredible.” Richard Iott to Atlantic reporter Joshua Green

The following quote is from the reenactment unit website: http://www.wiking.org/ (12 October 2010)

“”European Volunteers, Join to Fight Bolshevism!” Germany headed a strong movement in Europe to actively campaign (politically and through warfare) against the ideals of Bolshevist Communism. This culminated in 1941, when the German armed forces were pitted against the very home of Bolshevism, Soviet Russia. Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a “New and Free Europe”, free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. No matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.”

The quote by Iott shows a myopic view of history, simply from a military history point of view which is always dangerous because other, usually more important issues are missed.  The website description of those from other European countries “defending their countries” against Bolshevism “in the name of a better tomorrow” ignores the fact that Hitler had waged a war of aggression against their own countries and was the aggressor in the Soviet Union. There was nothing defensive about Operation Barbarossa and to state that they were fighting for a “better tomorrow” is to ignore what would have happened had Hitler won the war based on the atrocities that Nazi forces planned and executed in every country that they conquered.  To be sure the SS-Wiking Division had a nearly unblemished record in regard to war crimes on a few members of the division were ever involved in atrocities involving very few victims by Nazi standards.  This was unusual for the SS Foreign Volunteer Units many of which were  complicit in some of the most heinous actions of the war shocking the senses of many of their most hardened  Waffen SS comrades.

To remind my readers, especially conservatives who in their eagerness to drive the Democrats out of Washington are willing to excuse almost any behavior by their candidates as to what this was about I am republishing an essay that I first published in September of 2009 entitled The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia”

Now a disclaimer I am not making an ad hominem attack on conservatives as liberals have often excused the less than stellar behaviors of their candidates on many occasions.  However what Iott espouses in this part of his private/public life causes me to question of his depth of historical thinking and judgment. Republican Minority Whip Congressman Eric Cantor has stated that Iott’s hobby has “rendered him unfit for public office.”  I believe that Cantor is correct.

Military historian Robert Citano said “The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of ’subhumans,’ Slavs were going to be enslaved in numbers of tens of millions. And of course the multimillion Jewish population of Eastern Europe was going to be exterminated altogether. That’s what all these folks were doing in the East. It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend.” NY Times Blog “The Lede” by Robert Mackey 11 October 2010

I have reposted the article in its entirety below.

The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia”

Einsatzgruppen Massacre sites (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

The German war against the Soviet Union was the first truly race-based ideological war in history with the campaign against Poland its precursor.  Adolf Hitler’s racial theories and beliefs played a dominant role in Germany’s conduct of the war in the East in both the military campaign and occupation.  This has become clearer in recent years as historians have had the opportunity to examine Hitler’s writings, those of senior Nazi officials and military officers and documents which had been unavailable until the end of the Cold War.  Understanding the Nazi ideological basis and the underlying cultural prejudice against the Jews and eastern Europeans in general is foundational to understanding Hitler’s conduct of the war and why the destruction of the Jews figured so highly in his calculations.  One must also understand the military and police cultures and doctrines that enabled them to cooperate so closely in the conduct of the war.

The German war in the east would differ from any previous war.  Its underlying basis was ideological. Economic and geopolitical considerations were given importance in relationship to the understanding of the German “Master Race.”  Race and Lebensraum was the goal of the State that “concentrates all of its strength on marking out a way of life for our people through the allocation of Lebensraum for the next one hundred years…the goal corresponds equally to the highest national and ethnic requirements.[1] Hitler believed that Germany was “entitled to more land…because it was the “mother of life” not just some “little nigger nation or another.”” [2] The Germans planned to “clear” the vast majority of the Slavic population and the “settlement of millions of hectares of eastern Lebensraum with German colonists” complimented by a short term exploitation of the land to “secure the food balance of the GermanGrossraum.”[3] Joachim Fest notes that Hitler called it a “crime” to wage war only for the acquisition of raw materials. Only the issue of living space permitted resort to arms.”[4]

Previous wars emphasized conquest of territory and natural resources be they for empire or self sufficiency. The Thirty Years War had a heavy religious component but was more about increasing the power of emerging nation states led by men not necessarily loyal to their religious brethren.[5] The American and Russian Civil wars had some ideological basis and helped usher in the brutality of total war. Both had major effect in these nations’ development and both were bitterly contested with the winners imposing to various degrees political changes on their vanquished brothers they were civil wars.[6] While Adam Tooze sees the Holocaust as the first step of the “last great land grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism…”[7] This argument does not take away from the basic premise that the war was at its heart ideological.

Adolf Hitler

The root of this war was in the mind of Adolf Hitler himself. His years in Vienna were foundational as he absorbed the ideas of Pan-German, anti-Semitic groups and newspapers like the Deutsches Volksblatt. [8] In Vienna he made the connection between the Jews and Marxism.[9] Joachim Fest notes that in Vienna Hitler became obsessed by the fear of the Slavs and Jews, hated the House of Hapsburg, the Social Democratic Party, and “envisioned the end of Germanism.”[10] His racial views were amplified after the war in turbulent Weimar Germany where he became a member of the NDSAP, rising rapidly within it, eventually taking over party leadership, reorganizing it so that it “became the instrument of Hitler’s policies.”[11] Following the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned in the Landsberg prison in which he enunciated his views about the Jews, Slavs andLebensraum. Hitler believed that Imperial Germany had been “hopelessly negligent” in regard to the Jews[12] and that the Jews in conjunction with the Catholic Center Party and Socialists worked together for “maximum damage to Germany.”[13] Likewise he saw the Jews as heading the “main ideological scourges of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s.”[14] It was the ideology of Hitler’s “obsessive anti-Semitism”[15] that drove Nazi Germany’s policy in regard to the Jews and against Jewish-Bolshevism.  By the 1920s Hitler had “combined his hatred of the Jews and of the supposedly Jewish dominated Soviet state with existing calls to conquer additional Lebensraum, or living space, in the east.”[16] Hitler wrote: “The fight against Jewish world Bolshevism requires a clear attitude toward Soviet Russia. You cannot drive out the Devil with Beelzebub.”[17] Richard Evans notes that Mein Kampf clearly enunciated that “Hitler considered racial conflict…the essence of history, and the Jews to be the sworn enemy of the German race ….” And that the “Jews were now linked indissolubly in Hitler’s mind with “Bolshevism” and “Marxism.”[18] When Hitler became the dictator of Germany “his ideology and strategy became the ends and means of German foreign policy.”[19] His aims were clear, Hitler remarked to Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky on 21 January 1939: “We are going to destroy the Jews.”[20] It was clear that Hitler understood his own role in this effort noting to General Heinrici that “he was the first man since Charlemagne to hold unlimited power in his own hand. He did not hold this power in vain, he said, but would know how to use it in the struggle for Germany…”[21]

Wilhelm Keitel: “war was a fight for survival….dispense with outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare…” Bundesarchiv Bild

This study will focus on the German policy of ideological-racial war in Poland and Russia. The German war against the Soviet Union and to a certain extent Poland was waged with an unforgiving ferocity against Hitler’s enemy, the Jewish-Bolshevik state and the Slavic Untermenschen. It was characterized by the rise of “political-ideological strategy”[22] in which “Barbarossa showed the fusion of technocracy and ideology in the context of competitive military planning.”[23] Hitler’s “ideological and grandiose objectives, expressed in racial and semi-mystical terms, made the war absolute.”[24] Field Marshal Keitel noted a speech in March 1941 where Hitler talked about the inevitability of conflict between “diametrically opposed ideologies” and that the “war was a fight for survival and that they dispense with their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare.”[25] General Halder, Chief of the OKH in his War Dairy for that meeting noted “Annihilating verdict on Bolshevism…the leaders must demand of themselves the sacrifice of understanding their scruples.”[26] Based on Lebensraum and race, the German approach to war would combine “racism and political ideology” for the purpose of the “conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.”[27] Hitler explained that the “struggle for the hegemony of the world will be decided in favor of Europe by the possession of the Russian space.”[28] Conquered territories would be “Reich protectorates…and that these areas were to be deprived of anything in the nature of a Slav intelligentsia.”[29]This goal was manifest in the “Criminal Order” issued by OKW which stated that the war was “more than mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…The Bolshevist-Jewish intelligentsia must be eliminated….”[30] Other displaced inhabitants of the conquered eastern lands would be killed or allowed to starve.[31] Part of this was due to economic considerations in the Reich, which gave Germans priority in distribution of food, even that from the conquered lands. Starvation was a population control measure that supplemented other forms of annihilation.[32] As Fest notes in Russia Hitler was “seeking nothing but “final solutions.””[33] Despite numerous post-war justifications by various Wehrmacht generals, the “Wehrmacht and army fell into line with Hitler because there was “a substantial measure of agreement of “ideological questions.””[34]

Waffen SS Volksdeutsch Recruiting Poster

Ideology was key to Hitler’s worldview and fundamental to understanding his actions in the war.[35] However twisted Hitler’s ideological formulations were his ideas found acceptance beyond the Nazi faithful to the Army and Police, who would execute the campaigns in Poland and Russia in conjunction with theEinsatzgrüppen and Nazi party organizations.  In these organizations he found allies with pre-existing cultural, political and doctrinal understandings which allowed them to be willing participants in Hitler’s grand scheme of eastern conquest.

Doctrinal and Ideological Foundations

Nazi propaganda poster blaming the Jews for the war

While Hitler’s racial ideology was more extreme than many in the German military and police, these organizations had cultural beliefs and prejudices as well as doctrinal and ideological foundations which helped them become willing accomplices to Hitler.  These factors were often, consciously or unconsciously, excluded from early histories of World War II. The Allies relied on German officers to write these histories at the beginning of the Cold War, developing the “dual myth of German military brilliance and moral correctness.”[36] B.H. Liddell-Hart makes the astounding statement that “one of the surprising features of the Second World War was that German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war than it did in 1914-1918-at any rate in fighting its western opponents….”[37] While he might be excused by lack of knowledge of German army atrocities, not just the SS who he blamed the atrocities, it helps present a myth as truth.[38] The myths were helped by the trials of Manstein and Kesselring where “historical truth had to be sacrificed…to the demands of the Cold War.”[39] Kenneth Macksey confronts the myth that only the “Waffen SS committed barbaric and criminal acts” noting: “Not even the Knights of the Teutonic Order and their followers in the Middle Ages sank to the depths of the anti-Bolshevik Wehrmacht of 1941.”[40]

Germany had a long running history of anti-Semitism before Hitler.  German anti-Semitism often exhibited a “paranoid fear of the power of the Jews,”[41]and included a “fashionable or acceptable anti-Semitism”[42] which became more pronounced as the conditions of the Jews became better and Jews who had fled to Eastern Europe returned to Germany.[43] Sometimes this was tied to religious attitudes, but more often focused on the belief that the Jews “controlled certain aspects of life” and presented in “pseudo-scientific garb” along with the “myth of a secret Jewish plot for world domination which was simultaneously part of the internationalism of Freemasonry.”[44] Admiral Wilhelm Canaris provides an example as he “had grown up in the atmosphere of “moderate” anti-Semitism prevailing in the Ruhr middle class and in the Navy believed in the existence of a “Jewish problem”” and would “suggest during 1935-1936 that German Jews should be identified by a Star of David as special category citizens….”[45] Wehrmacht soldiers were “subject to daily doses of propaganda since the 1930s” and that with the “start of the Russian campaign propaganda concerning Jews became more and more aggressive.”[46] Some objected to Nazi actions against Jews. Von Manstein protested the “Aryan paragraph” in the Reichswehr on general principal.”[47] Yet some who planned and executed the most heinous crimes like Adolf Eichmann had “no fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.”[48]

The military “looked to the regime to reshape society in every respect: political, ideological, economic and military…Propaganda would hammer home absolute nature of the struggle…”[49] Ideological training began in the Hitler Youth andReichsarbeitsdienst and produced a soldier in which “Anti-Semitism, anti-communism, Lebensraum – these central tenants of Nazism were all inextricably linked with the Landser’s conception of duty, with his place and role in the vast machinery of war.”[50] Following the dismissal of General Fritsch in 1938, General Brauchitsch promised that “he would make every effort to bring the Army closer to the State and the State’s ideology.”[51] Alfred Novotny, a Austrian soldier in the Gross Deutschland division noted how training depicted the Russians as Untermenschen and how they were “subjected to official rantings about how the supposedly insidious, endless influence of the Jews in practically every aspect of the enemy’s endeavors…Jews were portrayed as rats, which were overrunning the world….”[52] This added to the already “harsh military discipline” which had a long tradition in Germany conditioning soldiers to violence and brutalization of their enemy. Similar programs existed in the Order Police which would play a large part in the eastern campaign, the “image of “treasonous” leftists and Jews helped shape the personal and political beliefs of many policemen throughout the interwar period.”[53] Even ordinary police training before the war in German speaking Europe was brutalizing.”[54] These troops were recipients of an ideological formation which “aimed at shaping the worldview of the police leading to the internalization of belief along National Socialist lines.”[55] Waffen SS soldiers, especially those of the Totenkopfdivision were subjected to even more systematic political indoctrination on the enemies of National Socialism, the Jews, freemasonry, Bolshevism and the churches.[56]

Along with cultural anti-Semitism and the Nazification of German thought in the 1930s, there were aspects of military doctrine which helped prepare the way for the eastern campaign. The most important were the Army’s anti-partisan and rear area security doctrine.  The history of security anti-partisan operations dated back to the Prussian Army’s Ettapen, which began in 1813 with theLandwehr’s role in security against looters and others.[57] These units supported and supplied offensive operations from the rear to the combat zone with a secondary mission of countering partisans and preventing disruptions in the rear area. The Ettapen would be reformed and regulated in 1872 following the Franco-Prussian War.[58] The German experience fighting guerrillas and partisans, the francs-tireurs in the Franco-Prussian War, “scarred the Army’s institutional mentality.”[59] Von Moltke was “shattered,” writing his brother that “war was now taking on an ever more hate-inspired character.”[60] He was “appalled by improvised armies, irregular elements, and appeals to popular passion, which he described as a “return to barbarism.”[61] He wrote: “Their gruesome work had to be answered by bloody coercion. Because of this our conduct of the war finally achieved a harshness that we deplored, but which we could not avoid.”[62] The brutal German response to the franc-tireurs found legal justification in Franz Lieber’s principles for classification of belligerents and non-belligerents, which determined that guerrillas were outlaws or bandits.[63] In response, the Germans systematically reorganized the Ettapen to include railroad and security troops, special military courts, military police, intelligence and non-military police, including the Landespolizei and the Grenzschutzpolizei.[64]

Pre-Nazi Exterminator: General Lothar Von Trotha led the Genocide against the Herero in Namibia

The doctrinal response to partisans, or as they would become known in German writings as “bandits,” was that bandits should be encircled and destroyed. This was employed in the Southwest Africa German colonies.  The Germans, influenced by the experience in France, “displayed a ferocity surpassing even that of the racially brutalized campaigns of its imperialist peers.”[65] The campaign against the Herero tribes which resisted the occupation of Namibia from 1904-1912 utilized encirclement operations, racial cleansing and what would become known as Bandenkämpfung operations.[66] This was further developed in the First World War, especially in the east where General Fritz Gempp described the security problem as a “ruthless struggle” in which German pacification policy “was in reality the application of terror to galvanize the population into accepting German rule.”[67] Anti-partisan doctrine was codified in the Truppenführung of 1933 which stated that “area defense against partisan warfare is the mission of all units” and that the preferred method of combating partisan bands was that they be surrounded and destroyed.[68] General Erhard Rauss later described active and passive measures used to deal with partisans, focusing on the tactic of encirclement to destroy the enemy.[69]

Anti-partisan doctrine focused on the destruction of the partisans, was coupled a total war philosophy and provided fit well with Hitler’s radical ideology.  The “propensity for brutality in anti-guerrilla warfare was complimented by officers’ growing preoccupation, both during and after World War I, with the mastery and application of violence.”[70] Michael Geyer notes: “ideological mobilization for the creation of a new national and international order increasingly defined the parameters of technocratic planning.”[71] The acceptance of long used brutal tactics to destroy the enemy combined with Hitler’s radical racial animus against the Jews could only be expected to create a maelstrom in which all international legal and moral standards would be breached.

Beginnings in Poland

The Polish campaign was a precursor to the Russian campaign and was not totally race driven. It contained elements of Germany’s perception of the injustice of Versailles which gave Poland the Danzig corridor and Germany’s desire to reconnect East Prussia to the Reich, as well as the perceived necessity to remove a potential enemy from its rear as it faced France, yet it was a campaign steeped in Nazi racial ideology.  Poland resisted German efforts to ally itself with Germany in 1939, thus Hitler determined it “would be crushed first.”[72] Meeting with military leaders on 23 May 1939 Hitler “made it plain that the real issue was not Danzig, but securing of Germany’sLebensraum….[73] On 22 August he enjoined the generals to “Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right.”[74]Even so, most military leaders failed to appreciate what Hitler was calling on them to do; Manstein would note that “what Hitler had to say about an eventual war with Poland, could not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a policy of annihilation.”[75] Others such as Canaris was “utterly horrified” as he read his notes to his closest colleagues “His voice trembled as he read, Canaris was acutely aware that he had witnessed something monstrous.”[76] General Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of 8th Army who would be the military commander in Poland did not leave any notes about the meeting, but his biographer notes that he “may have naively attached a military meaning to these terms since he was busy with military matters and soon to begin operations.”[77]This was the interpretation of Manstein as well.[78] Keitel noted that the speech was “delivered in the finest sense of psychological timing and application,” molding “his words and phrases to suit his audience.”[79] In light of the mixed interpretations by military leaders, it is possible that many misinterpreted Hitler’s intent and did not fully appreciated his ideology as they went into Poland, carefully secluding themselves in the narrow confines of their military world. While such an explanation is plausible for some, it is also true that many others in light of subsequent actions were in full agreement with Hitler. One author notes that “no man who participated in the Führer Conferences….and there were present the highest ranking officers of the three services, could thereafter plead ignorance of the fact that Hitler had laid bare his every depth of infamy before them, and they had raised no voice in protest either then or later.”[80] In July, General Wagner, the Quartermaster General issued orders that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.”[81]

Regardless of the meaning ascribed to Hitler’s speech, Hitler had already laid plans to destroy the Jews in Poland and decimate the Polish intelligentsia and leadership.   Hitler gave Himmler the task of forming “Einsatzgrüppen to follow the German troops as they advanced into Poland and liquidate Poland’s upper class wherever it was to be found.”[82] While senior party leaders remained at Hitler’s side following the conference, Himmler worked to coordinate his troops, including the reinforced Totenkopf battalions and Einsatzgrüppen with the Army.[83]

Einsatzgruppen Troops gathering Ukrainian Jews for ExecutionHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden

Himmler began planning in early May and the Army decided to “use SS and police units to augment their own forces for security tasks.”[84] Himmler established “five Einsatzgrüppen to accompany each of the numbered German armies at the start of the campaign.”[85] Placed under the aegis of Reinhard Heydrich the groups were broken down into smaller units of 100-150 men and allotted to army corps.  All senior posts were occupied by officers of the Sicherhietsdienst.[86] Two additional groups were formed shortly after the invasion.[87] Additionally 3 regiments of the SS Totenkopfverbande, under the direction of SS General Theodore Eicke were deployed in the rear areas of the advancing armies.[88] The purpose of these units was shielded from the Army in the planning stages,[89] although Heydrich worked with the Army to develop lists of up to 30,000 people to be arrested.[90] To eliminate the Polish elites without disturbing the Army, Himmler and Heydrich gave the Army “only the bare minimum of information.”[91] The deception was initially successful.  Blaskowitz’s 8th Army defined the mission of the Einsatzgrüppen in a traditional manner, noting their mission as “the suppression of all anti-Reich and anti-German elements in the rear of the “fighting troops, in particular, counter espionage arrests of politically unreliable persons, confiscation of weapons, safeguarding of important counter-espionage materials etc…”[92] General Wagner issued orders in July 1939 that “authorized German soldiers to take and execute hostages in the event of attacks by snipers or irregulars.” Despite the deception, there was no way to disguise the murder of Polish intelligentsia and Jews, and had the Army had the political acumen it could have considerably restricted the terror campaign.[93]

Heinrich Himmler: Implementer of Hitler’s Ideas Authorized formation of Einsatzgruppen

The campaign demonstrated Hitler’s intent. Heydrich talked about the “murdering the Polish ruling class” of the aristocracy, Catholic clergy, communists and Jews on 7 September.[94] The Army moved east with theEinsatzgruppen and Totenkopf Verbande, conducting arrests and executions in its wake.  The Army worried about Polish soldiers left behind in rear areas, and a paranoia developed as some generals believed that a “brutal guerilla campaign has broken out everywhere and we are ruthlessly stamping it out.”[95] Yet some actions against the Polish elites and the Jews drew Army reactions. The unit commanded by SS General Woyrsch “behaved with such unparalleled bestiality that it was throw out of the operational area” by General List of 14th Army.[96]Totenkopfverbande Brandenburg came to Army attention when its commander remarked that the “SSVT would not obey Army orders,” and the conclusion of the Army General was that “the SSVT commander was following orders from some non-military authority to terrorize the local Jews.”[97] These atrocities as well as those of other Waffen-SS units were hard to hide and brought reactions out of army commanders who sought to punish the offenders. Blaskowitz and others attempted to put a halt to SS actions against Poles and Jews,[98] but most officers turned a blind eye to the atrocities or outright condoned them.  It is believed that General Walter Model and others “not only knew what was occurring in Poland but actually took part in what Halder himself described in October as “this devilish plan.””[99] It appears that many who objected were not motivated so much by humanitarian, moral or legal considerations, but rather by the effect on good order and discipline.[100] Likewise it is clear that many officers, even if they did not participate in the actions probably approved of them.  Many biographies and histories of this period written by authors influenced by surviving German officers make no or little mention of the Army’s part in these actions. Himmler and Heydrich were sensitive to the perception of the Army and resented the fact that the Army believed them to be responsible for actions that they were carrying out under the direction and order of Hitler and that their troops were “undisciplined gangs of murderers.”[101] After the establishment of the Government General led by Hans Frank there was conflict between the Army under Blaskowitz, the SS, Police and the Nazi administration. Blaskowitz made an “elaborate report on the atrocities of the SS,”[102]expressing concern about his “extreme alarm about illegal executions, his worries about maintaining troop discipline under those circumstances, the failure of discussions with the SD and Gestapo and their assertions that they were only following SS Orders.”[103] While it is unclear if the memorandum made it to Hitler, it is clear that Hitler did know about the protest and Blaskowitz fell into disfavor and was reassigned after a period of continued conflict with the Nazi administration. Hitler’s reaction according to his adjutant was that the Army’s leaders used “Salvation Army” methods, and their ideas “childish.”[104]Likewise General Georg von Külcher was relieved of command for protesting SS and police atrocities.[105] SS Officers convicted by Army courts-martial were given amnesty by Hitler on “4 October 1939 who two weeks later removed SS units from the jurisdiction of military courts.”[106] While the army remained, it was not longer in charge and would assist the SS and Police in combat and further atrocities. One German officer, later a conspirator in the July 20th plot, remarked in November 1939 about the killings that he “was ashamed to be German! The minority are dragging our good through the mud by murdering, looting and torching houses will bring disaster on the whole German people if we do not stop it soon…”[107]

Ordungspolizei in Action: Street Cops Become Executioners

The Army was relieved of responsibility for policing Poland which fell on theOrdungspolizei battalions and Gendarmerie.  These units would wreak their own devastation on Poland in the coming months and years.[108] Poland would also be the first Nazi driven shift in population to exploit the newly won Lebensraumas Poles were driven into the newly formed Government General and ethnic Germans moved into previously Polish occupied territories. By 1941 over 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been expelled and 497,000 ethnic Germans brought into provinces lost in 1919.[109] Prior to the war about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland. After the war 50-70,000 were found to have survived in Poland, the Polish Army and camps in Germany. A further 180,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union.[110]

Russia

The Nazi war against Russia was the penultimate test of Hitler’s ideology. Planning began after 21 July, when Hitler made “his intentions plain” and “von Brauchitsch set his planners to work.”[111] Detailed preparations began in the winter of 1940-41 following the Luftwaffe’s failure against Britain and postponement of Operation Sea Lion.  Hitler intended to “crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign which was to begin no later than March 15, 1941, and before the end of the war with England.”[112] Keitel noted the final decision came in “early December 1940” and from then he had “no doubt whatsoever that only some unforeseen circumstance could possibly alter his decision to attack.”[113]The plan focused on the destruction of “the Red Army rather than on any specific terrain or political objective,”[114] although these objectives would arise in later planning and in the campaign.  Hitler stated: “What matters is that Bolshevism must be exterminated. In case of necessity, we shall renew our advance whenever a new center of resistance is formed. Moscow as the center of doctrine must disappear from the earth’s center….”[115]

Besides preparations aimed at the destruction of the Red Army and overthrow of the Soviet State, the “war against the Soviet Union was more openly ideological from the start.”[116] Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941: “the forthcoming campaign is more than a mere armed conflict; it is a collision between two different ideologies…this war will not be ended merely by the defeat of the enemy armed forces” and that “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated….”[117] Hitler noted that “this is a task so difficult that it cannot be entrusted to the Army.”[118] Reichskommissars would be appointed in the conquered areas, but since normal civilian powers would be insufficient to eliminate the Bolshevists, that it “might be necessary “to establish organs of the Reichsführer SS alongside the army’s Secret Field Police, even in the operational areas….”[119] The “primary task was to liquidate “all Bolshevist leaders or commissars” if possible while still in the operations zones,”[120] yet the orders did not contain “a syllable that in practice every Jew would be handed over to the extermination machine.”[121] This was followed on 13 March by an agreement between the Army represented by General Wagner and the SS, which stated in part that “the Reichsführer SS has been given by the Führer special tasks within the operations zone of the Army…to settle the conflict between two opposing political systems.”[122] Likewise the agreement dictated that Himmler would “act independently and on his own responsibility” while ensuring that “military operations are not affected by measures necessary to carry out his task.”[123] A further instruction of 26 March issued by Wagner gave the Army’s agreement to the use of the Einsatzgrüppen in the operations zone, specifying coordination between them and army authorities in the operational zone and communications zones to the rear.  Cooperation was based on the “principals for co-operation between the State Secret Police and the Field Security organization of the Wehrmacht agreed with the Security branch of the War Ministry on 1 January 1937.”[124]

The most significant act for the Army in this was the Commissar Order, sometimes known as the “Criminal Order” which was used war as evidence at Nurnberg as against Keitel and the High Command of the Wehrmacht.  The order specified the killing of Soviet Political Commissars attached to the Red Army and as “they were not prisoners of war” and another order specified that “in the event that a German soldier committed against civilians or prisoners, disciplinary action was optional….”[125] The order noted regarding political commissars that “in this struggle consideration and respect for international law with regard to these elements is wrong.” [126] The “Guidelines for the Conduct of Troops in Russia” issued on May 19, 1941 called for “ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevist inciters, saboteurs [and] Jews.”[127]

Shortly before the order was issued, Hitler previewed it to the generals saying that the war in Russia “cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion” and that it would have to be waged with “unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness…”[128] and that they would have to “dispense with all of their outdated and traditional ideas about chivalry and the generally accepted rules of warfare: the Bolsheviks had long since dispensed with them.”[129] He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension stating “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.”[130] Hitler’s speech was protested by some according to Von Brauchitsch,[131] who refused to protest to Hitler but issued an order “threatening dire penalties for excesses against civilians and prisoners of war” which he maintained at Nurnberg “was sufficient to nullify the Commissar Order.”[132] Yet Von Brauchitsch would tell commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.”[133] Warlimont noted that Von Bock, who would “later emerge as an opponent of the Commissar Order…makes no special comment on the meeting or the restricted conference that followed.”[134] Keitel said that he “stubbornly contested” the clause “relating to the authority of the SS-Reichsführer… in the rearward operational areas.”[135]Keitel blamed the Army High Command, but the order came out with his signature on behalf of Hitler, which was key evidence against him at Nurnberg. He stated that “there was never any possibility of justifying them in retrospect by circumstances obtaining in the Russian campaign.”[136] Some commanders refused to publish the orders and “insisted that the Wehrmacht never implemented such policies…” blaming them instead on the SS. One writer states “such protests were undoubtedly sincere, but in practice German soldiers were far from innocent. The senior professional officers were often out of touch with their subordinates.”[137] The orders were a “license to kill, although not a great departure from German military traditions….”[138] The effect was terrifying, for in a sense the Einsatzgruppen, “could commit ever crime known to God and man, so long as they were a mile or two away from the firing line.”[139] Security Divisions were “instructed to give material and logistical support to…units of the Einsatzgruppen.”[140] Even worse, army units in rear areas “could be called on to assist Himmler’s SS police leaders.”[141]

Einsatzgruppe troops finishing off Jewish Women

The SS formed four Einsatzgruppen composed of SD, Waffen-SS and Police troops designated A-D with “A” being assigned to Army Group North, B to Army Group Center, C to Army Group South and “D” to 11th Army.  They were not standardized in manpower or equipment, the largest unit being A in the North at 990 personnel [142] and D with only 550.[143] These units had SS, SD or Police commanders. Additionally nine Ordnungspolizei battalions were initially assigned to the invasion forces.[144] The police contingent would grow over time so that by 1943, these units would be grouped under regiments and number about 180,000 men assisted by 301,000 auxiliaries.[145] These units would act in concert with 9 Army Security Divisions which handled rear area security.[146] Himmler initially did not reveal their intent and planned use to Einsatzgruppen commanders, only speaking of a “heavy task…to “secure and pacify” the Russian area using Sicherheitspolizei and SD methods.”[147]Understanding the effect of these operations, Himmler would state that “in many cases it is considerably easier to lead a company in battle than to command a company responsible to…carry out executions, to deport people…to be always consistent, always uncompromising-that is in many cases far, far harder.”[148]

Nazi actions are well documented; the Einsatzgruppen, Police, Army and locally recruited Schutzmannschaft battalions [149] ruthlessly exterminated Jews and others in the operational area. No sooner had an Einsatzgruppe unit entered a city, a “deadly stranglehold” would grip the “Jewish inhabitants claiming thousands and thousands of victims day by day and hour by hour.”[150] Non-Jewish Russians were encouraged to conduct programs which Heydrich noted “had to be encouraged.”[151] Einsatzgruppen D report 153 noted: “During period covered by this report 3,176 Jews, 85 Partisans, 12 looters, 122 Communist functionaries shot. Total 79,276.” [152] By the spring of 1942 Einsatzgruppe A had claimed “more than 270,000 victims, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jewish.”[153] The total killed for all groups then was 518,388 people, mostly Jews.[154] Germany’s Romanian ally acted against Jews in Odessa as well; “on 23 October 1941 19,000 Jews were shot near the harbor… probably 200,000 Jews perished either at Romanian hands or after being turned over by the Romanians to the Germans.”[155]

Many Anti-Jewish Massacres were Labeled “Anti-Partisan” Operations. Einsatzgruppe Officers, a Major in the middle, of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) during an operation in Poland

Operations against Jews were often called anti-partisan operations.  Himmler referred to Einsatzgruppen as “anti-Partisan formations[156] while WehrmachtSecurity divisions “murdered countless Soviet civilians and burned Russian settlements to the ground under the pretext of subduing partisan resistance.”[157] The attitude in 1941-1942 was that “’all Jews are partisans and all partisans are Jews.” From 1943, all armed resistance was “banditry” and all Jews irrespective of circumstances were treated as “bandits.””[158] The commander of the 221st Security Division endeavored to persuade his “subordinate units that the Jews were carriers of Bolshevik contamination and, therefore, the ultimate source of any sabotage or difficulty the division faced.”[159] The extermination of the Jews and partisan war were closely intertwined with the Reich’s economic policies designed to exploit the natural resources of the Russia. This included the “hunger plan” which German authorities seemed to imagine that “millionfold starvation could be induced by requisitioning off all available grain and “shutting off” the cities.”[160] Hitler told Halder that in 1941 that he “intended to level Moscow and Leningrad, to make them uninhabitable, so there would be no need to feed their populations during the winter.”[161] Economic officials held life and death power over villages. Those that met agricultural quotas were “likely to be spared annihilation and evacuation…the culmination of this process, during 1943, would be the widespread creation of “dead zones.””[162] All told the German killed nearly 1.5 million Russian Jews.[163] By 1942, 2 million Soviet POW’s were killed.  600,000 shot outright, 140,000 by the Einsatzkommandos.[164]All told 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity through starvation, disease and exposure,[165] are included in a total of over 10 million Red Army Combat deaths.[166] Bracher notes: “The reality and irreality of the National Socialism were given their most terrible expression in the extermination of the Jews.”[167]

The Killer Becomes a Victim: Arthur Nebe’s experience commanding an Einsatzgruppe so traumatized him that he would be reassigned and then become active in the attempt to kill Hitler and lose his life in the process

Himmler and others continued to use euphemistic language to describe their efforts talking in terms of “Jewish resettlement.”[168] Terms such as special actions, special treatment, execution activity, cleansing and resettlement were used in place of the word murder.[169] At the same time these operations led to problems in the ranks, one SS trooper observed: “deterioration in morale among his own men who had to be issued increasing rations of vodka to carry out their killing orders.”[170] Even commanders were affected, Nebe would say “I have looked after so many criminals and now I have become one myself.”[171] A fellow conspirator would describe him as a “shadow of his former self, nerves on edge and depressed.”[172] Erich Bach-Zelewski, who led the SS anti-partisan efforts would suffer a nervous breakdown which included “hallucinations connected to the shootings of Jews” which hospitalized him in 1942.[173]Himmler would state in October 1943 that “to have gone through” the elimination of the Jews had “and remained decent, that has made us tough. This is an unwritten, never to be written, glorious page in our history.”[174]

Conclusion

The German war against Poland and Russia was heavily dependent on the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler.  He was the true spirit behind the atrocities committed by his nation as one noted in Russia: “Here too the Führer is the moving spirit of a radical solution in both word and deed.”[175] He saw the partisan war as “the chance to stamp out everything that stands against us.”[176] Belief in Germany’s right to Lebensraum the superiority of the German Volk and necessity to settle the Jewish problem provided a fertile ground for Hitler’s plans.  German military doctrines, especially those of anti-partisan and total warfare abetted Hitler’s goals.

It is quite clear that many in the Wehrmacht were in agreement with Hitler’s ideology of racial-war. Prepared by cultural prejudice and long traditions of thought, the “Prussian and in later German military must be regarded as a significant part of the ideological background of the Second World War.”[177]General Reichenau’s orders to his troops are revealing: “The most important goal of the campaign against Jewish-Bolshevism is the complete destruction of its grip on power and the elimination of the Asian influence from our European cultural sphere.”[178] Von Rundstedt appeared to agree with Reichenau to “use the partisan threat as excuse for persecuting Jews, so long as the dirty work was largely left to SS Einsatzgruppen.”[179] The Army command…on the whole acquiesced in the extermination of the Jews, or at least closed its eyes to what was happening.”[180] Even if the Generals had been more forceful in their opposition, they would have been opposed by the highly Nazified youth that made up the bulk of their Army, especially junior officers. SS leaders fanatically executed Hitler’s policies aided by the civil administration. Genocide was to bring the Reich “long term economic gains and trading advantages” and was seen as a way of “financing the war debt without burdening the German taxpayer.”[181] Some individuals attempted to resist the most brutal aspects of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Some like Wilhelm Kube, Reichskommissar for White Russia and a virulent anti-Semite was shocked at the murders of the Jews calling them “unworthy of the German cause and damaging to the German reputation” and would later attempt to spare Jews by employing them in war industries, would be “defeated by Himmler’s zealots.”[182] Army officers who objected like Blaskowitz and Külcher were relieved, or like Von Leeb, told by Hitler to “in so many words told to mind his own business.” Leeb stated: “the only thing to do is to hold oneself at a distance.”[183] Rommel knew of crimes through Blaskowitz but blamed the crimes “on Hitler’s subordinates, not Hitler himself.”[184]

Partial Justice: The Einsatzgruppen Trial

Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia and other nations.

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1] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Ed. Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Translated by Krista Smith, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2006. Originally published as Hitlers zweites Buch, Gerhard Weinberg editor, 1961 p. 159

[2] Davidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945 Bantam Books, New York, NY 1986. p.91

[3] Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2008. First Published by Allen Lane Books, Penguin Group, London UK, 2006. p.463

[4] Fest, Joachim, Hitler. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, San Diego, New York, London, 1974.  German Edition by Verlag Ullstein 1973 pp. 607-608

[5] Note the actions of Cardinal Richelieu in France who worked to expand French power at the expense of other Catholic nations and the Vatican itself.

[6] In the United States the Reconstruction policies produced great resentment in the south with decidedly negative results for the newly freed slaves which lasted another 100 years, while in the Soviet Union great numbers of “opponents of Socialism” were killed, imprisoned or driven out of the county.

[7] Ibid. Tooze. The Wages of Destruction p.462

[8] Ibid. Davidowicz, The War Against the Jews pp.8-9

[9] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.12

[10] Ibid. Fest  Hitler. p.47

[11] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of  National Socialism. Translated by Jean Steinberg, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY 1979. Originally Published under the title Die Deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Struktur,Folgen des Nationalsocialismus.Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Koln and Berlin, 1969 p.93

[12] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany Hitler and World War II . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 1995 p.61

[13] Ibid. Weinberg, Hitler’s Second Book p.60

[14] Friedlander, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. Harper Perennial, New York, NY 2007 p.xviii

[15] Ibid. Friedlander, The Years of Extermination p.xvii  Friedlander called this anti-Semitism “Redemptive anti-Semitism” in which “Hitler perceived his mission as a kind of crusade to redeem the world by eliminating the Jews.

[16] Megargee, Geoffrey P. War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front 1941.Bowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, Boulder, New York. 2007 p.4

[17] Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf translated by Ralph Manheim. Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 1999. Houghton Mifflin Company 1943, copyright renewed 1971. Originally published in Germany by Verlag Frz. Eher Nachf. GmbH 1925. p.662.

[18] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich Penguin Books, New York 2004.  First published by Allen Lane 2003 p.197

[19] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp. 88-89

[20] Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York, NY 2002 p.37

[21] Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. Collier Books, a Division of MacMillan Publishers, Inc. New York, NY 1970 p.166

[22] Geyer, Michael. German Strategy 1914-1945 in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986. p.582

[23] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.587

[24] Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. George, Allen and Unwin, London, UK 1983 p.174

[25] Goerlitz, Walter. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of the German High Command 1938-1945.  Translated by David Irving. Cooper Square Press 2000,  First English Edition 1966 William Kimber and Company Ltd.  German edition published by Musterschmnidt-Verlad, Gottigen 1961 p. 135

[26] Ibid. Fest, Hitler.  p. 649

[27] Ibid. Megargee, War of Annihilation p.7

[28] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p. 27 Goebbels notes a similar theme in his recollection of Hitler’s reasons for destroying Russia a power .  See Taylor, Fred, Editor and Translator. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth UK and New York NY 1984 pp. 413-415.

[29] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff.” Translated by Brian Battershaw, Westview Press, Boulder and London, 1985. Originally published as Die Deutsche Generalstab Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, Frankfur am Main, 1953 p.390

[30] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964 p. 150

[31] Weinberg, Gerhard L. Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leasers. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2005. p. 24

[32] Aly, Gotz and Heim, Susanne. Architects of Annihilation :Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction Phoenix Paperbacks, London, 2003, Originally published as  Vordenker der Vernichtung, Hoffman und Campe, Germany 1991, English translation by Allan Blunden.  First published in Great Britain Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2002 pp. 245-246

[33] Ibid. Fest. Hitler p.649

[34] Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2006. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskreig, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2002 p.93

[35] This understanding is different than many historians who as Friedlander notes advocate something like this: “The persecution and extermination of the Jews of Europe was but a secondary consequence of major German policies pursued toward entirely different goals.” Friedlander p.xvi

[36] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.xii

[37] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.22

[38] It has to be noted that Liddle-Hart published this work in 1948 and was limited in the materials available, his primary sources being German officers who he viewed with sympathy because he saw them as exponents of his theory of the indirect approach.

[39] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.224

[40] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War: The Myth of German Military Superiority. Barnes and Noble Books, New York 2006, originally published by Greenhill Books, 1996. p.139

[41] Stern, Fritz. Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and Building of the German Empire. Vintage Books a division of Random House, New York 1979 First published by Alfred a Knopf 1977.  p.495

[42] Ibid. Stern. Gold and Iron p.494

[43] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.34

[44] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.34-35

[45] Höhne, Heinze. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Translated by J. Maxwell, Brownjohn. Cooper Square Press,

New York 1999. Originally published by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, Munich 1976, first English edition by Doubleday and Company 1979 p. 216.  Canaris would later protest the Kristalnacht to Keitel (p.334) and become convinced of the crime of the Nazis against the Jews.

[46] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.98

[47] Ibid Witte The Wehrmacht, p.73

[48] Arendt, Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.Revised and Enlarged Edition. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England and New York, NY 1965. Originally published by Viking Press, New York, NY 1963 p.26

[49] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.6

[50] Fritz, Stephen G. Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II.  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 1995 p.195

[51] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1955 p.495

[52] Novatny, Alfred. The Good Soldier. The Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA 2003 p.40

[53] Westermann, Edward B. Hitler’s Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.64  Westermann also notes the preponderance of SA men who entered the Order Police in the 1930s, a factor which helped further the politicization of that organization.

[54] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.23

[55] Ibid. Westermann Hitler’s Police Battalions p.103

[56] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NY 1977 p. 28

[57] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004 p.41

[58] Blood, Philip. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books Inc. Washington, DC 2008 p.11

[59] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.42

[60] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.93

[61] Rothenburg, Gunther. Moltke, Schieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Peter Paret, editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1986 p.305

[62] Hughes, Daniel J. editor. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings,translated by Harry Bell and Daniel J Hughes. Presidio Press, Novato CA 1993. p.32

[63] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.6   Lieber was a Prussian emigrant to the US who taught law at Columbia University.

[64] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.12-13

[65] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.42

[66] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters pp.16-19

[67] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.22

[68] Condell, Bruce and Zabecki, David T. Editors. On the German Art of War: Truppenführung , Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder CO and London 2001. p.172

[69] Tsouras, Peter G. Editor, Fighting in Hell: The German Ordeal on the Eastern Front The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998. First published 1995 by Greenhill Books. Pp. 142-146.  It is interesting to note that Rauss does not describe any actual anti-partisan operation.

[70] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.45

[71] Ibid. Geyer. German Strategy p.584

[72] Ibid. Weinberg. Visions of Victory p.8

[73] Ibid. Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff p.346

[74] Höhne, Heinze. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. Translated by Richard Barry. Penguin Books, New York and London, 2000. First English edition published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd. London 1969. Originally published as Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag Der Spiegel, Hamburg 1966 p.259

[75] Manstein, Erich von. Forward by B.H. Liddle Hart, Introduction by Martin Blumenson. Lost victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler’s Most Brilliant General.Zenith Press, St Paul MN 2004. First Published 1955 as Verlorene Siege, English Translation 1958 by Methuen Company p.29

[76] Ibid. Hohne. Canaris p.347

[77] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hppocrene Books, New York 1997 p.119

[78] Ibid. Manstein. Lost Victories p.29

[79] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.87

[80] Wheeler-Bennett, John. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press Inc. New York, NY 1954 p.448

[81] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[82] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[83] Padfield, Peter. Himmler. MJF Books, New York 1990 p.264

[84] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.13

[85] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[86] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.297

[87] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.127

[88] Ibid. Sydnor Soldiers of Destruction p.37 These would become the nucleus of the Totenkopf Division

[89] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[90] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[91] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head pp. 297-298

[92] Ibid. Giziowski Blaskowitz p.120

[93] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[94] Ibid. Witte. The Wehrmacht p.100

[95] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model-Hitler’s Favorite General Da Capo Press a division of Perseus Books Group, Cambridge MA 2005. p.74

[96] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz pp.165-166

[97] Ibid. Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction pp. 42-43 Note SSVT is the common abbreviation for the SS Totenkopf Verbande

[98] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff p.359

[99] Ibid. Newton. Hitler’s Commander p.78

[100] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[101] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p.298

[102] Ibid. Goerlitz. History of the German General Staff .p.359

[103] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[104] Ibid. Giziowski. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz p.173

[105] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[106] Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann, Wolfgang. The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 Cambridge University Press, New York NY and Cambridge UK 1991. p.100

[107] Ibid. Witte The Wehrmacht p.102

[108] For a good account of one of the Police Battalions see Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101mand the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning Harper Perennial Publishers, San Francisco CA 1992

[109] Reitlinger, Gerald.  The SS: Alibi of a Nation. The Viking Press, New York, 1957. Republished by Da Capo Press, New York, NY p.131

[110] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews pp.395-397

[111] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.24

[112] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett The Nemesis of Power p.511

[113] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. P.132

[114] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995 p.31

[115] Trevor-Roper, H.R. Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944 with an introduction by Gerhard L Weinberg,  Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens, Enigma Books, New York, NY 2000. Originally published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicholoson, London 1953 p.6

[116] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.10 More openly ideological as compared to Poland.

[117] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.150

[118] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.151

[119] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.175

[120] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354

[121] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 354  Again another deception.

[122] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[123] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.153

[124] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters pp. 158-159

[125] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[126] Ibid. Davidowicz. The War Against the Jews p.123

[127] Ferguson, Niall. The War of the Worlds: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. The Penguin Press, New York, 2006 p.442

[128] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[129] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.135

[130] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. Nemesis of Power p.513

[131] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett Nemesis of Power p.513 and footnote. He cites the three Army Group commanders, Leeb, Rundstedt and Bock. However Von Rundstedt’s biographer notes that “no evidence exists as to what Von Rundstedt’s to this was at the time.” Messenger, Charles, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s (UK) London England 1991. p.134

[132] Ibid. Reitlinger, The SS p.176

[133] Ibid. Megargee. War of Annihilation p.33

[134] Ibid. Warlimont. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters p.162

[135] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel p.136

[136] Ibid. Goerlitz. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Keitel pp.136-137

[137] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed p.56

[138] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.52

[139] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[140] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East p.54

[141] Ibid. Reitlinger The SS p. 177

[142] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death pp.12-13

[143] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.167

[144] Ibid. Westermann. Hitler’s Police Battalions p.164

[145] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.141

[146] Ibid. Shepherd Wild War in the East p.48. Shepherd notes the deficiencies of these units in terms of organization, manpower and equipment which he calls “far short of the yardstick of military excellence with which the Wehrmacht is so widely associated.

[147] Ibid.  Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 356 Only one of the Einsatzgruppen commanding officers was a volunteer, Arthur Nebe who was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. It is believed by many that Nebe volunteered to earn the clasp to the Iron Cross to curry favor with Heydrich and that initially “Nebe certainly did not know that “employment in the east” was synonymous with the greatest mass murder in history.

[148] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.422

[149] Ibid. Blood Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.55

[150] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[151] Ibid.  Friedlander The Years of Extermination p.207

[152] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 360

[153] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[154] Ibid. Ferguson. The War of the World p.446

[155] Di Nardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005 p.133 The Hungarians would also engage in ant-Jewish operations. Only the Italian army would not conduct operations against the Jews.

[156] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 369

[157] Ibid. Wette The Wehrmacht p.127

[158] Ibid. Blood. Hitler’s Bandit Hunters p.117

[159] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.90-91

[160] Ibid. Tooze The Wages of Destruction p.481

[161] Ibid. Magargee. War of Annihilation p.64

[162] Ibid. Shepherd. War in the Wild East pp.127-128

[163] Ibid. Davidowicz The War Against the Jews from the table on page 403. This included 228,000 from the Baltic republics (90%) 245,000 from White Russia (65%) 900,000 from the Ukraine (60%) and 107,000 from Russia proper (11%)

[164] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.241

[165] Ibid. Glantz and House When Titans Clashed p.57

[166] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed table on p.292

[167] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.431

[168] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[169] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 367

[170] Ibid. Rhodes. Masters of Death p.225

[171] Ibid. Rhodes Masters of Death p.225

[172] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[173] Ibid. Höhne The Order of the Death’s Head p. 363

[174] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.423

[175] Ibid. Bracher. The German Dictatorship p.430

[176] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.65

[177] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.293

[178] Ibid. Wette. The Wehrmacht p.97

[179] Messenger, Charles. The Last Prussian A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt 1875-1953 Brassey’s London, 1991 p148

[180] Ibid. Bracher The German Dictatorship pp.430-431

[181] Ibid. Aly and Heim Architects of Annihilation p.242

[182] Ibid. Padfield Himmler pp.341-342

[183] Ibid. Megargee War of Annihilation p.97

[184] Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin RommelHarper Perennial, New York 1995, first published by Harper Collins in Britain, 1993. p.536

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The Danger of Believing Historical Myths: Hitler, the Stab in the Back and the United States

The are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.  So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler and Many in Germany Doubted the War making Potential of the United States

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  This was a fundamental belief for him and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that he “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s  declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief, shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events.  It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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