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The Battle Of Kursk: Nazi Military Operations Cannot be Separated from Hitler’s Genocidal Policies

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program.  Tomorrow, July 12th is the anniversary of the one of the largest tank battles in history, The Battle of Prokhorovka, the climax of the Battle Of Kursk, in which nearly 1000 German and Soviet tanks engaged in an often close quarters battle where both suffered staggering casualties, but the Soviets prevented a German breakthrough, and with it a potential German victory. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

The decision of Hitler and the High Command to launch this offensive is also connected for the need of the Nazis to complete the Final Solution Of the “Jewish Problem,” which was in the process of execution millions of Jews, with an emphasis on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, with the desire to eliminate the Russian Jews who as of yet remained under the protection of the Red Army. The German military campaign in the east can never be disconnected from the genocidal policies of the Nazis, and many of the German troops and commanders involved in Zitadelle were accomplices to Genocide or actively supported it. 

So when you read this article, do not just look at the military dimensions. Remember, that it, like every Nazi military operation was a necessary part of Hitler’s genocidal program. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanks                 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34            The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancing     The New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020                                          Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantry                                          Soviet T-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzers                                               Destroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

                                                        Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] 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.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

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

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

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

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

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

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

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

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

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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Charité at War and the Nazi Doctors

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In my studies of the Third Reich and the Holocaust I have read a number of volumes dealing with Nazi medicine, eugenics, human experimentation, and the murder of those deemed “life unworthy of life.” I recently finished The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation, edited by George Annas and Michael Gordon, and previously read The Nazi Doctors by Robert J. Lifton, The Nazi War on Cancer, by Robert Proctor, the Nuremberg transcripts of the Doctors Trial, Hitler’s American Model: the United States and the Making Of Nazi Race Law, by James Whitman, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism by Stefan Kühl and visits to Dachau, Buchenwald, and the Hadamar T-4 Euthanasia Center.

In my career I have served as a member, or the head of ethics committees at major civilian and military medical centers. As such I have also had to read and study much about medicine, disease, and medical ethics. Much of my hospital time was done in ICUs and dealing with end of life matters, consulting with physicians and nursing staff. So I don’t take the subjects involved lightly, and I found the German television series Charité at War, which is available on Netflix to be fascinating.

My life has been deeply involved with history, Ministry, Medicine, and Ethics for decades. The series which is set in Berlin’s Charité hospital, a leading research center and major medical center is so interesting. It shows how even the most decent and idealistic people can be compromised in a medical system of an authoritarian and racist state.

The characters in the series are all based on real people. They are not composites, or factionalized versions. They include the true believers like SS Colonel and Psychiatrist Max de Crinis, who helped write the euthanasia laws of the Reich and used his position as Professor Of Psychiatry at Charité to turn wounded soldiers over to Court Martial as deserters, and to persecute homosexuals. He took cyanide to escape capture by the Soviets. Then there was Doctor and Professor Ferdinand der Sauerbruch, Professor Of Surgery at Charité who walked a thin line but publicly opposed the T-4 Euthanasia program and attempted to protect members of the German resistance. Sauerbach remained at the hospital treating patients until the Red Army captured it. He was known for his work with, tuberculosis, prosthetics, and the diagnosis of Graves Disease. He died in 1951. Then there was Professor Artur Waldhäusen, a pediatrician who became head of pediatrics at Charité who attempted to have his own daughter sent to a Euthanasia center, only to be found out by his wife who saved her daughter with the help of her brother. But of all the characters was the nurse Christel, who was so devoted to the Nazi message that she turned over nurses, physicians, and patients who she deemed traitorous to Professor de Crinis and the Gestapo, including Hans Dohnanyi, Brother in law of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The series is interesting because it shows ordinary people, even brilliant people can compromise their ethics and reputations serving an unjust regime. Some of these medical professionals were completely utilitarian in their ethics and had no empathy for those that they treated or sent to their deaths. Sadly, they are no different from people today. Bureaucrats, Physicians, Nurses, and yes even ministers can surrender their ethics, faith, and simple human decency, even those who claim to be Pro-life to serve regimes which are bent on the extermination of life unworthy of life and those that they consider to be subhuman.

The series Charité at War is as brilliant as it is disturbing. I recommend it highly.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

P.S. We had a wonderful anniversary. Thank you for all the kind words.

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Operation Barbarossa: “the Jewish-Bolshevist intelligentsia must be eliminated…. “ “A Campaign of Unprecedented, Unmerciful, and Unrelenting, Harshness”

babi yar

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s

As part of my academic work I taught military ethics as related to the Just War Theory at the the Joint Forces Staff College. In the class on jus post bellum or justice after war I dealt 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. In 2014 I had an exceptional class that caused me to go back and do some revisions to a number articles that I have written in the past. I have published versions 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.

On June 22nd 1941 German Forces launched a campaign of annihilation and genocide against the Soviet Union unparalleled in history. Military victory over the Soviets, and the destruction of the Soviet political system, and territorial expansion for what Hitler called Lebensraum or living space were just part of the plan. The plan included the destruction of all the Jews in Soviet territory, and the planned intentional starvation of another 30 million soviet citizens in the western parts of the Soviet Union. They were considered useless mouths to feed which would allow Germany to exploit the grain harvests of the Soviet Union.

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.”

This is not a phenomenon isolated to the Nazis. It can happen in any society, and members of any military or police organization could carry out such orders given the right circumstances.

September 29th 2019 will be the 78th 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 Deutschlanddivision 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 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 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, despite the Nazi views about Poles in general and the substantial number of Jews in Poland. The campaign 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, the but securing of Germany’s Lebensraum….[74] Danzig was a pretext by which he could whip up public support due to the desire for revenge over the 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 Totenkopfbattalions 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 Verbandeagainst 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, over 90% of Polish Jews exterminated by the Nazis, or around half of all Jews murdered during the Holocaust. [111] 

                                                    Climax in 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

                   Einsatzgruppen 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 Einsatzgruppebeing 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]

 In the end according to the most recent estimates the Germans and their Allies killed  nearly range from 25 million to 42 million citizens, the higher estimate is divided into about 19.5 million military and another 22 million civilians. Poland lost approximately 6 million people. Hitler’s actions were responsible for some 7 to 7.5 million German deaths. Of course this doesn’t count the vast numbers of deaths in other countries victimized by Nazi Germany, but Barbarossa was the most barbaric and of all Hitler’s actions.                      

                                                     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, especially when Americans now have a President who frequently dehumanizes enemies, fawning followers who believe in military conquest, and advisors who prefer military action to diplomacy. Despite his rhetoric, one has to give the President credit for backing down from armed conflict over the recommendations of his advisors and wishes of his followers. For that I am glad.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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 1933-1945Bantam 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 GeneralstabVerlag 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 Statesin 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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The Nature Of Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty years ago when I was in seminary my Philosophy Of Religion Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin told our class that until we had death with the realities of evil, death, and suffering we had not yet done Christian theology. He was right, but I have not learned that by wrestling with theology per say, but rather human experience as recorded by history, especially my studies of the Holocaust, and American Slavery, as well as what the and as observed in my life as a trauma and surgery department chaplain in a number of large and medium sized hospitals, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

Since that time I have witnessed hundreds of violent deaths. Most in the United States but some in Iraq. I have seen cruelty, committed by human beings that only can be described as evil. I have also spoken directly with men who killed in cold blood, including an assassination type hit on a man and his son who owed him fifty dollars. That man was a Navy Hospital Corpsmen with a wife and a child, his victims a couple of locals. When I looked in his eyes there was no feeling, it didn’t matter what he had did, he was a classic sociopath. He had no empathy for the men he killed or the devastation he left in the lives of his wife and child. The state he committed the murder in does have the death penalty, but he received two back to back life sentences. The Navy discharged him and that cut off my attempts to communicate with him.

But the question always comes back to the nature of evil itself, and the willing ignorance of many people of it. Having come face to face with this man and others like him, I have to agree with the comments of Captain and psychologist Gustave Gilbert about the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

I have to admit that the amount of ignorance in the defense of evil that I see daily is simply mind blowing. It makes me shake my head. But then I cannot be surprised anymore. About two years ago I saw a poll in which nine percent of Americans said that holding White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi views and ideology was okay. 

Now nine percent doesn’t sound like a big number or anything to worry about until you extrapolate that percentage into the numbers of people who hold that view. Based on the population of the United States that nine percent equals about thirty million individuals. Now I’m sure that many of these patriotic Americans are not card carrying Klansmen or Nazis, but the fact that they would turn a blind eye to the evil of both in the name of some incomprehensible moral equivalence as did President Trump after Charlottesville is quite disturbing. Perhaps it is his example that enables them to be so open about their acceptance of evil. 

A while back on my Facebook page a friend of a friend commented on an article which discussed new research that indicates that the Nazis in their occupation of the Ukraine killed perhaps a half million more Jews than previously believed. That woman made the comment that there were others, and yes that is true. Had the Nazis won the war tens of millions more of the Jews as well as the Slavs who they referred to as Untermenschen or subhumans would have been killed, either directly or through a policy of intentional starvation. But make no bones about it, from the months that Hitler spent in Landsberg prison for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 writing Mein Kampf until the end of the war as the Red Army closed in on his bunker in Berlin, the Jews above all were the object of his personal hatred. 

Close to six million Jews and millions of others were killed by the Nazis. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States and even after emancipation were by law treated as less than full citizens. Under Jim Crow they were discriminated against at every level of government including states that were neither a part of the Confederacy or not even States when the Civil War was fought, they were impressed as forced labor under the Black Codes and thousands were murdered, often in public by people who brought their children to watch Black men die. 

But these people were not just numbers. It’s all to easy to blur them into a mass of dehumanized humanity by talking about the millions, when every single one was a human being, yes, I believe created in the image of God. We have to see their faces and we have to recognize their essential humanity as men and women, children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, whose lives were in the case of the Jews obliterated as if they never existed, and others like African slaves who were simply property.

I explained that in quite a few fewer words and told her that she shouldn’t challenge me on the subject, which of course she did. So I went into more detail and shot her argument down in flames, to the cheers of other commentators on the post. When you have spent much of your academic life studying a subject it really gets old hearing people make excuse for evil by trying to minimize that evil, especially against the targeted people. 

It’s like Confederate apologists saying that the institution of slavery which enslaved millions of Africans was actually worse for White people. Yes it is true that many poor whites benefited little from slavery, but they were not bought and sold as chattel, sold away from their wives and children, whipped, and marched across country in chains to new owners, or yes even killed simply because they were not considered human beings but property. 

Sadly, as Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.” 

So there are about 30 million Americans who believe that holding Nazi and White Supremacist beliefs is okay. A few years ago I would believed that the number was lower, but after seven months of living in Trump’s America I believe that it might be even higher than the poll indicated. I only say this based on the postings I see on various social media platforms, news comment pages, the proliferation of websites that cater to these beliefs, and the lack of real condemnation of such individuals by the majority of the GOP Senate and House majorities, and the outright defense of them by other GOP representatives at the Federal and State level. These people have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, nor American slavery. 

Again I don’t believe that the majority of these people are real card carrying Nazis or Klansmen. Most would probably be considered great citizens: they work, they raise families, they go to church, and many would claim that they have “a Black or Jewish friend” so obviously they cannot be racists. But that being said they turn a blind eye to the evil of race hatred and White supremacy, and sometimes join in on social media meme wars where they mock the victims. But no matter what, not condemning the purveyors of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi ideology, or by using the arguments of moral equivalence to minimize those crimes against humanity makes these people as complicit in the past, present, and future crimes of Naziism as if they were. 

They may be ordinary people, as seemingly normal as anyone else, but as Hannah Arendt noted about Adolf Eichmann and other Nazis who advanced the destruction of the Jews was that they were so normal. She wrote: 

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.” 

That my friends is as true as the day she wrote it after Eichmann’s trial, as it is today, and why we must constantly educate people in every forum possible that it is all too easy to become either a perpetrator or evil or a bystander. As Snyder wrote: “It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. …Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible. To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.” 

Since they were human beings the Nazis were not unique to history. In every era of history human beings have committed atrocities, many in the name of some kind of ethnic, religious, or nationalist ideology of supremacy that held other people to be less than human. That may sound harsh, but it is all too true based on history.

Yehuda Bauer wrote: “The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.” 

In the movie Judgment at Nuremberg the judge played by Spencer Tracy noted something important about the defendants in the trial. His words need to be heard today as well:

Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that 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. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

It is high time that we learn that again and that we make up our minds to oppose the ideologies that made the Holocaust and Slavery possible. As Hannah Arendt observed: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

But then there are those who have no problem with it, sociopaths who have an extreme absence of empathy.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Criminal Campaign and Compliant Generals: Barbarossa 1941

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The 78th anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 is approaching. The German war against the Soviet Union was unlike any in modern military history. It was not just a war to defeat the Soviets militarily or to overthrow Stalin’s regime of terror. It was a war conceived to conquer as well as to exterminate and enslave.

The Nazis believed the Slavic peoples of the Soviet Union to what the referred to as untermenschen or sub-human and the plan was designed to provide the German master race with the necessary Lebensraum, or living space. The plan called for ethnic cleansing, the extermination of the Jews and the deliberate starvation of 30 million other people in the Soviet Union. The destruction of the Jews of the Soviet Union, which the Nazis linked with Bolshevism, and the elimination of anyone associated with the Soviet government or Communist Party was paramount. It was an ideological war without mercy in which civilized norms that governed the conduct of war were defied and trampled.

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.” 

Hitler set the stage on March 3rd 1941 when he told confidants: “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….”

On March 30th 1941 Hitler addressed 250 Generals about the nature of the war to come:

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. Hitler told the Generals 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.” He explained that his orders were beyond their comprehension, he told them “I cannot and will not change my orders and I insist that that they be carried out with unquestioning and unconditional obedience.” Few questioned the order and few protested, those that did were told by the Army Commander, Field Marshal Von Brauchtisch “the he would express their opinion to OKW and Hitler respectively.” 

But Von Brauchitsch refused to protest to Hitler and instead 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.” Yet Von Brauchitsch’s hands were not unsoiled and he later told his commanders to “proceed with the necessary hardness.” He knew what that meant as he was present.

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.” 

General Erich Hoepner, commander of Panzer Group Four who would be executed following the attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944, told his commanders that the invasion was “an essential part of the German people’s struggle for existence” and stated, “the struggle must aim at the annihilation of today’s Russia and must therefore be waged with unparalleled harshness”. Hoepner told his officers that they were fighting for “the defense of European culture against Moscovite–Asiatic inundation, and the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism … No adherents of the present Russian-Bolshevik system are to be spared.”

The German Army as well as the SS Einsatzgruppen and the German Order Police launched their attack in the early hours of June 22nd  and did not lack the hardness required to commit war crimes and atrocities that are unimaginable, and which can never be allowed to happen again.

I could go on but I will end for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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War Crimes and War Criminals: Criminal Orders and Cooperation Equals Genocide


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about War crimes, war criminals, and bringing them to justice while pointing out that some commanders, even in criminal nations have opposed and disobeyed such orders.

What caused me to revisit the subject was watching the biographical documentary of Benjamin Ferencz, the last remaining prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Ferencz prosecuted the Einsatzgruppen Trial. The Einsatzgruppen were four units composed of SS, SD, Waffen SS, and Order Police personnel, with a combined strength of about 3,000 personnel, commanded by SS, or SD Colonels or Generals. They had the mission of exterminating Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet Communist Party officials, or Red Army Commissars. They received additional support from Order Police Battalions, Wehrmacht Security Divisions, government and party officials in charge of the occupied territories, and from the Wehrmacht Army Group, Army, Army Corps, and Division Commanders in their areas of operations. The Einsatzgruppen murdered nearly a million and a half people up close and personal with pistols, rifles, and machine guns at close range over mass graves. They also pioneered the use of gas vans. Many of their actions took place before the decision to implement the Final Solution. Without the cooperation of of the Wehrmacht, Government occupation authorities, and the Order Police they could not have murdered so many people.

Contrary to the myth of a clean Wehrmacht, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                            Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                           Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Commanders in the East used Keitel’s order as carte blanche authority to be even more severe than Keitel’s order specified. Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein to his Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten by historians and military men who admired his strategic, operational, and tactical acumen.


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                          The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human.Once human beings decide that other human beings are less than human, then all bets are off, and that includes Americans. Over our history we have shown a taste for barbarity when we believe our opponents are less than human.

There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” 

The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism, as well as Catholic Germany. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, laws and legislation, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, world war two in europe

“He Deserves Our Respect…” Remembering the Resistance, Honor, Integrity, and Murder Of Erwin Rommel

rommel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Some seventy-five years ago in Ulm Germany that a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler who had orders to give the hero of Germany a choice, death by suicide or a trial before the kangaroo “People’s Court” of judge Roland Freisler.  Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.

Rommel had been awarded the Pour le Merite, Imperial Germany’s highest award for valor in the First World War. He was never an official member of the Nazi Party, but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As Hitler rose to power he like many others was carried away by early Nazi successes, the bloodless conquests of the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the spectacle of the Olympics.

Like most other officers he would serve the regime as it spread its dark pall over Europe, and unlike so many others when he suffered a crisis in conscience about the Nazi leadership and their policies he refused to obey orders that he knew were illegal and immoral and then risked his life by joining the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

After years of stalled promotion, Hitler’s expansion of the military allowed Rommel to be promoted, and when Germany went to war he was commander of the unit which guarded Hitler’s headquarters train when he went into Poland. Rommel received command of the 7th  Panzer Division after Poland and as a division commander in France he led his troops on some of the most epic advances of the French campaign.

He was then given command of the troops sent to bail out Mussolini’s failed African adventure. His small force and always ill-supplied force, which became known as the Afrika Korps scored impressive victories against British forces. In Africa, Rommel gained fame and earned rapid promotion. Though Africa was a sideshow in the Nazi war effort, Rommel became a poster-child for Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine. His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who because he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain. Even so, Rommel was a soldier’s soldier. He believed in sharing in the suffering of his troops. He once said:

“Be an example to your men in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered, and teach your subordinates to be the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

bundesarchiv_bild_146-1991-031-25a_nordafrika_vor_tobruk_rommel

In Arica Rommel showed himself to be a remarkable tactician and field commander. Likewise, unlike many other German (and sadly Allied) commanders had the ability to recognize the valor and soldierly virtues of his opponents, even those who were not white. A captured South African officer pleaded with Rommel to spare him being imprisoned with Black troops under his command. Rommel told him:

“For me, soldiers are all equal. Those black people wore your same uniform, fought on your side, and so you will be in the same jail.”

That was not until Rommel discovered the reality of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps were hollow that he began to understand the man he had sworn his allegiance. He and his gallant German and Italian soldiers found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and later the Panzer Armee Arfika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied and equipped and which had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out, Rommel was sent back to Germany to recuperate.

While visiting Hitler’s headquarters during that leave Rommel was struck by the atmosphere and made this observation:

“During the conference I realised that the atmosphere in the Fuehrer’s H.Q,. was extremely optimistic. Goering in particular was inclined to minimise our difficulties. When I said that British fighter-bombers had shot up my tanks with 4O-mm. shells, the Reichsmarschall, who felt himself touched by this, said: ” That’s completely impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” I replied: “We could do with some of those razor blades, Herr Reichsmarschall.”

rommel-with-soldier

Rommel had a sense of honor and humanity that many other German generals lacked. He refused to allow anti-Jewish measures in areas occupied by German troops in North Africa, ensuring that the approximately 425,000 Jews living in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were spared the fate of the Holocaust. He refused to execute Jewish POWs, and refused to follow the notorious “commando order.” In June of 1994 he protested the massacre of the people of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane by units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division directly to Hitler and asked for the authority to punish those responsible, but was his protest was refused.

In late 1943 and early 1944 Rommel began to learn of the mass killings being orchestrated by Himmler’s SS. His son Manfred asked his father’s permission to join the Waffen SS, which Rommel insisted that he not do, the younger Rommel recounted:

“While, he said, he perfectly well recognised the quality of the S.S. troops, under no circumstances did he want me to be under the command of a man who, according to his information, was carrying out mass killings. ” Do you mean Himmler? ” I asked. ” Yes,” he answered, and instructed me to maintain absolute silence about the whole affair. The war was not going at all well and he had heard that people like Himmler were trying, by actions of this kind, to burn the bridges of the German people behind them. I think he was not at all certain at that time whether Hitler knew anything about what was going on, for no mention of the mass executions had ever been made at the Fuehrer’s H.Q. And perhaps he would never have brought himself to the decision to end the war -by a revolt if necessary -if he had not received further information in the early months of 1944 which confirmed these crimes and gave some idea of their extent. From that moment on, all my father’s inner allegiance to Adolf Hitler, whom he had once admired, was destroyed, and he brought himself, from his knowledge of the Fuehrer’s crimes, to act against him.” 

Rommel’s honest assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war which he spoke candidly to Hitler and the High Command made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. In the time before he was posted to France in late 1943 he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West, General Hans Speidel, was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. He believed that the war was lost unless his forces could repel the coming Allied invasion on the beaches and worked feverishly to bolster the beach fortifications. He recommended that the Panzer Divisions be deployed near the coast where they could immediately counterattack Allied invasion forces while they were still vulnerable. But his advice was not taken. He was given command of the Army Group but was not given control of most of the Panzer Divisions, which Hitler kept under his direct control.

When the invasion came Rommel was away from Normandy visiting his wife. On learning of the invasion he sped back to Normandy. When he arrived he fought a desperate battle against the Allied forces. His outnumbered forces were under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. Even so, German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy but were ground to dust. Even so, many American and British infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged Hitler and the High Command to withdraw German forces from Normandy before the allies broke through his front. By doing so he found that he was now considered a defeatist.

Rommel was severely wounded in an air attack on his vehicle by a just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life. Hitler survived the attempted assassination and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common. Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned.

Eventually, other conspirator’s testimony exposed that Rommel was part of the plot. He was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” to be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. During the purge that followed the attempt on Hitler’s life, many noted German military commanders were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths. Freisler, a fanatic Nazi judge has been part of the infamous Wansee Conference which planned the details of the Final Solution was killed when his courtroom was bombed in February 1945.

Because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler was decided to offer Rommel a choice of being tried by the People’s Court or committing suicide and ensuring his family’s safety. Hitler dispatched two generals from Berlin to personally deliver the message.

492px-Erwin_rommel_death

Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family in the days leading up to the arrival of Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.

Winston Churchill wrote of Rommel:

“He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, chivalry finds no place … Still, I do not regret or retract the tribute I paid to Rommel, unfashionable though it was judged.”

Rommel was just 52 years old when he died. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops. Before I went to Iraq in 2007 I believed much of the political propaganda promoted by the Bush administration and right wing news media and pundits about that war.

The example of Erwin Rommel is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a brilliant and honorable man comes under the spell of a demagogue. Rommel believed Hitler and blindly followed him until he ran into the hard face of reality in Africa at which point he had the moral courage to do the right thing, but many didn’t.

The fact is that it is hard for most Americans to imagine what it would be to,serve in the military, law enforcement, intelligence, or justice departments of a totalitarian regime, but we are fast approaching that point.

Sadly there are otherwise honorable men and women in the current United States military who are blindly supporting a delusional and quite probably criminal President;  a man who promises to order soldiers to commit war crimes, who threatens to jail political opponents, who condemns whole races of people and religions, a man who has no respect for the courts, the law, or the Constitution.  Personally as a historian I cannot understand that kind of blind loyalty especially when the the leader in question has no loyalty to anyone other than himself. Not long before he was killed Rommel told his son:

“one thing is quite clear, it’s intolerable that the fate and welfare of a whole nation should depend on the whim of a small group. There must be some limit, otherwise, the most fantastic things can happen without anyone noticing.”

Rommel refused to obey the criminal orders that so many other German Generals and Officers obeyed. He lost his life because of his honor and personal integrity, and willingness to oppose a criminal regime. The question is, if President Trump and his administration cross that line, will American military leaders emulate Rommel or the officers who obeyed their orders, aided and abetted War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, and in many cases lied about the activities after the war in order to secure lucrative employment advising the Western Allies on the tactics and operational methods of the Soviets while writing their memoirs, which coincidentally omitted or denied their cooperation with Hitler’s most criminal orders.

Others, who were captured by the Soviets and worked for the Army or Security and Intelligence Services Of East Germany never admitted their roles in Hitler’s crimes. It was like they all sought to erase history, but the archives don’t lie, whether they worked for NATO or the Soviets.

The frightening thing is that almost all had served many of their formative years in the service of the Kaiser, or the Weimar Republic. They were not products of the Hitler Youth or Nazi education. They knew better. We should too, but that is no guarantee that we will not devolve as they did.

I hope that own better angels prevail.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, world war two in europe