War crimes of the
Wehrmacht were those carried out by the German armed
forces during World War II. While the SS (in particular the
Einsatzgruppen and Waffen-SS) of
was the organization most responsible for the genocidal killing of the
Holocaust, the regular armed forces represented by the Wehrmacht
committed war crimes of their own, particularly on the Eastern Front
in the war against the Soviet Union.
Nuremberg Trials at the end of
World War II
World War II initially considered
Wehrmacht high command structure should be tried. However,
OKW was judged not to be a criminal organization under the legal
grounds that because of very poor co-ordination between the German
Army, Navy and Air Force high commands, which operated as more or less
separate entities during the war, the
OKW did not constitute an
"organization" as defined by Article 9 of the constitution of the
International Military Tribunal
International Military Tribunal (IMT) which conducted the Nuremberg
trials. This matter of legal definition has been misconstrued by
World War II
World War II veterans and others to mean that the IMT ruled
OKW was not a "criminal organization" because the Wehrmacht
committed no war crimes.
1 Before the war
2.1 Commissar Order
2.2 Barbarossa Decree
2.3 Night and Fog Decree
2.4 Guidelines to soldiers
3 Invasion of Poland
Mass murder of Polish civilians
3.2 Deliberate bombing of civilians
3.3 Massacres of Polish POWs
3.4 Rape of Poles
3.5 Widespread plunder and theft
4 Invasion of Belgium
5 Invasion of the Soviet Union
5.1 Anti-Partisan and anti-Jewish actions
6 Persecution of Soviet POWs
6.1 POW Camps
Wehrmacht war crimes
Wehrmacht brothel system
7.2 Reprisal actions
7.3 Destruction of Warsaw
7.4 Human experimentation
7.5 Biological warfare
8 Postwar views
8.1 Evolving analysis
8.4 Exhibition about the
Wehrmacht in Poland in 1939
9 Analysis of photos and letters
10 See also
Before the war
Prior to the developments of the Second World War there was a history
of the German Army committing violent acts against civilians in
previous conflicts. During a rebellion by the Herero and Nama
natives of a German African Colony in 1904, the German Army was tasked
to quell the uprising. General Lothar von Trotha, the Commander tasked
with eliminating the uprising, remarked "against 'nonhumans' one
cannot conduct war "humanely'". This conflict resulted in the death
of 66-75 percent of the entire native Herero population and 50 percent
of the Nama population. By contrast, the German army lost only 676
soldiers in combat over the course of the conflict. Additionally,
Zabern Affair was an incident which showed the German military's
indifferent attitude and eventual extrajudicial and illegal activity
when individual soldiers were known to have committed violent acts
During the First World War, the pattern of civilian brutality
continued. During the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, the
Germans were recorded to have deliberately killed 6,427 Belgian and
French civilians. These attacks were in response to a perceived
resistance from the civilian population. However, it has since been
shown that there was in fact no significant resistance from the
population that would have warranted these levels of civilian
casualties. In August 1914 during the German attack on Russia, the
German army burned, pillaged and murdered many inhabitants of the
Polish city of Kalisz (Destruction of Kalisz).
When the National Socialists (Nazis) came to power, it was welcomed by
almost the entire officer corps of the Reichswehr as a way of creating
the Wiederwehrhaftmachung of Germany, namely the total militarization
of German society in order to ensure that Germany did not lose the
next war. As such, what both the Nazis and the German Army wanted
to see was a totally militarized
Volksgemeinschaft that would be
purged of those perceived internal enemies like the Jews who it was
believed had "stabbed Germany in the back" in 1918.
As such, many officers willingly embraced National Socialist ideology
in the 1930s. Acting on his own initiative, the Defence Minister
Werner von Blomberg
Werner von Blomberg had purged the Army of all its Jewish personnel in
February 1934. On December 8, 1938, the Army leadership had
instructed all officers to be thoroughly well versed in National
Socialism and to apply its values in all situations. Starting in
February 1939, pamphlets were issued that were made required reading
in the Army. The content can be gauged by the titles: "The Officer
and Politics", "Hitler's World Historical Mission", "The Army in the
Third Reich", "The Battle for German Living Space", "Hands off
Danzig!", and "The
Final Solution of the Jewish Question in the Third
Reich". In the last essay, the author, C.A. Holberg wrote:
The defensive battle against Jewry will continue, even if the last Jew
has left Germany. Two big and important tasks remain: 1) the
eradication of all Jewish influence, above all in the economy and in
culture; 2) the battle against World Jewry, which tries to incite all
people in the world against Germany.
Attitudes like the ones expressed above colored all the instructions
that came to
Wehrmacht troops in the summer of 1939 as a way of
preparing for the attack on Poland.
Main article: Commissar Order
The order cast the war against the
Soviet Union as one of ideological
and racial differences, and it provided for the immediate liquidation
of political commissars in the Red Army. The order was formulated
on Hitler's behalf in 1941 by the
Wehrmacht command and distributed to
field commanders. General Franz Halder, contrary to what he
claimed after the war, did not oppose the Commissar Order,[citation
needed] and instead welcomed it writing that "Troops must participate
in the ideological battle in the Eastern campaign to the end". The
enforcement of the
Commissar Order led to thousands of executions. The
Jürgen Förster was to write in 1989 that it was
simply not true as most German Army commanders claimed in their
memoirs and some German historians like
Ernst Nolte were still
claiming that the
Commissar Order was not enforced.
On 17 July 1941 the
OKW declared that the
Wehrmacht was to:
[F]ree itself from all elements among the prisoners of war considered
Bolshevik driving forces. The special situation of the Eastern
Campaign therefore demands special measures [an euphemism for killing]
which are to be carried out free from bureaucratic and administrative
influence and with a willingness to accept responsibility. While so
far the regulations and orders concerning prisoners of war were based
solely on military considerations, now the political objective must be
attained, which is to protect the German nation from Bolshevik
inciters and forthwith take the occupied territory strictly in
As such, all Soviet POWs considered to be commissars together with all
Jewish POWs were to be handed over to the
Einsatzgruppen to be
OKW attached great importance to the killings of POWs
believed to be commissars as it was believed that if the captured
commissars reached POW camps in Germany that they would stage another
Dolchstoß like that believed to have caused Germany's defeat in World
War I. Between July–October 1941, between 580 000–600 000 POWs in
Wehrmacht custody were turned over to the SS to be killed. In
September 1941, both
Helmuth James von Moltke
Helmuth James von Moltke and Admiral Wilhelm
Canaris wrote memos pointing out to the
OKW that the order of July 17,
1941 was illegal under international law.
In particular, both Moltke and Admiral Canaris noted that the German
claim that Soviet POWs had no rights because the
Soviet Union had not
ratified the Geneva Convention was invalid as Germany had ratified the
Geneva Convention and thus under international law was obliged to
provide humane treatment for the POWs in its care. In response,
Wilhelm Keitel wrote: "These scruples accord with the
soldierly concepts of a chivalrous war! Here we are concerned with the
extermination of an ideology. That is why I approve and defend this
In the summer of 1942, there was an illusory liberalization of the
treatment of captured political officers. On 10 June, the Gestapo
chief Heinrich Müller issued an order on the segregation of prisoners
and ordered that commissars be isolated from the rest of the prisoners
and sent to
Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. However, this did not
change the plight of commissars much, as Mauthausen was one of the
Nazi concentration camps where they usually waited for a slow
death. On 20 October 1942, Müller again ordered commissars captured
in battle to be shot on the spot. Only those commissars who were
identified as deserters were sent to Mauthausen. In the following
months reports continued to be filed regarding the executions of
Soviet commissars. The last known account of the liquidation of a
political officer came from units of
Army Group South
Army Group South in July
The background behind the Barbarossa Decree was laid out by Hitler
during a high level meeting with military officials on 30 March
1941, where he declared that war against Soviet Russia would be a
war of extermination, in which both the political and intellectual
elites of Russia would be eradicated by German forces, in order to
ensure a long-lasting German victory. Hitler underlined that
executions would not be a matter for military courts, but for the
organised action of the military.
The decree, issued by Field Marshal Keitel a few weeks before
Operation Barbarossa, exempted punishable offenses committed by enemy
civilians (in Russia) from the jurisdiction of military justice.
Suspects were to be brought before an officer who would decide if they
were to be shot. Prosecution of offenses against civilians by members
Wehrmacht was decreed to be "not required" unless necessary for
the maintenance of discipline.
The order specified:
"The partisans are to be ruthlessly eliminated in battle or during
attempts to escape", and all attacks by the civilian population
Wehrmacht soldiers are to be "suppressed by the army on the
spot by using extreme measures, till [the] annihilation of the
"Every officer in the German occupation in the East of the future will
be entitled to perform execution(s) without trial, without any
formalities, on any person suspected of having a hostile attitude
towards the Germans", (the same applied to prisoners of war);
"If you have not managed to identify and punish the perpetrators of
anti-German acts, you are allowed to apply the principle of collective
responsibility. 'Collective measures' against residents of the area
where the attack occurred can then be applied after approval by the
battalion commander or higher level of command";
German soldiers who commit crimes against humanity, the USSR and
prisoners of war are to be exempted from criminal responsibility, even
if they commit acts punishable according to German law.
Night and Fog Decree
A commemorative plaque to the French victims at Hinzert concentration
camp, using the expressions "Nacht und Nebel" and "NN-Deported"
The Night and Fog Decree, issued by Hitler in 1941 and disseminated
along with a directive from Keitel, was operated within the conquered
territories in the West (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark
and the Netherlands). The decree allowed those "endangering German
security" to be seized and made to disappear without trace. Keitel's
directive stated that "efficient intimidation can only be achieved
either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of
the criminal and the population do not know his fate."
Guidelines to soldiers
The "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia" issued by the
OKW on 19 May 1941 declared "Judeo-Bolshevism" to be the most deadly
enemy of the German nation, and that "It is against this destructive
ideology and its adherents that Germany is waging war". The
guidelines went on to demand "ruthless and vigorous measures against
Bolshevik inciters, guerrillas, saboteurs, Jews, and the complete
elimination of all active and passive resistance." Influenced by
the guidelines, in a directive sent out to the troops under his
Erich Hoepner of the Panzer Group 4 stated:
The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation's
struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against
the Slavic people, of the defence of European culture against
Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism.
The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day
Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity.
Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an
iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally. In
particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system
are to be spared.
In the same spirit, General Müller, who was the Wehrmacht's senior
liaison officer for legal matters, in a lecture to military judges on
June 11, 1941 advised the judges present that "...in the operation to
come, feelings of justice must in certain situations give way to
military exigencies and then revert to old habits of warfare ...
One of the two adversaries must be finished off. Adherents of the
hostile attitude are not to be conserved, but liquidated". General
Müller declared that, in the war against the Soviet Union, any Soviet
civilian who was felt to be hindering the German war effort was to be
regarded as a "guerrilla" and shot on the spot. The Army's Chief of
Staff, General Franz Halder, declared in a directive that in the event
of guerrilla attacks, German troops were to impose "collective
measures of force" by massacring villages.
In November 1935, the psychological war laboratory of the Reich War
Ministry submitted a study about how best to undermine
Red Army morale
should a German-Soviet war break out. Working closely with the
Russian Fascist Party
Russian Fascist Party based in Harbin, the German
psychological warfare unit created a series of pamphlets written in
Russian for distribution in the Soviet Union. Much of it was designed
to play on Russian anti-Semitism, with one pamphlet calling the
"Gentlemen commissars and party functionaries" a group of "mostly
filthy Jews". The pamphlet ended with the call for "brother soldiers"
Red Army to rise up and kill all of the "Jewish
Although this material was not used at the time, later in 1941 the
material the psychological war laboratory had developed in 1935 was
dusted off, and served as the basis not only for propaganda in the
Soviet Union but also for propaganda within the German Army.
Before Barbarossa, German troops were exposed to violent anti-Semitic
and anti-Slavic indoctrination via movies, radio, lectures, books and
leaflets. The lectures were delivered by "National Socialist
Leadership Officers", who were created for that purpose, and by their
junior officers. German Army propaganda portrayed the Soviet enemy
in the most dehumanized terms, depicting the
Red Army as a force of
Slavic Untermenschen (sub-humans) and "Asiatic" savages engaging in
"barbaric Asiatic fighting methods" commanded by evil Jewish
commissars to whom German troops were to grant no mercy.
Typical of the German Army propaganda was the following passage from a
pamphlet issued in June 1941:
Anyone who has ever looked into the face of a Red commissar knows what
the Bolsheviks are. There is no need here for theoretical reflections.
It would be an insult to animals if one were to call the features of
these, largely Jewish, tormentors of people beasts. They are the
embodiment of the infernal, of the personified insane hatred of
everything that is noble in humanity. In the shape of these commissars
we witness the revolt of the subhuman against noble blood. The masses
whom they are driving to their deaths with every means of icy terror
and lunatic incitement would have brought about an end of all
meaningful life, had the incursion not been prevented at the last
moment;" [the last statement is a reference to the "preventive war"
that Barbarossa was alleged to be].
German Army propaganda often gave extracts in newsletters concerning
the missions for German troops in the East:
It is necessary to eliminate the red sub-humans, along with their
Kremlin dictators. German people will have a great task to perform the
most in its history, and the world will hear more about that this task
will be completed till the end.
As a result of this sort of propaganda, the majority of the Wehrmacht
Heer officers and soldiers tended to regard the war in
seeing their Soviet opponents as so much sub-human trash deserving to
be trampled upon. One German soldier wrote home to his father on 4
August 1941 that:
The pitiful hordes on the other side are nothing but felons who are
driven by alcohol and the [commissars'] threat of pistols at their
heads ... They are nothing but a bunch of assholes! ...
Having encountered these Bolshevik hordes and having seen how they
live has made a lasting impression on me. Everyone, even the last
doubter, knows today that the battle against these sub-humans, who've
been whipped into a frenzy by the Jews, was not only necessary but
came in the nick of time. Our
Führer has saved Europe from certain
As a result of these views, the majority of the German Army worked
enthusiastically with the SS in murdering Jews in the Soviet Union.
Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans wrote that junior officers tended
to be especially zealous National Socialists with a third of them
Nazi Party members in 1941. The
Wehrmacht did not just obey
Hitler's criminal orders for Barbarossa because of obedience, but
rather because they shared Hitler's belief that the
Soviet Union was
run by Jews, and that it was necessary for Germany to completely
destroy "Judeo-Bolshevism". Jürgen Förster[who?] wrote that the
Wehrmacht officers sincerely believed that most Red Army
commissars were Jews, and that the best way to defeat the Soviet Union
was to kill all of the commissars so as to deprive the Russian
soldiers of their Jewish leaders.
The order was in line with the interests of the
which was eager to secure logistical facilities and routes behind the
front line for the divisions on the Eastern Front. On 24 May 1941,
Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, the head of the German Army
High Command (
Oberkommando des Heeres
Oberkommando des Heeres – OKH), slightly modified the
assumptions of the "Barbarossa Jurisdiction". His orders were to use
the jurisdiction only in cases where the discipline of the army would
not suffer.
Contrary to what was claimed after the war, the
such as Heinz Guderian, did not intend to mitigate the records of the
jurisdiction of an order, or in any way violate Hitler's
intentions. His command was intended solely to prevent individual
excesses which could damage discipline within army ranks, without
changing the extermination intentions of the order. As part of the
policy of harshness towards Slavic "sub-humans" and to prevent any
tendency towards seeing the enemy as human, German troops were ordered
to go out of their way to mistreat women and children in Russia.
In October 1941, the commander of the 12th Infantry Division sent out
a directive saying "the carrying of information is mostly done by
youngsters in the ages of 11–14" and that "as the Russian is more
afraid of the truncheon than of weapons, flogging is the most
advisable measure for interrogation". The Nazis at the beginning
of the war banned sexual relations between Germans and foreign slave
workers. In accordance to these new racial laws issued by the
Nazis; in November 1941, the commander of the 18th Panzer Division
warned his soldiers not to have sex with "sub-human" Russian women,
and ordered that any Russian women found having sex with a German
soldier was to be handed over to the SS to be executed at once.
A decree ordered on 20 February 1942 declared that sexual intercourse
between a German woman and a Russian worker or prisoner of war would
result in the latter being punished by the death penalty. During
the war, hundreds of Polish and Russian men were found guilty of "race
defilement" for their relations with German women and were
Invasion of Poland
German AB-Aktion in Poland
German AB-Aktion in Poland and Częstochowa massacre
A picture taken secretly by the
Polish Underground of
Police rounding up Polish intelligentsia at
Palmiry Forest and other locations in Occupied Poland.
Spring – summer 1940
Polish intellectuals and the upper classes.
Wehrmacht attitudes towards Poles were a combination of contempt,
fear, and a belief that violence was the best way to deal with
Mass murder of Polish civilians
Wehrmacht units killed thousands of Polish civilians during the
September 1939 campaign through executions and the terror bombing of
cities. Any act of defiance was met with the most ruthless violence,
although the Army leadership did seek to discourage so-called "wild"
Wehrmacht troops would indiscriminately shoot all
Poles on their own initiative.
Court martial proceedings were
begun against some of the junior officers who had led these shootings,
but this was nullified on 4 October 1939, when Hitler pardoned all
military personnel who had been involved in war crimes in Poland.
After the end of hostilities, during the Wehrmacht's administration of
Poland, which went on until 25 October 1939, 531 towns and villages
were burned; the
Wehrmacht carried out 714 mass executions, alongside
many incidents of plunder, banditry and murder. Altogether, it is
estimated that 16,376 Poles fell victim to these atrocities.
Approximately 60% of these crimes were committed by the Wehrmacht.
Wehrmacht soldiers frequently engaged in the massacre of Jews on their
own, rather than just assisting in rounding them up for the
In the summer of 1940, Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Main
Security Office (including the Gestapo), noted that: "...compared to
the crimes, robberies and excesses committed by the army [part of the
Wehrmacht], the SS and the police don't look all that bad". Even
when the German Army was not involved in war crimes, all of the top
military leaders were aware of what was happening in Poland. None
objected on moral principles; the few who did object did so due to
concerns about discipline. Moreover, the general who objected the
loudest to war crimes in Poland, General Johannes von Blaskowitz, was
opposed to the Army committing war crimes with the SS, not the idea of
atrocities against Poland. The Israeli historian
Omer Bartov wrote
that Blaskowitiz was actually "legitimizing murder" by expressing
approval of SS massacres while demanding that the Army be kept out of
the massacres as damaging to discipline. Bartov wrote that once
officers and troops saw that murder was "legitimate" in Poland, the
effect was that the Army tended to copy the SS.
Deliberate bombing of civilians
Strategic bombing during
World War II
World War II § Poland
In one of the Germany military's first acts of
World War II
World War II the German
air force, the Luftwaffe, bombed the Polish town of Wieluń and later
went on to bomb cities across the country, including Warsaw, Frampol
and various other cities. Collectively the bombings killed tens of
thousands of Polish civilians. However, no positive or specific
customary international humanitarian law with respect to aerial
warfare existed prior to and during World War II which means that
at the time, strategic bombings were not officially war crimes. For
this reason, no German officers were prosecuted at the post-World War
II Allied war crime trials for aerial raids.
Massacres of Polish POWs
See also: Massacre in Ciepielów
About 300 Polish POWs executed by the soldiers of the German 15th
motorized infantry regiment in Ciepielów on September 9, 1939.
Numerous examples exist in which Polish soldiers were killed after
capture; for instance, at Śladów, where 252 prisoners of war (POW)s
were shot or drowned, at Ciepielów, where some 300 POWs were killed,
and at Zambrów, where a further 300 were killed. Polish POWs of
Jewish origin were routinely selected and shot on the spot.
The prisoners in the POW camp in Żyrardów, captured after the Battle
of the Bzura, were denied any food and starved for ten days. In
many cases Polish POWs were burned alive. Units of the
Polish 7th Infantry Division were massacred after being captured in
several individual acts of revenge for their resistance in combat. On
Wehrmacht soldiers threw hand grenades into a school
building where they kept Polish POWs. According to German
historian Jochen Böhler, the
Wehrmacht mass murdered at least 3,000
Polish POWs during the campaign.
Rape of Poles
There were rapes committed by soldiers of the
Wehrmacht forces against
Jewish women and girls during the Invasion of Poland. Rapes were
also committed against Polish women and girls during mass executions
carried out primarily by the Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz, which were
Wehrmacht soldiers and on territory under the
administration of the German military, the rapes were carried out
before shooting the female captives.
Only one case of rape was prosecuted by a German court during the
military campaign in Poland, the case of gang rape committed by three
soldiers against women of the Jewish Kaufmann family in Busko-Zdrój;
however, the German judge sentenced the guilty for
shame against the [German] race as defined by the racial policy of
Nazi Germany – and not rape.
Widespread plunder and theft
Throughout the campaign
Wehrmacht engaged in widespread theft and
plunder of Polish citizens' property. Until 3 November 1939 the
Wehrmacht sent to the
Nazi Germany 10,000 train wagons with stolen
property including agricultural machinery, furniture and food.
Invasion of Belgium
Part of a series on
Jews on selection ramp at Auschwitz, May 1944
Collaborators during World War II
Jews during World War II
Romani people (Gypsies)
Slavs in Eastern Europe
People with disabilities
Jewish ghettos in
List of selected ghettos
End of World War II
Nazi extermination camps
Nazi concentration camps
Transit and collection camps
Concentration Camps Inspectorate
Extermination through labour
Human medical experimentation
Joint Declaration by Members of
the United Nations
Auschwitz bombing debate
Central Committee of the Liberated Jews
Reparations Agreement between
Israel and West Germany
Deportations of French Jews
to death camps
Survivors of Sobibór
Timeline of Treblinka extermination camp
Victims of Nazism
Rescuers of Jews
List of books about
The Destruction of the
Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos
Days of remembrance
Memorials and museums
Main article: Vinkt massacre
Between 25–28 May 1940, the
Wehrmacht committed several war crimes
in and near the small Belgian village of Vinkt. Hostages were taken
and used as human shields. As the Belgian army continued to resist,
farms were searched and looted, and more hostages were taken. In all,
86 civilians are known to have been executed. Besides Vinkt, other
massacres and shootings happened with estimates of 600 victims.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
Some German officers had considered Communism in the
Soviet Union to
be a Jewish plot even before the Third Reich. In 1918, Karl von
Bothmer, the German Army's plenipotentiary in Moscow called the
Bolsheviks "a gang of Jews" and expressed the desire "to see a few
hundred of these louts hanging on the Kremlin wall". Evaluations
Red Army by the visiting Reichswehr officers during the period
of German-Soviet co-operation in the 1920s often show anti-Semitism
with comments about the "Jewish slyness" of General Lev Snitman or the
"Jewish blood" of General Leonid Vajner being very typical.
In 1932, Ewald Banse, a leading German professor and a member of the
National Association for the Military Sciences (a group secretly
financed by the Reichswehr) wrote in a pamphlet calling for
"intellectual world domination" by Germany wrote that the Soviet
leadership was mostly Jewish who dominated an apathetic and mindless
Russian masses. In 1935, Colonel
Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel
Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel in
a report about the military capacity of the
Red Army wrote that the
commissars were "mostly of the Jewish race".
Anti-Partisan and anti-Jewish actions
Under the guise of "anti-bandit" (Bandenkampf) operations, the
Wehrmacht in the
Soviet Union massacred Jews. Co-operation with the SS
in anti-partisan and anti-Jewish operations was close and
intensive. In the spring of 1941, Heydrich and General Eduard
Wagner successfully completed negotiations for co-operation between
Einsatzgruppen and the German Army to allow the implementation of
Following the Heydrich-Wagner agreement on 28 April 1941, Feldmarshal
Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch ordered when
Operation Barbarossa began that
all German Army commanders were to identify and register all Jews in
the occupied areas in the
Soviet Union at once and to co-operate fully
with the Einsatzgruppen. Each Einsatzgruppe, in its area of
operations, was under the control of the Higher SS-Police Chiefs.
In a further agreement between the Army and the SS concluded in May
1941 by General Wagner and Walter Schellenberg, it was agreed that the
Einsatzgruppen in front-line areas were to operate under Army command
while the Army would provide the
Einsatzgruppen with all necessary
In August 1941, following the protests by two Lutheran chaplains about
the massacre of a group of Jewish women and children at Byelaya
Tserkov, General von Reichenau wrote:
The conclusion of the report in question contains the following
sentence, "In the case in question, measures against women and
children were undertaken which in no way differ from atrocities
carried out by the enemy about which the troops are continually being
I have to describe this assessment as incorrect, inappropriate and
impertinent in the extreme. Moreover this comment was written in an
open communication which passes through many hands.
It would have been far better if the report had not been written at
One SS man who saw the killings at Byelaya Tserkov described them as
I went to the woods alone. The
Wehrmacht had already dug a grave. The
children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with
this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around
trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were
lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into
it. The Ukrainians did not aim at any particular part of the body.
They fell into the grave. The wailing was indescribable. I shall never
forget the scene throughout my life. I find it very hard to bear. I
particularly remember a small fair-haired girl who took me by the
hand. She too was shot later ... The grave was near some woods.
It was not near the rifle-range. The execution must had taken place in
the afternoon at about 3.30 or 4.00. It took place the day after the
discussions at the Feldkommandanten...Many children were hit four or
five times before they died.
In the summer of 1941, the
SS Cavalry Brigade
SS Cavalry Brigade commanded by Hermann
Fegelein during the course of "anti-partisan" operations in the
Pripyat Marshes killed 699
Red Army soldiers, 1,100 partisans and
14,178 Jews. Before the operation, Fegelein had been ordered to
shoot all adult Jews while driving the women and children into the
marshes. After the operation, General Max von Schenckendorff, who
commanded the rear areas of
Army Group Centre ordered on 10 August
1941 that all
Wehrmacht security divisions when on anti-partisan duty
were to emulate Fegelein's example and organized between 24–26
September 1941 in Mogilev, a joint SS-
Wehrmacht seminar on how best to
murder Jews. The seminar ended with the 7th Company of Police
Battalion 322 shooting 32 Jews at a village called Knjashizy before
the assembled officers as an example of how to "screen" the population
for partisans. As the war diary of the Battalion 322 read:
The action, first scheduled as a training exercise was carried out
under real-life conditions (ernstfallmässig) in the village itself.
Strangers, especially partisans could not be found. The screening of
the population, however resulted in 13 Jews, 27 Jewish women and 11
Jewish children, of which 13 Jews and 19 Jewish women were shot in
co-operation with the Security Service.
Based on what they had learned during the
Mogilev seminar, one
Wehrmacht officer told his men "Where the partisan is, there is the
Jew and where the Jew is, there is the partisan". The 707th
Infantry Division of the
Wehrmacht put this principle into practice
during an "anti-partisan" sweep that saw the division shoot 10,431
people out of the 19,940 it had detained during the sweep while
suffering only two dead and five wounded in the process.
In Order No. 24 dated 24 November 1941, the commander of the 707th
5. Jews and Gypsies: ... As already has been ordered, the Jews
have to vanish from the flat country and the Gypsies have to be
annihilated too. The carrying out of larger Jewish actions is not the
task of the divisional units. They are carried out by civilian or
police authorities, if necessary ordered by the commandant of White
Ruthenia, if he has special units at his disposal, or for security
reasons and in the case of collective punishments. When smaller or
larger groups of Jews are met in the flat country, they can be
liquidated by divisional units or be massed in the ghettos near bigger
villages designated for that purpose, where they can be handed over to
the civilian authority or the SD.
At Mirgorod, the 62nd Infantry Division executed "the entire Jewish
population (168 people) for associating with partisans". At
Novomoskovsk, the 444th Security Division reported that they had
killed "305 bandits, 6 women with rifles (Flintenweiber), 39
prisoners-of-war and 136 Jews". In revenge for a partisan attack
that had killed one German soldier, the Ersatz-Brigade 202 "as an act
of retaliation shot 20 Jews from the villages of Bobosjanka and
Gornostajewka and burnt down 5 Jew-houses". Even more extreme was
the case in Serbia, where the majority of the Jews there were murdered
by the Wehrmacht, not the SS.
German forces and
Ustaše collaborators lead a column of Serbs to the
Šabac internment camp during anti-partisan "cleansing" operations.
Šabac in Dulag 183, a German transit camp for POWs in World War II
Serbia, which opened in September 1941 (and closed in September 1944),
Partisan POWs and members of their families were held. It is estimated
that more than 5,000 persons were executed, not counting Jews and Roma
people. "Central European Jewish refugees, mostly Austrians, were shot
by troops of predominantly Austrian origin in retaliation for
casualties inflicted by Serbian partisans on the German Army". The
orders issued by Field Marshal
Wilhelm Keitel in September 1941 called
for the German Army to shoot 100 Serbs for every German soldier killed
by the Serb guerrillas and did not call for Jews to be singled out.
Due to rampant anti-Semitism in the German officer corps, Serbian Jews
were scapegoated and targeted for mass retaliatory shootings. German
historian Jürgen Förster, a leading expert on the subject of
Wehrmacht war crimes, argued the
Wehrmacht played a key role in the
Holocaust and it is wrong to ascribe the Shoah as solely the work of
the SS while the
Wehrmacht were a more or less passive and
Killing of Jews at Ivangorod, Ukraine, 1942. A woman is attempting to
protect a child with her own body just before they are fired on with
rifles at close range
Wehrmacht also worked very closely with the
murdering members of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. On
October 10, 1941 General
Walther von Reichenau
Walther von Reichenau drafted an order to be
read to the troops under his command stating that: "the soldier must
achieve full understanding of the necessity for a harsh but just
vengeance against Jewish subhumanity." Upon hearing of Reichenau's
Severity Order, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander of
Army Group South
Army Group South announced his "complete agreement" with it, and sent
out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging
them to send out their own versions of the Severity Order, which would
impress upon the troops the need to exterminate Jews.
General Erich von Manstein, in an order to his troops on 20 November
Jewry is the middleman between the enemy at our rear and the still
fighting remnants of the
Red Army and the Red leadership; more than in
Europe, it [Jewry] occupies all key posts of the political leadership
and administration, of trade and crafts and forms the nucleus for all
disquiet and possible revolts. The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be
exterminated once and for all.
On 6 July 1941
Einsatzkommando 4b of
Einsatzgruppe C – which was
Tarnopol at the time – sent a report which noted "Armed
forces surprisingly welcome hostility against the Jews". On 8
Einsatzgruppe D reported that relations with the German
Army were "excellent".
Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker of
wrote in September 1941 that
Army Group North had been exemplary in
co-operating with his men in murdering Jews and that relations with
the Fourth Panzer Army commanded by General
Erich Hoepner were "very
close, almost cordial".
Rapes were allowed in practice by the German military (officially
forbidden, however) in eastern and southeastern Europe, while northern
and western countries were relatively spared. In Occupied
Denmark, which initially agreed to collaborate with
rapes were not widespread, and German officials promised to punish
them. By contrast thousands of Soviet female nurses, doctors and
field medics fell victim to rape when captured, and were often
German soldiers used to brand the bodies of captured partisan women
– and other women as well – with the words "Whore for Hitler's
troops" and rape them. Following their capture some German
soldiers vividly bragged about committing rape and rape-homicide.
Susan Brownmiller argues that rape played a pivotal role in
to conquer and destroy people they considered inferior such as Jews,
Russians, Poles An extensive list of examples rapes committed by
German soldiers was compiled in so called "Molotov Note" in 1942.
Brownmiller points out that Nazis used rape as a weapon of terror
Examples of mass rapes in
Soviet Union committed by German soldiers
Smolensk: German command opened a brothel for officers in which
hundreds of women and girls were driven by force, often by arms and
Lviv: 32 women working in a garment factory were raped and murdered by
German soldiers, in public park. A priest trying to stop the atrocity
Lviv: Germans soldiers raped Jewish girls, who were murdered after
getting pregnant. It is estimated that over a million children
were born to Russian women, fathered by German soldiers.:56 
Barysaw: 75 women and girls attempting to flee at the approach of the
German troops were captured by them. The Germans first raped and then
savagely murdered 36 of their number. By order of a German officer
named Hummer, the soldiers marched L. I. Melchukova, a 16-year-old
girl, into the forest, where they raped her. A little later some other
women who had also been dragged into the forest saw some boards near
the trees and the dying Melchukova nailed to the boards. The Germans
had cut off her breasts in the presence of other women.[citation
Kerch: imprisoned women were raped and tortured; breasts were cut off,
stomachs ripped open, limbs cut off and eyes gouged out. A mass grave
full of mutilated bodies of young women was found after Germans were
driven out of town.
Author Ursula Schele, estimated in the Journal "Zur Debatte um die
Ausstellung Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der
that in one of ten sexual intercourse with German soldiers would have
led to pregnancy and therefore its probable, while not provable that
up to ten millions women in the
Soviet Union could have been raped by
Birgit Beck, in her work Rape: The Military Trials of Sexual Crimes
Committed by Soldiers in the Wehrmacht, 1939–1944, describes the
leniency in punishing sex crimes by German authorities in the East, at
the same time pointing out heavy punishments applied in the West.
If a soldier who committed a rape was subsequently convicted by a
court-martial, he would usually be sentenced to four years in
prison The German penal code was also valid for soldiers in
war. However, until 1944 only 5,349 soldiers of the
all fronts were sentenced because of indecency offence
"Sittlichkeitsvergehen" or rape "Notzucht". Historian Mühlhäuser
believe that sexual assault was not an exception but common, and that
the actual number of rapes committed by German soldiers are without
question much greater.
Other sources estimate that rapes of Soviet women by the Wehrmacht
range up to 10,000,000 incidents, with between 750,000 and 1,000,000
children being born as a result.
In Soviet Russia rapes were only a concern if they undermined military
discipline. Since 1941, rape was theoretically punishable with the
death sentence, although, rapes were rarely prosecuted in practice and
rapes by Germans of non-German women were not taken seriously, nor was
it punishable by death, especially in the eastern European
territories.:288 In October 1940 the laws on rape were changed,
making it a "petitioned crime" – that is a crime for which
punishment had to be requested. Historian Christa Paul writes that
this resulted in "a nearly complete absence of prosecution and
punishment for rape".:288 There were rape cases in the east where
the perpetrators were sentenced if the rape was highly visible,
damaging to the image of the German Army and the courts were willing
to pass a condemning verdict against the accused.:289
According to the historian Regina Mühlhäuser, the
used sexual violence and undressing in numerous cases of
interrogations. Mühlhäuser adds that the number of illegitimate
children born in the occupied regions did not exceed the prewar time.
She comes to the conclusion that rapes on the Eastern front were not
singular cases but has to admit that the state of source material is
Persecution of Soviet POWs
Nazi crimes against Soviet POWs
Prisoner of war
Prisoner of war and Geneva Convention (1929)
The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
had been signed by Germany and most other countries in 1929, while
the USSR and Japan did not sign until after the war (the final version
Third Geneva Convention
Third Geneva Convention of 1949). This meant that Germany was
legally obliged to treat all POWs according to it, while in turn,
Germans captured by the
Red Army could not expect to be treated in
such a manner. The
Soviet Union and Japan did not treat prisoners of
war in accordance with the Geneva Convention. While the Wehrmacht's
prisoner-of-war camps for inmates from the west generally satisfied
the humanitarian requirement prescribed by international law,
prisoners from Poland (which never capitulated) and the USSR were
incarcerated under significantly worse conditions.
By December 1941, more than 2.4 million Soviet
Red Army troops had
been taken prisoner. These men suffered from malnutrition and diseases
such as typhus that resulted from the Wehrmacht's failure to provide
sufficient food, shelter, proper sanitation and medical care.
Prisoners were regularly subject to torture, beatings and humiliation.
All Jews, commissars, "intellectuals" and Muslims serving in the Red
Army were either executed by the
Wehrmacht or handed over to the SS to
The Muslim POWs were shot because they were circumcised, and therefore
might be Jewish; it was felt to be safer to simply shoot all
circumcised POWs rather run the risk that a Jewish POW might escape
execution by claiming to be a Muslim. Reflecting the close
co-operation between the
Wehrmacht and the SS was an Einsatzgruppen
report, which read:
In Borispol, following a demand by the Commandant of the local P/W
camp, a platoon of Sonderkommando 4 shot 752 Jewish prisoners of war
on 14 October and 356 on 16 October 1941 including several commissars
and 78 wounded Jews handed over by the camp medical officer.
According to a RHSA report of 5 December 1941, the
Wehrmacht had since
22 June handed over to the
Einsatzgruppen 16, 000 Soviet POWs to be
"liquidated". A Typical of the Wehrmacht's treatment of Soviet
POWs were the reports of the 11th Army commanded by Erich von Manstein
on the "wastage" rates in the first half of 1942. According to the
to the SD
Between the launching of
Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941
and the following spring, 2.8 million of the 3.2 million prisoners
taken died while in German hands. The German failure to attain
their anticipated victory in the East led to significant shortages of
labor for German war production and, beginning in 1942, prisoners of
war in the eastern POW camps – primarily Soviets – were seen as a
source of slave labor to keep Germany's wartime economy running.
On 6 August 1941, the
OKW declared that Soviet POWs capable of work
were to receive 2,200 calories/day and those not capable of work 2,040
calories/day. On 21 October 1941, the
OKW ordered a huge
reduction in the food rations for Soviet POWs, with POWs incapable of
work henceforth to receive only 1,490 calories/day. In a meeting of
senior generals called at Orša on 13 November 1941, the Army's First
Eduard Wagner stated "Non-working prisoners of
war in the camps are to starve".
A grand total of 5.7 million Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner
during the war, of whom at least 3.3 million (58 percent of the total)
died in captivity.
The killing of POWs by
Wehrmacht soldiers started during the September
1939 Poland campaign. In many cases large groups of Polish soldiers
were murdered after capture. Hitler's
Commando Order, issued in 1942,
provided "justification" for the shooting of enemy commandos, whether
uniformed or not.
The massacres include that of at least 1500 black French POWs of West
African origin and was preceded by propaganda depicting the Africans
as savages. From October 1942 onwards, the
Wehrmacht carried out
Commando Order' calling for the summary execution of all captured
commandos, even if in uniform. After the
Italian armistice in 1943,
many POWs were executed on several occasions when Italian troops
resisted their forcible disarmament by the Germans. The massacre of
the Acqui Division at
Kefalonia is the most infamous.
On 26 March 1944, 15 uniformed US Army officers and men were shot
without trial at La Spezia, in Italy, after orders of the commander of
the German 75th Army Corps, General Anton Dostler, despite the
opposition of his subordinates of the 135th Fortress Brigade. Dostler
was sentenced to death by an American military tribunal and executed
by firing squad in December 1945.
Wehrmacht war crimes
Wehrmacht brothel system
A military brothel (Soldatenbordell) in Brest, France
Main article: German military brothels in World War II
Under the German occupation, a widespread system of sexual slavery
(forced prostitution) was instituted. The
Wehrmacht also ran
brothels where women were forced to work. The reason for
establishing these brothels was the German officials' fear of venereal
disease and onanism (masturbation). The Oberfeldarzt der Wehrmacht
(Chief Field Doctor of the Wehrmacht) drew attention to "the danger of
[the] spread of homosexualism".
On 3 May 1941, the Foreign Ministry of the Polish Government in Exile
in London issued a document describing the mass raids carried out in
Polish cities with the aim of capturing young women, who were later
forced to work in brothels attended by German officers and
Soviet Union women were kidnapped by German forces for
prostitution; one report by the
International Military Tribunal
International Military Tribunal stated
that "in the city of
Smolensk the German Command opened a brothel for
officers in one of the hotels into which hundreds of women and girls
were driven; they were mercilessly dragged down the street by their
arms and hair."
Nuremberg trials did not prosecute anyone for rape or other sexual
violence; rape was defined as a crime against humanity, but
prosecutors deemed that such crimes had "no nexus to war".
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A German soldier in front of a sign erected after the razing of
Crete in 1941. The sign roughly translates to "Kandanos
was destroyed in reprisal for the brutal murders of paratrooper and
pioneer convoys in an ambush by armed men and women."
The murder of Greek civilians in Kondomari,
Crete by German
In Yugoslavia and Greece, many villages were razed and their
inhabitants murdered during anti-partisan operations. Examples in
Greece include: Alikianos, Distomo, Drakeia, Kalavryta, Kali Sykia,
Kallikratis, Kleisoura, Kondomari, Kommeno, Lyngiades, Mesovouno,
Mousiotitsa and Paramythia; the razings of Kandanos and
Anogeia; the holocausts of Viannos and Kedros.
In occupied Poland and the USSR, hundreds of villages were wiped out
and their inhabitants murdered. In the USSR, captured Soviet and
Jewish partisans were used to sweep fields of land mines. In a number
of occupied countries, the Wehrmacht's response to partisan attacks by
resistance movements was to take and shoot hostages. Examples are:
Putten (Netherlands), Oradour-sur-Glane (France),
Lidice (Czech Republic). As many as 100 hostages were murdered for
every German killed. In 1944, prior to and after the
French Resistance and the Maquis increased their activities
against all German organisations, including the
In issuing orders for hostage-taking, Keitel stated that "it is
important that these should include well-known personalities or
members of their families." A
Wehrmacht commander in
that "the better known the hostages to be shot, the greater will be
the deterrent effect on the perpetrators". The Wehrmacht's hostage
policy was also pursued in Greece, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, and
Destruction of Warsaw
World War II
World War II 85% of buildings in
Warsaw were destroyed by
See also: Battle of
Warsaw Uprising, and Planned
destruction of Warsaw
Up to 13,000 soldiers and between 120,000 and 200,000 civilians were
killed by German-led forces during the
Warsaw Uprising. At least 5,000
German regular soldiers assisted the SS in crushing Polish resistance,
most of them reserve units. Human shields were used by German
forces during the fighting.
See also: Doctors' trial
Siegfried Handloser at
Nuremberg in November 1946. He was
Generaloberstabsarzt (Colonel General, Medical Service); Medical
Inspector of the Army (Heeressanitätsinspekteur); and Chief of the
Medical Services of the Armed Forces (Chef des
Wehrmachtsanitätswesens). He was convicted and sentenced to life
Throughout the war Germany engaged in numerous experiments on human
prisoners and POWs. The
Wehrmacht had full knowledge of those
experiments, and performed some of its own. It provided assistance
High altitude tests
Freezing of the human body
In many cases the test subjects, even if they survived, were murdered
afterwards to study any changes within their bodies that happened
during the experiment.
Examples of experiments conducted by the
Experiments on homosexuals:
Wehrmacht doctors wanted to "cure"
homosexuality by hormone treatments and putting homosexuals into
Experiments on prisoners at
Auschwitz-Birkenau by doctor Emil Kaschub.
Kaschub came from Upper Silesia and was an ensign in the
was not a member of the SS). He performed experiments on the limbs of
middle-aged and young prisoners; they would deliberately be infected
with various toxic substances, which caused sores, abscesses and pain.
The condition of the patients would be photographed by Kaschub every
few days and liquid from their wounds collected. The probable motive
for those experiments was to find out how soldiers made themselves
sick in order to escape service in the Wehrmacht.
In August 1941. the staff doctor assigned to the Sixth Army, Gerhart
Panning, learned about captured Russian dumdum bullets by using Jewish
POWs. To determine the effects of this type of ammunition on German
soldiers, he decided to test them on other human beings after asking
Standartenführer (Colonel) and a member of the SD
Paul Blobel for
some "guinea pigs", (Jewish POWs).
During the war members of the
Wehrmacht attempted to influence
Hitler's decision to study biological warfare only regarding defense.
The head of the Science Division of the Wehrmacht, Erich Schumann,
Führer that "America must be attacked simultaneously with
various human and animal epidemic pathogens, as well as plant
pests." Laboratory tests were prepared for the use of plague,
anthrax, cholera and typhoid. The possibility of using foot and mouth
disease against Britain was also studied.
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At the end of the war in 1945, several
Wehrmacht generals made a
statement that defended the actions against partisans, the executions
of hostages and the use of slave labor as necessary to the war effort.
The generals contended that the
Holocaust was committed by the SS and
its partner organizations, and that the
Wehrmacht command had been
unaware of these actions in the death camps. The statement said that
the armed forces had fought honorably and left the impression that the
Wehrmacht had not committed war crimes.
However, individual high-ranking
Wehrmacht officers stood trial for
war crimes. The Oberkommando der
Wehrmacht (OKW) commander-in-chief,
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and chief of operations staff Alfred
Jodl were both indicted and tried for war crimes by the International
Military Tribunal at
Nuremberg in 1946. They were convicted of all
charges, sentenced to death and executed by hanging, although Jodl was
acquitted post-mortem seven years later. While the tribunal declared
that the Gestapo, SD and SS (including the Waffen-SS) were inherently
criminal organizations, the court did not reach the same conclusion
with respect to the
Wehrmacht General Staff and High Command. The
accused were members of the
Nazi Party itself and were executing the
party's beliefs through their rank. The German
Wehrmacht along with
Allied armies committed what are classified as war crimes. The SS and
political "Armed" groups committed what are classified as crimes
The prosecution of war crimes lost momentum during the 1950s as the
Cold War intensified; both German states needed to establish armed
forces and could not do so without trained officers and soldiers that
had served in the Wehrmacht. German historiography in the 1950s viewed
war crimes by German soldiers as exceptional rather than ordinary;
soldiers were seen as victims of the
Nazi regime. Traces of this
attitude can still be seen in some German works today, which minimize
the number of soldiers who took part in
Nazi crimes. This was
especially the case as the German public in the immediate post-war
period were more interested in seeing themselves rather than others as
victims. Thus the subject of
Red Army atrocities against German
civilians in 1944–45 received vastly more popular and historical
interest in the 1950s than did the subject of
against Soviet civilians in 1941–44.
Operation Barbarossa had been portrayed in Germany as a
"preventive war" forced on Germany by Soviet attack alleged to be
planned for July 1941. This claim was widely believed in the
Reich during the war, and indeed was so popular that as late as the
1950s some West German historians were still arguing Operation
Barbarossa was a "preventive war". As a result of this view of
Operation Barbarossa, for many Germans, violence inflicted by the
Wehrmacht on Soviet civilians and POWs was seen as something that the
Soviets had brought down on themselves, hence the absence of any guilt
on the part of many Germans.
Cold War priorities and taboos about
revisiting the most unpleasant aspects of
World War II
World War II meant that the
Wehrmacht's role in war crimes was not seriously re-examined until the
In their memoirs, German Army generals claimed that the war had been a
"clean war" on their part with the Army fighting because of the noble
Prussian-German traditions, patriotism and a deep sense of honour and
duty and that National Socialism had virtually no influence on the
Army. In this version, almost all
German war crimes
German war crimes were the work
of the SS and any "excesses" committed by the Army were only the
product of a long and bitter war and were no different from Allied war
crimes. Very typical were the claims of one Infantry commander,
who stated in his memoirs that all of the battles fought by his men
were "always fairly conducted, though tough and bitter." Such
claims were widely believed not only in Germany but abroad, with the
British military historian Captain
Basil Liddell Hart
Basil Liddell Hart writing that
"the German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war
better than in 1914–18".
On 11 December 1979, the West German television show Report aired a
documentary entitled "Crimes of the
Wehrmacht in World War Two".
The public's reaction was almost overwhelmingly negative, with World
War II veterans leading a campaign to have the producer of Report
fired for the "defamation" of German soldiers. This despite the fact
– as the German historian
Jürgen Förster was to write in 1989 –
that the producers of the documentary had gone out of their way to be
fair and unbiased.
In 1986, the German historian
Hans Mommsen wrote about the role of the
Wehrmacht under National Socialism:
The leadership of the
Wehrmacht rather willingly made themselves into
accomplices in the policy of extermination. It did this by generating
the "criminal orders" and implementing them. By no means did they
merely passively support the implementation of their concept, although
there was a certain reluctance for reasons of military discipline and
a few isolated protests. To construct a "casual nexus" over all this
amounts in fact to steering away from the decisive responsibility of
the military leadership and the bureaucratic elites.
Ian Kershaw wrote that the genocide and extreme
brutality used by the Nazis was their way of ensuring the Lebensraum
("living space") for the people who met the strict requirements of
being part of Hitler's Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race") and the
elimination of the Slavic people:
Nazi revolution was broader than just the Holocaust. Its second
goal was to eliminate Slavs from central and eastern Europe and to
Lebensraum for Aryans. ... As Bartov (The Eastern Front;
Hitler's Army) shows, it barbarised the German armies on the eastern
front. Most of their three million men, from generals to ordinary
soldiers, helped exterminate captured Slav soldiers and civilians.
This was sometimes cold and deliberate murder of individuals (as with
Jews), sometimes generalised brutality and neglect. ... German
soldiers' letters and memoirs reveal their terrible reasoning: Slavs
were 'the Asiatic-Bolshevik' horde, an inferior but threatening race.
Only a minority of officers and men were
In 1989, the British historian
Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans wrote that right from
the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht
fought a genocidal war of "extreme brutality and barbarism".
Evans noted that the
Wehrmacht officers regarded the Russians as
"sub-human", were from the time of the invasion of Poland in 1939
telling their troops that war was caused by "Jewish vermin", and
explained to the troops that the war against the
Soviet Union was a
war to wipe out what were variously called "Jewish Bolshevik
subhumans", the "Mongol hordes", the "Asiatic flood" and the "red
Such views helped to explain why 3,300,000 of the 5,700,000 Soviet
POWs taken by the Germans died in captivity. In 1992, Omer Bartov
noted that the three leaders of the "new revisionism" in German
history that sparked the
Historikerstreit of the late 1980s were all
in some ways seeking to promote the image of the
Wehrmacht as a force
for the good, and seeking to portray the
Wehrmacht as a victim of the
Allies rather the victimizer of the peoples of Europe, writing of
"...the bizarre inversion of the Wehrmacht's roles proposed by all
three exponents of the new revisionism, whereby overtly or by
implication the Army is transformed from culprit to saviour, from an
object of hatred and fear to one of empathy and pity, from victimizer
to victim". Specifically, Bartov noted that:
Michael Stürmer's geographical interpretation of German history meant
that Germany's "mission" in Central Europe was to serve as a bulwark
against the Slavic menace from the East in both World Wars.
Ernst Nolte's argument about a "casual nexus" with the National
Socialist genocide as a logical, if extreme response to the horrors of
Communism led to
Wehrmacht crimes in the
Soviet Union being portrayed
as essentially justified. This was even more the case as Nolte
Operation Barbarossa was as Hitler claimed a "preventive
war", which meant that for Nolte,
Wehrmacht war crimes were portrayed
as a defensive response to the threat posed to Germany by the "Asiatic
Andreas Hillgruber's call for historians to "identity" and "empathize"
with German troops fighting on the Eastern Front in 1944–45
implicitly devalued the lives of those suffering and dying in the
Holocaust, which was allowed to continue in part because the German
troops held out for so long.
Bartov wrote that all three historians had in varying ways sought to
justify and excuse
Wehrmacht war crimes by depicting the
engaging in a heroic battle for Western civilization, often using the
same language as the Nazis such as referring to the
Red Army as the
"Asiatic hordes". Bartov ended that these sorts of arguments
reflected a broader unwillingness of the part of some Germans to admit
to what their Army did during the war. In 1998, Jürgen Förster,
a German historian, wrote that for too long most people have accepted
at face value the self-serving claims made by generals like Erich von
Manstein and Siegfried Westphal who promoted the idea of the Wehrmacht
in their memoirs as a highly professional, apolitical force who were
Adolf Hitler rather than his followers.
Förster argues the
Wehrmacht played a key role in the
Eastern Europe and other war crimes. In 1999, New Zealand
historian Christian Leitz wrote that the claims promoted after the war
Wehrmacht had been an "untarnished shield" with the Army
somehow standing apart from the regime it served so loyally was a
"myth" that no serious historian had taken seriously since the
In his 2004 essay "Celluloid Soldiers" about post-war German films,
the Israeli historian
Omer Bartov wrote that German films of the 1950s
showed the average German soldier as a heroic victim: noble, tough,
brave, honourable and patriotic, while fighting hard in a senseless
war for a regime that he did not care for. The 08/15 film trilogy
of 1954–55 concerns a sensitive young German soldier named Asch
(Joachim Fuchsberger). No mention is ever made of the genocidal
aspects of Germany's war in the East with instead the German soldiers
being shown as the victims of a war that they can not fathom the
reasons for. Bartov commented that given the intense
indoctrination in the
Wehrmacht about how the war against the Soviet
Union was a war to destroy "Judeo-Bolshevism" that Asch would most
definitely have known what they were fighting for.
The war on the Eastern Front was portrayed in a manner that suggested
that all who fought in the war were equally victims, but since the
focus in the 08/15 films is on the unit commanded by Asch inevitably
the impression is given that it was German soldiers who were the
primary victims of the war. The term 8/15 refers to a type of
German machine gun used in World War I that was manufactured in such
quantities that 8/15 became German Army slang for anything was
standard issue, which implied that Asch and the soldiers under his
command were Everyman characters of the war on the Eastern Front.
The last of the 08/15 films ends with Germany being occupied by a gang
of American soldiers portrayed as bubble-gum chewing, slack-jawed
morons and uncultured louts, totally inferior in every respect to the
heroic German soldiers. The only exception is the black-marketing
Jewish American officer, who is shown as both hyper-intelligent and
unscrupulous, which Bartov noted seems to imply that the real tragedy
World War II
World War II was the Nazis did not get a chance to exterminate all
of the Jews, who have now returned with Germany's defeat to once more
exploit the German people. This is especially the case because
the Jewish officer speaks his German with an upper-class accent, which
is evidently meant to suggest he is a rich German Jew who fled to the
United States in the 1930s and upon his return after 1945 is engaging
in the same sort of black-market activities that had led the Nazis to
run people like him out of Germany in the first place.
In Der Arzt von
Stalingrad (The Doctor from Stalingrad) of 1958,
dealing with German POWs in the Soviet Union, the Germans are
portrayed as more civilized, humane and intelligent than the Soviets,
who are shown for the most part as Mongol savages who brutalized the
German prisoners. One of the German POWs, the dashing Doctor
Sellnow (Walter Reyer), successfully seduces the beautiful and tough
Red Army Captain Alexandra Kasalniskaya (Eva Bartok), who prefers him
to the sadistic and hideously deformed camp commandant Piotr Markov
(Hannes Messemer), which as Bartov comments is also meant to show that
even in defeat, German men were more sexually virile and potent than
their Russian counterparts. This was especially important to
German audiences because of the "crisis in masculinity" in Germany
after the war, namely doubts about how manly German men were after
losing the war. Hence the exaggerated picture German films liked
to show of the typical
Wehrmacht soldier as an ultra-macho type who
was just as much a victorious conquering hero in the bedroom as on the
Bartov argues the need to show German soldiers as manly war heroes
meant they could never be shown as war criminals. Bartov wrote
that the portrayal of the Soviet guards as mostly Asian shows
disturbing affinities to war-time
Nazi propaganda, where the Red Army
was often described as "the Asiatic horde". A recurring theme in
Der Arzt von
Stalingrad was that the German soldiers were being
punished for crimes that they had not committed. In the 1959 film
Hunde, wolt ihr ewig leben? (Dogs, do you want to live forever?),
which deals with the Battle of Stalingrad, the focus is on celebrating
the heroism of the German soldiers in that battle, who are shown as
valiantly holding out against overwhelming odds with no mention at all
of what those soldiers were fighting for, namely National Socialist
ideology or the Holocaust. Bartov noted that the clear impression that
these films give is that the average German soldier who fought on the
Eastern Front was a hero worthy of the highest admiration. This
in turn led to a tendency to portray the war in the East in a manner
that was devoid of its political context with the war being reduced to
struggle between German soldiers whom the audiences were expected to
like and admire vs. vast hordes of nameless, faceless, brutal Russian
soldiers. In such a narrative, war crimes by the
Wehrmacht had no
This period also saw a number of films that depicted the military
resistance to Hitler. In
Des Teufels General
Des Teufels General (The Devil's General) of
Luftwaffe general named Harras (Curd Jürgens), loosely
modeled on Ernst Udet, appears at first to be a cynical fool whose
major interests in life appear to be beautiful women and alcohol, but
who turns out to a gallant and upright anti-
Nazi officer who is
secretly sabotaging the German war effort by designing faulty planes.
General Harras, who is represented as a great German patriot has
turned against the
Nazi regime because of certain unspecified
"abominations" which are neither shown nor explained. Bartov
commented that in this film, the German officer corps is shown as a
group of fundamentally noble and honourable men who happened to be
serving an evil regime made up of a small gang of gangsterish misfits
totally unrepresentative of German society, which served to exculpate
both the officer corps and by extension German society.
This impression is further reinforced by the comic exchanges between
the decent and upright Harras and various thuggish Nazis. Officers
such as Harras may have served a criminal regime, but Des Teufels
General seems to suggest that there never a part of that regime.
Bartov wrote that no German film of the 1950s showed the deep
commitment felt by many German soldiers to National Socialism, the
utterly ruthless way the German Army fought the war and the mindless
nihilist brutality of the later Wehrmacht.
Bartov also wrote that German film-makers liked to show the heroic
last stand of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, but none has so far showed
the 6th Army's massive co-operation with the
murdering Soviet Jews in 1941 during its march across the
Ukraine. Likewise, Bartov commented that German films tended to
dwell on the suffering of the 6th Army during the Battle of Stalingrad
and its aftermath without reflecting on the fact that it was the
Germans who invaded the
Soviet Union and that the Russians were
fighting to defend their country. Bartov went on to state that as
late as the 1991 film Mein Krieg (My War), featuring interview footage
of six German veterans juxtaposed with their amateur films the
veterans shot during the war, contains strong hints that the
interviewees saw and/or were involved in war crimes with at one point
a mass grave of civilians in Russia being glimpsed in the background
of one of the amateur films; but the point is not pressed by the
Only with Jenseits des Krieges (released in the US as East of War) in
1996, a documentary directed by
Ruth Beckermann dealing with the
public's reaction to the exhibition "War of Extermination" in Vienna
in 1995, did a German film admit to
Wehrmacht war crimes being
commonplace instead of an exception to the rule. Some veterans in
Jenseits des Krieges denied that the German Army committed any war
crimes at all while others express relief at long last that the truth
has been told. One critic wrote of the veterans in Jenseits des
Krieges that "Some are sorry for their brutality, while others
rationalize such acts as shooting POWs, raping women and butchering
Jewish people as part of what soldiers were expected to do".
Main article: Wehrmachtsausstellung
Wehrmachtsausstellung (German: German Army exhibition) was the
name for two exhibitions focusing on war crimes of the Wehrmacht
committed on the East Front from 1941 to 1944. They ran from 1995 to
1999 in the original form, and (following extensive criticism) from
2001 to 2004 in a revised form. Since then, it has
permanently been at the
Deutsches Historisches Museum
Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. The
exhibition was the subject of a documentary, Der unbekannte Soldat
("The Unknown Soldier") by Michael Verhoeven, in 2006. It compares the
two versions of the exhibition, and its maker, Jan Philipp
Exhibition about the
Wehrmacht in Poland in 1939
One criticism was that both exhibitions only covered the German
presence in the
Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945 and excluded the
German occupation of Poland after September 1939. The Polish
exhibition "Größte Härte ... Verbrechen der
Wehrmacht in Polen
September/Oktober 1939", a cooperative effort of the Polish Institute
of National Remembrance and the German Historical Institute
presented on 1 September 2004, in Poland. A German version was
presented in 2005. It was scheduled to be shown in
the Documentation Center of the
Nazi Party Rallying Grounds from 1
September 2007 to early 2008.
Analysis of photos and letters
German soldiers photographing the hanging of Soviet citizens accused
of being partisans
Rumors immediately began circulating of appalling crimes committed in
the occupied territories – wholesale deportations and systematic
massacres ... A story solemnly made the rounds of the world's
newspapers that storks migrating from Holland to South Africa had been
found with messages taped to their legs that read, "
Help us! The Nazis
are killing us all!"
The attitude of German soldiers towards atrocities committed on Jews
and Poles in
World War II
World War II was also studied using photographs and
correspondence left after the war. Photographs serve as a valuable
source of knowledge; taking them and making albums about the
persecution of Jews was a popular custom among German soldiers. These
pictures are not the official propaganda of the German state but
represent personal experience. Their overall attitude is
German soldiers as well as police members took pictures of Jewish
executions, deportations, humiliation and the abuse to which they were
also subjected. According to researchers, pictures indicate the
consent of the photographers to the abuses and murders committed.
"This consent is the result of several factors, including the
anti-Semitic ideology and prolonged, intensive indoctrination".
Archival evidence as to the reaction to policies of racial
extermination can also be traced in various letters that survived the
war. Many letters from
Wehrmacht soldiers were published in 1941
and entitled "German Soldiers See the Soviet Union"; this publication
includes authentic letters from soldiers on the Eastern front. To give
an example of the intensive indoctrination "that transcends the mere
results of military service", researchers Judith Levin and Daniel
Uziel quote a German soldier writing:
The German people is deeply indebted to the Fuehrer, because if these
animals, our enemies here, had reached Germany, murders of a nature
not yet witnessed in the world would have occurred ... No
newspaper can describe what we have seen. It verges on the
unbelievable, and even the Middle Ages do not compare with what has
transpired here. Reading Der Stuermer and observing its photos give
only a limited impression of what we have seen here and of the crimes
committed here by the Jews.
Judith Levin and Daniel Uziel state that this type of writing and
opinion was very common in correspondence left by German soldiers,
especially on the Eastern Front. Other samples of German
soldiers' letters were sent home and copied during the war by a
Polish Home Army
Polish Home Army cell that infiltrated the German postal
system. These letters have been analyzed by historians and the
picture they paint is similar to views expressed by Levin and Uziel.
Many soldiers wrote openly about the extermination of Jews and were
proud of it. Support for "untermensch" and "master race" concepts were
also part of the attitude expressed by German soldiers. Presented
examples reflecting this trend include samples such as:
I'm one of those who are decreasing [the] number of partisans. I put
them against the wall and everyone gets a bullet in his head, [a] very
merry and interesting job.
...My point of view: this nation deserves only the knaut, only by it
can they be educated; a part of them already experienced that; others
still try to resist. Yesterday I had [the] possibility to see 40
partisans, something like that I had never encountered before. I
became convinced that we are the masters, others are
Much more evidence of such trends and thoughts among Wehrmacht
soldiers exists and is subject to research by historians.
The historians responsible for the exhibition assume that the
anti-Semitic climate and propaganda in
Nazi Germany had an immense
impact on the entire population and emphasize the importance of the
German war crimes
Chronicles of Terror
Italian war crimes
Japanese war crimes
British war crimes
United States war crimes
Soviet war crimes
Allied war crimes during World War II
Nazi concentration camps
^ Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum. "The
Ioannina". Retrieved 5 January 2009.
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^ a b Wette, Wolfram: The
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^ a b Förster 1989, p. 505.
^ a b c d e f g Datner, Szymon (1961). Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu na jeńcach
wojennych w II Wojnie Światowej. Warsaw. pp. 215, 97–117,
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wyniszczenie [Eastern Front, 1941: The War of Attrition]. Warszawa:
Świat Książki. pp. 65, 70–71.
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^ a b Förster 1989, p. 501.
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^ a b c d Förster 2004, p. 127.
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^ Förster 1998, p. 274.
^ Bartov 2001, p. 126.
^ Bartov 2001, p. 49.
^ Majer, p. 180
^ Bartov 2001, pp. 126–27.
^ Evans 2008, p. 355.
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Obrony Narodowej. pp. 67–74. OCLC 12624404.
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Crimes in Poland)]. Znak. p. 260.
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^ Bartov 1999, p. 147.
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International Review of the Red Cross (323): 347–63.
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^ Datner 1967, p. 67: "Zanotowano szereg faktów gwałcenia kobiet i
dziewcząt żydowskich" ("Numerous cases of rapes against Jewish women
and girls were reported").
^ Konrad Chiechanowski. "Obozy podlegle organom policyjnym" (in
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^ Główna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce (Main
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Nazi Crimes in Poland) (1980).
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i historii [Crimes and Perpetrators: Hitler's
Genocide Trial by
Humanity and History]. Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
^ "Kraj Warty" 1934–1945: studium historyczno-gospodarcze okupacji
hitlerowskiej ["Wartheland" 1934–1945: Historical and Economic Study
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^ Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh (November 2006). Dunkirk: fight to the last
man. Harvard University Press. pp. 303–17.
^ Lieb, Peter (2007). Konventioneller Krieg oder
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Frankreich 1943/44 [Conventional War or
Nazi Ideological War? Warfare
and Anti-Partisan Fighting in France, 1943–44]. Oldenbourg
Wissenschaftsverlag. p. 19. ISBN 978-3-486-57992-5.
^ a b Förster 2004, p. 118.
^ Förster 2004, p. 119.
^ Förster 2004, p. 121.
^ a b c Förster 1998, p. 276.
^ Hillgruber 1989, pp 94–96.
^ Hillgruber 1989, p. 96.
^ Rhodes, Richard (2002). Masters of Death. New York: Alfred Knopf.
^ Klee/Dressen/Riess 1991, p. 153.
^ Klee/Dressen/Riess 1991, p. 154.
^ a b c Förster 1998, p. 277.
^ a b Förster 1998, p. 278.
^ a b Förster 1998, p. 279.
^ Förster 1989, p. 514.
^ a b Förster 1998, p. 280.
^ a b Hillgruber 1989, p 102.
^ Mayer, Arno J. (1990) . Why Did The Heavens Not Darken?. New
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Publishers. p. 90.
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Nazi war crimes as described by German
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Nazi War Crimes as Described by
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^ War and Rape: Law, Memory, and Justice by Nicola Henry page 30,
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^ a b A 1942
Wehrmacht document suggested that the
considered implementing a special policy for the eastern front through
which the estimated 750,000 babies born through sexual contact between
German soldiers and Russian women (an estimate deemed very
conservative), could be identified and claimed to be racially German.
(It was suggested that the middle names Friedrich or Luise be added to
the birth certificates of male and female babies.) Although the plan
was not implemented, such documents suggest that the births that
resulted from rapes and other forms of sexual contact were deemed
beneficial, increasing the "Aryan" race rather than as adding to the
inferior Slavic race. The underlying ideology suggests that German
rape and other forms of sexual contact may need to be seen as
conforming to a larger military strategy of racial and territorial
dominance. (Pascale R . Bos, "Feminists Interpreting the Politics of
Wartime Rape: Berlin, 1945"; Yugoslavia, 1992–1993 Journal of Women
in Culture and Society, 2006, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 996-1025)
^ a b Zur Debatte um die Ausstellung Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der
Wehrmacht 1941–1944 im Kieler Landeshaus (Debate on the War of
Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941–1944) (PDF). Kiel.
^ a b Bielanski, David (2004). "Gender and the World Wars: An
Integrated Epoch of Change". H-Net.
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^ Beck 2002, p. 259.
^ Birgit Beck:
Wehrmacht und sexuelle Gewalt. Sexualverbrechen vor
deutschen Militärgerichten 1939–1945. Paderborn 2004, S. 326 f.
^ Grossmann, Atina. Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in
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^ Alison, Miranda; Bergoffen, Debra; Bos, Pascale; du Toit, Louise;
Mühlhäuser, Regina; Zipfel, Gaby (May 2010). ""My plight is not
unique" Sexual violence in conflict zones: a roundtable discussion".
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^ a b Jacobsen 1968, p. 529
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^ Förster 1989, p. 507.
^ Evans 2008, p. 185.
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^ Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military
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Nazi Doctors and
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^ Struk, Janina (2004). "Photographing the Holocaust: interpretations
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^ Świebocki, Henryk; Długoborski, Wacław; Piper, Franciscek (2000),
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Carolina Press. p. 345. ISBN 0-8078-6363-7.
^ Feldman, Gerald D.; Seibel, Wolfgang (eds.). Networks of Nazi
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^ Ian Kershaw.Stalinism and Nazism: dictatorships in comparison.
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^ a b c d e f g Bartov 1999, p. 148.
^ Förster 1998, p. 266.
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^ Bartov 2004, pp. 134–35.
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^ a b Bartov 2004, pp. 135-37.
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World War II
Asia and the Pacific
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Surrender of Germany
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World War II in Asia
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Air warfare of World War II
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Persecution of Soviet prisoners of war
Hitler's speech of 30 March 1941
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War crimes of the Wehrmacht
Myth of the clean Wehrmacht
Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945
Hitler's War in the East 1941−1945
Hitler's Bandit Hunters: The SS and the
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Marching into Darkness: The
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The Wehrmacht: Hist