War crimes of the Wehrmacht
War crimes of the Wehrmacht were those carried out by the German armed forces during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. While the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust amongst German armed forces were the Nazi German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 'political' armies (the SS-Totenkopfverbände
SS-Totenkopfverbände , meaning "Death's-Head Units", was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps for the Third Reich....

 and particularly the Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

), the regular armed forces represented by the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 committed war crimes of their own, particularly on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

 in the war against the Soviet Union
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

. The Nuremberg Trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

 at the end of World War II judged that the Wehrmacht was not an inherently criminal organization, but that it had committed crimes during the course of the war. More recently, the judgement of Nuremberg has come under question.

The Israeli historian Omer Bartov
Omer Bartov
Omer Bartov is the John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies at Brown University....

, a leading expert on the Wehrmacht wrote in 2003 that the Wehrmacht was a willing instrument of genocide, and that it is simply untrue that the Wehrmacht was an apolitical, professional fighting force that had only a few "bad apples". Bartov argues that far from being the "untarnished shield", as successive German apologists stated after the war, the Wehrmacht was a criminal organization.

Before the war

When the National Socialists (Nazis) came to power, it was welcomed by many officers of the Wehrmacht as a way of creating the Wiederwehrhaftmachung of Germany, namely the total militariztion 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
Volksgemeinschaft is a German expression meaning "people's community". Originally appearing during World War I as Germans rallied behind the war, it derived its popularity as a means to break down elitism and class divides...

 that would be purged of those perceived internal enemies like the Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 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
Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg was a German Generalfeldmarschall, Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until January 1938.-Early life:...

 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:
Attitudes like the ones expressed above coloured all the instructions that came to Wehrmacht troops in the summer of 1939 as a way of preparing for the attack on Poland.

Invasion of Poland

Wehrmacht attitudes towards Poles were a combination of contempt, fear, and a belief that violence was the best way to deal with them.

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" shootings" where 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 October 4 1939, when Hitler pardoned all military personnel who had been involved in war crimes in Poland. After the end of hostilities, during the Wehrmachts administration of Poland, which went on until October 25 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
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 on their own, rather than just assisting in rounding them up for the SS.

In the summer of 1940, Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich , also known as The Hangman, was a high-ranking German Nazi official.He was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia...

, the chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

), 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 made any objection on moral principles; the few who did object did so because of 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
Omer Bartov
Omer Bartov is the John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies at Brown University....

 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.

Polish POWs

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
Zambrów is a town in northeastern Poland with 22,933 inhabitants . It is the capital of Zambrów County. Situated in the Podlaskie Voivodeship , previously in Łomża Voivodeship .-History:...

, where a further 300 were killed
Massacre in Ciepielów
Massacre in Ciepielów on 8 September 1939 was one of the largest and best documented war crimes of the Wehrmacht during its Invasion of Poland....

. Polish POWs of Jewish origin were routinely selected and shot on the spot. The prisoners of the POW camp in Żyrardów
Żyrardów is a town in central Poland with 41,400 inhabitants . It is situated in the Masovian Voivodship ; previously, it was in Skierniewice Voivodship 45 km West of Warsaw. It is the capital of Żyrardów County...

, captured after the Battle of the Bzura
Battle of the Bzura
The Battle of the Bzura was a battle in the opening campaign of World War II during the 1939 German invasion of Poland, fought between 9 and 19 September, 1939, between Polish and German forces...

, 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 September 11, Wehrmacht soldiers threw hand grenades into a school building where they kept Polish POWs.

Mass rapes

Rapes were committed by Wehrmacht forces against 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 Selbstschutz
Selbstschutz stands for two organisations:# A name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe# A name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence....

, which were accompanied by 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
Busko-Zdrój is a town in Poland, in Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship. It is the capital of Busko County. As of 2004, its population is 17,363.-History:...

; however, the German judge sentenced the guilty for Rassenschande
Rassenschande or Blutschande was the Nazi term for sexual relations between Aryans and non-Aryans, which was punishable by law...

 - shame against the [German] race as defined by the racial policy of Nazi Germany
Racial policy of Nazi Germany
The racial policy of Nazi Germany was a set of policies and laws implemented by Nazi Germany, asserting the superiority of the "Aryan race", and based on a specific racist doctrine which claimed scientific legitimacy...

 - and not rape.

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
Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army , to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces...

. 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.

Vinkt massacre

Between May 25 and May 28, 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

The German military had traditionally considered Communism in the Soviet Union to be a Jewish plot 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 of the 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
Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, was a German general and a member of the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

 in a report about the military capacity of the Red Army wrote that the commissars were "mostly of the Jewish race".

Commissar Order

The order cast the war against Russia as one of ideological and racial differences, and it provided for the immediate liquidation of political commissar
Political commissar
The political commissar is the supervisory political officer responsible for the political education and organisation, and loyalty to the government of the military...

s 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
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

, contrary to what he was to claim after the war, did not oppose the Commissar Order, 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 German historian 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
Ernst Nolte
Ernst Nolte is a German historian and philosopher. Nolte’s major interest is the comparative studies of Fascism and Communism. He is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Free University of Berlin, where he taught from 1973 to 1991. He was previously a Professor at the University of Marburg...

 were still claiming that the Commissar Order was not enforced.

On July 17, 1941 the OKW declared that the Wehrmact was to:
"free 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 hand".
As such, all Soviet POWs considered to be commissars together with all Jewish POWs were to handed over to the Einsatzgruppen to be shot. The 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 and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Franz Canaris was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.- Early life and World War I :...

 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
Third Geneva Convention
The Third Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. It was first adopted in 1929, but was significantly updated in 1949...

 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, Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

 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 measure".

In the summer of 1942, there was an illusory liberalization of the treatment of captured political officers. On June 10, 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 worst German concentration camps where they usually waited for a slow death. On October 20, 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 in July 1943.

Barbarossa Decree

The background behind the Barbarossa Decree was laid out by Hitler during a high level meeting with military officials on March 30, 1941, where he declared that war against Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 Russia would be a war of extermination
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

, 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 FeldMarshal Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

 a few weeks before Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, 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 of the 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 against Wehrmacht soldiers are to be "suppressed by the army on the spot by using extreme measures, till [the] annihilation of the attackers;
  • 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.

The "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia" issued by the OKW on May 19th 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 command, General Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner was a German general in World War II. A successful panzer leader, Hoepner was executed after the failed 20 July Plot in 1944.- Life :Hoepner was born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg...

 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 11th 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 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
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

, 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 émigré Russian Fascist Party
Russian Fascist Party
The Russian Fascist Party , sometimes called the All-Russian Fascist Party, was a minor Russian emigre movement that was based in Manchukuo during the 1930s and 1940s....

 based in Harbin
Harbin ; Manchu language: , Harbin; Russian: Харби́н Kharbin ), is the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China, lying on the southern bank of the Songhua River...

, 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" of the Red Army to rise up and kill all of the "Jewish commissars". Though 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 Untermensch
Untermensch is a term that became infamous when the Nazi racial ideology used it to describe "inferior people", especially "the masses from the East," that is Jews, Gypsies, Poles along with other Slavic people like the Russians, Serbs, Belarussians and Ukrainians...

 (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:
As a result of this sort of propaganda, the majority of the Wehrmacht Heer officers and soldiers tended to regard the war in Nazi terms, seeing their Soviet opponents as so much sub-human trash deserving to be trampled upon. One German soldier wrote home to his father on August 4th 1941 that:
As a result of these views, the majority of the German Army worked enthusiastically with the SS in murdering Jews in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. The British historian Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans
Richard John Evans is a British academic and historian, prominently known for his history of Germany.-Life:Evans was born in London, of Welsh parentage, and is now Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and President of Wolfson College...

 wrote that junior officers tended to be especially zealous National Socialists with a third of them being 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 wrote that the majority of 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 Wehrmacht command, which was eager to secure logistical facilities and routes behind the front line for the divisions on the Eastern Front.
On May 24th 1941, Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

, the head of the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres
Oberkommando des Heeres
The Oberkommando des Heeres was Nazi Germany's High Command of the Army from 1936 to 1945. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht commanded OKH only in theory...

 - 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 Wehrmacht generals such as Heinz Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

, 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". 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. It should be noted that these directives applied only to consensual sex; the Wehrmacht's view towards rape was much more tolerant.

Anti-Partisan and anti-Jewish actions

Under the guise of anti-partisan
Soviet partisans
The Soviet partisans were members of a resistance movement which fought a guerrilla war against the Axis occupation of the Soviet Union during World War II....

 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, Reinhard Heydrich and the First Quartermaster of the German Army, General Eduard Wagner
Eduard Wagner
General Eduard Wagner was a German Artillery officer who was the quartermaster-general of the German Army and a member of the resistance to Adolf Hitler....

 successfully completed negotiations for co-operation between the Einsatzgruppen and the German Army to allow the implementation of "special tasks". Following the Heydrich-Wagner agreement on April 28, 1941, Feldmarshal Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

 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 Einsatzgruppen, in its area of operations, were 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
Walter Schellenberg
Walther Friedrich Schellenberg was a German SS-Brigadeführer who rose through the ranks of the SS to become the head of foreign intelligence following the abolition of the Abwehr in 1944.-Biography:...

, 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 logistical support.

In August 1941, following the protests by two Lutheran chaplains about the massacre of a group of Jewish women and children at Byelaya Tserkov
Bila Tserkva
Bila Tserkva is a city located on the Ros' River in the Kiev Oblast in central Ukraine, approximately south of the capital, Kiev. Population 203,300 Area 34 km².-Administrative status:...

, 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 informed".

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 all.".
One SS man who saw the killings at Byelaya Tserkov described them as follows:
"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
The SS Cavalry Brigade was a unit of the Waffen SS formed in 1940, from cavalry regiments created for occupation duties in German-occupied Poland. Later, while serving in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, the brigade was involved in the genocide of the Jewish population and anti-partisan...

 commanded by Hermann Fegelein
Hermann Fegelein
SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Georg Otto Hermann Fegelein was a General of the Waffen-SS in Nazi Germany, a member of Adolf Hitler's entourage, brother-in-law to Eva Braun through his marriage to her sister, Gretl, and husband of the sister-in-law to Adolf Hitler through Hitler's marriage to Eva...

 during the course of "anti-partisan" operations
Pripyat swamps (punitive operation)
"Pripyat swamps" , also "Pripyat march" was the codename of the punitive operation conducted by the German forces in July and August 1941. The operation was aimed at the mass murder of the local Jewish population, brought from the territories of 9 rayons of Byelorussian SSR and 3 rayons of...

 in the Pripyat Marshes killed 699 Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 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
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

 ordered on August 10, 1941 that all Wehrmacht security divisions
Security Division (Germany)
The Wehrmacht Security Divisions were German military units which operated during World War II.-History and organisation:...

 when on anti-partisan duty were to emulate Fegelein's example and organized between September 24 and 26 1941 in Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

, 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:
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 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 #24 of November 24, 1941, the commander of the 707th division declared:
At Mirgorod
Myrhorod or Mirgorod is a city in the Poltava Oblast of central Ukraine. Serving as the administrative center of the Myrhorodskyi Raion , the city itself is also designated as a separate raion within the oblast, and is located on the river Khorol.-History:The town was founded either in the 12th...

, the 62nd Infantry Division executed "the entire Jewish population (168 people) for associating with partisans". At Novomoskovsk
Novomoskovsk, Ukraine
Novomoskovsk is a city in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast of Ukraine and a center of Novomoskovsk Raion . As of 2001, the city's population is 72,439....

, 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
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

, where the majority of the Jews there were murdered by the Wehrmacht, not the SS. At Šabac
Dulag 183
Dulag 183 was the name of the German transit camp for POWs in WWII Serbia located in the town of Šabac. This camp was opened in September 1941, and it closed in September 1944. This camp was also used for partisan POWs, members of their families, and the extermination of Jews and Roma people...

, "Central European Jewish refugees, mostly Austrian
Austrians are a nation and ethnic group, consisting of the population of the Republic of Austria and its historical predecessor states who share a common Austrian culture and Austrian descent....

s, 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. But because of rampant anti-Semitism in the German officer corps, it was more or less automatically assumed that the Serbian Jewish community were behind all of the partisan attacks, hence the targeting of Jews in the mass shootings carried out in retaliation for guerilla attacks. The German historian Jürgen Förster, a leading expert on the subject of Wehrmacht war crimes, argued that 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 disapproving bystander.

Besides its own war crimes, the Wehrmacht worked very closely with the Einsatzgruppen in murdering members of the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. On October 10, 1941 General Walther von Reichenau
Walther von Reichenau
Walter von Reichenau was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II.-History:Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe to a Prussian general and joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front...

 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
Severity Order
The Severity Order was the name given to an order promulgated within the German Sixth Army on the Eastern Front during World War II by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau on 10 October 1941....

, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

, the commander of Army Group South
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and 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
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

, in an order to his troops on November 20, 1941 stated:
"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 July 6, 1941 Einsatzkommando
During World War II, the Nazi German Einsatzkommandos were a sub-group of five Einsatzgruppen mobile killing squads—up to 3,000 men each—usually composed of 500-1,000 functionaries of the SS and Gestapo, whose mission was to kill Jews, Romani, communists and the NKVD collaborators in the captured...

 4b of Einsatzgruppe C, which was operating in Tarnopol at the time sent a report which noted "Armed forces surprisingly welcome hostility against the Jews". On September 8, 1941 Einsatzgruppe D reported that relations with the German Army were "excellent". Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker
Franz Walter Stahlecker was Commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and the Sicherheitsdienst for the Reichskommissariat Ostland in 1941/42...

 of Einsatzgruppe A wrote in September 1941 that Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The 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
Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner was a German general in World War II. A successful panzer leader, Hoepner was executed after the failed 20 July Plot in 1944.- Life :Hoepner was born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg...

 were "very close, almost cordial".

Mass rapes

Rapes were allowed in practice by the German military in eastern and southeastern Europe, while northern and western countries were spared.
Historian Szymon Datner
Szymon Datner
Szymon Datner was a Polish historian of Jewish descent, best known for his studies of Nazi war crimes committed against the Jewish population of the Białystok area after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.Datner settled into Białystok in 1928...

 wrote in his work about the fate of POWs taken by the Wehrmacht, that thousands of Soviet female nurses, doctors and field medics fell victim to rape when captured, and were often murdered afterwards.
Ruth Seifert in War and Rape. Analytical Approaches wrote: "in the Eastern territories the Wehrmacht used to brand the bodies of captured partisan women - and other women as well - with the words "Whore for Hitler's troops" and to use them accordingly."

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.

Rapes were rarely prosecuted in practice; in Denmark German rapes were not widespread, and German officials promised to punish them. Rape by Germans of non-German women was not taken seriously, nor was it punishable by death, especially in the eastern European territories.

In Soviet Russia rapes were only a concern if they undermined military discipline. The German military command viewed them as another method of crushing Soviet resistance. Since 1941, rape was theoretically punishable with the death sentence; however, this only concerned the rape of German women and was intended to protect German communities.
Estimates regarding the rape of Soviet women by the Wehrmacht reached up to 10,000,000 cases, with between 750,000 and 1,000,000 children born as a result.

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". 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.

According to the historian Regina Mühlhäuser the Wehrmacht also used sexual torture and undressing in numerous cases of interrogations.

Wehrmacht brothel system

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
Sexually transmitted disease
Sexually transmitted disease , also known as a sexually transmitted infection or venereal disease , is an illness that has a significant probability of transmission between humans by means of human sexual behavior, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex...

 and onanism (masturbation). The Oberfeldarzt der Wehrmacht (Chief Field Doctor of the Wehrmacht) drew attention to "the danger of [the] spread of homosexualism".

On May 3, 1941 the Foreign Ministry of the Polish Government in Exile
Polish government in Exile
The Polish government-in-exile, formally known as the Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile , was the government in exile of Poland formed in the aftermath of the Invasion of Poland of September 1939, and the subsequent occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which...

 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 soldiers.

In the Soviet Union women were kidnapped by German forces for prostitution; one report by the 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

The Nuremberg trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

 did not prosecute anyone for rape or other sexual violence; rape was defined as a crime against humanity, but prosecution was not included because such crimes had "no nexus to war".

POW Camps

The Third Geneva Convention (1929)
Geneva Convention (1929)
The Geneva Convention was signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force 19 June 1931. It is this version of the Geneva Conventions which covered the treatment of prisoners of war...

 relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War had been signed by Germany and most other countries in 1929, while the USSR and Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

 did not sign until after the war (the final version of the Third Geneva Convention
Third Geneva Convention
The Third Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. It was first adopted in 1929, but was significantly updated in 1949...

 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
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

 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 be shot. 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 December 5 1941, the Wehrmacht had since June 22 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
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

 on the "wastage" rates in the first half of 1942. According to the reports:
Date Died/shot Escaped Handed over to the SD Discharged Total wastage
7.1.1942 135 181 140 26 507
6.2.1942 1,116 155 111 2,293 3,680
6.3.1942 1,115 36 66 298 1,522

Between the launching of Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 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 August 6 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 October 21 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 November 13 1941, the Army's First Quarter-master General Eduard Wagner
Eduard Wagner
General Eduard Wagner was a German Artillery officer who was the quartermaster-general of the German Army and a member of the resistance to Adolf Hitler....

 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
Commando Order
The Commando Order was issued by Adolf Hitler on 18 October 1942 stating that all Allied commandos encountered by German forces in Europe and Africa should be killed immediately, even if in uniform or if they attempted to surrender...

, issued in 1942, provided "justification" for the shooting of enemy commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

s, 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 the '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
Massacre of the Acqui Division
The Massacre of the Acqui Division , also known as the Cephalonia Massacre , was the mass execution of the men of the Italian 33rd Acqui Infantry Division by the Germans on the island of Kefalonia, Greece, in September 1943, following the Italian armistice during the Second World War. About 5000...

 at Kefalonia
The island of Cephalonia, also known as Kefalonia, Cephallenia, Cephallonia, Kefallinia, or Kefallonia , is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece, with an area of . It is also a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit...

 is the most infamous.

On March 26, 1944, 15 uniformed US Army officers and men were shot without trial at La Spezia
La Spezia
La Spezia , at the head of the Gulf of La Spezia in the Liguria region of northern Italy, is the capital city of the province of La Spezia. Located between Genoa and Pisa on the Ligurian Sea, it is one of the main Italian military and commercial harbours and hosts one of Italy's biggest military...

, in Italy, after orders of the commander of the German 75th Army Corps, General Anton Dostler
Anton Dostler
Anton Dostler was a General of the Infantry in the regular German army during World War II. In the first allied war trial after the war, Dostler was tried and found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death by firing squad.-Military career:Anton Dostler joined the German Army in 1910 and served...

, despite the opposition of his subordinates of the 135th Fortress Brigade. Dostler was sentenced to death by an American military tribunal
Military tribunal
A military tribunal is a kind of military court designed to try members of enemy forces during wartime, operating outside the scope of conventional criminal and civil proceedings. The judges are military officers and fulfill the role of jurors...

 and executed by firing squad in December 1945.

Night and Fog Decree

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."

Reprisal actions

In Yugoslavia and Greece, many villages were razed and their inhabitants murdered during anti-partisan operations. Examples in Greece include: Kondomari
Massacre of Kondomari
The Massacre of Kondomari refers to the execution of male civilians from the village of Kondomari in Crete by an ad hoc firing squad consisting of German paratroopers on 2 June 1941 during World War II. The shooting was the first of a long series of mass reprisals in Crete and was also the first...

, Distomo
Distomo massacre
The Distomo massacre was a Nazi war crime perpetrated by members of the Waffen-SS in the village of Distomo, Greece, during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II.-History:...

, Kommeno
Kommeno is a village and a former community in the Arta peripheral unit, Epirus, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Nikolaos Skoufas, of which it is a municipal unit. Population 835 . During the Axis Occupation of Greece in World War II, the village was...

, Drakeia
Drakeia massacre
The Drakeia massacre refers to the mass execution of 118 men by SS soldiers in the village of Drakeia, located on Mount Pelion, in Thessaly. Out of the 350 houses, 58 were destroyed. It was part of the multiple Nazi anti-partisan reprisals in occupied Greece...

 and Kalavryta
Massacre of Kalavryta
The Holocaust of Kalavryta , or the Massacre of Kalavryta , refers to the extermination of the male population and the subsequent total destruction of the town of Kalavryta, in Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II on 13 December 1943...

; the razing of Kandanos
Razing of Kandanos
The Razing of Kandanos or the Holocaust of Kandanos refers to the complete destruction of the village of Kandanos in Western Crete and the killing of about 180 of its inhabitants on 3 June 1941 by German occupying forces during World War II...

 and the holocausts of Viannos
Holocaust of Viannos
The Holocaust of Viannos refers to a mass extermination campaign launched by Nazi forces against the civilian residents of around 20 villages located in the areas of east Viannos and west Ierapetra provinces on the Greek island of Crete during World War II. The killings, with a death toll in...

 and Kedros
Holocaust of Kedros
The Holocaust of Kedros , also known as the Holocaust of Amari , refers to an operation mounted by Nazi German forces against the civilian residents of nine villages located in the Amari Valley on the Greek island of Crete during its occupation by the Axis in World War II...


In occupied Poland
Polish resistance movement in World War II
The Polish resistance movement in World War II, with the Home Army at its forefront, was the largest underground resistance in all of Nazi-occupied Europe, covering both German and Soviet zones of occupation. The Polish defence against the Nazi occupation was an important part of the European...

 and the USSR, hundreds of villages were wiped out and their inhabitants murdered. In the USSR, captured Soviet
Soviet partisans
The Soviet partisans were members of a resistance movement which fought a guerrilla war against the Axis occupation of the Soviet Union during World War II....

 and Jewish partisans
Jewish partisans
Jewish partisans were fighters in irregular military groups participating in the Jewish resistance movement against Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II....

 were used to sweep fields of land mine
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....


In a number of occupied countries, the Wehrmachts response to partisan attacks by resistance movement
Resistance movement
A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to opposing an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign state. It may seek to achieve its objects through either the use of nonviolent resistance or the use of armed force...

s was to take and shoot hostages. Examples are: Putten
Putten is a municipality and a town in Gelderland province in the middle of the Netherlands. In 2007 it had a population of 23,024.Putten is surrounded by a great variety of landscapes. To the east of Putten lies the Veluwe, the biggest national park of the Netherlands...

 (Netherlands), Oradour-sur-Glane
Oradour-sur-Glane is a commune in the Haute-Vienne department in the Limousin region in west-central France.The original village was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company...

 (France), Telavåg
Telavåg is a small village in the municipality of Sund, located 39 km south west of Bergen, Norway, with a population of about 600.-Telavåg tragedy:...

 (Norway) and Lidice
Lidice is a village in the Czech Republic just northwest of Prague. It is built on the site of a previous village of the same name which, as part of the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, was on orders from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, completely destroyed by German forces in reprisal...

 (Czech Republic). As many as 100 hostages were murdered for every German killed. In 1944, prior to and after the D-Day
D-Day is a term often used in military parlance to denote the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. "D-Day" often represents a variable, designating the day upon which some significant event will occur or has occurred; see Military designation of days and hours for similar...

 invasion, the French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

 and the Maquis
Maquis (World War II)
The Maquis were the predominantly rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance. Initially they were composed of men who had escaped into the mountains to avoid conscription into Vichy France's Service du travail obligatoire to provide forced labour for Germany...

 increased their activities against all German organisations, including the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...


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 France stated that "the better known the hostages to be shot, the greater will be the deterrent effect on the perpetrators." The author William Shirer stated that over 30,000 hostages are believed to have been executed in the West alone. The Wehrmachts hostage policy was also pursued in Greece, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, and Poland.

Human experimentation

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 regarding:
  • High altitude tests
  • Drinking seawater
  • Freezing of the human body
  • typhus research.

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 Wehrmacht include:
  • Experiments on homosexuals: Wehrmacht doctors wanted to "cure" homosexuality by hormone treatments and putting homosexuals into battle.

  • Experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau by doctor Emil Kaschub
    Emil Kaschub
    Emil Kaschub was a German doctor who conducted experiments on Nazi concentration camp prisoners. On the instructions of the Wehrmacht, healthy prisoners were subjected to applications and injections of toxic substances. The subsequent wounds, often festering and blistered, were documented for...

    . Kaschub came from Upper Silesia and was an ensign in the Wehrmacht (he 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 SS
    The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

    Standartenführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was used in the so-called Nazi combat-organisations: SA, SS, NSKK and the NSFK...

     (Colonel) and a member of the SD
    Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

     Paul Blobel
    Paul Blobel
    Paul Blobel was a German Nazi war criminal, an SS-Standartenführer and a member of the SD. Born in the city of Potsdam, he participated in the First World War, where by all accounts he served well and was decorated with the Iron Cross first class...

     for some "guinea pigs", (Jewish POWs).

Biological warfare

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, urged the Führer
Führer , alternatively spelled Fuehrer in both English and German when the umlaut is not available, is a German title meaning leader or guide now most associated with Adolf Hitler, who modelled it on Benito Mussolini's title il Duce, as well as with Georg von Schönerer, whose followers also...

 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
Anthrax is an acute disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Most forms of the disease are lethal, and it affects both humans and other animals...

, cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 and typhoid. The possibility of using foot and mouth disease against Britain was also studied.

Postwar views

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, a number of 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
Alfred Jodl
Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl was a German military commander, attaining the position of Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command during World War II, acting as deputy to Wilhelm Keitel...

, were both indicted and tried for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

 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
Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

 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 parties' 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 is classified as crimes against humanity.

The prosecution of war crimes lost momentum during the 1950s as the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 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 Wehrmacht atrocities against Soviet civilians in 1941-44. Beyond that, 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, meant that 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 meant that the Wehrmachts role in war crimes was not seriously re-examined until the early 1980s.

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 were the work of the SS and any "excesses" committed by the Army where only the product of a long and bitter war and were no different from Allied war crimes. Very typical were the claim of the commander of the 12th Infantry Division, who claimed in his memoirs that all of the battles fought by his men were "always fairly conducted, through tough and bitter. Its name, its coat of arms and its weapons remained unsullied till the very last day as even the enemy conceded". Such claims were widely believed not only in Germany but abroad, with the British military historian Captain Basil Liddell Hart
Basil Liddell Hart
Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart , usually known before his knighthood as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, was an English soldier, military historian and leading inter-war theorist.-Life and career:...

 writing that "the German Army in the field on the whole observed the rules of war better than in 1914-18". Typical of post-war views was an anthology about Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Keitel
Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel was a German field marshal . As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II...

 edited by Walter Görlitz published in 1961 entitled Felddmarshal Wilhelm Keitel Offizier oder Verbrecher? (Fieldmarshal Wilhelm Keitel Officer or Criminal?) The American historian Gerhard Weinberg
Gerhard Weinberg
Gerhard Ludwig Weinberg is a German-born American diplomatic and military historian noted for his studies in the history of World War II. Weinberg currently is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been a member of the...

 noted that the general thesis was indicated by the question in the subtitle, suggesting that being a Wehrmacht officer and being a war criminal were mutually incompatible, and since Keitel was in fact a German Army officer, hence he could not have been a war criminal On December 11, 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 overwhelming negative, with World War Two veterans leading a campaign to have the producer of Report fired for the "defamation" of German soldiers, even though as the German historian Jürgen Förster was to write in 1989, the producers of the documentary had gone out of their way to be fair and unbiased.

In 1986, the German historian Hans Mommsen
Hans Mommsen
Hans Mommsen is a left-wing German historian. He is the twin brother of the late Wolfgang Mommsen.-Biography:He was born in Marburg, the son of the historian Wilhelm Mommsen and great-grandson of the Roman historian Theodor Mommsen. He studied German, history and philosophy at the University of...

 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".
In 1989, the British historian Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans
Richard John Evans is a British academic and historian, prominently known for his history of Germany.-Life:Evans was born in London, of Welsh parentage, and is now Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and President of Wolfson College...

 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 beast". 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 all of the three leaders of the "new revisionism" in German history that sparked the Historikerstreit
The Historikerstreit was an intellectual and political controversy in late 20th-century West Germany about the historical interpretation of the Holocaust. The German word Streit translates variously as "quarrel", "dispute", or "conflict"...

 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". Specially, Bartov noted that for:
  • That Michael Stürmer
    Michael Stürmer
    Michael Stürmer is a right-wing German historian best known for his role in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, for his geographical interpretation of German history and for an admiring 2008 biography of the Russian leader Vladimir Putin .Born in Kassel, Germany, Stürmer received his education in...

    ’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.
  • That Ernst Nolte
    Ernst Nolte
    Ernst Nolte is a German historian and philosopher. Nolte’s major interest is the comparative studies of Fascism and Communism. He is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the Free University of Berlin, where he taught from 1973 to 1991. He was previously a Professor at the University of Marburg...

    ’s argument about a "casual nexus" with the National Socialist genocide as an 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 insisted that 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 hordes".
  • That Andreas Hillgruber
    Andreas Hillgruber
    Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian. Hillgruber was influential as a military and diplomatic historian.At his death in 1989, the American historian Francis L...

    ’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 Wehrmacht as 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
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

 and Siegfried Westphal
Siegfried Westphal (general)
Siegfried Westphal was a highly decorated General der Kavallerie in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership...

 who promoted the idea of the Wehrmacht in their memoirs as a highly professional, apolitical force who were victims of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 rather than his followers. Förster argues that the Wehrmacht played a key role in the Holocaust in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 and other war crimes. In 1999, the New Zealand historian Christian Leitz wrote that the claims promoted after the war that the 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 1980s.


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
Joachim Fuchsberger
Joachim Fuchsberger is a German actor, television host, lyricist, businessman, activist, paratrooper and World War II veteran best known to a wide German-speaking audience as one of the recurring actors in various Edgar Wallace movies Joachim Fuchsberger (born 11 March 1927 in Zuffenhausen, today...

) who would rather be playing the piano; he fights on the Eastern Front without understanding why. No mention is 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 the real-life Lieutenant Aschs 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 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 of 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
Eva Bartok
Eva Bartok , born Eva Ivanova Szöke, was an actress born in Budapest, Hungary. She began acting in films in 1950 and her last credited appearance was in 1966...

), who prefers him to the sadistic and hideously deformed camp commandant Piotr Markov (Hannes Messemer
Hannes Messemer
Hannes Messemer was a German actor best known for his role as the commandant in The Great Escape . The movie had a star-studded cast, but it was the relatively unknown Messemer who uttered the film's most famous line Hannes Messemer (May 19, 1924 – November 2, 1991) was a German actor best...

), 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 battlefield. Bartov argued that 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
Nazi propaganda
Propaganda, the coordinated attempt to influence public opinion through the use of media, was skillfully used by the NSDAP in the years leading up to and during Adolf Hitler's leadership of Germany...

, 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?
Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever?
Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever is an 1959 West-German film, directed by Frank Wisbar and based on the eponymous novel by Fritz Wöss. The movie revolves around the Battle of Stalingrad...

 (Dogs, do you want to live forever?), which deals with the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, 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 place. Even as late as the 1993 film Stalingrad
Stalingrad (film)
Stalingrad is a 1993 war drama film directed by Joseph Vilsmaier. It depicts combat on the Eastern Front of World War II, specifically the Battle of Stalingrad and showing the German Wehrmacht in a sympathetic light....

, the heroic victim template was for the most part still being followed with German soldiers fighting and dying heroically at Stalingrad with no political context for why, through in this film one Wehrmacht officer is shown as physically and sexually abusing a captured Russian women (who is albeit promptly avenged by a gallant young Wehrmacht lieutenant who kills his cruel commanding officer out of disgust with his actions).

This period also saw a number of films that depicted the military resistance to Hitler. In Des Teufels General
Des Teufels General
Des Teufels General is a 1946 play written by German author and playwright Carl Zuckmayer, translated as The Devil's General. The title character of the play, General Harras, is based on the ace Ernst Udet. The play is based upon his struggles during the war, simultaneously working under and...

 (The Devil's General) of 1954, a Luftwaffe general named Harras (Curd Jürgens
Curd Jürgens
Curd Gustav Andreas Gottlieb Franz Jürgens was a German-Austrian stage and film actor. He was usually billed in English-speaking films as Curt Jurgens.-Early life:...

), loosely modeled on Ernst Udet
Ernst Udet
Colonel General Ernst Udet was the second-highest scoring German flying ace of World War I. He was one of the youngest aces and was the highest scoring German ace to survive the war . His 62 victories were second only to Manfred von Richthofen, his commander in the Flying Circus...

, 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 (the real life General Udet did design faulty planes, but this was because of incompetence, not anti-Nazism). 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. The witty, elegant, and sophisticated bon vivant Harras whose wisecracks aimed at boorish Nazi leaders served to show that while the latter may be Harras's political superiors, the former remains their social superior. Officers such as Harras may had 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 Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

 in 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 film-makers. Only with Jenseits des Krieges (released in the US as East of War) in 1996, a documentary directed by Ruth Beckermann
Ruth Beckermann
Ruth Beckermann is a Jewish Austrian filmmaker.Ruth Beckermann lives and works as an independent author and filmmaker in Vienna and Paris. Her films have been shown at prestigious festivals...

 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".

Original exhibition, 1995–1999

The view of the "unblemished" Wehrmacht was challenged by an exhibition produced by the Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (Hamburg Institute for Social Research) http://www.his-online.de/ titled Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944 ("War of Annihilation. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944"). The traveling exhibition, seen by an estimated 1.2 million visitors over the last decade, asserted, with the support of written documents and photographs, that the Wehrmacht was "involved in planning and implementing a war of annihilation against the Jews, prisoners of war and the civilian population". Historians Hannes Heer
Hannes Heer
Hans Georg Heer is a controversial German historian, chiefly known "Wehrmachtsausstellung" in the 1990s...

 and Gerd Hankel had prepared it. The exhibition became controversial and required changes when some allegations were made that a relatively small portion of the photographs presented did not in fact document what was alleged (these criticisms were subsequently addressed and the main thrust of the allegations were judged to be sound in an investigation; see below).


After criticisms about the incorrect attribution and captioning of some of the images in the exhibition by Polish historian Bogdan Musial
Bogdan Musial
Bogdan Musial is a German historian of Polish extraction who specializes in the history of World War II.-Life:Bogdan Musial was born in 1960 in Wielopole, Dąbrowa County, Poland. He worked in Silesian mines and collaborated with the Polish Solidarność movement...

 and Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry
Krisztián Ungváry
Krisztián Ungváry , Hungarian historian of 20th century political and military history, best known for his definitive work on the siege of Budapest in World War II and his research of the work of the secret service under the communist period of Hungary.- Biography :Son of Rudolf Ungváry, a...

, the head and founder of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Jan Philipp Reemtsma, suspended the display pending a review of its content by a committee of historians. In 1999, the institute transferred the exhibition to a "Trägerverein", Hannes Heer resigned from his post as "Leiter"; in 2000 he resigned from the institute as well. Reports had surfaced about his extreme left-wing past during which he had been convicted several times..

The committee's report in 2000 stated that accusations of forged materials were not justified. It suggested some of the exhibition's documentation was inaccurate. Even so, the committee reaffirmed the reliability of the exhibition in general:
The committee recommended that the exhibition should be reopened in a revised form, presenting the material, and as far as possible, leaving the formation of conclusions to the exhibition's viewers. It said that "the key statements made in the exhibition about the Wehrmacht and the war of annihilation in 'the east' do not have to be revised, but must be safeguarded from misunderstandings."

Revised exhibition, 2001–2004

The revised exhibition was now named Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941–1944.(Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation 1941-1944). It focuses on Public international law and travelled from 2001 to 2004. Since then, it has permanently been at the Deutsches Historisches Museum
Deutsches Historisches Museum
The German Historical Museum , DHM for short, is a museum in Berlin devoted to German history and defines itself as a place of enlightenment and understanding of the shared history of Germans and Europeans....

 in Berlin.


The documentary Der unbekannte Soldat ("The Unknown Soldier") by Michael Verhoeven
Michael Verhoeven
-Life and work:Verhoeven is the son of German film director, Paul Verhoeven . He married actress Senta Berger in 1966; their son is the actor-director Simon Verhoeven. Together, the couple formed a production company to make films...

 was in cinemas from August 2006; it has been available on DVD since February 2007. It compares the two versions of the exhibition and brings out the background of its maker Jan Philipp Reemtsma, heir of the Reemtsma
Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken GmbH is one of the biggest tobacco and cigarette producers in Europe and a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco. The company's headquarter is in Hamburg, Germany.- History :...

 tobacco company.

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
Institute of National Remembrance
Institute of National Remembrance — Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation is a Polish government-affiliated research institute with lustration prerogatives and prosecution powers founded by specific legislation. It specialises in the legal and historical sciences and...

 Deutsches Historisches Institut in Warsaw, was presented on September 1, 2004, in Poland and a German version in 2005(http://www.dhi.waw.pl/de/instytut/projekty/2/ ). It was scheduled to be shown in Nuremberg
Nuremberg[p] is a city in the German state of Bavaria, in the administrative region of Middle Franconia. Situated on the Pegnitz river and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it is located about north of Munich and is Franconia's largest city. The population is 505,664...

 at the Documentation Center of the Nazi Party Rallying Grounds from September 1, 2007 to early 2008.

Analysis of photos and letters

The attitude of German soldiers towards atrocities committed on Jews and Poles in 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 antisemitic.

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
Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology . It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned...

." 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:
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
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...


Other samples of German soldiers' letters were sent home and copied during the war by a special 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 Judith Levin and Daniel 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:
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 indoctrination.

See also

  • German war crimes
    German war crimes
    The government of Germany ordered, organized and condoned several war crimes in both World War I and World War II. The most notable of these is the Holocaust in which millions of people were murdered or died from abuse and neglect, 60% of them Jews...

  • Japanese war crimes
    Japanese war crimes
    Japanese war crimes occurred during the period of Japanese imperialism, primarily during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. Some of the incidents have also been described as an Asian Holocaust and Japanese war atrocities...

  • British war crimes
    British war crimes
    British war crimes are crimes committed by the armed forces of the United Kingdom from its formation in 1707 to the present day. In this context, the term "war crime" had a broad definition, including both officially sanctioned acts and the independent actions of individuals during active service,...

  • United States war crimes
  • Soviet war crimes
  • Allied war crimes during World War II
  • Holocaust
  • Concentration camps
  • Wehrmachtsausstellung
    The so-called Wehrmachtsausstellung was an exhibition focusing on War crimes of the Wehrmacht committed on the East Front from 1941 to 1944.-Original exhibition 1995 - 1999:...

  • Command responsibility
    Command responsibility
    Command responsibility, sometimes referred to as the Yamashita standard or the Medina standard, and also known as superior responsibility, is the doctrine of hierarchical accountability in cases of war crimes....

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