[p.4] FRANZ W. SEIDLER (Editor)
(for complete text, click here)
Prof. Dr. Franz W. Seidler
Franz Seidler is a Professor of Modern History specializing in Social and Military History at the University of the Bundeswehr [German Federal Armed Forces], Munich. Dr. Seidler’s principal field of research is the Second World War. His principal publications in book form deal with the personnel problems of the Wehrmacht [Armed Forces], Wehrmachtgefolgen [Armed Forces Auxiliaries] Wehrmachthilferinnen, [Armed Forces Female Auxiliaries], the Organization Todt, and the Deutscher Volksturm [ad-hoc home defense units], as well as in problems of legal jurisdiction of the German Armed Forces and collaboration in German-occupied territories. The present volume is intended to provide a picture of the dangers facing every German soldier from the Red Army’s conduct of partisan warfare in violation of international law, and the “thousand deaths” possibly suffered by the fathers and grandfathers of those same persons who now wax indignant about the “crimes of the German Armed Forces”.
The travelling exhibition known in German as “ Vernichtungskrieg.: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944” [“War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944”, translated into English as “The German Army and Genocide: Crimes Against War Prisoners, Jews and Other Civilians in the East, 1939 – 1944” or simply, “The Crimes of the German Army”, and referred to below as the “Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition”] -- is simply an exercise in propaganda. It states no historical facts and provides no precise factual data or details. The present book, however, the first of two volumes, provides full documentation of than 300 Soviet war crimes committed in 1941 – 1942, accompanied by exact descriptions, many of them proven in detail by eyewitness statements and horrifying photographic evidence. This shocking volume was made possible by a systematic study of the archives of the incorruptible, entirely objective, Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau [“Wehrmacht Untersuchungstelle”], which investigated 8,000 war crimes. Even Goebbels’ propaganda ministry was compelled to keep silent about these atrocities for fear of their possible effects on the morale of the domestic front. Only now is the full truth of the matter revealed. Horrifying mutilations, including deliberate blindings, rapes, inconceivable tortures, sadism; massacres of wounded men in hospitals, cold-blooded slaughter - even acts of cannibalism committed by the Soviets on the bodies of German soldiers – all proven in abundant detail. The photographs – more than 100 of them – are enough to make the reader’s blood run cold. The book is a shocking indictment of an army which committed truly shocking, and unpunished, war crimes – Stalin’s Red Army.
Initial Press Reactions:
“The scalding of hands during interrogation, fatal bayonet wounds in the backs of bound and helpless prisoners, members of the Wehrmacht, even cannibalism – all the horrors of a hate-filled Soldesteskaya – as proven by testimony and medical evidence”.
“This unique book written in refutation of the Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition should be owned by every soldier, young and old.”
Zeitschrift Kamaraden (Abeitsgemeinschaft fur Kamaradenwerke und Traditionsverbände e.V.) [Association for Comradeship and Tradition]
“At long last, running counter to the spirit of the times, an historian refutes the Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition by means of solid documentation.”
WELT AM SONNTAG 9/98
“This material is absolutely reliable, I can assure you… the documentation is badly needed and is to be welcomed.”
Prof. Dr. Alfred M. de Zayas (quoted in FOCUS)
“This book, better than any defense brief, will prove itself the most effective weapon against the libellous ‘Anti-Werhmacht Exhibition’.”
Dr. Alfred Mechtersheimer, Frieden 2000 (Friedenskomitee 2000 [Peace Committee 2000]
“Kill the German wherever you find him. Beat him on the street, in the house, blow him up with grenades, stick bayonets in him, pitch forks, cut in half with axes, impale him, cut him up with knives, hit, however you can, but kill! Kill him, and you rescue your life and that of your family. Kill him and you rescue your homeland, your people. Everywhere you must kill the beast! When he stops to sleep – tear to pieces the sleeping one. If he goes into the forest – there he will find death. If he is on the road, a mine should tear him to pieces. If he travels by train – let the train be derailed. Crush, split, stab him in the forest, on the field, on the street, destroy him everywhere!”
CRIMES AGAINST THE WEHRMACHT
Military Atrocities of the Red Army 1941/42
The cover photo shows, instead of the data appearing on p. 4 of the book, one of approximately 130 German soldiers who fell into Russian captivity and was murdered on the Klewan-Broniki Road in the vicinity of Rowno on 30 June 1941 (photo to Case 30).
The introductory text on pp. 56 ff and 65 ff have been slightly edited to facilitate understanding (for example, “Soviet Armed Forces” instead of “Red Army”, etc.), and to this extent, do not represent the “original introductory text” of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau.
In the caption to the photograph p. 133, only one bullet wound was verified as the cause of death of the third soldier.]
Northeastern Europe 1941/1942
The geographical place names with case numbers indicate the scenes of Red Army atrocities. The case numbers refer to the main section of the book; where several crimes were committed in the same locality, however, only one number is given (see the full Index to Place Names, see p. 379 ff of the present volume)
FRANZ W. SEIDLER (Editor)
CRIMES AGAINST THE WEHRMACHT
Military Atrocities of the Red Army 1941/42
Cover photo: one of approximately 130 German soldiers who fell into Russian captivity and were murdered on the Klewan-Broniki Road in the vicinity of Rowno on 30 June 1941 (photo to Case 30).
All photos and text documents reproduced in the present volume are from the Federal Archives/Military Archives, Freiburg
This book is a reply to the exhibition “War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944”, shown by a Hamburg private institute for social research in several cities of the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria. The stated intention of its organizer, Hannes Heer, is to open debate “on the most barbaric chapter of German and Austrian history” (after Auschwitz). Barbarity has many faces. Verbally, it is expressed through venomous hatred, and, in action, in the bestiality of murderous deeds.
The “Power of Images”, with which the Exhibition is credited, is also expressed by the contents of the present book. What men are capable of doing to each other makes one shudder. The human body, of course, only offers a limited number of variants of torture even for the most perverted fantasy, but the victim of torture dies a thousand deaths. Most of the victims of Soviet murders would have preferred to have died quickly by a bullet in front of a cemetery wall or a noose on the gallows, as practiced by the Germans during their executions. The mutilations alone give the reader an idea of the sufferings of the victims of the Red Army before they died. If the reader, in viewing the photographs, tries to put himself in the victim’s place while they were being martyred, tormented, beaten or mauled to death -- in the condition in which they were found by their comrades -- he will obtain an idea of what men without morals are capable of doing.
In contrast to the Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition, the present volume of documentation on Soviet military atrocities has no room for falsification, misleading texts and arbitrary claims.
- All cases are proven.
In contrast to the ‘Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition’ and the related catalogue and volume of essays by the same name [“Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der deutschen Wehrmacht”], this book is not “politically correct”. It is not part of the contemporary trend, because it does not libel the soldiers – including those of the Wehrmacht.
Only those who collaborate in reviling the Armed Forces of the German Reich as a criminal gang enjoy the favor of the propagandists and opinion makers in the mass media. A person who makes the blanket assertion that “soldiers are murderers” is acting in accordance with the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. But anyone who describes members of the Wehrmacht as victims, too, is violating a rigidly enforced contemporary taboo.
In Germany, “political correctness” is determined by the media. For example, a person who says, “I am ashamed to German” is being “politically correct”. Anyone who says, “I am proud to be German” is called a “Nazi”. Anyone who says, “Hitler’s criminal Wehrmacht treacherously and traitorously attacked the peace-loving Soviet Union in June 1941” is “politically correct”, even if the statement itself is factually untenable. In Germany, everybody talks about “Hitler’s soldiers”, but nobody talks about of “Stalin’s soldiers”, “Churchill’s bomber pilots”, or “Truman’s atomic bomb droppers”. People defending the erection of monuments to deserters from the German army during World War II are “politically correct”, although everybody knows that no state, for a variety of reasons, can be built on the services of deserters. Anyone who states, quite correctly, that almost two million foreigners fought with the Wehrmacht in German uniforms against Stalin, is “politically incorrect”, even though the statement is quite true historically. At the present time, it is “politically correct” to praise “civilian service” as representing a higher value than “military service” (indeed, it is even impermissible to compare it to “alternative service”); at the same time, the military virtues upon which any nation depends are denegrated as “secondary”value, and are alleged to be of little more value than those required to run a concentration camp.
The citizens of the nation are instructed by the media, not only as to which topics do, and do not, meet the requirements of “political correctness”, but in the latest popular pedagogical tools for the conduct of discussion and in all the latest expressions which must be avoided at all costs. Obviously, the very selection of the vocabulary of discourse tends to predetermines the course of thought. The media are not referred to as the “Fourth Estate” for nothing; on the contrary: the media form a fourth branch of government, along with the legislative, judiciary, and executive branches. In political science, the media are sometimes sarcastically referred to as a “Mediocracy” and its practitioners, “Mediocrats”.
Scholarship, however – if it wishes to live up to its name – cannot be concerned with whether or not historical findings are politically convenient according to the political dictates of the moment. The duty of scholarship is to the truth alone: the task of the scholar is to probe the unknown, to state facts, investigate legends and revise false testimony. Article 5, paragraph 3 of the Basic Law guarantees the freedom of scholarly research.
As social scientists, historians are faced with a particularly difficult task: they know that much of what appears in school textbooks is simply untrue. But this has often been the case in the past. Schopenhauer’s opinion of history is as true today as it was 150 years ago: “History is infected with lies the way a whore is infected with syphilis”. In other words: When it comes to the frivolity of enquiry and manipulation of results, history has overtaken statistics.
Munich, November 1997
Prof. Dr. Franz W. Seidler
Soldiers in the shadow of politics
The Anti-Wehrmacht Agitation
Attacks on the German Armed Forces, or Wehrmacht, occurred sporadically between 1945 and 1990, but only affected individuals; following the reunification of Germany, however, these attacks escalated into a full-scale broadsides affecting everyone. Despite the fact that Socialism (i.e. Communism) had been thoroughly discredited -- its ideology acknowledged by most people as inhumane and its national personification, the USSR, a nightmare of oppression, a few Socialist doctrines survived the collapse of the Eastern bloc and “came West” as a new Gospel of Salvation. They may be defined in terms of terminology. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the term “Liberation” was made obligatory in describing the defeat of the German Reich in 1945. Over the past few years, it has also come into common use in the West. It has also become fashionable to refer to National Socialism by means of the Marxist term “fascism”, as used in the Soviet Occupation Zone and German Democratic Republic since 1945, and to refer to members of the German resistance as “anti-fascists”. This process of criminalizing the Wehrmacht acquired truly grotesque proportions following the reunificiation of Germany in 1988.
The political goal of the Leftists is clear: if they can succeed in branding the Wehrmacht as a “criminal organization”, then the next blow will be aimed at the Army of the Federal Republic of Germany. In particular, if the fathers of the Bundeswehr, and the tens of thousands of officers and non-commissioned officers who created the Bundeswehr, were nothing but a gang of criminals, even in 1955, then the Bundeswehr itself cannot be much better, having doubtless passed on the “criminal” standards of the Wehrmacht to the younger officers of the Bundeswehr. Despite all the restrictions against the utilization of the Bundeswehr for purposes of aggression, despite all the precautions against the issuance or following of illegal orders, despite the “leadership of conscience”, despite all the political education, the Bundeswehr allegedly cannot be trusted. Founded by members of the ‘fascist’ Wehrmacht, it must necessarily be a “neo-fascist” organization, dominated by diehard “fascists”.
This argument ignores several things: for example, the fact that the National People’s Army of the DDR -- the embodiment of a socialist class army -- was also built up by officers of the Wehrmacht. 500 former Wehrmacht officers from the People’s Army were incorporated into the NVA [East German Army] during the reorganization of the People’s Army in 1956. Of the 82 higher command posts, 61 of the officers were from the Wehrmacht. The commander of the NVA Tank Troops, Major General Arno Von Lensky, who, as Assistant Judge of the 3 rd Senate of the NS People’s Court, had participated in 20 trials, involving several death sentences, was even rewarded the “Anti-Fascist Fighter’s Medal” (1).
The most ingenious, impressive and popular undertaking of agitation against the Wehrmacht began in 1995 with the exhibition, “War of Extermination. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944”, probably the most successful historical travelling exhibition in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The exhibition received enhanced prestige when the President of the Federal Constitutional Court held the inaugural speech for the exhibition in Karlsruhe, after which the High Burgomaster of Munich took over sponsorship of the exhibition; prestigious locations, rich in tradition, were made available to the exhibition in both Frankfurt/Main and Bremen.
Hannes Heer, who designed the exhibition on behalf of the private “Institute For Social Research” in Hamburg, describes the Wehrmacht, in the exhibition catalogue, as “a pillar of the National Socialist system” and a “compliant instrument of its terror”, allegedly “active in all its crimes, participating as an entire organization”. “The Wehrmacht played an active role in the Holocaust, in the plundering of the occupied territories, in the mass murder of the civilian population and in the destruction of Soviet prisoners of war”. The Werhmacht was alleged to have been “a participant, as a part of the National Socialist society, in the crime of the Holocaust more extensively and more readily than has been hitherto assumed”. From the very beginning, the Wehrmacht was alleged to have tried “to eliminate all traces of its crimes and even the memory of those crimes”. It was even alleged to have been finally unmasked only by means of the exhibition! The image of the “decent Wehrmacht” was supposedly tarnished beyond repair. “Proof” of these assertions was exhibited on panels and accompanied by “explanatory” texts and photographs.
The organizers of the exhibition nevertheless failed to live up to the claims of historical accuracy made by the Exhibition itself. The following three criteria show that elementary demands of historical working procedure were not respected:
German courts have investigated approximately 12,000 cases. Apprehended war criminals and soldiers guilty of crimes against humanity were punished. The Institute for Contemporary History in Munich was given the task of processing the historical records of the Third Reich. When initially founded in 1947, it was expressly referred to as the “Institute for the Research of National Socialist Policy”. The Central Agency for the State Administration of Justice for the Clarification of National Socialist Crimes in Ludwigsburg has been searching for war criminals for 40 years. The Military History Research Office published eight of the ten volumes in the series “The German Reich and the Second World War”, in addition to a great many monographs. The exhibition makes no significant contribution to these efforts to deal with the past. All the facts cited by it have long since been known. On the other hand, the exhibition also ignores many known facts.
The exhibitors are not concerned with historical truth; they are only concerned with libelling the Wehrmacht. The description of military war crimes presented, citing three examples, the 6th Army in White Russia and Serbia, would be insufficient to form an overall judgement even if performed impartially. The exhibition gives the impression that atrocities were only committed by Germans, while ignoring the atrocities of the Red Army and the partisans. Nowhere are visitors informed that the partisans fought in violation of international law (Article 1 of the Fourth Hague Convention on Land Warfare), and that the execution of partisans was perfectly legal under international law. Reprisals against civilian populations -- no matter how unjust they might appear in the light of higher morals -- were also legal under international law, too, if the actual assassins and saboteurs could not be found and the civilian population was suspected of harboring or concealing them. The execution of partisans shown by the exhibition were, in many instances, the results of legal proceedings under military justice or summary law.
The exhibition does not differentiate between the SS and Police on the one hand, and the Wehrmacht on the other. The former were under the command of the Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, while the latter were under the High Command of that branch of the Wehrmacht. The Land Forces, Air Force, and Navy all had their own spheres of authority. The Wehrmacht had nothing to do with special missions of the SS or police detachments, although they were occasionally assigned to support roles, for example, in partisan warfare, which became the domain of the SS in 1942. (2)
The captions of the Exhibition photographs are so slanted that visitors are given the impression that crimes are being depicted even when the acts depicted are perfectly banal. Soldiers carrying chickens or driving pigs in front of them need not necessarily be “pillaging” or “plundering”. An infantry soldier shown with a burning village in the background is not necessarily an “arsonist”. A Soviet soldier drinking from a puddle by the road need not necessarily be in “German captivity”. Not every dead civilian has been “murdered” by the Germans; they may have been murdered by the Soviets, as occurred during the withdrawal of the Red Army at Lemberg. In the absence of any showing of where, when, why and how the events depicted actually happened, or even the origins of the photos, the probative value of such photographs is dubious.
The exhibitors are, of course, quite capable of offering us large numbers of photographs of shootings and hangings, the captions of which are filled with ellipses and a great deal of bold print, but there is no attempt whatever to clarify whether or not the executions involved were in conformity with international law, or even the result of legal proceedings. They are incapable of offering any proof that German soldiers tortured their victims or mutilated them. The exhibitors produce no orders or proclamations of German agencies advocating murder or manslaughter.
Testimonies of defendants and witnesses before Soviet courts are, as shown by all experience, far from reliable. Reports as to the manner in which such testimony was obtained are plentiful (3). At approximately the same time as the show trial in Minsk, 16 German soldiers confessed to participating in the murder of 15,000 Polish officers and soldiers at Katyn. Seven of them were hanged, on the basis of a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 19 April 1943, the text of which actually demanded the sentence which was later imposed: “On Measures for the Punishment of German Fascist Evildoers Guilty of the Murder and Mistreatment of Soviet Civilians and Captured Members of the Red Army as well as Spies and Traitors to the Mother Country among Soviet Citizens and their Accomplices”. The death sentences were carried out in public and the bodies left hanging on the gallows for days as a deterrent (4). It has since been discovered that the Katyn massacre was committed by the Soviets themselves (5). How many other German soldiers were executed on the basis of this decree, dripping with propaganda, remains unknown.
90% of the photos in this exhibition are no probative value whatever. A great many of them allegedly originated from the pockets of dead or captured German soldiers. If so, those same pockets must have contained pictures of their wives and children as well. What happened to them? Were they destroyed? Was it found impossible to manipulate such photographs for political purposes? Pictures of wives and children, family photographs and other souvenirs from home, would have rendered the exhibition more human; this was evidently not desired.
Photographs for which no source is given have no probative value in proving the alleged crimes of the photographers. “Proof” of unknown origin, produced at an unknown place in time, is historically worthless. Of the 314 photos in small format, 208 are labelled “Unknown location”. 62 show no Wehrmacht participation at all. 19 originate from Poland before 1941. 15 show
ordinary military actions -- for example, burning houses -- without any connection to the alleged subject of the exhibition (i.e. “crimes of the Wehrmacht”), while 10 are totally unrelated to the Wehrmacht; they relate to the SS, SD or Reichs Labor Service (6). Even the quotations commenting on the photographs are very difficult to verify. Many texts on the accompanying panels are abridged. The references refer to historical files only, with no indication of the file numbers. Visitors to the exhibition are referred to allegedly important sources by means of bold print. But the sources consist exclusively of passages supporting the opinion of the exhibitors. Qualified statements, and contradictions contained in the same documents, are concealed from visitors by means of deletions (…).
Nor do the exhibitors shrink from obvious distortions:
- The crime committed at Tarnopol, for example, cannot be attributed to the 6th Army, because no unit of the 6th Army had yet reached the crime scene (7).
Franzl’s letter, quoted in the exhibition, is described as a field letter from a member of the Wehrmacht, but is really the letter of a member of SS-Unit Group 4 b in Sonderkommando C (8).
What are we to conclude when we learn that the exhibitors never changed a single text proven to be false, and never removed a single photograph? What is the credibility of a person with no concern for a truthful representation of a topic?
Neither of the exhibitors possesses the scholarly qualification for a serious exhibition on the Wehrmacht. Hannes Heer, as a student, was a member of various Communist organizations. He has made no contribution to the promotion of truth through a mastery of historical methods. The titles of the publications of his fellow-exhibitor also reveal the slant followed by both exhibitors. Dr. Jan Philipp Reemstra might well be suspected of wishing to erase the guilt of his father, who was an admirer of Hitler and a financial supporter of Göring, providing generous donations intended for the construction of Göring’s chateau-like private residence, Karinhall (14). At the end of 1943, Reemstra Senior succeeded in obtaining a quasi-monopoly for the sale by his company of the standard cigarette army issue, cigarette, Sulima-Rekord, for the Wehrmacht, earning a fortune by the end of the war. Every German soldier received five cigarettes a day, and could buy another five as the canteen for three pfennigs each. With up to 13 million soldiers on active duty in the Wehrmacht at that time, the fortune earned in pfennigs in just 17 months can easily be imagined.
An historically balanced exhibition relating to “war crimes” should relate to all war crimes -- the atrocities, violations of international law and human rights of all belligerents. Using the Wehrmacht as a standard of reference, this raises other questions as well:
- was the Wehrmacht’s conduct of warfare particularly criminal compared to that of the armies of the other belligerents?
- to what degree did the other belligerents obey international law and the prescriptions of humanitarianism?
- how did the other belligerents treat civilian populations and prisoners of war?
The military historian Hartmut Schustereit, on behalf of the Abeitsgemeinschaft fur Kamaradenwerke und Traditionsverbände e.V.) [Association for Comradeship and Tradition] of the Wehrmacht, prepared an expert report on the chapter in the exhibition catalogue written by Hannes Heer. Schustereit proves Heer’s ignorance of military technical terminology and his use of vocabulary typical of Soviet Russian agitation and propaganda, as well as a selective presentation of content excluding all sources contradicting the claims of the exhibition. The articles are not classified into any general history of the Second World War, and there is no evaluation of the literature on the subject. The historical research of the last thirty years is more or less ignored. There is no discussion of German-Soviet relations prior to the outbreak of the war. The claim that the partisan war really only began in 1942 is in complete contradiction to the war diaries of all German units having served in the East. As a whole, the articles do not fulfil the scientific requirements to which a representation worthy of publication must correspond. This combination of the falsifications of sources and a general slandering of the Wehrmacht as a whole, expressed, to some extent, in strident propagandistic clichés peppered with Soviet “agitprop” vocabulary, reveals the exhibitors’ real order of priorities: they are not interested in an objective appraisal of the Wehrmacht, only in slandering it. (15)
Bodo Scheurig goes even further in his criticism of the exhibition: “Thinking persons are beginning to suspect that the exhibition is intended to rob us of our self-respect. The political style of this 'technical work' must necessarily nourish such a suspicion”. (16)
Thus, as it travels through the country, the exhibition “War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941-1944” offers only a distorted picture of the real content of the exhibition. Youthful visitors with no knowledge of the historical background and relationships are easily deceived, since they cannot make comparisons due to their ignorance of the actual facts.
Nor are they aware that, at the same time, and, more exactly, as the result of a counter-trend to the criminalization of the Wehrmacht by the travelling exhibition in German and Austria, in Russia today, members of the Wehrmacht who, while confined in Soviet prisoner of war camps, had previously been sentenced to work camps and prisons for alleged participation in war crimes and common crimes are now being rehabilitated. 35,000 German soldiers -- mostly officers – were victimized by this procedure between 1947 and 1949. For several years now, the condemned persons and their relatives have been entitled to file applications for rehabilitation with the General Prosecutor's Office of Russian Military Justice in Moscow (Colonel Kopalin). 6,500 out of approximately 10,000 applications had already been processed by the end of 1996. Over 5,100 German soldiers have already been rehabilitated, including the commanders of the 15th Kossack Cavalry Corps, General von Pannwitz; Major Erich Hartmann, Germany’s most successful fighter pilot, with 352 victories; Cavalry Sergeant Boris von Drachenfels, who barely escaped the death penalty in the Kiev War Crimes Trial, and Major General Erich Walther, leader of the 2 nd Parachute-Armored Infantry Division during the last weeks of the war and holder of the German Oak Leaf Cluster (17).
The WEHRMACHT in the war against the Soviet Union
No serious historian should attempt to absolve from guilt all the military forces participating in any war. Violations of international law occur in every military conflict. Belligerents either err in their interpretation of the ius ad bellum [laws on the legality of waging war] or in their application of the ius in bello [laws on the conduct of war]. Sneak attacks, preventive attacks, civilian crimes, criminal crimes, plundering of the civilian population and crimes against humanity appear to form an integral part of war. Attempting to whitewash the Wehrmacht would be very foolish. At least three sets of circumstances argue against any such attempt:
Regardless of these and perhaps other accusations a general condemnation of the Wehrmacht and its leadership is unhistorical.
The degree to which Hitler considered the Wehrmacht to be unreliable is shown, among other things, by his introduction, in 1943, of the “National Socialist Leadership Officers” -- a sort of “Political Commissar” group -- to control the officer corps. Hitler suspected his generals of acting in accordance with international law rather obeying his orders. In Case 12 of the Nuremberg Trials against Field Marshal von Leeb, Sperrle and von Küchler and 11 other defendants holding the rank of general, defense attorney Hans Laternser described the manner in which Hitler took liberties with the highest officers of the Werhmacht: of the 17 Field Marshals of the Army during the war, 10 were relieved of their posts, 3 died in connection with the Hitler assassination attempt, and 2 were killed and 1 was captured. Only one single general remained in service to the end without reprimand. Of 38 Colonel Generals, 26 were relieved of their posts, 2 were dishonorably discharged, 7 were killed and 3 remained in service without reprimand until the end of the war (23). During the Second World War, 27 generals were court-martialled, not counting those sentenced
by the People’s Court for high treason after the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944. The most frequent
charge was disobedience. There were acquittals, sentences of confinement to a fortress, sentences to military imprisonment and death sentences (24).
The so-called “criminal orders” issued by the OKW on Hitler's behalf in preparation for the Russian campaign contained clauses and formulations which actually restricted their effectiveness. Anyone reading them carefully could see that the text actually contradicted the alleged purpose of the order on some points. Furthermore, additional orders from the High commanders of the branches of the Wehrmacht restricted the instructions of the OKW. This was true of the “Jurisdiction Decree” contained in the Barbarossa order of 13 May 1941, which fundamentally exempted criminal acts committed by soldiers of the Wehrmarch against the Russian civilian population from court martial jurisdiction; the “Commissar Order” of 6 June 1941, which ordered that the political leaders of the Red Army should fundamentally be shot immediately, and the “Communist Decree” (“Hostage Order”) of 16 September 1941, which generally provided for the shooting of 50-100 Communists for one German soldier treacherously shot. In all these orders, restrictive adverbial phrases basically and generally left the execution of these orders up to the troops on the spot.
The Commissar Order and the jurisdiction decree merit closer examination, since they relate to the topic of this documentation.
The Criminal Orders
The “Commissar Order” of 6 June 1941 (Guidelines on the Treatment of Political Commissars) on 18 August 1941, was expanded to include the Politruks on a Company, level, and was, according to the findings of the Nuremberg Tribunal one of the most evil, reprehensible, and criminal orders ever issued by any army (26). The
Order was said to have ignored the fact that the Commissars and Politruks, as members of the Red Army, should have been treated as prisoners of war under the terms of the Hague Convention on Land Warfare (Articles 4-20) and the Geneva Convention of 27 July1929, exactly like non-combatant members of the Soviet armed forces, i.e. doctors, veterinarians, administrative officials, judges, etc. Since this regulation had already become customary law or prescriptive rights under international law before the Second World War, it was irrelevant that the Hague Convention on Land Warfare had not been signed by Italy and Bulgaria and was not recognized by the Soviet Union, and that the Geneva Convention was not signed or ratified by the Soviet Union.
The Commissars and Politruks were the personification of the Communist Party within the Red Army. They were responsible for maintaining Army morale, one of the five basic principles of the Red Army (27). Their task was to ensure adherence to the Party Line by officers and soldiers in keeping with Communist ideology and to educate members of the Red Army in combat preparedness. The political tasks assigned to the Commissars and Politruks by the Party leadership provided Hitler with grounds to consider them Party officials rather than soldiers. Hitler considered them bureaucrats in disguise, and therefore believed himself justified in denying them combatant status. In hopes that the Red Army would collapse without the support of the Party, he ordered the Commissars and Politruks segregated and shot.
During the preparation of the Commissar Order within the military leadership corps of the German Reich, major consideration was given to the fact that Stalin, during the Finnish Winter War, had demonstrated no interest in complying with the Geneva Prisoner of War Conventions and had simply ignored the Finnish government request of 30 November 1939 for compliance with the provisions of international law (28). While Hitler's order in this regard was obediently reflected in the form of another order within the OKW, subordinate command levels were disturbed by the requirements of the Commissar Order (29). Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief of the Army, was extremely distressed. His own Chief of Staff suggested that he resign in protest. Colonel General Beck, Chief of Staff of the OKH until 1938, encouraged Brauchitsch to lodge a formal protest against the order, which he considered equivalent to an order to commit murder (30). Brauchitsch decided to issue a supplementary order only, which, while prescribing a few formal restrictions, was insufficient to eliminate the illegality of the order under international law. “The procedure against the Political Commissars must have the precondition that the individual concerned must, through a special recognizable action, have taken action against the German Wehrmacht or have attempted to do so…The shooting of the political Commissars by the troops is to take place inconspicuously, after their segregation, outside the actual combat zone, on the order of an officer” (31). He was more concerned with the effects of the shootings of Commissars on the morale of German soldiers than with the lives of these prisoners of war.
In practice, the Commissar Order proved a blessing in disguise for the Red Army. The Commissars, who had everything to lose if they fell into captivity, ordered all Soviet soldiers to resist to the end. They incited the members of the Red Army to commit atrocities against German prisoners rendering them criminals under international law. An example of the fact that German soldiers who fell into Soviet captivity were killed on the instructions of the Commissars is the order of the
Commissars of the Russian 406th Rifle Regiment prior to the attack on Leski on 17 January 1942: “No prisoners will be taken, all Germans must be killed. None must remain alive”. (32). Once the soldiers had committed the crimes which they had been ordered to commit, they could no longer hope for mercy from the Germans. This was what the Commissars wanted. The soldiers were to suffer the same fate as the Commissars: shooting. Members of the Red Army who fell into German captivity also explained the stubborn resistance of their units by the fact that the Commissars had threatened them to shoot them if they evacuated the position. (33). Every withdrawal brought the Commissars in danger of falling into the hands of the Germans.
Even the generals in the Eastern campaign were unanimous as to the agitation function of the Commissars and Politruks. But most of them, like Colonel General von Küchler, Commander in Chief of the 18th Army, assumed that these Party officials would be placed before a summary court martial. On 25 April 1941, Küchler instructed his Divisional Commanders: “The political Commissars and G.P.U. people are criminals. These are the people that make slaves out of the population… They are to be placed before a summary court martial immediately, and sentenced based on eyewitness testimony of the population” (34). Based on his experiences with the Commissars of the Red Army, General Field Marshal Erich von Manstein condemned the Commissars of the Red Army as non-soldiers in his memoirs: “They were not soldiers; they were fanatical fighters, fighters whose activities in the traditional sense of conduct in battle could only be considered illegal. Their task was not only to supervise the Soviet military leaders politically, but, rather, to give the struggle an extremely hard character, one which fully contradicts the previous concept of soldierly fighting. In actual fact, it was to these Commissars that these methods of combat and treatment of prisoners which stand in crass contradiction to the provisions of the Hague Convention on Land Warfare must be attributed” (35).
In theory, in signing the Commissar Order, Hitler recognized that the functions of the Commissars in the Red Army were illegal under international law. The atrocities committed by “Jewish-Bolshevist Commissars” in Eastern Poland, Bessarabia and the Baltic after their incorporation into the USSR served as a justification. Hitler feared that the Commmissars would continue their Communist agitation activities even as prisoners of war, and possibly incite their comrades to attack German guards. Their segregation from “normal” prisoners of war was thus understandable. The solution in conformity with international law would have been to create heavily guarded special camps for Commissars and Politruks where the fanatics would be together. There should then have been an investigation into the crimes of which they stood accused (36).
In distributing the Commissar Order to all the armies to be assigned to the Eastern campaign, the Commander in Chief of the Army, General Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, stated that the execution of the Commissar Order must be determined by the guidelines which he had laid down in his “Discipline Order” [Manneszucht-Befehl] of 24 May 1941.
According to this order, the officers were to maintain the discipline and combat readiness of their unit and respect the strict maintenance of the Wehrmacht disciplinary regulations and the provisions of military special criminal law.
The High command of the Army Groups received the Commissar Order through the intelligence services for information purposes only. The treatment of the prisoners of war was not within their competence. The three Commanders in Chief of the Army Groups to be assigned to the Russian campaigns nevertheless agreed to take care that the Order was not carried out literally. The Hitler order could not, however, be openly sabotaged. The Commanders therefore neglected to issue written countermanding orders. Subordinate commanders were only informed orally. The Commander in Chief of the Army Group North, Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb, nevertheless wrote that, while he could not countermand the order, “he placed no value on its enforcement, and would not control its execution”. (37). He expressed his objections against the Commissar Order five times to the OKH.
In the hearing of evidence at the OKW Trial at Nuremberg, it turned out that the Commissar Order in fact was sabotaged. In the field of command of two armies, approximately 200,000 prisoners were taken in the first half year of the Eastern campaign, but only 96 Commissars were reported shot. To conceal the sabotage of the Commissar Order, individual units drew up false reports, for example, that of the 39th Army Corps on 16 November 1941 on the shooting of 22 Commissars. In view of the duty to report contained in the Commissar Order for purposes of controlling the executions, the commanders had no choice but to indulge in deception (38).
Like the Commanders in Chief of the Army Groups, the Commanders in Chief of the Armies also suspended the Commissar Order, but on more practical grounds. They had observed that the mere existence of the Order had a serious propaganda effect in the Red Army. On 9 September 1941 the 2 nd Army High command (Colonel General Guderian) wrote to the Army Group Center (Field Marshal von Bock): “According to numerous reports, the stubborn resistance of the Soviet troops to be attributed in part to the sharp terror of the political Commissars and Politruks…This attitude of the Commissars, according to all reports received, is to be attributed, above all, to the fact that they are convinced that they will be shot if they are taken prisoner”. On 17 September 1941, the Commanding General of the 39th (Motorized) Army Corps, Colonel General R. Schmidt, who had expressly prohibited his troop commanders from carrying out the Commissar Order, demanded the immediate countermanding of the Order: “As long as the Commissars are unanimously compelled to defend themselves against certain death, they will stick together like the devil… But when the individual commissars know that as deserters they can save their lives, the inner determination of the political leadership corps will cease”. Based on the data from the frontline detachments and the personally presented objections of the Commanders in Chief of the Army Group, the OKH decided to demand the countermanding of the Commissar Order before the OKW. The application of 23 September 1941 states:
“It is reported by commanders, commanders and the troops that a slackening of the will to fight on the Russian side is to be reached if the path to giving up the fight, to surrender or to change side, is facilitated for the Commissars, who are without doubt the chief carriers of the bitter and bitter resistance.”
The OKW proposal was rejected by Hitler, who also rejected any change to the previously issued orders, as Colonel General Jodl, Chief of the Wehrmacht Operational Staff, remarked after his discussion with Hitler on 26 September 1941. Since Stalin, on 1 August 1941, had ordered the Commissars and Politruks to remove the star from the sleeve of their uniforms, it was no longer possible to tell the Commissars and Politruks from the enormous numbers of front-line prisoners. On 7 October 1941, therefore, the Army empowered the SD and Police to look for the Commissars and Politruks in the POW camps in the rear army zone. The segregation and execution commandos in these camps were dependent largely on informers. All persons identified were formally released from the POW camps and handed over to the SS. The number of the Soviet soldiers executed according to the Commando Order cannot even remotely be estimated. Claims that the numbers involved amounted to 580,000 to 600,000 men are nonsense. (39). In May 1942, Hitler finally gave way to the urgings of the frontline troops and cancelled the Commissar Order in the area of operations. The “Special Treatment” of Commissars and Politruks in the prisoner of war camps was also stopped.
The so-called “Jurisdiction Decree” of 13 May 1941 (“Decree on the Execution of Jurisdiction in the Barbarossa Area and on Special Measures of the Troops”) restricted the authority of military tribunals in two ways: against franc tireurs on the one hand, and in the event of crimes committed by soldiers against the civilian population on the other.
For crimes of German soldiers committed against Russian civilians, the Barbarossa Order eliminated the obligation to prosecute. “Fundamentally”, such crimes were not to be punished. The Divisional Commanders, as supreme judicial authorities of their formation, however, were granted the right to investigate crimes committed by soldiers against the civilian population. They were instructed to order military proceedings “when required to maintain discipline or ensure the safety of the troops”. For example, the order mentioned “serious crimes based on sexual lack of self control or a criminal disposition, or in the presence of any indication that the troops are in danger of becoming brutalized”. This authority gave the military commanders the leeway they needed. Maintaining discipline was one of the primary tasks of every officer. No officer turned a blind eye to the matter. The field courts martial of the divisions on the spot of the USSR therefore worked on the same model as in previous campaigns. In addition to cases brought under military criminal law -- which were to be punished according to the code of military justice -- they also prosecuted offenses under civilian law, which were to be investigated according to the Reich criminal code, for example, robbery, rape, arson. The commanders made wide use of their disciplinary authority to punish any service violations jeopardizing discipline and affecting their commanding authority. In addition, the Commander in Chief of the Army, General Field Marshal von
Brauchitsch, on 25 May 1941, added an additional order to the Barbarossa Order, known as the the “Discipline Order”. Both orders were received simultaneously by the troops. The additional order weakened the Barbarossa Order once again. While the Barbarossa Order accepted a slackening of discipline, the Brauchitsch Order instructed the commanders to maintain discipline under all circumstances. Brauchitsch also showed the leeway given the military leadership by the Barbarossa Order. Trusting in the strictness of the officers, Brauchitsch wrote: “The individual soldier must not get the idea that he can do whatever he likes to the civilian population; but rather, that he is bound by superior orders at all times” (40).
Excesses against the civilian population, which the Barbarossa Order was intended to permit, offended the concept of war held by most officers. The Commander in Chief of the 18thArmy, Colonel General von Küchler, who had fearlessly spoken out against the SS excesses during the Polish campaign, said to his divisional commanders on 18 April 1941, when he informed them of the upcoming Russian campaign: “The inhabitants of the country -- against whom, after all, we are not fighting -- are to be treated well; their property is to be spared. The Army will attempt to make it clear to the inhabitants, by means of propaganda leaflets, that our intention is to liberate the countries from the Bolshevik yoke. If the inhabitants participate in the struggle against us -- which, according to all reports, cannot be assumed -- they will be treated as guerrillas and punished accordingly”. (41). General Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, Commander in Chief of the Army Group Center during the attack against the Soviet Union, found the Barbarossa Order “intolerable in its present form and incompatible with discipline”. He assigned his Chief of Staff to communicate this to the Commander in Chief of the Army (Brauchitsch). On 7 June1941, von Brauchitsch called him personally and said “that one could interpret what I wanted from the order and what I meant, in the way in which I wished it to be interpreted, that is: where the troops are concerned, there will be no change in the treatment of crimes against the civilian population! The supreme judicial authorities are to interpret whether a act should be punished by a court or not, at the same time the maintenance of discipline plays a decisive roll”. (42).
In the Luftwaffe, the Decree of 13 May 1941 was not even promulgated. On 20 May 1941 Göring, after a talk by his Head Judge Freiheer von Hammerstein, decided to ignore the order, because the Luftwaffe had no territorial authority in the occupied territories, and the importance of maintaining argued against enforcing the order. For plundering and rape, he even advocated specially severe treatment under military law. The envelope containing the Barbarossa Order was simply filed away in the safe of the Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Luftwaffe. The Order was not implemented in the Luftwaffe. On the contrary: in accord with the orders of Göring and the Luftwaffe chief judges, crimes against the civilian population were punished with particular severity. In his memoirs, von Hammerstein wrote in 1957: “Several sentences through which members of the Luftwaffe were sent to prison for raping Russian women, even Jews, which the higher levels thought free from any protection, were reversed by Göring, because he considered the death penalty indispensable in maintaining discipline.
Looting in enemy territory was punished with severe prison sentences, for the ringleaders by death. Even in the occupied territories of Russia, therefore, just as in the West, death sentences for crimes against the population were carried out in the place where the crime was committed, or, if that was not possible, were announced to the population by conspicuous placards posted on walls, to show the population that they would be protected from acts of violence” (43).
Neither the Barbarossa Order nor its implementation indicate that German soldiers had a free hand to do as they liked to the civilian populations on the Eastern Front. The Commander in Chief of the Army was successful in keeping the punishment of civilian crimes within reasonable guidelines by authorizing the military commanders on the spot to punish severe offenses by court martial or less serious disciplinary measures. In practice, this represented an evasion of the Führer Order. Göring‘s behavior amounted to a simple refusal to obey an order from the Führer. Only Göring could dare to do something of that kind. Even at the Nuremberg Trials, it was confirmed that the Barbarossa Order had no negative effect on the German soldiers, because the supreme judicial authorities carried on their functions as before (44).
The testimony of the military chaplains
In the Reichs Concordat of 20 July 1933 between the German Reich and the Curia, Hitler granted exempt pastoral care to Catholic officers in the Army, both officers and men, as well as their families. Franz Justus Rarkowski was appointed Military Pastoral Care Leader by the Pope with the approval of Reich government. During the Second World War, approximately 900 Catholic priests gave pastoral care in the Wehrmacht, with 500 fulltime military chaplains under them. In addition, approximately 10,000 members of the regular and lay clergy from the rank of subdeacons on up cared for their comrades as “soldier priests”, either as male nurses or as soldiers in combat units. Although they were prohibited from performing official pastoral functions, in practice, their actions were impossible to control. There were also military chaplains, even in some divisions of the Waffen-SS. (45). In total, there were approximately 20,000 lay military chaplains in the Wehrmacht, including lay and regular priests, candidates for the priesthood and members of Holy Orders (46). The number of Evangelical priests and candidates for the priesthood amounted to somewhat less than 10,000 men (47).
What was the attitude of these pastors, the embodiment of the believer in God conscience, towards the alleged dreadful atrocities of the units in which they served? There is no evidence of any indignity, dismay or horror on their part, either publicly or privately. The pastors enjoyed the possibility of writing through military pastoral reporting channels without their military commanders knowing anything about it. Nothing is known of any protests from the Field Bishop against the actions of the army to the OKW or even Hitler. It is to be assumed that the Field Bishop would have taken steps of some kind if he had been informed of the atrocities which are alleged to have been committed. Two complaints were received. They are directed against the
actions of the SS and Police detachments in the vicinity of army units, and originate from the two divisional pastors and priests of the 4thCompany, 607thRegiment, Military Hospital Division [?] of the 295thInfantry Division. Whether there were any other reports among the archives destroyed by the Catholic Field General Vicar Werthmann after the transfer of the archives of the Chief of Chaplains to Bamberg in 1945, is unknown.
Cooperation between the OKW and the Catholic chief of chaplains was undisturbed until the end of the war. He introduced the new burial regulations of the Wehrmacht, which also applied to the Waffen-SS. Christian symbols were to be retained during the burials of fallen soldiers: for every individual fallen soldier, a cross, with the name and other details, or a common cross for mass graves. The pastoral message of the Bavarian bishops of 12 August 1941, which was read out in all pulpits, stated word for word as follows: “With all our heart, we thank and with us the entire German people the Wehrmacht for its sensitive care for the resting places of the fallen comrades”. Similar expressions of gratitude were voiced by the Archbishop of Freiburg, Conrad Gröber, the Bishop of Munster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, and the Bishop of Trier, Franz Rudolf Bornewasser.
In view of the harmonious relations between Rarkowski and the OKW, it is highly probable that he would have protested if he had any knowledge of the atrocities of which the Wehrmacht stands accused today. He was obviously convinced that the conduct of the war by the Wehrmacht was in accordance with international law.
When the war was over, Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich issued the following pastoral message on 10 May 1945: “Beloved diocesans! We will welcome our soldiers home in so far as they now return from the field, with a thankful welcome greeting. For years, these brave men have borne the intolerable and endured the unspeakable for the homeland. Many of them will return with shaken nerves, and dependent upon careful, patient love during the transition period. The Almighty God grant also our prisoners a swift return and our brothers, who have sacrificed their lives, eternal rest”. This is not the manner in which one greets robbers, murderers and rapists.
From VERBRECHEN AN DER WEHRMACHT: Kriegsgreuel der Roten Armee 1941/42 by Prof. Dr. Alfred Seidler, vol. 1.
Translated by C. Porter
The book is a winner of the "Pour le Mérite" prize for military history in Germany.
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