CRIMES AGAINST THE WEHRMACHT
(VERBRECHEN AN DER WEHRMACHT)
by FRANZ W. SEIDLER
(translated by C.W. Porter)
[Note: I was paid to translate this about 5 or 6 years ago, but the operation went bust, one of the organizers went to jail, and the translation got lost.
So here it is, warts and all.
Those who wax indignant about Gestapo "torture" can take a good look at what the Soviets were doing.
This is the first volume, complete, in 8 parts.
Remember the book has photographs of all these things. -C.P.]
Soviet Cannibalism in German POW camps (from the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau - translated by C.W. Porter) WITH GRAPHICS
The Anti-Wehrmacht Exhibition (translated by C.W. Porter)
The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau (translated by C.W. Porter)
"German Atrocities" Committed by Soviet Agents in German Uniforms (translated by C.W. Porter)
There is no consistent equivalence between German and American or British army or Air Force ranks.
In other books, the following terms are usually translated as follows:
Gefreiter: Private First Class
Feldwebel: First Sergeant
Hauptfeldwebel: Chief Sergeant
Oberfeldwebel: Staff Sergeant
Stabsfeldwebel: Sergeant Major
Schütze (Grenadier): Rifleman (Private)
Oberschütze: Private 1st Class (or Chief Rifleman)
Obergefreiter: Leading Aircraftsman (Luftwaffe)
Unterfeldwebel: Staff Sergeant (Luftwaffe)
The problem is that if you translate them into English and then back into German you very often get the wrong ranks in German. There is some overlap. For this reason I have usually chosen to leave them in German.
Wehrmacht: Armed Forces
Heer: Land Forces
Luftwaffe: Air Force
OKW = High Command of the Armed Forces
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 traveling 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 cannibalism practiced [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 libelous ‘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!”
- Ilya Ehrenburg
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.
-The place names and dates are beyond doubt.
- The detailed circumstances of the cruel events were supported by eyewitnesses.
- The pictures are not private photographs, but juridical and medical probative material.
- The texts have not been manipulated in any way.
For most documents, additional probative material exists, which can be consulted by scholars.
-The wording of the texts can be verified in the Federal Archive / Military Archives Freiburg under the heading RW 2 / v. 147–v. 152.
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 throroughly 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 3rd 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 traveling 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 libeling 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 labeled “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).
-The best-known picture in the exhibition, the execution of civilians against the cemetery wall of Pacevo in Banat, also reproduced on the cover of DER SPIEGEL on 19 March1997, has not only been (slightly) retouched, for example, the steel helmet of the soldier with the pistol, but is also accompanied by a misleading caption. Page 28 of the Exhibition catalogue says: “In Serbia, the Wehrmacht, from the very beginning, left no doubt that they were willing to proceed against civilians with great brutality. When two SS men were shot in Pacevo, capital of Banat, on 17-18 April 1941, i.e. before the capitulation of the Serbian army, the garrison commander, Lieutenant Colonel von Bandelow ordered the murder of civilians in ‘reprisal’. Members of the Wehrmacht drove residents of the village at random through the streets”. What really happened is that German soldiers were repeatedly shot at during the night from the Orthodox cemetery at Pancevo. A search for the assassins was unsuccessful. After a few days, members of the German armed forces discovered an underground passageway from a mausoleum located inside the cemetery, leading to a nearby inn, thus facilitating the movements of the snipers. One night, a trap was set for the partisans. The next time German troops were shot at, other troops stormed the inn and found a trap door to the passageway to the cemetery. All persons present were arrested. A summary court sentenced them to death: 18 members of the Yugoslavian army, disguised as civilians, were sentenced to death by shooting, while 17 male civilians and one woman were sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on 22 April 1941. The executions by shooting were carried out against the cemetery wall by a firing squad from the Regiment Grossdeutschland. The hangings were performed by a civilian at another location (9). The procedure was neither a reprisal nor an act of the local garrison commander, but rather, the carrying out of a legal sentence under international law. The accompanying texts of the exhibition also fails to mention that the Yugoslavian troops took away nine ethnic Germans during the retreat from Pancevo and shot them in a nearby forest. In the eyes of the exhibitors, a crime is a crime only if committed by a German.
-A photo of naked men was clearly revealed to be a falsification of the text. Its title in the exhibition was “Jews Preparing for Execution”. In reality, the photo consists of a detail from an illustration from the book: “Deutsches Vorfeld Im Osten” [German Perimeter in the East], published by Helmut Gauweiler in Krakau in 1941, showing a column of Jewish workers preparing to take a bath in the Weichsel (10). The comment of the news magazine Focus on this revelation was: “Nobody who treats sources and photographs in this manner has any right to be taken seriously. When dealing with such a complex topic…historical honesty on the part of the exhibitor is an absolute necessity”. (11). Exhibition organizer Hannes Heer’s comment in reply was simply: “Just say it's a fake, then. Do what you like” (12). This statement reveals the frame of mind behind the exhibition: the exhibitors are not concerned with the truth, but rather, with a mission. They are ideological fanatics, and, as such, are indifferent to the standards of scholarship.
-Other falsifications were discovered by Wolf Stoecker in the book “Armee im Kreuzfeuer” [Army in the Crossfire] (13).
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 working techniques. 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 fulfill 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 traveling 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 2nd Parachute-Armored Infantry Division during the last weeks of the war and holder of the German Oak Leaf Cluster (17).
The Wehrmach 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 36 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-martialed, 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 June1941, 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 principle, when Hitler signed the Commissar Order, he 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 Commissars 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 2nd 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 franctireurs 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 “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 18th Army, 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 provided 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 4th Company, 607th Regiment, Military Hospital Division of the 295th Infantry 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 Archibishop 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.
Stalin’s Illegal Conduct of the War during the “Great Patriotic War”
The Russian campaign, which is what the Germans call the Eastern campaign, or the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets call it, was, in many respects, a war outside international law. The ideological conflict between National Socialism and Socialism degenerated into a war of extermination over wide stretches of territory. In accordance with the propaganda thesis of the Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda, German soldiers conducted a
war to rescue the West from Bolshevism. The Soviet Union fought to expand Marxism-Leninism. German soldiers died for Führer, Volk and Vaterland; the Russians and others died for the future of the proletariat and for Stalin. There were violations of international law on both sides.
The agreements applicable in international law during the Second World War were the Hague Convention on Land Warfare of 18 October 1907 (Annex to the Fourth Hague Convention relating to the Laws and Customs of War on Land), the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention of 27 July 1929 (Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War) and the Geneva Convention for the Alleviation of the Conditions of the Wounded and Sick in the Field, of 27 July 1929. They regulated the relations between the belligerents and established the standard of behavior of the combatants in the war (ius in bello).
In international law, the Soviet Union stood outside the community of states. Lenin had repudiated all agreements signed by the representatives of almost all nations in The Hague in 1907 as a legacy of the Czarist Empire. It was the Czar who initiated the conference and whose representatives had worked decisively in the wording of the texts. The two Geneva Conferences of 1929 were never recognized by the Soviet Union (48). This had the result that the treaties didn’t apply in wars involving the Soviet Union. When the Red Army marched into Eastern Poland in September 1939 in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, members of the captured Polish Army enjoyed no protection under international law. 12,500 Polish officers were murdered without the world learning anything about it. The Soviets set aside the provisions of international law in the Finnish-Soviet Winter War, as well. The request of the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs of 30 November 1939 that both sides should respect the terms of the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929 went unanswered. During the Second World War, these treaties were applicable between the German Reich and its allies on the one hand and the Western Allies on the other hand, but not between the German Reich and the Soviet Union. Whether or not Stalin’s offer to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated 17 July 1941, forwarded through Sweden as the representative protecting power of the USSR, stating that he would be prepared to treat prisoners of war in accordance with international law if the Germans would do the same, created a mutual obligation, is disputed. Germany answered with a protest note: “The Reich Government can only express its extreme astonishment that the Soviet government, despite the attitude of its troops against German soldiers that have fallen into their hands so far, still considers itself justified in speaking of the application of the regulations of international law in the treatment of prisoners of war and, at the same time, in bringing up the subject of reciprocity… On the other hand, it has been established, based on the condition of German soldiers found during the advance of the German troops, as well as by the testimonies of soldiers having temporarily fallen into the hands of Russian troops and then having been liberated, some of whom were wounded, that the Soviet troops have martyred and tortured German prisoners in a truly indescribable and bestial manner” (49).
The protest of the Soviet Red Cross about German air attacks on Soviet hospital installations, transmitted through the International Red Cross Committee, was also rejected on the grounds that “the Soviets have placed themselves outside international law to an unprecedented extent”, as proven by the torture and murder of the crews of German planes after making forced landings” (50).
The request of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information on the camps for German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union transmitted through the mission of Bulgaria, Germany’s protecting power, in Moscow, was rejected by Moscow. The International Committee of the Red Cross received no permit to visit camps on Soviet soil. It received no lists of German prisoners of war, although the German Reich and all countries allied with Germany, had supplied lists of names of Russian prisoners of war (51). In the Red Army, there was no sign of any willingness to respect international law. President Roosevelt’s attempt during a personal conversation on 29 May 1942 to induce Foreign Minister Molotov to get the Soviet Union to ratify the Geneva Convention, permitting representatives of the International Red Cross to visit prisoner of war camps and exchange lists of names of prisoners, wounded and killed, was unsuccessful. At this time, the German government, however, was no longer interested in communications relating to Soviet prisoners of war, because such communications would have meant that Soviet losses in German prisoner of war camps would have become public knowledge (52).
The Hague Convention on Land Warfare (“Convention relating to the Laws and Customs of War on Land”) with which every German soldier was familiar, established the four criteria of combatant status in Article 1: i.e. to enjoy the status of a legitimate combatant, a soldier had to meet the following conditions: “1. To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; 2. To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance; 3. To carry arms openly; and 4. To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war”. The “person responsible for his subordinates” did not need to be an officer, but had to be able to expect obedience to his orders by his subordinates. He had to bear responsibility for their actions. The emblem to be “worn openly” normally consisted of a uniform. This provided the wearer with the status of a member of the armed forces. Anyone who did not belong to the armed forces of an organized state but who claimed the status of a combatant, required, for such a claim to enjoy legitimacy, a special emblem, which emblem was to be communicated to the other side. The emblem documented the fighter’s membership in a group obligated by the principle of order and obedience, and guaranteed, in addition to the weapons to be borne openly, the legitimate conduct of war with the enemy as an identifiable enemy. The emblem therefore had to be designed to be recognizable from a normal distance, at least from rifle range. This was to prevent the inhabitants of the country from appearing in action as combatants at one moment, and then as apparently peaceful civilians a moment later. Switching back and forth between warfare and a peaceful occupation was declared incompatible with the modern laws of war. The combat emblem must therefore be worn not just during combat, but from the first military
action until the last act of war, according to the principle: once an enemy, always an enemy. It was to prevent partisans from disappearing into the anonymity of the peaceful population immediately after a combative action. Whether or not the emblem had to be fixed to the clothing or not, was disputed. In the majority view, an armband of a light color, such as worn on the left arm by the German “Volkssturm” at the end of the Second World War was sufficient, but a star measuring five centimeters in width, worn on the headgear, as interpreted by the Tito partisans, was not. The provision that arms were to be “born openly” was intended to allow the combatant on the other side to recognize a combatant as an enemy. Pistols concealed in the pocket or weapons with sawn-off barrels concealed beneath the clothing did not fulfill the conditions of Paragraph 3. Anyone using impermissible weapons, such as shot guns, poison gas, dum-dum bullets, and anyone who failed to respect the laws of humanity, for example, by torturing or mutilating prisoners, was in violation of the laws and customs of war. Anyone who failed to respect the conditions of Article 1 of the Hague Convention of Land Warfare – anyone, without exception – had no claim to treatment according to international law, for example, to prisoner of war status. In principle, such a person stood outside the legal order of things and was to be treated, for better or worse, by the victor, as a partisan (irregular combatant) according to the customs of war, i.e, according to prescriptive law (53).
The “Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War” of 27 July 1929 established the principles relating to captured combatants. The five sections of the Convention were titled: “Evacuation of Prisoners of War” (evacuation from the combat zone, registration and making contact with the family), “Prisoners of War Camps” (creation and equipping of camps, care, health care, camp discipline, special provisions for officers), “Work of Prisoners of War” (organization and payment, prohibited activities), “Relations of Prisoners of War with the Exterior” (contacts with the protecting power, punishments), “End of Captivity” (release, transportation home), “Deaths of Prisoners of War”, (drawing up of wills and testaments, burial), “Bureaus of Relief and Information concerning Prisoners of War” (rights of confidants, creation of central information bureaus, information to be made available to the protecting power, function of the assistance associations). A few conditions are excerpted here: all food must correspond, in quantity and quality, to that of the reserve troops of the country in whose power they are (article 11). Clothing washing and shoes are to be made available (Article 12). Once monthly, the prisoners of war are to be examined medically (Article 15). No prisoner shall be used for work of which he is physically incapable (Article 29). In order that they may buy food and clothing, officers are paid the same wage as the corresponding rank of the power that holds them (Articles 22 and 23). Exchange of mail was to be permitted at least once a month (Article 37).
Article 2 of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention established that the responsibility for hostile soldiers having been taken prisoner lies with the power that holds them, and not with the troops having captured them. Each government had to ensure that
its soldiers respected the conditions and that violations were punished. Article 2 stated: “Prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Government, but not of the individuals or formation which captured them. They shall at all times be humanely treated and protected, particularly against acts of violence, from insults and from public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against them are forbidden.”
The “Geneva Convention on the Amelioration of the Lot of the Wounded and Sick in the Field” on 27 July 1929 contained the provisions on the treatment of wounded and sick in hostile hands. Article 1 states: “Military personnel and other persons by the army assigned to the army who are wounded or sick must under all circumstances be spared and protected; they are to be treated and cared for without distinction of nationality with humanity by the belligerents into whose hands they are.” They party controlling the battlefield was obligated to collect the dead and wounded and protect them from plundering. Hostile wounded are to be treated according to the rules of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention. The names of captured soldiers are to be exchanged between the belligerents. Burials are to take place in an ‘honorable manner’. The medical services are to be ‘spared and protected’. The medical personnel and field chaplains are not to be considered prisoners of war when they fall into hostile hands. Equipment, transport and accompanying personnel are to be retained by them. They must not be deprived of their insignia and are to be repatriated as soon as the military situation so permits. The symbols of the Red Cross are not to be misused.
The wording of Article 1 of the Geneva Convention on the Amelioration of the Wounded and Sick in the Field was of unusual rigidity. The sick and wounded were “under all circumstances… to be treated with humanity and to receive medical care”.
International law assumed that belligerents, even when they were not bound by any international treaties, would respect the basic principles of humane conduct of war. During the First Hague Conference of 1899, the delegates had agreed that future military conflicts would in all cases be conducted under the conditions arising from the “customs established between civilized nations and the laws of humanity and the requirements of the public conscience”. These minimum conditions, known as the “Martens Clause”, were to be respected by all belligerents during the Second World War.
If a belligerent failed to respect the provisions of international law, the injured state was entitled to resort to reprisals. In general, these reprisals involved collective punishments. The reprisals were, however, to be proportional; they were to be dictated by military necessary, ordered by the top levels of command and in proportion to the violation of international law. Article 2 of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention stated that under no circumstances were reprisals to be carried out against prisoners of war (54).
To gain legitimacy with regards to Great Britain, which was planning to conclude a mutual assistance pact with the USSR, a decree of the
Council of the People’s Commissars dated 1 July 1941 informed the troops for the first time on the provisions of the three conventions of international law. The decree remained without effect, since the Red Army received no training on compliance with the Hague Convention on Land Warfare and the two Geneva Conventions. The frequent atrocities committed by Red Army soldiers against German prisoners and the wounded over the following weeks suggested that the announcement of the Council of the People’s Commissars was not intended as an instruction to be taken seriously by the Red Army, but rather, merely to create an impression of legitimacy and to appease their intended ally. There was no improvement. On the contrary:
The partisan war in violation of international law
On 22 June 1941, the Council of the Supreme Soviet imposed martial law over Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, White Russia, Karelia, Bessarabia, as well as over the territories of Archangel, Murmansk, Vologda, Leningrad, Kalinin, Ivanovo, Yaroslav, Ryazan-Smolensk, Tula, Kursk, Moscow, Voronezh, Orel, the Crimea, and Krasnodar. General mobilization was ordered in 15 military districts.
Partisan warfare was unleashed one week later. It was a prepared measure in violation of international law for which the Wehrmacht was unprepared. Furthermore, a “Service Regulation for the Partisan War” had been in effect in the Red Army since 1933. As early as January and February 1941, large scale partisan war games were held in various military districts of the Soviet Union by the “Society for the Encouragement of Defense” (Osowiachim), in which the civilian population also took part, as reported by the Army newspaper “Red Star”. Based on these experiments, the Soviet Communist Party created so-called “Destruction Battalions”, even prior to the beginning of the war. When an area was to be abandoned by the Red Army, these destruction battalions were systematically supposed to destroy all businesses, communications installations, medical installations, etc. of any military or commercial importance, and to begin partisan warfare as soon as the front was overrun (56)
On 29 June1941, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union called upon all Party, Soviet, Trade Union and Komosol organizations to form “partisan divisions and diversion groups” and to pursue and destroy the German invaders in a “merciless struggle… to the last drop of blood”. (57). Two phrases occur repeatedly throughout all following announcements, orders, instructions, instructions and guidelines of the Central and Provincial authorities of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until the end of the war. One phrase consists of all the possible variations on the word “destroy”, and the other, all possible variations on the word “invader”. As early as 1 July 1941, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of White Russia, for example, in compliance with the order from Moscow, ordered civilians “to blow up or damage streets and bridges, fuel and food
warehouses, set vehicles and airplanes on fire, cause railway accidents, give the enemies no rest either day or night, destroy them wherever one comes across them, to kill them with everything at hand: ax, scythe, crowbars, pitchforks, and knives”. A particularly remarkable sentence states: “In destroying the enemy, don’t shrink from resort to any means at all: strangle, burn, poison the fascist expectoration!”
On 3 July 1941, Stalin, in his well-known radio speech “Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and Sisters! Fighters of our Army and Navy!”, which was broadcast everywhere over and over again in the following days, ordered the population to deprive the German invader of everything that might be of use: “Not single locomotive, not one single railroad car, not one kilogram of grain, not one liter of fuel must be left behind for the German enemy”. Anything that could not be taken away was to be destroyed: “In enemy-occupied areas, partisan divisional units, on both foot and horseback, must be created to fight the units of the enemy army, to set partisan warfare ablaze everywhere, to blow up bridges and streets, to destroy telephone and telegraph connections, to burn down forests, warehouses and wreck trains. Intolerable conditions must be created in the occupied territories; the enemy is to be pursued and destroyed at all time, and all enemy measures must be thwarted.” (58).
On 18 July 1941, followed the decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union entitled “On the Organization of the Struggle Behind the Lines of the Hostile Troops”, the leaders of the Republic, Area and district committees of the Party organizations were personally made responsible for ensuring that “Partisan divisions, diversion and destruction groups on foot and horse”, in compliance with Stalin’s order, were organized to “create intolerable conditions for the German invader” (59).
Stalin’s speech at a celebration session of the Moscow Soviet of the Deputies of the Workers on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of the Great Socialist October Revolution on 6 November 1941 was peppered with insults directed at German soldiers: “Men with the morals of beasts”, “Robbers who have lost all human face in their moral rottenness and have long since sunk to the level of beasts”, “Men without conscience and honor”, etc. Any expedient was permitted against them. The population was to be mobilized “to the last man” in destroying the German enemy (60). To this purpose, on 17 November1941, Stalin issued Order no. 428, which, in German journalism, became known as the “Arsonists Order”. In the original, the order was entitled: “The monstrous crimes, cruelties and acts of violence of the German authorities in the occupied districts and territories” and stated as follows: “All settlements occupied by German troops are to be set on fire, to a depth of 40 to 60 km behind the main front line and 20 to 30 km on both sides of the roads. Air Force, Artillery and Partisan divisions groups equipped with bottles of fuel" were assigned to this task. The order is even said to have contained the following sentence: “The search and destroy commandos shall carry on the destruction actions in the uniform of the German army and Waffen-SS.
Such actions incite hatred against the fascist occupiers and facilitate the recruitment of partisans in the backcountry. At the same time, care should be taken to leave survivors to report on ‘German atrocities’. 20 to 30 “courageous fighters” were to be selected for these underground guerrilla groups, to be created in each regiment. “In particular, those who destroy settlements behind the German lines in German uniforms are to be nominated for the receipt of medals”, the order says. The last sentence says: “The population must be told that the Germans burnt the villages and localities to punish the partisans” (61). The propagandists of the Red Army followed Stalin’s brutal order to the letter, even though it was chiefly directed against the Russian population. On 30 November 1941, the most powerful of these propagandists, Ilya Ehrenburg, issued the proclamation: “Fighters, Spies, Partisans!”, in which he called upon members of these three groups to do as follows: “Anywhere there is a house in which the Germans might warm themselves, smoke the Germans out!” (62).
On 7 January 1942, the Soviet Foreign Ministry issued the following hypocritical note to their accredited diplomats in Moscow: “The Soviet Government, before the diplomatic representatives of world public opinion, objects to the cruelties, devastations and plundering committed by German troops in the Soviet territories, in which the German Wehrmacht deliberately destroys entire villages and cities and burns them to the ground, rendering the Soviet population homeless. The destruction has assumed the dimensions of widespread devastation. The Soviet population is robbed of food and clothing, while anyone who resists is shot” (63). With these remarks, the Soviet government attempted to blame the Wehrmacht for atrocities unscrupulously committed by the Soviets themselves, against their own population.
The demonization of the German soldiers in Soviet propaganda paved the way for partisan atrocities against the “fascist beasts”, ”fascist carrion”, “band of Hitlerite cannibals”, “German robbers”, “Hitler hordes”, etc. To the partisans, this classification of the enemy was a license to kill. The cruelties of the Red Army were overshadowed by the cruelties of the partisans. German soldiers who fell into the hands of the partisans had to expect the worst. On 1 October 1941, a member of the Central Committee named Kazapalov called upon the partisans “to torture” captured German soldiers “by mutilating them before shooting them” (64). Brutalized members of the partisan hordes followed these instructions only too willingly. The Germans, in turn, commonly referred to the partisans as ‘bandits’.
German officers were not always able to prevent their soldiers from taking revenge. The bitterness was too great. What happens in a soldier who finds his comrades lying mutilated at the edge of a forest? The pay book of every member of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS contained a document entitled “The 10 Commandments of the German Soldier”, which was learned by every recruit. The third commandment stated: “No enemy who surrenders is to be killed, except for partisans or spies. The latter are to receive a just punishment from the courts”. These humane statements, which were entirely in conformity with international law and had been implemented in the campaigns until that time, were soon proven inadequate for the actual situation.
Despite the escalation of brutality in the partisan war, the German military leadership repeatedly called upon the soldiers of the Wehrmacht to spare the foreign civilian population. The Commander in Chief of the Army, in his “Guidelines for Fighting the Partisans”, issued on 25 October 1941, ordered that all German soldiers were to “win the trust of the population through rational and fair treatment, thus depriving the partisans of further support” (65). In the “Guidelines for the Reinforced Struggle against the Problem of Banditry in the East” (Instruction no. 46) of 18 August 1942, even Hitler had to admit that the cooperation of the population was “indispensable”, demanding “strict but just treatment” of the Soviet population. (66)
Abuse of the Red Cross
During the Second World War, all the belligerents were guilty of violations of the 1929 Geneva Prisoner of War Convention. The emblem of the Red Cross was misused and abused. But German wounded who fell into the hands of the Red Army were particularly vulnerable to hostile brutality. Members of the Red Army were under no obligations under international law. Even the “Martens Clause” remained a dead letter. The “Martens Clause”, of course, referred to the customs of civilized nations, the laws of humanity and the requirements of public conscience, but all these notions were corrupted by Socialist education in class hatred. The treatment received by German wounded depended on the personal morals of the individual Russian soldier. Those with religious convictions might, in individual cases, have recognized wounded Germans as helpless fellow brothers in Christ, but most of them adhered to the morals of the Party, which considered the Germans mere vermin.
The Soviet military leadership ignored the emblems of the Red Cross since the beginning of the war. German field hospitals and forward collection points marked with a visible Red Cross flag came under fire so frequently that, in the end, the Red Cross flag was no longer flown, since it offered no protection. Since unarmed German medics wearing Red Cross armbands were killed upon capture, together with the wounded, they were issued .38 caliber pistols to protect the wounded. To protect them from sniper fire, German medics were even prohibited from wearing the Red Cross armband, since it provided a highly visible target (67).
When German wounded were left on the field and fell into the hands of the Red Army, their fate was entirely a matter of chance. Many were blown up inside the buildings in which they lay; sometimes they were evacuated with the Red Army; in Feodosia, they were simply thrown out of the windows (68). Sometimes they were sent to special hospitals for the wounded. In the latter case, if the hospital personnel was evacuated and there was a shortage of medications, bandage and other medical materiel (as there usually was), their lives hung by a thread. Between 26 January and 25 February 1943, after the capitulation of Stalingrad, 1,870 Germans died in the hospital for the wounded of Beketowa.
In Lesobasa 1,230 German wounded fell into Soviet hands; 640 of them died (69).
Violations against the Prisoner of War Convention
No German soldier who held up his hands in battle to surrender could predict how the Soviets would react. There are thousands of eyewitness reports describing the shooting of soldiers who had surrendered. Under international law, these prisoners should have been searched for weapons and taken to prisoner of war collection stations.
German soldiers were usually robbed of all personal possessions immediately after capture. While being searched for weapons, they were robbed of all valuables, especially watches and rings. They were often robbed of their boots as well, which was equivalent to a death sentence: anyone without solid footwear died on the long marches.
Many of these plundered captives, if they remained alive at all, were later shot individually or in groups. The shooting of prisoners occurred so extensively that the Red Army intelligence service complained of a lack of POWs to interrogate. The Red Army high command had difficulty gaining intelligence about enemy positions and details about the German units, for example, armaments and supplies. The Commander in Chief of the Red Army therefore ordered an end to the practice of shooting all prisoners -- which, at the front lines, appeared comprehensible and legal to them; German POWs were henceforth to be sent to the rear, instead of being shot (70).
A captured German soldier subjected to interrogation was unable to conduct himself in accordance with his training without risking his life. If he gave his name, rank and serial number only, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and refused to provide any further information, his life was in danger. Reference to Article 5 of the Prisoner of War Convention was superfluous: “Every prisoner of war is required to declare… his true names and rank, or his regimental number… No pressure shall be exercised on prisoners to obtain information regarding the situation in their armed forces or their country. Prisoners who refuse to reply may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasantness or disadvantages of any kind whatsoever.” The Soviet command authorities issued many orders, which are still in existence, to shoot all prisoners of war unwilling to make a statement. Many interrogations were accompanied by torture. The simplest method of interrogation consisted of holding the soldier by both hands and feet and striking him with a truncheon up to ten times on the buttocks and back to make him talk. More severe interrogation consisted of stripping the prisoner naked and beating him about the head with rubber truncheons until the ears fell off. Other persons unwilling to talk had their fingernails torn out. After the interrogations, the prisoner was usually handed over to the N.K.V.D. As a rule, they were then shot (71).
To induce the Red Army to take German prisoners,
Soviet soldiers were assured that all [German or German-allied] POWs would be shot after interrogation. “None of the invaders must leave our land alive” (72).
A prisoner who reached a POW collection center after many perils and long meanderings was still not safe. In the vicinity of the front, prisoners were often selected for construction work in violation of the provisions of the Geneva Convention. The paths to the reception camps often had to be walked on foot. Whether or not the weak and wounded remained alive was up left up to the accompanying soldiers. The prisoners were counted and registered after their arrival.
Soviet POW war camps, throughout the war, were no different from German POW camps in the fall of 1941, when hundreds of thousands of Red Army members had to be cared for, from one day to the next, in a land bled white after great battles of encirclement. The number of German soldiers who died in captivity from punishment measures, exhaustion, hunger, dysentery, typhoid, typhus and overwork will never be known. Only 5% of all German soldiers captured by the Soviets in 1941 and 1942 survived the war. The sick and the wounded nearly all died (73).
Revenge on collaborators
Soviet citizens who collaborated with the German occupation troops were severely punished. Whenever the Red Army liberated areas occupied by the Germans, special N.K.V.D. commandos began to hunt for collaborators among the population. All persons who had in any way cooperated with the Germans, either in good faith or for personal advantage, following occupation by the Wehrmacht, were purged. The measures introduced by the Germans, such as, for example, the distribution of the collective farms and the free activity of the Orthodox Churches, led not only to expressions of sympathy on the part of the population, but to large-scale cooperation by many Russians, in administration and distribution, in the recruiting of manpower, and in the struggle against the partisans. In addition to ex-Kulaks, members of the various national minorities and all persons having suffered under Soviet domination, many young people also collaborated with the Germans. Any collaborator caught by the Red Army was generally killed: hanged on the spot. The victims included many women and youths. Accusing the Germans of these murders, whenever possible, was standard Soviet propaganda practice. Many innocent soldiers of the Wehrmacht were executed for these very same crimes, for propaganda purposes, following capture. Even the results of the scorched earth policy, initiated by the Red Army during their withdrawal, destroying many localities, were frequently blamed on the Wehrmacht (74).
The first great show trial of German prisoners of war took place in
in Kharkhov in December 1943. The four defendants were hanged publicly after four days of the trial on 19 December 1943 in the city marketplace, to the applause of 50,000 spectators (75).
When the Red Army reoccupied the Caucausus in 1943, Stalin ordered N.K.V.D. Chief Beria that all “active German lackeys and bandits, traitors to the mother country and voluntary turncoats” were to be resettled out of the liberated areas by the State Security Service. 735 families were transported to Tadzhikstan in animal carts (76). Since many members of the ethnic groups of the Chechen, Ossetian, Kalmuck, Turmengian, Georgian, Balkar, Ingush, Karadzhayian, and Crimean Tatars had deserted to join the German Wehrmacht, many of these minorities were deported to the East. 26,359 families were deported from among the Kalmucks alone (77).
Soviet War Propaganda
Atrocity Propaganda on the destruction of the fighting morale of the Red Army
The atrocity propaganda practiced in a masterly manner by the British during the First World War was resorted to extensively by all sides during the Second World War. Although most of the First World War propaganda testimony had been revealed to be false, the two decades between the wars had not sufficed to stigmatize war propaganda as an instrument of mendacity and fabrication. The most effective British propaganda lie during the First World War was the story of the “Belgian children with their hands hacked off”, which -- no matter how incredible -- "was repeated by newspapers all over the world”, in countless variations, as characteristic of the “Huns”. The British and their allies even alleged that the Germans were converting the corpses of their own soldiers and enemies into food for swine (78).
Despite the revelation of the falsity of this atrocity story, atrocity propaganda was given a new lease on life by the Second World War. Both sides accused each other of having desired the war. While the Germans believed the war to have been forced on them, the Allies accused the Germans of treacherously attacking “innocent Poland” and the “peace-loving Soviet Union”. (79). Each side accused the other of torturing prisoners, killing the wounded and enslaving the civilian population, in violation of international law and all principles of humane conduct of war.
Due to the innumerable cruelties during the establishment of the Socialist system, the Soviets had more difficulty making the population believe that that the Germans were “sub-humans” than their Western Allies. To achieve this end, organizational measures were resorted to and particularly crude propaganda weapons were forged. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, Stalin ordered the centralization of all Soviet communications and information policy, so that all Soviet institutions spoke with one voice. The entire news policy of the USSR was concentrated in the Sowinform Bureau. Even the State agency TASS was personally subordinated to Stalin. The fundamental instructions came from Stalin himself. Stalin read and censored many texts personally (80).
Propaganda material for use against the Wehrmacht and German-allied forces was created either in the “Soviet Bureau for Military-Political Propaganda” with the participation of German “old Bolsheviks”, or in the 7th Division of the Red Army, with the cooperation, starting in 1943, of the “National Committee for a Free Germany” (N.K.F.D.) and the “German Officers; Bund” (B.d.O.). The propaganda objectives were in harmony with the decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Council of the People’s Commissars of the USSR dated 24 June 1941: to cover up Soviet losses, to exaggerate all German defeats, to demonstrate Soviet superiority, to refute “fascist” “propaganda lies”, and persuade enemy soldiers to mutilate themselves or desert (81). The Germans and German-allied forces on both the Eastern Front and to the rear were deluged with leaflets, three billion of them being distributed during the war. The quality of these leaflets improved only slowly over the course of the war. The initial Communist slogans of the “unity of the proletariat” and the “solidarity of the working class” had little effect. More effective were the attempts to drive a wedge between the Wehrmacht and the armies of the Rumanian, Hungarian and Italian allies. Non-German soldiers were promised better treatment in captivity. In many cases, the promise was kept (82).
The military press of the Red Army disposed of 55 different editorial staffs for their own soldiers. Several hundred newspapers were also published for the soldiers of the Red Army. The total circulation of all military newspapers combined amounted to approximately 3.2 million copies in 1944 (83). A central concern of Soviet military propaganda was to maintain the “Morale of the Army”. This was one of the five basic principles of Soviet military doctrine. The others were 1: The stability of the hinterland; 2. The quality and quantity of the armed forces; 3. The weapons; 4. The organizational capability of Command personnel (84).
The political Commissars and Politruks were responsible for the morale of the Soviet soldiers in all detachments and units of the Red Army. Education in “military heroism” was dispensed through the ideological-political training of the soldiers and through military propaganda.
The Commissars performed several combined functions among the troops which, in other armies, were assigned to other leaders. They were political commanders (War Commissars), Chiefs of Chaplains, welfare officers, supply officers, personnel officers, propaganda officers and local editors. In December 1941, 142 Commissars on the level of the Armies and Fronts (Army Groups) were given the rank of general. For the soldiers of the Red Army, the Commissars were more important than the military leaders. Pravda defined their role as follows: “While the Regimental Commander is the head of the Regiment, the Commissar is the Father and Soul” (85). Only when the rivalry resulting from the equal footing of commander and commissar was seen to hamper military decision making was the Institution of the War Commissars abolished by decree of the Presidents of the USSR on 9 October 1942, and the military leaders promised the unrestricted tactical and strategic freedom of decision-making. The tasks of the
Commissar were then taken over by the “Sampolit”, who, as representative commander with military rank, were responsible for political matters only, and had no say in military matters. Subordinate to the commanders in terms of rank, the Sampolit had to obey in case of doubt. In most cases, the former commissars assumed the new functions, although their operational say in the matter was restricted. More important, they assumed the political sphere of responsibility.
Discipline was considered the yardstick for troop morale. The Sampolit, like the Commissars before them, sent regular secret reports to the political administration on unit morale, especially that of the officers. Special attention was paid to disciplinary and punishment procedures. Army combat readiness was estimated on the basis of the kinds of cases: disobedience, insubordination, theft, violations of discipline relating to guard duty, cowardice, self-mutilation. The composition of the courts martial, with one member from the military jurisdiction, together with the head of the Special Division and the representative political commissars, made the political nature of Soviet military justice quite obvious.
Political officers in the Red Army made no distinction between desertion and capture. Soviet POWs in German hands were referred to by Stalin as “turncoats”, and the Soviet Red Cross was prohibited from accepting and forwarding their letters from German POW camps. Stalin placed no value on the exchange of lists of names (86). After the heavy losses in the battles of encirclement in which hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were captured, Stalin declared, in September 1941, all prisoners of war traitors to the Mother Country. A military order of Marshal Timoschenko threatened everyone who even mentioned withdrawal with court martial. At Orel and Novgorod-Seversky, Soviet airplanes bombarded the German collection camp for Russian POWs, and, in one case, they dropped leaflets with the text: “This is what will happen to all those who betray the cause of Lenin and Stalin” (87). After Commander in Chief of the 28th Army Lieutenant General Katshalov, Major General Ponedelin and the Commander of the 13th Rifle Corps, Major General Kirillov, were captured by the Germans, Stalin, on 16 August1941, issued Stawka Order no. 270, stating: “Since cowards and deserters must be destroyed, I order:
Stalin caused the names of Zhukow, Vatutin, Shaposhnikov and Vassilevsky to appear at the bottom of the order.
The “Infantry Combat Regulations” in application from 1942 to 1945 prohibited soldiers from allowing themselves to be captured, stating: “Nothing – not even the threat of
death, can force a soldier of the Red Army to surrender” (89).
Stalin set up interrogation and reeducation camps for Soviet soldiers having escaped from German POW camps. Stalin feared infiltration by spies. Every individual Russian former POW was interrogated by the N.K.V.D.. Most of the ones who returned were assigned to punishment battalions and sent to be slaughtered at the most dangerous sectors on the front. Officers who succeeded in fleeing back to the Russian lines were usually shot after summary court martial proceedings. Death sentences were passed for cowardice in the face of the enemy, betrayal of military secrets and failure to obey orders. An exception was Major General Sysoyev, who escaped from German captivity in 1943. He was placed on probation for three years.
Stalin’s order no. 227 of 28 July 1942 was directed against the numerous deserters from the Red Army to the German lines. He ordered the formation of penal battalion s composed of unreliable soldiers, with the incorporation of officers and Politruks “having been found guilty of indiscipline and cowardice in the face of the enemy”. The men were sent in company strength for the most dangerous tasks on the front, and were used, for example, to clear mine fields or in suicide attacks against enemy defenses. In each army zone, three to five well-armed units were also formed for the purpose of immediate assignment behind unreliable divisions with the duty of “shooting all retreating persons and all cowards in the event of disorderly withdrawal” (90).
Even partisan groups independent of the national partisan movement under Colonel General Ponamorenko were in Stalin’s bad books, although they were among the Germans’ most formidable adversaries. As “undisciplined partisans” they were only loosely connected, if at all, to the central commando posts, carrying a partisan war on their account, in small groups. They possessed no POW camps in which to house German wounded or prisoners, as would have been possible behind the front lines of the regular Red Army. All POWs were generally murdered. When their regions were reoccupied by the Red Army, these groups were usually placed in the custody of the K.K.V.D. and sent to the most distant camps for re-education; sometimes they were setenced to punishment battalions, where they were subjected to particularly severe discipline. Their successes counted for nothing. Their indiscipline, treachery and brutality in partisan warfare made these undisciplined gangs dangerous partners, even to the Soviet High Command.
The chief themes of Soviet propaganda for the Red Army were:
The propagandists of the Red Army knew that Soviet soldiers had little enthusiasm for the socialist regime. And even Stalin was not particularly
well-liked by all the ethnic groups in the Soviet Union. So Soviet propaganda was based on the other three arguments.
An effective slogan in encouraging a love of the people for “Little Mother Russia” was the “Defense of the Motherland”. Patriotism was mobilized against the German invaders. The Germans were described as cruel aggressors whose aim it was to destroy beautiful Russia. The Red Army was alleged to be conducting a war of defense. One leaflet read: “The Russian soldier is fighting for a just cause and is invincible”. The Russian people were said to have “stood up as one man for the defense of their homeland”. (91)
“Fascism” was pilloried as a class-enemy ideology and the racial mysticism of the “fascists” was ridiculed. The members of the Red Army were given to understand that the German invasion was intended to destroy the socialist achievements and enslave the peoples of the Soviet Union. At the top of the first page, “Pravda” replaced its traditional slogan -- “Proletariat of all Countries Unite!” -- with the slogan “Death to the German Occupiers!”
The German conduct of the war was pilloried as bestial. Soviet propaganda attempted to induce the civilian population and the Red Army to hostility against the Germans, with examples of brutalities. A propaganda text entitled “Fascist Atrocities Against Prisoners of War”, published on the occasion of a note from Molotov of 6 November 1941, was concerned with German failures relating to prisoners of war, accusing the Germans of wishing to kill off the many Soviet prisoners of war, whose numbers the Soviets naturally did not dare to mention.
“Education in Hatred” among Soviet troops was one of the duties of the Political Officers. Stalin expressed the matter as follows: “It is impossible to conquer the enemy without having learnt to hate him with all one’s soul” (92).
The Stawka Order no. 130 of 14 October 1942 repeatedly called upon all members of the Red Army to develop an irreconcilable hatred of everything German.
The Murder Appeals of Ilya Ehrenburg
One of Stalin’s cleverest students, and Soviet Union’s most capable propagandist, was Ilya Ehrenburg, responsible for the Red Army’s “education to hatred”. At the age of seventeen, the young Bolshevist revolutionary went to Paris to prepare the socialist revolution there. According to his instructions, he stayed in Berlin until 1924, where he was employed in the Soviet embassy as an informer. In the Spanish Civil War, he was a correspondent and agitator on the Red side. His book The Unusual Adventure of Julio Jurenito and his Pupils, published in the 1920s, the theme of which was the destruction of the bourgeoisie, contains the sentence: “People must be murdered for the well-being of humanity”. As early as 22 June1941, the first day of the war, Ehrenburg was already referring to German soldiers as murderers, “who stand out especially through the tortures that they now inflict on our wounded”. A little while later, he called them “perverts, sodomites and addicts of all forms of bestiality”. Stalin’s radio speech of 3 July 1941,
in which the General Secretary of the Party exhorted the population to unconditional resistance, was propagandistically edited by Ehrenburg. He ensured people that the war would lead to the liberation of Europe from the yoke of Adolf Hitler, whose barbaric Wehrmacht had attacked the peace-loving Soviet Union. On 12 October 1941, he wrote: “They attack Russian girls and drag them into their bordellos… they hang priests.. they have insignia with the motto, ‘Gott Mit Uns’, but with such belts they beat their dying prisoners in the face… with their hate-filled fountain pens they write down the numbers of girls that they have raped. They shave themselves with razors and use the throat-cut model in order to cut off the noses, ears and breasts of their victims.” Ehrenburg’s murder propaganda initially served to prevent any possible fraternization between German and Russian soldiers, between the common people of both countries, between workers on both sides. No criminal fraternization! (93)
After such proofs of journalistic ability, Ehrenburg was assigned by Stalin with the official task of creating ”Hate, Hate, and still more hate” -- not against fascism, but rather against everything connected with Germany. In the following period, he unfolded an activity churning out hundreds of monotonous demands for murder. Every day, he wrote up to five articles for the government newspaper, “Isvestia”, for the Party newspaper “Pravda”, and above all, for the Army newspaper “Krasnaya Zvezda”. There the members of the Red Army read: “Germans are not human beings. Germans are two-legged animals, disgusting creatures, beasts”. Or: “We no longer say, ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Good Night’; in the morning, we say, ‘Kill the Germans’, and at night ‘Kill the Germans’. The Germans have darkened our lives. We want to live. And we must kill the Germans” (94).
The hatred of the Soviet propagandists was of barbaric savagery. In insulting German soldiers, they were masters: “Creatures”, “Robbers”, “Butchers”, “Mass murderers”, “Killers of Women”, “Criminals”, “Rascals”, “Wild Beasts”, etc. (95). They describe the alleged crimes of the German rabble in arms with all the epithets of horror calculated to awaken and maintain the hatred of the Red Army. They make no distinction between military personnel and civilians. All Germans belong to the same gangster organization, to the same criminal gang, to the same horde of nomadic pirates.
In the article “Justification of Hate”, written in the summer of 1942, Ehrenburg attempted to represent the uniqueness of the war between the Soviet Union and the German Reich: ”This war resembles no other in history. For the first time our people stand up against no men, but rather evil disgusting creatures, savages at the top of technology, monsters, who rage according to regulations and with a vocation for science, who declare the extermination of infants the highest expression of statesman-like wisdom. We have not come by our hatred easily. We have purchased it with the cities and stretches of land with the hundreds of thousands of human lives. But now we have understood that we cannot live together with the fascists on the same earth…Our hate for the Hitlerites dictates to us the
love for the mother country, to humanity. Therein lies the strength of our hate, therein our justification… we fight not against human beings, but against robots who look like human beings. We hate them precisely because of their apparent similarity to human beings, which enables them to stroke a dog or a horse…” (96)
Ehrenburg’s name was well-known to every member of the Red Army through his articles in the Army newspaper. In the Red Army, he was considered the greatest writer of the Soviet age and a convinced patriot. Commissars read Ehrenburg’s articles from Red Army newspapers to the soldiers before each attack to raise combat morale, constantly repeating innumerable variants on the basic theme that Germans were not human beings, that they were vermin that had to be exterminated, and that murder was beneficial. Since individual articles of Ehrenburg also appeared in the Swedish press, the newspaper “Dagposten” interviewed him: “Ehrenburg holds all records for intellectual sadism. What is the point of refuting all these swinish lies and proving that Ehrenburg accuses the Germans of things that are common custom among members of the Red Army?” (97). Until 1944, his tone never changed: “The Germans stuff our mouths with frozen earth, they torture our children… they have slaughtered millions of good people for nothing and for nothing again, but for pure avarice, stupidity and inborn savagery”.
Between 1942 and 1944, Ehrenburg produced approximately 3,000 landmark articles of incitement, collected in a three-volume book publication entitled “The War”. Many of these hate-dripping appeals for violence, murder and rape were distributed as leaflets in the Red Army. Some drastic examples: “Kill the Germans, 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 get derailed. Crush, split, stab, him in the forest, on the field, on the street, destroy him everywhere!”
“The Germans are not human beings. From now on, the word ‘German’ is the worst curse of all. From now on, the word ‘German’ causes a gun to go off. We will not talk. We will not get excited. We will kill him. When you in the course of the day have not killed at least one German so that is a day wasted for you. If you believe that the German will be killed by your neighbor, then you have not recognized the danger. If you don’t kill the German, then the German will kill you. He will take your family prisoner and torture them in his cursed Germany. If you can’t kill the German with a bullet, then kill him with your bayonet. When it is quiet in your section, and no combat is taking place, then kill the German before the battle. If you leave the German alive, then he will hang the Russian man and rape the Russian woman.
If you have killed a German, kill another one. To us, there is nothing more amusing than German corpses.” (98)
On 24 August1944, Ehrenburg made the following announcement to the Red Army, which was then regrouping for the attack on Germany “On the borders of Germany, let us once again repeat our holy oath to forget nothing… We say this with the calm of a long ripened and invincible hate, we say this on the border of the enemy: Woe to Germany!” This threat was followed on 17 September1944 by the proclamation: “ We will kill!” (99).
On 12 January 1945, the Army General Chernakovsky turned Ehrenburg’s call for the troops of the Third White Russian Front into an order: “Mercy does not exist for us… not for anyone, just no one has had mercy on us.. there is no need to ask soldiers of the Red Army to have mercy. They are smoldering with hatred and vengefulness. The land of fascism must become a desert, just like our land, which they have devastated. The fascists must die, as our soldiers have died” (100).
The commander of the First White Russian Front, Marshal Zhukov, gave a similarly worded order entitled “Death to the German occupant!”, in an order of the day at the beginning of the January offensive: “The great hour has struck! The time has come, to deal the enemy the last, decisive blow and to fulfill the historical task assigned to us by Comrade Stalin: to dispatch the fascist beast in his own cave, to raise the flag of victory over Berlin. The time has come to reckon with the German rascals. Great and burning is our hatred! We have not forgotten the torment and suffering, dealt out to our people by the Hitlerite cannibals. We have not forgotten our burnt down cities and villages. We commemorate our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our wives and daughters, who were tortured to death by the Germans. We will avenge those burnt in the devil’s ovens, those suffocated in the gas chambers, all those shot and martyred. We will take cruel revenge for everything” (101).
After penetrating German soil, the soldiers of the Red Army behaved in accordance with the above mentioned orders (102).
Ehrenburg was only forced to tone it down a bit three weeks before the end of the war, because the atrocities of the Red Army on German soil was causing indignation among the Western Allies. On 14 April 1945, Stalin had an article of the Chief Ideologist Alexandrow printed in Pravda, headlined: “Comrade Ehrenburg Oversimplifies”. This criticism did not, however, mean the end of his career.
In the German Reich, only one prominent politician was his equal in incitement: Julius Streicher, the editor of the newspaper “Der Stürmer”. Removed from his Party offices for personal failings as early as 1940 and banned to his farm, he was sentenced to death at Nuremberg and hanged.
Due to his services in the Great Patriotic War and due to his numerous hymns of praise to Stalin, Ehrenburg was destined to survive the Second World War as one of the few members of the “Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee of the Soviet Union”. The political novel published in 1946 “The Storm” brought him the
Stalin Prize First Prize, the highest literary award of the Soviet Union. After the Second World War Ehrenburg gave speeches in the countries occupied by the Red Army. As representative President of the World Peace Council, he traveled to all parts of the earth in the following years. Left-wing intellectuals were fascinated by him. In Germany he was even proposed for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
In 1959, Ehrenburg was elected to the Presidium of the Soviet Union of Writers. When he celebrated his 70th birthday in 1961, the trade union magazine “Trud” waxed enthusiastic over the results of his propaganda achievements: “We used to read them in the trenches, in the partisan forests, in defense installations, in industrial works and factories of the Motherland… these passionate articles drenched in anti-fascist hatred roused the soldiers to a merciless struggle against Hitlerism” (103). Ehrenburg died on 31 August 1967. History will remember him as one of the greatest inciters to murder of all time (104).
The tradition of Soviet crimes against humanity
Mass crimes form part of the character of the Soviet system. Under no other regime in human history did so many people die violently as under Lenin and Stalin. The losses in human life are estimated at up to 80 million. By 1924, the Soviets murdered approximately two million people during the phase of “building Socialism”. In 1932-33, almost ten million people died of deliberate famine in the Ukraine. The purges between 1936 and 1939 cost another six million lives. The officer corps of the Red Army was affected most of all: of five Soviet Marshals, only two survived; of the 14 Army Commanders in Chief, only two; of 8 Admirals, not one; of 67 Corps Commanders, 60 were shot; and of 199 Divisional Commanders, 136 (105). When Eastern Poland was occupied by the Soviet Army in 1939, one million people disappeared. At the beginning of the German attack on the Soviet Union, Stalin decreed that no political prisoners were to be left to fall into the hands of the Germans. In accordance with this order, approximately 40,000 Ukrainian and Polish political prisoners were deliberately shot in the prisons of the border cities. Russian propaganda succeeded in blaming the Germans for this. On 8 August 1941, the American press agency, “Associated Press”, without any independent research, accused German assault troops of killing 40,000 people in the city of Lemberg. (106). Soviet atrocities committed during the Soviet withdrawal from other cities were also blamed on the Germans. How many victims were claimed by the deportations of Russian ethnic Germans from the Volga, the Ukraine and the Crimea cannot be established. Based on the Order of the Supreme Soviet of 28 August 1941, these ethnic minorities were exiled as collective “deviationists and spies”, most of them to Kazakhstan. At the end of the Second World War, approximately one million deserters and volunteers from non-Russian minorities having fought Stalinism on the German side were either executed or died in the death camps. The fate of several hundred thousand “Hiwis” (volunteer auxiliaries) who were incorporated into the
German front line troops as auxiliaries, is unknown. Of 3.15 million German POWs, 1.1 million died. The fate of 360,000 others is unknown. Since the Germans were only counted after their arrival in the collection camps, the figure of 1.24 million German soldiers who were counted as missing between 22 June 1941 and 20 March 1945 includes many who died on the long marches to the camps. The number of German displaced persons is estimated at 218,000, and the forcibly deported ethnic Germans from Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary and Rumania at least 200,000. One third of them were never heard from again. In total, Stalin killed at least 20 million people. The Russian Nobel Prize Winner Solzhenitsyn speaks of 40 million.
The murder of German POWs formed part of the system. It was not primarily an expression of the inhumane attitude of individual soldiers of the Red Army. The orders were issued by the Soviet leadership. Stalin issued the fundamental order in his speech at the Moscow Congress of Deputies on the occasion of the 24th Anniversary of the Socialist October Revolution on 6 November 1941, saying: “From now on, it is our task… to destroy all Germans, to the last man. No mercy to the German invaders, death to the German occupants!” This proclamation, and similar instructions, were implemented by the political Commissars of the Red Army. In an order of the day on 1 June 1942, Stalin proudly reported that his fighters had become merciless and that the killing of German prisoners was a daily occurrence (107).
The fate of German wounded captured by the Soviets was especially cruel, and affected not only those captured on the battlefield, but also those already at the advanced field dressing stations or receiving care in the field hospitals. At the end of December 1941, for example, 160 severely wounded soldiers were left behind in the military hospital during the German withdrawal from Feodosiya on the Crimea. These wounded men were killed by the Russians to the last man: thrown off river banks, beaten and left to freeze to death, as was determined during the retaking of the city fourteen days later (108). Of the wounded at Stalingrad who fell into Soviet hands, almost none survived (109).
Even German soldiers who defended their position to the last moment were often the victims of revenge when overrun. A series of secret Stalin orders, which still exist in the Russian archives, ordered the shooting of German soldiers who resisted to the last. Anybody who expressed “fascist” ideas was also shot.
Soviet cruelties and violations of international law even penetrated to the Western Allies. The Soviet propaganda machine dismissed it all as German machinations intended to drive a wedge between Germany’s enemies. Stalin Order no. 55 of 23 February 1942 called it “a stupid lie and a foolish slander” to state that the Red Army took no prisoners. “The Red Army takes German soldiers and officers prisoner when they surrender, and spares their lives. The Red Army destroys German soldiers and officers who refuse to lay down their arms and attempt to enslave our country with weapons in their hands”.
This Stalin order was dropped behind German lines by Soviet army propaganda divisions in the form of leaflets entitled Stavka Order no. 55, but it was impossible to overcome the mistrust of members of the Wehrmacht. For good reason. Since his secret orders and propaganda hate proclamations contradicted him (110). The “Werhmacht War Crimes Bureau [Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle für Verletzungen des Völkerrechts, actually “Armed Forces Agency for the Investigation of Violations of International Law”] in the High Command of the Wehrmacht observed no change of course where the treatment of German prisoners of war and the wounded were concerned, even after Stavka Order no. 55.
The brutal violations of international law continued. But the evidentiary situation became more difficult for the Germans with each passing week. Wounded German soldiers were left behind with increasing frequency when the troops were driven back, and there were no eyewitness testimonies about their subsequent treatment. As the Red Army made increasingly greater territorial gains, fewer and fewer prisoners escaped to fight their way back to the German lines, and there were fewer and fewer successful German counterattacks, during the course of which one could stumble across evidence of Red Army atrocities.
The German measures
The Werhmacht War Crimes Bureau in the High command of the Werhmacht
The Wehrmacht began the Second World War in the belief that there would be no large-scale violations of international law. But the excesses of the Poles against the ethnic German minorities and wounded German soldiers (111) in the first days of the war soon caused the Wehrmacht leadership to form an official investigative agency. It was suggested by the Operations Division in the Wehrmacht operations staff and approved by Hitler as Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht. The corresponding order of 4 September 1939, signed by General Keitel as Chief of the OKW, read: “At the High command of the Wehrmacht (Wehrmachtrechtabteilung or Armed Forces Legal Division) a ‘Wehrmacht Untersuchungsstelle für Verletzungen des Volkerrechts’ [“Armed Forces Agency for the Investigation of Violations of International Law”] has been formed with the task of establishing violations of international law by enemy military personnel and civilians against members of the German Wehrmacht and, at the same time, of clarifying accusations raised by foreign countries against the German Wehrmacht in this regard. The courts of the Wehrmacht are requested to correspond to the requests of the above mentioned agencies for proof investigations, especially in the interrogation of witnesses and experts as well as their defense.” On 10 October 1939, the civilian lower courts were ordered to cooperate by the Reich Ministry of Justice.
The work of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau had to be credible above all else. Accusations without proof harmed the cause. Therefore, every case was carefully documented. This work was performed by several judges who, in civilian life, had been concerned with questions of criminal law or were already experienced in similar, corresponding investigations from the First World War. They concerned themselves with the securing of evidence and documentation of the cases by means of eyewitness testimonies,
the findings of court martial investigations, medical findings, photos of the pathologists and other documentation. Assistance was provided by the divisional judges of the wartime army. Particularly effective preliminary findings were forwarded through the Wehrmacht operations staff in the OKW to the German Foreign Office relating to the wording of protest notes against the violations of international law. In the German Foreign Office, the legal division of Under Secretary, Dr. Gaus, held talks with the protecting powers of the German Reich. The tasks of the protecting power with regards to the USSR had been taken over by Bulgaria.
On 2 August 1940, the responsibility of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau was expanded to include the investigation of “severe acts of brutality, especially killing, mistreatment and robbery, as well as arson and other war crimes” committed by British or French troops against the French and Belgian civilian population. It was to draw up probative documentation for the peace negotiations and claims for compensation from the population of the occupied territories to the Allies. On 7 May 1942 the German Foreign Counter-Intelligence Office in the OKW ordered the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau to collect documentation relating to violations against soldiers of the Allied states as well.
As the Allied press began to publish alleged atrocities of the Wehrmacht -- just as it had during the First World War -- the work of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau was expanded to include another task. The cases brought forth by the other side were to be investigated to determine the extent to which the accusations were correct. The material collected was intended to refute false accusations whenever possible. During the peace negotiations, at the very latest, German contact persons were to deal with the Allied accusations on the basis of documentation, while evaluating the violations against international law and crimes against humanity committed by Germany’s enemies “on land, sea and in the air” through the use of documentation (112)
All agencies of the Wehrmacht were obliged to cooperate with the Werhmacht War Crimes Bureau. The Amt Ausland/Abwehr forwarded the relevant findings from the intelligence services. The Army Groups forwarded the findings of the investigations which were made in their area of command by provost marshals and medical agencies in their own management to the Wehrmacht operations staff, The Wehrmacht Untersuchungstelle even gained access to information through the channels of the 3rd General Staff Officer [Ic Weg]. The Head of the Judge Advocate Generals’s Group in the OKH, Artillery General Eugen Müller, ordered the 3rd General Staff Officer [Ic] of the Divisions to report any mistreatment of wounded and prisoner through the most rapid channels.
After the beginning of the Russian campaign, the “Special Command of the OKW for the Investigation of Bolshevist Atrocities and Actions in Violation of International Law” was formed under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Gerhard Buhtz, medical expert at the University of Breslau. The first report on violations of international law in the field of the Army Group North was delivered on 4 December 1941. With regard to the Army Groups Center and South, the Medical Inspector in the OKH took over the tasks for forensic medical expert reports on victims of war crimes. On 27 August 1941, he assigned several specialists in forensic medicine “to clarify violations of international law and treatments of the Bolsheviks” (113).
The German Foreign Office maintained liaison officers to the Army High commands on the Eastern Front, who were concerned with copies of sworn interrogations of eyewitnesses and of captured papers for the Central Agency. The German Foreign Office also bore the costs of the “Russian-German Committee for the Establishment of Soviet Russian Atrocities against German and Russian Soldiers” which was compiled in April 1942 by the Ambassador, Otto von Hentig, at the High Command of the 11th Army, to investigate Soviet human rights violations against German soldiers. The most important sources were members of the Wehrmacht who had escaped from the Soviets. In the sworn interrogations they reported on atrocities to which they had been witnesses.
In order to ensure that the documentation obtained would stand up under international law and according to the standards of forensic medicine, great value was placed on the formal establishment of facts. All interrogations of eyewitnesses were entered into a written record. The record was signed, not only by the interrogated persons, but by the interrogating judges and secretary. The witnesses were sworn. The oath was only neglected when the report consisted of hearsay. To ensure accuracy of content, several witnesses were interrogated on the same case whenever possible. For example, in the case of the massacre of 150 to 200 German prisoners of war in Broniki (Ukraine), a total of 12 witnesses were interrogated by a total of 4 judges. Whenever possible, the interrogating judge confirmed the facts of the case through on the spot inspection.
During on-site fact-finding, the medical findings were the most important. All mutilations had to be confirmed by experts, not by ranks of the medical service. The Captain (Medical Corps)s assigned had to establish whether battle wounds or torture were the cause of death, or whether the mutilations were inflicted by weapons of war or by other means, for example, blunt instruments, such as boots, stones or rifle butts, and whether these means were inflicted before or after death. Hand-to-hand combat wounds were often hard to distinguish from mutilations inflicted after death, for example bayonet wounds or bullet wounds at close range on corpses. A distinction had to be made in all cases between close combat wounds, the killing of the wounded, or acts of revenge inflicted on corpses. In cases of suspected deliberate blinding, the possibility had to be taken into account that these injuries could also have been inflicted by birds or by rats. The assumption that the mutilation had been brought about before death, was reinforced by heavy bleeding around the eye sockets. Smoothly cut edges generally indicated cutting, because gunshot wounds tend to cause lacerations of the wound. For this reason, when the parts of the face around the eyes were healthy, this was always considered an indication of deliberate blinding. In difficult cases, only a trained pathologist could avoid errors and false conclusions. If no pathologists were available to investigate the deaths on the site, the photos of the mutilated persons were examined for accuracy by advisory forensic physicians at the Army Health Inspector.
On 12 June1942, the Army Health Inspection issued the “Instructions for the Description of Findings”. These instructions contained instructions for the health officers, who
were to investigate murder cases. In particular, the multiple forms of destruction of the skull were described. False conclusions were to be avoided, which might possibly be discovered by experts on the other side. The army doctors were urged only to draw conclusions as to the fatal instrument after careful description of the findings.
The investigation results of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau covered 226 volumes of documents by the end of the war. These volumes covered approximately 8,000 documented cases. After the war, the documentation was transferred to the USA and were returned to Germany, with much of it missing, in 1968 (114).
German counter propaganda
The German reactions to Allied atrocity propaganda both the German Foreign Office and the Reich Ministry for Enlightenment and Propaganda were based on the investigation results of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau. The German notes to the protecting powers of the Reich as against the Allied were always supported by scientifically proven individual case histories.
For worldwide publication, the German Foreign Office, in 1941 and 1942, published a “White Book on Soviet War Crimes on the Eastern Front” in every case. For 1943, a third volume was in preparation. The intent was to enlighten the Western Allies as to the crimes of their Ally while warning the neutral powers of the dangers of Bolshevism. The books bore the title “Bolshevist Crimes against the Laws of War and Humanity”. All volumes contained horrifying examples of murders of prisoners and wounded soldiers, the veracity of which could not be doubted because of the exact time, place, and detailed eyewitness testimonies. The facts of the case were supplemented by emotional appeals and polemical remarks. In the introduction to the first volume, which was primarily concerned with Soviet atrocities against the civilian population, using examples taken from the massacres at Lemberg, the following sentence appears: “Many thousands of members of the Ukrainian people were thrown into prison, subjected to all conceivable forms of mistreatment and torture and finally slaughtered under fearful circumstances. The Bolshevik murderers spared neither women, nor children, nor priests. In addition to the mountains of corpses found in the cellars of the prisons after the liberation of Lemberg, more than 30 corpses of children were found, some of them hanging from the ceiling by hooks in their mouths, some of them crucified to the walls” (115).
The second volume gave priority to the fate of German soldiers in Soviet captivity: “With their hands tied together, their eyes were put out, their tongue, nose, ears and genitals were cut off, the corpse was torn to pieces with bayonet wounds. The screams of pain from the tortured persons and the distorted expressions on the faces of the cruelly mutilated bodies indicate the excruciating tortures by means of which the dehumanized beasts expressed their sense of bloodthirsty exhilaration upon the unhappy victims” (116).
Among the troops, there was no doubt as to the truthfulness of the German atrocity reports.
Anyone who mistrusted National Socialist propaganda found confirmation in the tales of comrades from the Eastern Front. Resistance was offered in obviously hopeless military situations simply because every soldier wished to avoid being taken prisoner. In the event of capture, he had to assume that he would be robbed, tortured, shot or sent to Siberia for forced labor. The German propaganda slogan “Victory or Siberia” seemed quite believable. During the last months of the war, in the face of defeat, German propaganda even adopted the popular joke “Enjoy the war, the peace will be terrible” to encourage the last vestige of any will to resist. Almost no one doubted the enemy’s tendency towards destruction, even though the longing for peace was growing greater by the day.
The Wehrmacht Propaganda Division worked hand in hand with the Reich Ministry for Enlightenment and Propaganda, but were organizationally independent. The OKW was alone responsible for “maintaining the spiritual combat readiness and will to victory in the Armed Forces” and for “active propaganda in the combat zone” i.e. influencing of the hostile population and enemy armed forces. Propaganda companies assumed the task of breaking the hostile will to resist. The propaganda material contained from the Goebbels Ministry, from the Wehrmacht Propaganda Division in the OKW, from the Intelligence Officers of the Armies and from the Reich Ministry for the occupied Eastern territories” (117). At the end of the war, the “SS-Standarte Kurt Eggers” competed against the propaganda troops of the Wehrmacht with great success.
One of the most serious mistakes of German propaganda on the Eastern Front was the legend of the “Soviet Sub-Humans”. After the war winter of 1941-42, it was no longer credible, at least within the Wehrmacht. Its negative effects were reflected long afterwards through improper treatment of the Russian population by the German civilian administration in the occupied territories (118).
The greatest “triumphs” of German propaganda were the result of Allied policy. The bombardment of German cities, the demand for unconditional surrender, and the Morgenthau Plan, disclosed the Allies’ postwar plans for the German people. The alliance of the Western powers with the Soviet Union, whose crimes the Reich Government allowed no one to doubt, rendered both partners criminal. The events that occurred during the Red Army advance on German soil made propagandistic manipulation superfluous. The atrocities were obvious.
In view of the personal experiences of men on the front, or during in the nights of Allied terror bombing, Allied propaganda had no effect on the morale of the Germans. To the very end, the German people were unified by the fear of revenge and retribution. No German units ever deserted to the enemy en masse, as was often the case with Soviet units on the Eastern front, even after the fall of Stalingrad (119).
In distinction to Soviet propaganda, Wehrmacht propaganda never contained any attempted justification for German violations of international law, or any proclamations expressing a disrespect for international law. There were no calls for murder and butchery in the style of Ehrenburg. The propaganda of the Wehrmacht was in the service of the German people: to “maintain
a willingness to sacrifice and a determined willingness to defend one’s own people”, to “enlighten people as to measures having an influence on one’s own people”, to “overcome the restlessness and excitement of people caused by enemy actions on the home territory” and to “camouflage, conceal, and deceive foreign countries as to German military intentions” (120).
The refutation of the Soviet atrocity propaganda was one of the most important themes of German propaganda during the whole Russian campaign. The Germans could hardly expect to attract any Soviet deserters if the belief prevailed in the Russian Army that all Russian POWs would be shot on the spot. A Russians belief that the Germans took no prisoners could only result in a Soviet stiffening of resistance. The mass mortality in the POW camps in the fall of 1941 were exploited to the fullest by Soviet propaganda and could not be refuted. But the exaggerations in Soviet descriptions of German cruelties did the Germans more good than it did the Russians. The Note from People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, W.M. Molotov, on 25 November 1941, contained the following passages: “Members of the Soviet Red Army were tortured with red-hot irons, their eyes were put out, legs, arms, ears and nose were cut off, their stomachs slit open, they were tied to tanks and torn to pieces…” Gross exaggerations of this nature became simply stereotypical verbal formulae in the Soviet propaganda during the following period (121).
In diplomatic circles, of course, such accusations were not believable; but among ordinary soldiers of the Red Army, they incited a fear of surrender. Soviet defectors appeared to run a double risk upon capture: the fear of being mistreated by the Germans, plus the fear of being branded a traitor and coward by the Soviet Union, jeopardizing the existence of the defector’s family.
German counter propaganda had to overcome several levels of resistance among members of the Red Army willing to desert and be taken prisoner: for one thing, it was necessary to dispel the fear of being killed upon surrender. The task of dispelling this fear was undertaken by POWs speaking to their former comrades over loudspeakers and explaining in leaflets that they were being treated humanely. Loudspeaker announcements by so-called “Hilfswilligen” [volunteer auxiliaries] among the German armed forces or by members of the Eastern Legion, who fought on the German side in Wehrmacht uniforms, proved particularly effective. The fear of revenge by the Stalinist system against turncoats and prisoners of war was dispelled by references, in German Wehrmacht propaganda -- in accordance with the claims of the Goebbels Propaganda Ministry -- to the near collapse of the Stalinist state, brought about, if not directly by German victory, then at least by inner opposition inside the country. Astonishingly, belief in the German victory appeared credible even when the war was going badly: 2,300 deserters and 24,000 prisoners were brought in even after the collapse of the Army Group Center on the Eastern Front in October 1944 (122).
Due to the lack of documentation until the end of the war, Allied propaganda was unable to make accusations of German violations of international law to the extent possible for
the Germans. Despite a full knowledge of the brutalities of their Soviet Russian partner, the Western Allies continued their alliance with the Soviets until after the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht.