This book is a profound reexamination of the role of the German army, the Wehrmacht, in World War II. Until very recently, the standard story avowed that the ordinary German soldier in World War II was a good soldier, distinct from Hitler's rapacious SS troops, and not an accomplice to the massacres of civilians. Wolfram Wette, a preeminent German military historian, explodes the myth of a "clean" Wehrmacht with devastating clarity.
This book reveals the Wehrmacht's long-standing prejudices against Jews, Slavs, and Bolsheviks, beliefs that predated the prophecies of Mein Kampf and the paranoia of National Socialism. Though the sixteen-million-member German army is often portrayed as a victim of Nazi mania, we come to see that from 1941 to 1944 these soldiers were thoroughly involved in the horrific cleansing of Russia and Eastern Europe. Wette compellingly documents Germany's long-term preparation of its army for a race war deemed necessary to safeguard the country's future; World War II was merely the fulfillment of these plans, on a previously unimaginable scale.
This sober indictment of millions of German soldiers reaches beyond the Wehrmacht's complicity to examine how German academics and ordinary citizens avoided confronting this difficult truth at war's end. Wette shows how atrocities against Jews and others were concealed and sanitized, and history rewritten. Only recently has the German public undertaken a reevaluation of this respected national institution--a painful but necessary process if we are to truly comprehend how the Holocaust was carried out and how we have come to understand it.
The conventional wisdom that the German army in WWII fought a relatively clean fight, unsullied by the atrocities committed by the Nazi SS, has recently been challenged--and largely demolished. This probing study explores the rise and fall of that myth in the light of scholarship debunking it. Focusing on the Eastern Front, the author contends that the Nazi vision of a racial-ideological death struggle against Slavic hordes and their Jewish-Bolshevik commissars resonated with German officers steeped in traditional anti-Semitic and racist dogmas. Nazi propaganda also swayed millions of soldiers, inuring them to the brutality they would witness and (with a few honorable exceptions, duly noted) participate in.Wette, a historian at the University of Freiburg, notes that the Wehrmacht assisted the SS extermination program, conducted its own mass killings of civilians and castigated the Italian army for refusing to persecute Jews. He goes on to trace the postwar development, fostered by Cold War imperatives and self-serving ex-Wehrmacht generals, of a sanitized legend of Wehrmacht conduct and the controversies that finally undermined it in Germany. More restrained than Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, Wette's hard-hitting indictment also emphasizes the broad culpability of German society for the crimes of the Third Reich. (May)
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Harvard University Press
October 29, 2007
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