Barbarism and Criminality

  • Omer Bartov
Part of the St Antony’s book series


The barbarisation of warfare on the Eastern Front was the consequence of a number of interrelated factors, such as the brutality of the fighting itself, the harsh living conditions at the front, the susceptibility of the junior officers and probably of many of the soldiers to Nazi ideology, and the constant political indoctrination of the troops. The most direct cause for the criminal activities of the German army in the East and the resulting brutalising effect that they had on the individual soldier, however, were the so-called ‘criminal orders’. This complex of commands, issued by the OKW and OKH on the eve of the invasion of Russia, determined to a large extent the brutal conduct of the troops at the front by providing them with a pseudo-legal and disciplinary framework. The ‘criminal orders’ were composed of four sets of instructions:
  1. (1)

    Regulations concerning the activities of the Einsatzgruppen of the SS and SD, which enabled these murder squads to operate with relative freedom within the areas controlled by the army groups under the direct command of Reinhard Heydrich.

  2. (2)

    The curtailment of military jurisdiction (Die Einschränkung der Kriegsgerichtsbarkeit), which stipulated that guerrillas, and civilians suspected of assisting them, were to be shot by the army, and that in case no guilty party could be found, collective measures were to be taken against the civilian population in the area.

  3. (3)

    The Commissar Order, which called for the shooting of any Red Army political commissar captured by the troops.

  4. (4)

    The ‘Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia’, which ordered ruthless measures against ‘Bolshevik agitators, guerrillas, saboteurs and Jews’ and called for the complete elimination of any active or passive resistance.1



Civilian Population Russian Woman Russian POWs German Army German Soldier 
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Notes and References

  1. 5.
    A. Streim, Die Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener im ‘Fall Barbarossa’ (Heidelberg, 1981) pp. 246–7 Mason, ‘Women in Germany’Google Scholar
  2. A. Rosas, The Legal Status of Prisoners of War (Helsinki, 1976) pp. 69–80Google Scholar
  3. W. Anders, Hitler’s Defeat in Russia (Chicago, 1953) pp. 168–72Google Scholar
  4. A. Dallin, German Rule in Russia 2nd edn (London, 1981) pp. 68–70, 409–27, 533–52Google Scholar
  5. G. H. Davis, ‘Prisoners of War in Twentieth-Century War Economies’, JCH, XII (1977) 623–34.Google Scholar
  6. 113.
    L. Goure, The Siege of Leningrad (Stanford, 1962) p. 141Google Scholar
  7. H. E. Salisbury, The Siege of Leningrad (London, 1969) p. 331Google Scholar
  8. M. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 3rd edn (Harmondsworth: Middlesex, 1980) pp. 165–70Google Scholar
  9. G. Best, Humanity in Warfare (London, 1980) pp. 224–44Google Scholar
  10. Y. Dinstein, ‘Just and Unjust War’, Zmanim, I (in the Hebrew language, 1980).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Omer Bartov 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Omer Bartov
    • 1
  1. 1.PrincetonUSA

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