Barbarism and Criminality

Part of the St Antony’s Series 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.



Civilian Population Russian Woman Russian POWs German Army German Soldier 
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  1. 1.
    Strcit, Kameraden, pp. 28–61; Jacobscn, ‘Kommissarbefehi’’, pp. 170–82; Jacobscn, 1939–45, pp. 441–516; Krausnick, ‘Kommissarbefehi’. See also A. Roberts and R. Guelff (eels), Documents on the Laws of War (Oxford, 1982) pp. 1–22, 43–59, 153–6; D. Schindler and J. Toman (eds), The Laws of Armed Conflicts (Geneva, 1973) pp. 247–88. Military aspects of the Barbarossa Orders in H. R. Trevor-Roper (ed.), Hitler’s War Directives, 4th edn (London, 1978).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Streit, Kameraden, p. 10; a slightly lower figure in A. Streim, Die Behandlung sowjelischer Kriegsgefangener im ‘Fall Darbarossa’; (Heidelberg, 1981) pp. 246–7; Mason, ‘Women in Germany’; See also, A. Rosas, The Legal Status of Prisoners of War (Helsinki, 1976) pp. 69–80; W. Anders, Hitler’s Defeat in Russia (Chicago, 1953) pp. 168–72; A. Dallin, German Rule in Russia, 2nd edn (London, 1981) pp. 68–70, 409–27, 533–52; G. H. Davis, ‘Prisoners of War in Twentieth-Century War Economies’, JCH, XII (1977) 623–34.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Baird, Nazi War Propaganda, p. 159. Dallin, German Rule, pp. 71–2, expresses the same opinion and says that Official directives notwithstanding, this attitude was an exception in the Army rather than the rule.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    See this volume, Introduction, note 9.Google Scholar
  5. 19.
    Streit, Kaineraden, p. 66. On 2 May 1941 n meeting between the Leader of the Economic Staff of Oldenburg, General Dr Schubert, and the State Secretaries of various ministries concluded that the third year of the war could only be conducted if the whole Wehrmacht lived off Russia: ‘Hierbei werden zweifellos zig Millionen Menschen verhungcrn.’ It was further stressed that in the forest areas and industrial cities in the north alone, ‘viele 10 Millionen Menschen werden … überflüssig und werden stcrben’. Attempts to save them would ‘nur auf Kostcn dcr Versorgung Europas gehen’. Rosenberg spoke of the decimation of a few dozen millions of Russians ‘in order to free the German people for the next centuries from the terrible pressure of 180 millions’. See Streit, pp. 63–6.Google Scholar
  6. 33.
    Streit, Kaineraden, pp. 177–83; according to Streim, Sowjetischer Kriegsgefangene, pp. 163–79, sick and wounded POWs were delivered to the SS and ‘liquidated’ by its troops. Generally on the liquidation of ‘potential enemies’, see Streim, pp. 33–155; and of other categories of POWs Streim, pp: 156–87.Google Scholar
  7. 34.
    Streit, Kaineraden, pp. 183–7.Google Scholar
  8. 37.
    Further on Russians serving in the Wehrmacht, see Dallin, German Rule, pp. 533–52, 553–659 (on Vlasov); Anders, Hilter’s Defeat, pp. 173–204; B. Wegner, ‘Auf dem Wegc 7.ur Pangermatuschcn Aimee’, MGM, H (1980) 101–36; and his Hitlers Politische Soldaten, pp. 291–4, 310–16; G. II. Stein, The Waffen SS, 4th edn (London, 1977) pp. 165–96.Google Scholar
  9. 54.
    Most of the material referred to will be quoted in the following pages. On the ideological instruction carried out by the officers sec Chapter 3. An example of the attempts made by the commanders to restrict the spreading of news regarding their own brutal measures against the Russian population, is an order forbidding the taking of photographs of executions, though as we know these orders were often not carried out. See BA-MA RH26–12/200, 16.12.41. On the ‘lack’ of ‘moral offences’ and ‘plundering’ owing to ‘Russian conditions’, sec, for instance, BA-MA RH26–12/131, 1.4.-15.12.41.Google Scholar
  10. 64.
    For secondary literature on the partisans, apart from works already quoted in Chapter 1, note 31 (this volume), see: M. R. D. Foot, Resistance, 2nd edn (London, 1978) pp. 286–92, 313–16; II. Kiihnrich, Der Partisanenkrieg in Europa (Berlin, 1965); W. Z, Laqueur, Guerrilla (London, 1977) pp. 207–14, 232–8; F. M. Osanka (ed.), Modern Guerrilla Warfare (New York, 1962) pp. 57–127; P. Vershi-gora, Kopvak’s Campaigns (in the Hebrew language, Tel-Aviv, 1953); G. Wright, The Ordeal of Total War (New York, 1968) pp. 154–61.Google Scholar
  11. 107.
    On continued partisan activities, see, for instance, BA-MA RH26–12/86, 1.3.-30.6.43; BA-MA RH26–12/78, 8.6.43; on a visit to Orel shortly after its liberation sec A. Werth, Russia at War (London, 1964) pp. 688–99; on Russian atrocities while occupying Germany, see Jacobsen, 1939–45, pp. 598–600; in defence of the ‘decency’ of the Wehrmacht as opposed to the ‘atrocities’ of the partisans, see V. Redelis, Partisanen-krieg (Heidelberg, 1958) pp. 86–90.Google Scholar
  12. 126.
    This point is made in recent studies on public reactions in Germany to anti-Semitism. Kershaw, Popular Opinion, p. 360, writes that ‘the Jews, a generally unloved minority, had become … almost totally isolated from the rest of German society. For most people, “the Jew” was now a completely depersonalized image. The abstraction of the Jew had taken over more and more from the real “Jew” who, whatever animosity he had caused, had been a flesh-and-blood person. The depersonalization of the Jew had been the real area of success of Nazi policy and propaganda on the Jewish Question.’ Similarly, Gordon, ‘Jewish Question’, pp. 185–6, says that ‘Jews had in most instances been segregated from Germans physically, oceupationally, sexually, socially, and psychologically.’ She shows that Germans could often help Jews on a personal level, but were, as Kershaw would agree, quite indifferent to their fate as a mass of dehumanised beings.Google Scholar
  13. 127.
    In general on the economic exploitation of Russia, see Dallin, German Rule, pp. 305–408; Krausnick/Wilhelm, Die Truppe, pp. 380–400; L. M. Wheeler, ‘The SS and the Administration of Nazi Occupied Eastern Europe’ (Oxford Univ. D.Phil, thesis 1981); on Poland, see M. Broszat, Nationalsozialistische Polenpolitik (Stuttgart, 1961); on preparations for this policy, see N. Rich, Hitler’s War Aims (London, 1973) pp. 211–23.Google Scholar
  14. 179.
    On Russian civilian labour at the front and in the Reich, sec Dnllin, German Rule, pp. 428–53; Speer, Third Reich, pp. 306–9,436–8,504–5; Krnusnick/Wilhelm, Die Truppe, pp. 400–8; Weith, Russia, pp. 607–8, 800–10; A. S. Milward, The German Economy at War (London, 1965) pp. 96–9, 111–13; B. A. Carroll, Design for Total War (The Hague, 1968) pp. 232–50.Google Scholar

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© Omer Bartov 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PrincetonUSA

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