Skip

It's time to share memories.
April 10, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

WWII German soldiers speak about their experiences. 'The myth that the Nazi-era German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, was not involved in war crimes persisted for decades after the war. Now two German researchers have destroyed it once and for all. Newly published conversations between German prisoners of war, secretly recorded by the Allies, reveal horrifying details of violence against civilians, rape and genocide.''What already seems hardly feasible for current military operations like the war in Afghanistan is nearly impossible when it comes to an event that happened so long ago as World War II. Nevertheless, two German historians have managed to produce precisely such a documentary of perceptions of the war using live historical recordings.'

"The material that historian Sönke Neitzel uncovered in British and American archives is nothing short of sensational. While researching the submarine war in the Atlantic in 2001, he discovered the transcripts of covertly recorded conversations between German officers in which they talked about their wartime experiences with an unprecedented degree of openness. The deeper Neitzel dug into the archives, the more material he found. In the end, he and social psychologist Harald Welzer analyzed a total of 150,000 pages of source material. The result is a newly published book with the simple title of "Soldaten" ("Soldiers"), published by S. Fischer Verlag. The volume has the potential to change our view of the war.

The recordings, which were made using special equipment that the Allies used to secretly listen in on conversations between German prisoners of war in their cells starting in 1939, offer an inside view of World War II. In doing so, they destroy once and for the myth of a "clean" Wehrmacht.

In "Soldiers," which is subtitled "Transcripts of Fighting, Killing and Dying," the soldiers talk about their views of the enemy and their own leaders, discuss the details of combat missions and trade astonishingly detailed accounts of the atrocities they both witnessed and committed.
There are always reasons given for killing. Sometimes the reason can be as simple as someone not walking to the other side of the street quickly enough or not handing over an item right away."

For German soldiers "there is also another view of war, one in which it is not only an endless nightmare, but also a great adventure that some soldiers later remember as the best time of their life."

"We once flew a low-altitude attack near Eastbourne . When we got there we saw a big castle where there was apparently a ball or something like that being held. In any case, there were lots of women in nice clothes and a band. We flew past the first time, but then we attacked and really stuck it to them. Now that, my dear friend, was a lot of fun."

"There are always reasons given for killing. Sometimes the reason can be as simple as someone not walking to the other side of the street quickly enough or not handing over an item right away.

Zotlöterer: "I shot a Frenchman from behind. He was riding a bicycle."

Weber: "At close range?"

Zotlöterer: "Yes."

Heuser: "Did he want to take you prisoner?"

Zotlöterer: "Nonsense. I wanted the bicycle."
"

Part 2: Allies Hoped to Discover Military Secrets

Part 3: Boasting about Their Exploits

Part 4: 'We Threw Her Outside and Shot at Her'

Part 5: Wehrmacht Soldiers Knew about the Holocaust

Part 6: A Terrifying Social Experiment
posted by VikingSword (41 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Red Army was hardly inferior to the Wehrmacht in terms of its propensity for violence. In fact, the pronounced culture of violence on both sides led to a disastrous radicalization of the war in the East. The Anglo-Saxon forces behaved in a far more civilized way, at least after the first phase of the fighting in Normandy, in which the Western allies also took no prisoners.

I guess, if you ignore what they did with bombing.

The way a body of soldiers proceeds in the regular use of violence is not dependent on the individual. Putting one's faith in self-restraint would be to misunderstand the psychodynamics of armed conflicts. What is in fact critical is the expectation of discipline that comes from above.

The fact that in the US we seem to punish the soldiers more than generals for fuck-ups is not a good sign.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:54 PM on April 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


The documentary The Unknown Soldier covered some of this ground. It was interesting to me (as someone who is not a scholar of that period and knows little about Germany) how deep the attachment was in Germany to the idea of the German army being professionals (ie innocent of war crimes), as compared to the SS and the Nazi leadership. The addition of these primary sources makes it even harder to keep believing that.
posted by Forktine at 6:09 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


There can't be many people in the world who believed that the regular Wehrmacht took little part in massacres and cruelty. You can't run history's greatest killing machine without it.

What is possible is that this kind of book may still be news... in Germany. I would be interested in learning how much of this stuff has been previously published in German.

At any rate, it's always interesting to find new sources. I hope that a version is published in the US.
posted by notmtwain at 6:23 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't had time to digest all of the links, but this does seem to back-up Daniel Goldhagen's book "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust". I know this was controversial at the time of publication, but it made sense to me.
posted by vac2003 at 6:48 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was unaware of this myth that the Wehrmacht didn’t commit any atrocities or war crimes. If anything, the popular American cultural P.O.V. seems to be the opposite — anyone wearing a German uniform in WW2 is a deceitful vicious bloodthirsty psychopath, even if they seem like sympathetic unwilling conscripts at first. This trope is at the heart of Hitchcock’s Lifeboat and continues all the way through Saving Private Ryan, where showing mercy to the guy at the radar station ultimately proves to be Captain Miller’s undoing.

(I know, Lifeboat was British and made during the war, but still.)
posted by El Mariachi at 7:07 PM on April 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


From Der Spiegel's May 5, 2010 review of Antony Beevor's book D-Day: The Battle for Normandy:
Beevor stumbled upon something that is currently a matter of much debate among experts. If some of these scholars are correct, Allied soldiers committed war crimes in Normandy to a much greater extent than was previously realized.

Beevor extensively quotes reports and memoirs of those who took part in the invasion, many of whom state that American, British and Canadian troops killed German POWs and wounded soldiers. They also reportedly used soldiers belonging to the German Wehrmacht or Waffen SS as human shields and forced them to walk through minefields.
In wartime few national flags forsake red, and WWII was the bloodiest, not the best.
posted by cenoxo at 7:13 PM on April 10, 2011


This has almost nothing to do with Goldhagen’s thesis. This merely illustrates what ought to be common knowledge already: that soldiers in every army everywhere throughout history do terrible things. The pilot who had fun strafing a mansion might as well be sitting in a Nevada control room flying a Predator today.
posted by El Mariachi at 7:17 PM on April 10, 2011 [24 favorites]


Rape, murder and robbery are integral parts of war. They cannot be separated out. It would be more surprising if members of the Wermacht had not committed such acts. Ditto the Allies. The idea that war can be fought without atrocities of some sort is one of the Big Lies peddled by people who wish to see more wars rather than less.
posted by unSane at 7:36 PM on April 10, 2011 [21 favorites]


War breaks some people, while it frees others. The one thing it doesn't do is take sides. That's what history does.
posted by showmethecalvino at 7:36 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of my grandfathers was a Seabee. He would not, could not talk about what he did in the war directly. It was amazing the things that he let slip in the course of conversation o other things. I learned that surrendering soldiers were killed if capturing them got in the way of a fast advance. I learned that civillians, men women or children, trying to stop you from building a landing strip through their crops and village were considered enemy soldiers.

Yes, the Wehrmacht were involved in atrocity. There wasn't a side in all the war that wasn't. They were in no way comparable to the immense scale and deliberate, systematic evil of the SS.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:38 PM on April 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


The myth that the Nazi-era German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, was not involved in war crimes persisted for decades after the war.

What El Mariachi said. I have never heard any such thing said about the Wehrmacht, only that the SS was worse. All armies commit war crimes. [On preview: as several others in this thread have said.]

John Keegan, in The Face of Battle (fascinating book, recommended) quotes a passage from the History of the Irish Guards in the Second World War:
We ran straight into a large body of Germans and, after a few bursts of Bren and Tommy gun fire, about forty ran out with their hands up. Elated by this, we proceeded to winkle them out at a great pace. Wheeling round the next corner, Lance-Sergeant Weir led his section in a charge against another group of Germans. Those Germans were ready for them and met them with long bursts of fire... Weir was shot through the shoulder, but the bullet only stopped him for a moment, while he recovered his balance. He led his men full tilt into the Germans and they killed those who delayed their surrender with the traditional comment, 'Too late, chum.' [Italics supplied.]
Keegan calls attention to the fact that not only do British soldiers kill enemy soldiers who are trying to surrender, but that they even have a traditional phrase for that occasion.

Keegan gives several other examples of unlawful killings in war, and ruminates on why it happens and how a military historian should deal with it. Well worth reading.

A quote from a young officer during the Battle of the Somme, regarding a solder who was witnessed to shoot at point blank range a German officer who was trying to surrender: "If you start a man killing, you can't turn him off again like an engine."
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:49 PM on April 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Smoke... on the water....
posted by orthogonality at 8:03 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not surprising. The myth of the clean Wehrmacht was mostly a fiction cooked up to make the rehabilitation of West Germany more palatable in the US.
posted by ocschwar at 8:07 PM on April 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Not surprising. The myth of the clean Wehrmacht was mostly a fiction cooked up to make the rehabilitation of West Germany more palatable in the US.

Yes. And also to make possible the re-constitution of a German military - even in Germany. You couldn't on the one hand completely condemn all German military from WWII and then immediately re-build it... you needed a myth, that some part of the German military had relatively "clean hands", and that it is on those that they are rebuilding. This was as much for the benefit of the German public as for the U.S. and the Allies in general. And soon enough, the German military contribution to NATO was the biggest after the U.S., based on sheer population size.

All that said, obviously the SS were worse, though as the war wore on, more and more SS were integrated into purely military action alongside and intermixed with the Wehrmacht and ultimately the German High Command treated all these disparate forces as unified agents on the battlefield. And as the war progressed the Wehrmacht got worse and worse wrt. war crimes.
posted by VikingSword at 8:16 PM on April 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I suppose that just because history was written by the victors it doesn't have to cast only the victorious in a less bloodstained costume. The reality is that war is hell. For everyone involved and even those not yet conceived and in a million uniquely horrible ways, war is hell. Trying to forget this and succeeding all to well is called history.

The posts prior to and just above this one only drive the point home. Fuck.
posted by dazed_one at 8:56 PM on April 10, 2011


I was unaware of this myth that the Wehrmacht didn’t commit any atrocities or war crimes.

One of my friends in undergrad based his entire senior thesis on exactly this idea. I think it was even titled something like "The Wermacht Against Hitler" or something.

He was also a die-hard Republican and admired British colonialism.
posted by Avenger at 8:59 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


John Dower's "War Without Mercy" unflinchingly examines the dehumanizing role of racism in the Pacific War for both sides. When the enemy is deemed to be an "untermensch," it is much easier to kill him in callous and brtual fashion. Wehrmacht Landsers on the Ostfront were conditioned to hate "Jewish Bolshevism", and spared no pity for the "Ivans," soldiers and civilians alike. Of course, the Ivans returned the favor to the "Fritzes" in spades when the Red Army smashed into Germany.

THe "myth," if any, was the relative innocence of the fighting Wehrmacht soldiers in the activities of the Final Solution, the equivalent of the civilian "we didn't know who was in the boxcars" defense. With respect to atrocities against the Russiians, there was never any question of Wehrmacht involvement. Indiividuals refused to take part, but the collective participation was too obvious to be deniable.
posted by rdone at 9:34 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


On august 22 1939, Hitler held a meeting with his generals. Hitler said: “Things will happen which will not be to the taste of German generals, but you should not interfere in such matters.” It is interesting to note that on September 10, 1939 an SS artillery brigade used 50 Jewish workers to repair a bridge and when they were down, the workers were taken to synagogue and shot.

What do you think happened next?
posted by clavdivs at 9:56 PM on April 10, 2011


A quote from a young officer during the Battle of the Somme, regarding a solder who was witnessed to shoot at point blank range a German officer who was trying to surrender: "If you start a man killing, you can't turn him off again like an engine."

This is absolutely brilliant, because it is true but not universally known.

Many who go to war become horrible. The "horrible" isn't an assessment from some tree-hugging Butterfly wannabe, but by their own accounts...well after their involvement has ended.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:44 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This makes for disturbing but unsurprising reading. As hal_c_on says, war makes people horrible.
posted by arcticseal at 11:08 PM on April 10, 2011


FTA:
Pohl: "I had to drop bombs onto a train station in Posen ( Poznan ) on the second day of the war in Poland . Eight of the 16 bombs fell in the city, right in the middle of houses. I didn't like it. On the third day I didn't care, and on the fourth day I took pleasure in it. We enjoyed heading out before breakfast, chasing individual soldiers through the fields with machine guns and then leaving them there with a few bullets in their backs."

Meyer: "But it was always against soldiers?"

Pohl: "People too. We attacked convoys in the streets. I was sitting in the 'chain' (a formation of three aircraft). The plane would wiggle a little and we would bank sharply to the left, and then we'd fire away with every MG (machine gun) we had. The things you could do. Sometimes we saw horses flying around."

Meyer: "That's disgusting, with the horses…come on!"

Pohl: "I felt sorry for the horses, not at all for the people. But I felt sorry for the horses right up until the end."
I don't think war simply makes people horrible, as this particular soldier's concern for the horses shows. War exposes the ease at which we can dehumanise others and decline them the right to be in the circle of 'us", and label them as "them" instead.

Soldiers are regular people with heavy weaponry and a license to kill.
posted by asymptotic at 11:28 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


No. The germans weren't just men fighting a war that wound up doing horrible things. The purpose of invading Eastern Europe was to secure lands for Germans. Since there were Poles, Slavs, Russians, etc. living on the lands that was to be given to germans and people that were declared sufficiently germanic there was no way anyone could claim not to know that extermination and enslavement were going to be the tools used to secure Eastern Europe. Not to mention that slave labor was so common in Nazi Germany that no one could reasonably claim to have been unaware of what was going on.
posted by rdr at 11:36 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not surprising. The myth of the clean Wehrmacht was mostly a fiction cooked up to make the rehabilitation of West Germany more palatable in the US to the Germans.

I had always assumed the myth of the 'clean' Wehrmacht was more about finding a handle on what had just happened, a way to make it less paralyzingly horrific so that 'normal' life could resume. It's hard to convey the deep (deep, deep, deep) sense of guilt and remorse that pervaded German consciousness post war. This article/revelation is maybe kind of only news for that secion of the German public who still clinged to that idea.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:39 PM on April 10, 2011


I would postulate that any man with enough self-awareness to ruminate honestly on the horrible things he did in wartime has not necessarily “become horrible.”

He has done horrible things. Usually at the behest of forces beyond his understanding. Self-righteously consigning him to some weird moral ghetto is dishonest and counterproductive. No one who hasn’t been there has any idea how they themselves would act, what lines they would cross under pressure. Most psychologically healthy people don’t spend a great deal of time fantasizing about what they would have done at My Lai, but fantasizing that you would be the One Heroic Guy to stand up and voice an objection is possibly more delusional than fantasizing about participating in the massacre is deranged.

This is not meant as an apologia for war criminals; one should absolutely be held accountable for one’s actions regardless of whatever form of mind control was being exerted. I’m just trying to point out that otherwise decent, ordinary people are capable of doing some unbelievably fucked up shit, and it doesn’t make them “monsters.” Unbelievably fucked up shit is some of the things that humans do. Usually when people describe something as “inhuman,” they actually mean the exact opposite. They just don’t want to acknowledge any common nature with smelly homicidal apes. Human and humane are not synonyms.
posted by El Mariachi at 11:56 PM on April 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


No. The germans weren't just men fighting a war that wound up doing horrible things. The purpose of invading Eastern Europe was to secure lands for Germans.

Yeah, and? How is that particular casus belli substantially different from that of any other war? The purpose of the Crusades was to take Jerusalem from the infidels who were living there. The purpose of the Mongol Invasions was to take over the known world from the people who were living there. The purpose of the Norman Invasion was to take over lands from... uh... some guys in different helmets? Who didn't have horses? I don't know, that fucking tapestry is kind of confusing.

Anyway. That's the nature of war. There are few if any that don’t involve horrible things being done, as primary mission or as byproduct. Pretending the Germans were possessed of some mystical super special evil existing outside of all humanity's experience may be backhandedly empowering to their victims, but it’s sadly ridiculous to anyone whose understanding of history is any deeper than a Castle Wolfenstein walkthrough.
posted by El Mariachi at 1:33 AM on April 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Zotlöterer: "Nonsense. I wanted the bicycle.""
Keegan gives several other examples of unlawful killings in war, and ruminates on why it happens


Its a good thing Congress never actually drafted up Declarations of War sense the 1940's because otherwise things like Mai Lai and other events would have been a "war" crime.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:21 AM on April 11, 2011


This has almost nothing to do with Goldhagen’s thesis. This merely illustrates what ought to be common knowledge already: that soldiers in every army everywhere throughout history do terrible things. The pilot who had fun strafing a mansion might as well be sitting in a Nevada control room flying a Predator today.

What Goldhagen says, in essence, is that ordinary Germans actively took part in the horrors of World War II, including the Holocaust. It was not, as some have argued, small groups of Nazi ideologues who did these acts, while the majority of the population was ignorant of what was being done in their name. Of course there is an argument that any group or nation could have done these horrors and you rightly point out that there are plenty of examples throughout history of soldiers doing terrible things. However I call false equivalence to therefore imply that the horrors done by Germany during the WWII are therefore no better than what others have done in the past, and will no doubt do in the future. Yes, soldiers have always done bad things during wartime, often aided and abetted by civilian populations. However Germany during WWII did things no other nation has ever done on such a terrible scale. The argument that the Predator controller today is somehow morally equivalent as those German soldiers who willfully murdered Jews under-estimated what took place during WWII.
posted by vac2003 at 2:38 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: the myth of the ordinary soldier.

I remember this kind of thinking. Growing up I often heard about how the average German soldier was different from the SS and so on. In fact, that is exactly why I read the link, because it speaks to that myth. Some commenters seem to be incredulous that the myth existed: "There can't be many people in the world who believed that" , "unaware of this myth", "This merely illustrates what ought to be common knowledge already","I have never heard any such thing said about the Wehrmacht".

It did exist, perhaps not amongst scholars, but around the dinner table.
posted by acheekymonkey at 3:33 AM on April 11, 2011


"fantasizing that you would be the One Heroic Guy to stand up and voice an objection"

I did just that at the part where it states: "it is outsiders who display the kind of behavior one would expect from people with a normal upbringing." I identify as an outsider, and thus placed myself in the role of the heroic objector.

Good thing I don't write history.
posted by acheekymonkey at 3:43 AM on April 11, 2011


I agree that the Wermacht thing is a straw man. The 'myth' that I am aware of is not a myth: it is that there was resistance to Hitler in the upper echelons of the Wermacht, which was undoubtedly true since it spawned most of the plots against him, such as they were, both before and during the war. I can see how this might be clumsily misread as 'the Wermacht didn't have anything to do with German atrocities' but I'd like to see some evidence that that position is widely held enough to be worth debunking.

The degree of awareness of the Final Solution of not only the German population and Wermacht is a pretty contested question.
posted by unSane at 4:16 AM on April 11, 2011


The myth of the Wehrmacht being uninvolved is local to Germany. For a long time after the war, the German people generally clung to the idea that the Nazis duped the populace and took over Germany, and that they never represented the true German people. The myth was that the Nazis were in some sense an outside force. This sort of narrative is very apparent, for example, if you visit the Reichstag and follow all the documentation of the history of the building. The Wehrmacht, being the general army, according to this kind of narrative, is then a pawn in a bigger game and not really participating in the truly atrocious stuff (or if so, then only as an exception and not a rule, or only because they are following orders). To be honest, I don't think german people ever truly bought into this narrative, but it was a comforting one for a collective sense of guilt.

The recent exhibition on Hitler at the German Museum of History in Berlin is excellent, and it's considered somewhat groundbreaking, in that it departs strongly from this narrative and says "Look, the German people, for the most part embraced Hitler and the Nazis. And here is why: no excuses, no exaggerations, no demonization." (Quick summary of what I got from it: they were defeated and poor, and Hitler told them, passionately, and with great Hugo Boss uniforms that they were great and deserved to be great - It's morning in Deutschland! - and that 'they' did not include Jews or Gypsies or any other non-Aryans. And by and large the ethnic Germans were like 'enh, ok, do what you like to them if you want but let's be awesome again!')

I have to say though, on first glance, I am somewhat suspicious of these stories being exchanges between Wehrmacht officers. I don't buy that the Wehrmacht were helpless pawns, and I am pretty convinced that they knew about and were ambivalent about the Holocaust. But when two soldiers start bragging about their kills to each other, my gut response is always "bullshit". Bragging to each other, trying to play the tough guy. I have learned that the WWII vets I met growing up in Canada, the ones who actually saw action never, ever talked about it because it was scarring. I also do not buy into the counter-narrative either, that every single member of the German army of WWII was a ruthless psychopath, as the above-quoted conversation seems to imply.
posted by molecicco at 4:44 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


being exchanged* --- I believe they really did have this conversation! but I think there is a good chance that a lot of it is exaggerated, or flat out made up to impress the other guy.
posted by molecicco at 4:51 AM on April 11, 2011


If you've not read it, I'd advise everyone to read Company commander by Charles Macdonald, the diary of a US company commander in 1944 and 1945. It deals with what he sees and nothing else, no bigger picture, just his day to day life, and is one of the most amazing books ever written about men under fire.

There are two insatnces in the book where prisoners are shot (well, one suspected the other confirmed), after which he writes 'Today I company committed a war crime'. There's an amnazing awareness in the book, but also an understanding of what war does to people.
posted by ciderwoman at 5:21 AM on April 11, 2011


Yeah, and? How is that particular casus belli substantially different from that of any other war?

Well, ehm, Hitler's intent was explicitly to take the lands for the Germans and then kill everybody who had been living there so that the Germans could move in?
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:39 AM on April 11, 2011


Leaving aside the Israel derail, there are plenty of wars where the goal is not to eliminate everyone living in a particular area, and take their land (look at Afghanistan or Iraq, for obvious recent examples).
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:52 AM on April 11, 2011


The myth of the Wehrmacht being uninvolved is local to Germany. For a long time after the war, the German people generally clung to the idea that the Nazis duped the populace and took over Germany, and that they never represented the true German people.

I'll grant that it (the idea that Nazis were one thing and "ordinary Germans" were another, and the related idea that the Wehrmacht was comprised of "ordinary Germans") may have been stronger in Germany than elsewhere. It was, however, an important part of Roosevelt's campaign to get Americans on board with fighting Germany (when, incidentally, many Americans considered themselves "German"). See:

Micheale Hoenicke, Know Your Enemy: American Debate on Nazism, 1933-45. (NB: mods, you might consider this a self-link; if so, pardon me and please delete).

Also, it had and has currency in the US. See:

Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies II, The Myth of the Eastern Front: the Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:15 AM on April 11, 2011


Every army is a large-scale Milgram experiment. When they're at war, you can throw in a Stanford Prison experiment as well. Atrocities are bound to happen. And the men who commit them aren't necessarily evil...they're just in a really fucked up evil situation.
posted by rocket88 at 7:24 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Wir haben es nicht gewusst" ("We did not know") has become, least here in the Netherlands, a very laden term. I'm not exactly sure as to it's origins (it could be plain simple (post-)War anti-Germany feelings), but it sort of plays into that myth that ordinary Germans, and ordinary German soldiers, were unaware of the death camps and the atrocities, which was presumably false.

On the other hand, I hear my grandmother speak of the time that a few German soldiers were quartered in her house (she lived on a farm, the Germans apparently took to living in with civilians. AFAIK the soldiers took control of much of the house, the family could live upstairs), and she remembers them mostly as very scared 18-year old kids far away from home.

War is shades of grey. Maybe very dark shades of grey.
posted by Harry at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think this comes as a surprise.

This debate has been going on in germany for decades. It has flared up in 68 when the leftist youth started questioning their parents who grew up in National Socialsim and was one of the big causes of the student movement - lots of youths questioning the roles of their parents in national socialism - and not a small reason for the radicalization of the militant cells of the 70s.

In the years after 1995 it has been the center of public debate when the Wehrmachtsausstellung toured through german cities, an exhibition about crimes commited by ordinary german soldiers in WW2.

"The popular and controversial traveling exhibition seen by an estimated 1.2 million visitors over the last decade asserted, with the support of written documents and photographs, that the Wehrmacht was "involved in planning and implementing a war of annihilation against Jews, prisoners of war, and the civilian population".

There were protests by neo-nazi groups against it, and counterprotests (and the typical riots) against those protests, (smear-)campaigns by conservative politicians and press, and generally one of the most discussed and debated things until the "Denkmalstreit" (the public debate about the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, documented in this 1300p. book)

I don't think the new thing about these discoveries is the surprising discovery that the Wehrmacht was not a noble knightly army, but to hear about the atrocities straight from the horses mouth.
posted by ts;dr at 9:48 AM on April 11, 2011


My dad was on a cruiser in the Pacific, and told me once that when the war ended, they picked up some Marines to ferry them back home with them.

We asked them what it was like, fighting on the islands, he said. Those Japs were fanatical killers, never surrendered, what was that like?

He said when they said "Never surrendered," the Marines all responded with low, grunting laughs.
posted by atchafalaya at 10:24 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't had time to digest all of the links, but this does seem to back-up Daniel Goldhagen's book "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust". I know this was controversial at the time of publication, but it made sense to me.

Goldhagen's book wasn't controversial because it made the argument that ordinary Germans took part in atrocities (for a much better treatment of the subject, take a look at Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men), but because he claimed that the only reason of import that the Germans perpetrated the Holocaust was eliminationist anti-Semitism.

In fact, one of the major problems with Hitler's Willing Executioners was that it looked at the Holocaust in isolation, and didn't take into account precisely the atmosphere of regularized atrocity that the historians in the OP document. To read Goldhagen, you'd never know that these sorts of things happened.
posted by asterix at 11:42 AM on April 11, 2011


« Older "They asked us who we were, and we told them we...   |   "I don't know if I should be... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post