The German Army’s Participation in the Mass Murder of Soviet Non-Combatants during Operation Barbarossa

The German Army’s Participation in the Mass Murder of Soviet Non-Combatants during Operation Barbarossa

By Thomas White

 

 Operation Barbarossa, the German codename for the invasion of the USSR, took place on 22 June 1941. During this operation it is estimated that over 10 million Soviet non-combatants lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis, and a German people who “had come to believe in their complete superiority over other people”[1] Prominent amongst those participating in the genocide were the German Army. The German Army through the systematic planning prior to the operation, and then as a direct result through its actions on the ground was a willing participant in the mass murder of millions of Soviet non-combatants.

 Planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union began in the second half of 1940, and in “late February and March of 1941, Hitler openly and repeatedly called for a ‘war of destruction’ against the Soviet Unioninvolving considerable Wehrmacht participation”[2] . In one meeting in particular that took place on May 2nd of 1941 in Berlin, German officials met to discuss formulating the economic policy for the forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. At that meeting in which members of the German Army High Command were present, it was determined that “The War can only continue to be waged if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia…[and ] As a result, 10 million people will doubtlessly starve”[3] an impending indication to the culpability of the German Army. The culpability of the German Army was such that the minutes from this meeting served as evidence implicating members of the German military in this blueprint for mass murder during the Nuremburg trials following the war.

Another indication from the German Army leadership that attributed to an atmosphere conducive to murder concerns the orders being issued to the troops. A perfect example of just such orders were issued on April 3, 1941 by General Edourd Wagner “in which he enjoined the troops to suppress any resistance with the utmost brutality”[4] when it came to suppressing what he termed “anti-German elements”[5]. But perhaps one of the most infamous and duplicated orders was written by General von Reichenau, in which he implored the German troops that they must become “the avenger of all the bestialities that were inflicted upon the German and related races…[and] must have the full understanding for the necessity of harsh but just punishment of the Jewish sub-humans”[6] The German soldiers themselves, for the most part had no qualms with carrying out such orders because of homegrown prejudices in which they viewed “ the eastern peoples as latently criminal, inferior, dirty, and diseased”[7] These orders and the planning by the  German Army high Command prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union provide ample evidence of the German Army’s High Command complicity in the mass murder of Soviet non-combatants.

 Once the planning and orders were given by the German Army High Command, the die was cast for the German Army troops to begin their campaign which included the mass murder of Soviet non-combatants. The German Army, believing that the military campaign would be swiftly won, saw no reason to restrain their occupational policies toward non-combatants. This was demonstrated by the brutal treatment of Red Army soldiers who attempted to surrender, “Wehrmacht troops shot many Soviet soldiers as they tried to give themselves up… [and] after they had surrendered”[8] The German Army’s treatment of POW’s was even more brutal, with combat troops often stripping POW’s “of any clothing that would protect Wehrmacht soldiers from the cold”[9] resulting in essence to a death sentence for Soviet POW’s. Also while remaining true to orders the German Army with the aid of the Einsatzgruppen, the Order Police, and the Waffen SS, the German Army engaged in an increased tempo of killings as they captured more and more territory. As more territory was captured, the German Army found it more difficult to control the Soviet populations and as a result began to label anyone, particularly Jews as troublemakers who were then subsequently marked for death, believing that such actions would quell any unrest in the remainder of the population.

As the evidence suggests, the German Army coupled with strong prejudices, feelings of superiority and faced with dire material shortages engaged in the systematic murder of Soviet non-combatants on an unrivaled scale. This same German Army with its top down atmosphere of brutality from the highest levels, were willing participants who planned and executed an invasion of the Soviet Unionthat can only be described as genocide.
                                                                    Bibliography

 

Browning, Christopher R. “The Nazi Decision to Commit Mass Murder: Three Interpretations: The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution: Summer 1941German Studies Review 17. no.3 (1994), p.479, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1431894. (accessed October 1, 2010).

Kay, Alex J. “Germany’s Staatssekretare, Mass Starvation and the Meeting of 2 May 1941 Journal of Contemporary History 41. no.4 (2006), p.685, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036414. (accessed October 1, 2010).

Megargee, Geoffrey P., War of Annihilation.New York: Bowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006


[1] Geoffrey P.Megargee, War of Annihilation (New York: Bowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006), 2

[2] Christopher R. Browning, “The Nazi Decision to Commit Mass Murder: Three Interpretations: The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution: Summer 1941German Studies Review 17. no.3 (1994), p.479, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1431894. (accessed October 1, 2010).

[3] Alex J. Kay, “Germany’s Staatssekretare, Mass Starvation and the Meeting of 2 May 1941 Journal of Contemporary History 41. no.4 (2006), p.685, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036414. (accessed October 1, 2010).

[4] Megargee, War of Annihilation, 37.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, 124.

[7] Ibid, 2.

[8] Megargee, War of Annihilation, 59.

[9] Ibid, 117.

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