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The Wehrmacht


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Table of Contents

Preface to the English-Language Edition by Peter Fritzsche Foreword by Manfred Messerschmidt List of Abbreviations 1. Perceptions of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Bolshevism as Enemies German Perceptions of Russia in the Twentieth Century National Socialists' Perceptions of Russia: "Jewish Bolshevism" Perceptions of Russia among the Wehrmacht Generals 2. Anti-Semitism in the German Military From Anti-Semitism to the Holocaust? Germany under the Kaiser and the First World War The Revolutionary Era of 1918-19 The Postwar Period: War Continued by Different Means The Weimar Republic The National Socialist Era up to 1939 3. The Wehrmacht and the Murder of Jews Issuing Orders and Propaganda in the Wehrmacht Some Theaters of War Anti-Semitism as a Soldier's Duty 4. Generals and Enlisted Men The Military Elites in the Grip of a War Ideology Hitler and the Generals The "Little Guy" in Uniform Soldiers of the Wehrmacht in Light of Recent Research The Will to Survive in the War's Final Phase 5. The Legend of the Wehrmacht's "Clean Hands" The Birth of a Legend The War Crimes Trials Writing History from the Wehrmacht's Point of View The Cold War Begins Wehrmacht Crimes, the Justice System, and the Statute of Limitations 6. A Taboo Shatters Historical Research Perceptions of the Wehrmacht in the Bundeswehr After Fifty Years a Taboo Is Broken 7. Conclusion Notes Index

Promotional Information

This is a powerful book, provocative, enlightening, disturbing. Based on three decades of solid research, Wette debunks the myth, created by former Wehrmacht officers and continued by their Allied counterparts, that the German military fought a "clean" war in the East 1941-45. He strips away the layers of obfuscation and cover-up to set the record straight: Wehrmacht and SS hand-in hand conducted a campaign of racial extermination in the USSR. The book is a must read. -- Holger H. Herwig, University of Calgary A badly needed analysis of how the German World War II military came to descend into mass murder, how this descent originated, how it was systematically obscured by a legend of "clean" warfare, and how that legend is finally being demolished. A fine piece of important research presented in very clear -- and well translated -- prose." -- Gerhard L. Weinberg, University of North Carolina

About the Author

Wolfram Wette is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Freiburg, Germany.


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) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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...Wette's hard-hitting indictment also emphasizes the broad culpability of German society for the crimes of the Third Reich. Publisher's Weekly 20060313 This is one of those modestly sized books on a large subject that succeeds in being definitive...The Wehrmacht is an important contribution to current German historiography. It seeks an answer to the question that rages in German intellectual circles: Was Nazism an aberration in German history, a sickness that came upon a formerly healthy and civilized nation, or was it a natural outgrowth of traits well-entrenched in the national psyche? It is clear from the outset which side of this controversy Professor Wolfram Wette is on, but it is equally apparent what a thoughtful, well-informed historian he is...The Wehrmacht is as filled with all manner of details--surprising as well as predictable--as it is with passion and insight. Perhaps this is what makes it such a pleasure to read, for Wette never simply asserts, he always proves. Facts, statistics, instances are plentiful, but they never simply lie there on the page; you feel the author's outrage, sometimes his incredulity, even as you trust his veracity and integrity. -- Martin Rubin San Francisco Chronicle 20060619 In the history of WWII, the German army too often has been regarded as an unwilling tool of Adolf Hitler. Wette destroys that myth in his book, an indictment of the German army for its involvement in atrocities against Jews and people in eastern Europe. -- K. Eubank Choice 20070401 Over the last twenty years various scholars, from the pioneering work of Omer Bartov to the more recent work of Ben Shepherd and a host of American and German scholars, have demonstrated that the view of a Wehrmacht with "clean hands" is entirely mistaken. These studies have shown that "average" German soldiers were completely capable of and willing to commit the worst atrocities imaginable. This book is another contribution to that corpus. Thus far the focus has been on explaining how and why the typical Landser became capable of mass murder, but this book is not about the average soldier's descent into barbarism. It is rather a study of the path trod by the commanding officers: the field marshals, generals, and colonels who formulate policy and created an environment in which mass murder could occur. As such, this book complements earlier studies by focusing on the highest levels of the Wehrmacht. Wette demonstrates that this level of command not only knew about and approved of mass murder but, after the war, successfully created the myth that the Wehrmacht had played no role in the crimes committed during the war. -- Lee Baker Journal of Military History 20061001 [Wette's] arguments will provide a powerful corrective to the outdated view that Wehrmacht leaders were dragged unwillingly into complicity in Nazi-mandated crimes...Attacking the myth of the "clean" Wehrmacht, as Wette reminds us, has been neither easy nor particularly successful in changing popular perceptions. Only through continued research and the writing of critical histories will the complex reality emerge. Wette's monograph constitutes a key contribution to this effort. -- Stephen G. Fritz Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20080501 Wolfram Wette has synthesized a large body of scholarly studies written by critical military historians in the past thirty years and makes them accessible to a nonspecialist audience...This book is an important contribution to the recent historical literature that reveals the much resisted and painful process by which Germans learned to deal honestly with the unmasterable past. -- Derek S. Linton The Historian 20080601

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