Marching into Darkness

Marching into Darkness

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Marching into Darkness
    Book Description:

    On October 10, 1941, the Jewish population of the Belarusian village of Krucha was rounded up and shot. This atrocity was not the routine work of the SS but was committed by a regular German army unit acting on its own initiative.Marching into Darknessis a bone-chilling exposé of the ordinary footsoldiers who participated in the Final Solution on a daily basis. Although scholars have exploded the myth that the Wehrmacht played no significant part in the Holocaust, a concrete picture of its involvement has been lacking.Marching into Darknessreveals in detail how the army willingly fulfilled its role as an agent of murder on a massive scale. Waitman Wade Beorn unearths forced labor, sexual violence, and grave robbing, though a few soldiers refused to participate and even helped Jews. Improvised extermination progressively became methodical, with some army units going so far as to organize "Jew hunts." The Wehrmacht also used the pretense of Jewish anti-partisan warfare as a subterfuge by reporting murdered Jews as partisans. Through military and legal records, survivor testimonies, and eyewitness interviews, Beorn paints a searing portrait of an army's descent into ever more intimate participation in genocide.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72660-4
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[v])
  3. [Illustrations]
    (pp. [vi]-[viii])
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    On a bitterly cold morning in November 1941, Lisa and Pola Nussbaum were brought by their mother to the barbed-wire fence surrounding the Slonim ghetto in western Belarus. She told them to squeeze through and hide with a neighbor. Lisa and Pola were just fourteen and nineteen years old, yet they had already escaped death at the hands of the Germans several times. Born in a small Polish town on the German border, the two girls had fled with their family progressively farther east before being trapped in Slonim by the German advance in 1941.¹ Rumors had flown in the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Deadliest Place on Earth
    (pp. 27-37)

    Perhaps no place in the former occupied Soviet territories deserves historical attention more than the present-day country of Belarus, which suffered a demographic disaster during World War II from which it is still recovering. It was most assuredly, as Tim Snyder notes, “the deadliest place on earth between 1941 and 1944.”¹ Yet the experience of the Belarusians under Nazi rule has been by and large absent from the West’s widely popularized images of the Holocaust, such as Anne Frank and Auschwitz. Indeed, the Holocaust in Belarus can in many ways be defined by its local and personal nature. The majority...

  6. CHAPTER TWO A Weapon of Mass Destruction
    (pp. 38-63)

    The German army’s history of treating civilians harshly extended at least back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, Germany’s colonial experience, and certainly the First World War. Isabel Hull, in her study of the institutional and doctrinal development of the Imperial German Army, describes an organizational culture of violence, extremity, and excess that helps explain the behavior of the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union.¹ Some of this organizational history was first written during Franco-Prussian War and during the German army’s execution of genocide against the Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1907 in what is now Namibia. She outlines...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Improvised Murder in Krupki
    (pp. 64-91)

    On an overcast thursday afternoon in September 1941, the Jews of Krupki in central Belarus wound their way out of town, across the Minsk-Moscow highway.¹ Army trucks followed slowly behind, carrying the elderly and the infirm. SS killers from Einsatzkommando (EK) 8 awaited their arrival about one and a half miles away, as storm clouds gathered overhead. German army soldiers guarded this column as it marched. Here and there, they beat the Jews with rifle butts when they did not move fast enough.² Somewhere in this group walked a female opera singer from Minsk. Among the soldiers guarding this column...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Mogilev and the Deliberate Targeting of Jews
    (pp. 92-118)

    On October 10, 1941, the soldiers of the 3rd Company, 691st Infantry Regiment, were uneasy. The task ahead of them was something new: they were to kill the entire Jewish population of Krucha, a village in central Belarus.¹ A few hours later, Private Wilhelm Magel stood with another soldier in front of four Jewish women and an old man with a long white beard. The company first sergeant, Emil Zimber, ordered the Jews to face away from the shooters, but they refused. Zimber gave the order to fire anyway, but Magel and his colleague, a former divinity student, balked, intentionally...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE An Evil Seed Is Sown
    (pp. 119-134)

    In May 1951, a forty-three-year-old carpenter named Wilhelm Magel brought the mayor of Steinbach, Germany, and a policeman to his second-story apartment. Magel was unlucky in love. He was on his second marriage, and that relationship was not long for this world. Poor Wilhelm was separated from his second wife, Elisabeth, and lived with his older son in the apartment above her in what must have been a very awkward living situation. Elisabeth had the annoying habit of keeping all the good clothes for their daughter who lived with her, while only giving raggedy clothes to their son upstairs because...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER SIX Making Genocide Routine
    (pp. 135-150)

    On the evening of 14 November 1941, Franz L. climbed out of a truck on the outskirts of the town of Slonim. Only a series of campfires built by the soldiers broke the darkness. Franz was met by his sergeant, Hans R. “Franz,” he said, “it would be better if we just put a bullet in our heads now.” Together they walked to the edge of one of three mass graves, where Sergeant R. explained that several thousand Jewish men, women, and children had been forced to strip naked and were shot. By the flickering firelight, Franz saw thousands of...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Golden Pheasant and the Brewer
    (pp. 151-183)

    Unlike the German units in Krupki and Krucha, the 6th and 7th Companies occupied Slonim and Novogrudok for a relatively long time, approximately seven months. This lengthy occupation led in many ways to much deeper, much more routine, and much more complex modes of complicity in the Nazi genocidal plan. As Slonim and Novogrudok were deep in the Generalbezirk Weissruthenien of the RKO, these towns fell under the jurisdiction of Nazi civilian authorities. This situation placed the Wehrmacht units stationed there in a triangular relationship with both the civilian authorities and the SS/SD. Officially, Wehrmacht authorities were responsible for security...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Hunting Jews in Szczuczyn
    (pp. 184-205)

    Sometime in the fall of 1941, twenty-four-year-old Lieutenant Oskar Ritterbusch led a patrol out of the town of Szczuczyn, forty-five miles (72 km) northwest of Slonim and forty-five miles east of Novogrudok. He commanded the 1st Platoon of the 12th Company, 727th Infantry Regiment. The patrol rode in two army trucks through the snow-covered countryside, rounding up Jews. Ritterbusch stopped in a small village, and his men got out. As they searched the village, they discovered a Jewish shoemaker and his family, which included an adult son, a hunchback. One soldier noticed the family also kept bees and had honey....

  14. CHAPTER NINE Endgame
    (pp. 206-233)

    The summer of 1941 represented for the Germans the high-water mark in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Victories were frequent, huge numbers of prisoners were taken, and vast amounts of land were captured. The men in the German army must have been optimistic that Hitler’s great gamble would soon pay off with a complete collapse of the Soviet Union. In early October, the Wehrmacht began the assault on Moscow, Operation Typhoon, an offensive it believed would bring about Stalin’s final defeat. It failed. Already by the end of October, “the Wehrmacht and the Red Army resembled two punch-drunk boxers,...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 234-246)

    In March 1943, German soldier Friedrich Koch wrote in a letter home: “I have known, up to now, no unspoilt men, but only such who have forgotten their natures and those who have won their natures back, or are in the process of winning them back.”¹ The German army never won back its nature on the eastern front; in fact, it was being true to its nature, at least as intended by the Nazis. Many have viewed the war on the eastern front as an aberration and have either unconsciously or intentionally sought to explain why the war in the...

  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 247-248)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 249-300)
  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 301-304)
  19. Index
    (pp. 305-314)