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Nazi Policy on the Eastern Front, 1941

Nazi Policy on the Eastern Front, 1941: Total War, Genocide, and Radicalization

Alex J. Kay
Jeff Rutherford
David Stahel
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 372
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  • Book Info
    Nazi Policy on the Eastern Front, 1941
    Book Description:

    Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and events on the Eastern Front that same year were pivotal to the history of World War II. It was during this year that the radicalization of Nazi policy-through both an all-encompassing approach to warfare and the application of genocidal practices-became most obvious. Germany's military aggression and overtly ideological conduct, culminating in genocide against Soviet Jewry and the decimation of the Soviet population through planned starvation and brutal antipartisan policies, distinguished Operation Barbarossa-the code name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union-from all previous military campaigns in modern European history. This collection of essays, written by young scholars of seven different nationalities, provides readers with the most current interpretations of Germany's military, economic, racial, and diplomatic policies in 1941. With its breadth and its thematic focus on total war, genocide, and radicalization, this volume fills a considerable gap in English-language literature on Germany's war of annihilation against the Soviet Union and the radicalization of World War II during this critical year. Alex J. Kay is the author of 'Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940-1941' and is an independent contractor for the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on War Consequences. Jeff Rutherford is assistant professor of history at Wheeling Jesuit University, where he teaches modern European history. David Stahel is the author of 'Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East and Kiev 1941: Hitler's Battle for Supremacy in the East.'

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-769-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Christian Streit

    The war against the Soviet Union brought National Socialist Germany the biggest single extension of its power and contributed decisively to its collapse. The number of dead that it cost exceeded those of the other fronts several times over. The reason for this is to be found in a radicalization of warfare on the German side unparalleled in history, which was accompanied by a systematic breech of international law and resulted not least in the civilizational rupture of the genocide against the Jews.

    A decisive radicalizing thrust already occurred in the preparatory phase for the attack, between January and June...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Alex J. Kay, Jeff Rutherford and David Stahel

    The year 1941 was a turning point both in the course of World War II and in the scope and magnitude of National Socialist Germany’s policies. At the beginning of the year, Germany dominated continental Europe, having defeated the French in a stunning six-week campaign while at the same time forcing British troops to beat a hasty retreat back across the English Channel. To many contemporaries, it seemed as if the German army, utilizing a new doctrine of war termed “Blitzkrieg,” was unstoppable. If Germany began 1941 in such a powerful position, however, it ended the year militarily on the...

  6. Chapter 1 Radicalizing Warfare: The German Command and the Failure of Operation Barbarossa
    (pp. 19-44)
    David Stahel

    “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”¹ Thus remarked the renowned Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal work On War. Casting a fleeting look at the respective strength of arms, experience, and professionalism of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, one might be forgiven for thinking that on this occasion the ensuing war would indeed be very simple, even easy. Certainly many at the time thought so, yet deficient German planning and dogged Soviet resistance proved the virtue of Clausewitz’s maxim. Indeed, from its very inception Operation...

  7. Chapter 2 Urban Warfare Doctrine on the Eastern Front
    (pp. 45-72)
    Adrian E. Wettstein

    Eight days after the German invasion of Poland opened World War II, spearheads of the German 4th Panzer Division reached the Polish capital of Warsaw.¹ In the mistaken assumption that Warsaw had been declared an open city, tanks pushed unsupported into the city. They were abruptly stopped by street barricades and heavy Polish fire from every window and door at point-blank range, causing the loss of some twenty armored vehicles. The German units pulled back and established a defensive position outside of the city. During the night, artillery moved into position and additional infantry was brought to the frontline. On...

  8. Chapter 3 The Wehrmacht in the War of Ideologies: The Army and Hitler’s Criminal Orders on the Eastern Front
    (pp. 73-100)
    Felix Römer

    With the attack of the German Eastern Army on the Soviet Union at daybreak on June 22, 1941, the “most monstrous war of conquest, enslavement, and annihilation that modern history has known” began.¹ The war on the Eastern Front ultimately devoured about twenty-seven million human lives on the Soviet side and became the scene of signifi cant stages within the Holocaust and further unprecedented crimes in which the army played a primary role from the outset. The repercussions ultimately struck back at the invaders themselves and contributed in this way to making the Eastern Front the central theater of World...

  9. Chapter 4 “The Purpose of the Russian Campaign Is the Decimation of the Slavic Population by Thirty Million”: The Radicalization of German Food Policy in Early 1941
    (pp. 101-129)
    Alex J. Kay

    Over the course of six months between the end of 1940 and June 1941, German planning staffs developed a concept that envisaged the seizure of substantial amounts of grain from the occupied Soviet territories at the cost of tens of millions of Soviet lives. This concept was the brainchild of the number two person in the Reich Ministry for Food and Agriculture (Reichsministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft, RMEL), Staatssekretär Herbert Backe, and was referred to internally as the Backe plan or some variation of this.¹ What began in the RMEL ultimately became state policy advocated by Germany’s military leadership, ministerial...

  10. Chapter 5 The Radicalization of German Occupation Policies: The Wirtschaftsstab Ost and the 121st Infantry Division in Pavlovsk, 1941
    (pp. 130-154)
    Jeff Rutherford

    In 1963, Ernst Nolte characterized the German-Soviet War as “the most monstrous war of conquest, enslavement, and annihilation” in European history.¹ Fifty years of further research has not only confirmed Nolte’s assessment, but indeed has also amplified his contention. The ruthless ideological war waged by the Nazi state against the Soviet Union manifested itself in a myriad of ways, from the German army’s murder of Red Army commissars and Soviet Roma, to its vicious treatment of partisans, both real and imagined, and, most horrifically, in the extermination of millions of Jews by the SS and other German institutions.² During the...

  11. Chapter 6 The Exploitation of Foreign Territories and the Discussion of Ostland’s Currency in 1941
    (pp. 155-185)
    Paolo Fonzi

    Historians have traditionally maintained that a signifi cant amount of the resources that supported the German war economy in World War II came from outside the national territories. While this still holds true, at least two crucial issues have become a point of controversy in the last decades: the role played by foreign resources in the German war effort as a whole and the signifi cance of this finding for an overall reassessment of the military strategy of the Third Reich.

    Alan Milward’s well-known thesis of a planned economic short-war strategy (wirtschaftliche Blitzkriegstrategie) assumed that from the very beginning the...

  12. Chapter 7 Axis Collaboration, Operation Barbarossa, and the Holocaust in Ukraine
    (pp. 186-219)
    Wendy Lower

    The history of the Nazi-led genocide against the Jews is inseparable from Operation Barbarossa and the Axis occupation of the Soviet Union. Today such a statement is taken as a given in the fields of Holocaust studies and World War II. But this was not always the case. Prior to the 1990s, few military specialists followed the lead of Gerhard Weinberg and Jürgen Förster by connecting the battles on the front with the genocide behind the lines. Even the pioneering study by American Sovietologist Alexander Dallin, German Rule in Russia, 1941–1945, while paying much attention to the totalitarian framework...

  13. Chapter 8 The Radicalization of Anti-Jewish Policies in Nazi-Occupied Belarus
    (pp. 220-239)
    Leonid Rein

    At dawn on June 22, 1941, after a heavy artillery barrage and aerial bombings, the forces of Nazi Germany crossed the border into the Soviet Union. The German invasion of the Soviet Union brought with it a qualitative change in the war. From the very beginning, the war was perceived by Hitler and the leadership of Nazi Germany not merely as a struggle between two armies, but rather as a struggle between two ideologies, a struggle in which all the norms of conventional warfare were supposed a priori to be set aside. The Germans intended from the very beginning to...

  14. Chapter 9 The Minsk Experience: German Occupiers and Everyday Life in the Capital of Belarus
    (pp. 240-266)
    Stephan Lehnstaedt

    The Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was one of the first territories of the Soviet Union to be invaded by the German Wehrmacht in the summer of 1941. With at least 1.6 million dead from a total prewar population of 9 million, nearly one-fifth of its inhabitants died during the war.¹ In parts of Belarusian SSR and eastern prewar Poland, Nazi Germany erected the Generalkommissariat Weißruthenien (General Commissariat White Ruthenia), governed by Generalkommissar Wilhelm Kube, and based in the Belarusian capital of Minsk; it encompassed some 60,000 square kilometers, had 2.5 million inhabitants, and was divided into eleven Gebietskommissariate. Minsk, conquered...

  15. Chapter 10 Extending the Genocidal Program: Did Otto Ohlendorf Initiate the Systematic Extermination of Soviet “Gypsies”?
    (pp. 267-288)
    Martin Holler

    As far as the historiography on the Nazi genocide of Roma¹ is concerned, the situation in the German occupied territories of the Soviet Union during World War II belongs to the most neglected topics. At the same time, this very region plays a key role for the evaluation of Nazi genocidal policy. The German assault on the Soviet Union marked the transition toward a systematic physical extermination of Jews, “Gypsies,” and other so-called undesirable elements. Furthermore, the Soviet Roma doubtlessly represent a substantial share of the total number of people that were killed by the Nazis as “Gypsies.”²

    The same...

  16. Chapter 11 The Development of German Policy in Occupied France, 1941, against the Backdrop of the War in the East
    (pp. 289-313)
    Thomas J. Laub

    As they planned to invade the Soviet Union, Nazi leaders developed new policies that required soldiers to pillage conquered territory and liquidate racial enemies. In contrast to the regulations that governed the 1940 invasion of Western Europe, directives issued before the invasion of the Soviet Union ordered German soldiers to disregard the Hague and Geneva conventions and injected an unprecedented level of violence into military occupation policy. Enduring Soviet resistance elicited further changes in German military policy in the latter half of 1941. The Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW) and the Army High Command (Oberkommando des...

  17. Conclusion: Total War, Genocide, and Radicalization
    (pp. 314-320)
    Alex J. Kay, Jeff Rutherford and David Stahel

    During the pivotal year of 1941, Nazi Germany’s war irrevocably turned against the German aggressor, the issue and implementation of Criminal Orders became accepted practice within the German army, anti-Jewish policy in the east developed into genocide, and plans for the exploitation of the eastern territories detailed millions of additional deaths. If in the first instance German policy was radicalized by the decision to invade the Soviet Union and the subsequent planning for both the military campaign and the occupation, the experience of warfare in the east ensured further cycles of radicalization, which influenced all areas of Nazi policy. Thus,...

  18. Appendix: Comparative Table of Ranks for 1941
    (pp. 321-322)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 323-340)
  20. List of Contributors
    (pp. 341-344)
  21. Index
    (pp. 345-360)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)