When Military and Racial Policy Merged

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Accounts of World War II - including some published under auspices of the U.S. Army - have tended to portray officers of the Wehrmacht (the German army) as professionally competent, technically proficient, and above all, clean. As Stephen Fritz writes, the general theme of many books held that "not only had the army suffered from Hitler's megalomania, constant interference, and poor strategic and operational judgments .. its leaders had

neither known of nor condoned the massive crimes committed against the Soviet civilian population, especially the Jews"

In Ostkrieg, Mr. Fritz convincingly argues the opposite was true. The Wehrmacht, he documents, played a key role in furthering Nazi criminality, especially in the Soviet Union. He writes, Hitler did not blunder into the war in the east [ostkrieg, in German]. For him the 'right' war was always that against the Soviet Union, for to him Germany's destiny depended on attaining Lebensraum [living space] and solving the 'Jewish question.' Both of these, in turn, hinged on destroying the Soviet Union.

Mr. Fritz indicts the German military in strong terms for its complicity in murder. Military commanders urged their troops, in ideologically charged, anti-Semitic proclamations, to wage war on National Socialist lines and discard notions of humane treatment of the enemy. The army fully cooperated with the mobile death units, the Einsatzgruppen, as they carried out their bloody tasks, offering logistic, intelligence and communications support, as well as occasionally furnishing manpower for executions.

Be forewarned, Mr. Fritz has produced one of the grisliest war books I've encountered in five decades of reading them. One reads Hitler's war plans and wonders why his high command did not man up, to use current slang, and call a halt to his madness. The reason, Mr. Fritz makes clear, through quotes from documents and conversations, is that the Wehrmacht agreed with him: The Russians - namely, the Jews - had to be destroyed. He makes his case through research detailed in 45 pages of notes and another 52 for the bibliography. Mr. Fritz is professor of history at East Tennessee State University.

Hitler's easy victory over Poland as a prelude to his strike on the USSR gave him false confidence. …