Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters from the Eastern Front

Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters from the Eastern Front

Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters from the Eastern Front

Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters from the Eastern Front

Synopsis


Reluctant Accomplice is a volume of the wartime letters of Dr. Konrad Jarausch, a German high-school teacher of religion and history who served in a reserve battalion of Hitler's army in Poland and Russia, where he died of typhoid in 1942. He wrote most of these letters to his wife, Elisabeth. His son, acclaimed German historian Konrad H. Jarausch, brings them together here to tell the gripping story of a patriotic soldier of the Third Reich who, through witnessing its atrocities in the East, begins to doubt the war's moral legitimacy. These letters grow increasingly critical, and their vivid descriptions of the mass deaths of Russian POWs are chilling. They reveal the inner conflicts of ordinary Germans who became reluctant accomplices in Hitler's merciless war of annihilation, yet sometimes managed to discover a shared humanity with its suffering victims, a bond that could transcend race, nationalism, and the enmity of war.



Reluctant Accomplice is also the powerful story of the son, who for decades refused to come to grips with these letters because he abhorred his father's nationalist politics. Only now, late in his life, is he able to cope with their contents--and he is by no means alone. This book provides rare insight into the so-called children of the war, an entire generation of postwar Germans who grew up resenting their past, but who today must finally face the painful legacy of their parents' complicity in National Socialism.

Excerpt

The exact role of the military in the Nazi genocide during World War II remains difficult to assess because of the wide variety of combat experiences and occupation actions on the eastern front. During the postwar years the “myth of the clean Wehrmacht” helped to exonerate former generals and facilitate the Federal Republic’s rearmament as well as NATO membership. However, the shocking photographs of soldiers committing atrocities, presented by a controversial exhibition of the Hamburg Institut für Sozialforschung, discredited this apologetic legend, suggesting instead that the entire army might have been involved in war crimes. This charge triggered angry rebuttals by veterans like ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt that their units were without blame, until Holocaust historians like Omer Bartov assembled evidence that proved the Wehrmacht’s general complicity in the “war of annihilation” beyond doubt. But what is still heatedly debated is the exact degree of involvement of different units at the front and in the hinterland in antipartisan reprisals, political executions, and shooting of Jewish civilians.

Inspired by this controversy, I decided to reexamine my father’s letters from the field, since they offer a nuanced picture of what German soldiers thought and did during the war. This resolve turned into a curious voyage of discovery that tested my loyalties as a son and professionalism as a . . .

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