Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Excerpt

For decades after the end of World War II, much of our understanding of the German-Soviet war came from the German perspective, for the very good reason that only German documents and archives were readily available. Equivalent Soviet sources were either unavailable, marred by ideology, or limited in their circulation because of language problems. Moreover, the various histories of the Ostfront, or eastern front, that emerged were skewed in other ways as well. Many of the earliest accounts were written by German generals who did not have access to original records but wrote from their own diaries or memories, the latter being, of course, both unreliable and easily distorted over time. In addition, German officers writing either on their own or under the auspices of the U.S. Army’s historical project rather consciously sought to create an image of the Wehrmacht as professionally competent, technically proficient, and, above all, “clean.” In this version of history, which largely confined itself to accounts of battles and military events, not only had the army suffered from Hitler’s megalomania, constant interference, and poor strategic and operational judgments, but its leaders had neither known of nor condoned the massive crimes committed against the Soviet civilian population, especially the Jews. In the narrative the generals created after the fact, the military operations and the massive crimes perpetrated by German forces on the eastern front existed in two separate and parallel spheres, with little interaction between the two. This, of course, was later shown to be a self-serving cover-up, but for a variety of reasons—not least the growing impact of the Cold War—this initial version of events stuck in the Western mind. Thus, standard narratives of the Ostkrieg, the war in the east, available in English primarily focused very narrowly on the sweep of military events and ignored the intersection of the war and Hitler’s overtly ideological, racial, and economic plans for the conquered eastern territories.

Two things have combined to change this view, at least among professional historians. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union some . . .

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