NAZI crimality is often described as war crimes. The killing was not limited to the War, but the great bulk of the killing did take place during the War--but often not part of military operations. There were actual war crimes, but the most horrendous crimes were killing civilians that were not a threat and had nothing to do with the war. German military successes early in the War put the NAZIs in a position to carry out these crimes and the killing was conducted during the War. And not all of the killing was done by NAZI organizations. The Wehrmacht was involved as well doctors iand nurses in civilian hospitals and healt facilities. The ultimate authority for these actions, however was the NAZI government instaled by Reich Führer Adolf Hitler. The most serious war crimes was the mistreatment and muder of POWS. Here there was a destinction between POWs in the East and West. Not only did huge numbers of Russian and Polish POWs perish, but large numbers of prisoners were executed as a result of the Commisar and Commando Orders. Both prisoners and and civilians were killed as a result of the Reprisal order. The NAZI engineered Holocaust of the Jews is the best documented example of mass murder in history. This is because the NAZIs lost World War II and the copious records they took along with the testimony of individuals conducting the Holocust and their surviving victims have left us with a chilling historical record. The NAZI Holocaust succeeded in killing about 6 million Jews. This was not the largest instance of mass murder in history, but is perhaps the most horific because of the way the SS industrialized the killing process. Another 6 million non-Jews perished, mosrtly Eastern Europeans. Many perished as a result of the NAZI slave and forced labor prograjmns to support yhe war effort. Less well understood is the fact that if the NAZIs had succedded in would have been only the first chapter in a terrifying rengineering of the Human race. High on the NAZI list of untermench were the Slavs of Eastern Rurope. The NAZIs killed many more people than Jews in their preliminary efforts to build a new German empire in the Occupied East. There was also the Lebensborn program aimed at children. In all the NAZIs probably killed more than 20 million people. The NAZI penchant for killing was such that they killed millions of people who could have assisted in their war effort. And as a result, before the Allies destroyed German industry in the strategic bombing campaign, there was a severe labor shortage in the Reich. The subject of NAZI war crimes does not address the crimes committed in Germany agaist Germans. Here again, children were one of the main targets. The domestic programs were outgrowths of the German eugenics movement and included the Hereditary Health Courts and sterilization progrm. Here the most horrendous undertaking ws the T-4 Program.
The Germans were the first country to acquire large numbers of POWs. German policy varied as to the nationality of the POWs. Here a primary factor in the German mind was race. The Germans treated French, British, and later American POWs relatively correctly. The internment of the French and some British POWs was for almost the entire war as they took large numbers of POWs in 1940. I note some reports from American soldiers that they tried separate Jewish POWs from the general POW population and subjected the Jewish POWs to brutal slave labor. I am unsure if they did this to the British and French as well. POWs were also used to some extent as forced labor. The German treatment of Polish and Soviet POWs, however, was barbaric and many died from starvation, exposure, and mistreatment. The German policy was in part a planned method of elimination and in part their inablity to deal with the massive numbers involved. German tretment improved somewhat as they began to use Soviet POWs for forced labor, but it was still brutal. At some camps the Soviet POWs were not even provided barracks and other structures and were exposed to the elements. While in terms of fatalities, the worst time for POWs was in 1941 when the German took huge numbers of POWs. Conditions began deteriirated seriously for all POWs in late 1944. There were in German hands in late 1944 a very large number POWs. Most were Soviet and French. There were also anout 0.3 million American and British POWs. Part of the reason that conditions deterirated in late 1944 was the bitter Winter. Other factors were the Allied air campaign and German policies. Conditions became caotic in 1945. Allied planes were destroying the Reich's transportation network. Compounding the problem was civilian refugees fleeling east from the advancing Red Army and the retreating Wehrmacht. There were also SS columns of starving inmates from the death camps. The Germans were also emptying the POW camps in the east. The Germans in late 1944 also evacuated POW camps in the East about to be liberated. The POWs, many weakened by mistreatment and poor diets, were forced to make long marches in sometimes bitter weather. For the weakened and often emaciated men, these were often death marches. Straglers were shot. [Nichol and Rennell]
The German High Command (OKW) issued several orders which authorized soldiers to execute both combatants and civilians. This was accomplished through both shooting and hanging. Large numbers of prisoners were executed as a result of the Commisar and Commando Orders. Both prisoners and and civilians were killed as a result of the Reprisal order. These were the best known of the orders authorizing German soldiers to kill captured soldiers and civilians. The German Army in Belgium during World War I executed 6,000 civilians and acquired a reputation for brutality that lasted the entire war. Hitler believed that Germany had not been sufficently forceful. He was determined to fight his war very differently. The Whermact and paramilitary formations killed about 100,000 civilians in Poland (1939). Operation Barbarossa was to be something even more terrible. It woukd be unlike any other campaign in modern history. Hitler made it very clear that the campaign in the East would be conducted differently than any other modern campaign--it was to be a war of extermination. Mass executions of Jewish men, women, and children as well as Communists were carried out. Four SS Einsatzgruppen were responsible for most of the killings, together with local collaborators, but the numbers of Jews encountered was so large that regular Wehrmacht units also participate in the killing. It was not just the Jews that were killed, but also Communist Commisars in the army army and Communist officials. Eventually large numbers of Slavs were to be killed to clear land for German colonization. In the end this war of extinction may have doomed Operation Barbarossa because it precluded the effective utilization of anti-Communist Russians and Ukranians to fight the Red Army.
It was the Germans who began bombing civilian populations rather than military targets as a terror tactict calculated to destroy civilian morale. Visionary military planners in the 1930s built the world's most advanced air force at the time--the Luftwaffe. [Corum] Germany was the first World War II combatant to use bombers to terrorize urban populations. This began even before World War II during the Spanish Civil War. The Luftwaffe experimented with the bombing of Guernica in 1937 and other Spanish cities were targeted. At the onset of World War II began the tactic was used on Warsaw and other Polish cities (September 1939). One historian writes, "The bombing of Warsaw early in the war made it clear to the Allies how Hitler intended to fight his war. It was to be Schrecklichkeit ('frightfulness') with no regard for the civilian population." [Snyder] Actually the avowed purpose was to cause civilian casualties. The Luftwaffe demolished the Polish Air Force on the first day of the War and for 6 days 400 bombers pounded the unprotected Polish capital day and night with no pretense of targetting military or industrial targets. The same tactic was employed in Germany's western campaign in 1940. This time it was Rotterdam (May 1940). The Luftwaffe targetted the Dutch seaport of Rotterdam AFTER the city had surrendered. Screaming Stuka dive-bombers leveled the center of the city. Luftwaffe bombers on May 13-14 concentrated on Rotterdam without regard for civilian casualties. Hitler describes the tactic as "Schrecklichkeit" (frightfulness), the use of terror to break a country's will to resist. It worked in the Netherlands. The terror bombing of Rotterdam and threats of similar bombings of other Dutch cities convinced the Dutch that resistance was futile. The Dutch Army surrendered on May 15. It proved a disaster against the British. The success of this strategy in Poland and the Netherlands had convinced Hitler, who had a predelection for massive destruction, that it could be successfully employed in the upcoming Battle of Britain instead of following the strategy devised by the Luftwaffe. Hitler's insistance that the Luftwaffe switch to terror bombing of British cities was a crucial element in the eventual German loss of the battle as well as a major swing in Ameican public opinion. Hitler was, however, not deterred from the tactic. He ordered the terror bombing of Belgrade in 1941, calling it "Operation Punishment". Some authors challenge the common perception that the Luftwaffe itself embraced terror bombing of civilian populations. Terror was Hitler's preferred tactic, not the Lufwaffe's strategic doctrine. Actually the Americans and British were more interested in startegic bombing than Luftwaffe planners. It was Hitler that decided to use the Luftwaffe for terror bombing. [Corum] The British Royal Air Force (RAF) in contrast were very reluctant to use it bombers during the opening phase of World War II. RAF bombers actually dropped leaflets on German cities, but that was to change after the Blitz.
The NAZI engineered Holocaust of the Jews is the best documented example of mass murder in history. This is because the NAZIs lost World War II and the copious records they took along with the testimony of individuals conducting the Holocust and their surviving victims have left us with a chilling historical record. The NAZI Holocaust succeeded in killing about 6 million Jews. This was not the largest instance of mass murder in history, but is perhaps the most horific because of the way the SS industrialized the killing process. The Holocaust was a crime without presidence in modern history. The NAZIs targeted the Jews for death camps. Many were killed by SS Einsatzgruppen in large-scale actions at first in Poland and than on a larger scale in the Soviet Union. Others Jews were concentrated in Ghettos for slave labor and eventual dispatch to the death camps. Tragically it was not just the Germans involved, but in many countries the local population led by Fascist groups were all to willing to participate in the robbery and killing. Jewish children were among the first to be killed by the NAZIs. They had no economic value which could be exploited. They also were the seed for the future of the Jewish people. The NAZIs also saw them as a force for future retribution if they were not killed. The NAZIs are estimated to have murdered over a million Jewish children. One can not forget the images of the starving Jewish children on the Warsaw Ghetto whose parents had been killed. A great body of litterature exists on the Holocaust including the experiences of the children.
Another 6 million non-Jews perished, mosrtly Eastern Europeans. Many perished as a result of the NAZI slave and forced labor prograjmns to support the war effort. Less well understood is the fact that if the NAZIs had succedded in would have been only the first chapter in a terrifying rengineering of the Human race. High on the NAZI list of untermench were the Slavs of Eastern Rurope. The NAZIs killed many more people than Jews in their preliminary efforts to build a new German empire in the Occupied East.
The German Hunger Plan (der Hungerplan) also called der Backe-Plan or Starvation Plan was a NAZI World War II food management plan. It is sometine called the Backe Plan because he plaed such an important role in planning and implementing the plan. Herbert Backe was an official in the Ministy of Food and evenually appointed to that post. The Ministry was responsible for the German rationing program. Actually there was no single centrally coordinated plan, but several separate if some times related operations. Germany's World War I experience encouraged the idea of using food as a weapon. Hitler was not the first in this arena. Stalin preceeded him by about a decade with the Ukranian famine (1932-33). We are not sure to what extent NAZI officials were aware of this. The NKVD did an efficent job of preventing details from leaking out to the West. And Western Socialists and Communists, including those in Germany did not want to believe the rumors. The desire to use food as a weapon. This combined with the NAZI regime's rush to acceptance eugenics theories as scientific fact resulted in a genocidal brew of genocidal policies. NAZI food policies were different than the Allied blockade policies which were designed to win the War. Part of Hitler's war objectives were the murder of millions of people which sometimes were given a priority over the war effort. The Hunger Plan was not a policy designed to help win the War, although sometimes presented as that. Many of the individuals killed were working in war industries supporting the German war effort. This actually impeeded the war effort as a labor shortage developed in Germany requiring the introduction of forced labor to man German war industries. Rather the killing of millions Jews and Slavs was a primary German war goal. Hitler asked officials in the Ministry of Food, the agency responsible for rationing, to develop a Starvation Plan, sometimes referred to as the Hunger Plan. The Minister was one of the chief advocates for eugenics in the NAZI heirarchy. The largest elements of the Hunger Plan were: 1) Occupation policies in Poland, 2) Ghetto policies, 3) Starvation of Polish and Soviet POWs, 4) Generalplan Ost. Scholars studying the Hunger Plan provide a somewhat varried list of its elements, largely because there was no single, well coordinated NAZI eff ort, but rather the work of various officials with similar objectives and values. These include besides Backe, Reicharshall Göring, Reichführer SS Himmler, SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich, and Minister of Food Darré.
In all the NAZIs probably killed more than 20 million people. The NAZI penchant for killing was such that they killed millions of people who could have assisted in their war effort. And as a result, before the Allies destroyed German industry in the strategic bombing campaign, there was a severe labor shortage in the Reich. Nuremberg procedutor Thomas Dodd declared, "The NAZI foreign labor policy was a policy of mass deportation and mass enslavement ... of underfeeding and overworking foreign laborers, of sibjecting to every form of degradation, brutality, and inhumanity ... a policy which constituted a flagarant violation of the laws of war and the laws of humanity." The NAZIs during World War II implemented a slave and forced labor program to supply needed labor to the German war industry. This program was approved by Hitler months before the 1939 invasion of Poland. The German program as it evolved during the War had two purposes, The primary purpose was two provide workers for German factories and farms as German manpower was to be directed into the armed forces. This was especially important as NAZI idelopgy resisted imploying married women in factories. Allied countries dealt with this problem by bring women into the work force, the proverable Rosie the Rivetor in America. (British and Soviet women were even more significantly brought into the workforce.) NAZI idelogy was involved here. The German Housefrau, however, was to stay home amd produce Aryan babies for future German armies. The other factor was the phenomenal German success at the beginning of the War which left the impression that there was no needed for women to enter the workforce. The secondary purpose was mass deportation and mass enslavement combined with underfeeding and overworking foreign laborers could be used to reduce populations of countries which posed a threat to NAZI Germany, Not only could the labors of these workers be used against their country, but the mistreatment could help reduce both the population of other countries and other ethnic groups, especially the slavs of Eastern Europe.
German anti-Partisan activities varied over time. The orders issued by OKW were very harsh--The Commissar Order and Barbarossa Decree. The propensity for violence on the part of German officers varied. One author describes a prevalent "guerrillaphobia". [Shepherd] Many officers were consvinced that oartisans could divert the Wehrmacht from the Schwerpunk and could only be defeated by the most ruthless application of force. This was a prevalebt belief within the Reichwehr even before Hitler seized power. And after seizing power, he moved to polticize the Wehrmacht. NAZI supporters were promoted and officers of the Imperial Army that believed in chivalrous conduct were shunted aside. Added to this, the anti-Semetic and anti-Slavic NAZI idelogy set up a condition in which ahti-partisan operations would be waged with unprecedented barbarity. Some authors suggests that the anti-partisan operations were conducted at least in part as pat of the NAZI goal of reducing Jewish and Slavic populations. Another factor that has to be considered is the limited resources that the Germans palced in anti-partisan activities and the huge area involved. This set up very different circustances than in the West. Three groups were involved in the anti-partisan operations: the Wehrmacht, the SS, and the Reich Labor Front. The Wehrmacht placed its anti-partisan operations in the hands of Security Divisions not prepared for front line operations. In additions, units resting behind the frontlines might be attached temporarily to SS units for anti-partisan operations. The SS Einsatzgruppen after anialiting Jewish communities were deployed for anti-partisan units. SS combat units were also deployed for anti-partisan units. These units included formations recruited from anti-Soviet local people, and Muslims. Another major participant in the anti-partisan operations was Fritz Sauckel's Reich Plenipotentiary for the Mobilization of Labor. The three groups often independently without any coordination. One author believes that the Wehrmact Security Divisions and SS units often cooperated, but there was little cooperation with the Sauckel's Labor Organization. German anti-parisan operations can be divided into three periods in which anti-partisan operatins varied. First was Barbarossa (June-December 1941). Here Soviet partisans were weak and poorly organized. The Germans expecting a quick victory acted brutally without any consideration of the long-term impact of their actions. Second was the 1942 campaign. After the Soviet offensive before Moscow (December 1941), it became clear that the Eastern campaign would not be a short one. Some Wehrmacht commanders began to defy orders and attempted a degree of moderation to pacify thir areas. [Shepherd] Third, during the retreat west following Stalingrad, retreating units often acted brutally, both killing large numbers of people, but destroying any thing that might be useful. At the same time, expanding Soviet partisan actions brought vicious reprisals. German anti-partisan operations were especially severe in 1944. SS orgganized operations would sweep areas designated as "band infested". They would descend on towns and villages, in some cases killing the entire population and burning the community to the ground. Depending on the commander, the children and in some cases the women would be spared. The survivors were transported west to the Reich where they were interned in concentration camps, including camps like Auschwitz. Many of the children the Allies found when they liberated the camps were the survivors from these anti-partisan sweeps. These sweeps while barbaric apparently did effectively reduce partisan activity.
A counterpoint to the NAZI program of exterminating Jews and other groups considered to be sub-human was the Lebensborn program, a sectret NAZI program to enrich German racial lines with pure Nordic Aryan blood. The Lebensborn program was a pet project of SS Reichsführer Himmler. The program was launched in Germany in a small way to incourage and assist German girls to give birth to racially pure children, even if they were unmairred. We have noted some diference of opinion about the Lebensborn homes. After the Germans launched World War II and occupied large streaches of Eastern Europe, they proceeded to kidnap thousands of children who were deemed to be Aryan. Himmler indicated that these children had to be Germanized or killed because he though Aryan populations outside of the Reich were a threat. The Lebensborn program also affected other countries such as Norway--albeit on a smaller scale. Estimates suggest that 0.20-0.25 million children, mostly Polish, were eventually involved in this program. Only a small number were ever returned to their parents.
The subject of NAZI war crimes does not address the crimes committed in Germany agaist Germans. Here again, children were one of the main targets. The domestic programs were outgrowths of the German eugenics movement and included the Hereditary Health Courts and sterilization progrm. Here the most horrendous undertaking was the T-4 Program. The NAZIs set up over 100 Hereditary Health Courts to conduct sterilization hearings. Children were referred to these courts by their teachers and doctors. German doctors were expected to identify those considered to be genetically unfit. Especially sinister, school children were made to draw up family trees to help identify handicapped individuals and thus trace subject family lines. Parents were required to bring their children to the Hereditary Health Courts where doctors would decide if a child should be sterilized. Their parents had no say in the matter. Over 0.3 million Germans, mostly children, were ordered sterilized by these courts. One example of how these courts operated was a Rolf Thurm, a boy with deformed hands and feet. He explains that as a boy he had many friends. After the NAZIs took power, however, his friends eventually joined the Hitler Youth which he could not join. He thus became very lonely. At age 16 he was reported by a to the Hereditary Health Courts. His parents had to bring him for a hearing. They reported that there was no history of hereditary deformations in their family. Despite this, he was ordered sterilized. He later found that there was no hereditary component to his handicap. Genetics was still a very basic science in the 1930s. Other children were reported teachers. In many cases, the role of heredity was not well understood. NAZI doctors in many cases ascribed hereditary causes to disorders on the basis of only sketchy or inaccurate information or in many cases mere suspicions. Here as feeble-mindedness and learning disabilities was one of the concerns of these courts, there was some concern among poorly educated NAZIs that heir children might not do well in intelligence assessments. Intelligence tests at the time were crude. As a result, it was decided to exclude Party members from these measures. We have noted reports that the NAZI used the Hereditary Courts as a political weapon against their political enemies. We do not yet have evidence to confirm this, ut the exemption of Part members suggest this may have happened. Certainly it is likely that the children of parents who had been critical of the NAZIs or involved in the Communist Party or labor unions might be more likely to have an adverse ruling than children of other families. We have noticed that such charges appeared in several films. The most notable was 'Hitler's Children' (U.S., 1943). Montgomery Clift movingly portrayed a man who claimed that he was ordered to be sterilized by a Hereditary Court for political reasons in 'Judgement at Nuremberg' (U.S., 1961). To what extent this actually occurred, we can not yet confirm.
Looting generlly refers to the theft of individual items. The best documented NAZI thefts are probably the thefts and in some instances the destruction of art and cultural artifacts. Other valuable itens such as jewelry was also stolen. This was not novel in warfare, especially war designed to destroy oposing states. And it was especially pronounced because both Hitler himself and Reichmarshall Göring were obsessed with art. Hitler comsidered himself an artist with masterful tasr in art. Göring never professed to be an artist, but considered himself a Renaissance man who had the right to acquire great art. Looting art and cultural trasures was part of the plan to destroy countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union which we now know involved destroying a substabtial part of the population as well. Art thefts also of course ocuured in the west. Here France suffered the most from NAZI art thefts. This was not only sue to the fact that France was so rich in art trasures. In addition, Jews were among the most important art dealers and collectors. One estimate suggests that during the NAZI occupation (1940-44), an unbelievanle 100,000 art pieces were seized by NAZI authorities. This was about one-third of the art in private French hands. Many believe that the Franco-German aemistice shows that unlike the East, the NAZIs were not intent on destroying the French state. But the armistice and Vichy was a war-time measure. NAZI think tanks were busy studying what to do with France after the War was won.
Looting was only part of the NAZI prperty crimes in occupied countries. It is the best known because art and cultural artifacts were involved. NAZI theft, however, was conducted on a much larger basis. The NAZI state was bankrupt at the time Hitler launched World War II. Clever financial operations hid this fact. The occupation of conquered countries, provided the NAZIs the financial and material resources to support the war effort. Ironically, Hitler erred badly in his assessment of how this would be accomplished. Hitler in Mein Kampf discusses the need for Germany to seize control of the East and its resources. And he thought that once Germany had control of the East, it would have the resources to wage war indefinitely against even the United States with its vast resources. As the War developed, however, Germany was able to obtain very littke of thec resources of the East to support the war effort. Most of the resources seized in the east, such as food, were meeded to supply the Whermacht fighting there rather than being shipped back to the Reich. It would be the occupied countries in the West that would prove to be economies that the NAZIs could sucessfully exploit. NAZI authorities used various methods to do this. In the East the Germans simply seized that they wanted. This occurred in the West as well, but there other methods as well, including exchange rates, reparations, trade agreements, and other mechanisms. One interesting point here, the NAZIs not obly exploited occupied countries, but Azis countries as well. Only the unoccupied neutral countries (Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerlanbd, and Turkey) were able to avoid exploitatiion and receive reasonable payment for their war-time shipments to the Reich.
Corum, James S. Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918-1940 (University Press of Kansas, 2000).
Kay, Alex J. Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940-1941.
Nichol, John and Tony Rennell. The Last Escape: The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of Waar in Europe, 1944-45 (Viking, 2003).
Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 368p.
Snyder, Louis L. Historical Guide to World War II (1982).
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