*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- Germany

War and Social Upheaval: World War II -- Germany

World War II Germany
Figure 1.--One of the great questions of history is how Hitler and the NAZIs so thoroghly captured the devotion of the German people. An important part of the NAZI effort was focused on youth and youth Germans responded with great fervor.

World War I had convinced most Europeans that there must never be another war. There was no desiire for another war, even in Germany. The War was the creation of one man--German Führer Adolf Hitler. His World war I service had been the high point of his sad life. He thus viewed war differently than most people. In addition the achievement of his goals necesitated war. The question of Germany and the Germans has to feature prominently in any discussion of World War II. Why didn't the German people resist Hitler and the NAZIs? Just how did it transpire that one of the most civilized of European countries, the land of Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Brahms, could have started two world wars--the second almost single handely. How could the Germans so passionately have followed the most evil of all historical monsters, Adolf Hitler and so eagerly embrace militarism and racism that would have returned Europe to a new Dark Age of unimagined barbarity? How could so many Germans gave participated in the killing of so many innocent civilians, most of whom were non-combatant women and children. Even more unsettling is how the Germans could have embraced and idolized Adolf Hiter, the mastermind mind of such unspeakable horror so fervently.

Weimar Republic (1918-33)

A new German Weimar Republic relaced the Imperial German Government at the end of World War I. The Allies refused to negotiate with the German military. Thus the Armistace (1918) and resulting Versailles Treaty (1919) were signed by republican officials. This allowed right-wing politicans after the War to claim that the German Army was not defeated, but stabbed in the back. The Republic from the beginning had major problem. It inherited a civil service from Imperial Germany that was strongly monacharist in loyalty and suspicious of parlimentary democracy. The officer corps of the Army took a oath of loyalty to the Reoublic, but in fact was deeply suspicious of the Weimar regime and from the onset set out to evade the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty--in oart explaining how the NAZIs were able to so quickly rearm after seizing power. Popular support for the Weimar Republic was impaired by first the public shock at the Versailles Treaty and then the ruinous inflation. In fact the Republic was headquarters in Weimar rather than Berlin because the Army remamed the Reichwehr could not guarantee security in Berlin. Gradually the Republic began to gain some credibility. Competent fiscal management, the Dawes Plan, and the Locarno Agreements had by 1925 considerably improved the economic situation in Germany.

Adolf Hitler

World War I had convinced most Europeands that there must never be another war. There was no desiire for another war, even in Germany. The War was the creation of one man--German Führer Adolf Hitler. His Worold war I service had been thev high point of his sad life. He thus view war differently than most people. In addition the achievement of his goals necesitated war. Hitler in the first year of the War proved remarakably astute. In fact he was lauded by the NAZI press as the greatest German of all time. Something appears to have changed with the great success in France (May-June 1940). And almost immediately failures begin. He failed to destroy the British Army at Dunkirk and the British to seek terms. Even so Hitler's personal assessment of himself was unchanged. Hitler not only saw himself as a visionary strategic war planner, but as a great tactical commannder and as the War progressed played an increasingly important role in Wehrmacht operations. Historians debate Hitler's effectiness as a war leader.


The National Socialist German Worker's Party (NAZIs) became the most powerful of all Fascist parties. It was not founded by Hitler, but became dominated by him at an early point. He fashioned it an instrument for a personal totalitarian dictatorship. Mussolini and his Fascists seized power in Italy a decade before the NAZIs seized power ans stronly influenced Hitler. After the NAZIs seized power they soon elclipsed Mussolini's Fascists.

The Germans

The question of Germany and the Germans has to feature prominently in any discussion of World War II. Why didn't the German people resist Hitler and the NAZIs? Just how did it transpire that one of the most civilized of European countries, the land of Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Brahms, could have started two world wars--the second almost single handely. How could the Germans so passionately have followed the most evil of all historical monsters, Adolf Hitler and so eagerly embrace militarism and racism that would have returned Europe to a new Dark Age of unimagined barbarity? How could so many Germans gave participated in the killing of so many innocent civilians, most of whom were non-combatant women and children. Even more unsettling is how the Germans could have embraced and idolized Adolf Hiter, the mastermind mind of such unspeakable horror so fervently. This question will perhaps never be fully answered. Several historians have addressed this subject with varying levels of success. One important historian who grew up in Germany during the inter-war era and fleed Germany in 1938 when he was 27 year pld decribed his efforts to resist the NAZIS as "... a duel between two very unqual adversaries: an exceedingly powerful, formidable, and ruthless state and an insignificant unknown private individual". Hffner] He is not easy on the Germans. He tells us, "At the momnt of truth when other nations rise spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed". And the Germans continue to follow Hitler even after the country collapsed around them.

Hitler and the German People

The one question that dominates when Americans and Brits look at World War II is how could the German people come under the influence of such an evil non-entity as Adolf Hitler. Germany was not just any country. It was nation of high culture. The land of Schiller, Bethoven, and Bach. It was a nation of scholars and scientists--the scientifically most advanced nation in the world. Germans were one of the best educated people on earth, if not the best. It has to be stressed that Hitler did not articulate any of the atricuities for which he is now known to the German peoople. A read of merin Kampf makes war virtunally and genocide unavoidable, but it is not clearly stated. Only about a third of the German people supported Hitler and the NAZIs at the time President Hidenberg handed the Chancelorship over to Hitler (January 1933). And a good portion of his support came from people who were adversely affected by the Depression, but did not share his pathological obsession with the Jews or in particukar desire for another War. Through careful management of the news, and economic policies that were not well understood, Hitler steaily grew in popularity. Regaining the Saar and remilitarized the Rhineland alo helped as well as he Austrian Anschluss and peacefully obtaining the Sudetenland. All without war. Thus on the eve of World War II, Hitler was a very popular figure and could have won a free election, or at least as free as can be with NAZI control of the media. He still had to desguise his march yoward war. Most Germans still did not want another war, espdecilly older Grmnns. It is possible that the Wehrmacht could have blocked another war, but this can be overstated. The Wehrmacht swas niot a NAZI gency, but it had been throoughly won over by 1939. The quick victories and relatively low casualties caped by the fall of France (June 1940) cemented Hitler's hold on the German people. One historian describes the unprecedented achievements. "[The] first-forty one weeks of World War Two constituted in essence the last European war, a war very rapidly won by Germany. It had taken Napoleon five years to become master of Europe, with battle of Austerlitz in 1805. It tool Hitler 9 months, his troops, in June 14, 1940, marched past the Arc de Triomphe that Napoleon had put up in Paris to commemorae that battle." 【Stone】 Hitler had achieved what the Kaiser failed to achieve despite the huge effort and bloosshed of World War I. With the victory over France and driving Britain off the Continent, Hitler and the German people were inextricably linked. A linkage which would not end until Hitler put a bullet in his head and German cities were reduced to vast mountains of rubble.

German Rearmament

The Allies after World War I included sigificant limitations on the German military to ensure there would never be another World War. Adolf Hitler ordered a massive rearmament program after seizing power in Germany. He soon renounced the Versailles Treaty. The program was at first conducted in secret, but latter conducted openly. As a result a largely disarmed Germany wihin only a few years became the mpst potent military power in the wrld. The speed with which this was accimplished was in part due to the significant evasions of the Versailles Treaty limitations conduct during the 1920s before the NAZIs rose to power.

NAZI Diplomacy

NAZI diplomacy played an important role in preparing the way for the stunning military successes early in the War. NAZI diplomatic successes went through several destinct stages in which Hitler made radical shits depending on the circumstances. The basic strategy of NAZI diplomsacy was to divide their enemies and then conuer them one by one. At first Hitler needed time to defeat his domestic opposition. As a result he at first presented a rational imafe as a responsible statesman. One in full control of Germany, he dramatically changed to a more aggressive German warlord. With his military rearmament underway, he had a poweful advantage over Britain and France. They were swilling to do just about anything to avoid another war while Hitler not only did not have a fear of war, he sactually wanted a war so he could become a great German military commander. And to achieve this goal he made a dramatic move, signing a military pact with his arch ememy--Stalin. While this looked like a dramatic shift, it was essentially hois basic tctic--divide and conquer. Once in control of Western Europe he encountered his first diplomatic failure, ge failed to bring the British to the peace treaty. His next diplomatic initiative was to create an anti-Bolshevick crusade against the Soviet Union. This proved another failure. Not only could he not convince the British to make peace, he was unable to bring Franco's Spain and Vichy France into his anti-Bolshevick crusade. The Axis alliance proved to be a diplomatic fiasco for Hitler. It required Hitler to divert forces to save his blundering Italiann ally. Even worse, it encouraged Japan to attack the United States, bringing Americaninto the war months or even a year before what might have otherwise occurred.

German Military Orgnizations

The Army or Wehremacht was Germany's dominant military force, as was the case throughtout German history. The Army high command made a pact with Adolf Hitler (1934). Hitler agreed to eliminate the SA as a threat to the Wehrmact and ordered the execultion of Roehm and other close associates. The Wehrmact swore a loyalty oath to Hitler--not to the German nation but to Hitler. In return for their loyalyty they were the beneficiaries of a huge rearmament program in contravention of the Versailles Treaty. The Army had managed to evade many Versailles restrictions and when Hitler came to power the Versailles restrictions became moot and Germany began ro rearm. . The dimensions of the rearmament program far outweiged any level of armament needed for defense. It was patently clear to the Wehrmact general staff that Hitler meant to wage aggressive war. The Wehrmact developed the battle doctrine of Blitzkrieg which in essence is the basic concept of modern warfare. The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an airforce. Hitler ordered Göring to formally establish the Luftwaffe (1935). In the years right before the War and the early phase of the War, the Luftwaffe played a major role. The new Luftwaffe was staffed by Wehrmacht officers and througout the War was primrily a ground support force. Hitler gave relatively little attention to the Navy and even less to the U-boat fleet. The NAZIs signed a treaty with Britain that removed many of the Versailles limitations (1935). Ironically, it was the Navy after defeats in Russia and North Africa and in the skies over Europe that by early 1943 offered the NAZIs the last chance for victory.

German Military Strengths and Weakenesses

The NAZIs embarkened on a program to train boys to be warriors beginning with the Hitler Youth (HJ). This would take some time. The HJ was not at first compulsory. Thus when Hitler launched the War, many of the young recruits had some HJ experiences, but the officer corps of the German military had been trained in the military schools of Imperial Germany and the Weimar Republic. It was still hevily influenced by the the Prussian military tradition. And since the creation of the Prussian state, here was a warrior tradition that remained remarkably consistent over four centuries. The founder of that martial state was the Great Elector--Friderich-Wilhelm I (1640-88). He inherited a minor, rather poor and discontinguous principality in northern Germany--Brandenburg-Prussia. He turned his realm into a state with one purpose, to fund and support his army. The army he created was not a large one. His realm could not support a massive army on the level of the great powers like Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden. His solution to this problem was to create a small, but well-drilled and equipped standing army which could defeat a larger opponent before they could marshal their forces. 【Citino, pp. xiii-xiv.】 This was the only way a small power could defeat a larger power. And this was the policy that the Great Elector and his Hohenzollern's descendants followed and used sucessfully to turn Prussia into a major power. This was the tradition with which Hitler's Wehrmacht launched World War II. And Hitler had turned Germany into a state with a single purpose--to support a modern military machine that could expand the Reich. The Wehrmact had many strengths. Great attention was given to speed and mobility. These were capabilities that the Great Elector himself had emphasized. Blitzkrieg was in fact a modern version of the Great Elector's tactics with industrial weaponry. The Wehrmacht also had some major weakenesses. The industrial base of its targets, significantly increased that of Germany. Essentially the same sitation faced by the Great Elector and his descendants. German military strengths brough great victories at the beginning of World War II as they had at the start of World War I. A major strength was the support of the Luftwaffe in the early years. Perhaps the most serious Geman military weakness was the lack of attention to logistics. This was an area of lesser importance to an army designed to win a war in a brief period, but was of vital importance in a protacted war. 【Citino, p. xiv.】 Another weakness was military intelligence. 【Citino, pp. xiv-xv.】 This is less easy to understand, but may lie a tendency to underestimate their importance and an over confidence in their military superiority. These weakenes proved disastrous in World War II as they had in World War I. A great weakness was the lack of adequate naval power.

Early Aggressions

NAZI Germany withdrew from the Laeague of Nations soon after Hiltler seized power in 1933, but the next few years were spent in supressing domestic oppositon and steadily excluding Jews from national life. The NAZIs renounced the provisions of the Versailles Treaty limiting arms production in 1935. The NAZIs remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 and carried out the Anchluss with Austria in early 1938. These actions could be seen as domestic German matters. The next target was Czecheslovakia which had been created by thge Versilles Peace Treaty. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich, but the NAZIs then seized the rest of the country in March 1939, areas without major German poulations. The Germans beginning in 1936 were also active in Spain helping Franco establish a Fascist regime. The defenseless Basque village of Guernica was the first European city to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

Hossbach Protocol (November 1937)

The Hossbach Protocol sometimes reffered to as the Hossbach Memorandum was the summanry of a secret meeting held by German Führer Adolf Hitler with his military commanders and foreign affairs officials (November 5, 1937). It was not a conference with an exchange of views. It was basically Hitler informing the participants what he had decided about the future of Germany and Europe. Hitler outlined his expanionist goals which were about to unfold with the Austrian Anschluss. The meeting marked a critical turning point in Hitler's military and foreign policies. Until this meeting, Hitler had been oursuing a moderate foreign policy designed to give the impression that NAZI Germany was a resonable country that was not ahreat to peave. This was needed so the Allies would not intervene while Germany was still militarily weak. Hitler's remilitarization by 1937 had reached a point that the German military was strong enough not only resist any Allies intervention, but to begin threteing small countries on Germany's borders (Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland). There are different views on the meeting. Some see this as Hitler laying out his war plans which were desined to give NAZI Germany control of Europe by 1945. Other say that Hitler did not want anothr World War. This is in part accurate. He did not wany another World War. He wantedthe Allies to give him what he wanted without a major war. He wanted to be able to seize neigboring countries are wage aggressive wars with them. And he was actually disappointed when the British and French subsequently caved in over the Czech Sudetenland. He wanted to be the great warlord presiding over a war with Czecoslovakia. A concern for Hitler at the time was the huge defecit that Germany was running up as a result of his remilitarization program. Notably Hitler fired Economics Minister Hjalmar Schacht for opposing the uncontrolled deficit spending for rearmament. The Protocol was named after Hitler's military adjutant, Colonel Count Friedrich Hossbach who kept notes on the meeting. Attendees include Reich Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath, Reich War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, Army Commander General Werner von Fritsch, Kriegsmarine Commander Admiral Erich Raeder, Luftwaffe Commander Hermann Göring. Göring was not only a military commander. As head of the Four Year Plan and the Reuchewerke was also the most important figure in NAZI economic planning and German industry. And by the time that Hitler and Stalin launched the War, all but Göring and Raeder had been replaced.

Soviet-NAZI Non-Aggression Pact (August 23, 1939)

The War in Europe began in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and newly appointed Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov on August 23, 1939, signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. At the time of the signing, British and French delegations were in Moscow trying to reach an understanding with Stalin. He was convinced, however, that they were tring to draw him into a war with Hitler. The two countries which until that time had been bitter foes, pledged not attack each other. Any problems developing between the two countries were to be delt with amicably. It was last for 10 years. The Pact shocked the world and the purpose was immedietly apparent. It meant that Germany could attack Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. Thus after defeating Poland, Germany did not have to fear a full-scale European war on two fronts. What was not known at the time was that there was a secret protocol to the pact which in effect divided Eastern Europe betwen the two countries. This protocol was discovered after the end of the World War II in 1945. The Soviets continued to deny this protocol until 1989. The NAZIs 8 days after signing the Pact invade Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II. Although the Soviet's did not enter the War against Britain and France, the Soviets were virtual NAZI allies as they provided large quantaies of strategic materials, especially oil. Communist parties in Britain and France opposed the war effort. The Communist Party in America opposed President Roosevelt's efforts to expand defense spending and assist Britain and France.

Geo-Political Crisis

World War II was the culmination of the greatest geo-political crisis in Western civilization--the rise of the totalitarians. Following World War I, three totalitarians groups seized controlled of some of the post important countries in the world. First the Communists seized control of Russia (1917). Then the Fascists seized control of Italy and subsequently German Fascists seized control of that country (1933). Japanese militarists a kind of Shinto Fascism seized control of Japan (1930s). The countries as a whole had enormous scientific, industrial, human, and natural resources. With the NAZI victories in Europe, especially the defeat of France (1940), the ballance of world power swing to the totalitarian powers. The totalitarian powers in 1940 controlled almost all of Europe, wedding the industrial potential of Europe with the natural resources of the Soviet Union. The threat to the Western democracies was that the totalitarian powers, especially the NAZIs, had superior military weapons and tactical doctrines. The threat to the West was that the totalitarian powers rejected much of the basic tennants of Western civilization--the value and dignity of the individual and the rule of law. The NAZIs added a virulent racism that targeted whole peoples forgenocide and other peoples for slavery. The tragedy of World War II is that by the time that the pupblic had been awakened to the mortal danger, the only way to prevent defeat was an alliance with one of the totalitarian powers. Here Hitler made the decession for the Democracies when he launched Operaion Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union (1941).

Hitler's War Goals

After Hitler began World War II most authors assume that he was bent on world domination. We have noted that some insist that his ptimary goal was the Slavic East and that he was not thinking about world domination. We do not think that this was his focus at first, but was the naturalmprogressiin as Party prospecrs and than Germny's military power increased. One blogger writes, "The Origins of WW2 - is excellent as a means to reveal and examine assumptions that are made by others. You need not agree with him, but you should dwell on the fact that Hitler doesn't seem to have wanted war with England, and that Hitler's ambitions to conquer the world may have been a fantasy projected back into the past by opponents once the war got going. It's more likely that he preferred to carve out a vast zone in the Slavic world to do for the Germans what the conquest and settlement of North America did for the Anglo-Saxons ... with all the genocide that entails." Hitler himself made public statements denying such goals. He claimed that he wanted only to liberate Grman populations. He asured Chamberlain at Munich that he 'wanted no Czechs.' (September 1938) And when after he seized what was left of Czechoslovakia--meaning all Czechs, President Roosevelt sent him a letter asking him to disclaim any designs on a long list of countries (april 14, 1939). He made a joke of it and read the letter to the Reichstag (April 28). There was raucauos laughter, especially when he reached Poland and Palistine on the list. Most of the coutries on thelist were invaded by Hitler or came within the NaZI orbit. A few were saved by force Allied military power or the temprary expeient of neutrality. There is a great deal of evidence to show that Hitler's war goals developed into world domintion.

Hitler's Operational Orders

The major German operation orders for World War II came from the Führer, often issued through OKW. Most of the important ones were titled Führer Directives. There were also Führer Orders and other various titled orders and directives late in the War. We do not know and this time why these sifferent orders had various titles. In part some were ot aomed at the military, but the Party, security forces, and government agencies. These various orders are useful in following Hitler's major decesions and conduct of the War.

Military Campaigns (1939-45)

Adolf Hitler launched World War II with the Blitzkrieg on Poland (September 1939). German had allies in the War, but all the major campaigns in Europe centered on the German armed forces. Italy launched offensives against France, Greece, and Britain--all proved unsuccessful, some disastrously so. World War II in Europe centered on German campaigns and subsequently Allied campaigns against Germany. Here we have collected infotrmation on the major military campaign of the War. The Germans stunned the world with the its successful campaogns in the West culminating in the Fall ofvFrance (June 1940). Many observers believe that Britain could not hold out alone, but Britain did and refused to surrender. The FAF and the Channel made an invasion impossible. American Lend Lease ensured that Britain could continue the fight. The War was transformed when Hitler again stunned the world with Operation Barbarosa, his massive invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). Then Hitler after Pearl Harbor declared war on the United States (december 1941). Mamoth battles raged in the East. German U-boats attempted to cut off Britain with a harrowing campaign in the North Atlantic. American and British bombers waged a relentless campaign that would leave German cities in ruin. Mussolini's Italian Fascist was the first of the Axis allies to fall. The fate of Hitler and the NAZIs was sealed with the successful D-Day landings. The German offensive in the Ardennes (December 1944) was their last offensive of the War, depleting available reserves. The Red Army took Berlin in a horific battle fought in part by Hitler Youth boys and old men (April 1945). The War lasted 5 1/2 years until Hitler committed suiside and his successor Admiral Doenitz surrendered to the Allies who had overrun much of Germany.

War Photography

Our HBC website relies heavily on photography as a primary source. And one of the sources of phoytographs are images taken by the Germans. We note both official and news photography. Of course in NAZI Germany, press photographs were official photographs, at the least the ones that got published. An important source of unofficial photographs were the individual German soldiers. Photography was very popular in Germany and many Germans had cameras, often excellent cameras. And many soldiers not only took their cameras to war. There were military regulations about this, but they seem to have often been ignored. Many German servicemen were so proud that they prepared photo albums of their exploits as a record of their exploits and accomplishments. Subject matter varied. Most of the photographs picture barracks life and occupation duty. There are also sight sightseeing photographs. In the East there were many photograohs of the local people who seemed so alien to the advancung Germans who considered themselves more civilized. There are even photographs of the attrocities the Germans were committed which was also against regulations, but some of the men involved were so proud of what they were doing that they wanted a record.

The Axis (September 1940)

The Tripartite Pact was signed September 27, 1940. The agreement allied Germany and Italy (which were at war with Britain) and Japan (which was at war with China). Germany and Italy has since 1939-40 been at war with Britain. Japan since 1937 had been at war with China. The alliance did not require the partners to join these wars, but it did require them to come to each other's aid if attacked. The alliance became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis alliance, or commonly the Axis. The three Axis partners German hegemony over most of Europe; Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean, and Japanese hegemony in East Asia. After the Axis agreement was signed, several German allies joined the Axis, notably Vichy France and Fascist Spain refused to do so. Japan had no Asian allies, except or the puppet state of Manchukuo.

NAZI Diplomacy

After the RAF's victory, any NAZI invasion of Britain would not be possible until Spring 1941. At this stage of the War, the initiative lay with the NAZIs. The perponderance of power meant that the future direction of the War would be determined by the German Führer. Britain was the only country still at war with Germany. Some British officials thought that an invasion was coming. Churchill thought that a move through Spain to seize Gibraltar and an offensive against Greece to secure the Balkand would be most likely. 【McJimsey, pp. 136-138.】 No one envisioned that Hitler would strike at the Soviet Union and open a Eastern Front while Britain was still fighting. In fact Churchill told Hopkins in that, "This war will never see great forces massed against one another." Churchill was right about another aspect of the War when he briefed Hopkins, a struggle for mastery of the air (January 1941). 【McJimsey, p. 138.】 Hitler's mind was clearly fixed east. British resisantnce had come as a surprise to him. With the RAF and Royal Navy undefeated, Hitler saw no way of defeating Britain. He convinced himself that the British would hold out, hoping to draw America or the Soviet Union into the War. He had from the beginning seen the East as the true prize in the War. At the onset of the War he was determined to avoid a two-front war. With the Wehrmach stopped bybthe Channel, Hitler convinced himself that the only way of forcing Britain to make peace was to destroy the Soviet Union and removing any hope of military assistance to the British. But before the NAZIs could strike at the Soviet Union the Reich's southern flank would have to be secured.


Religion touche on various aspects of the NAZI war effort. Germany was a Christian country with both a Protestant (mostly Lutheran) and Catholic population. The NAZIs were prepared to gradually de-Christianize Germany and had launched programs leading to this. Given the religious beliefs of the population, however, they were not prepared to aggrsively begin their effort during the War. The Holcaust of course was an assault against Jews, but this was more of a racial than religious matter. Religion also became a matter in many of the occupied countries because of the importance of religion and the association between religion and nationalism in countries like Poland and Greece. Another aspect of religion was the German orgnization of Muslim units. These were the only religiously organized military units in the German military.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was a crime without presidence in modern history. The NAZIs targeted the Jews for death camps. Many were killed by SS Eisen??? Groups as soon as they entered Russian villages in the early stahes of the Russian campaign in 1941. Others Jews were concentrated in Gettos for slave labor and evential 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 because they had no economic value which could be exploited. One can not forget the images of the starving Jewish children on the Warsaw Getto whose parents had been killed. A great body of litterature exists on the Hollocaust including the experiences of the children.

Declaration of War on America

A Japanese carrier taskforce executed a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). The Axis Alliance was a defensive alliance. It required the three countries to come to the other's aid in case of attack, but did not require any action if one of the three attacked another country. Thus Hitler was not required to come to Japan's assistance, Foreign Minister Van Ribontrop stressed this in meetings with Hitler. Up to this time Hitler had avoided attacking the United States, even when President Roosevelt launched was in effect an undeclared naval war in the North Atlantic. Thus Hitler's decession to declare war on America (December 11) is largely unexplained. Speaking before an audience of NAZI luminaries, Hitler announced his decession, explaining that America with its mixture of races would not be an important factor in the War. America was in fact the only country on which Hitler declared war. It was like the other important war decessions, a decession he made personally without any kind of staff discussion. He never explained his desission to his inner circle and historians today can only speculate concerning the decession. Even more unfathomable, he made the decession just as the Soviets launched their offensive before Moscow, clearly demonstrationg that Operation Barbarossa had failed to knock the Soviets out of the War in a quick summer campaign. America was unprepared for war against either Germany or Japan. Hitler's declaration solved a problen for President Rooseveltof how after a Japanese attack to enter the European against NAZI Germany The Japanese and NAZIs were unaware of the dangers of war with an industrial potential of the United States. They were convinced that America's war profuction could not be accelerated or a natioal will to wage war coalese in time to make an effective contribution. As a result of Pearl Harbor, instantly American isolationism evaporated. The nation was aroused with an almost crusading zeal. A massive army, navy, and aircorps had to be trained an equipped. The economy had to be reorgazized for war. All of this was underway in an amazingly short period, astounding not only the Germans and Japanese but the British and Russians and Americans themselves. The industrial capacity of the United States soon created an outpouring of ships, planes, tanks, and war material of virtually every discription that was unprecedented in history. It culminated in the building of the atomic bomb. In a steadily rising wave, the force of the American war production was visited on the Axis countries. The nature of the Japanese attack and the Batan death march galvanized the Americam people to wage a total war in both Europe and Asia. Allied War propaganda, however, did not begin to fully depict the horrors taking place in the occupied countries--especially Eastern Europe. American military production steadily expanded making possible the launching of a second front in Europe with the D-Day invasion of June 1944 and the destruction of industrial Germany and the Luftwaffe through a massive air campaign.

Turning Point: 1942

The German Wehrmacht until the Soviet offensive before Moscow (December 1941) experienced one stunning victiry after another leving Hitler and the NAZIs in control of most of Europe. The Battle of Britain (July-September 1940) was a rather exception, the importance of which was not ully understood at the time. The German people other than the committed NAZIs entered the War with considerable trpedation. Most adults recalled World War I and the massive loss of life and other adverse consequences. But then Hitler chieved one victory after another with very limted consequences. More and more Germans began to believe in him. The Soviet offeensive before Moscow was a stunning victory. The dimensions of the defeat in terms of casualties and equipment were irreplaceable. It was now virtually impossible or the Germans yo win the War, especially because the Japanese militarists and Hitler added the United States to the beligerant forces. The extent of the disaster in the Soviet Union was hidden from the German people. And new victories in 1942 in both the East, North Africa, and the North Atlanyic seemed to sjow that the NAZIs could still prevail. Japanese successes in the Pacific seemed to cofirm this. Thus for most of 1942, the German people lived in a bubble formed by food and consumer goods flowing into the Reich from France and other occupied countries and the drum beat of Gobbels'propaganda. The only real change for kmost Germand was that for the first time, substantial casualties were sustained as the death notices went out nd the casualties began to fill up hiodpitals and convalesent facilities. The American victory at Midway was little noticed (June 1942). The air of invincibility came to a sjocking end only at the end of the year. The first shock was El Alemaine and the Afrika Corps retreat west (October 1942). Omly Montgomery's caution prevented the destruction of the Afrika Corps. Yhis was followed by the Anglo-American Torch Landings in North Africa (November 1942). Here Hitler turned a relstively minor defeat into a major one by sending major German reinforcemdnts to Tunisia. The major turn came in the East. The Red Army's Operation Uranus surrounded the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. This initself was not, however, a disaster. The Red Army had cut off other German units before. What made Stalingrad different was har Hitler ordered 6th Army commander General Pulis not to break out, but to stand and fight hilr a relief column was aseembled. This turned Stalingrad into a disaster. The Christmas of 1942 was a very bleak one as the shrinking Stalingrad garison fought it out with the Soviets. Increasing numbers of Germans now realized that Germay despite its power and still in possession of much of Europe was non longer winning the War. Most still did not believe that Germany faced defeat, but the opptimism og the early years was gone.

German Weapons Industry

The World War I Versailles Peace Treaty (1919) placed major limitations on the German military. Throughout the Weimar Republic, the German military conducted covert limitations to evade those limitations. When the NAZIs seized power (1933) a major rearmament program was launched. That program rapidly created the most powerful military in the world. The most fearsome arm was the the Luftwaffe which gave Hitler the ability to make the British and French backdown at Munich. Soon the Luftwaffe and Panzers stunned the world with victories in Poland (1939) and France (1940). The Germans were so siccessful that Hitler scaled back military reserarch after the victory in France. Even so German resesearchers created a fearsome aresnal of weapons, many of which were the predecessors of major modern weapon systems including rockets, missles, and jet engines. IG Farbin Tabin and Serin poison gas, but Germany never used gas during the War. In many areas, the Germans were several years ahead of Allied reserachers. Germany's weakness was that it did have the industrial capacity to win the War once Operation Barbarossa failed to knock the Soviet Union out of the War and Hitler declared War on America (1941). This weakness was in part exacerbated by the inefficent utilization of resources. German weapons were often wonderfully crafted, but sometimes complicated and requiring extensive maintenance. There was also a penchant for gigantism reflected in Bismarck, huge railway cannons, and the Tiger Tank. One area that Germany fell behind the Allies was nuclear research, in part because Hitler viewed it as Jewish science.

Slave Labor

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.

NAZI Idelogy

Historians still dispute the importance of NAZI idelogy during World War II. Many historians in the 1960s and 70s began to question the centrality of NAZI idelogy in the German wr effort. It is generally conceeded that Hitler truly believed the ideas he expoused in Mein Kampf. The question is how wide spread was the acceptance of NAZI ideology among NAZI officials and the public at large. Many Germans today believe or prefer to believe that the War and German attricities especially the Holocaust was the work of Hitler and a small group of important NAZI leaders. Other historians argue that NAZI ideology was central to the German war effort and widely supported by the German people.


Some estimates suggest that the Volsdeutsche totaled about 10 million people at the advent of World War II. Estimates vary. There were more than 2 million ethnic Germans just in the Soviet Union. Volsdeutsche communities attempted to retain their language and customs, but were affected in many ways by the countries where they settled. Hitler assigned SS Reichführer the task of assimilating the Volsdeutsche returned to the Reich, an assignment he took eagerly. He was interested in adding new blood stock to the Greater German Reich. Anout 1.25 million ethnic Germams were eventually brought back to the Reich. Some were enthusiastic, but many were skeptical and had to be forced to leave their established homes where their ancestors had in many cases livd for centuries. The NAZIs used the Volksdeutche and other German communities extensively for political purposes even before the War. Most were pro-NAZI as the NAZIs offered the proscept of overthrowing the Versailles Treaty and annexation to the Reich. Not all The Volsdeutsch were pro-NAZI, but most in the Sudeytenland and Poland were. We are less sure about other countries. Germans in the Sudetenland were used by the NAZIs to stir up trouble before Munich which was useful for Goebbels's propaganda machine. After World War II began the NAZIs became usuing thev term to describe foreign-born Germans in occupied countries who applied for German citizenship. Not all of the Volksdeutsche wanted to be German citizens, many identified more with their adopted countries. There were, hoever, substantial advantage to getting placed on the Volksliste. The German occupation authorities used the ethnic Germans in the occupation. They were more familiar with local conditions and had needed language skills. The NAZIs also used them to form Selbstschutz (self-defense units). Selbstschutz units were formed in Czechoslovakia and Poland before the War and after the Germans occupied other countries. Some of these units were involved in terrible attrocities, especially actions against Jews in Poland.

NAZI Terminology

The word Reich was very commonly used by the NAZIs. It was a German word, but not nearly as commonly used as it was during the NAZI era or Third Reich. Imperial Germany was the Second Reich, but the term was almost never used. In NAZI Germany everything became connected to the Reich: Reichsbahn (German Railways), Reichsdeutscher (German citizen as opposed to Volksdeutscher), Reichsminister, etc. Großdeutschlands Wiedergeburt means Greater Germany's rebirth. I am tempted to call Großdeutschland Super-Germany, the way the Nazis looked at it. Österreichische means Austrian. Austria became a province in Greater Germany. The NAZIs used the term Altreich to refer to the not so old Imperial Germany before the Hilerite World War II conquests. Of course some of the conquests were recovdring territory lost in World War I so I am not exactly sure what the Altreich was.

German II home leave
Figure 2.--This snapshot is undated, but looks to have been taken early in the War, perhaps the summer of 1940. The two soldiers seem to be on home leave. (By the summer of 1941 when the Wehrmacht plunged into the Soviet Union, there were not very many home leaves.) Hitler was focused on the home front. He was determined that morale not collapse at it did during World War I.

Total War

Hitler's concept of World War II involved short campaigns in which targeted counties would be knocked out individually or in small groups before they could adequately prepare. This was historically the way Prussia waged war. Prussia was a small, relatively poor country that did not have the resources to wage protracted wars against larger, richer countries. Thus a well trained standing army gave Prussia an advantage at the onset of wars. This was the approsch that Hitler adopted as Germany was surrounded by countries with far greater resources. Once countries were occupied, they could be looted to finance abd supply the German war effort. Hitler wanted to mimimize the demands on the German civilians because many did not want another war and privations on the home front had undermined the World war I war effort. Hitlee stressed the importance of the ‘gigantic all destroying blow’. This was a central concept in Prussian war planning. The competence of the Wehrmacht brought huge victories in the early phase of the War, but his plan began to fail when the British refused to buckle under in the Battle of Britain (1940). This led to Barbarossa, the in vasion of the Soviet Union (1941). The Soviet winter offensive before Moscow meant that the Wehrmachr\t had failed to smash the Red Army and thatvthere would be no Germaby victory in a short war. Hitler planned for a short war because Germany did not have the manpower or resources for a protracted war. As a result the German people and the German economy were not prepared for a long war. The Germany economy was not put on a total war footing. Women were not brouht into the work force and German companies continued to produce consumer goods. Proising arms projects like jet aircraft werre on hold. Hitler wanted to maintain the civilian standard of living. Even after the disaster before Moscow, Hitler resisted massive changes in economic policy. This changed after the disasters in Stalingrad and North Africa. As the War turned against Germany, Hitler no longer desired to appear in public. It was thus Propaganda Minister Goebbels that announced "Total War". He delivered a long speeces in Berlin (February 1943). The German people were required to make real sacrifices for the first time at the same time that the Allied Strategic Bombing campain became increasingly effective. By this time, however, it was too late. German war production could be raised and Speer accomplished a great deal. But productions increased were only marginal and paled in comparison to Allied production. The Germans faced the massive armies and war production that the Americans, British, Soviets were able to muster.

Home Front

The German people were elated with the succes of Hitler and the NAZIs in remilitarizing the Rhineland, uniting with Austria (the Anschluss), and then reclaimong the Sudetenland. There were, however, still many memories of World War II. There are many indications that there was no desire for war. War when it came resulted in spectacular German victories. Hitler believing the War had been won, actually scaled back war production in 1940-41. He was concerned about stressing the home front. This decession delayed critical work on weapons development (such at jet aircraft). Hitler was very concerned with maintaining German civilian consumption levels. Hitler even before the War began was concerned about the home front. He was aware that food shortages had destroyed civilkian morale and that disorders at home were a factor in the Kaiser's abdication. Hitler also did not want mothers not be taken out of the home to work in factories. German women were not mobilized for War work, rather slave labor was brought in from occupied countries to work in factories and on farms. The hard-pressed British in 1939-40 completely reorganized the economy for war production which included the use of large numbers of women and youths. The German approach to a war economy was to pillage occupied countries and to transport workers to concentration camps for slave labor, often under horendous conditions. As the War wet against the NAZIs, severe rationing became necessary.


World War I at leat in the West once the intial German offensive was stopped on the Marne became a static war in contrat to the war of movement in the East. Both sides dug into trench fortifications. The greatest battle was fought round the Verdun ortresses. The Whermacht in the space of 1 week destroyed or by-passed the fortresses in the West,including the French Maginot Line. The Germans had a frontier defenses facing the Maginot Line, but was much less extensive. The Maginot Line becamme a mounument to the outmoded military doctrine of relying on fortresses and fixed defenses. Despite this, Hitker adopted this strategy for the last 3 years of the War. Hitler called himself the greatest builder of fortifications in history. He may hve been correct, but the resources thrown into this effot prved to be the gratest waste of resources in military history. The largest single project was the Atlantic Wall. As it turned out, the Allantic Wall stopped the Allies for a mere 4 hours despiye the masskive quntities of steel and cement and formdable fire powr thrown into the defnses. The Atlanic Wall was only the most formidable projet, there were many other such building projects. 【McNab】 The most absurd waste of resources was on the Channel Islands whih slowed down the Alantic sa;ll cobstruction. Other project include the Gothic ine. the West Wall, and fortress cities. There were also special-purpose fortifications, including U-boat pens, V-weapon sites, and FLAK towers. Of all these emplacements, only the U-boat pens proved to be a significant military assett. As he Red Army pressed in on the Reich, Hitler comceived of the idea of fortress cities. Potntually valuableWhemacht formations were lost in this effort. Hitler was convinced it was an act of genius and to his last days in the Führerbunker would fly into a range when the fortress city tactics were questioned. 【Ryan, pp. 267-68.】

July Bomb Plot (July 1944)

Hitler cotrrectly judged that after his appointment as Chancellor, that the Reichwehr was the only force in Germany that could prevent him from seizing absolute power. The Whermacht was also in 1944 the only force capable of taking control of Germany from the NAZIs. Wehrmacht officers had perpetrated terrible attrocities. Some were apauled with what the SS abd other security forces were doing. Others were bothered about the Wehrmacht's conduct. Only the impending defeat of Germany, however, brought about an attempted (July 1944). An idealistic young Catholic aristocrat, Colonel Claus von Staufenberg, placed a bomb in the Wolf's Lair. After Hitler was dead, the Hpme Army would seize cintrol of Berlin and then Germany. The idea was to then negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies. That by 1944 was unrealistic. In the end, the failure to kill Hitler and the extensive NAZi penetration of the Wehrmact led to the coup's failure. The bulk of the Wehrmacht remained loyal to Hitler and the NAZIs. The real loser was the German people. The great bulk of German civilian casualties took place after the failed coup. To form the Honor Court trying the conspirators, Hitler appointed Field Narshal Gerd Von Rundstedt--a Prussian aristocrat who despised Hitler personally.


Destruction of German Cities

The British began the strategic bombing of Germany early in the War. RAF Bomber Command did not have the planes to reach Germany in force with large bombloads or the numbers of planes to do real damage until much later. NAZI leaders and even Molotov on a November 1940 visit to Berlin mention having to retreat to bomb shelters. It was not until 1943 that the Allies began doing real damage. For the Britizh bombing at night, the only target tey could hot were cities. This was, however, where German industry was located. Workers housing was generally located round industrial plants. The American American 8th Air Force began to build up (1942). Primeminister Churchill and President Roosevelt committed to ab around-the clock bombing campaign at Casablanca (January 1943). There were major raids and substantial damage such as Hamburg. The Americans bombed during the day, but even so give the limitations of World War II technology, much of the bombload fell on the surroinding cities rather than jist the war plabnts and other military and transportation facilities actually targeed. The effective German air defense system during 1943 made the cost in terms of planes and crews unsustainable. This did not change until the arrival of the P-51 Mustangs that could escort the bombers (December 1943). In the ensuing raids, the American fighters broke the back of the Luftwaffe. Before the bombing campaign could be pursued to its full extent, Eisenhower seized control of both Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force to prepare for the D-Day Landings. Thus ot was not until after the July Bomb Plot that the full force of the Allies air forces was turned lose on German industry and the cities where the industry was located. They also attacked the transportation network. Thus most of the danage to Germany occured in the final months of the War. The damafe was done by both the strategic bombing campaign and the entrance of the Red Army from the east and the Allies from the West on German territory.


The NAZIs proceeded to create a flood of rfugees throughout Europe. The first wave of refugees after Hitler seized power were Germans, anti-NAZIs and Jews. After launching World War II the NAZIs created huge numbers of refugeees in the conquered counties. Most had to return to their homes as a result of swift German victories. Many refugees in the Soviet Union were able to escape te NAZIs by fleeing west. Gradully as the War continued, the German people began to experience the terrible experience of being made refugees. This began first in the major cities. The British bombing was more of a nusance that terribly destructive. This changed in 1943 when the Americans began strikes into the Reich and the around-the-clock strategic bombing campaign began. German Air Defenses held in 1943, but the arrival of long-range Amerucan escorts changed the nature of the campaign (December 1943). The American escorts began the destruction of the Luftwaffe. Targets shifted to support the Normandy Day, but Eisenhower releasd the bombers (September 1944). And massive fleets of bombers began the destructin of virtually every important Grman city, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees. By this tme, the Red Army had already entered the eastern provinces of the Reich. This created millions of additional refugees. Retreating armies mingled with civilians retreating west. An additional stream of refugees was the German minorities in Eastern Europe which had lived there for centuries. Many fleed the Red Army. Otghers were expelled after the War. The German refugee problem by the end of the War was complicated by millions of slave laborers that had been brought to the Reich from all over Germany to support the German war effort.

Rhineland Campaign (September 1944 - March 1945)

The Rhineland is the area of Germany west of the Rhine. It is the site of Hitler's first aggressive moves, remiliarizing the Rhineland (1936). As it was the western-most extension of German territory, it is thus here that the Western Allies nearly 10 terrible years later entered the Reich--launching the Rhineland Campaign. The Rhineland was defended by the West Wall (Siegfried Line). Three Allied army groups advanced in a line from the North Sea to Switzerland prepared for the the final assault, this time on the NAZI Reich itself. There was optimism in SHAEF about a quick dash into the heart of the Reich to end the War. Much of the intelligence community, however, was proved wrong. The German retreating German soldiers when they reached the West Wall were regroued and rearmed. And the fixed positions of the West Wall meant that they were not as exposed to Allied air attack. And they were steeled by the belief that the very survival of the Fatherland was at atake. The Germans had deployed 0.2 million workers to strengthen the West Wall defenses, Th Allies would have to fight pitched battles in attrocious fall and winter weather at Aachen, the Hürtgen Forest, Metz, and in the the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.

Fighting to the End

One very difficult question to answer is why with their armies smashed and the cities turned into piles of rubble did the Germans continue to fight? One historian phrases the question succinctly, "How and why was Hitler's Germany able to fight on to the bitter end? Was no other conclussion to the terrible conflict possible? And if not, why not? 'The real puzzle, it has been aptly remarked, 'is why people who wanted to survive fought and killed so desperately and so ferociously to the last moments of the war.'" 【Kershaw】 Even to the end, Hitler's acolyltes were killing Jews and those deemed disloyal. The Germans continued fighting to virtual annialation and terrible suffering. Compare this with the Dutch, Belgians, and French who surrendered very quickly even though they still had the means to resist and relatively little damage was inflicted on their cities. First, one of the most common reasons suggested for the tenacous German resistance was the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. Goebells suggested this was an important factor as did many Whermach commanders after the War. Even Churchill had doubts about demanding unconditional surrender. The same historian writes, "Of course, in the First World War there had been no Allied demand for 'unconditional surrender' .... This was often seized upon in the early post-war years particularly by German generals, as the sole and adequate explanation for Germany's prolonged fight, since, it was claimed , the demand for 'unconditional surrender' ruled out any alternative." 【Kershaw】 This was of course a convenient out for the generals who so energetically conducted Hirler's war and participated in horrendous war crimes. The simple matter is that unconditional surrender was not all that much od an alernative to the once person who was in a position to negotiate an end to the War. Given the enormity of his crimes, Hitler realized that negotiating an end to the War or transfering power to a care-taker government to end the War would mean his arrest and trial for war crimes. Thus for Hitler there was no real advantage to end the War. He prolonged his existence by continuing the War. The cost to Germany was inmaterial as belived that the Germans had failed him in historical mission. There are a range of other matters that probably expalain both military and civilian resistance. Second, probably the most important was the savagery of the War in the East and fear of the Soviet reprisals. That proably to much of the Wehrmacht made continued resiatance more paletable than surrender. Third, Hitler's mesanic leadership with Goebbels propaganda and early achievements had made a connection with the German people. All to many Germans, and not just die-hard NAZIs, saw their fate inextricably liked to that of the Führer. And this spell was not broken until he shot himself in his Brlin bunker. Fourth, many Germans were all to aware of the horrendous crimes that had been committed in Germany's name, often crimes in which they had participated. And they expected a terrible retribution at the hands of the victors. Fifth, the NAZI police state was efficent enough that even the Wehrmacht was unable to seize power. Sixth, patriotism was another powerful factor. Germany was being attcked from all sides by the Soviets and Allies. Many Germans so no alternative, but to fight to protect their Fatherland even Germans who did not havw a connection with Hitler. Seventh, Goebbels propaganda proved very effective. Some still believed, especially young people. There was still hope for secret weapons. Actually there were secret weapons, only they were not really war winning weapons. Some like jet engines if introduced early enough might have had an impact. The probelm for the Germans was both Hitler;'s interference and that many of their secret weapons (like balistic ad criuse missles) were futuristic but not capable of inflencing the War.

Surrender (May 1945)

After Hitler's suiside and the surrender of Berlin, Admiral Doenitz's (Hitler's successor) primary concern was to buy time to allow as much of the Wehrmacht to surrender to the British and Americans pushinbg east. Doenitz and the German High Command were quite aware of what Germany had done in the East and were under no allusion as to the fate that awaitted them in Soviet hands. Finally Eisenhower set a deadline, threatening to stop accepting German surrenders. This forced the Germans to acceed to the terms of unconditional surrender set by President Roosevelt ar Casablanca (1943).


Despite the massive Allied bombing of German cities, most of the German World War II casualties were military personnel. This contrasts to most other European countries occupied by the Germans where civilians perished in large numbers--largely because of genocidal German policies. The exception here is the ethnic Germans living in Eastern and Central Europe that were driven out by authorities after the War. NAZI Germany launched World War II with the Blitzkrieg on Poland in cooperation with the Soviet Union (September 1939). Germany held the ininitative in the early years of the War with its early development of highly innovative and effective Blitzkrieg tactics. After the success in Poland, the Wehrmacht swept over most of Western Europe and later the Balkans. Caualties were relatively very light--especially in the Balkans. This was startling in view of the horific casualties sustained on the Western Front during World War I. The doctrine of war developed by the Wehrmacht overwealmed small, poorly prepared European armies. And then even the well-prepared and armed French Army which had been considered the strongest in Europe was defeated in little more than a month. The Wehrmacht continued its string of victories with the invasion of the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). Again casualties were at first relatively light, but stiffened as the Wehrmacht drove beyond the non-Russian areas of the western Soviet Union and encountered bettr prepared units. The Wehrmacht for the first time in the War began to sustain sizeable casualties. Zukov's Winter Offence before Moscow (December 1941) inflicted massive casualties on the Wehrmacht--casualties that the Germans could not possibly replace. After successes during the summer 1942, casualties again mounted culminating in the Stalingrad disaster. And after Stalingrad the Red Army through a series of offensives steadily bled the Wehrmacht. This was combined with the loss of another entire army in Tuniia (May 1942). Competent generalship kept losses low in Sicily and Italy (where Hitler did not intefere as much) (1943-44). The Allied invasion of France (June 1944) reopened the Western Front another front and resulted in more heavy losses. The NAZIs finally surrendered only after Hitler's suiside in Berlin (May 1945). The German military is believed to have suffered about 3.5 million killed and 4.6 million wounded during the War. A substantial portion of the men killed died after being taken prisioner by the Red Army. The casualties Germany inflicted on countries it invaded were astomomical, especially in the Soviet Union, Poland, and Yugoslavia, because of the genocidal treatment of POWs and civilians. German civilians were not much affected by the War until the fighting began to go decisively against Germany in 1943. Probably about 2 million German civilians died in the War. The Reich was not occupied until the final months of the War, but civilians began to be affected when the allies began to seriously escalate the strategic bombing campaign. Even so, only about 0.5 million Germans were killed in the bombing, largely as a result of effective civilian defense measures. Most of the civilian casualties occurred when German civilians were driven out of the countries they occupied and the German territory transferred to Poland.


The United States along with Britain and France Japan oversaw an occupation with changed the nature of West German society. Most Germans readily admitted their country's responsibility for the War and ther honredous acts of the NAZI regime. The Allies instituted a thorough going denazification process, a process which continues to this day in Germany. The Allies also attacked the militarism of the old Prussian junker class which the united German state was built around in 1870. The Allies completely dismantled the NAZI regime and during military occupation reconstructed an entirely new political structure. In some ways the process was simplified by the NAZIs who although opposed to democracy had gone a great way toward the breaking down of class barriers and weakening the power of the Prussian junkers. The Germans were not without a tradition of democracy and parlimentary politics. Given the NAZIs success in dominating the German people and the thorouness of that domination, it seems perhaps surprising how readily the Germans adopted democracy. Perhaps the totality of the NAZI defeat and the spector of Soviet totalitarianism looming accross the border were major factors. What ever the reasons, the German took to political democracy and free-market economics. A relationship with America was forged in the Berlin Airlift (1948) and four decades of resistance to the Soviers and Warsaw pact. The results by all practical measures have been an overwealming success. Germany today is one of the most prosperous and democratic societies in the world. Germany unlike Japan was also occupied by the Soviet Union. The Soviet occupation policies in eastern Germany were very different than those persued in the wetern occupation zone. Austria was separated from Germany after the War and occupied by the Soviets and Western Allies.


Anna M. Coleman

"I was 8 years old when I was told that the war had broken out on September 1, 1939. I, of course, at the time had no comprehension of what war would be like, but soon found out. I lived in Munich, Germany during the bombing. Many bombs fell around us, but our apartment building was spared, except for cosmetic damage. When it became evident that the bombing was getting worse, all of the schoolchildren were sent to the country or to the mountains. I was in a camp near Tegernsee, Germany. It was a very nice hotel made into a home for us. We had chores to do: collect wood in the forest and pick blueberries. On one of our trips to the woods, low-flying aircraft fired at us, but we were all safe. [Note: American aircraft would not have fired at children picking blueberries. They may have fired at vehicles moving on roads. We are not sure of the circumstances.] Of course, we could hear the planes going to bomb Munich and other places. Each day was fraught with anticipation until we could hear from our parents whether or not they were safe. I was 12 years old the last time I saw my father. He was on leave from the Russian front. He never came home to us again. On a lighter note, in May 1945, when the war ended, one of our neighbors came from downtown and told us that the Americans were coming in tanks and trucks. Of course, that put the fear of God in all of us, because the constant propaganda was that we all would be killed. When the tanks came in front of our building, all the children just stood and looked. The soldiers threw gum and candy down to us, which we gladly gathered up, since we hadn't had any in a long time. Of course all of our mothers took it all away, and threw it in the trash. As soon as they were out of sight all the children went to retrieve the candy and gums. It was such a treat, No longer were we afraid of the American soldiers." 【Kershaw】 [Note: Anna round up in America, I think becaise she married an American. She refers to Germany's defeat as 'liberation'. We are not sure how common that is in Germany.]

E.M. Fletcher

"I grew up in a large city in Upper Silesia during WWII in a region close to what was then the southeastern border of Poland. At the end of the war, the Treaty of Postdam gave the region to Poland although it had been German for 700 years. My father was drafted into the German Army at the start of the war and served until he was killed in action in the spring of 1945. One of my uncles died in a Russia prison camp. Two more uncles were also prisoners of war in Russia and were finally released in 1948 with failing health. When the Russian front was so close that we could hear the artillery, my mother, my 6-year-old brother and I became part of 8 million refugees fleeing the front in one of the coldest winters in decades. A large number of the old and very young did not survive in the cold. We took only what we could carry, leaving behind our relatives, friends, a business and all our possessions. This was a very rapid descent from the middle class to poverty. We were fortunate that we traveled by train-or later on, in cattle cars-for days not knowing whether we would survive the strafing by airplanes or where what our final destination would be. Our first stop was in a city on the other side of the Oder river, and when the front approached we left again and ended up in Austria where the war ended for us. In November 1945, we were transported back to Germany riding in cattle cars for one week. We ended up in a small village in Western Germany. It was quite an adjustment first being without possessions, cold and hungry, and then being far in the countryside. We were resented by the local residents; the word refugee became a derogatory term. It took 30 years and a lot of paperwork to visit my former home, which fell behind the Iron Curtain. The experience has made me resilient, fearless without being reckless, resistant to panic and taught me to cherish and appreciate every day of my life for having survived. It also convinced me that war does not solve any problems, and that neither victor nor vanquished benefit from the conflict." 【Fletcher】


A HBC reader has provides us some informstion about her mother's experiences in World war II Germany. "Secoindary schools were sinle gender schools. There were no coed schools, with few exceptions, until after 1948. Boys attended Gymnasiums. Girls attended Oberlyceums. My mother attended Uhland Oberlycum in Berlin. The curriculum revolved around languages and arts and sciences with extra currular activities like rowing. Ny mother was small and thus was coxen who called out the 'srrokes' on the school 'shell' rowing team. They competed against other Oberlyceums winnig a few trophies. The girls who rowed were called 'Ruder Girls' The girls on the team used their rowing skills during the War. By the time the bombs started flling, the men had mostly been drfted. Thus there was ashortheof lbor on the farms. Mother ad her rowing team friends spent the weekends helping local farmers harvest their fields to help pick up the slack with the men at the frint. I have a few pictures in the album taken on one of those harvesting weekends at the Schloss Saarmund..the home of the former King of Prussia on his estate. The grateful farmers gave each girla bag of fruits and vegatables to take home to their families. They dutifully balanced the sacks between their ankles wearing no life vests. They rowed an hour back to Berlin before nightfall and hopefully in between air raids. They and put their boat up at the PIWO boat yard and tried y to get home before dark as the city was under mandatory blackout and thus no street lights, The British began bomving Berlin at night before the Americans began the daylight bombing. As rationing became increasingly severe, these extra little opportunities to escape the carnage daiy in the city and bring foodhome for a day's labor in the fields was a real blessing.


Beavor, Anthony. The Fall of Berlin 1945.

Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War: From the Thirty Year's War to the Third Reich (University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, 2005), 428p.

Coleman, Anna M. "Remembering Liberation," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Domarus, Max. Hitler Reden und Proklamationen 1932-45 Vo. 1-2 (Neustadt a.d. Aisch: Velagsdruckerei Schmidt, 1962-63).

Fletcher, E.M. "From resident to refugee," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.

Haffner, Sebastian. Defying Hitler (Farrar Straus Giroux).

Jenkins, McKay. The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and the Assault on Hitler's Europe (Random House, 2003).

Kershaw, Ian. The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germant, 1944-1945 (2011).

McNab, Chris. Hitler's Fortresses: German Fortifcatins and Defenses, 193945 (2014), 400p.

McJimsey, George. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor and Defender of Democracy (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987), 474p.

Ryan, Cornelius. The Last Battle (Simon andSchuster: New York, 1966), 571p.

Stone, Rhode. "A childhood strafed by war," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004, p. W11.


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Created: August 18, 2002
Last updated: 6:29 AM 5/23/2023