Chapter Ten • Crimes Committed by Germany During World War II
Traditional historians usually characterize National Socialist Germany as a barbaric, vile, uncivilized, and criminal regime. For example, one historian states that in 1945, “Nazism was not only exposed to the German people as a catastrophic failure on its own terms, but was also revealed to all as an assault on civilized values.” Another historian states, “The liberation of Europe will always inspire us, for it contains a multitude of heroic and noble acts, and was at its core an honorable struggle to emancipate millions of people from a vile and barbaric regime.”
Since World War II was the bloodiest conflict in human history, it would be impossible to know about and report every crime that was committed by Germany during the war. I will instead attempt to include a brief overview of a substantial representative portion of the crimes, both real and imagined, that were committed by Germans during the war. I will also explain why Germany invaded so many countries during World War II.
The Soviet Union was not a party to The Hague Conventions. Nor was the Soviet Union a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which defined more precisely the conditions to be accorded to prisoners of war. Germany nevertheless approached the ICRC immediately after war broke out with the Soviet Union to attempt to regulate the conditions of prisoners on both sides. The ICRC contacted Soviet ambassadors in London and Sweden, but the Soviet leaders in Moscow refused to cooperate. Germany also sent lists of their Russian prisoners to the Soviet government until September 1941. The German government eventually stopped sending these lists in response to the Soviet Union’s refusal to reciprocate.
Over the winter Germany made further efforts to establish relations with the Soviets in an attempt to introduce the provisions of The Hague and Geneva Conventions concerning POWs. Germany was rebuffed again. Hitler himself made an appeal to Stalin for prisoners’ postal services and urged Red Cross inspection of the camps. Stalin responded: “There are no Russian prisoners of war. The Russian soldier fights on till death. If he chooses to become a prisoner, he is automatically excluded from the Russian community. We are not interested in a postal service only for Germans.”
British historian Robert Conquest confirms that Stalin adamantly refused to cooperate with repeated German attempts to reach mutual agreement on the treatment of POWs by Germany and the Soviet Union. Conquest writes:
When the Germans approached the Soviets, through Sweden, to negotiate observance of the provisions of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, Stalin refused. The Soviet soldiers in German hands were thus unprotected even in theory. Millions of them died in captivity, through malnutrition or maltreatment. If Stalin had adhered to the convention (to which the USSR had not been a party) would the Germans have behaved better? To judge by their treatment of other “Slav submen” POWs (like the Poles, even surrendering after the Warsaw Rising), the answer seems to be yes. (Stalin’s own behavior to [Polish] prisoners captured by the Red Army had already been demonstrated at Katyn and elsewhere. German prisoners captured by the Soviets over the next few years were mainly sent to forced labor camps.)
The ICRC soon became aware of the Soviet government’s callous abandonment of Soviet soldiers who fell into German hands. In August 1941, Hitler permitted a Red Cross delegation to visit the German camp for Soviet POWs at Hammerstadt. As a result of this visit, the Red Cross requested that the Soviet government send food parcels to the Soviet POWs. The Soviet government adamantly refused. It replied that sending food in this situation and under fascist control was the same as making presents to the enemy.
In February 1942, the ICRC told Molotov that Great Britain had given permission for the Soviet Union to buy food for captured Soviet prisoners in her African colonies. Also, the Canadian Red Cross was offering a gift of 500 vials of vitamins, and Germany had agreed to collective consignments of food for POWs. The Red Cross reported: “All these offers and communications from the ICRC to the Soviet authorities remained unanswered, either directly or indirectly.” All other appeals by the ICRC and parallel negotiations undertaken by neutral or friendly nations met with no better response.
The Soviet refusals to accept aid came as a surprise to the Red Cross. The Red Cross had not read Order No. 270, which was published by Stalin on Aug. 16, 1941. This order states in regard to captured Soviet POWs:
If…instead of organizing resistance to the enemy, some Red Army men prefer to surrender, they shall be destroyed by all possible means, both ground-based and from the air, whereas the families of the Red Army men who have been taken prisoner shall be deprived of the state allowance and relief. The commanders and political officers…who surrender to the enemy shall be considered malicious deserters, whose families are liable to be arrested [the same] as the families of deserters who have violated the oath and betrayed their Motherland.
Order No. 270 reveals Stalin’s great hatred for Soviet soldiers captured by German forces. It also reveals the danger to innocent children and relatives of Soviet POWs. Hundreds of thousands of Russian women and children were murdered simply because their father or son had been taken prisoner. Given Stalin’s attitude, the German leaders resolved to treat Soviet prisoners no better than the Soviet leaders were treating captured German prisoners.
The result was disastrous for surrendered Russian soldiers in German camps. Captured Red Army soldiers had to endure long marches from the field of battle to the camps. Prisoners who were wounded, sick, or exhausted were sometimes shot on the spot. When Soviet prisoners were transported by train, the Germans usually used open freight cars with no protection from the weather. The camps also often provided no shelter from the elements, and the food ration was typically below survival levels. As a result, Russian POWs died in large numbers in German camps. Many Russian survivors of the German camps described them as “pure hell.”
One German officer describes the conditions for captured Russian POWs in the German camps:
The abject misery in the prisoner-of-war camps had now passed all bounds. In the countryside one could come across ghost-like figures, ashen gray, starving, half naked, living perhaps for days on end on corpses and the bark of trees….I visited a prison camp near Smolensk where the daily death rate reached hundreds. It was the same in transit camps, in villages, along the roads. Only some quite unprecedented effort could check the appalling death toll.
By one estimate, 5,754,000 Russians were captured by Germany during World War II, of whom 3.7 million died. Another source estimates that perhaps 3.1 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity. The starvation of Russian soldiers in German camps stiffened the resistance of the Red Army, since soldiers would rather fight to the death than starve in agony as German captives. As knowledge of German policies spread, some Soviet citizens began to think that Soviet control of their country was perhaps preferable to German control.
The death of millions of Russian POWs in German captivity constitutes one of the major war crimes of the Second World War. However, much of the blame for the terrible fate of these Soviet soldiers was due to the inflexibly cruel policies of Josef Stalin. A major portion of the Soviet POWs who died from hunger could have been saved had Stalin not called them traitors and denied them the right to live. By preventing the ICRC from distributing food to the Soviet POWs in German captivity, Stalin needlessly caused the death of a large percentage of these Soviet POWs.
A Red Army sergeant who was captured by the Germans when his unconscious body was dug out from the ruins of Odessa later joined Gen. Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army. The sergeant bitterly complained of the Soviet Union’s betrayal of its POWs:
Tell me, why did the Soviet government forsake us? Why did it forsake millions of prisoners? We saw prisoners of all nationalities, and they were taken care of. Through the Red Cross they received parcels and letters from home; only the Russians received nothing. In Kassel I saw American Negro prisoners, and they shared their cakes and chocolates with us. Then why didn’t the Soviet government, which we considered our own, send us at least some plain hard tack?…Hadn’t we fought? Hadn’t we defended the Government? Hadn’t we fought for our country? If Stalin refused to have anything to do with us, we didn’t want to have anything to do with Stalin!
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn also complained of the shameful betrayal of Soviet soldiers by the Russian Motherland. Solzhenitsyn wrote:
The first time she betrayed them was on the battlefield, through ineptitude….The second time they were heartlessly betrayed by the Motherland was when she abandoned them to die in captivity. And the third time they were unscrupulously betrayed was when, with motherly love, she coaxed them to return home, with such phrases as “The Motherland has forgiven you! The Motherland calls you!” and snared them the moment they reached the frontiers. It would appear that during the one thousand one hundred years of Russia’s existence as a state there have been, ah, how many foul and terrible deeds! But among them was there ever so multi-millioned foul a deed as this: to betray one’s own soldiers and proclaim them traitors?
On June 6, 1941, before the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler gave the Commissar Order to execute the political commissars captured with Soviet units. In the language of Hitler’s Commissar Order, the Soviet commissars were the “originators of the barbaric, Asiatic fighting methods” that the enemy practiced. Denied combat status by the terms of this order, the commissars were to either be shot by the troops or turned over to the SS to suffer the same fate. Thus, the commissars were ordered liquidated not because of any crime they had committed, but because of their function in the Soviet political system.
The Germans used special mobile formations called the Einsatzgruppen designed to carry out the Commissar Order and to crush partisan activity in the Soviet Union. The Germans formed four Einsatzgruppen units each having between 500 to 800 men per unit. The Einsatzgruppen generally had a good working relationship with the army since they freed up army security forces for front-line action. The exact number of people killed by the Einsatzgruppen will never be known, but there is no question the Einsatzgruppen murdered large numbers of Soviet commissars and partisans during the war.
Partisan warfare has traditionally been considered illegal, since it undermines the convention of uniformed armies directing violence against each other rather than against civilian populations. Soviet partisan warfare was extremely brutal and capable of severely disrupting German military planning. Because German forces were always limited and always in demand at the front, German military and civilian authorities were all the more fearful of the disruptions partisans could bring. Consequently, German army officers were trained to take a severe line against partisan activity in the Soviet Union.
The combat of Soviet partisans in forests and swamps was regarded by German troops as the most dangerous of all types of warfare—favoring the hunted rather than the hunter. The partisans almost always killed captured German soldiers, frequently after inflicting brutal torture. The German anti-partisan forces operated in an extremely unpleasant environment that made the German units resent the partisans whose activities had caused them to be there. In summer huge swarms of flies and mosquitos made life miserable; in winter frostbite and trench foot were rampant.
Letters from German soldiers reveal the danger of partisan warfare. A letter from German Cpl. Hans Bruening illustrates how the wooded areas of the Soviet Union were especially effective locations for partisan warfare:
[The forests are teeming with danger.] Any snipers who fall into our hands are of course shot; their bodies lie everywhere. Sadly, though, many of our own comrades have been lost to their dirty methods. We’re losing more men to the bandits than in the fighting itself.
Hardly any sleep to be had. We’re awake and alert almost every night; you have to be in case they attack suddenly. If the sentry drops his guard just once it could be over for all of us. Traveling alone is out of the question.
German Cpl. Erich Stahl wrote: “These are dangerous swine, and no soldier is safe from them. The danger is there wherever you go and wherever you stay…and you only breathe out when you’ve come back from your post unhurt….If the Moon’s not out, you stay awake at your post like an ox.”
German Pvt. Hans Schroeder described how Soviet partisan activity killed two Germans on June 19, 1942: “Two of our comrades in first company tragically lost their lives….Though we kept watch, a partisan still was able to creep up to one of our houses. A grenade chucked in through the window, and it was done….We took revenge straight away, and rightly. I used to think one should act humanely, but this subhumanity just isn’t worth it.”
The German High Command recognized both the importance and difficulty of combating partisans as the war progressed. Anti-partisan activity was originally handled by the army, but in October 1942 responsibility for anti-partisan activity was transferred to the SS. In January 1943 Hitler declared that the Geneva Convention and the traditional rules of chivalry did not apply in anti-partisan activity. Hitler also decreed that German soldiers could not be brought to trial for atrocities committed during anti-partisan operations. The result was extraordinarily vicious fighting in which no quarter was given and none was expected in return.
Probably the most ruthless anti-partisan German unit was Sonderkommando Dirlewanger, which was named for and led by Oskar Dirlewanger. During anti-partisan operations, Dirlewanger frequently rounded up women and children left behind in partisan villages and marched them through minefields protecting guerrilla positions. This technique killed and maimed many innocent people. In another tactic, Dirlewanger would fly a light observation aircraft over suspected Russian villages. If he received gunfire he would later return in a ground action, set fire to the entire hamlet, and kill all the inhabitants. Prisoners were not taken in these punitive operations. Dirlewanger would also sometimes publicly hang captured Soviet partisans to discourage partisan activity.
The Cossacks, a perennial enemy of the Bolsheviks, provided tens of thousands of their soldiers to the German army during World War II. The Cossacks also aided the Germans in hunting down Soviet partisans in the rear areas of their operations. Soviet partisans were ruthlessly killed in these anti-partisan activities.
Other German anti-partisan warfare in the Soviet Union was also extremely harsh and brutal. One of the hardest hit areas was Belorussia, which struck an American journalist as “the most devastated country in Europe.” In Belorussia, German figures indicate that the average ratio of Belorussians to Germans killed was 73 to 1. This statistic gives some indication of the scale of violence that the civilian population suffered. A total of 345,000 civilians in Belorussia are estimated to have died as a result of German anti-partisan operations, together with perhaps 30,000 partisans.
By late 1942 the Soviet partisan movement was growing increasingly active, dangerous, and widespread. Virtually no civilian regardless of age or sex was beyond suspicion. Simultaneously, Germany’s need for foodstuffs and labor from occupied Soviet territories was increasingly desperate. Since the partisans themselves controlled ever-larger amounts of arable land, German anti-partisan activity often involved depriving the partisans of food and shelter. The German army used the captured partisan food and livestock for its benefit, while Soviet citizens were increasingly required to perform forced labor. The result was the uprooting and evacuation of much of the Soviet population.
The increasing likelihood of ultimate German defeat in 1943 caused Soviet partisan activity to mushroom. As partisan activity increased, the German anti-partisan warfare became even harsher and more desperate. Partisans and the local populations that supported them had to be hit hard and fast. The result in many cases was the wholesale destruction of villages, murder, and the effective enslavement of much of the civilian population.
Regardless of how destructive German sweeps were in a given area, Soviet partisan forces almost always reemerged. Most partisan units survived the attacks in some form, and the Germans could never keep sufficient troops in place to secure an area for any length of time. Often the methods employed to reduce Soviet partisan activity had the opposite effect because surviving peasants joined the partisans to avenge their family and friends. Also, some Soviet citizens felt they had no alternative except to join the partisans if they themselves wanted to stay alive.
Soviet partisan warfare against Germany became increasingly barbaric and murderous. In February 1943, 596 German prisoners were killed and many of them mutilated by partisans at Grischino. A German judge who interrogated witnesses and survivors of this atrocity remembers: “You have no idea how much trouble the commanders and company chiefs had…to restrain the German soldiers from killing every Russian prisoner of war of the Popov Army. The troop was very bitter and angry. You cannot imagine the vehemence of the soldiers after they had seen what had happened.”
German anti-partisan activity resulted in a horrific loss of civilian and partisan lives as well as the destruction of many Russian villages. However, the Soviet partisans’ sabotage operations effectively tied up increasing numbers of German troops and prevented the Germans from ever feeling secure on Russian soil. By the time the bulk of Russian territory had been liberated in early 1944, a large and effective Soviet guerrilla movement had emerged. Stalin’s support had allowed the Soviet partisans to survive the German anti-partisan reprisals and grow into an effective fighting force that helped the Soviet Union win the war.
On May 27, 1942, two Czech partisans ambushed Reinhard Heydrich’s vehicle as he was traveling from Prague to Berlin. While Heydrich lay critically wounded in a hospital, National Socialist leaders became enraged and ethnic Germans had to be restrained from attacking Czech citizens and establishments. Heydrich’s death on June 4, 1942, ensured that reprisals would be forthcoming. 
Immediately after Heydrich’s funeral on June 9, 1942, Hitler ordered the complete annihilation of the Bohemian village of Lidice. Lidice was targeted partly because Heydrich’s assassins had allegedly received support from the village’s inhabitants. Within hours German police units surrounded the village, and the male inhabitants were herded on to a farm and successively shot in groups of 10. A total of 172 men were murdered in Lidice on June 9, 1942, and all of the buildings were burned to the ground. The women of Lidice were deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp while their children underwent racial screening to see if they were Germanizable. An additional 27 men from Lidice were later murdered, making a total of 199 men executed from Lidice.
The Lidice killings made the front page of newspapers around the world. Shortly after the destruction of the village, several communities in the United States, Mexico, Peru and Brazil renamed their towns and villages “Lidice” in honor of the murdered villagers. Books and movies were made to remember the dead at Lidice, and U.S. war posters called on Americans to “Remember Pearl Harbor and Lidice.” Of all the sites of German reprisals, Lidice became a household word and possessed the greatest propagandistic value to the Allies.
Heydrich’s two assassins were eventually surrounded and killed on June 18, 1942. With the help of local informants, Gestapo agents eventually rounded up most of the remaining Communist and Czech resistance members.
All 33 of the adults in the village of Lezáky were also murdered when Gestapo agents found in Lezáky the transmitter of the underground radio team that had been parachuted into the protectorate alongside Heydrich’s two assassins. The children in Lezáky were handed over to German authorities and the village’s buildings reduced to rubble. In addition to those killed in Lidice and Lezáky, 3,188 Czechs were arrested and 1,327 were sentenced to death during the reprisals that summer. Close to 4,000 people with relatives among the exiles were rounded up and placed in concentration camps or ordinary prisons.
The plot to assassinate Heydrich was launched by Allied intelligence agencies in London. Heydrich’s assassination was not a spontaneous act of resistance as claimed by Allied propaganda. In fact, leaders of the domestic Czech resistance had warned Edvard Benes that killing Heydrich would be a catastrophe. The Czech resistance leaders stated:
The assassination would not be of least value to the Allies, and for our nation it would have unforeseeable consequences. It would threaten not only hostages and political prisoners, but also thousands of other lives. The nation would be the subject of unheardof reprisals. At the same time it would wipe out the last remainders of any resistance organization. It would then be impossible for resistance to be useful to the Allies. Therefore we beg you to give the order through Silver A [parachute team] for the assassination not to take place. Danger in delay; give the order at once.
The Czech resistance leaders were prophetic in their warning. Benes and the Allies had hoped that the anticipated brutal German reprisals would lead to a more general uprising of the Czech population against German rule in Czechoslovakia. However, the wave of terror that followed Heydrich’s assassination served as a powerful deterrent to resistance activity. The Czech partisan underground was almost completely wiped out in the weeks after Heydrich’s death, and was never to recover for the rest of the war.
Contrary to plans, the War Office in London noted a “dying enthusiasm” for further resistance within the Czech population. The Czech armaments industry remained one of the strongest and most reliable pillars of the German war effort. The brutal German reprisals had effectively ended Czech partisan activity until Germany’s unconditional surrender at the end of the war.
Both Germany and the Soviet Union were guilty of major atrocities against Polish citizens during and after their conquest of Poland. However, in the case of Germany, many of their atrocities were reprisals for crimes committed by the Polish government against ethnic Germans in Poland. Poland’s reign of terror had forced Germany to invade Poland to end the atrocities against Poland’s ethnic Germans.
The Germans shot civilian hostages in Bydgoszcz, burned synagogues, and conducted operations similar to Lidice in numerous Polish villages and towns. German reprisals often included public executions and hangings of Polish citizens to discourage partisan activities. Germany also commenced resettlement schemes beginning in West Prussia, where 750,000 Polish citizens were expelled to make way for Germans transferred from the Baltic states. In 1942-1943, Germany cleared over 300 villages in central Poland as part of an additional resettlement scheme.
Germany also used brutal measures to quash two uprisings in Poland during the war. The first uprising occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943 and is today commonly called the Ghetto Uprising. The Ghetto Uprising had no realistic chance of military success, and some 40,000 civilians were either killed on the spot or deported to German concentration camps.
The second uprising began in Warsaw on Aug. 1, 1944, and was a much larger and bloodier insurrection. Commonly referred to as the Warsaw Rising, it was the biggest military action undertaken by any of the wartime resistance movements. Receiving reports that Soviet tanks were visible on the horizon and believing that liberation was imminent, Polish insurgent leader Gen. Bór-Komorowski used his 35,000-man Home Army to fight the Germans in Warsaw. The Home Army had expected to receive assistance from both the Red Army and the Western Allies; instead, it received almost no aid from either.
German SS units were assigned to end the uprising. The German plan was to recapture Warsaw district by district, killing or at least driving out Polish citizens from every block and every house. In this manner the insurgents would be compressed into an ever constricting perimeter, with no insurgents to the German rear once they took a district. The Luftwaffe also played a role in the fighting, and attacks by Stukas caused major damage.
Since the Red Army stayed on the sidelines and offered no help to the Home Army, by Sept. 26, 1944, it was obvious to everyone that the Warsaw Rising had failed. Polish representatives signed a capitulation agreement on Oct. 2, 1944. Some believe that Stalin refused to help the Polish Home Army because it was as adamantly anti-Communist as it was antifascist. It was advantageous for the Soviets to let the German and Polish forces kill each other off and then have the Red Army move in.
It is difficult to assess overall casualties for the Warsaw Rising. Probably 9,700 men of the Home Army were killed in action with an additional 6,000 missing and presumed dead. The largest number of casualties was among the Polish civilians, with over 150,000 civilians estimated to have been killed during the fighting. German losses were also high. An estimated 10,000 German troops were killed and 7,000 missing and presumed dead.
The German SS units had inspired fear and terror in the Polish population as a result of the slaughter of large numbers of civilians during the Warsaw Rising. The SS Dirlewanger unit appears to have been the worst culprit in the murder of innocent civilians. Even SS-Gen. Hermann Fegelein, speaking to Hitler about the Dirlewanger Regiment during the Warsaw Rising, said: “My Fuehrer, they are real low-lifes.”
SS-Panzergrenadier Hans Schmidt expresses his view of Germany’s actions during the Warsaw Rising:
For the Poles to start the August 1944 uprising in their capital city at the very moment when the German soldiers of the eastern front were in a desperate defensive battle with the Red Army proved a great miscalculation. It bears remembering that the numerous marshaling yards around Warsaw were the major railroad connections between the Reich and the eastern front, and these connections had to be held at all costs. Consequently the German reprisals against both the partisans as well as against the general population supporting the underground fighters were both swift and brutal. The inner city of Warsaw was largely destroyed during the ferocious battles that lasted for two months. To make a special issue, as the Poles seem to do even to this day, of the fact that the Germans leveled the inner city of Warsaw during the uprising is ludicrous. By that time most German inner cities had been destroyed, and the Allies had even attacked targets in Rome and Paris, something the German High Command had always avoided. Considering everything, there was no reason for the High Command to go easy on the residents of the Polish capital.
Numerous other anti-partisan activities were conducted by Germany during the war. Italian partisan activity assumed impressive proportions in the northern part of Italy after Mussolini’s collapse in 1943. However, the Italian partisan activity developed at a time and place where the Germans were well positioned to contest its growth. In March 1944, for example, a partisan attack on a German column marching through Rome caused many German casualties. The Germans shot 335 hostages in a nearby abandoned quarry—the so-called Fosse Ardeatine—in a massacre that still provokes heated debates today.
German anti-partisan reprisals continued in Italy through the summer of 1944. Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, 1944, the SS Panzer Division “Reichsfuehrer-SS” perpetrated a massacre at the Italian village of Marzabotto. The reprisal at Marzabotto was several times the size of the one at Lidice, and was one of the worst German atrocities committed in Western Europe during the war. The Germans continued antipartisan attacks in the winter months from 1944-1945 by employing three whole divisions to harry the Italian partisans and demolish their infrastructure. An estimated 40,000 partisans were killed in these anti-partisan operations.
French resistance activity began to increase toward the end of the war. Since Allied leaders planned to invade Europe on the coast of France, French partisans received substantial weaponry and supplies to aid the Allied invasion. By June 6, 1944, French partisans had received enough arms through airdrops to fully equip 20,000 resisters, and partially equip another 50,000. Large stocks of guns, ammunition, and explosives were in the hands of the partisans for a do-ordie effort to assist the Allied invasion.
Partisans began a flurry of subversive activity when the first wave of Allied troops landed in Normandy. French partisans performed delaying actions to keep German troops from reaching Normandy, buying time for the Allies to gain a foothold on the beaches. The most notable delaying action was against the SS Panzer Division “Das Reich,” which was speeding north to meet the invasion. This panzer division became so frustrated from the partisan activity that it launched reprisals that massacred all of the men, women, and children in the village of Oradoursur-Glane. The Germans then razed all of the buildings in the village, adding it to their list of villages obliterated from anti-partisan reprisals. An estimated 642 villagers were murdered in this atrocity.
When the commander of the “Der Fuehrer” Regiment heard about the murders at Oradour-sur-Glane, he became furious and planned to initiate court-martial proceedings. However, the battalion commander who ordered this atrocity perished in battle at Normandy before he could be brought to justice. The atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane led to a reduction in French resistance activity, as many partisan leaders decided that further acts of sabotage and assassination carried too high of a price.
German reprisals against anti-partisan activity were also brutal in Greece. Since the Germans in Greece did not have occupying forces large enough to take full control of all areas, terror against the civilian population was deemed necessary to discourage resistance. In December 1943, German troops rounded up all of the men found in the mountain town of Kalavryta and shot them. This massacre of at least 500 men was a reprisal for the kidnapping and murder of German soldiers by Greek partisans. Waffen-SS soldiers did not even spare women and children in later anti-partisan reprisals the following spring in central Greece.
Other regions in the Balkans also experienced severe German anti-[partisan reprisals. For example, a partisan attack on a German unit in Serbia prompted the Germans on October 20-21, 1941, to round up nearly 10,000 men in the town of Kragujevac and shoot 2,300 of them in batches. Another 1,736 men were executed in the town of Kraljevo. The shock of these German atrocities caused many Serbs to cease partisan operations to avoid inflicting further reprisals on the civilian population.
German anti-partisan reprisals were effective in reducing partisan activity in most places in Western Europe during the war. German reprisals against partisan activity frequently prevented opposition from surfacing over much of occupied Europe, and broke up opposition when it became visible. There were few places in Western Europe where the Germans were overwhelmed by partisan activities for very long. Only in the Soviet Union did German anti-partisan reprisals fail.
While German anti-partisan units committed numerous atrocities during the war, it should be noted that the partisan activities against Germany were also illegal, brutal, and barbaric. Gen. Alfred Jodl summarized the German position regarding anti-partisan warfare in his closing address at the Nuremberg trial: “In a war like this, in which hundreds of thousands of women and children were killed by saturation bombing and in which partisans used every—and I mean every—means to their desired end, tough methods, however questionable under international law, do not amount to crimes of morality or conscience.”
The question is often asked: If Hitler wanted peace, why did he invade so many countries? We have already analyzed in previous chapters why Germany invaded or took control of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union. In the case of the Soviet Union, Germany’s invasion was clearly a preemptive strike that prevented the Soviet Union from conquering all of Europe. We will analyze in this section why on April 9, 1940, Germany invaded the peaceful nations of Norway and Denmark.
Germany had no plans to invade Norway or Denmark when World War II began. Hitler considered it advantageous to have a neutral Scandinavia. On Aug. 12, 1939, in a conversation with Italian Foreign Minister Ciano, Hitler stated that he was convinced none of the belligerents would attack the Scandinavian countries, and that these countries would not join in an attack on Germany. Hitler’s statement was apparently sincere, and it is confirmed in a directive on Oct. 9, 1939.
Hitler eventually became convinced of the need for a preemptive strike to forestall a British move against Norway. Adm. Erich Raeder in a routine meeting with Hitler on Oct. 10, 1939, pointed out that the establishment of British naval and air bases in Norway would be a very dangerous development for Germany. Raeder stated that Britain would be able to control the entrance to the Baltic, and would be in a position to hinder German naval operations in the Atlantic and the North Sea. The flow of iron ore from Sweden would end, and the Allies would be able to use Norway as a base for aerial warfare against Germany.
In a meeting on Dec. 18, 1939, Hitler let it be known that his preference was for a neutral Norway, but that if the enemy tried to extend the war into this area, he would be forced to react accordingly. Hitler soon had convincing evidence that Britain would not respect Norwegian neutrality. German naval intelligence in February 1940 broke the British naval codes and obtained important information about Allied activities and plans. The intercepts indicated that the Allies were preparing for operations against Norway using the pretext of helping Finland. The intercepts confirmed Adm. Raeder’s fears about British intentions.
Both Britain and France believed that the threat of Germany losing badly needed iron ore would provoke Germany into opening up military operations in Scandinavia. However, Britain and France had somewhat different objectives. Britain believed that German operations could be challenged effectively and successfully by the Allies, resulting in quick military victories for the Allies in a war that had stagnated. France wanted to open a new front in order to divert German attention and resources from her border. Both Britain and France felt the maritime blockade of Germany would become more effective once Norway was conquered, especially if they succeeded in severing the flow of iron ore to Germany. They were willing to accept great military and political risks to this end.
German intelligence reports continued to indicate that the Allies would invade Norway even after the conclusion of peace between Finland and the Soviet Union. On March 28, 1940, the Germans learned about the decision taken by the Allied Supreme War Council to mine Norwegian waters. A diplomat’s report on March 30, 1940, indicated that the Allies would launch operations in northern Europe within a few days. British mining operations in Norwegian territorial waters began on April 8, 1940. Although no armed clashes with Norwegian forces took place, the British mining operations were a clear violation of Norway’s neutrality and constituted an act of war.
Germany’s decision to invade Denmark was based on the plan of Gen. Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, who concluded that it would be desirable to occupy Denmark as a “land bridge” to Norway. Denmark quickly surrendered to German forces on April 9, 1940. The campaign in Norway lasted 62 days and unfortunately resulted in a substantial number of casualties. Most sources list about 860 Norwegians killed. Another source estimates the number of Norwegians killed or wounded at about 1,700, with another 400 civilians estimated to have died during the campaign. Norway also effectively lost her entire navy, and her people experienced increased hardships during Germany’s five-year occupation.
The German invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940, was made to preempt Britain’s invasion of Norway. The Germans achieved most of their objectives in what must be viewed as a stunning military success. The occupation of Norway complicated British blockade measures and cracked open the door to the Atlantic for possible interference with British supplies coming from overseas. The air threat to Germany by a British presence in Norway was also avoided, as was the possibility of Sweden falling under the control of the Allies. Most importantly, Germany’s source of iron ore was secure, and the German navy was able to remove some of the limitations imposed on it by geography.
British hopes that quick victories could be achieved by enticing the Germans into an area where they would confront enormous British naval superiority were not realized. The hoped-for British victories in Norway turned into a humiliating defeat. The French objective of reducing the threat to her homeland by opening a new theater of war was also not achieved. A protracted war in Norway and the consequent drain on German resources did not materialize. The only major advantage to the Allies was a hardening of public opinion against Germany in neutral countries, especially in the United States.
Most people did not know that Germany’s invasion of Norway and Denmark had preempted an invasion of Norway by Allied forces.
On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg as the only viable pathway into France, which was Germany’s primary goal. Since their declaration of war on Germany, both Great Britain and France had been building up their military forces in preparation for an all-out offensive against Germany. A combined British/French army of 500,000 men was being organized for an invasion of Germany as soon as the Allied military build-up was ready. Britain and France had also been conducting a relentless naval campaign against Germany which included a naval blockade against German ports.
Since France’s heavily fortified Maginot Line blocked a German invasion across the German/French border, Germany had to invade the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg to get into France. Germany’s occupation of the Low Countries was thus a result of her need to bypass the Maginot Line, and not a result of Germany’s desire to conquer the world. Germany had tried to avoid war with both Britain and France. However, Britain and France had rejected all German peace offers, making it necessary for Germany to invade France and the Low Countries.
Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands unfortunately resulted in a substantial loss of life. The Dutch in a four-day battle tried to wipe out the German paratroops and glider-borne infantry that landed at Rotterdam and The Hague. German bomber squadrons had already taken off to relieve the pressure on paratroops at Rotterdam on May 14, 1940, when word arrived that the Dutch were capitulating. Only half of the German bombers could be recalled—the rest dropped nearly 100 tons of bombs on Rotterdam, resulting in the death of 900 people. Holland formally surrendered the next day.
With 22 divisions at its command, the Belgian army put up a tougher fight than the Dutch. However, it too was overwhelmed, and Belgium formally surrendered to Germany on May 28, 1940, without consulting the British or French. French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud was said to have been “white with rage” on hearing the news of Belgium’s capitulation. Some 10,500 Dutch and Belgian soldiers are estimated to have been killed in the conflict. Luxembourg didn’t have an army and did not fight the German invasion.
France quickly fell to Germany primarily because French intelligence failed to predict how the German invasion would take place. The strongest German force pushed through the Ardennes while smaller German forces fought Allied troops in the north. The Allied armies were soon surrounded by German divisions on three sides, with the sea on the fourth. Philippe Pétain, who had replaced Reynaud as prime minister of France, announced on June 17, 1940, that it was time to stop the fighting and sue for peace. Approximately 120,000 French soldiers were killed or reported missing in the conflict, with 1.5 million French troops taken prisoner by the Germans.
Similar to Germany’s invasion of Norway and Denmark, the German invasion of France and the Low Countries was primarily preemptive in nature. Germany had no designs on Britain or France and wanted above all else to avoid war. It was Britain and France that had declared war on Germany, and it was Britain and France that had ignored all German peace overtures. Hitler had even offered German military assistance if needed by the British empire, and had made repeated attempts to establish friendly relations with Britain, all of which were spurned. Germany’s only viable option was to attack France and continue with a war it had never wanted.
Keeping the lid on simmering tensions in the Balkans was a high priority for Germany during the war. Hitler told Italian Foreign Minister Ciano on July 20, 1940, that he attached “the greatest importance to the maintenance of peace in the Danube and Balkan regions.” The Germans were eager to prevent disturbance in the region, both to prevent further Soviet encroachment and to retain German access to oil from Romania. Impulsive Italian action against Yugoslavia could lead to Soviet intervention, and Italian action against Greece could let in the British through the back door.
In August 1940, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop twice repeated to Italian Ambassador Dino Alfieri that Hitler wanted to keep peace in the Balkans. Despite these and other German warnings, Mussolini decided to attack Greece from occupied Albania on Oct. 28, 1940. The Greek army was deemed to be weak, and Mussolini had expected a swift victory. Instead, the Greek forces fought valiantly, helped by good organization, knowledge of difficult terrain, and the superior motivation of troops protecting their homeland. The Italian campaign rapidly proved to be a fiasco, and what was supposed to have been an easy victory turned into a humiliation for Mussolini’s regime.
Within little over a week the Italians were forced to halt their offensive in Greece, and by the time another week had passed they were being pushed back over the Albanian border by a Greek counterattack. The Italian front finally stabilized about 30 miles within Albania. To make matters worse, the Italian fleet anchored at Taranto in southern Italy was severely damaged by a British torpedo attack in November 1940. Half of the Italian warships were put out of action, and Italian dreams of empire sank along with the ships. The balance of naval power in the Mediterranean was decisively altered with this highly successful attack.
The military situation in Greece could only be remedied with German help. This was a situation that both Mussolini and Hitler had hoped to avoid. Hitler had wanted the Balkans to remain quiet, but he could not ignore the threat now posed by intensified British military involvement in Greece. Hitler eventually decided in March 1941 that a major military operation would be necessary to evict the British from the whole of the Greek mainland. The German invasion of Greece to bail out Mussolini’s ill-fated invasion resulted in Greece’s surrender on April 23, 1941.
Hitler in his last testament in 1945 states his displeasure with Italy’s attack on Greece: “But for the difficulties created for us by the Italians and their idiotic campaign in Greece, I should have attacked Russia a few weeks earlier.” Hitler had unquestionably wanted Greece and the other Balkan countries to stay neutral during the war.
The remaining Greek, British and other Allied forces as well as the Greek government and king retreated to Crete. German airborne forces landed in Crete on May 20, 1941, and quickly seized control of the main airfields. A chaotic evacuation of British forces began on May 26, 1941, but more than 11,000 British troops were captured and nearly 3,000 British soldiers and sailors killed. The whole operation was a disaster for Great Britain. Churchill and his advisors conceded it had been a mistake to send troops to Greece in the first place.
Italian military incompetence was also the reason Hitler had to send troops to north Africa. Italy’s attempt to invade British-held Egypt from the Italian colony of Libya in December 1940 had been repulsed by a well-trained Anglo-Indian force of 35,000 men. Britain took 130,000 Italian prisoners and captured 380 tanks in this conflict. In April 1941, a force of 92,000 Italian and 250,000 Abyssinian soldiers was defeated at the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa by 40,000 British-led African troops. The Allies took control of Addis Ababa and the whole northeast part of Africa after this conflict.
Gen. Erwin Rommel arrived in Africa on Feb. 12, 1941, with the assignment to rescue the situation in north Africa. Appointed to head the newly formed Afrika Korps, Rommel was told to prevent any further Italian collapse in Libya. Building on his previous experience of combined air and armored warfare, Rommel’s troops took the key Libyan seaport of Tobruk in June 1942 and forced the British back deep into Egypt. Rommel was within striking distance of the Suez Canal, threatening a major British supply route with the potential to gain access to the vast oilfields of the Middle East.
Difficulties in supplying his troops by either land or sea eventually weakened Rommel’s position in north Africa. The British stood their ground at El Alamein, and the Allies recaptured Tobruk in November 1942. Rommel returned to Germany on sick leave in March 1943. Defeat in north Africa was complete when 250,000 Axis troops, half of them German, surrendered to the Allies in May 1943.
The German invasion of north Africa had been designed to shore up Italian forces and later to possibly disrupt British oil supplies and gain access to Middle East oil. Germany’s participation in north Africa was not about German territorial expansion.
The German invasion of Yugoslavia was in response to an unexpected military takeover of that country. On the night of March 26-27, 1941, a group of Serb officers executed a coup and established military control of the Yugoslav government. Hitler stated in regard to the Yugoslavia coup: “Although Britain played a major role in that coup, Soviet Russia played the main role. What I had refused to Mr. Molotov during his visit to Berlin, Stalin believed he could obtain indirectly against our will by revolutionary activity. Without regard for the treaties they had signed, the Bolshevik rulers expanded their ambitions. The [Soviet] treaty of friendship with the new revolutionary regime [in Belgrade] showed very quickly just how threatening the danger had become.”
The coup in Yugoslavia divided an already politically unstable country and provoked the Germans to denounce the illegitimate new government. Germany attacked Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, and quickly defeated the Yugoslav military in 12 days. The defeat of Yugoslavia was made easier because Yugoslavia was not a nationally unified country, and large portions of its population did not support the new government. The Yugoslav army’s feeble resistance resulted in only 151 German fatalities during the brief campaign.
On Dec. 17, 1944, the men of the First SS Panzer Division allegedly murdered over 80 American prisoners of war at Malmédy during the Battle of the Bulge. The so-called Malmédy Massacre was widely broadcast by Allied media as proof of German wickedness. However, a review of the facts shows that the Germans did nothing wrong during this incident.
The First SS Panzer Division under the command of Col. Jochen Peiper ran into a column of nearly 200 American soldiers belonging to Battery B, 285th Field Observation Battalion. The Americans surrendered after about 10 minutes of fighting. The Americans were disarmed (but probably not body searched), told to assemble in a clearing beside the road, and were lightly guarded by a few Germans in two vehicles, a half-track and probably a VW Schwimmwagen. Since Col. Peiper had orders to reach a certain destination by a given time, the bulk of the German force continued on its way almost without interruption.
Once the German tanks and other vehicles were out of sight, the Americans far outnumbered the handful of Germans guarding them. Some of the Americans attempted to escape into the nearby forest, knowing that American-occupied Malmédy was only a few thousand yards away. Complete chaos broke loose as a result. The German guards fired at the escapees. Other Americans, who had heard U.S. propaganda stories of the SS massacring their prisoners, believed that their end was near and also tried to flee. A few other American prisoners pulled out handguns they had hidden, or grabbed rifles that were still lying around, and fired back at the German guards.
The main German force entered the area a few minutes after some of the Americans had made their escape. The Americans surrendered again to the Germans after several minutes of shooting. This time the captured American prisoners were more heavily guarded and marched back east into captivity. In the three firefights that occurred during the Malmédy incident, it is today estimated that fewer than 70 American soldiers lost their lives. The Germans had done nothing wrong in this encounter. The German guards had every right to shoot at the American prisoners attempting to escape, even though pandemonium broke out that caused additional American deaths. Germany did not commit an illegal atrocity at Malmédy.
The German Foreign Office investigated the Malmédy incident and submitted its official answer to the Swiss legation on March 8, 1945: “The German military authorities ordered that an immediate inquiry be made as soon as they heard in enemy radio reports about the alleged shooting of 150 American prisoners of war in the Malmédy area; the inquiry has established that the report is not true. Pursuant to the memorandum of the Swiss legation, new investigations were carried out by the German troops that had been engaged in the Malmédy areas during the period in question. These investigations have similarly established that American prisoners of war have not been shot. The report that 15 so-called survivors allegedly made to the State Department is therefore false.”
An unfortunate consequence of the Malmédy incident was an increase in German POWs killed by Americans. Allied atrocities such as the murder of POWs at Biscari, Italy on the orders of Gen. Patton had already occurred during the war. However, as a result of the incredible Allied hate propaganda concerning Malmédy, untold numbers of mostly very young Waffen-SS soldiers were subsequently shot by American soldiers after their capture. Having interviewed many former American soldiers since 1950, Hans Schmidt estimates that Allied soldiers murdered thousands of Waffen-SS POWs because of the Malmédy incident.
The effect of Allied hate propaganda on the treatment of captured German POWs after the Malmédy incident is confirmed by an American soldier: “American feelings toward Germans hardened into vindictive hate. Chances of survival for newly caught German POWs diminished greatly.” Most American wartime memoirs also mention that the shooting of German POWS after Malmédy, while officially frowned upon, was common.
Stalag Luft III was a Luftwaffe-run prisoner of war camp during World War II located near the Lower Silesia town of Sagan. The camp is best known for an attempted prisoner escape that took place there by tunneling. On March 24, 1944, on a moonless night 76 Allied prisoners escaped from the camp to initial freedom. However, 73 of the 76 escaping prisoners were later captured by the Germans. Hitler initially wanted all recaptured prisoners to be shot as an example to other prisoners not to attempt an escape from the camp. German military leaders argued against executions as being a violation of the Geneva Convention. Hitler eventually ordered Heinrich Himmler to execute 50 of the recaptured prisoners.
The Sagan incident was one of the German war crimes tried at the Nuremberg trials. British prosecutor David Maxwell Fyfe effectively cross-examined Hermann Goering about the execution of the 50 Allied airmen who had escaped from Sagan prison camp. Goering could not deny that their execution was a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Living conditions in Holland by the start of 1944 had become almost intolerable. The Dutch economy had been stripped bare by Germany for its war effort, and children were beginning to show signs of malnutrition from food shortages. The Germans flooded large swathes of the country in anticipation of an Allied invasion. Allied bombing of dykes in Holland also devastated thousands of additional acres. Reckless air bombardment of Dutch cities by British and American bombers resulted in the death of civilians as well as the destruction of property. For example, an Allied air attack on Feb. 22, 1944, on Nijmegen killed 500 civilians, injured several hundred more, and left one-third of the center of the town in ruins. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden said that such loss of life and damage to property was “part of the price of liberation.”
By October 1944 the Dutch economy was on the verge of total collapse. The only hope was shipment of aid from Sweden or food drops by plane into occupied Holland. A small Swedish relief effort was eventually instigated in January 1945 that created a great boost for the morale of the hungry Dutch. However, by April 1945 the Swedes had been able to deliver only 20,000 tons of food and supplies. While extremely welcome, this was not nearly enough aid to feed 3.5 million starving Dutch people.
On April 12, 1945, the German Reich commissioner in the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, met with the leaders of the Dutch underground to negotiate a separate peace and allow aid to Holland. This led to a meeting on April 28, 1945, between Allied representatives and German officials that established designated drop zones for air supply of food and other aid. The next day low flying Allied aircraft dropped 500 tons of supplies on four drop zones to begin the massive relief effort. The German guns were silent, and no Allied aircraft were lost.
On April 30, 1945, the terms of a truce were negotiated between U.S. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith and Seyss-Inquart. The Allied and German officers broke into working parties and carefully set out the precise arrangements by which roads, ports, and air lanes would immediately open to humanitarian aid convoys. Allied airdrops in Holland delivered 7,000 tons of food and supplies over the next nine days, while trucks and ships carried in thousands of tons of additional aid. The Dutch finally were receiving the food and supplies they so desperately needed.
The suffering of the Dutch people did not cease with their liberation. A long period of recovery lay ahead. A thorough survey of the western Netherlands carried out by the G-5 section of SHAEF after the war stated:
Hospitals are overcrowded with patients in the preliminary stages of starvation, i.e., suffering from hunger edema. Instances of this are 15,000 cases in Amsterdam and 10,000 in Haarlem. It is, however, clear that the number of patients in hospitals, large though it is, does not accurately reflect the state of the community. In driving through the poorer quarters of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam it was evident that many of the people in the streets and more especially those visible inside the houses were really in need of a course of hospital treatment to enable them to recover from the effects of a long period of malnutrition.
The commonly agreed upon figure for deaths due to starvation and related illnesses during the war in the Netherlands is 16,000.
However, some sources estimate that 22,000 Dutch starved to death during the war. Seyss-Inquart was tried, convicted, and hanged at Nuremberg for actions “which were committed in the occupation of the Netherlands.” The tribunal acknowledged, “It is also true that in certain cases Seyss-Inquart opposed the extreme measures used by…other agencies, as when he was largely successful in preventing the [German] army from carrying out a scorched earth policy.” However, the tribunal convicted Seyss-Inquart for depriving the Dutch of food in order to further the German war effort.
One of the reasons for the Dutch famine was the Allied refusal to adopt a plan by Herbert Hoover to provide relief to Holland and Belgium. Under Hoover’s plan the food would be sent by the ICRC in its own ship, guarded through the journey to Belgium by neutral observers, and then eaten by children in the presence of supervisors. The Germans also agreed to match pound for pound everything rounded up for the Dutch people under Hoover’s plan. Hoover’s proposal would have resulted in no gain to the Germans.
Churchill and other Allied leaders rejected Hoover’s plan and deprived the people in Belgium and Holland of much needed food. Hoover wrote: “There were no insurmountable difficulties in carrying out such relief [to Holland] except the attitudes of the British and American governments. There was ample food surplus in countries overseas from Europe. Shipping was available without diminishing the transportation of the Allies.” No disadvantage to the Allied war effort would have resulted from adopting Hoover’s plan. Thus, by refusing Hoover’s relief plan, the Allies bear major responsibility for the starvation that occurred in Holland during the war.
The Dutch were also deprived of food when British and American authorities on Nov. 2, 1944, refused to allow Red Cross ships to travel the Rhine from Switzerland to Holland. The Dutch had asked for and the Germans had already agreed to this operation. Eisenhower refused because his war plan called for the bombing of bridges over the Rhine. Moreover, Eisenhower claimed that “the prompt manner in which the Germans agreed to allow supplies to move on the Rhine is actuated, we believe, by their desire to keep the river open for their own purposes.” Eisenhower’s refusal to allow aid from the Red Cross with Germany’s approval is another reason the Dutch starved during the war. Eisenhower deprived the Dutch of food in order to further the Allied war effort.
When the German army took control of Greece in April 1941, German supply officers seized large quantities of olive oil, rice, oranges, lemons, and other foodstuffs. As tired and hungry German troops entered Athens, they began to demand free meals in restaurants and loot houses and passers-by of their belongings. Soon hunger and malnutrition were prevalent in Greece. While the Italians began to send in extra supplies to Greece to alleviate the situation, Germany refused to follow suit, arguing that this would jeopardize the food situation in Germany.
Although Greece was predominantly a rural country, it produced mainly cash crops such as olive oil, tobacco and currants. Greece was dependent on the annual import of 450,000 tons of American grain for one-third of its food, but the British blockade of occupied Europe cut Greece off from all imports. In the summer of 1941, the Red Cross, the U.S. government, and groups within Great Britain all argued that it was imperative that the British government revise its blockade policy and allow food aid to reach Greece. Churchill initially refused to lift the blockade. Hoover described Churchill as “a militarist of the extreme school who held that incidental starvation of women and children was justified.”
The famine in Greece was on such a vast scale that Churchill eventually allowed food aid for Greece through the blockade. This was the only significant exception Churchill made to the blockade against occupied Europe during the war. In January 1942 shipments of wheat were allowed through the blockade, and from April 1942 regular cargoes of wheat and other foodstuffs where allowed to enter Greek ports.
The food imported from the Allies was never enough to feed the Greek people. Although the Allied food imports halted the large-scale urban famine, the Greeks continued to die of starvation. The German army denied food aid to villagers in those areas where Greek partisans were active, and in 1943 and 1944 much of the Greek countryside starved. By one estimate half a million Greeks died from hunger and associated diseases during World War II.
Another historian estimates that 300,000 Greeks died of starvation during the German occupation.
The starvation of so many Greek civilians was one of the great tragedies of World War II. The Greek famine was caused by a combination of factors. First, Italy’s ill-advised invasion of Greece expanded the war into a region that should have remained peaceful throughout the war. Second, Germany’s initial confiscation of food and later refusal to supply food meant that famine would stalk the Greeks. Finally, Great Britain’s initial refusal to end its blockade of imports into Greece caused unnecessary starvation in a country dependent on imported food.
It was Germany’s policy to live off the land in the Soviet Union from the very beginning of its invasion. German commanders knew that supply lines to the eastern front would be stretched to the breaking point. The few arterial roads running east would be of little use, and many of the main Soviet roads petered out into gravel tracks. The Soviet rail network would be difficult to use since its rail gauge was wider than the German rail gauge. Also, Soviet troops were expected to inflict heavy damage on the rail lines as they retreated. In order to relieve the inevitable congestion on the remaining railways, the German army decided to live off the Soviet land with very little food brought in from Germany.
It was never intended that German army units should routinely plunder Soviet villages. However, German supply officers soon realized that the policy of living off Soviet land was getting out of hand. German soldiers often extracted foodstuffs from the Soviet civilian population without misgivings. Soviet villagers were frequently driven from their homes and their possessions stolen, with German troops sometimes indulging in the senseless slaughter of livestock. Moreover, the German army was never able to extract sufficient quantities of food from the Soviet Union to cover all of its food needs.
Many peasants in the Ukraine initially welcomed the Germans as liberators who could free them from the tyranny of Soviet rule. The Ukrainian peasants were hoping the Germans would dismantle the Soviet collectives and reintroduce private ownership of farmland. However, Germany missed a valuable opportunity when it failed to disband the detested collectives, and agricultural production from Ukraine and other areas of the Soviet Union proved to be a disappointment during the war.
The result was a lack of food sufficient to feed both the German army and the Soviet civilian population.
By the winter of 1941-1942, the German army was fighting on an ever lengthening front with supply lines stretching up to 1,000 miles over mostly unpaved roads. The German supply troops could not get enough food through to the men at the front. Underfed and weakened by exhaustion and malnourishment, the German troops soon contracted typhus and other diseases. The National Socialist leadership determined that occupied Russian territories must be made to release their food stocks with no regard for the consequences of the indigenous population. It was now German policy that the Russian civilian population should starve before the German troops.
The siege of Leningrad, which lasted from August 1941 to January 1944, is the best known example of starvation in the Soviet Union during the war. It developed because the Soviets refused to withdraw from Leningrad to more defensible lines, and because Hitler refused to permit an all-out onslaught of the city. The resulting military stalemate gradually reduced Leningrad’s civilian population by starvation, bombing, cold and disease. Estimates of the dead in Leningrad range from half a million to a million people. Their deaths were caused by the lack of concern of both Stalin and Hitler to the plight of Leningrad’s innocent civilians.
Soviet agriculture went to the brink of collapse throughout the war. With the nation’s best agricultural land lost to the Germans until 1943, Soviet farmers struggled to feed the Soviet Union’s vast army and people. Large numbers of civilians died of starvation in Soviet cities such as Kiev and Kharkov. However, collectivization in the Soviet Union enabled the government to extract virtually every ounce of food from Soviet farms, and to almost be able to feed its army and industrial workers during the war. The Soviet Union was fortunate that the climate remained favorable for farming during the period from  to 1945. The drought that hit the Soviet Union in 1946 would have produced widespread famine during the war and would have seriously undermined the Soviet war effort.
World War II historians correctly state that National Socialist Germany looted paintings, sculptures and other valuables from the nations it conquered. Private foundations such as Hitler’s Sonderauftrag Linz, Alfred Rosenberg’s Einsatzstab-Rosenberg, and Joachim von Ribbentrop’s Special Service Battalion were established to administer the loot. Some of the museums that were plundered include those in Prague, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Kiev, and Florence. Four palaces outside Leningrad lost 34,000 items, and Warsaw alone reported 13,512 missing works of art. Germany also acquired gold reserves valued at $621 million at wartime prices from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Danzig, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy.
It is important to remember that Germany was not alone in practicing looting. All of the major Allied nations looted German art and other valuables after the war. For example, many years after the war German art treasures and other valuables would turn up in the United States. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also revealed the colossal and secret cache of art housed in the Trophy Museum in the Moscow suburbs. This museum, which had never been opened to the public, was crammed to the ceiling with valuable art and other items that had been written off as missing. Most of the items in the Trophy Museum had never even been unpacked, let alone catalogued.
A major reason for the German confiscation of French art is that Germany felt that France had taken too much from it in the Versailles Treaty and earlier times. The American journalist William Shirer noted in his diary, “Germany does not consider the Franco-German accounts as settled yet.” The Germans made a detailed list of all works of art and valuable objects that were smuggled out of Germany after 1919. Hitler decided to erase the last vestiges of the Versailles Treaty and begin the recovery of the treasures stolen by France from the German nation.
It should also be noted that Germany legitimately purchased a large percentage of its art in Europe. Hitler and Hermann Goering had carefully separated buying operations in France, Italy, the Low Countries, and other nations in Europe. Hitler appointed Hans Posse as his primary agent to buy valuable paintings throughout the European continent. Posse purchased 475 paintings his first year in 1941, and by 1945 he had purchased an incredible 8,000 paintings on Hitler’s behalf.
Probably never before in history had works of art been so important to the leaders of a political movement. Hitler was primarily focused on purchasing art for museums in Germany and in building a center for Germanic art in his hometown of Linz, Austria. Goering, who had accumulated more than 1,000 paintings and sculptures by the end of the war, seemed to be motivated primarily by personal greed.
Influenced by the writings of eugenicists, Hitler considered it necessary for Germany’s racial health and military effectiveness to eliminate mentally and genetically defective citizens. On July 14, 1933, the National Socialist regime introduced compulsory sterilization for Germans thought to be suffering from hereditary weaknesses. Some 360,000 Germans had been sterilized by the time World War II broke out. Abortion on eugenic grounds was also legalized in 1935. It was not until the outbreak of the Second World War, however, that National Socialist Germany fully implemented its euthanasia program.
The first official German euthanasia occurred when Gerhard Herbert Kretschmar was killed on July 25, 1939. This boy was born on Feb. 20, 1939, and was blind, lacked one leg and part of one arm, and seemed to be an idiot. The child’s parents contacted the Chancellery of the Fuehrer and requested the child be put to sleep. After seeing documents and photographs of the child, Hitler instructed Dr. Karl Brandt to investigate the matter and consult with the child’s pediatricians. Once all of the doctors agreed that the diagnosis corresponded with the conditions outlined in the parents’ petition, Brandt authorized the killing of the child. An estimated 5,000 German children were euthanized during the war.
In August 1939 Hitler let it be known to his close associates that he approved any measure which could be seen as delivering handicapped patients from pain and suffering. Probably in the late autumn or winter of 1939, Hitler backdated a document to Sept. 1, 1939, that authorized the euthanasia program. The authorization states: “Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Med Brandt are charged with the responsibility of enlarging the powers of specific physicians, designated by name, so that patients who, on the basis of human judgment, are considered incurable, can be granted mercy death after the most careful assessment of their condition.”
German doctors determined that carbon monoxide gas was the most painless and humane way to euthanize people. The use of carbon monoxide gas therefore became the standard technique to kill people in the adult euthanasia program, with the first killings probably beginning in January 1940. Richard von Hegener observed that patients would lose consciousness within two to three minutes of the gas entering the room. Within five minutes all of the patients had fallen into a “kind of sleep.” The gas was left running for half an hour before a physician, protected by a gas mask, entered the room, examined the bodies, and pronounced that all of the patients were dead.
The German euthanasia program, code-named “Action T-4,” was conducted at former hospitals taken over exclusively for use as killing centers, as well as at hospitals that continued their previous functions. Each hospital was responsible for killing patients from a specific region of Germany. The patients were normally killed in groups of 15 to 20, although occasionally many more people were crowded into the gas chambers. By one estimate, 80,000 adults were euthanized at six different hospitals in Germany during the war.
By August 1941, public pressure on the National Socialist regime to end the euthanasia program was mounting. Public knowledge of the euthanasia program and the growing criticism from churches, the judiciary, and the state bureaucracy were among the key factors in bringing an end to the first phase of the euthanasia operation. Church leaders, and especially Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, made it internationally known that National Socialist Germany was killing handicapped children and adults on an unprecedented scale. In a sermon on Aug. 3, 1941, Galen openly attacked the hypocrisy and the economic rationale for killing handicapped people. Instead of punishing Galen, Hitler ordered a stop to the euthanasia program on Aug. 24, 1941.
Despite Hitler’s order to stop the euthanasia program, a second phase of the program developed later in the war. In the period between 1941 and 1944, an estimated 35,000 patients were evacuated and deported from various mental institutions to make room for physically ill and wounded soldiers and civilians. Thousands of these evacuated mental patients were euthanized. Mentally ill patients were also now killed in their own institutions without being transferred. The number of patients to be euthanized was not centrally organized, but was at the discretion of the relevant asylum director.
The euthanasia operation intensified in 1944, and more and more patients became victims of the killing program. Allied air raids and failing communication lines made it difficult for any centralized control of the euthanasia operation. The German euthanasia program continued primarily because of a lack of hospital space and beds. Compared to the millions of German soldiers and civilians who had died in the war, the fate of thousands of mental patients who added nothing to the war effort seemed of little importance. Unlike in 1940 and 1941, after five years of war the opposition to the euthanasia program from the churches, the judiciary, and the general population had greatly diminished.
Although Hitler had authorized the euthanasia program in a document backdated to Sept. 1, 1939, there was no official law allowing euthanasia because Hitler thought such a law would feed opposition to the program. The entire project was kept secret to the greatest extent possible. In this regard, doctors falsified every death certificate to cover up the killing program. The key principle in choosing the false cause of death was medical credibility: assigning a disease consistent with a patient’s medical history that he or she could have contracted. Designated causes of death could include almost anything—infectious diseases, pneumonia, stroke, heart attack, or diseases of other major organs. This falsification of medical records indicates that the German euthanasia program was an illegal operation that had to be kept secret from the general public to maintain its existence.
The use of carbon monoxide gas chambers in the German euthanasia program is a well-documented reality. Their use constitutes a crime against the German people. However, traditional historians improperly state that the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers in the adult euthanasia program was a precursor to the use of homicidal gas chambers in the German concentration camps. As discussed in Chapter Eight, no documentary or forensic evidence exists that homicidal gas chambers were ever used in the German concentration camps.
One revisionist historian states in regard to the lack of documentary evidence of the existence of homicidal gas chambers in German concentration camps:
The German authorities kept astonishingly detailed records of every aspect of camp affairs. Remarkably, though, there is no contemporary documentary evidence of homicidal gassings or of a policy of mass extermination in the camps. Not a single contemporary German document mentions or even refers to killings of Jews in gas chambers. Nor are there any contemporary plans or diagrams of extermination gas chambers. There is similarly no documentary proof that any of the various rooms or buildings said to have been execution gassing facilities were, in fact, ever used as such.
Although not a crime, it is a fact that Adolf Hitler made numerous disparaging remarks about Jews throughout his political career. Typical is this passage from Mein Kampf: “The life which the Jew lives as a parasite thriving on the substance of other nations and states has resulted in developing the specific character which Schopenhauer once described when he spoke of the Jew as ‘The Great Master of Lies.’ The kind of existence which he leads forces the Jew to the systematic use of falsehood, just as naturally as the inhabitants of northern climates are forced to wear warm clothes.”
Jewish organizations were greatly offended by such statements and wasted no time in attempting to undermine Hitler’s National Socialist regime. In March 1933 they called for a worldwide boycott of unlimited duration of German-manufactured goods. The German government countered on April 1, 1933, with a half-day boycott of Jewish stores inside Germany. It was the latter act that made headlines all over the world as proof of “Nazi brutality,” while the far more extensive and harmful Jewish boycott of German goods that lasted for years was hardly ever mentioned.
Hitler, who blamed Jews for causing many of Germany’s economic problems, took over a nation that had been totally impoverished through war and inflation. He was determined to end the adverse Jewish influence on the German economy. In April 1933 Hitler passed a new law preventing Jews from holding jobs as civil servants. This law caused well over 1,000 Jews in academic posts to begin looking for positions abroad. Other laws discriminating against Jews were later passed, and before long Jews had vanished from government offices, schools, higher education and other public domains. These National Socialist policies helped the German economy to flourish, and by the beginning of 1938 Germany had by far the best economy in the world.
German economic success was a major reason why Jewish leaders used Winston Churchill to agitate for war against Germany. Churchill was financially supported by the anti-German group “The Focus,” whose membership included mostly wealthy British and American Jews. Gen. Robert E. Wood stated at a Senate committee that Churchill had said to him in November 1936, “Germany is getting too strong, and we must smash her.” Churchill also stated in the year 1936, “We will force Hitler into war, whether he wants it or not.” Churchill was an exceptional orator and writer, and he was an effective agent in stirring up British public opinion against Germany.
Hitler also believed that Jewish leaders controlled U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Soviet Union. Hitler mentions the Jewish control of Roosevelt and the Soviet Union in his speech on Dec. 11, 1941, declaring war on the United States:
The circle of Jews around Roosevelt encouraged him [to divert attention to foreign policy]. With Old Testament vindictiveness they regarded the United States as the instrument which they and he could use to prepare a second Purim against the nations of Europe, which were increasingly anti-Jewish. So it was that the Jews, in all of their satanic baseness, gathered around this man, and he relied on them.
We know the power behind Roosevelt. It is the same eternal Jew that believes that his hour has come to impose the same fate on us that we have all seen and experienced with horror in Soviet Russia. We have gotten to know the Jewish paradise on Earth first hand. Millions of German soldiers have personally seen the land where this international Jewry has destroyed and annihilated people and property. Perhaps the president of the United States does not understand this. If so, that only speaks for his intellectual narrow-mindedness.
Hitler is correct that Roosevelt was surrounded by Jewish advisors. Jewish historian Lucy Dawidowicz noted, “Roosevelt himself brought into his immediate circle more Jews than any other president before or after him.” A partial list of Jews surrounding Roosevelt include: Bernard Baruch, Felix Frankfurter, David E. Lilienthal, David Niles, Louis Brandeis, Samuel I. Rosenman, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Benjamin V. Cohen, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Francis Perkins, Sidney Hillman, Herbert H. Lehman, Jesse I. Straus, Harold J. Laski, Charles E. Wyzanski, Samuel Untermyer, Edward Filene, David Dubinsky, Mordecai Ezekiel, Abe Fortas, Isador Lubin, Harry Dexter White (Weiss), David Weintraub, Nathan G. Silvermaster, Harold Glasser, Irving Kaplan, Solomon Adler, Benjamin Cardozo, Anna Rosenberg, and numerous others, almost to the exclusion of gentile advisers. As a consequence, Roosevelt was surrounded by a milieu of Jewish hate and hostility toward Germany. 
Hitler is also correct that Jews had taken control of the Soviet Union. Capt. Montgomery Schuyler, a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Russia during its revolutionary period, stated in a report dated June 9, 1919: “A table made up in 1918, by Robert Wilton, correspondent of the London Times in Russia, shows at that time there were 384 commissars including two Negroes, 13 Russians, 15 Chinamen, 22 Armenians and more than 300 Jews. Of the latter number 264 had come from the United States since the downfall of the imperial government.” Thus, the “Russian Revolution” had only 13 ethnic Russians and more than 300 Jews in its top governing body of 384 members.
British intelligence reports also confirm that Jews controlled the Communist revolution in the Soviet Union. The first sentence in a lengthy British intelligence report dated July 16, 1919, states: “There is now definite evidence that Bolshevism is an international movement controlled by Jews.” Even Winston Churchill, in an article appearing in the Illustrated Sunday Herald on Feb. 8, 1920, wrote: “There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews.”
Hitler’s Final Solution to the Jewish problem was to force every Jew to leave Germany. Such a policy was highly discriminatory and unfair to the majority of Germany’s Jews. However, since Jews were the driving force behind communism, Hitler felt that Jews had to be driven out to eliminate their subversive influence on Germany. Also, Hitler and many commentators believed that Germany’s economic program could not have succeeded by leaving intact the Jewish power structure in Germany.
Forced population transfers have been codified as a crime against humanity in the statute of the International Criminal Court. Hitler’s forced expulsion of Jews from Germany would thus constitute a crime under current international law. It should be noted, however, that more than 20 times as many ethnic Germans were expelled from their homelands after World War II as there were Jews in Germany when Hitler became chancellor of Germany. These ethnic Germans also lost essentially all of their possessions and were exported under brutal conditions in which millions of them died. The fate of the German expellees constitutes a far greater crime under current international law than Hitler’s attempted forced expulsion of Jews from Germany.
While National Socialist Germany did practice racial discrimination, it is a myth that Germany claimed to be the “master race.” Hitler never made any such claim or used any term remotely resembling “master race.” Instead, Hitler used the term “Aryan” to represent all the Germanic peoples of Europe, including the British, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Swiss, and all other European people of Germanic origin. The term “master race,” so dearly beloved by anti-Germans, was never even used in SS training.
The Western press also made every effort to invent racial controversies in Germany when none existed. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, numerous newspapers wrote that Hitler had snubbed Jesse Owens, a black, after Owens had won an Olympic gold medal. When Owens was asked how it felt to be snubbed by the Fuehrer, Owens said: “When I passed near the chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.” Jesse Owens felt that he had been treated well by everyone at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Other nations involved in World War II also practiced discrimination against their minorities. An average of 100,000 Jews per year had left Poland from 1933 to 1938 to escape discrimination. This compares to 25,000 to 28,000 Jews per year who left Germany during the same period. Poland passed a large number of additional anti-Jewish laws on March 29, 1938, the extremity of which was a good indication of Polish hatred of the Jews. The Poles sought to encourage the emigration of the greatest possible number of Jews from Poland at the least possible cost. The United States also practiced racial discrimination against black people, with Jim Crow laws in the Deep South being especially discriminatory.
British leaders also made extremely racist public statements. Lord Halifax, the chief British architect of war against Germany, said in his first speech to the House of Commons that the British people were a “superior race” within an empire which comprised more than a quarter of the world’s population. There is no record that Halifax ever recanted or made public apologies concerning his maiden speech to the British Parliament.
Winston Churchill stated to U.S. Vice-President Henry Wallace in May 1943 that America and Great Britain should not be apologetic about Anglo-Saxon superiority because Anglo-Saxons are superior.
Finally, legal sterilization and eugenics were performed in other nations besides Germany. Approximately 36,000 legal sterilizations had been performed in the United States by 1941, and Denmark, Norway, and other countries had laws allowing sterilization. Thus, the United States, Great Britain, Poland and other European nations had no legitimate basis to act as if Germany’s racial and eugenic discrimination was unique in the world.