Review: The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality
- Published: 24 April 2010 24 April 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
When first looking at the title of this book I thought it would encompass much of what previous others usually do, mainly outlining what the Wehrmacht did in terms of mass murder or other genocidal acts, including which SS or Einsatzgruppen they might helped in the field, or even if some soldiers volunteered to go on various 'search and destroy' missions with the Einsatzgruppen during their stint on the Eastern Front. In the end I was pleasantly surprised that this book contained much more information than I had previously thought.
The reader is first presented with the history of the German Armed Forces from before the creation of Germany in 1871 and we are presented with the thoughts and ideas of military theorists like Moltke and Schlieffen. Then the Prussian soldier and all his merits, including the pluses and minuses are analyzed and put into context with the development of the first world war and eventual Weimar Republic followed through Hitler's rise to power from 1933-1939. One surprising fact that caught me off guard was how many assassination attempts were made and were successful by veterans of the First World War who joined various 'fraternity' type organizations which in the end hated Jews, Social Democrats, and leftists in general.
Included throughout the book is factual information from correspondences and speeches, etc, that show the anti-semitic attitude of the higher up echelons of the Armed Forces which would eventually constitute the backbone of both the OKW and OKH. Men such as Manstein might have protested at some point against the fact that Jews (including half and quarter Jews) were being thrown out of the armed forces, but that was more so due to the fact that he had a Jew in his lineage rather than the idea that this was somehow wrong. All in all I was interested to learn about Ludendorff's and Hindenburg's anti-semitism and how that helped with the 'stab in the back' myth after WWI which blamed the Jews, Communists, and Democrats amongst others. In the following chapters of the book there is focus on the criminal actions that the Wehrmacht perpetrated and participated in such as helping with the massacres of 90 children at Belaya Tserkova and helping to round up over 30,000 Jews and cordon off an area at Babi Yar outside of Kiev where in the end a total of 33,771 Jews were killed in a period of two days. The Wehrmacht had a meeting after the delayed action exposives went off in Kiev and decided that as just retribution the Jews would pay the price.
After the end of the war the author delves into the subject of how the myth and legend of the Wehrmacht's 'clean hands' came about. How the British Lidell Hart helped to convince others that Guderian and Manstein among others shouldn't be tried. How the general staff of the armed forces couldn't be named an 'organization' like the SS and as a result the cases against these men were almost dropped. In the end some sentencing would take place but much to lenient in the authors opinion. In the end many Germans became tired of hearing about the crimes that their state had perpetrated. Since the legal procedures were taking so long and hundreds of German generals were assigned to write histories of the war by the US they began to write their own history of what happened, this time the losers were the ones writing the history. They received helped in terms of archival evidence to help refresh their memories, and it is even pointed out that some archival evidence was destroyed or hidden by the Americans as well, to make the German generals look better.
All in all a very useful addition to WWII history and it presents even more topics that at one point or another need to be covered, something to definitely think about. Well worth the money, the book definitely includes excellent research and well drawn out conclusions based on that research.
(Reviewed by Kunikov)