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A Calculus of Complicity: The Wehrmacht, the Anti-Partisan War, and the Final Solution in White Russia, 1941–42

  • Waitman W. Beorn (a1)
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On October 10, 1941, the soldiers of the 3rd Company, 691st Infantry Regiment were uneasy. The task ahead of them was something new. They were to kill the entire Jewish population of Krucha, a town in central Belarus. A few hours later, Private Wilhelm Magel stood with another soldier in front of four Jewish women and an old man with a long, white beard. The company First Sergeant, Emil Zimber, ordered the Jews to turn away from the shooters, but they remained facing the German soldiers. Zimber gave the order to fire but Magel and his colleague, a former divinity student, did not aim at their targets. They requested to be relieved from the execution detail and were assigned to guard the remaining Jews who were waiting in the village square for their turn. This German Army unit without assistance of any other organization murdered a minimum of 150 Jewish men, women, and children in Krucha that day.

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1 “Winter, L. Statement,” July 29, 1953, Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen (Darmstadt) (hereafter LA-NRW)-H: H-13 Darmstadt, Nr. 919 I, Bd. II, 326.

2 The 691st Infantry Regiment was part of the 339th Infantry Division, a regular infantry unit.

3 “Magel, W. Statement,” August 8, 1951, LA-NRW-H: H-13 Darmstadt, Nr. 979 I, Bd. II, 172.

4 This area encompassed most of modern-day Belarus.

5 The term Wehrmacht technically refers to all fighting arms of the German military during World War II. When discussing the general complicity of the military, especially from a historiographical standpoint, in atrocities committed during the war, I will use the term “Wehrmacht” because the discussion of such atrocities generally centers on land forces, specifically the army.

6 Many historians have noted and stressed the connection between the anti-partisan war and the killing of Jews. What is less clear, however, is how this argument was instrumentalized on the ground at the unit level. For an excellent summary of recent historiography in this area, see Shepherd, Ben, “The Clean Wehrmacht, the War of Extermination, and Beyond,” The Historical Journal 52, no. 2 (2009). For more on the anti-partisan connection and killings of Jews, see Anderson, Truman, “Incident at Baranivka: German Reprisals and the Soviet Partisan Movement in Ukraine, October-December 1941,” The Journal of Modern History 71, no. 3 (1999); Shepherd, Ben, War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Pohl, Dieter, Die Herrschaft der Wehrmacht. Deutsche Militärbesatzung und einheimische Bevölkerung in der Sowjetunion 1941–1944 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2008); Schulte, Theo J., The German Army and Nazi Policies in Occupied Russia (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989).

7 For some (but certainly not all) previous citations of this conference, see Browning, Christopher R. and Matthäus, Jürgen, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939–March 1942 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004); Reemtsma, Jan Phillipp, Jureit, Ulrike, and Mommsen, Hans, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941–1944. Ausstellungskatalog, 1st ed. (Hamburg: Hamburger, 2002); Förster, Jürgen, “The Wehrmacht and the War of Extermination against the Soviet Union,” Yad Vashem Studies 14 (1981).

8 While Hull perhaps goes too far in attempting to establish causality between the colonial experience and World War II, her argument concerning norms of behavior and institutional memory is a powerful and convincing one. For two viewpoints on this debate, see Hull, Isabel V., Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); Gerwarth, Robert and Malinowski, Stephan, “Der Holocaust als ‘kolonialer Genozid’? Europäische Kolonialgewalt und nationalsozialistischer Vernichtungskrieg,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 33, no. 3 (2007).

9 Horne, John N. and Kramer, Alan, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 430.

10 Ibid., 138.

11 Bartov, Omer, Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 59.

12 Horne and Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914, 406-7.

13 “Richtlinien für das Verhalten der Truppe in Russland,” May 29, 1941, Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv (hereafter BAMA), Freiburg: RH 26-252-91, 33.

14 Ibid.

15 “Decree for the Conduct of Courts-Martial in the District ‘Barbarossa’ and for Special Measures of the Troop,” May 13, 1941, Nazi conspiracy and aggression, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Vol. III, 1946: Document 886-PS, 637.

16 Ibid., 638.

17 Ibid., 637.

18 Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, vol. Supplement A, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1947, 352. Document 884-PS.

19 “Soldaten der Ostfront,” BAMA: RH 26-102-7, Anl. 67.

20 Shepherd, War in the Wild East, 73.

21 “Meeting Notes by Martin Bormann,” July 16, 1941, Nazi conspiracy and aggression, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Vol. VII, 1946: Document L-221, 1087, 91.

22 “Okw Order No. 3058/41,” September 8, 1941, Nazi conspiracy and aggression, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Vol. IV, 1946: Document 1519-PS, 61.

23 “Okw Order No. 02041/41,” September 12, 1941, Nazi conspiracy and aggression, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Vol. III, 1946: Document 878-PS, 636.

24 “Decree for the Conduct of Courts-Martial in the District ‘Barbarossa’ and for Special Measures of the Troop,” May 13, 1941, Nazi conspiracy and aggression, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Vol. VI, 1946: Document C-148, 961-62.

25 Browning and Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution, 320.

26 Ibid., 312.

27 Ibid., 325.

28 Christian Gerlach, however, argues that these deportations did not necessarily mean a decision to kill German Jews, that this decision was not made until December 1941. See Gerlach, Christian, “The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler's Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews,” The Journal of Modern History 70, no. 4 (1998).

29 Browning and Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution, 248.

30 “RHGM Befehl. Partisanenabt. Der Sowjets,” July 26, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-224, 177.

31 “RHGM Befehl. Kollektive Gewaltmaßnahmen,” August 12, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-224, Anl. 502.

32 “RHGM Order: Creation of Game Preserve,” June 18, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-12a, Anl. 387.

33 “221 SD Div. Befehl. Versprengte Truppen,” July 8, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-12a, Anl. 309.

34 “403 Ic Tkb, Juli 1941,” BAMA: RH 26-403-4a.

35 “Besondere Anordnungen für den Fall ‘B’ über militärische Hoheitsrechte, Sicherung, und Verwaltung im rückwärtigen Gebiet, Beute, Kriegsgefangene,” June 15, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-28-18.

36 “RHGM Korpsbefehl Nr. 18,” June 24, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-12b, Anl. 193.

37 Streit, Christian, Keine Kameraden. Die Wehrmacht und die sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen 1941–1945 (Bonn: Verlag J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., 1991), 91.

38 Cüppers, Martin, Wegbereiter der Shoah. Die Waffen-SS, der Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS und die Judenvernichtung 1939–1945 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2005), 139.

39 Browning and Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution, 281. The order was disseminated on August 1.

40 Ibid.

41 Blood, Philip W., Hitler's Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Nazi Occupation of Europe (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2006), 58.

42 Cüppers, Wegbereiter der Shoah, 201.

43 Zaprudnik, Jan, Historical Dictionary of Belarus (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998), 152.

44 “RHGM Stabsbefehl 56,” September 6, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-225, 29-30.

45 Grenkevich, Leonid D. and Glantz, David M., The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941–1944: A Critical Historiographical Analysis (Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers, 1999), 323. Grenkevich makes much of the fact that almost ten percent of German forces were arrayed against the partisans, even in 1941. Yet the dubious quality of security divisions and police units in fighting a conventional war likely minimizes the overall effects of their absence from the front. By summer 1942–43, however, the partisan units in Belarus had become far more deadly, controlled large amounts of territory, and certainly had a negative effect on the German war effort.

46 Mulligan, Timothy P., “Reckoning the Cost of People's War: The German Experience in the Central USSR,” Russian History 9 (1982): 31.

47 Grenkevich and Glantz, The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941–1944, 71.

48 Heer, Hannes, “The Logic of the War of Extermination: The Wehrmacht and the Anti-Partisan War,” in War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, 1941–1944, ed. Heer, Hannes and Naumann, Klaus (New York: Berghahn Books, 2000), 97.

49 “RHGM Memo. Partisanenabt. Der Sowjets,” July 26, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-224.

50 Mulligan, “Reckoning the Cost of People's War,” 32.

51 “286 SD Personnel Reports,” June 22-December 31, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-286-5. This is out of an average strength of 5,700 men. Compare this, for example, with the 78th Infantry Division which suffered 255 killed in action on July 22 alone in the battle for Mogilev. See “78 Id Casualty Charts,” June–December 1941, BAMA: RH 26-78-27.

52 For a more extreme case, consider the 707th Infantry Division in Western Belarus which reported 10,940 prisoners shot while losing two Germans killed and five wounded in October 1941. Förster, “The Wehrmacht and the War of Extermination against the Soviet Union,” 32. In addition, these ratios skyrocket when one adds all reported enemy casualties to all reported German casualties. For a nicely detailed discussion of these issues, see Mulligan, “Reckoning the Cost of People's War.”

53 Epstein, Barbara Leslie, The Minsk Ghetto, 1941–1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008), 12.

54 Ibid., 18.

55 “RHGM Korpsbefehl 53,” Sept. 16, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-225.

56 Twenty-three out of the sixty officers were in command positions.

57 “350 IR Bericht, 19.8.1941,” BAMA: RH 22-221, 295.

58 Nebe was executed for his participation in the July 20 plot. Some have argued that Nebe deliberately inflated the numbers of Jews he reported killed. Yet all evidence indicates that he was quite content to play his role in Nazi genocide and that his displeasure with the regime may have stemmed from the imminent Nazi defeat and not an aversion to killing. Black, Peter, “Arthur Nebe: Nationalsozialist im Zwielicht,” in Die SS: Elite unter dem Totenkopf. 30 Lebensläufe, ed. Smelser, Ronald M. and Syring, Enrico (Paderborn: F. Schöningh, 2000), 371, 372.

59 Lewy, Guenter, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 206.

60 Browning and Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution, 289.

61 Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 57.

62 Angrick, Andrej, “Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. Himmlers Mann für Alle Fälle,” in Die SS: Elite unter dem Totenkopf, ed. Smelser, and Syring, , 36–7.

63 Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 57.

64 While Magill's regiment did kill women and children in Pinsk, his reports indicate that he interpreted his orders more narrowly and generally killed only men. Cüppers, Wegbereiter der Shoah, 177.

65 Cüppers, Martin, “Vorreiter der Shoah. Ein Vergleich der Einsätze der beiden SS-Kavallerieregimenter im August 1941,” in Krieg und Verbrechen: Situation und Intention. Fallbeispiele, ed. Richter, Timm C. (Munich: Meidenbauer, 2006), 92.

66 “Teilnehmer-Verzeichnis am Partisanen-Lehrgang vom 24.9.1941,” Sept. 23, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-225, 76–7.

67 The agendas for the conference remain in the archives. Unfortunately, minutes (if any were taken) do not appear to have survived the war.

68 “Einleitungsworte zum Partisanenbekämpfungs Lehrgang,” Sept. 24, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-225, 81.

69 Ibid., 79–80.

70 “RHGM Tagesordnung für den Kursus ‘Bekämpfung von Partisanen’ vom 24-26.9.41,” Sept. 23, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-225, 72.

71 Ibid., 70.

72 Browning, Christopher R., The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 104.

73 Gerlach, Christian, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weissrussland 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1999), 587.

74 “RHGM Tagesordnung für den Kursus ‘Bekämpfung von Partisanen’ vom 24-26.9.41,” Sept. 23, 1941, 70.

75 Ibid.

76 “Vortragsfolge für den Kursus,” BAMA: RH 22–225, 74.

77 Reemtsma, Jureit, and Mommsen, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht, 468.

78 “Pol. Rgt. Mitte Befehl für Partisanenlehrgang,” Sept. 24, 1941, BAMA: RH 22–225, 88.

79 “Kriegstagebuch Nr. 1: Polizei Bataillon 322,” Zentralstelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen (hereafter BA-ZS), Ludwigsburg: Dok. Sammlung CSSR 396.

80 “RHGM Tagesordnung für den Kursus ‘Bekämpfung von Partisanen’ vom 24–26.9.41,” Sept. 23, 1941, 73.

81 “SR 2 Befehl für das Unternehmen ‘Kussikowitschi,’” Sept. 26, 1941, BAMA: RH 22–225, 92.

82 Ibid., 93.

83 “RHGM Entwurf. Der Partisan, seine Organisation und seine Bekämpfung,” Oct. 12, 1941, BAMA: RH 22–225, 122.

84 Ibid., 124.

85 Ibid., 125.

86 Ibid., 122.

87 Westermann, Edward B., “Partners in Genocide: The German Police and the Wehrmacht in the Soviet Union,” Journal of Strategic Studies 31, no. 5 (2008): 787.

88 “Sibille Letter, 2.2.1953,” LA NRW-H: H 13 Darmstadt, Nr. 979 I, Bd. III, 599a.

89 “1/354 IR Report,” October 30, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-286-4, Anl. 130.

90 “Nöll u. a. Urteil,” May 8, 1954, BA-ZS: B162/14058, 543.

91 “Sibille Letter, 2.2.1953,” 599a.

92 Figures 2, 3, and 4 depict summaries of operational data culled from a large number of reports that can be found in the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg. These reports are contained in the files of the 286th Security Division (RH 26-286-2, RH 26-286-3, RH 26-286-4), including Kriegestagebuch or war diary entries. The terms with which those killed and captured are reported remain typically euphemistic (killed in action, executed, prisoners, Red Army soldiers, civilians). Jews are not listed as a specific category; however, these graphs are at a minimum clearly indicative of a marked increase in violence over time. In any case, these graphs reflect numbers killed and captured as reported by the units themselves, with as much completeness as surviving documents allowed.

93 “354 IR Meldung,” Oct. 30, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-286-4, Anl. 130.

94 Given that bypassed Red Army soldiers were to have been shot on sight (when encountered west of the Beresina River) since August 8, one wonders if these higher numbers from October on are examples of more civilians (and Jews) being included in the euphemistic reporting of enemy casualties rather than increased numbers of dispersed soldiers being killed. See, for example, “RHGM Propaganda Flyer,” BAMA: RH 22-224, 205; and “RHGM Korpsbefehl 38,” August 11, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-224, 202.

95 See, for example, “350 IR Bericht,” October 16, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-22b, Anl. 483; “350 IR Bericht,” October 18, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-22b, Anl. 486; “350 IR Bericht,” October 22, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-22b, Anl. 499.

96 “221 SD Bericht, V-A IR 350,” Oct. 14, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-221-22b, Anl. 475.

97 Westermann, “Partners in Genocide,” 788-9.

98 “RHGM Korpsbefehl Nr. 50,” September 29, 1941, BAMA: RH 22-225, 95.

99 “RHGM Besprechung mit den Generalstabsoffizieren der Divisionen, 30.9.1941,” BAMA: RH 22-225, 98.

100 “286 SD Ic Tätigskeitbericht,” Sept.–Dec. 1941, BAMA: RH 26-286-5.

101 “Merkblatt über Zuständigkeit, Unterstellung, und Aufgaben,” November 2, 1941, BAMA: RH 26-339-5, Anl. 13.

102 “Kdt. in Weissruthenien, Befehl Nr. 24,” Nov. 24, 1941, Belarussian State Archive-Minsk (hereafter BStA): 378-1-698.

103 Browning, Christopher R., Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 120–1.

104 Browning and Matthäus, The Origins of the Final Solution, 312.

105 Ibid., 506, 239 ff.

106 “Befehl Nr. 1 für Unternehmen ‘Dreieck,’” September 11, 1942, BAMA: RH 23-25, 63.

107 “Gefechtsbericht über Unternehmen ‘Dreieck’ und ‘Viereck’ vom 17.9.-2.10.1942,” October 19, 1942, BAMA: RH 23-25, 25.

108 Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1985), 301.

109 “Veit, A. Statement,” July 7, 1953, LA NRW-H: H 13 Darmstadt, Nr. 979 I, Bd. II, 271.

110 “Wallenstein, H. Statement,” August 26, 1953, LA NRW-H: H-13 Darmstadt, Nr. 919 I, Bd. II, 341.

111 Some examples from letters are instructive of some soldiers’ beliefs, including anti-Semitism. See, for example, Manoschek, Walter, Es gibt nur eines für das Judentum: Vernichtung. Das Judenbild in deutschen Soldatenbriefen 1939–1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger, 1995); Golovchansky, Anatoly, “Ich Will Raus Aus Diesem Wahnsinn”: Deutsche Briefe Von Der Ostfront 1941–1945. Aus Sowjetischen Archiven (Wuppertal: P. Hammer, 1991); Fuchs, Karl, Richardson, Horst Fuchs, and Showalter, Dennis E., Sieg Heil!: War Letters of Tank Gunner Karl Fuchs, 1937-1941 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1987); Buchbender, Ortwin and Sterz, Reinhold, Das Andere Gesicht des Krieges. Deutsche Feldpostbriefe, 1939–1945 (Munich: Beck, 1983); Bähr, Walter and Bähr, Hans Walter, Kriegsbriefe gefallener Studenten, 1939–1945 (Tübingen: R. Wunderlich, 1952).

112 One of the limitations of postwar testimony as a source is that soldiers are most reluctant to discuss anti-Semitism, either their own or that of their comrades. Due to legal definitions of the time, these men were often very careful to avoid any implication of racism or acknowledgment of Nazi genocidal ideals. Even so, there is sufficient evidence from these sources (as well as from survivors) to indicate that these types of leaders and men were present.

113 “Breuer, J. Statement,” June 29, 1953, LA NRW-H: H 13 Darmstadt, Nr. 979 I, Bd. II, 310.

114 “RHGM Entwurf. Der Partisan, seine Organisation und seine Bekämpfung,” Oct. 12, 1941, 124-6.

115 “Magel, W. Statement,” August 8, 1951, 173.

116 “Menzel, B. Statement,” September 8, 1961, BA-ZS: B162/3876, 49.

117 Given a choice between a 1:50 and 1:100 ratio of hostages per German soldier, army commanders routinely chose the 1:100 number.

118 Browning, Christopher R., “The Wehrmacht in Serbia Revisited,” in Crimes of War: Guilt and Denial in the Twentieth Century, ed. Bartov, Omer, Grossmann, Atina, and Nolan, Mary (New York: New Press, 2002), 36.

119 Ibid., 37.

120 Ibid., 40.

121 “Judgment in the Hostage Case (United States of America vs. Wilhelm List et al.),” Nazi conspiracy and aggression, Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., Vol. XI, 1950, 1240.

122 For more on the Wehrmacht in Serbia, see Manoschek, Walter, “Serbien ist Judenfrei.” Militärische Besatzungspolitik und Judenvernichtung in Serbien 1941/42 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1993); Browning, Christopher R., “Wehrmacht Reprisal Policy and the Murder of the Male Jews in Serbia,” in Christopher Browning, Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1991); Meyer, H. F., Von Wien nach Kalavryta. Die blutige Spur der 117. Jäger-Division durch Serbien und Griechenland (Mannheim: Bibliopolis, 2002).

123 Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 276. Blood correctly distinguishes between Partisanenbekämpfung (anti-partisan war) and Bandenbekämpfung (bandit fighting, the term that quickly replaced Partisanenbekämpfung). While the former could be considered a traditional counterinsurgency between armed combatants, the latter encompassed mass killing of civilians, including Jews.

124 “Judgment in the Hostage Case (United States of America vs. Wilhelm List et al.),” 529.

125 Kahl, Wolfgang, “Vom Mythos der ‘Bandenbekämpfung.’ Polizeiverbände im zweiten Weltkrieg,” Die Polizei. Fachzeitschrift für das Polizeiwesen 89, no. 2 (1998): 53.

126 Bourke notes that many men were veterans of real combat and that, for them, the role of the actual guerilla war in Vietnam was very significant in their behavior. Dave Grossman describes some characteristics that German units had in common with the U.S. unit at My Lai. He adds, however, that the very important ingredients relating to actual casualties and frustration caused by the insurgency were vital in this atrocity. See Bourke, Joanna, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 171214; Grossman, Dave, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (New York: Back Bay Books, 2009), 190–1.

127 Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, 601-2.

128 Westermann, “Partners in Genocide,” 774.

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