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Violence in Defeat
The Wehrmacht on German Soil, 1944–1945


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Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: February 2021
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108479721

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About the Authors
  • In the final year of the Second World War, as bitter defensive fighting moved to German soil, a wave of intra-ethnic violence engulfed the country. Bastiaan Willems offers the first study into the impact and behaviour of the Wehrmacht on its own territory, focusing on the German units fighting in East Prussia and its capital Königsberg. He shows that the Wehrmacht's retreat into Germany, after three years of brutal fighting on the Eastern Front, contributed significantly to the spike of violence which occurred throughout the country immediately prior to defeat. Soldiers arriving with an ingrained barbarised mindset, developed on the Eastern Front, shaped the immediate environment of the area of operations, and of Nazi Germany as a whole. Willems establishes how the norms of the Wehrmacht as a retreating army impacted behavioural patterns on the home front, arguing that its presence increased the propensity to carry out violence in Germany.

    • Introduces the German Wehrmacht as a committed actor in state-sponsored violence in the final stage of the Second World War
    • Explores the regional dynamics of this phenomenon
    • Examines the evacuation measures in Eastern Germany as a dialogue between the safeguarding of the population and the army's operational conduct
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    • Winner, 2022 Paul Birdsall Prize, American Historical Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'In this fresh examination that restores the army's centrality to the defense of Königsberg, Willems demonstrates that the Wehrmacht's mobilization of civilians in East Prussia closely resembled the ruthless practices it developed in the Soviet Union. An important study that demonstrates the evolution of total war during the Third Reich's death throes.' Jeff Rutherford, author of Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front: The German Infantry's War, 1941-1944

    'The German Wehrmacht's role in war crimes against Eastern European populations has long been a matter of historical record. Much less well-known is how soldiers' brutalized mentality also caused them to inflict misery upon the German population in the last-ditch defence of their homeland. Bastiaan Willems' admirable study shines disturbing light on this phenomenon. It greatly deepens and enriches our understanding of the collapse of the Third Reich.' Ben H. Shepherd, author of Hitler's Soldiers: The German Army in the Third Reich

    'The suffering of the population in East Prussia under Soviet occupation, even long after the war had ended, is well known. This book will stimulate lively discussions about how the conduct of the radicalized Wehrmacht units retreating from the Eastern Front onto German territory in 1944/45 impacted these miserable conditions.' Margit Szöllösi-Janze, editor of Science in the Third Reich

    '… original, analytically rigorous, and engagingly written.' Ben H. Shepherd, WIH

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2021
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108479721
    • length: 366 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.65kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    List of Figures
    List of Maps
    List of Tables
    List of Abbreviations
    1. Regionality and Total War in East Prussia
    2. Eastern Front Battles on German Soil
    3. The City as a Fortress-Community
    4. Redefining Königsberg: Historical Continuity in Practice
    5. The Evacuation of East Prussia
    6. Königsberg as a Community of Violence

  • Author

    Bastiaan Willems, University College London
    Bastiaan Willems is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow of Modern European History at University College London.


    • Winner, 2022 Paul Birdsall Prize, American Historical Association

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