The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust

(Last modified December 2000)

Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union was the death sentence for the Jewish inhabitants of that country. Although the SS Einsatzgruppen (task forces) were responsible for carrying out this »special task«, the logistical integration of these task forces into the regular army and the simultaneous implementation of genocidal »measures« and military operations established the Wehrmacht's close association with these crimes. In actual practice, the formal division of labor defined by standing orders was suspended from the outset. The Wehrmacht participated in the murder of the Jews in a variety of ways and on many levels and established a close cooperation with the SS. This cooperation lasted until the last Soviet Jews were murdered or deported to the death camps.

This study investigates the plans, orders, and instructions in the preparatory phase of »Operation Barbarossa«, the propaganda briefings given to the troops prior to this program of annihilation, and the actual persecution and murder of the Jews in the Soviet Union after the campaign began and in the first year of occupation. The analysis aims to clarify the following questions regarding the Wehrmacht's treatment of the Jews in the Soviet Union: What policies did the Wehrmacht implement on its own, for what measures was it responsible? To what extent were these policies planned in advance and based on orders from higher up, to what extent were they improvised reactions to the overall military situation, which did not develop as planned, or to local conditions? Was there resistance to the annihilation policy?

Preliminary results of research on these issues, in particular on the mentality of the German troops and the forms of their participation in the murder of the Jews have been published in the Hamburger Edition in a collection of essays entitled Tote Zonen (Dead Zones).

The project will be continued outside of the Institute.