Soldiers and War Criminals: The Ongoing Debate about the Wehrmacht in the Second World War

  • Theo J. Schulte
Part of the Studies in Russia and East Europe book series (SREE)


In March 1995, the Hamburg Institute for Social Research opened an exhibition to the general public entitled War of Extermination: The Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–1944. An accompanying edited collection of some thirty articles by international historians soon followed. The exhibition, which received extensive press attention both at home and abroad, embarked on a tour of the Federal Republic and Austria that was scheduled to finish in Marburg in October 1997.1 The didactic purpose of the entire venture was readily apparent. In a now unified Germany, some fifty years after the end of the Second World War, there was a pressing need to lay to rest a powerful apologist myth. Disturbingly large numbers of the ‘ordinary men’ who formed ‘Hitler’s army’ had not distanced themselves from the most sinister and perverse racial aspects of the war in the east. On the contrary, as with their comrades in the police battalions, they had been ‘willing executioners’ in a war directed against civilians in the ‘killing fields’ behind the front lines.2 Evidence had, in fact, been available for decades which deeply implicated the German army, as an institution, in the systematic murder and abuse of captured Red Army soldiers and the terrorizing of the civilian population of the occupied Soviet Union.3


Occupied Territory Killing Field Fiftieth Anniversary German Army Terror Bombing 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Theo J. Schulte

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