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After the National Socialist assumption of power, many of them joined the
political police and the SS.30 The destruction of the German Rechtstaat and
of public morals through the NS system, combined with Hitler™s will to war,
created tremendous freedom of action for these individuals. After 1939, this
freedom enabled them to implement everything from “ethnic cleansing” to the
genocide of European Jewry. Their position in the system of NS control, their
relation to the Wehrmacht, and the principles behind their actions de¬ned the
war of conquest in Eastern Europe.

Together, the experiences of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles,
ethnic-racial ideologies, and emergent generational perspectives formed the ide-
ological preconditions for the National Socialists™ policies of conquest. Material
preconditions were created after the assumption of power in 1933. Foremost
among these were the army™s acceptance of the regime™s political goals and its
subordination to Hitler, thus making it dependent on his political will. Only
under such conditions could a war of conquest, such as the one Hitler planned,
be conducted as a war for the “Germanization”31 of much of Eastern Europe.
These conditions were realized in 1938.
The disempowerment of the army was both calculated and consequential.
Hitler assumed nominal control over the Reichswehr upon the death of Reich-
spresident Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934. He achieved effective control
over the army in 1938 with the removal of General Werner von Fritsch, head
of OKH.32 Prior to both these events, in June 1934, the SA leadership was mur-
dered, as this organization was no longer instrumental once the NSDAP con-
solidated state power. The military leadership accepted this act of terror in the
expectation that, henceforth, the army would remain the only armed force in the
NS state.33 Yet already in September 1934, Hitler instructed the Reich Minister

Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, “Mensch, Maschine, Zeit: Fortschrittsbewußtsein und Kulturkri-

tik im ersten Drittel des 20. Jahrhunderts,” in Jahrbuch des Historischen Kollegs 2003 (Munich:
Oldenbourg, 2004), 91“119.
Jens Banach, Heydrichs Elite: Das Fuhrerkorps der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1936“1945

(Paderborn: Schoningh, 1998), 35“86.
On the topic of “Germanization” and its use by Hitler see, among others, Andreas Wirsching,

“˜Man kann nur Boden germanisieren™: Eine neue Quelle zu Hitlers Rede vor den Spitzen der
Reichswehr am 3. Februar 1933,” Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 49 (2001): 517“50.
Klaus-Jurgen Muller, Das Heer und Hitler: Armee und nationalsozialistisches Regime 1933“
¨ ¨

1940 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1969).
Klaus-Jurgen Muller, Armee und Drittes Reich 1933“1939: Darstellung und Dokumentation
¨ ¨

(Paderborn: Schoningh, 1987).
The Quest for Order and the Pursuit of Terror 189

for War to increase the number of SS military units (Verfugungstruppe) and,
therewith, began the construction of what would become the Waffen-SS.34 The
Waffen-SS acted as a National Socialist political army, while the Wehrmacht
sought to maintain its traditional role as the army of the nation-state.35 The
political army formed the instrument for conducting an ideologically moti-
vated, racial war of conquest as a war of ethnic destruction. In contrast, the
traditional army was, in its own self-understanding, an instrument for politi-
cal struggle between states and, as such, was not suited for a policy of ethnic
cleansing in conquered territories. Until 1939, the Waffen-SS acted alone as the
political army. Subordinated to Hitler™s political will, however, the Wehr-
macht quickly recognized that it too would have to assume certain functions of
a political army. As a result, intense con¬‚icts developed between the German
High Command, on the one side, and Hitler and the leadership of the Waffen-
SS, on the other. While it is true that NS political of¬cers were integrated
into the Wehrmacht only after the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944, the
re-formation of the Wehrmacht into a National Socialist army, with requisite
political tasks, began in the fall of 1939.
Within weeks of the invasion of Poland, many military commanders “
though certainly not all “ had accepted the fact that this war would not be
limited to the front lines, but rather would extend into the interior and include
the mass murder of civilian populations through Einsatzgruppen of the Secu-
rity Police and the Security Service (SD).36 Thus, already in 1939, Wehrmacht
generals were prepared to accept ideologically justi¬ed violence against civilian
populations as a characteristic of this war.
The invasion of Poland began as a traditional military struggle between
nation-states. Behind the army, however, stood units of the Security Police and
the Security Service, ready for deployment under orders from Reichsfuhrers ¨
SS und Chef der deutschen Polizei Heinrich Himmler. These units operated
according to the tenets of National Socialist racial selection. They escalated
what began as a traditional war of conquest over another state into a racial
war, a war of ethnic-racial expulsion, destruction, and “Germanization.” Their
task, according to guidelines from July 1939, was to “¬ght all elements hostile
to the Reich and to Germans” in Poland.37 From the very beginning, they
operated independent of the military™s administrative and police order. On 17
October 1939, Hitler dissolved the military administration of occupied Poland,
justifying the act by noting that the Wehrmacht would no longer have to deal
with population policy. He simultaneously decreed that members of Waffen-
SS, SS-Totenkopfverbande, and German police units on “special duty” were

Ibid., 71“8, 209“10; Bernd Wegner, Hitlers Politische Soldaten: Die Waffen-SS 1933“

1945: Leitbild, Struktur und Funktion einer nationalsozialistischen Elite, 5th ed. (Paderborn:
Schoningh, 1997), 84“95.
Robert J. O™Neill, The German Army and the Nazi Party, 1933“1939 (New York: James H.

Heineman, 1966), 62“83.
Muller, Heer, 422“70.

Wildt, 426.
Jorg Baberowski and Anselm Doering-Manteuffel

released from the prescripts of standard military law.38 Given that Himmler
ensured that the laws of the German Reich ended at the Reich border, an
extralegal zone was effectively created in the conquered territories, and it was
into these extralegal zones that the Einsatzkommandos of the Security Police
and the SD marched, murdered Jewish populations, and set in motion the
volkische Flurbereinigung, a massive project of ethnic cleansing, that the radical
Right had had on its agenda since 1916.39
The Wehrmacht initially sought to dissociate itself from this endeavor, but
soon enough it found itself complicit in its operation. Just as in Belgium in 1914,
the military leadership viewed the conquered population as fundamentally
weak.40 Effective opposition to the German military was neither imagined nor
expected. This perception was not only a re¬‚ection of traditional Prussian
cultural presumptions against Poland; it also re¬‚ected the experiences of the
First World War on the Eastern Front. To this was added the disparaging image
of the native population as backward and “inferior.” This view then fused
with the ethnic-racist, overwhelmingly anti-Semitic discourse that emerged in
German society during the interwar period. After 1939, these views increasingly
manifested themselves in the behavioral patterns of Wehrmacht units as they
worked to deprive “Polish subhumans”41 of both the right and the ability to
oppose occupation. The fact that opposition nonetheless developed, however,
produced a particular nervousness and fear of “franktireurs.”
Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Security Police and the SD, utilized the
situation in order psychologically to link guerrilla warfare with Jewishness in
the minds of German soldiers. This strategy harked back to the experiences of
the First World War but in this case, ethnic confusion, cultural backwardness,
and “¬lth” were explained exclusively via anti-Semitic argumentation, such
that Jews were presented as the authoritative cause of disorder and chaos. In
order to produce “order” on Polish territory, the Germans had to eliminate
the Jews. Heydrich stigmatized the Jews as enemies of “order.” Propaganda, in
turn, disseminated these ideas through the rank and ¬le and indoctrinated the
Wehrmacht along appropriate ideological lines. Jews, according to Heydrich™s
of¬ce, were active participants in partisan warfare.42 In this manner, Heydrich
justi¬ed the racially and ideologically motivated persecution of the Jewish pop-
ulation in Poland and set in motion the mass murder of Jewry. The Wehrmacht
remained silent and was increasingly drawn into complicity.
The pace of annihilation was determined by SS formations of the
Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), but it was Hitler who provided them with
the necessary latitude for action. Rather than providing direct orders, which

Muller, Heer, 435“6; Wildt, 474“6.

Hitler used the term “volkische Flurbereinigung” in his deliberations with General Brauchitsch,

Senior Commander of the Army, on 7 September 1939. Herbert, Best, 241.
John Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven,

CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 89“174.
Wildt, 437.

Ibid., 438.
The Quest for Order and the Pursuit of Terror 191

Hitler only rarely did, he offered operational leeway and extralegal zones. This
effectively negated traditional prohibitions and taboos and marginalized the
defenders of state and military legality. The SS leadership immediately occu-
pied these “free zones.” They utilized operational freedom in order to act in
a manner unconcerned with traditional notions of ethics, morals, and legality
derived from the value systems of the nation-state and civil society.43
During the First World War, one could already observe this shift from cul-
tural to structural perceptions, vis-a-vis the occupied territories, in the language
of the Ober Ost occupation authorities. The tendency inherent within this shift
was formative for the SS elite. It represented the abandonment of a world-
view that considered social conditions historically derived structures and that
understood growth and dissolution, change and progress, as characteristic of
human action. Instead, the style of thought within the SS elite built upon the
categories of ethnicity, race, space, and eternity. The very term “eternity,” a
thousand-year time span, entailed an imagined “history” based upon a myth-
ical understanding of the past, but which contained little or no conception
of actual historical developments.44 This perspective contained revolutionary
potential in that it negated history. Whoever fails to recognize the law, the
state, and the nation as ordering principles between societies, and freedom and
self-determination as ordering principles within society, places himself in the
situation of having to create an image of an entirely different order, however
utopian that may be.45 In this manner, cultural value orientations could be
rede¬ned, in turn enabling the rede¬nition of human relations.

In an effort to develop a temporal schematic for the war in the East that both
emphasizes the escalation of the con¬‚ict and differentiates between Wehrmacht
and SS areas of operation, we have segmented the war into three periods of
increasingly dynamic destruction and terror “ the ¬rst and second of which
particularly crassly illustrate the “ordering madness.” The ¬rst phase lasted
from the attack on Poland in the fall of 1939 until the invasion of the Soviet
Union in June 1941. This phase “ the conquest and subjugation of Poland “
demonstrated the practical impossibility of effecting an ethnic reordering solely
on racial grounds. On the one side stood mass murder, deportation, and
the resettlement of native populations; on the other side, considerable efforts
were taken to colonize territories with German or what was determined as
racially German stock. From the very beginning, German rule was the rule of
terror. The racist ideologies of Volkstum and Lebensraum existed without
reference to real social and economic conditions; they entirely ignored the

Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1936“1945, trans. Klaus Kochmann (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt,

2000), 325“59.
Wolfgang Hardtwig, “Die Krise des Geschichtsbewußtseins in Kaiserreich und Weimarer

Republik und der Aufstieg des Nationalsozialismus,” in Jahrbuch des Historischen Kollegs
2001 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2002), 47“75; Doering-Manteuffel, 115“17.
Frank-Lothar Kroll, Utopie als Ideologie: Geschichtsdenken und politisches Handeln im Dritten

Reich (Paderborn: Schoningh, 1998).
Jorg Baberowski and Anselm Doering-Manteuffel

cultural intertwinement and multiethnic nature of societies, not to mention the
actual working of agrarian and commercial economies. The attempted whole-
sale shift of entire population groups resulted in the utter collapse of supply
and production networks and produced administrative chaos in its wake. The
desire to Germanize “space” in occupied Poland led to population policies that
were both haphazard and without clear end goals.46 Deportation and mass
murder were intertwined from the very beginning. Even if it was not yet the
intention to murder all Jews, but rather to relocate them forcibly to distant,
isolated colonies, the brutal measures of implementing this new order nonethe-
less hinted at the coming “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”47 Even the
plan to ship all Jews to Madagascar implied nothing other than genocide.48
This period was a period of experimentation with genocide; the decisive radi-
calization of policy occurred in the fall of 1941.
Under these conditions, the ability to conduct a purely traditional war came
into doubt. The Army High Command™s demand that occupied territories be
placed under military administration indicates that, in general, it was only now
that the true character of war in the East and the dangerous gravity of Hitler™s
racial hatred became clear. Indeed, there were protests against the extension
of military action against civilian populations. By the end of 1939, however,
the Army High Command accepted that the Wehrmacht would be responsible
only for military matters.49 The administration of Polish territory “ in other
words, Germanization as a program of mass murder and ethnic reconstruction “
was left to the executors of the political will. Interestingly, the desire of many
military commanders to avoid confrontations with the reality of this type of
occupation led not to their distancing from racial war but to their acceptance of
the military™s politically inspired exclusion from the administration of occupied
territories.50 In this manner, racism was able to become established as the
leading operational principle in occupational administration. This did not fail
to have an effect, and within one and a half years, it was a broadly accepted
The Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the SD marched behind
the Wehrmacht, and with them also marched the Einsatzgruppen of the SS

Michael G. Esch, “˜Ohne Rucksicht auf historisch Gewordenes™: Raumplanung und Raumord-


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