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Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

Step forward: We hear that you are a good man. . . . Listen, we know you are our
enemy. Therefore we now shall put you against a wall. But in consideration of
your merits and virtues, it will be a good wall, and we shall shoot you with good
bullets from good guns, and we shall bury you with a good shovel in good soil.
(Bertolt Brecht, “Verhor des Guten”)

And as to you, when the time has come that man will be his brother™s keeper,
look back on us with forbearance.
(Bertolt Brecht, “An die Nachgeborenen”)1

The trouble is that neither the Wehrmacht nor the Red Army considered merit
and virtue and, inasmuch as they buried the dead, they did not bury them in
good soil. Neither did those born afterward show forbearance, for they were
either too caught up in the dark times they tried to escape after defeat or
never saw the darkness in the bright light of victory. The Soviet Union and the
German Reich fought a war that denied virtue and honor to enemy soldiers and
set entire people against each other in a life-and-death struggle. Memorializing

Tritt vor: Wir horen / Daß Du ein guter Mann bist. . . . So hore: Wir wissen / Du bist unser Feind.
¨ ¨

Deshalb wollen wir Dich / Jetzt an eine Wand stellen. Aber in Anbetracht deiner Verdienste /
Und guten Eigenschaften / An eine gute Wand und dich erschießen mit / Guten Kugeln guter
Gewehre und dich begraben mit / Einer guten Schaufel in guter Erde. Bertolt Brecht, “Verhor Des
Guten [Me-Ti/ Buch Der Wendungen],” in Gesammelte Werke, ed. Bertolt Brecht (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967), 462“3. Ihr aber, wenn es so weit sein wird / Daß der Mensch
dem Menschen ein Helfer ist / Gedenkt unserer / Mit Nachsicht. Idem, “An die Nachgeborenen
[Svedenborger Gedichte],” in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 9, 722“5, here 725.
Research for this essay was made possible in part (for Mark Edele) by a University of Western
Australia Research Grant (UWARG) (2006) and (for Michael Geyer) by a fellowship of the Amer-
ican Academy in Berlin (2004) and a Humboldt Forschungspreis (2007). Thanks to Josh Sanborn
and Elena Shulman for kind permission to quote from unpublished work. Special thanks to Peter
Holquist for his contributions to this essay in an early stage of the discussion.

Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

the war did not bring, or has not brought yet, together what the war had
torn asunder.2 In the new century, there are some indications that the time for
forbearance or, in any case, for commemoration in the spirit of mutuality may
yet come.3 However, the moment is most certainly right for a reconsideration
of the single most destructive war of the twentieth century, the war between
Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and to approach this war not as a German
or a Soviet affair, respectively, but as a ferocious and brutal antagonism in a
wider ¬eld of European and global war.4
The lethal encounter between the militarized polities of Germany and the
Soviet Union on what the Germans called the “Eastern Front” (Ostfront) and
the Soviets the “Great Patriotic War” (Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina) can
only be essayed in the literal sense; that is, as an experiment or, in one of the
OEDs de¬nitions, a “¬rst tentative effort in learning.”5 The reasons differ. Sim-
ply put, our knowledge about the Soviet side, judges one of the premier military
historians of this con¬‚ict, “remains appallingly incomplete.”6 Notwithstand-
ing manifestos calling for historians of Russia ¬nally to focus on the war,7 so
far only few studies have emerged that go beyond the excellent operational
studies of John Erickson, David Glantz, and Jonathan House.8 As Catherine
Merridale “ whose work is among the few exceptions to that rule “ has

“Kluften der Erinnerung: Rußland und Deutschland sechzig Jahre nach dem Krieg.” Osteuropa

55, no. 4“6 (2005).
Margot Blank, ed., Beutestucke: Kriegsgefangene in der deutschen und sowjetischen Fotogra¬e,

1941“1945, Katalog zur Ausstellung im deutsch-russischen Museum Berlin Karlshorst (Berlin:
Ch. Links, 2003); Olga V. Kurilo, ed., Der Zweite Weltkrieg im deutschen und russischen
Gedachtnis (Berlin: Avinus, 2006).
Gerhard L.Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge and

New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Evan Mawdsley, Thunder in the East: The Nazi-
Soviet War 1941“1945 (London: Hodder, 2005); Norman Davies, No Simple Victory: World
War II in Europe, 1939“1945 (New York: Viking, 2007).
For starting points see Jorg Baberowski and Anselm Doering-Manteufel, Ordnung durch Terror:

Gewaltexzesse und Vernichtung im nationalsozialistischen und stalinistischen Imperium (Bonn:
Dietz, 2006), 71“90; Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler™s Germany, Stalin™s Russia (New
York: Norton, 2006), 512“25; and Ian Kershaw, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed
the World, 1940“1941 (New York: Penguin Press, 2007).
David M. Glantz, Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War, 1941“1943 (Lawrence: University

Press of Kansas, 2005), 611.
Amir Weiner, “Saving Private Ivan: From What, Why, and How?” Kritika: Explorations in

Russian and Eurasian History 1, no. 2 (2000): 305“36. He repeated the charge in “In the Long
Shadow of War: The Second World War and the Soviet and Post-Soviet World,” Diplomatic
History s25, no. 3 (2001): 443“56.
David M. Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995); David M. Glantz, Barbarossa: Hitler™s Invasion
of Russia, 1941 (Stroud: Tempus, 2001); id., The Battle for Leningrad: 1941“1944 (Lawrence:
University Press of Kansas, 2002); John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin™s War with
Germany, vol. 1 (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1975); id., The Road to
Berlin: Stalin™s War with Germany, vol. 2 (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press,
1983). Recent additions to the genre include Mawdsley, Thunder; and Chris Bellamy, Absolute
War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).
States of Exception 347

recently pointed out, we still know very little “about the lives, background
and motivation of the [Soviet] troops themselves.”9 The main struggle is to
¬nd suf¬cient evidence to back up the vast claims popular historians have
made about Stalin and the Soviet Union at war.10 In contrast, we know much,
much more about the German side. In fact, the density of historical research
on the “Eastern Front,” on occupation and collaboration, as well as on anni-
hilation and extermination is staggering.11 Moreover, the Nazi-Soviet war has
been subject to a host of documentaries, ¬lms, exhibitions, often with exten-
sive Russian footage and documentation that have engendered intense public
debates.12 Germans now know, or can know, what kind of war their war on
the Eastern Front was. But knowledge of the German war, deep and vast as
it is, can only become insight if and when it is matched and, indeed, entan-
gled with the knowledge of the other side. For war, and surely war of this

Catherine Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat in the Red Army, 1939“45.” Journal

of Contemporary History 41, no. 2 (2006): 305“24; here: 305. See also her seminal Ivan™s
War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939“1945 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006);
Kenneth Slepyan, Stalin™s Guerrillas: Soviet Partisans in World War II (Lawrence: University
Press of Kansas, 2006); and Amir Weiner, “Something to Die For, a Lot to Kill For: The Soviet
System and the Barbarisation of Warfare, 1939“1945,” in: The Barbarization of Warfare
ed. George Kassimeris (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 101“25. Important
Russian-language contributions include Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina 1941“1945, Kniga 4:
Narod i voina (Moscow: Nauka, 1999) (quoted hereafter as: Narod i voina); and Elena S. Sen-
iavskaia, Frontovoe pokolenie 1941“1945. Istoriko-psikhologicheskoe issledovanie (Moscow:
RAN institut Rossiiskoi istorii, 1995).
Television has superseded historiography in this respect. John Erickson handles the relative lack

of sources quite well in The Russian Front, 1941“1945, four videocassettes (182 min.), directed
by John Erickson, Michael Leighton, Lamancha Productions, and Cromwell Productions, 1998,
while later Western TV productions are rather weaker. However, see the remarkable hit on
Russian TV, Strafbat [Penal Battalion], dir. Nikolaj Dostal™, perfs. Aleksei Serebriakov, Iurii
Stepanov, and Aleksandr Bashirov, 525 min., Kachestvo DVD, Russia 2004; or the ¬lm Svoi,
dir. Dimitrii Meskhiev, perfs. Bogdan Stupka, Konstantin Khabensky, and Sergei Garmash,
color, 105 min., DVD (Moscow: ORT Video 2004).
Rolf-Dieter Muller and Gerd R. Ueberschar, eds., Hitlers Krieg im Osten 1941“1945: Ein
¨ ¨

Forschungsbericht (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2000). The list has grown
considerably since. See Rolf-Dieter Muller and Hans Erich Volkmann, eds., Die Wehrma-
cht: Mythos und Realitat (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1999); Bruno Thoß and Hans-Erich Volk-
mann, eds., Erster Weltkrieg “ Zweiter Weltkrieg, ein Vergleich: Krieg, Kriegserlebnis, Kriegser-
fahrung in Deutschland. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh, 2002). See the comprehensive series
Militargeschichtliches Forschungsamt, ed., Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, 10
vols. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1979“2008). See also the essays by Gerlach and
Werth, Baberowski and Doering-Manteuffel, Browning and Siegelbaum, as well as Fitzpatrick
and Ludtke in this volume.
Wulf Kansteiner, In Pursuit of German Memory: History, Television, and Politics after

Auschwitz (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006); Eike Wenzel, Gedachtnisraum Film: Die
Arbeit an der deutschen Geschichte in Filmen seit den sechziger Jahren (Stuttgart: Metzler,
2000); Hannes Heer, Vom Verschwinden der Tater: Der Vernichtungskrieg fand statt, aber
keiner war dabei, 2nd ed. (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 2004); Christian Hartmann, Johannes Hurter,
and Ulrike Jureit, eds., Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Bilanz einer Debatte (Munich: C. H. Beck,
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

magnitude, is only accounted for inasmuch as both sides see each other and
see themselves re¬‚ected in the other in their deadly encounter. We may doubt
on practical and philosophical grounds that they will ever see the same, but as
long as the two sides perceive and, thus, recognize each other, they can at least
begin recalling and writing a history in which Brecht™s wisdom may apply “ in
hindsight if not necessarily with forbearance. Whether this history will then be
a suitable instrument for mending the tear that ruptured the bond between the
two nations is another question.13
Given the unequal development of historiography, the ambition of this essay
may be foolish “ not only to provide a sketch of a history of the adversaries™
conduct of war, but also to re¬‚ect on the peculiar, expansive, and intensive
system of violence that made both German and Soviet societies subjects and
objects of destruction. That is, we have to account for a war that reached
inside to remake the respective war-¬ghting society in a war of excisions much
as it reached outside in order to subjugate and, indeed, destroy, annihilate, and
exterminate the enemy “ all the while it was fought in bloody battles by huge
armies with utmost intensity along a hyperextended front. We think of the
former as a “civil war,” that is, a war that aimed at remaking (and obliterat-
ing) entire populations, and the latter as a “war of destruction” with its own
dynamic toward all-out annihilation. And this does not even account yet for
the fusion of interior and exterior war in the territories and with the people in
between that became pawns in the hands of both sides.14
Our argument unfolds in a number of steps.
First, the unparalleled lethality of this theater of war had its roots not
simply in the destructive ideology of the one or the other side, or in a universal
dynamic of total war. Rather, the devastating nature of this war, we suggest,
is the consequence of the inimical interrelationship of Nazi Germany and the
Soviet Union. This was a war fought with utter unrestraint from the start, the
result of the assessment of the enemy as peculiarly heinous. From the start, this
was not a “conventional” war, but a war in which the imperative was to win
by whatever means necessary or to perish entirely.
Military institutions and militarized societies are highly self-contained and
self-involved, and this is quite apart from the self-encapsulation of the two

Heinrich Boll, Lev Kopelev, and Klaus Bednarz, Warum haben wir aufeinander geschossen?

(Bornheim-Merten: Lamuv-Verlag, 1981), is the conciliatory version of the story.
One of the sites for this debate is the German and Soviet occupation of Poland. See Marek

Jan Chodakiewicz, Between Nazis and Soviets: Occupation Politics in Poland, 1939“1947
(Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004); Maria Szonert-Binienda, World War II through Polish
Eyes: In the Nazi-Soviet Grip (Boulder, CO, and New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).
Another site is the ornery question whether the Red Army could have intervened to prevent
the destruction of Warsaw in 1944. See the newest assessment by David M. Glantz, “The Red
Army™s Lublin-Brest Offensive and Advance on Warsaw (18 July“30 September 1944),” Journal
of Slavic Military Studies 19, no. 2 (2006): 401“44. On the question of absolute war, see Alan
Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War (Oxford,
New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
States of Exception 349

regimes.15 Their mutual hatred suf¬ced to unleash extreme violence. However,
they always also engage the other “ if only to learn how better to destroy the
enemy. In this case, both sides needed the other (the image and, as it turns
out, combat and occupation practice) in order to perpetuate and deepen their
respective practices of “destructive war” or what some scholars call “degen-
erate war,” that is, ¬rst and foremost extreme and unrestrained violence.16
This unrestraint had its own dynamic “ an escalation that emerged locally and
from the bottom up as it were. By deliberately removing checks on violence,
the two combatants set in motion “ each in its own time “ a relentless process
of escalation that was near impossible to stop, even when and where restraint
appeared strategically or politically prudent. It is commonly overlooked, given
the atrocities of 1941, that the conduct of war got more ferocious, and more
deliberately ferocious, as the war progressed.
Second, the Nazi-Soviet war was an all-out civil war between two milita-
rized polities. That is, this war was fought as a war on an interior and on an
exterior front, a deliberate overthrow of military tradition (and in this sense
quite literally a revolution in military affairs).17 It was a war between two
armed camps from the outset but was fought with and against society from
the start. Again, this war had its own logic of escalation. At its most intense,
it became radicalized into a war of all-out extermination “ either threatened
as in the Soviet case or practiced as in the German one. The Holocaust, we
argue, is the literally pivotal aspect of this civil war of all-out extermination.
Inasmuch as this radicalization turned war into a life-and-death struggle, not
of armies, but of entire people and nations, we might also characterize this


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