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Gleichmann and Thomas Kuhne (Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2004), 105“42.
Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Ver-

nichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog, 49.
Ibid., 46“8. Forster, “Unternehmen ˜Barbarossa™ als Eroberungs- und Vernichtungskrieg,” 435:

“Return to old customs of war. One of the two enemies must fall; do not conserve the incubators
of hostile attitudes, but liquidate” (Gen. Muller).
Hitler, according to Aktenvermerk, 16 July 1941, International Military Tribunal, Trial of the

Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg: 14 November
1945“1 October 1946 (Nuremberg: Secretariat of the Tribunal, 1947), 86“94, here 92.
Discipline as a key element in unleashing extraordinary violence is rather understudied. But see

the impressive study by Birgit Beck, Wehrmacht und sexuelle Gewalt: Sexualverbrechen vor
deutschen Militargerichten 1939“1945 (Paderborn: Schoningh, 2007).
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

Order, ordered that Soviet commissars and other undesirables such as Jews
were to be separated in order to be killed.37 The targeted groups in the Commis-
sar Order were speci¬c, but the Guidelines for the Behavior of Troops in Russia
widened the list, demanding “ruthless and energetic measures against Bolshe-
vik agitators, partisans, saboteurs, Jews, and [the] complete eradication of any
active or passive form of resistance.”38 In the end, the list of people and groups
to be executed remained fuzzy. But the main enemy was racial: because the
cruel and per¬dious war was instigated by the Jewish-Bolshevik regime and its
agents, so the main rationale, extermination of Jews and Commissars, was the
chief priority. Others “ such as female soldiers, Asian minorities, “asocials” “
were associated with the main target group, the common military denominator
being that they lacked honor and were by their very nature suspect of per¬dy.
Targeted killing thus appears both as the prerequisite for bringing down the
regime and the means for (re)establishing a more natural order of things. Spe-
ci¬c task groups (Einsatzgruppen) were set up in order to expedite the process.
Typically, they facilitated killing away from the troops and were supposed to
minimize the opportunity for “atrocities” (Metzeleien).39 As far as the military
leadership was concerned, maintaining discipline and, whenever possible, dis-
tance was the only quali¬cation for deliberate murder, which otherwise found
ready support.
The fervor to get the Army of the East set up for a quick and decisive
campaign and the cold passion of avenging defeat and revolution remade the
Wehrmacht into a school of extreme violence. Much of what was planned,
built on older precedent; a great deal emerged from interwar learning processes
about World War I and about the postwar civil wars;40 but the entire setup
amounted to a distinct revolution in military affairs. First, the plan for a quick
and decisive victory that relied on overwhelming force ¬t the German military
tradition.41 But now any restraints on the use of force were lifted in the pursuit
of the war™s goals. Extreme violence was built in as it were. Second, the pursuit
of quick and overwhelming victory had produced a great deal of collateral
(civilian) death and damages in the past (as in Belgium),42 but now the murder

Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, “Kommissarbefehl und Massenexekutionen sowjetischer Kriegsgefan-

gener,” in Anatomie des SS-Staates: Gutachten des Instituts fur Zeitgeschichte, ed. Hans Buch-
heim (Olten: Walter-Verlag, 1965),161“278. See also Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung,
ed., Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstel-
lungskatalog, 52“3.
Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, ed., Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des

Vernichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog, 54“5.
Forster, “Unternehmen ˜Barbarossa™ als Eroberungs- und Vernichtungskrieg,” 438.

On right-wing German violence, Richard Bessel, Political Violence and the Rise of Nazism:

The Storm Troopers in Eastern Germany, 1925“1934 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
1984); Dirk Schumann, Politische Gewalt in der Weimarer Republik 1918“1933: Kampf um
die Straße und Furcht vor dem Burgerkrieg (Essen: Klartext, 2001).
Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practice of War in Imperial

Germany (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2005).
Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Die Bibliothek von Lowen: Eine Episode aus der Zeit der Weltkriege

(Munich: C. Hanser, 1988).
States of Exception 355

of entire enemy groups, foremost Bolsheviks and Jews, was premeditated and
deemed an essential and necessary condition for victory. The German conduct
of war fused military and civilian elements into an unprecedented, murderous
totality. Third, the desire to establish the security of the territory, especially the
fear of partisans, had led to hostage taking and shooting already in Belgium
in 1914.43 But the plans for paci¬cation of the occupied territory once again
broke the mold in that they made terror the operative principle in the short
run and counted on the permanence of violent subordination in the long run
(for which task forty to ¬fty divisions were to be readied after victory). The
colonial precedent looms large,44 but terror as a tool of paci¬cation was novel.
Military planners broke the mold of experience in preparing for Barbarossa.
Hitler™s intervention and his overarching rationale were responsible for this
development inasmuch as he opened up the opportunity for the all-out pursuit
of quick victory. Thus, while military preparations were utilitarian (how best
to achieve quick victory), the recourse to absolute, unrestrained violence was
entirely ideological. Not kennt kein Gebot is, of course, an old maxim, but the
Wehrmacht leadership prepared for extreme violence because they held that
they had to exterminate in order to subject, and not just defeat and occupy,
the enemy and its territory.
If the general rule holds that nothing is ever quite as extreme in practice as
it is in theory, this rule was the ¬rst thing to go, when Operation Barbarossa
commenced on 22 June 1941. Historians have rightly cautioned us that the
war in the East had many faces, that accommodation was as much an aspect
of the war as brutalization.45 But during Barbarossa the inherent frictions of
war did not moderate, but rather unleashed and escalated extreme violence.
Accommodation, wherever and whenever it occurred, was pierced by mass
murder and sooner or later gave way to destructive war. Newest research shows
how unsettled midlevel German of¬cers in the ¬eld were about the unrelenting
violence especially against the civilian population and how counterproductive
many of them considered it to be.46 But in 1941 none of this altered the
ratcheting up of violence both at the front and behind the front.47

John N. Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven,

CT: Yale University Press, 2001).
Jurgen Zimmerer, “Die Geburt des “Ostlandes” aus dem Geiste des Kolonialismus: Die

nationalsozialistische Eroberungs- und Beherrschungspolitik in (post)kolonialer Perspektive,”
SozialGeschichte: Zeitschrift fur die historische Analyse des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts 19, no. 1
(2004): 19“43.
One of the ¬rst and still the most important contribution is Theo J. Schulte, The German Army

and Nazi Policies in Occupied Russia (Oxford and New York: Berg, 1989).
Christian Hartmann, “Verbrecherischer Krieg “ Verbrecherische Wehrmacht? Uberlegungen

zur Struktur des deutschen Ostheeres 1941“1944,” Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 52, no.
1 (2004): 1“75; Johannes Hurter, “Die Wehrmacht vor Leningrad: Krieg und Besatzungspolitik
der 18. Armee im Herbst und Winter 1941/42,” Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 49, no. 3
(2001): 377“440.
Bernhard Chiari, Alltag hinter der Front: Besatzung, Kollaboration und Widerstand in Weißruß-

land 1941“1944 (Dusseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1998); Manfred Oldenburg, Ideologie und
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

Two points are worth making. First, the actual practice of Operation Bar-
barossa exceeded what had been prepared. Within months, Operation Bar-
barossa turned from its preplanned security measures to a free fall into utter
destruction, callous and inhuman negligence, and all-out extermination.48 The
murder of targeted enemy groups escalated from the ¬rst days of the campaign
on. The rapid German advance and the occupation of major cities created
conditions of endemic famine “ not unlike the “hunger plan” for Soviet cities
that had come up in the context of economic preparations for Barbarossa.49
There is a heated debate whether such a “plan” existed in the ¬rst place, but
the practice of war made real what preparations had left in the realm of poten-
tialities. Second, the killing and dying of soldiers and civilians “ and there were
more civilian casualties than military ones “ during the ¬rst six months of the
war were so horrendous that many historians treat the rest of the war as a
continuum of violence. But the dif¬cult truth is that the escalation of violence
during Operation Barbarossa was followed by much worse between 1942 and
1944 “ and again in 1944/5.50 While war rarely follows a linear path, in this
war “ German and Soviet soldiers agreed51 “ the crooked line led straight to
The reasons for this escalation “ alternatively called “barbarization” or
“radicalization” by historians “ in the conduct of war in summer and fall 1941
are still debated. Was it the preemptive, ideologically motivated overkill of the
directives, the criminal decrees, and the guidelines for the troops that were
responsible?52 Or was it the situation on the ground, the exigencies of a harsh
war against an implacable enemy that led from planned overkill to a free fall

¨ ¨
militarisches Kalkul: Die Besatzungspolitik der Wehrmacht in der Sowjetunion 1942 (Cologne:
Bohlau, 2004).
Andrej Angrick, “Das Beispiel Charkow: Massenmord unter deutscher Besatzung,” eds. Chris-

tian Hartmann, Johannes Hurter, and Ulrike Jureit (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2005), 117“24.
Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, ed., Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Ver-
nichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog, 179“85.
Norbert Kunz, “Das Beispiel Charkow: Eine Stadtbevolkerung als Opfer der deutschen Hunger-

strategie 1941/42,” eds. Christian Hartmann, Johannes Hurter, and Ulrike Jureit (Munich: Ver-
lag C. H. Beck, 2005), 136“44. Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, ed., Verbrechen der
Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog, 328“46.
For an overview and discussion of Soviet civilian and military casualty ¬gures see Michael

Ellman and S. Maksudov, “Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War: A Note,” Europe-Asia
Studies 46, no. 4 (1994): 671“80; for detailed ¬gures of military casualties see G. F. Krivosheev,
ed., Grif sekretnosti sniat: Poteri vooruzhennykh sil SSSR v voinakh, boevykh deistviiakh i
voennykh kon¬‚iktakh: Statisticheskoe issledovanie (Moscow: Voennoe izdatel™stvo, 1993); and
the discussion in G. F. Krivosheev and M. F. Filimoshin, “Poteri vooruzhennykh sil SSSR v
Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine,” in Naselenie Rossii v xx veke: Istoricheskie ocherki, 1940“
1959, Vol 2, eds. Iu. A. Poliakov and V. B. Zhiromskaia (Moscow: Rosspen, 2001), 19“39.
Stephen G. Fritz, Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II (Lexington: University

Press of Kentucky, 1995); Merridale, Ivan™s War.
Hannes Heer, “The Logic of the War of Extermination: The Wehrmacht and the Anti-Partisan

War,” in War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II 1941“1944, eds.
Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), 92“126.
States of Exception 357

into extreme violence?53 There is general agreement that Omer Bartov™s once
dominant interpretation does not hold, because the “barbarization” of the
conduct of war he describes takes hold before the preconditions he sets for this
turn (destruction of small groups, depletion of materiel) become apparent.54 We
rather see a willful destructiveness at work that escalates relentlessly. This spiral
of violence is made more explicit by the internal doubts about the usefulness
and, less so, moral appropriateness of ratcheting up violence especially behind
the front, without ever being able to stop it.55 In our view, this escalation
across the board during the ¬rst months of Barbarossa was conditioned ¬rst
and foremost by the imperative of decisive victory and the unrestraint that was
meant to achieve this end. This imperative generated a groundswell of violence
from the bottom up that was further advanced by the pervasive insecurity
due to the quick advance. This situation reminds us of 1914. But again, the
difference is telling. The German military had learned from the failure of the
Schlieffen Plan that only utmost unrestraint, deliberate overkill, would lead to
victory and, therefore, escalation preceded frictions rather than followed them.
However, we must keep in mind that what followed escalation was much
worse: a radicalization and recalibration of violence, still in the expectation of
victory, but in the knowledge that the war would continue beyond Barbarossa.
In 1941, even the victorious advance of the Army of the East was a double-
edged affair. The Wehrmacht appeared to be absolutely invincible and the
Soviet enemy in¬nitely inferior. Even when the military advance was slowed
down at Smolensk, there seemed to be nothing that could stop it. A sense of
elation captured not just Hitler and the military leadership, but also the rank
and ¬le and the people at home. This euphoria gave rise, in summer 1941,
to some of the more elaborate fantasies of turning Russia into a veritable
Garden of Eden “ a paradise, from which evil was to be expelled once and for
all. In Hitler™s ¬‚ights of rhetoric German happiness unmistakably was linked

K. Arnold, Die Wehrmacht und die Besatzungspolitik in den besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetu-

nion: Kriegfuhrung und Radikalisierung im “Unternehmen Barbarossa.”
Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941“45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare,


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