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2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2001). Christoph Rass, Menschenmaterial: Deutsche Soldaten
an der Ostfront “ Innenansichten einer Infanteriedivision 1939“1945 (Paderborn: Schoningh,
2003); Christian Gerlach, “Verbrechen deutscher Fronttruppen in Weißrußland 1941“1944:
Eine Annaherung,” in Wehrmacht und Vernichtungspolitik; Militar im nationalsozialistischen
System, ed. Karl Heinrich Pohl (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999), 89“114.
Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, ed., “Handlungsspielraume” in Verbrechen der
¨ ¨

Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog, 579“627.
Compare with Bernd Boll and Hans Safrian, “On the Way to Stalingrad: The 6th Army in 1941“
42,” 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), 237“71; Johannes
Hurter, “Auf dem Weg zur Militaropposition: Treskow, Gersdorff, der Vernichtungskrieg und
der Judenmord: Neue Dokumente uber das Verhaltnis der Heeresgruppe Mitte zur Einsatz-
¨ ¨
gruppe B im Jahre 1041,” Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 52, no. 3 (2004): 527“62; Timm
C. Richter, “Handlungsspielraume am Beispiel der 6. Armee,” in Verbrechen der Wehrmacht:
Bilanz einer Debatte, eds. Christian Hartmann, Johannes Hurter, and Ulrike Jureit (Munich:
Verlag C. H. Beck, 2005), 60“8.
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

to purging evil and that was to exterminating the Jewish and the Bolshevik
enemy.56 We see a rapid escalation of the murderous aspects of the German
conduct both from the bottom up and from the top down. Within months
the murder of Jews escalated from pogroms and the killing of adult males
to the extermination, in September/October 1941, of entire communities of
men, women, and children “ the beginnings of a systematic and comprehensive
practice of extermination.57
These murderous effusions of invincibility were also always tinged by the
recognition of utter vulnerability. The Army of the East did not slice through the
Soviet forces and the Soviet regime did not crumble as was expected. While
the Red Army lost nearly 4 million of its soldiers in the German onslaught,
it fought tenaciously in an armed retreat. It never folded and radicalized self-
defense into all-out destruction. The frontline troops fought with utter brutal-
ity. While more than 3 million soldiers ended in captivity, there were many “
especially in the later battles in October and November “ who were not captured
and formed the nucleus of partisan units “ or rather of groups of armed young
men roaming the countryside “ increasing the insecurity of the territory.58 Ger-
man forces did not suf¬ce to control the hinterland. They were inadequate to
guard the prisoners of war. They were unable to supply themselves and the
population. And not least, they were outmanned and even outgunned at the
front increasingly in November/December 1941. The response was unequivo-
cal across the board. De¬ciencies were mastered with recourse to more brutal
¬ghting at the front, a worsening regime of death marches and mass starvation
for prisoners of war, more starvation for the urban population in occupied
areas, and more terror in the occupied territories. Extreme unrestraint was
the answer to all frictions. In the last quarter of 1941, practice evolved faster
than ideology, but escalatory practice was inconceivable without its underlying
ideological justi¬cation in the ¬rst place.
When victory faded out of sight, the de¬ciencies of Barbarossa became glar-
ingly obvious.59 In racing from battle victory to battle victory, the Army of the

Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed., Hitler™s Secret Conversations, 1941“1944 (New York: Farrar Straus

and Young, 1953), 4; Christopher R. Browning and Jurgen Matthaus, The Origins of the
¨ ¨
Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939“March 1942 (Lincoln
and Jerusalem: University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2004); Peter Longerich, Politik
der Vernichtung: Eine Gesamtdarstellung der nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung (Munich:
Piper, 1998), 352“410.
Browning and Matthaus, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish

Policy, September 1939“March 1942.
Slepyan, Stalin™s Guerrillas.

Bernard R. Kroener, “Der ˜Erfrorene Blitzkrieg™: Strategische Planungen der deutschen Fuhrung

gegen die Sowjetunion und die Ursachen ihres Scheiterns,” in Zwei Wege nach Moskau: Vom
Hitler-Stalin-Pakt zum “Unternehmen Barbarossa,” ed. Bernd Wegner (Munich; Zurich: Piper,
1991), 133“48; Karl-Heinz Frieser, “Die deutschen Blitzkriege: Operativer Triumph “ Strateg-
ische Tragodie,” in Erster Weltkrieg “ Zweiter Weltkrieg: Krieg, Kriegserlebnis, Kriegserfahrung
in Deutschland, eds. Bruno Thoß and Hans-Erich Volkmann (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh, ¨
2002), 182“96.
States of Exception 359

East dug an ever deeper hole for itself. The troops up front were called upon
to ¬ght more relentlessly, the economic agencies plundered more egregiously,
and the security forces expanded their mass killings in leaps and bounds. This
escalation of violence was not some kind of anonymous “dynamic,” but it was
driven by the precepts that Wehrmacht and Nazi leadership had set for them-
selves: to ¬ght without mercy, to treat the conquered population as dispens-
able, and to kill Jews and Bolsheviks as the instigators of resistance. Especially
between September and November 1941, the entire spectrum of violence was
relentlessly ratcheted up.60
The deleterious reality of the war overtook even the vilest imagination.61
Long before the situation became truly critical, in the winter counteroffensive
of 1941“2, German soldiers, security forces, and occupiers were ready to think
of the war they fought as a life-or-death struggle. It was either win and live or
lose and die.62 And they acted accordingly. The German term for this sentiment
was Verbitterung (embitterment). Against all dictates of prudence and against
any pangs of mercy, German forces fought with “increasing bitterness.”63
A series of midlevel orders, most famously the one by General Reichenau,
expressed this general sentiment in their own, more or less Nazi¬ed language,
but they all expressed the conviction that only utter ruthlessness would defeat
the enemy.64 Quite on their own, the soldiers did the Nazis™ bidding and sought
their own ¬nal solutions for bringing this war to an end.
It is harebrained to deduce that the Soviet Union™s striking back was respon-
sible for the German escalation of violence.65 The Red Army was responsible
for withstanding the German onslaught. It was responsible for undoing the Ger-
man battle plan and the expectations for a quick victory. It certainly contributed
to the feeling of insecurity and the growing bitterness, but if anything German
duress reinforced ideology. German soldiers had come to ¬nd an exceptional
enemy “ and they found more of it than they had ever dreamed. Therefore,
we must now turn to the Soviet side with the simple caveat to readers that, at
this point, they desist from making premature conjectures about the German

Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941

(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Little¬eld, 2006), 73“128.
See the material in Klaus Latzel, Deutsche Soldaten“Nationalsozialistischer Krieg?: Kriegser-

lebnis, Kriegserfahrung 1939“1945 (Paderborn: Schoningh, 1998); Walter Kempowski, Das
Echolot: Barbarossa ˜41: Ein kollektives Tagebuch (Munich: Knaus, 2002); K. Arnold, Die
Wehrmacht und die Besatzungspolitik in den besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetunion: Kriegfuhrung
und Radikalisierung im “Unternehmen Barbarossa.”
Omer Bartov, “Von unten betrachtet: Uberleben, Zusammenhalt und Brutalitat an der Ost-

front,” in Zwei Wege nach Moskau: Vom Hoitler-Stalin-Pakt zum “Unternehmen Barbarossa,”
ed. Bernd Wegner (Munich and Zurich: Piper, 1991), 326“44.
K. Arnold, Die Wehrmacht und die Besatzungspolitik in den besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetu-

nion: Kriegfuhrung und Radikalisierung im “Unternehmen Barbarossa,” 180.
Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, ed., Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimensionen des

Vernichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog, 331.
Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941“1945, 3rd rev. ed. (Munich: Verlag fur ¨

Wehrwissenschaften, 1996).
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

radicalization of violence that ensued when the spell of German invincibility
was broken.

war by any means
When, on 22 June 1941, the Third Reich invaded the Soviet Union with over-
whelming force, it crushed through the mass of Soviet forces deployed along
the western border in the newly occupied territories and in three prongs pushed
deep into Soviet territory. Soviet casualties were enormous. Time and again,
the Red Army appeared to be teetering on the abyss. The Red Air Force was
nearly wiped out. But although German forces pushed ever deeper, the Soviet
defenders fought tenaciously and slowed the German thrust suf¬ciently to over-
throw German expectations. Many historians consider the Battle of Smolensk
a key turning point in this respect. By the same token, as horri¬c as Soviet casu-
alties were, the Red Army and the Soviet regime managed to stage a ¬ghting
retreat. Neither the army nor the regime shattered as Hitler had expected. That
they proved to be far sturdier than foreseen exacerbated the debate within the
German military and political leadership of how, if at all, this enemy could
be defeated. The Soviet army and the regime fought back and they fought
aggressively to a fault. They took on the enemy by whatever means available
(“pikes, swords, home-made weapons, anything you can make in your own
factories”)66 and they drove home the point as quickly as possible that anyone
who did not do likewise would be treated as an enemy as well.67
The immediate re¬‚ex of the Soviet military was not to organize defensive
battles or retreat to defense positions, but to attack. The goal of battle, not
unlike the German doctrine, was the complete destruction of the enemy. On
22 June 1941, at 0715 hours, the People™s Commissar of Defense ordered “the
Soviet forces to engage the enemy with all means at their disposal and annihilate
them.”68 This strategy of relentless counterattack was improved over time, but
never abandoned, as the ¬ghting at Moscow in 1941“2, Operation Mars in
1942, and the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk in 1942 and 1943 show. While
many rank and ¬le soldiers made a run for it or surrendered, enough refused to
give up and kept on ¬ghting doggedly.69 A small minority of civilians (largely
communists), NKVD personnel, and some surrounded Red Army units went

Moscow™s answer to request for weapons, related by Khrushchev in his memoirs. Quoted in

Geoffrey Hosking, A History of the Soviet Union 1917“1991, ¬nal ed. (London: Fontana Press,
1992), 271.
The most in-depth study of the ¬rst phase of the war is Glantz, Colossus Reborn: The Red

Army at War, 1941“1943.
Anatoli Chor™kov, “The Red Army during the Initial Phase of the Great Patriotic War,” in From

Peace to War: Germany, Soviet Russia and the World, 1939“1941, ed. Bernd Wegner (Oxford:
Berghan Books, 1997), 417.
On the German reaction see K. Arnold, Die Wehrmacht und die Besatzungspolitik in den

besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetunion: Kriegfuhrung und Radikalisierung im “Unternehmen Bar-
States of Exception 361

into hiding and started partisan warfare behind the enemy™s lines. These were,
to be sure, futile attempts at this stage of the war, but they did have the desired
effect of provoking disproportionate German reprisals.70
The standard accounts of the beginning of the war stress the lack of Soviet
preparations, the chaos, and incompetence.71 As far as military and strategic
readiness is concerned, this is very much to the point. The Soviet armed forces
were in the middle of an enormous expansion and a partial redeployment to
new positions. Equipment had not arrived and the available technology was
substandard. Trained personnel was lacking as were the necessary technology
and infrastructure to keep the tanks rolling and the planes ¬‚ying; because
radios were a rarity, communication in battle both within a branch of arms
and across different arms was hard or impossible. The of¬cer corps had been
subjugated (and partially decimated) in the Great Purges; there was a lack of
quali¬ed leadership on all levels, at times including such basic “quali¬cations”
as mere literacy or the ability to read a map; and the power of political of¬cers
(reintroduced shortly after the invasion) predominated over that of military
specialists. The army was, in other words, in shambles.72
However, seen from a different vantage point, the Soviet Union was very
much ready for war. This was a society which in many ways resembled a
wartime economy in peacetime. The Soviet system was conceived during what
Peter Holquist has called a “continuum of crisis” stretching between World
War I and the end of the Russian civil war in 1921. The mono-organizational
society which emerged in this cauldron of violence was, in terms of institutional
structure and a whole range of practices, a child of total war. The language and
thought of Bolshevism were highly militaristic, too. Communists loved to talk
of “fronts” and “assaults” even when talking about plainly civilian matters.
The party itself was understood in military terms as the “vanguard” of the

The literature on partisan warfare is huge but largely focuses on the German side. For a recent

and archivally based view of the Soviet side see Slepyan, Stalin™s Guerrillas. See also Karel C.
Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2004), 275“85. Ben Shepherd, War in the Wild East: The German
Army and Soviet Partisans (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004). On NKVD
behind German lines see V. N. Khaustov et al., eds., Lubianka. Stalin i NKVD-NKGB-GUKP
“Smersh.” 1939“mart 1946 (Moscow: Demokratiia, 2006), 330“4; 345“7.
Aleksandr M. Nekrich, 1941, 22 iiun™ia, 2nd rev. ed. (Moscow: Pamiatniki istoricheskoi mysli,

1995). The theme has reemerged in the discussion about whether or not there was a Soviet plan
to attack Germany. The latest English-language overview is in Bellamy, Absolute War, 99“135.
For a good sample of the controversy see Iu. N. Afanas™ev, ed., Drugaia voina 1939“1945
(Moscow: RGGU, 1996), 32“224. See also Gabriel Gorodetsky, Grand Delusion: Stalin and
the German Invasion of Russia (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1999).
A. A. Pechenkin, “Byla li vozmozhnost nastupat™?” Otechestvennaia istoriia, no. 3 (1995): 44“

59; Richard Overy, Russia™s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941“1945 (New York:
Penguin, 1997), 30“3, 89“90; Roger Reese, Stalin™s Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the


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( 115 .)