Tuesday 6 December 2022

The Eastern Front

Another book I have been reading is Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor. I am not as enthusiastic about it as the friend who recommended it, don't advise you to read it unless military history is your thing, but it's readable and the first part is interesting. I recommend that you read RHS Stolfi instead, but Stolfi's book Hitler: Beyond Good and Evil does not do narrative history, which is Beevor's métier.

Mr Beevor agrees with other historians that Hitler was psychologically very odd, and acted almost as if he subconsciously wanted to lose.

'Hitler in the Wolfsschanze used to gaze at the operations map showing the huge areas notionally controlled by his forces. For a visionary who had achieved total power in a country possessing the best-trained army in the world, the sight induced a sense of invincibility. This armchair strategist never possessed the qualities for true generalship, because he ignored practical problems. During the brief campaigns in Poland, Scandinavia, France and the Balkans, resupply had at times been difficult, but never an insuperable problem. In Russia, however, logistics would be as decisive a factor as firepower, manpower, mobility and morale. Hitler's fundamental irresponsibility - a psychologically interesting defiance of fate - had been to launch the most ambitious invasion in history while refusing to gear the German economy and industry for all-out war. In hindsight, it seems more like the act of a compulsive gambler, subconsciously striving to increase the odds. The horrific consequences for millions of people seemed only to strength his megalomania.'
This accords with the view of Stolfi that Hitler lost the war by delaying the advance on Moscow and soon realised this.

Stalingrad talks about the Commissar Order authorising the handling over of Soviet political officers, partisans and Jews to the SS or Secret Field Police and effectively exonerating soldiers from any crimes committed against them. 

Care was taken to fudge the distinction between Communists, partisans and Jews.

Nobody doubts that very large numbers of Jews were killed by German soldiers and by their local auxiliaries in European Soviet territory during the war. 

I don't know the numbers but they can be researched on the internet. I see some say 1,500,000, some 1 million. Somewhere I saw 3 million. 

Those who wish to defend the Germans (such people exist) say that they shot Jewish partisans, and shot Jewish civilians only as reprisals or as punitive measures, but this is very unconvincing.

Killings as reprisals or punitive measures are, of course, war crimes, but it is pretty obvious that such large numbers of Jews were killed for a racial reason.

The Germans, their allies and auxiliaries shot a very large number of Jewish children, such as the ninety children in Belaya Tserkov. More about this harrowing story is here. At that point the Germans refused to carry out the murders and ordered Ukrainians to do it, but they later became less squeamish.

The murder of Jews was part of a bigger picture. Up to twenty million Soviet citizens died in the war. 

The German soldiers also killed large numbers of Poles, including much of the elite and many Catholic priests. 

5.6 or 5.8 million Poles in total died in the war and at least 8 million Ukrainians.

Many more would have been killed had Germany defeated the Soviet Union. Hitler, for example, intended to kill all the inhabitants of Moscow.  

The Hunger Plan envisaged starving to death all Slavs in the European Soviet territories. Between one and a half and three and a half million Soviet prisoners died, many from starvation. 

Admittedly, defendants at Nuremberg pointed out that Germany had the chance from 1941 to 1944 to implement the plan and did not. The fact remains that the plan existed and very many Ukrainians did starve to death in the breadbasket of Europe under German occupation.

The historian Timothy Snyder estimates that 

"4.2 million Soviet citizens (largely Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians) [were] starved by the German occupiers in 1941–1944."

I wrote about Dr Snyder's book Bloodlands years ago on this blog. His book predicting that Donald Trump would instal a dictatorship was insane, but as a historian he is very good.

Ukrainians, of course, also starved to death in the 1930s and in 1946-7 during famines for which Communists were responsible.

1 comment:

  1. That was Antonescu's very justification to the Chief Rabbi of Romania - that Romanian troops were unfortunately killing Jews en masse in occupied Ukraine because they were partisans committing terrorist and sabotage acts, and hiding among civilians.