The Germans are obliged to realise that Hitler’s murder machine on the Eastern Front worked so well precisely because thousands and thousands of people, like little cogs, scrupulously and shamelessly carried out criminal orders, without subjecting them to the slightest doubt. The reason for this was that they considered their opponents “parasites”, “subhumans” and “Jewish Bolsheviks” who had lost all right to life in the racial war waged by the Wehrmacht and the SS, writes Valdai Club expert Matthias Uhl.
June 22, 2021 marks eighty years since Germany invaded the Soviet Union. On the morning of that Sunday in the summer of 1941, the Wehrmacht attacked the only socialist country in the world at that time without declaring war and, together with the SS Einsatzgruppen following in its rear, carried out Hitler’s plan to destroy “Jewish Bolshevism”. To this end, the German dictator and chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces, Franz Halder, had already on March 17, 1941 agreed to destroy “the intelligentsia established by Stalin” and to use “the most brutal means in the Great Russian region” during the occupation.
The German Reich’s racial war of extermination was aimed at conquering the entire European part of the Soviet Union, killing the country’s leading political and economic elite, as well as disenfranchising and “decimating” a significant part of the civilian population. The Hunger Plan, drawn up in May 1941 by Herbert Backe, Secretary of State for the Reich Ministry of Food and Agriculture, envisaged starvation of more than 30 million Soviet prisoners of war and civilians to supply
the Wehrmacht and German civilians with food from the conquered territories of the USSR. To implement the “Generalplan Ost” for the “Germanisation” of the Baltic States, as well as Russian territory south of Leningrad, the Narew region and Crimea, Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler envisaged the deportation of 46-51 million people to Western Siberia. For the murder of Jews in the Soviet Union, special SS Einsatzkommando raged in the rear of the German-Soviet front immediately after the German attack, brutally killing more than 535,000 people by the spring of 1942 alone.
By the end of this German war of extermination, which cost the lives of more than 27 million Soviet men, women and children, countless cities and villages laid in ruins. However, in 2020, more than 70 percent of Germans still did not consider their ancestors to be the culprits of Nazi terror inflicted during the era of National Socialism.
Perhaps for this reason, on the 80th anniversary of the attack on the Soviet Union, the German Bundestag was not ready to honour the countless victims of this aggression with an appropriate ceremony. However, at least the parliamentary factions recalled the German invasion of the USSR during their debate on June 9, 2021. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted in his speech that the declared goal of the National Socialists in wartime was the enslavement and destruction of entire states and peoples. Therefore, he stressed, “full of shame and sadness, we bow before more than 30 million people who had to give up their lives only in Central and Eastern Europe.” Alexander Gauland, leader of the AfD parliamentary group, condemned the Wehrmacht’s war of extermination, saying that it “tarnished them for all time”. The politician rejected criticism of the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that appeared in the West. The signing of a non-aggression pact, which, however, was to have disastrous consequences for the Polish state, was for Stalin a real-political and correct decision aimed at the survival of the Soviet Union. Johann Wadephul, a CDU member, apologised for Germany’s war crimes, but stressed, probably in connection with Crimea, that borders should never again be moved militarily. Karsten Schneider from the SPD recalled the famine that resulted from the siege of Leningrad, which cost the lives of more than a million people. He called for the blockade to be commemorated to the same extent as the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945, especially since the Red Army had finally succeeded in breaking through the blockade exactly one year earlier. Claudia Roth from the Green Party recalled that the victims of Germany’s extermination war against the Soviet Union for a long time did not play any role in the memory policy of the Federal Republic. She herself learned almost nothing in her history lessons about the crimes of the Wehrmacht and the SS on the Eastern Front. These blind spots in the German memory of World War II must be eliminated. Only the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Left Party put his finger on the wound and showed that he was ashamed that neither the federal government nor the Bundestag had made official events on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the German attack, saying that this was simply “history being forgotten”.
While the German Bundestag refused to hold an official commemoration of the anniversary of the German attack on the Soviet Union, the German-Russian Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst opened the exhibition “Dimensions of a crime. Soviet prisoners of war in World War II”. Federal President Steinmeier delivered a central commemorative speech honouring the memory of the victims of Germany’s extermination war against the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk decided not to attend the memorial ceremony of the Federal President in memory of the attack, since the public ceremony on this occasion was held in the German-Russian Museum, which the Ukrainian diplomat considered an insult. Walter Steinmeier, however, reacted unequivocally, rejecting Melnyk’s criticism and reminding “that the memory of this war must have a unifying force beyond all differences and conflicts”.
Four days earlier, Steinmeier had visited Sandbostel, a former POW camp in the Rothenburg district, to honour the memory of the more than 70,000 Red Army soldiers who were interned here in inhuman conditions, thousands of whom died from abuse, forced labour, disease and hunger. A joint German-Russian research project on this dark chapter of German history seeks to bring from oblivion the names of more than three million Red Army soldiers who died in German captivity.