Soldiers into Nazis? : the German infantry's war in northwest Russia, 1941-1944

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Rutherford, Jeffrey Cameron, 1974-

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This work seeks both to modify and challenge the prevailing view of an ideologically-driven Army intent on realizing Hitler's racist goals in the Soviet Union. One way of measuring the ideological commitment of the Army's soldiers is through an examination of the divisional level. Each of the three divisions under examination was recruited from a geographically and culturally distinct area, allowing the soldiers of the 121st, 123rd and 126th Infantry Divisions to recreate the sense of community unique to their home region: East Prussia, Berlin and Rhineland-Westphalia, respectively. The differences between social classes, traditional political allegiances and confessions found in these regions was thus transferred to these divisions and these distinctions allow for a more precise investigation of what types of men were more or less likely to subscribe to the German war of annihilation in the Soviet Union. Unlike much of the literature which examines the ideological nature of the war and the military conflict separately, this study looks at combat and occupation in tandem. Through the use of official military records, ranging from the Army down to the regimental level, as well as previously unused diaries and letters written by the men of these three divisions, a complex and varied picture of the German Army's activities and motivations arises. Firstly, while ideological concerns certainly played a role in determining the actions of these divisions, other more tangible problems, such as food and clothing shortages and numerical weakness, were more important issues in determining the Army's frequent savage interactions with civilians. Second, instead of the war serving to increasingly radicalize the behavior of the troops, the German Army began to significantly modify its conduct in hopes of winning the cooperation of Soviet civilians in late 1942 and 1943 before reverting to Scorched Earth policy in 1944. Internal mechanisms within the Army led to these changes in behavior: when a conciliatory policy was viewed as necessary to win the war, it was implemented; when the Army believed unadulterated violence was the means to victory, radical policies were carried out its forces.




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