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German Society at War, 1939–45

  • THOMAS BRODIE (a1)
Extract

The actions, attitudes and experiences of German society between 1939 and 1945 played a crucial role in ensuring that the Second World War was not only ‘the most immense and costly ever fought’ but also a conflict which uniquely resembled the ideal type of a ‘total war’. The Nazi regime mobilised German society on an unprecedented scale: over 18 million men served in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, and compulsory Volkssturm duty, initiated as Allied forces approached Germany's borders in September 1944, embraced further millions of the young and middle-aged. The German war effort, above all in occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, claimed the lives of millions of Jewish and gentile civilians and served explicitly genocidal ends. In this most ‘total’ of conflicts, the sheer scale of the Third Reich's ultimate defeat stands out, even in comparison with that of Imperial Japan, which surrendered to the Allies prior to an invasion of its Home Islands. When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945 Allied forces had occupied almost all of Germany, with its state and economic structures lying in ruins. Some 4.8 million German soldiers and 300,000 Waffen SS troops lost their lives during the Second World War, including 40 per cent of German men born in 1920. According to recent estimates Allied bombing claimed approximately 350,000 to 380,000 victims and inflicted untold damage on the urban fabric of towns and cities across the Reich. As Nicholas Stargardt notes, this was truly ‘a German war like no other’.

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1 Chickering, Roger and Förster, Stig, eds., A World at Total War: Global Conflict and the Politics of Destruction, 1937–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 2.

2 Ibid., 102; Kershaw, Ian, The End: Hitler's Germany, 1944–45 (London: Allen Lane, 2011), 107–8.

3 For example, Böhler, Jochen, Auftakt zum Vernichtungskrieg: Die Wehrmacht in Polen 1939 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2006); Kay, Alex J., Rutherford, Jeff and Stahel, David, eds., Nazi Policy on the Eastern Front, 1941: Total War, Genocide, and Radicalization (Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 2012).

4 Bessel, Richard, Germany 1945: From War to Peace (London: Simon and Schuster, 2009), 3.

5 Ibid., 94.

6 Overmans, Rüdiger, Deutsche Militӓrische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1999), 238–43, 279–83 and 300–1; Stargardt, Nicholas, Witnesses of War: Children's Lives under the Nazis (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), 17.

7 Süß, Dietmar, Death from the Skies: How the British and Germans Survived Bombing in World War II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 6; Overy, Richard, The Bombing War: Europe 1939–1945 (London: Allen Lane, 2013), 470–7.

8 Stargardt, Nicholas, The German War: A Nation under Arms, 1939–1945 (London: Bodley Head, 2015), 1.

9 See, Ibid., 19; Kershaw, The End; Bessel, Germany 1945; Michael Geyer, ‘Endkampf 1918 and 1945’, in Alf Lüdtke and Bernd Weisbrod, eds., No Man's Land of Violence: Extreme Wars in the Twentieth Century (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2006), 35–67.

10 See, Kershaw, Ian, Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis, (London: Allen Lane, 2001), 556–7 and 702–3; Kershaw, Ian, ed., The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 192; Broszat, Martin, Henke, Klaus-Dietmar and Woller, Hans, eds., Von Stalingrad zur Währungsreform: Zur Sozialgeschichte des Umbruchs in Deutschland, (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1988).

11 Kershaw, Nemesis, 557.

12 See, Kershaw, The End, 31–5 and 389; Stargardt, ‘Beyond “Consent” or “Terror”: Wartime Crises in Nazi Germany’, History Workshop Journal, 72, 1 (2011), 190–204.

13 Stargardt, The German War; Süß, Death from the Skies; Keller, Sven, Volksgemeinschaft am Ende: Gesellschaft und Gewalt 1944/45 (Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag, 2013).

14 See Stargardt, The German War; Süß, Death from the Skies.

15 Süß, Death from the Skies, ix.

16 Ibid., 239–99 and 407–54; Stargardt, The German War; Röger, Maren, Kriegsbeziehungen: Intimitӓt, Gewalt und Prostitution im besetzten Polen 1939 bis 1945 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 2015).

17 Stargardt, The German War, 3.

18 Süß, Death from the Skies, 518–9, 546.

19 Stargardt, The German War, 3.

20 For this approach in a French context, see Gildea, Robert, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance, (London: Faber & Faber, 2015), 14–5.

21 Overmanns, Militӓrische Verluste, Süß, Death from the Skies, 105–8; Kershaw, The End; Bessel, Germany 1945.

22 Keller, Volksgemeinschaft am Ende, 7.

23 Ibid., 21–52.

24 Ibid., 274–323 and 406–17; see also the discussion of suicide as a form of violence, 203–9.

25 Ibid., 426.

26 Ibid., 275–7 and 297.

27 Ibid., 263, and 223–6.

28 Ibid., 12–8, 139–40, 162 and 218–9.

29 See, Kershaw, The End, 225–8; Bessel, Germany 1945, 54–8.

30 Ibid., 158–61.

31 Ibid., 20.

32 Ibid., 429–30.

33 Ibid., 289–90, 298 and 429–30.

34 Ibid., 159–62 and 295–98.

35 Ibid., 431–4.

36 Ibid., 316–7 and 406–15.

37 Ibid., 343–4.

38 Ibid., 131–45 and 158–64.

39 See Gregor, Neil, Haunted City: Nuremberg and the Nazi Past (New Haven: Yale, 2008), 12–3, 376–8.

40 Stargardt, The German War, 19.

41 Ibid., 1.

42 Ibid., 6 and 19.

43 Ibid., xxiv–viii and 19.

44 Ibid., xxvii–viii.

45 Ibid., xxvii.

46 Ibid., 453. See also the complete list of SD citations on pages 700–1.

47 Ibid., 1.

48 Ibid., 8, 351, 417 and 453.

49 Ibid., 378–81, 417–18, 452–3 and 480.

50 Ibid., 394–5.

51 Ibid., 215.

52 Ibid., 482–5.

53 Ibid., 8 and 463.

54 Ibid., 27–34, 461 and 564.

55 Ibid., 375–80 and 417–8.

56 Ibid., 417.

57 Ibid., 7 and 463.

58 Ibid., 417–8, 539–40 and 564.

59 Ibid., 377–9 and 472.

60 Ibid., 9 and 215. Note the contrast to Kershaw, The End, 390.

61 Ibid., 4–5, 31–2, 258 and 458–9.

62 Ibid., 314–5, 413–4.

63 Ibid., 17 and 69.

64 Ibid., 465.

65 Ibid., 19, 69, 293–5, 421–2.

66 Röger, Kriegsbeziehungen.

67 Ibid., 12–3, 216–7.

68 Ibid., 12–5.

69 Ibid., 29–42.

70 Ibid., 22–6.

71 Ibid., 53.

72 Ibid., 30 and 83–95.

73 Ibid., 84–95.

74 Ibid., 119.

75 Ibid 43, 59–74 and 108–27.

76 Ibid., 142.

77 Ibid., 193–4, 203, 221.

78 Ibid., 226, 149–50.

79 Ibid., 156–60.

80 Ibid., 161; Wolf, Gerhard, Ideologie und Herrschaftsrationalitӓt. Nationalsozialistische Germanisierungspolitik in Polen (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2012); Kundrus, Birthe, ‘Regime der Differenz: Volkstumspolitische Inklusionen und Exklusionen im Warthegau und im Generalgouvernement 1939-1944’, in, Bajohr, Frank and Wildt, Michael, eds., Volksgemeinschaft: Neue Forschungen zur Gesellschaft des Nationalsozialismus (Frankfurt am main: Fischer Verlag, 2009), 105–23.

81 Röger, Kriegsbeziehungen, 144–50 and 205–6.

82 Ibid., 195–7.

83 Ibid., 185–7.

84 Ibid., 151–2.

85 Ibid., 217.

86 Ibid., 54–8, 218–20.

87 Süß, Death from the Skies, vi; Overy, The Bombing War.

88 Süß, Death from the Skies, ix.

89 Ibid., ix.

90 Ibid., 315–21.

91 Ibid., 163–8.

92 Ibid., 184–5.

93 Ibid., 212.

94 Ibid., 220–1.

95 Ibid., 123–32, 198–201, 395 and 545.

96 Ibid., 253–60, 258–59, 544–5.

97 Ibid., 451–2.

98 Ibid., 260–3.

99 Ibid., 267–70.

100 Ibid., 426.

101 Ibid., 327–30.

102 Ibid., 309–10.

103 Ibid., 545.

104 Gerhard, Gesine, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich (Rowman & Littlefield: London, 2015), 85101.

105 Ibid., 63.

106 Ibid., 61 and 122.

107 Ibid., 61.

108 Ibid., 123.

109 See Gerlach, Christian, Kalkulierte Morde: die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weissrussland 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg: Hamburg Edition, 2000); Tooze, Adam, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London: Penguin, 2006), 513–51.

110 Stargardt, The German War, 219.

111 Kershaw, The End, 76.

112 Röger, Kriegsbeziehungen, 64–5, 108–9, 221.

113 See Süß, Death from the Skies, 15.

114 Stargardt, German War, 473–7.

115 Ibid., 7–8 and 517; Keller, Volksgemeinschaft am Ende, 159–62 and 263.

116 Röger, Kriegsbeziehungen; Stargardt, The German War, 397; Süß, Death from the Skies, 274–5.

117 Gailus, Manfred, ‘Keine gute Performance: Die Deutschen Protestanten im “Dritten Reich”’, in Gailus, Manfred and Nolzen, Armin, eds., Zerstrittene “Volksgemeinschaft”: Glaube, Konfession und Religion im Nationalsozialismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), 113.

118 Süß, Death from the Skies, 452.

119 Black, Monica, Death in Berlin: From Weimar to Divided Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 91143.

120 Neitzel, Sönke and Welzer, Harald, Soldaten – On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Transcripts of German POWs (London: Simon & Schuster, 2012). The ongoing potential of these sources is underscored by Mark Roseman in his review, The American Historical Review, 119, 1 (2014), 266.

121 For this established chronology, see Broszat, Henke and Woller, eds., Von Stalingrad zur Währungsreform.

122 Stargardt, German War, 416–7, 564.

123 For the argument that a conscious wartime ‘flight into ignorance’ concerning the Holocaust continued after 1945, see Longerich, Peter, Davon haben wir nichts gewusst!”: Die Deutschen und die Judenverfolgung, 1933–1945 (Munich: Siedler Verlag, 2006), 328; see also, Grossmann, Atina, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 112, 258–9.

124 Ludwig-Hoffmann, Stefan, ‘Germans into Allies: Writing a Diary in 1945’, in Ludwig-Hoffmann, Stefan, Kott, Sandrine, Romjin, Peter and Wieviorka, Oliver, eds., Seeking Peace in the Wake of War: Europe 1943–1947 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015), 66–8; Wierling, Dorothee, ‘Generations as Narrative Communities: Some Private Sources of Public Memory in Postwar Germany’, in Biess, Frank and Moeller, Robert G., eds., Histories of the Aftermath: The Legacies of the Second World War in Europe (New York: Berghahn, 2010), 114; Röger, Kriegsbeziehungen, 216–7.

125 Outstanding existing studies include Goltermann, Svenja, The War in their Minds: German Soldiers and their Violent Pasts in West Germany (Michigan: Michigan University Press, 2017); Biess, Frank, Homecomings: Returning POWs and the Legacies of Defeat in Postwar Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

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Contemporary European History
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