The Wehrmacht and the War of Extermination against the Soviet Union
Hitler’s concept of the war in the East and the vanquishing of Russia was annihilation of Jewish Bolshevism, provision of Lebensraum for German settlers, decimation and domination of the Slav masses, and exploitation of the economic resources in the conquered countries. The Soviet Union was to be demolished. Initially, the army and the SS agreed that the exterminations would be carried out by the SS, as the army turned a blind eye. However, by the spring of 1941, the Wehrmacht was participating in the unrestricted mass shooting of civilians and burning of villages. Soviet commissars and high-ranking Red Army officers and Jews in the POW camps were exterminated as part of German effort to destroy an ideology. Later, as responsibility for such actions overlapped, low-ranking Russian POWs were also shot or starved to death. Jews were summarily classified as partisans and entire Jewish populations were executed for associating with partisans. The German army cannot be totally condemned for its actions in the East. Military warfare there was mixed with political and police measures. However, the Wehrmacht’s moral guilt in the murder of millions of victims is enormous.