As the Cold War followed on the heels of the Second World War, as the Nuremburg Trials faded in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, both the Germans and the West were quick to accept the idea that Hitler's army had been no SS, no Gestapo, that it was a professional force little touched by Nazi politics. But in this compelling account Omer Bartov reveals a very different history, as he probes the experience of the average soldier to show just how thoroughly Nazi ideology permeated the army.
In Hitler's Army, Bartov focuses on the titanic struggle between Germany and the Soviet Union--where the vast majority of German troops fought--to show how the savagery of war reshaped the army in Hitler's image. Both brutalized and brutalizing, these soldiers needed to see their bitter sacrifices as noble patriotism and to justify their own atrocities by seeing their victims as subhuman. In the unprecedented ferocity and catastrophic losses of the Eastrn front, he writes, soldiers embraced the idea that the war was a defense of civilization against Jewish/Bolshevik barbarism, a war of racial survival to be waged at all costs. Bartov describes the incredible scale and destruction of the invasion of Russia in horrific detail. Even in the first months--often depicted as a time of easy victories--undermanned and ill-equipped German units were stretched to the breaking point by vast distances and bitter Soviet resistance. Facing scarce supplies and enormous casualties, the average soldier sank to ta a primitive level of existence, re-experiencing the trench warfare of World War I under the most extreme weather conditions imaginable; the fighting itself was savage, and massacres of prisoners were common. Troops looted food and supplies from civilians with wild abandon; they mercilessly wiped out villages suspected of aiding partisans. Incredible losses led to recruits being thrown together in units that once had been filled with men from the same communities, making Nazi ideology even more important as a binding force. And they were further brutalized by a military justice system that executed almost 15,000 German soldiers during the war. Bartov goes on to explore letters, diaries, military reports, and other sources, showing how widespread Hitler's views became among common fighting men--men who grew up, he reminds us, under the Nazi regime. In the end, they truly became Hitler's army.
In six years of warfare, the vast majority of German men passed through the Wehrmacht and almost every family had a relative who fought in the East. Bartov's powerful new account of how deeply Nazi ideology penetrated the army sheds new light on how deeply it penetrated the nation. Hitler's Army makes an important correction not merely to the historical record but to how we see the world today.
"Insightful, stimulating, compelling, controversial. Students read it, understand it, debate it, and are edified by it."--Otto M. Nelson, Texas Tech University "Bartov's book is fascinating. It certainly flies--and flies well!--in the face of the traditional interpretation of the Wehrmacht's wartime attitudes."--D.R. Dorondo, Western Carolina University
"An important new book....Rather convincingly, Bartov asserts that the savagery of war reshaped the Werhmacht in Hitler's image and that the Wermcht embraced the idea of war as a defence of civilization against 'Jewish/Bolshevik barbarism.'"--Canadian Jewish News (Toronto)
"A unique interpretation of a much disputed subject."--T.E. Smuck, University of Hawaii, Hilo
"Excellent study. Reflects keen insights into the links between Hitler's social revolution and the war in the East."--Ronald Smelser, University of Utah
"Exciting new insights."--Alvin D. Coox, San Diego State University
"Impressively researched and imaginatively presented....No one will be able to ignore his argument, which is solidly based on primary sources (military records, letters, diaries) and skillfully informed by the latest published scholarship. This book is an impressive achievement."--American Historical Review
"Exciting and provocative....A chilling reminder of how rapidly State-led violence can degenerate into military barbarism."--Observer (London)
"With liberal quotes from letters, diaries and military reports, Bartov successfully challenges the notion that the German Army during WW II was apolitical and reveals how thoroughly permeated it was by Nazi ideology."--Publisher's Weekly
"Well-written....If you're interested in this subject, I must recommend Omer Bartov's effort. It's the best book I've ever read on the subject."--Monitor (Texas)
"Persuasively argued....Thought-provoking, widely researched, and explicitly revisionist."--Choice
"Drawing upon a large base of interesting primary sources, Bartov effectively refutes apologetic postwar statements and memoirs by German generals (such as Guderian) who disclaimed all knowledge of, let alone particpation in, war crimes."--The Historian
"Bartov argues quite convincingly that these conceptions are nothing but postwar myths created by victorious allies, eager to place the blame for atrocities of a scale beyond most imaginations on the Nazi leadership and the SS, by elite Nazi political soldiers and by a conquered German population anxious to deny the horrific events for which they might by held responsible....Bartov's volume...is invaluable for students of World War II. Hitler's Army
broaches a truth denied in the past. Bartov's scholarship is convincing and, after reading his work, many commonly held concepts seem naive."--Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky
"This fascinating book offers an unexpected and disturbing insight into the German character, with its possible effects on the European Community."--Scottish Book Advertiser
"It is an interesting interpretation of why German soldiers fought so hard with so little."--R. Cole, Luther College
"The author must be congratulated for his extensive research. Many of his conclusions are valid as well as helpful."--Douglas W. Richmond, University of Texas at Arlington
"While Bartov's book is important in its own right as a contribution to a contentious debate about the nature of nazi Germany, this brief summary should indicate that it also has implications for the study of armies and warfare beyond the period of the Third Reich."--Bob Moore, The English Historical Review