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German WWII Military History

Attended a seminar given by Jurgen Forster of the Military Research Institute (Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt), one of the authors of the insanely huge and highly acclaimed (but horrendously expensive) Germany and the Second World War, Volume IV: The Attack on the Soviet Union. At over 1300 pages and $250 American it is unlikely to appeal to the general reader but probably should be on your reading list if you are serious about the war against Germany. The book is more a collection of monographs. The chapters are by different authors who sometimes do not agree.

As one might expect, military history in general and the Second World War in particular are not favourite research subjects or the source of popular best-sellers in Germany but the Military Research Institute in Potsdam is devoted to just that. Forster belongs to what he describes as the "second wave" of revisionist WWII historians. Although very divided politically, they have a very in-your-face attitude towards their subject, which is just as well. Their attitude is that Germany is their country, that if they cannot understand it nobody can and a thorough understanding of events from both sides of the Second World War will be invaluable to future understanding of the conflict.

A recent display at their museum in Dresden highlighted the problem. A photograph was displayed of a German officer putting a noose around a Russian woman's neck (she had forged ID on her, so was considered a partisan or a spy). The officer was recognised by one of the museum visitors as a a relative. This caused a considerable stir.

His seminar was entitled "Wehrmacht, War and the Holocaust". He traced the gradual involvement of the military in what eventually became the Holocaust - the organised murder of millions of people. He traced the influence of National Socialism on the military and the way in which the German ar against partisans in Russia degenerated. Considerable effort has been put into the detail of determining who knew what and when, something which even the participants could be very hazy about (some with excellent reasons) in the aftermath.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
27th Nov, 2004 21:24 (UTC)
Forster belongs to what he describes as the "second wave" of revisionist WWII historians.

What does that mean? I thought that revisionist WWII historians were all "no, the holocaust didn't happen, it was all Jewish propaganda". But this fellow seems to be the opposite.
Me confused.

28th Nov, 2004 00:03 (UTC)
The first wave of revisionist WWII German historians wrote in the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike the generation before them, they had no first hand knowledge of the war, which had its advantages and disadvantages. While it gave them that crucial distant required for criticality, they found it hard to argue with people with first-hand experience, and the documents were locked away. The "second generation" appeared around the turn of the century, with another quarter century of distance between themselves and the war and fully armed with the documents.

A major difference between the two can be seen in the seminar title. In the 1970s and 80s there were many books on the Holocaust but they were not by military historians. Military historians chronicle armies and wars and this was not seen as part of that. The new historians do not agree and are taking a broader view of the role of the military and the military historian.
28th Nov, 2004 01:44 (UTC)
28th Nov, 2004 15:04 (UTC)
I have had someone tell me recently that there were not six million Jews in europe at the outbreak of WW2, so the figure widely quoted for the holocaust was erroneous.
Perhaps it may be, but I thought it still correct to assume that the Nazis did attempt to obliterate the Jewish population.
A lot of stuff I didn't know suddenly came up. The things I had read in the sixties about soap made from human fat were being discounted by jewish writers... I mean - what was going on?
I think it fair to say that maybe the exact figures will never be known, but the Holocaust, as a planned exercise to eradicate Jewish people within the territory of the 3rd Reich surely happened.
I would seriously like to know what a professional like yourself has to say.
29th Nov, 2004 01:29 (UTC)
Historians agree that there were about 9.5 million Jews in Europe before the war but of course not all of them lived in countries occupied by the Nazis. The figure of close to 6 million was obtained by adding up the loss of population by 1945. This represents a lot of factors. In addition, a great many other people besides Jews were victims of the Nazi extermination campaign, including Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and communists. I agree with you that exact figures will never be known.

The Holocaust is an historical fact.

There is a school of thought amongst undergraduates that a skillfully argued essay with get high marks despite the absence of factual content. This is an error. It will get an F.

The Germans have brought the study of documents to a fine art. Through looking at the initials and comments in margins, they are reconstructing who knew what and when.

This isn't my field but I do remember doing some research into the involvement of the German Army and Air Force (Luftwaffe) in the concentration camps. Of course, the work they are doing in Germany tracks far more than just that. They are looking at the hows, whys and wherefores as well as simply what and when.

Even in the 1980s there were books appearing saying that only the General SS served in concentration camps. (The SS had four branches, General (Allgemeine), Armed (Waffen), Police (Polizei) and the Death's Head (Totenkopf). All four could be found in a typical camp. The Totenkopf were actually raised as concentration camp guards! They are the ones who killed the 97 British POWs at Calais in 1940.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )