Executioners of Convenience - The Wehrmacht's Atrocities on the Ostfront. Genocide and Ideology in a War of Annihilation, 1941-1943
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
Abstract This thesis explores to what degree the Wehrmacht was involved in atrocities on the Eastern Front and the structures that led to this involvement. The goal is to show that the men of the Wehrmacht were incorporated more completely into a genocidal 'war of annihilation' than has been previously thought. It will be demonstrated that the Wehrmacht Heer on the Ostfront cannot be understood as a traditional army conducting a conventional war. However, it was not made up of rabidly anti-Semitic 'willing executioners' either. This research is based mainly on perpetrator testimony, including secret POW recordings, official Wehrmacht documents and soldiers testimonies. Upon examination of these documents, it becomes clear that Wehrmacht Heer units during the Ostkreig were instructed and prepared not only to assist the SS and Einsatzgruppen in prosecuting the Final Solution, but also to act independently as a kind of 'vanguard' of annihilation in their area of operations. In contrast to existing interpretations however, this thesis will argue that in general soldiers did not commit war crimes due to Nazi indoctrination/ingrained anti-Semitism or through peer pressure and brutalisation but because of indiscriminate rules of engagement set within an extremely rigid military structure, which explicitly equated Jews with Bolshevik partisans while considering Soviet POWs and civilians to be expendable.