Crafting the Myth of the German Soldier on the Eastern Front, 1941-1944
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In 1941 three million Wehrmacht troops overran the border between German- and Soviet-occupied Poland, racing toward the USSR in the largest military operation in modern history. Over the next four years, they embarked on a campaign of wanton brutality, murdering countless civilians, systemically starving millions of Soviet prisoners of war, and actively participating in the genocide of Eastern European Jews. After the war, however, German servicemen insisted that they had fought honorably and that their institution had never involved itself in Nazi crimes.
Drawing on more than two thousand letters from German soldiers, contextualized by operational and home front documents, Harrisville shows that this myth was the culmination of long-running efforts by the army to preserve an illusion of respectability in the midst of a criminal operation. The primary authors of this fabrication were ordinary soldiers cultivating a decent self-image and developing moral arguments to explain their behavior by drawing on a constellation of values that long preceded Nazism.
The Virtuous Wehrmacht explains how the army encouraged troops to view themselves as honorable representatives of a civilized nation, not only racially but morally superior to others. -- Cornell University Press
Forlag: Cornell University Press
Format: 23 x 15 cm
"Scholars have long understood how Nazi values infiltrated and infused the Wehrmacht leadership. In seeking to illustrate the self-awareness of average soldiers, Harrisville has broadened the scope of the study to include the ranks. [H]e provides readers with five thematic chapters, each of which explores a different aspect of the self-perception and moral self-justification of the soldiers. In what is perhaps the clearest illustration of the Nazi ability to mold traditional values to fit their own ideology, Harrisville notes the ways in which the Wehrmacht utilized concepts such as duty, honor, sacrifice, and comradeship, along with notions of upright conduct, to enable the men to see their actions in both a legal and virtuous context."»
"The Virtuous Wehrmacht provides new insight into the feelings of the Germans who fought there."»
1. Honorable Self and Villainous Other: Value Systems in the Wehrmacht
2. Rationalizing Atrocities: Self-Exoneration in Soldiers' Letters
3. The "Crusaders": Religious Justifications for Barbarossa
4. The "Liberators": Barbarossa as an Emancipatory Act
5. Death and Victimhood: Cultivating Moral Superiority through Burial Practices
Conclusion: A Myth Is Born -- Cornell University Press