World War 2 National Socialism and the Holocaust

Chapter 2: Absolute And Total War :: Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “‘A world war, and a war of an extension and violence hitherto undreamt of.’ Just over half a century before the outbreak of the Second World War, Friedrich Engels said that no other kind of war was possible for Germany.”
  • “the maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect”
  • “The conditions for absolute and total war had been developed during the 1920s and 1930s, and reached a climax of intensity in early 1941.”
  • “And unfortunately for others, the greatest civilizations of the time are usually also the most efficient killers. We may admire the Romans’ literature, law, logic, logistics and engineering, but their dominance ultimately rested on being a military superpower. Their army operated like a chainsaw and if they did not enslave any surviving prisoners, they often crucified them. In the twentieth century, which should have been a more civilized age, warfare, to borrow Churchill’s phrase about a new dark age, was made even ‘more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science’.”
  • “War is an act of force and there is no logical limit to the application of that force. Each side therefore, compels the opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes.”
  • “the proportion of the means of resistance that cannot immediately be brought to bear is much higher than might at first be thought. Even when great strength has been expended on the first decision and the balance has been upset, equilibrium can be restored.”
  • “German policy toward Soviet prisoners and civilians in the occupied territories had been formulated even before fighting started in the East. There were three key orders, each of which was the result of complex evolution: the ‘Führer decree’ of 13 May 1941, which limited military jurisdiction in occupied areas, passing responsibility for dealing with criminals and insurgents to the tender mercies of the SS; Guidelines for the Behaviour of the Fighting Forces in Russia, issued on 19 May 1941; and the most notorious document, which grew out of the others and was very much a clarification of one key area, the famous ‘Commissar Order’ (Kommissarbefehl) of 6 June 1941.”
  • “The impending campaign is more than a clash of arms; it also entails a struggle between two ideologies. To conclude this war is not enough, given the vastness of the space, to defeat the enemy forces. The entire territory must be dissolved into states with their own governments … The Jewish-Bolshevik intelligentsia, as the oppressor in the past, must be liquidated.”
  • “prevent arbitrary excess by individual members of the army, so as to be in good time to prevent the degeneration of the troops”
  • “sense of justice must, in certain circumstances, yield to the requirements of war”
  • “Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the National Socialist German people. Germany’s struggle is aimed against that disruptive ideology and its exponents. The struggle demands ruthless and energetic action against Bolshevik agitators, guerrillas, saboteurs, Jews and the complete liquidation of any active or passive resistance. Extreme reserve and most alert vigilance are called for towards all members of the Red Army — even prisoners — as treacherous methods of fighting are to be expected. The Asiatic soldiers of the Red Army in particular are inscrutable, unpredictable, insidious and unfeeling. After the capture of units the leaders are to be instantly separated from the other ranks.”
  • “… war captivity is neither revenge nor punishment but solely protective custody, the only purpose of which is to prevent the prisoners of war from further participation in the war. This principle was developed in accordance with the view held by all armies that it is contrary to military tradition to kill or injure helpless”
  • “Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality. Bolshevism is an enormous danger for our future. We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination. If we do not grasp this, we shall still beat the enemy, but 30 years later we shall again have to fight the Communist foe. We do not wage war to preserve the enemy … This need not mean that the troops should get out of hand. Rather, the commanders must give orders which express the common feeling of their men … Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”
  • “Just as the Soviets were ‘subhuman’ to the Germans, Ehrenburg wrote, ‘we do not regard them as human beings’.46The Germans were ‘wild beasts’, ‘worse than wild beasts’, ‘Aryan beasts’ and ‘starving rats’. A colonel ‘shows his old rat’s yellow fangs’.47 Given the conduct of the Germans, such propaganda obviously worked.”
  • “or killed by the simple Russian winter expedient of pouring cold water over them or throwing them in the sea to freeze to death.”
  • “Red Army commanders were already realizing that such barbarism was counterproductive. Atrocities against prisoners usually increased the enemy’s determination to fight to the death, and prisoners were useful sources of intelligence.”
  • “Horrific brutality by one side was met by horrific brutality on the other. That applied to civilians in occupied territory, as well as to regular troops … The Soviet troops who moved into Germany in 1944 and 1945 were deliberately spurred on to exact revenge.”
  • “‘Have you seen the German reports on what the Soviet troops did when they invaded Germany?’ my German friend asked the guide. ‘I put it to you’, my friend said, ‘that every one of those pictures could be matched with one from eastern Germany later in the war.’‘That may be,’ our guide said. ‘But war is war.’58 If you want to understand war, study this one.”
  • “The Department of Internal Affairs [NKVD] must have its own mobilisation plan, which must take into account the steps necessary to maintain firm order in the national territory during the period when huge masses are torn away from their work in the country and proceed to collection points to flesh out the armies, and the population of the towns doubles to meet the requirements of war industry. The crisis … will be compounded by enemy propaganda, sharpened by the activities of enemies of the existing system, by the hopes which individual national and class groups will have as the ruling class grows weary under the impositions of war. It is essential to think through the measures necessary to maintain order along lines of communications most thoroughly, to take into account all dubious [politically unreliable or disaffected] elements, desertion, enemy intelligence and propaganda, measures for censorship, and so on. And also, if necessary, to substitute special formations made up of reliable elements for military units leaving for the front, or to strengthen the police. Aviation, the radio, the need for an unbroken flow of huge masses of troops to the front, supplying them with munitions, home leave from the active army which was previously unknown [it still was, largely, in the Red Army in 1941–5]. All these factors now merge the front and the rear”
  • “The scale of a future war will be grandiose … in a future war the mobilisation of industry will, first of all, take place in a much shorter time than before and, secondly, in this short time industry will produce much more military hardware than in the past war … The future (gryadushaya) world imperialist war will not only be a mechanised war, during which huge material resources will be used up, but, together with this, it will be a war which will embrace multi-million-strong masses and the majority of the population of the combatant nations. The frontiers between the front and the rear will be erased more and more.”

Thought Questions

  • Explain and Expand: “His vision would apply to Soviet Russia, as well as to Germany, and the 1941–5 war on the eastern front was its extreme fulfilment.”
  • What does the author intend by the phrase “absolute war”
  • Who was Carl von Clausewitz and how were his doctrines illustrated on the Eastern Front?
  • Explain and Expand: “Conflict dynamics are therefore a reciprocal process”
  • Explain and Expand: “And, finally, effort in war comprises two interrelated and inseparable factors: the means at your disposal and the strength of your will.”
  • What was Article IV of the Hague Convention of 1907 and how did the various combatants relate to it
  • What moral and materials obligations does a nation agree to under Article IV
  • What were the pragmatic reasons for Stalin and Hitler to disregard the laws of war relating to prisoners
  • Why did Stalin and Hitler have little interest in the welfare of the soldiers being held prisoner by the other
  • What factors impacted the treatment of prisoners on the Eastern Front
  • Compare and Contrast: Prisoner treatment on the Eastern Front and the Western / North African Front (including black colonial troops).
  • Explain and Expand: “The scale, extent and awesome logistical problems of the war on the eastern front compounded this indifference.”
  • Describe how the political nature of the war became an “Absolute War”
  • What is Clausewitz’s ‘Trinity’ and how is it reflected in the Eastern Front
  • How does Clausewitz’s ‘Trinity’ reflect on the Western Front
  • React and Respond: “the best-known Jewish intellectual, Leon Trotsky (who was not a Bolshevik)”
  • Side question: If Trotsky was not a Bolshevik (a supporter, but not a believer), how would the substitution of Menshevik leadership he (supposedly) sought have impacted the Soviet ability to conduct an “Absolute War” – in other words, how would a theoretical Trotskyite Soviet Government compare of the actual Stalinist government in the conduct of “Absolute War” (for the purpose of this question, assume Trotsky himself actually believed in “Trotskyism”)
  • What is distinct about Bolshevism and how does it relate to other forms / branches of European Communism
  • Affirm or Refute: Bolshevism is Leninism
  • Why did Hitler and Nazi Germany use the term “Bolshevism” consistently as opposed to other possible labels?
  • What connections did Nazi Germany seek to attach to “Bolshevism”?
  • Explain and Expand: “The Führer decree of 13 May 1941 was passed on to the army by its commander-in-chief, Walther von Brauchitsch”
  • Explain and Expand: “The idea that depriving Soviet people of their leaders would render them incapable of organized action and the emphasis on eliminating the Soviet ‘boss class’ recur throughout German instructions.”
  • Explain and Expand: Guidelines for the Behaviour of the Fighting Forces in Russia
  • Explain and Expand: Guidelines on the Treatment of Political Commissars
  • What role did Brauchitsch fill in the Third Reich and what were his responsibilities during Operation Barbarossa
  • In what ways did Brauchitsch implement the “Commissar” order
  • What were the Einsatzgruppen?
  • Explain and Expand: “However, when the German advance slowed, the Army High Command (OKH) supported initiatives to get the Commissar Order cancelled, because, they said, it was counterproductive.”
  • Who was Fedor von Bock? Who was Wilhelm Canaris and how did they react to the Commissar Order?
  • Who was Wilhelm Keitel and how did he relate to the Commissar Order
  • Who was Franz Halder and how did he relate to the Commissar Order
  • What was “OKW” and “OKH” and how did they relate?
  • Explain and Expand: “The Germans captured a number of documents which showed that the Red Army command was trying to stop the killing of prisoners, which, of course, confirms that it was happening.”
  • What was the NKVD
  • Compare and Contrast: NKVD and the SS
  • Compare and Contrast: NKVD and the SD
  • Compare and Contrast: The Checka, The O/GPU and the NKVD
  • Briefly describe the GULag Concentration Camp System and the role it filled in Soviet Industrialization
  • Compare and Contrast: the goals and purpose of the KL and GULag concentration camp systems
  • Compare and Contrast: the goals and purpose of the GULag system and the Nazi Death Camp system.
  • What is the significance of “My hand didn’t tremble. It was a joy for me … The Germans didn’t ask us to spare them and I was angry … I fulfilled my task. And I went back into the office and had a drink.”
  • Explain and Expand: ” Soviet preparations to avoid a repeat of Russia’s fate in the First World War — preparations for total, modern, industrialized war — began in 1924–5”
  • React and Respond: “In a conflict of first-class opponents, the decision cannot be won by one blow. War will take the character of a long and fierce conflict… Expressed in the language of strategy, this means a change from the strategy of lightning blows to a strategy of exhaustion. Thus the bond between the front and rear in our days must become much more close, direct and decisive. The life and work of the front at any given moment are determined by the work and condition of the rear.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Just as Engels had predicted a war of unprecedented scope and violence”
  • Explain and Expand: “With no immediate threat of war — apart from a brief scare in 1927 — they could afford to play it long. … But in the vast spaces of the Soviet Union, German forces could exercise unobserved by the signatories of Versailles.”
  • Briefly describe the process of forced industrialization in the Soviet Union and how the overall European situation after World War I impacted its development?
  • Explain and Expand: Chemical Warfare and Absolute War in the context of the Eastern Front (no one has ever really answered this, but an attempt is needed)

Primary Sources

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