Poland's Daughter


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Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East

Hitler in Mein Kampf: "If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states." p.7

"The struggle for world hegemony," [Hitler] claimed, betraying his constant obsession with World War I, "will be decided for Europe by the possession of Russia's space: this will make Europe the most blockade-proof spot in the world." pp7-8

[When Britain declared war, Hitler] turned to Ribbentrop who kept standing at the window as if frozen. "What now?" [he asked].... His original intention had been to attack the Soviet Union with Polish help, but, when the Poles balked at playing their assigned role, he had hoped to neutralize Great Britain through the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.... The irony, then, was that the nation he had wooed for years [Britain] had now become his implacable enemy while the country that he envisioned as his greatest adversary [Russia] had emerged as his indispensable ally. p 9

Poland would be the first country to experience the full harshness of this [German racial-colonial] policy, a sort of dress rehearsal for what would come later in the Soviet Union.... Meeting with his top commanders at the Berghof on 22 August, Hitler stressed, according to the notes of one present, the "destruction of Poland in the foreground. The aim is elimination of living forces, not the arrival at a certain line.... Have no pity. Brutal attitude. Eighty million [German] people shall get what is their right. Their existence has to be secured. The strongest has the right. Greatest severity." p 18

The terror unleashed on the Polish population from the first days of the invasion left no doubt ... that Hitler's intentions matched his venomous words. Even as local militias composed of ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) began vigilante actions against Poles who had committed outrages against the German minority, Heydrich's [SS] units swept into action, armed with lists of perhaps thirty thousand people to be arrested or executed. On 9 September, Franz Halder confided to Major Helmuth Groscurth the chilling news that "it was the intention of the Führer and Goering to destroy and exterminate the Polish people." Apart from a few mild and scattered protests, ... the army leadership accommodated itself to the new reality. p 18

Nazi leaders now envisioned a comprehensive racial restructuring of Eastern Europe in which Germans would be consolidated in the newly annexed territories of formerly western Poland, Poles would be concentrated in a vassal state to the east, and Jews would be shoved to the outer reaches of the German domain. p20

"Time," Hitler asserted in late September, "will in general work against us when we do not use it effectively. The economic means of the other side are stronger.... Time does not work for us in the military sense either." p25

What Hitler had in mind in October 1939 ... in no way resembled what eventually resulted: a rapid and brilliant blitzkrieg rout of his Western enemies. Instead, he envisioned simply a limited operation to push the western armies out of the Low Countries and northeastern France, seize the Channel ports, and make Germany less vulnerable to Allied counterattack. This would then allow him to turn his attention back to the east. p26

On 18 December 1940, ... he signed Directive No. 21 (Operation Barbarossa), which demanded that the Wehrmacht should Soviet Union in a rapid campaign." p 51

General Friedrich Paulus, the newly appointed deputy chief of the General Staff, resolved the [staff's] conflicting visions by distributing much of the army's reserve units among three army groups, North, Center, and South, each of which would now fight its own separate envelopment battle. What had begun as a single main thrust with a central focus had, by the autumn of 1940, evolved into a three-pronged attack with no clear Schwerpunkt and insuffi cient forces for any of the three army groups to accomplish their tasks. p53

They thus chose to launch a blitzkrieg not over ground favorable for mobile tank warfare, the rolling countryside of Ukraine, and toward the vital oil supplies of the Caucasus, but through the endless expanse of forest and marsh in central Russia, an area of few roads and unsuitable for motorized warfare. p53

Because of the lack of vehicles, over half the units entered Russia the way Napoleon's Grand Army did, on foot with horse-drawn supply wagons. p53

the ultimate goal was a line running roughly from Archangel on the Arctic Sea to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. p55

the German army used almost twice as many horses in World War II as it had in the previous war, 2.7 million as compared to 1.4 million.... the Germans employed some 650,000 horses in their blitzkrieg into Russia. p57

Territories that were of "no economic importance for the conduct of operations, or for the greater German war economy" were to be "economically neglected after the most extensive exploitation." ... A double burden, in fact, would be imposed on these "deficit areas," for the army's supply plan was based on the assumption that the troops would live off the land for the duration of the campaign. Not only would the local population of these areas receive no incoming foodstuffs, but their own inadequate supplies would also first be used to feed the German forces.... At a 2 May conference of state secretaries representing the ministries involved in the occupation, Thomas and Backe spelled out with remarkable clarity what this "hunger policy" meant: p61

"Tens of millions of people will undoubtedly starve to death if that which we require is taken out of the country.... Many tens of millions will become superfluous in those areas and will have to die or emigrate to Siberia....." Himmler certainly understood this, remarking, "It is a question of existence .... a racial struggle of pitiless severity in the course of which twenty to thirty million Slavs and Jews will perish through military actions and crisis of food supply." p62

That it was three hundred miles to the Dvina-Dnieper River line and another seven hundred miles to the Volga in a country with roads that were muddy and nearly impassable for much of the year did not seem to matter. That even the European part of Russia was vastly larger than British India, with which Hitler liked to make comparisons; that it dwarfed the German conquests in Western Europe; that it was a region of rough terrain, harsh climate, and poor infrastructure; that large areas of dense woods and swampy marshlands were perfect for partisan warfare; that the Russian railway system would have to be rebuilt to the narrow-gauge European standard, which required manpower the Germans lacked: all of this seemed not to register. p 81

By 1940, an astonishing 94 percent of German oil imports came from Rumania [to the southeast, vulnerable to Russian attack]. This dependence proved a source of constant worry for Hitler, especially that the Rumanian oil fields might be crippled by Soviet or British bombers. Although the rapid conquests of 1940 had temporarily augmented the stocks of oil available, these increases had been outweighed by a greater liability as the Third Reich was now responsible for supplying the oil needs of both the occupied countries and its oil-poor allies. The stark reality facing the German war machine was inescapable, and, as early as March 1941, General Georg Thomas of the War Economy and Armaments Office had warned that existing stocks of oil would be exhausted by October. The only possibility of alleviating this desperate shortage would be "to seize quickly and exploit the Caucasus oilfields, at least the areas around Maikop and Grozny." p83

In view of the later criticism of his meddling, it is worth mentioning that, in this instance, [Hitler] had a far keener appreciation of the economic weaknesses faced by Germany than did his military advisers. [who wanted to capture Moscow and destroy the Red Army].... In order to win, Germany had to capture the oil fields of the Caucasus as quickly as possible but launched its main effort against Moscow, far to the north. P84

Fierce fighting at Lvov P89

Barbarossa, as Adam Tooze has stressed, thus marked a significant departure: it was not only the most massive military campaign in history, but it also unleashed an unprecedented campaign of genocidal violence, of which the Holocaust remains the best-known example. This Judeocide, however, was not an isolated act of murder; rather, it formed part of a deliberate, comprehensive plan of exploitation, a utopian scheme of racial reorganization and demographic engineering of vast proportions. P92

Generalplan Ost (General plan for the east), developed by Professor Konrad Meyer of Himmler's Reich Commissariat for the Strengthening of the German People (RKFDV). Officially charged by Himmler just one day before the launch of Barbarossa with drawing up a blueprint for the colonization and restructuring of the eastern territories, Meyer presented a first draft of the plan just three weeks later, on 15 July, that clearly indicated that he had been working on the matter for some time. A project that envisioned extensive German settlement and exploitation of the east as well as the forced Germanization, displacement, and expulsion of millions of people, it necessitated the creation of slave labor camps whose inmates would be set to work on the enormous construction projects. Meyer himself foresaw the "resettlement" of 65-85 percent of the Baltic, Polish, Ukrainian, and Belorussian populations, with numbers thrown around ranging from 31 to 51 million people. p93

As orders and encouragement from the top mingled with murderous initiatives from below, a tornadic spiral of violence resulted, one that quickly accelerated the pace of radicalization. p95

an SS report to Berlin confirmed, "The Wehrmacht welcomes the measures and requests a radical approach." p103 (Note that with the fall of Kiev three months have passed and the Wehrmacht is not yet inside the geographic Russia! Get the miles from the frontier to Paris; compare the distance from the 1939 border to Moscow.)

The four Einsatzgruppen and their helpers killed well over 500,000 Soviet Jews in the first six months of Barbarossa in addition to tens of thousands of partisans and Soviet prisoners of war, none of which would have been possible without the willing and active cooperation of the Wehrmacht. p104

Hitler met for five hours on 16 July with Goering, Bormann, Rosenberg, Lammers, and Keitel to discuss and establish fundamental guidelines for the administration and exploitation of the occupied areas. After vowing that Germany would never leave these lands, he proclaimed his intention of creating a "Garden of Eden" for the benefit of all Germans, "our India." The Crimea, the Baltic states, the oil area around Baku, and former Austrian Galicia would be annexed, with the rest to be treated as a "colonial land" to be ruled and exploited by a handful of administrators. pp 105-106 "This vast area must naturally be pacified as quickly as possible," Hitler emphasized. "This will best be done by shooting anyone who even looks sideways at us." 106

German soldier: "The Soviet assaults ... were carried out by masses of men who made no real attempt at concealment but trusted in sheer weight of numbers to overwhelm us.... The whole mass of Russian troops came tramping solidly and relentlessly forward. It was an unbelievable sight, a machine gunner's dream.... At 600 meters we opened fire and whole sections of the first wave just vanished leaving here and there an odd survivor still walking stolidly forward. It was uncanny, unbelievable, inhuman.... Then, as if on a signal, the lines of men began running forward ... [with] a low, rumbling "Hoooooraaay." ... The rush by the fourth wave came on more slowly for the men had to pick their way through a great carpet of bodies...." p112

the stubborn Red Army resistance in Ukraine proved particularly important, for it allowed time to disassemble and remove entire factories from a key industrial region. Estimates of the total number of factories relocated to the Urals, western Siberia, and Kazakhstan vary from fi fteen to twenty-fi ve hundred, with the overwhelming majority related to the armaments industry. Although there were numerous problems with the evacuationindustrial equipment arriving damaged, at the wrong destination, or not at allthe action nonetheless secured roughly 8-10 percent of prewar Soviet productive capacity. Even more remarkably, despite the loss of highly important industrial regions, the Soviets managed to increase their output of key military equipment in 1941. p115

OKW figures from early January 1942 listed a total of 213,301 casualties from 22 June through the end of July 1941, with another 197,000 in August, for a two-month total of roughly 410,000, a figure larger than the total Replacement Army. p116

Hitler himself expressed the dilemma well, complaining to Halder on 26 July, "You cannot beat the Russians with operational successes ... because they simply do not know when they are defeated." p121

[The front gets WIDER as the army gets deeper into the Soviet Union, from Leningrad in the north (Army Group North) to the oilfields of Chechnya in the south (Army Group South), leaching strength away from the assault on Moscow (Army Group Center).]

Halder in his diary 11 Aug: "At the outset of the war we reckoned with about 200 enemy divisions. Now we have already counted 360. These divisions indeed are not armed and equipped according to our standards, and their tactical leadership is often poor. But there they are, and if we smash a dozen of them, the Russians simply put up another dozen." p130

Hitler and Halder had never agreed on the fundamental aims of Barbarossa; with no clarity on the overall goals of the campaign, it had from the start been a muddled gamble on luck and good fortune. With his late August decision to strike south, Hitler implicitly acknowledged that the luck had run out and the gamble had failed. p134

continued in part 2