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Sex Crimes under the Wehrmacht

David Raub Snyder

Publication Year: 2007

In this groundbreaking work, David Raub Snyder offers a nuanced investigation into the German army’s prosecution and punishment of sex offenders during the Second World War. In so doing, Snyder restores balance to the literature regarding the military administration of justice under Hitler and to the historiography of sexuality and the Third Reich. Although scholars have devoted considerable attention to military offenses, the literature is largely silent about crimes punishable under civilian law.
In many cases, the Wehrmacht’s response to rape, sexual assault, homosexual “offenses,” child molestation, incest, “racial defilement,” and bestiality often depended on the willingness of the offender to continue to bear arms for his country. Snyder notes that, contrary to conventional wisdom, soldiers on the eastern front often received severe punishments for sexual assaults on Soviet civilians. He demonstrates how military expedience and military justice became entangled and conflicted during the war.
Snyder also analyzes the Wehrmacht's unique penal and parole system, the first treatment of this important topic in the English language. The Wehrmacht’s system functioned as a filtering mechanism that rechanneled willing soldiers back to the front while simultaneously channeling recalcitrant or “incorrigible” soldiers in the opposite direction—to concentration camps for destruction through work at the hands of the SS.
Supported by research in Germany and detailed accounts largely unavailable in English until now, Snyder offers new perspectives on justice under the Wehrmacht and the situations of homosexuals, women, and children during wartime.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Studies in War, Society, & the Military


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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

This project began as an investigation into the Wehrmacht's role as an agent of social conformity under National Socialism. Assuming that courts-martial would have been the ultimate arbiter of appropriate behavior in the Wehrmacht, I turned my attention to the relevant secondary literature...

PART ONE: The Military Administration of Justice: Organization, Structures, and Methods

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1. The Historiography of Wehrmachtjustiz

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pp. 3-18

With few exceptions, scholars have portrayed National Socialist Germany's military judiciary (Wehrmachtjustiz) as a monolithic entity, an organization that must be wholly condemned or wholly praised. The apologists, led by former Wehrmacht jurist Erich Schwinge, depict Nazi...

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2. The Military Administration of Justice, 1933-39

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pp. 19-35

During the revolutionary upheavals of 1848, German liberals criticized special military jurisdiction as a violation of the liberal constitutional principle of the equality of citizens. In the Imperial German era, socialists regarded the military administration of justice as a central feature of Prussian militarism...

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3. Wehrmachtjustiz at War

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pp. 36-62

While the prewar Wehrmacht possessed a strong weapon for the maintenance of Manneszucht--in the form of conservative jurists motivated to atone for 1918, criminal codes purged of liberal mitigation clauses, and special units for the isolation of recalcitrant soldiers...

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4. The Wehrmacht's Penal and Parole System

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pp. 63-95

The Wehrmacht developed a parole system and adapted its penal institutions to meet practical military considerations during the Second World War. These institutions and their practices also found justification in National Socialist ideology. The practice of paroling soldiers...

PART TWO: Sex under the Swastika: The Regime, the Wehrmacht, and the Case Files

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5. Method and Selection of Case Files

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pp. 99-102

The Federal Archives Central Documentation Agency in Aachen- Kornelim√ľnster houses all surviving military judicial case files from the Nazi era in Germany's possession. The collection includes approximately one hundred and ten thousand case files that fell into...

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6. Homosexuality and Violations of Paragraph 175

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pp. 103-132

Perhaps more than any other offense, the Wehrmacht's handling of servicemen convicted for violating paragraph 175, the criminal code against homosexuality, demonstrates its concern for the recycling of usable human matériel and the maintenance of the Wehrgemeinschaft...

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7. Sexual Assault

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pp. 133-168

In cases of sexual assault, the military judicial authorities demonstrated the same pragmatic interest in recycling usable instruments of war that they had in cases of homosexuality. Prisoners' transgressions were measured closely against their service records both at trial and when being considered...

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8. Child Molestation and Incest

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pp. 169-189

The Central Documentation Agency's Eastern Collection contains relatively few case files for processes against individuals molesting children. Therefore, the case files for this chapter were supplemented with child molestation cases handled by air force courts (also contained in the Eastern Collection)...

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9. Racial Defilement and Bestiality

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pp. 190-205

Two categories of sex offenses deserve scrutiny, despite their apparently infrequent occurrence. The first, racial defilement (Rassenschande), or sexual contact between "Aryans" and Jews, is obviously important for this investigation. Anti-Semitism and racial purity were the cornerstones...

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10. Intoxication and Diminished Responsibility

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pp. 206-230

According to Stephen Fritz, German soldiers endured the cold Russian winters only by consuming alcohol.1 Indeed, the heavy use of intoxicating beverages apparently was a widespread problem for the Wehrmacht and was not limited to the eastern front. A high percentage...

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11. Conclusion

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pp. 231-234

According to Lothar Walmrath, continuity existed in the sentencing practices of naval courts during the interwar period, yet they changed markedly after September 1939. In other words, Walmrath found little change in jurisprudence between Weimar and Nazi Germany...


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pp. 235-272


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pp. 273-282


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pp. 283-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780803207424
E-ISBN-10: 0803207425

Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Studies in War, Society, & the Military