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  • The War Behind the Eastern Front: The Soviet Partisan Movement in North-West Russia 1941–44
  • Edward B. Westermann
The War Behind the Eastern Front: The Soviet Partisan Movement in North-West Russia 1941–44. By Alexander Hill. New York: Frank Cass, 2005. ISBN 0-7146-5711-5. Photographs. Tables. Figures. Glossary. Notes. Sources. Index. Pp. xxv, 195. $115.00.

Alexander Hill's study focuses on identifying "the successes and failures of the Soviet partisan movement as a military force in the context of German occupation policy and particularly anti-partisan measures" (p. 4). First, Hill argues against the view that it was the harsh nature of German occupation policy that turned the local population against the invaders and catalyzed a growth in the strength and effectiveness of the Soviet partisan movement. Second, he challenges the orthodox Soviet depiction of a widespread and popular partisan movement that was guided and directed by the Communist Party.

It is with respect to the second point that Hill's research and analysis prove most convincing as he outlines the organizational structure, composition, activities, and objectives of the Soviet partisans in the northwest region [End Page 535] between 1941 and 1944. Likewise, Hill attempts an objective examination of the contentious issue of collaboration, including the situational and dispositional reasons that led a "core of civilian and anti-Soviet elements" to cooperate with German authorities. Based on his analysis of Soviet sources, he also argues that the military effectiveness of the Soviet partisans proved far more circumscribed than previously presented in the traditional historiography.

Hill's most ambitious argument revolves around the issue of the true nature of the German antipartisan operations and the Wehrmacht's justification for a ruthless campaign aimed at this threat. He contends that a real partisan threat existed as early as 1941 and he disagrees with the characterization of German forces fighting a "partisan war without partisans" made by Hannes Heer and others. Although admitting the brutality of the German antipartisan campaign, Hill categorically rejects the view that this campaign served as a mere pretext for the Nazi regime's larger annihilative aims in the East. However, it is on this point that Hill's work reveals a lack of sufficient research in the available German archival sources and an imperfect understanding of the nature and organization of the entire Wehrmacht and SS and Police antipartisan effort.

Despite the inclusion of captured German documents from Russian archives, the work suffers from an incomplete examination of available German archival sources, with only a cursory sampling of collections from the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv and the collections of captured German documents held at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In but one example, Hill uses NARA material on the 281st Security Division, one of three Security Divisions in his region, but fails to cite the records of the 207th Security Division held in the same collection. The records of the 207th offer key insights into the nature of the partisan war in Army Group North as well as the contest between Wehrmacht and SS and Police forces for control of this campaign. With respect to this last point, Hill's discussion of the organizational structure, composition, and activities of the Security Divisions, SS formations, and police forces operating in the region requires significantly greater detail and explanation in order to support his broader assertions about the nature of the German antipartisan campaign. For example, Hill notes that the 2d SS Brigade operated in the area, but does not mention that this unit was part of the Heinrich Himmler's Command Staff RFSS, which played a major part in the implementation of Nazi racial policy against both Jews and Slavs in the East. Nor does he mention the significance of Hitler's appointment of Himmler to head the antipartisan effort in the summer of 1942. Such oversights and omissions undermine Hill's broader thesis concerning the true aim of the German antipartisan effort.

In the end, Hill's work provides new insights into the specific nature and structure of the Soviet partisan movement in northwest Russia; however, his findings about the potentially unique nature of the German antipartisan campaign...


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pp. 535-537
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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