- Nazi Policy on the Eastern Front, 1941: Total War, Genocide, and Radicalization edited by Alex J. Kay, Jeff Rutherford, and David Stahel
Nazi Policy on the Eastern Front, 1941 brings together eleven essays by members of an international group of mostly younger scholars with the goal of contributing to our understanding of the “cumulative radicalization” that drove Nazi policy in the Soviet Union to ever greater extremes of barbarism in 1941.
Several of the essays are very valuable. Alex Kay examines the evolution of German food policy over the course of 1940–1941 in impressive detail. Even before [End Page 495] Barbarossa, German leaders had begun to recognize that the looming economic and agricultural crisis could potentially be solved by territorial gains in Ukraine and other Soviet lands. Herbert Backe, state secretary in the Reich Ministry for Food and Agriculture, developed a plan to solve the food problem; it envisioned the starvation of “tens of millions” (p. 108) of Russians in both German-occupied territories and Soviet areas dependent on imported Ukrainian grain. Kay extensively documents the evolution of Backe’s proposal in a way that concretely demonstrates the process of radicalization in this particular area of Nazi policy.
Thomas Laub provides one of the strongest contributions to the collection. He finds clear evidence of the influence that plans for and experiences in the Soviet Union had on German occupation policy in France. In one of the clearest examples of “radicalization,” Nazi policy in Occupied France evolved from one that generally observed the international laws of war to one that closely resembled the devastating war in the East.
Two of the essays treat military policy explicitly in an effort to demonstrate that, at both a strategic and an operation level, combat contributed directly to the overall process of radicalization in the East. David Stahel looks at the strategic level in an essay that summarizes portions of his excellent first book, Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East (2009). In both works, Stahel highlights the deception practiced by the German High Command (and Franz Halder in particular)—a deception that masked a fundamental disagreement between the military leadership and Hitler over the aims of Barbarossa. The military planned a drive on Moscow with the bulk of the Wehrmacht while simultaneously allowing Hitler to believe that the plan revolved around his priorities in Leningrad and the resource-rich southern territories. All those involved blinded themselves to the nature of Soviet strength and underestimated the resources required to conquer that nation. When these ruses and disparities of expectation became obvious in the fall of 1941, a crisis ensued that pushed both military and civilian planners to ever more radical military and occupation policies.
Adrian E. Wettstein argues that German planners failed to develop an effective doctrine for urban warfare, treating cities as geographic rather than operational objectives (p. 50). As a result, German units often got bogged down in urban fighting, applying massive quantities of artillery in an effort to root out stubborn defenders and suffering serious casualties of their own in the process. The Soviet decision to defend cities “even at the price of massive destruction of their infrastructure and heavy civilian losses” (p. 53) led the Germans to support more strongly a policy of starvation and even to consider the use of poison gas.
A few of the essays treat the origins of mass murder in particular locales. Leonid Rein looks at the case of Belorussia to find the origins of the Holocaust in the “euphoric” days of German victory in the summer of 1941. Martin Holler attributes to Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D, the escalation of violence against the Soviet Roma population in the Crimea. In fact, many of the victims had abandoned the itinerant ways that Ohlendorf and others later used to justify their [End Page 496] extermination. Racial hatreds seem to have motivated Ohlendorf to treat the Roma as equivalent...