Can the Wehrmacht be absolved?

They were just soldiers fighting for their country, right? Not Nazis. Comrades in arms, brave fighters, etc.

Three Arrows says no, and I learned a lot of things. The Holocaust and WWII were not separate things.

The officer class was fully enrolled in the antisemitic agenda, and were explicitly committed to genocide and enslavement. They kept their soldiers informed of the same, and they all knew exactly what they were fighting for. In particular, you have to sympathize with how Russia was shaped by this event: the Eastern Front wasn’t just a war, it was a campaign to exterminate the native population and enslave the few survivors to serve as captive labor to German colonizers. The Wehrmacht knew this. How could they not?

Don’t get cocky, fellow Americans. He ends on this quote from an American president.



  1. says

    The European conquest of North America was also consciously and avowedly genocidal. There wasn’t just one U.S. president involved, there was every single president until well into the 20th Century. Let us have no illusions.

  2. says

    That video by Three Arrows is excellent, although I did not learn much that would be new. As someone living in a former “eastern bloc” country and someone with mostly Slavic ancestry, I learned this stuff at school. But I love Three Arrows, he really is doing an excellent job jere.

  3. barbaz says

    The eastern front war is literally called “war of annihilation”. Doesn’t really sound like they planned to honor the Geneva conventions.

    The problem with cops, or the confederate army, or the Wehrmacht is how to distinguish between the organization and it’s members. For example, the officer at 23:00 in the video. He says he is abhorred by what happened, but he still was a part of it. How much blame does he deserve? Some people were forced to participate, others thought their actions were justified because of lifelong indoctrination. I am really uncertain by which standards individuals can be evaluated.

    But what I am very certain about is that those who defend the organization by claiming that individual members were innocent good people are deliberately using a motte-and-bailey fallacy to hide their reactionary agenda.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    BTW, to save others the trouble of typing the quote into Google to find the source as I just did: the president is Taft.

  5. says

    I was thinking not long ago that Germany did surprisingly well for a nation which almost entirely missed the whole ‘colonial empire’ phase of western European history. I guess they had to make up the lost ground somehow.

  6. says

    The same can be said about the US Army during the 19th Century and the war against not only the Native Americans but the Mexicans as well. Heck, growing up with Vietnam vets I heard enough stories about the stuff that went down that isn’t in history books that the US Army was doing similar things as well (wonton use of Agent Orange, Napalm, etc).

  7. says

    The problem with cops, or the confederate army, or the Wehrmacht is how to distinguish between the organization and it’s members.

    Why distinguish? Unless they were conscripted or otherwise were under compulsion, they were willing participants.

    Countries go to great lengths to excuse the individual participants in their wars. That’s not an accident, and it’s bullshit. It’s necessary bullshit if they want to have more wars, that is all. Saying that it’s hard to distinguish implies that the individuals lack moral agency. Oh, really? How does putting on a uniform magically erase that? Those providing the uniforms wish it were so, but it rather obviously is not.

  8. canadiansteve says

    The better question is how do you distinguish between those who drive the culture that produces the armies of a genocide and those that are the patsies (and willing cooperators) that put the uniform on and do the dirty work. How does a child growing up in a culture that glorifies the subjugation of others ever have a chance to think anything different? If the news constantly portrays an identifiable group as stupid, evil, brutish, conspiring etc…. and doesn’t challenge the culture, then how can things change? If the owners of a network make boatloads of cash and gain access to the levers of power through presenting such evil material on their platforms, what is the incentive not to do so?
    I’m increasingly convinced the real problem is the media landscape, and in particular in this new internet age social media, and the lack of responsibility for what is said. It’s a situation that can only be escaped through massive regulation – which you can imagine will both be extremely challenging to do in the face of censorship cries, and also incredibly challenging to do well, to walk the line between valid information and spin.
    Social media companies have said that if they are made liable for what others write on their networks then they will cease to exist…. maybe that’s a good thing.

  9. unclefrogy says

    the discussion and the controversy here so parallels the discussion and controversy that still lingers over the US Civil War and the “patriots” who fought it and looks to be a very difficult problem to resolve.
    To accept the history and the events as what they were is a start. The problem then becomes what are our actions today going to be.
    any defense of the past that deliberately minimizes the ultimately destructive and racist nature of the conflict is just a continuation of it. This dividing of peoples in order to control and exploit them is a necessary part of authoritarian control and rule
    I do like three arrows his courage to look thing in the face without flinching and follow where it leads allows me some optimism.
    uncle frogy

  10. says

    About 20 years ago (holy fuck, that long?) there was a “Wehrmachtsausstellung” on the crimes and complicity of the Wehrmacht in the Nazi regime. That debate was over at the last back then. There was also a right wing terrorist attack on the exposition and we had to walk through metal detectors to enter.
    As for the complicity : I had two German grandfathers in the Wehrmacht. One was a member of the Waffen SS, and while the c experience of the war greatly sobered him, it was mostly “horrors happening to him” that made him rethink the whole idea.
    The other one was an antifascist who got conscripted Christmas 44. Before that he’d been “essential” as a miner, but then they no longer cared about making sure there would be supplies in 6 months because they knew they wouldn’t last anyway, but still prolonged the war as much as they could.
    If you want to get a good picture, look up the dudes who get hailed as “Resistance fighters” for the failed attempt to murder Hitler in July 44: high ranking militaries who happily organized the “Vernichtungskrieg” (destruction/extermination war) in the east and only tried to stop Hitler to get better conditions for a ceaefire.

  11. says

    Oh, but “America is great because America is good!” And also “The United States is an exceptional nation. It’s not just that we have the greatest military, or that our economy is larger than any on Earth, it’s also the strength of our values. Our power comes with a responsibility to lead.” Of course, that speaker lied us into one war and voted as Senator for another one based on lies, and supported the creation of the DHS and ICE, and also the PATRIOT Act, so their idea of “values” is probably not very close to those held by anybody here… although I know for a fact that many of the commenters on this board were big fans.

    @#5, Ian King:

    Germany did have a colonial empire. It was just smaller than most of the others, and was mostly in Africa so lots of Americans and Europeans aren’t aware that it happened. It did.

  12. unclefrogy says

    yes I am sorry to say mostly ignorant “working class” kept that way by constant propaganda of American exceptionalism and the dreams of “making it”
    uncle frogy

  13. microraptor says

    @11: Yes. A large part of that being due to how the US swept many of Germany’s war crimes under the rug in order to recruit scientists in Operation Paperclip. A similar thing happened with Japan.

  14. says

    “America is great because America is good” is usually attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, although the attribution is spurious. But anyone who says this thinks they are quoting him. I’m not sure what you mean by saying that Hillary Clinton lied us into one war. She did vote for the AUMF but she wasn’t the one telling the lies, and the Patriot Act. I don’t think anyone here excuses her for that, however, though most of us did prefer her to the opponent in 2016.

  15. robro says

    In the early 70s I was working in a hospital in Sarasota, Florida for my alternative service as a CO. There were quite a few COs working at the hospital so resisting the draft was a topic of conversation. There was an older fellow who worked with us who was German and a retired circus perform. In the context of “that wasn’t available for me”, he related his WWII story: When he was conscripted by the German army he wanted no part of it and so hid in his sister’s basement for months. Eventually the police threatened the whole family, so he came out of hiding and went into the army. He was trained as a medic and sent to Yugoslavia as a lieutenant. This was a particularly dangerous assignment he said because “Tito” put a bounty on German officers. He was captured by the Russians and sent to an internment camp there. He eventually made it back to Germany and then came to the US to work for Ringling Brothers.

    I don’t know if his story was true, but he was certainly an acrobat. At 60+ years, he could still do one-armed hand stands on the back of chairs.

  16. René says

    @14, Vicar. “Germany did have a colonial empire.” in your answer to Ian King. At some point they ‘owned’ the NE of Papua. They also colonized what now is Namib (in Trump parlance to keep it simple for you, Trump enablers).

    In Namibia they trained their genocidal skills.

  17. pacal says

    Before the First World War Imperial Germany was in fact involved in a war which has very unpleasant similarities to the War of Extermination in East of the Second World War. I am referring to the War in German South West Africa in 1904-1907. This war against the Herero and Namaqua people turned into a genocide in which more than 70% of the Herero people perished and more than 50% of the Namaqua. One of the German commanders, von Trotha, issued during the campaign what has been called the Extermination Order which called for the killing of all Herero who didn’t flee to neighbouring countries. Rather sadly von Trotha was regarded by many has a hero and his Extermination Order widely applauded. The Nazi like implications are obvious.

  18. says


    “The problem with cops, or the confederate army, or the Wehrmacht is how to distinguish between the organization and it’s members.”

    You don’t. The members ARE the organization.

  19. René says

    BTW. By Trump enablers I effing well mean all USAnians. Get your acts together Murricans.

    Get your neighbours to VOTE

  20. says

    @#17, cervantes:

    The UK’s intelligence report on NATO’s Libya attack demonstrates that, based on the internal evidence contained in her presentation, Hillary Clinton was completely aware that the Obama administration’s case for attacking Libya was entirely based on lies, just like the Iraq war. Obama said, later, that most people in the administration were on the fence about the idea, and it was Hillary Clinton who really wanted it and pushed everybody else into supporting it. So, yes, she did lie us into a war, as well as voting for Bush’s lies.

    The fact that she and her ilk — like the odious Biden, who has us listening to Republicans more than Democrats at the actual fucking convention — were not tossed out of the party at the first opportunity, and were instead rewarded, over and over and over again, tells us that the Democratic Party has to go, just like the Republicans do. As long as the Democrats keep giving us Clintons, the Republicans will be free to keep giving us Trumps.

    (And although she may have thought she was quoting De Tocqueville, that specific formulation of the quotation is not the one sometimes credited to him, and is a direct quotation from one of her speeches.)

  21. says

    One of my great uncles on the maternal side was conscripted in Wehrmacht in WW2 and after some time in service got transfer order to SS Waffen. He wanted no part of it – what he has been forced to do in Wehrmacht alone was enough – so he swallowed a bullet.
    Wehrmacht was an abominable organization under the Nazi regime, but membership was not voluntary, not for the low ranking members. People were conscripted, towards the end of the war when the regime was getting desperate even as young as teenage boys. Many were painfully aware that they only have one choice available to them – either serve or die. I do not know what I would choose in that situation.

  22. barbaz says

    “Why distinguish? Unless they were conscripted or otherwise were under compulsion, they were willing participants.”

    Yes, many Wehrmacht soldiers were conscripted. And others joined because they genuinely believed they were defending their fatherland and by the time shit went real they were too brainwashed or it was too late get out anyway.

  23. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    The need to distinguish between the leaders and the common soldiers of the losing side is really a fairly modern phenomenon. Up until the Enlightenment, both would either be slaughtered or sold into slavery. War was about land, and getting the current occupants out of the land was the point.

    Nowadays, you need to kill or otherwise punish a sufficient number of the leaders to discredit the leadership and its prevailing ideology, but leave enough of the rank and file to rebuild from the rubble. The only Confederate leader who suffered any great punishment was Jeff Davis, who was imprisoned under pretty nasty conditions for several years. Even Bobby Lee went on to be a College President. Longstreet even served as one of Sherman’s pallbearers.

    At the end of a war, creating the peace takes precedence over retaliation. In a particularly vicious war, you may have a few exemplary sacrifices, but hell, there is a reason why Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are busier than war crimes tribunals–and it ain’t a lack of war crimes.

  24. Rob Grigjanis says

    Charly @24:

    People were conscripted, towards the end of the war when the regime was getting desperate even as young as teenage boys.

    Yeah, my dad (just turned 17) was drafted as a Luftwaffenhelfer (Air defence auxiliary) in Latvia in 1944. He got severe abdominal wounds in an Allied attack, and nearly died. In fact, both my parents escaped death by inches, a couple of years before they even met.

  25. says

    During Andrew Jackson’s administration Andrew Reed and James Matheson visited the United States from Great Britain. Two volumes of their letters home about their trip were published, and in one of them is written: “Universal suffrage, whatever may be its abstract merits or demerits, is neither desirable nor possible, except the people are the subjects of universal education and universal piety. America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.” This was quoted correctly during the nineteenth century, but was garbled early in the twentieth and misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville.

  26. nomdeplume says

    @29 Unfortunately they went for the “universal piety” and junked the “universal education” – Trump is a symbol of the consequences.

  27. says

    Hi Vicar. I doubt that anybody here is particularly interested in litigating the virtues of Hillary Clinton at this point, but I will say that the story of the Libya intervention is far more complicated than you represent. The UK parliamentary committee did not conclude that the Libya intervention was based on “lies,” let alone any lies of which Hillary Clinton was specifically aware. Rather, it concluded that due to intelligence failure, the salience of radical Islamist elements in the rebellion was underrecognized and that the threat to civilians had been overstated. The intervention was supported by a substantial international consensus including NATO and most of the Arab League, the opposition being Russia and Iran, and Russia’s client states Venezuela and Cuba. The objective to protect civilians morphed into regime change in a slippery slope fashion. The military intervention was principally led by France, with the U.S playing a lesser role. All of this is unfortunate, but to blame it all on Hillary Clinton is ridiculous. She was a minor player in these events, and was in full alignment with all of the NATO and Arab governments. It’s too bad the U.S. got swept up in this debacle, but to single out Clinton for blame is really not conducive to understanding.

  28. chrislawson says


    I grew up in PNG. And yes, there’s an awful lot of German in the pidgin language there.

  29. mailliw says

    @11 mnb0

    It worries me that you bring this information as something new. I’ve been knowing it for decades. Just one word: Kommissarbefehl.

    It has been at least 10 years since the exhibition in the Munich Stadtmuseum showing the role of the Wehrmacht in atrocities.

    The exhibition attracted huge controversy from people who claimed it dishonoured the German army and, of course, from extreme right groups.

  30. mailliw says

    I read an interview with a Russian poet who fought in the siege of Leningrad. He asked a German prisoner why he was fighting against his Russian comrades, to which the prisoner replied – because the Slavs are sub-humans.

  31. chrislawson says


    I don’t think the Reed and Matheson view of “piety” had much in common the American religious movement. To them, piety entailed universal human rights, especially with regard to African slaves and native Americans, as a direct and obvious expression of Christian ideals. We know how well the bulk of the American religious sector took to that idea.

  32. says

    You don’t. The members ARE the organization.

    oh come on, nothing is so simple in the real life.
    I agree with you if we are talking about Ku Klux Klan – organization that is openly evil and membership is completely voluntary.
    It doesn’t work for any army where people are conscripted. And it doesn’t work that simple for the organization that has good official goals but also does evil – like police or catholic clergy.
    Even if we decide that organization is evil, it doesn’t mean every member is evil. There are good priests among the paedophile mafia from vatican using the name Catholic Church, there are good cops trying to protect and serve but not seeing a way how they can fight against rotten apples alone, you may have stupid young idealistic people who thought they were defending the Vaterland when they joined the military and had no other choice then continue or die.

    I live in the country that probably had most casualties during WW2 as a percentage of population. I can hop on the bike and in less than an hour visit one of at least dozen places, that if you learn what really happened there, you would be ready to kill with your bare hands first german speaking person you meet – and I mean it literally, I remember that feeling. City I live now was intentionally destroyed as a punishment for uprising, in the Old Town there was one (literally one) building left standing, Royal Castle was blown up, Germans resettled most of the population (quite a lot of them straight to the concentration camps) and the plan was to destroy everything except the railroad lines and railroad buildings – and they were doing it with Red Army standing on the other side of the river, they stopped only because they didn’t have enough explosives.
    I don’t need to be convinced Wehrmacht was evil – yet everyone knows someone (even if they are not aware of it) who is alive today only because his parents or grandparents were spared or saved by some german soldier. And in some parts of my country, everyone knows someone who has an ancestor that was conscripted into Wehrmacht.
    FDR sold my country to Soviets in Yalta to spite Churchill. So my country was “liberated” by Red Army and we still have thousands of monuments of Red Army. When we finally got independent 45 years after the war most of the monuments were left, because it was decided even if we see Red Army as evil, it is not ok to disrespect those simple soldiers who died on our land fighting against nazis, no matter what was their reason for it.
    Waffen SS was criminal organization – but Waffen SS units from baltic states or ukraine had quite a lot of people who joined, because they’d seen what USSR did to their countries and wanted to fight bolsheviks the only way they could (some of them, most of them were criminals, degenerates or prisoners of war who preferred to fight than to starve in prison camp).

    With my country history it is nothing strange most XX century history and literature revolves around war and holocaust. And when you read enough of books written by people who were either in gulags or concentration camps, or honest confessions of war criminals, it is impossible not understand that the biggest evil of the war is how it can twist people who started up decent to do unspeakable things. And that the biggest issue with our human nature is how malleable we are, how much we are a product of our society. You would be a nazi if you were signed by your parents to HitlerJugend in 1940, you would be a slave owner if you grew up as a son of plantation owner in pre Civil War south.
    I went on a tangent here, sorry.

    So back to the point:
    You can’t always assume that every member of the organization is responsible for every bad thing organization did.
    Sometimes you need to try to distinguish between good and bad members of organization you considere evil to appeal to the good ones – either to convince them to leave the group or to fight with bad apples inside.
    And it works for priests, policemen, or politicians who are only kept there to legitimize the rotten structure.

  33. davidc1 says

    @38 ” FDR sold my country to Soviets in Yalta to spite Churchill.” If you are talking about Poland ,don’t know what you mean by that .At Tehran in Nov 43 ,Churchill had a private meeting with Stalin where he showed him a list of the European counties under German rule ,and what % of influence the west and Russia would have there after the war ,forget the finer details ,but Poland was to come under Russia .By the time of Yalta ,it was all settled as far as Stalin was concerned .

  34. says


    I don’t need to be convinced Wehrmacht was evil – yet everyone knows someone (even if they are not aware of it) who is alive today only because his parents or grandparents were spared or saved by some german soldier.

    My great grandma was by all accounts a marvellous woman with an amazing personality (I only knew her as a tiny old lady doting on us kids) and a proud antifascist. She was saved twice by Nazis. The first time (I have told this before) when she was released from prison after having been thrown there after the Vichy regime deported them to Germany. The Nazis acted like everything was still according to the laws, so when you did your time you got released from prison at 12 o’clock. Only the GeStapo would wait for you in front of the prison and take you to a KZ. The prison director used her discretion to release my grandma a few hours early so she could catch the last train home. She escaped and went to her home village back in the middle of nowhere.
    After the 20th of July assassination attempt, the Nazis rounded up whomever they could find and they came for her again. The NSDAP mayor of the village told the SS that she couldn’t do anything where she was, she was harmless, but he’d have a mutiny on his hands if they tried to arrest her and the SS went away.
    THAT DOESN’T MAKE THOSE TWO PEOPLE NOT CRIMINALS AND GUILTY OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: Because you shouldn’t have to have an amazing personality or be related to everybody and their dog in order not to be killed. Those people weren’t saved by Wehrmacht soldiers, they were just not murdered by them, which is the default setting. Thinking they did something good is probably some sort of intergenerational battered housewife syndrome.

  35. says

    @#31, cervantes
    @#32, WMDKitty — Survivor
    @#34, cubist

    Have fun watching the Democrats repeat the exact same mistakes with Biden that they made with Clinton, I guess. Who cares whether they were obvious and stupid mistakes the first time and should be even less forgivable now than they were then? Why should people like you learn anything? That would involve actually admitting you were wrong and listening to critics instead of dismissing them. And there’s a danger you might actually win the election then — Biden is already sliding in the polls because of his embrace of the Clinton “chase Republican votes by kicking the base in the teeth” strategy. Great job, you twits.

  36. says


    Even if we decide that organization is evil, it doesn’t mean every member is evil. There are good priests among the paedophile mafia from vatican using the name Catholic Church, there are good cops trying to protect and serve but not seeing a way how they can fight against rotten apples alone, you may have stupid young idealistic people who thought they were defending the Vaterland when they joined the military and had no other choice then continue or die.

    LOL that’s cute! But it’s WRONG. The members ARE the organization, period.

  37. KG says

    Biden is already sliding in the polls because of his embrace of the Clinton “chase Republican votes by kicking the base in the teeth” strategy. – The Vicar@41

    I know that as a Trump supporter in the election, that’s what you would like to believe, but it doesn’t appear to be the case.

    Great job, you twits.

    The great majority of commenters here would much have preferred Sanders or Warren to win the nomination. We’re just not stupid, callous or dishonest enough to pretend there’s no real difference between Trump and Biden.

  38. ChrisE84 says

    It depends on the type of the organization and the type of membership. Conscripted soldiers of an army are not the same as membership in a party. The Hitler Youth was also not really voluntary at least from 1939 on. You had to find an excuse that didn’t result in repercussions for the family (e.g. being unfit for membership because of politics or race).