During World War II, the German military helped fulfill Nazism’s racial, political, and territorial ambitions. In addition to pursuing traditional military objectives, the Wehrmacht targeted Jews and other supposed racial inferiors, civilian and military alike, for abuse and death. This occurred in all territory occupied by Germany—but most egregiously in eastern Europe.
The policies pursued by the Nazis and the military stood in stark contrast to existing codes of honorable military conduct and international law. A few individuals acted according to those codes and laws, but the vast majority of German soldiers, and especially senior officers, cooperated with the Nazis—even to the point of committing genocide.
In the following video, historian Geoffrey Megargee dispels several myths about the German army while discussing its role during the Holocaust.
German military and police authorities waged a war of annihilation against the Soviet Union. Driven by their racial and ideological worldview, they targeted representatives of the Communist state and Jews. Read more about how Nazi ideology affected the conduct of war on the eastern front in our Holocaust Encyclopedia.
In the Soviet Union, the Holocaust was carried out by mobile killing units. Among their tasks was the murder of those perceived to be racial or political enemies—in particular, the Jews. The German army provided logistical support to these units, including supplies, transportation, housing, and occasionally manpower in the form of units to guard and transport prisoners.
Visit these pages for more information on the Holocaust in the Soviet Union:
- Einsatzgruppen (Mobile Killing Units)
- Einsatzgruppen and Other SS and Police Units in the Soviet Union
From the very beginning, this war of annihilation against the Soviet Union included the killing of prisoners of war (POWs) on a massive scale. German authorities viewed Soviet POWs as a particular threat, regarding them not only as Slavic subhumans but as part of the "Bolshevik menace" linked in their minds to a Jewish conspiracy.
Visit these pages for more information on the Wehrmacht’s treatment of Soviet POWs:
- The Commissar Order
- Nazi Persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War
- The Treatment of Soviet POWs: Starvation, Disease, and Shootings, June 1941–January 1942
- Forced Labor: Soviet POWs January 1942- May 1945