It has often been argued that the regular German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, were quite separate from and often ignorant of the activities of the SS troops and Einsatzgruppen that conducted the racial killings in the east. Yet they would have all been aware of the ‘ideological struggle’ that the campaign in the East was portrayed in Nazi propaganda.
Some of the army commanders were ardent supporters of the Nazi line and clearly saw the war in racial terms. Field Marshal von Reichenau commanding the 6th Army on the Eastern front issued his infamous ‘Severity Order’ on the 10th October. This was a secret order passed down for the information of all troops. It makes clear that the role of the ordinary soldier has a wider role on the Eastern Front where he is the ‘bearer of ruthless national ideology’:
Regarding the conduct of troops towards the bolshevistic system, vague ideas are still prevalent in many cases. The most essential aim of war against the Jewish-bolshevistic system is a complete destruction of their means of power and the elimination of asiatic influence from the European culture.
In this connection the troops are facing tasks which exceed the one sided routine of soldiering. The soldier in the eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war but also a bearer of ruthless national ideology and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations.
Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i. e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews.
The combating of the enemy behind the front line is still not being taken seriously enough. Treacherous, cruel partisans and unnatural women are still being made prisoners of war and guerilla fighters dressed partly in uniforms or plain clothes and vagabonds are stiil being treated as proper soldiers, and sent to prisoner of war camps.
The fear of the German counter-measures must be stronger than the threats of the wandering bolshevistic remnants. Being far from all political considerations of the future the soldier has to fulfill two tasks:
1. Complete annihilation of the false bolshevistic doctrine of the Soviet State and its armed forces.
2. The pitiless extermination of foreign treachery and cruelty and thus the protection of the lives of military personnel in Russia.
This is the only way to fulfil our historic task to liberate the German people once forever from the Asiatic-Jewish danger.
Commander in Chief
(Signed) von Reichenau
This was not the first recorded instance of von Reichenau expressing his unqualified support for the racial war. On this occasion his superior, Field Marshal von Runstedt, had the document recirculated to all units in Army Group Centre. Read the whole document at UWE.