The discipline of the Wehrmacht and SS remains strong

Propaganda Minister Goebbels in Luban (Lower Silesia) presents 16 year old Willi Hübner with the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, The award was for for his  actions during fighting in the trenches around the town. 9th March 1945.
Propaganda Minister Goebbels in Luban (Lower Silesia) presents 16 year old Willi Hübner with the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, The award was for for his actions during fighting in the trenches around the town. 9th March 1945.

Ever since Normandy the Allies had prepared plans for the eventual collapse of the German armed forces and the prospect that they might have to deal with an unexpected surrender. It never happened. Despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, as the nation faced ever more devastating assaults from east and west, there were still those whose near religous faith in Hitler remained strong. They might realise that they were in a minority but they still expected the so called ‘miracle weapons’ to be used to reverse the situation.

A senior NCO based in Wiesbaden was writing home during mid March. He knew that the situation was grim and that ‘they could no longer rely 100% on all their soldiers’. Yet he still believed:

that we’ll nevertheless win the war. I know that I’m laughed at by many people or thought mad. I know that there are only a few apart from me who have the courage to claim this, but I say it over and again: the Fuhrer is no scoundrel, and not so bad as to lie to an entire people and drive it to death.

Up to now the Fuhrer has always given us his love and promised us freedom and carried out all his plans. And if the Fuhrer prays to God that He may pardon him the last six weeks of this war of the nations then we know that there must and will be an awful and terrible end for our enemies.

We must firmly believe in Germany’s future — believe and ever more believe. A people that has so courageously lost so much blood for its greatness cannot perish. … Only our faith makes us strong, and I rely on the words of the Fuhrer that at the end of all the fighting there will be German victory.

This account appears in Ian Kershaw: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945

The Nazis continued to have a grip on the youth of the nation, a generation who had spent their entire lives under constant Nazi indoctrination. It was not unknown for members of the Hitler Youth to report their own parents for disloyal remarks. Many of the young men still entering the German armed forces were as zealous as ever – and if they were not, discipline was enforced swiftly and mercilessly:

Erwin Bartmann was an Unterscharfuhrer, junior squad leader or NCO, in the SS. He was a veteran of the Eastern Front but, after having recovered from wounds, he was posted to a training regiment:

A fresh batch of recruits arrived, all members of the Hitlerjugend. Oh, they knew it all — or at least thought they did. For them it was all, ‘Hooray, we’ll win the war for Hitler, Sieg Heil.’ None of them showed the least desire to participate in the training exercises that might soon save their lives.

Well, they came to the right place to have their arses kicked into shape. At two o’clock on a rain-soaked morning, I pulled them out of their beds for marching in full kit.

As we made our way along a forest track, there were the usual complaints but one of the Hitlerjungen lads overstepped the mark. ‘Nobody gets me out of bed for nothing. I tell you, he’ll be the first to get it’, said a boy at the front of the group without realising I was within earshot.

I caught up with the cocky youngster, grabbed him by the shoulder and swung him round to face me. Before he could utter a word, I screwed the cloth of his camouflage jacket with my left hand, at his chest. The fist of my right hand, filled with live rifle ammunition, thrust at his chin. ‘Here – take this’, I growled as the rest of the squad looked on. ‘Try it.’

In a faltering voice he said, ‘I apologise Unterscharfuhrer’.

The execution of Fahnenfluchtigen (deserters) was a weekly routine that took place on Fridays, in front of a sandy hillock. To see at close range the atomised blood and guts blast out of the condemned soldier’s back as bullets shot through his body must have shocked the recruits.

Yet, even after witnessing this dreadful spectacle, a recruit from the platoon under my command went missing one night. In an act of mesmerising stupidity, he sent a postcard, stamped in Frankfurt, to his sister who lived there saying that he had deserted and wanted to meet her at the railway station.

The vigilance of the postman was the young man’s downfall. As he was about to put the card through the sister’s letterbox, he read the message and immediately alerted the police who arrested the sender as he waited on the platform.

On his return to Spreenhagen, he received the inevitable, and inescapable, sentence of death from an SS court martial. The following Friday evening at 6 pm, he faced his executioners. ‘God bless Germany,’ he said stoically as awaited his fate. The bullets ripped through his body and he slumped to the ground, his tunic smoking at the exit wounds on his back. But a flicker of life still burned in the young heart.

An officer stepped forward to aim his O8 at the young lad’s head. He pulled the trigger – the tragic end of yet another life. Seventy years later, the horror of this shooting still visits my dreams.

See Erwin Bartmann: Fur Volk und Fuhrer: The Memoir of a Veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler

German Grenadiers retreat westwards at dusk in in eastern Germany, March 1945.
German Grenadiers retreat westwards at dusk in in eastern Germany, March 1945.

6 thoughts on “The discipline of the Wehrmacht and SS remains strong”

  1. There was a difference between the hitlerian slogan telling the germans people that were the most brilliant genetic race and therefore they should have a right to expel the slavic people and take over their land as said in mein kampf, and the soviet slogan that said that workers from the world should unite. Hitler’s message was evil and the germans endorsed the endless war and crimes that followed. I don’t feel sorry for the german people as opposed to many of the people who commented on this page.

  2. Even with Nazi propaganda the Germans had **lots** of opportunities to know what their government was really doing. They objected NOT AT ALL for years. As a group Germans thought that a foreign policy of mass theft was perfectly fine. As a group they never raised a finger, even a syllable, when it was common knowledge that their troops were incinerating whole villages and towns. For every Sophie Scholl there were literally **millions** of German “patriots” delighted that their nation decided to go on a continental looting and killing spree.

    ” After WW2 up to 2 million German civilains were murdered in Eastern Europe during ethnic cleansing that is unpalatable to report on in the West even to this day, and many German POW’s were left to die of exposure and starvation in the open.”

    Awwww….. Minor inconveniences compared to what the Germans inflicted on their victims. You can whine about the plight of the poor, poor Germans all you want — the historical reality is that they got off easy. They were lucky that **only** Hamburg & Dresden got the firestorm treatment.

  3. Bob, what do you mean by “Germans”? All Germans?

    The fact is that the majority of Germans, like the majority of British, Japanese and Americans were peaceable and no more wanted to kill people than you or I.

    What happened? What always happens, the peaceful majority become irrelevant…

    Only 10% of Germans ever joined the Nazi party, yet revisionists call all Germans of the period fanatical Nazis, despite brave people like Sophie Scholl, who died trying to do something about the Nazis.

    The majority of Nazi party members weren’t psychopathic killers, joining the Nazi party was just joining a political party, many members joined in the belief that Hitler’s ‘socialism’ was the way ahead, the way to make Germany great again, they were no different than Brits and Americans joining the Labour or Democratic parties today, others joined because it was the way to the top, many senior positions you’d never get promoted to unless you were a member.

    Yet, the minority of the Nazi party used their majority for its own agenda, and a mere 10% of the German population led the whole country into a war the world shall never forget.

    People say “It could never happen here”, but I doubt the German people ever thought it would happen there, but the devotion to and belief in Hitler in the early years was not misguided, he did take a broken country and increased its productivity and employment, during this period Germany came up with concepts such as “the peoples’ car” and the best road system in Europe, maybe the world, so why would people think Hitler and the Nazis bad? Then as time goes by dissenting voices disappear, son informs on father, and people feel that everything is OK and right because no one is saying it is wrong.

    Hitler was a cult figure, once he’d ‘proven’ he was good for Germany, most would never believe he could be bad for it, and with no dissenting voices and people scared to speak aloud, they’d only believe the good and reject the bad, we see this with cults all the time, that’s why many Germans thought they’d never lose the war because Hitler said they wouldn’t, it is also why rumours of death camps and atrocity were rejected as black-propaganda instigated by the allies to break the morale of Germany.

    We have a similar manipulation of the majority today within Islam, the violent minority hide among the majority, and again the majority are irrelevant, but all will be tarred with the same brush.

  4. Bob, do you realise how uneducated, hysterical and racist you sound with your comments? Are you suggesting that Germans were subhuman in some way, or uniquely capable of murder, theft etc? How did they “kill their own children” as you suggest? If you mean by sending them to the front to die as soldiers (i.e young men), then all nations do that. The USA could be accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Native Americans, and the British Empire could be accused of asset stripping their colonial subjects – i.e mass theft. During the Soviet period Stalin murdered 30 million of his own people alone, many times more than Hitler killed, yet he was the West’s ally in WW2 and referrred to as “Uncle Joe” by the sycophantic left-wing Daily Mirror newspaper in the UK. Stalin didn’t kill them all personally, he had many Russian people doing his bidding for him, just as many German’s also did Hitler’s bidding. Allied bombers killed 600,000 German civilians wth little military benefit during WW2, ten times the number of UK civilians, had we lost that would have been considered a war-crime without a doubt. After WW2 up to 2 million German civilains were murdered in Eastern Europe during ethnic cleansing that is unpalatable to report on in the West even to this day, and many German POW’s were left to die of exposure and starvation in the open. Rape was much more of a Russian war-crime than German, German soldiers were frequently executed by their own side for rape.
    The German National Socialist regime began inauspiciously, and was for a while ‘accepted’ by the International community, trading with numerous countries around the world, from China, to the USA, to the UK; operating international flights (Zeppelins) around the world, and hosting the Olympic Games in 1936. War came, and after 1942 and the Wansee conference of that year, the National Socialist regime became an abomination as we all know. However, you cannot blame young people indocrinated from birth, with no access to any kind of alternative media. You cannot blame desperate, often hungry people for voting for Hitler in 1933 when they had no idea what he was to become later. It is not enough to say, ‘ well, they knew he was a racist’ etc. Almost the entire Western world (and much of the rest of the world too) was at that time riddled with racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. That was not unique to Germany in any way whatsoever. To think otherwise is to endorse (anti-German) racism yourself. History must be studied carefully and intelligently. It is not enough to shout slogans and repeat sound-bites you’ve heard from others.

  5. @Bob: I think the comment you make is rather offensive and disrespectfull. I would like to urge you to deepen your research on the German side. Because they are portrait as Super Evil Wrong Doing Man, and yes this is true in a large part, but humans remain humans. Never forget indoctrination happens to you, this is not something you realize “in the moment”.

  6. In the end the Germans finally start killing their own children as a sacrifice to their beloved leaders. After years of commiting genocide, torture, ethnic cleansing, rape, mass theft, and the complete destruction of entire countries and civilizations, this must have seemed entirely normal. It makes me thank god that the allies defeated these killer mad men.

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