Another German’s view of the war

German mounted troops enter a burning Russian town during the Barbarossa advance, summer 1941.

Max Kuhnert was a mounted trooper, part of a forward reconnaissance section for his unit. They were soon to be diverted south to assist Army Group South seize the rich farmlands of the Ukraine.

It was this area – the bread basket of Russia – that Hitler envisaged as the frontier land of the new German empire. In this New Order the ‘slavs’ would be largely wiped out, just like the American Indians had been been, and German settlers would farm the land to supply food to Germany and western Europe. He even referred to the river Volga as the ‘German Mississippi’. Food sent to Germany would be food denied to the rest of Russia – which, after waves of famine and starvation, would revert to sparsely populated forests.

This vision was not shared with the front line troops:

Russia is usually thought of as a cold wintry country, but in the summer it can almost be tropical. You haven’t got the mountain ranges, like in other European countries, but you have plenty of forest and very beautiful valleys.

We were then in the middle sector of Russia; later, when we moved further south, we discovered the fertile country or, as it’s known in Russia, the nation’s larder or breadbasket. Quite often I thought about it, especially when on scouting missions.

What marvellous country to live in, if only mankind could see their foolishness and instead of tearing things down, destroying, killing and burning, concentrated on building up and living in peace and harmony. Many times when I spoke to ordinary Russian people in my broken, phrasebook – assisted Russian I found, just as I had in France, that nobody wanted war.

Neither did we as ordinary soldiers. We were only concerned with one thing and that was survival – having somewhere to sleep, having food and water, and getting home in one piece if possible. What really made us mad was that none of us could do anything about it – as soldiers we just obeyed and did what we were trained for.

What the ten thousand at the top decided was not for us to question, and I was never interested in any politics anyway; I felt that I really did not know enough about it to air my opinions, and many of the others were of the same mind. It wouldn’t have done any good. So we just plodded along and did our utmost to stay alive.

Max Kuhnerts attitude, written after the war, is in contrast to Karl Fuchs, who was writing contemporaneously. Nevertheless, in an army of three million not every soldier was a Nazi zealot.

See Will We See Tomorrow?: A German Cavalryman at War, 1939-42

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