Newsflash: men trained, equipped, and paid to break things and kill people not infrequently do bad things. However, it is educational to see the way the documentary evidence is used in an attempt to support the precise opposite of what it suggests:
The material that historian Sönke Neitzel uncovered in British and American archives is nothing short of sensational. While researching the submarine war in the Atlantic in 2001, he discovered the transcripts of covertly recorded conversations between German officers in which they talked about their wartime experiences with an unprecedented degree of openness. The deeper Neitzel dug into the archives, the more material he found. In the end, he and social psychologist Harald Welzer analyzed a total of 150,000 pages of source material….
The Holocaust is generally mentioned peripherally in the conversations between German soldiers that have now been viewed in their entirety for the first time. It is only mentioned on about 300 pages of the transcripts, which, given the monstrosity of the events, seems to be a very small number. One explanation could be that not many soldiers knew about what was happening behind the front. Another, much more likely interpretation would be that the systematic extermination of the Jews did not play a significant role in the conversations between cellmates because it had little news value.
A much more likely? interpretation? That is a completely absurd and illogical conclusion. The fact that the Holocaust is only mentioned on 300 of the 150,000 pages is actually conclusive evidence that relatively few Wehrmacht soldiers knew much about the Final Solution, unless the author, Jan Fleischhauer, seriously wants to try to claim that the exhaustive references to the sexual availability of women in the interview documents were of substantive news value.
But of course, ”one-fifth of one percent of the Wehrmacht knew” is a just slightly less dramatic and excitingly revisionist than ”the Wehrmacht knew”.
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In October 1944, radio operator Eberhard Kehrle and SS infantryman Franz Kneipp had a casual conversation about the practice of fighting partisans.
Kehrle: ”In the Caucasus , when one of us got killed there was no need for any lieutenant to tell us what to do. We just pulled out our pistols and shot everything in sight, women, children, everything…”
The story Lance Corporal Sommer tells about a lieutenant whom he served under on the Italian front shows how common it was to terrorize the civilian population:
Sommer: ”Even in Italy , whenever we arrived in a new place, he would always say: ‘Let’s kill a couple of people first!’ I could speak Italian, so I always got special tasks. He would say: ‘Okay, let’s kill 20 men so we can have some peace and quiet here. We don’t want them getting any ideas!’ (laughter) Then we staged a little attack, with the motto: ‘Anyone gives us the slightest trouble and we’ll kill another 50.'”
Bender: ”What criteria did he use to select them? Did he just pull them out at random?”
Sommer: ”Yeah, 20 men, just like that. ‘Come here,’ he’d say. Then he’d line them up on the market square, pick up three MGs — rat-a-tat-tat — and there they were, dead. That was how it happened. Then he would say: ‘Great! Pigs!’ He hated the Italians so much, you wouldn’t believe it.”