The question of Wehrmacht complicity in the Holocaust is an old one. What might be called the “received view” until recently was that while a small number of German army units took part in anti-Jewish atrocities, the great bulk of the army neither knew about nor participated in the Nazi genocidal program. In other words, the identified cases were isolated exceptions. Who was at fault? Why, the SS of course. This view was spread by German generals in post-war memoirs, by the German government and courts, and by the German press and the public that read it. The “Good Wehrmacht” image was influential: many people–including scholars of the war–in countries that had fought Germany could be found rehearsing it.
In his eye-opening book Marching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus” (Harvard UP, 2013), Waitman Beorn challenges the “Good Wehrmacht” image. By focusing on a few units that participated in the invasion and occupation of Belarus in the late summer and fall of 1941, he is able to show without any doubt whatsoever that regular Wehrmacht forces not only participated in executions of Jews and others, but initiated them. The leaders of these units ordered them to aid the Einsatzgruppen in organizing mass murder and to actively hunt down “partisans” who were nothing but innocent Jews. Waitman does an excellent job of not only documenting Wehrmacht complicity, but also of trying to explain it. Listen in.