By Wilfried Heink
The following essays are based mostly on “Verbrechen der Sieger. Das Schicksal der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen in Osteuropa”(Crimes of the victors. The fate of German POWs in Eastern Europe, Druffel-Verlag, Leoni am Starnberger See, 1975). It begins with a foreword by Brigadier General Wolfgang Schall, retired, POW in the SU (Soviet Union) from 1945 to 1955, as well as a statement of intent by Wilhelm Anders. No actual author is mentioned; it is a compilation of documents and witness statements by the Verband der Heimkehrer und Bund der Vertriebenen (Organization of Returnees and Organization of the Dispelled). They decided to publish this book in 1975 – as preparation for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Germany’s defeat, and the distortions of history affiliated with that defeat – were underway.
Since then, many books have been written defaming German soldiers, portraying them as brutal killers. The latest effort by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, simply titled “Soldaten” (Soldiers), features a collection of ‘newly discovered‘ British and American wiretaps, allegedly of conversations of German POWs in various camps. And of course there was the 1995-1999 exhibition, “Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1994”(War of Annihilation: Crimes of the German armed forces 1941-1945), produced by the Hamburge Institut für Sozialforschung (Hamburg Institute for Social Research), with its many distortions and outright lies, addressed by Walter Post in “Die Verleumdete Armee” (The defamed army, Pour le Mérite, 1999). These are just two of many examples of German scribblers, who call themselves historians, distorting history. But all of them ignore the book under discussion.
W. Schall writes, on p.7:
“Was die Wissenschaftliche Kommission für deutsche Kriegsgefangenengeschichte in fünfzehn Bänden und mehreren Beiheften an Zeugnissen zusammengetragen hat, ist ein Epos des Grauens und Leidens, das oft jede Phantasie übersteigt. Und doch haben wir es erlebt und sind Zeugen — soweit wir die Heimat wiedersehen durften“.
(The fifteen volumes of testimonies, compiled by the Scientific Commission for Prisoner of War History, tell of an epoch of horror and sufferings straining the imagination. But we did experience it and are witnesses – those of us, at least, who were fortunate enough to return home.)
Mr. Schall tells us that an official body did gather evidence of crimes committed by the victors, consisting of documents as well as testimonies: a fifteen volume endeavor. Prof. Seidler writes that the Wehrmacht (Third Reich fighting force) investigations documented 8,000 cases, including crimes committed by partisans on German soldiers, the results are contained in 226 folders. The whole of it was taken to the USA and only returned in 1968, with many of the files missing (Franz W. Seidler, Die Wehrmacht im Partisanenkrieg, Pour le Mérite-Verlag für Militärgeschichte, Selent, Austria 1999, p. 87). Prof. Seidler also writes that at the end of the war the Allies were not able to prove that Germans violated that elusive “International Law”; Germans, however, had documented numerous cases of the Allies doing so (Ibid, p. 89). The President – during the IMT proceedings of May 16, 1946 – prevented the German defense counsel Dr. Laternser from pointing this out, stating:
“We are not trying whether any other powers have committed breaches of international law, or crimes against humanity, or war crimes; we are trying whether these defendants have.” (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/05-14-46.asp  , p. 521)
Victor’s ‘justice’ at its finest. What happened to this fifteen volume magnum opus? W. Anders writes on p. 9:
“In einem Telegramm an den Bundeskanzler forderte das Präsidium des Verbandes der Heimkehrer die „sofortige Freigabe der unter Verschluß liegenden deutschen Kriegsgefangenen-Dokumentation durch die Bundesregierung”.
(The steering committee of the [abovementioned] organization, in a telegram to the German chancellor, is demanding that the POW documents still under closure be released immediately.)
Why would this material be, to this day, under lock and key? If reconciliation is the aim, or “never again”, is it not of utmost importance that the truth is told and all sides heard? Apparently not, since finger pointing directed solely at the Germans continues unabated. And this one-sidedness is supposed to be the basis of understanding between peoples? Never!
W. Anders titled his introduction: “Warum dieses Buch geschrieben wurde” (Why this book was written). It starts out with a declaration by the Organization (I will refer to the Verband der Heimkehrer as the Organization), an appeal to Germans for unity:
„Zur Würde eines jeden Menschen gehört sein guter Ruf. Ohne Grund und leichtfertig darf er nicht in Frage gestellt werden. Dies gilt auch für die Deutschen.
Der überwältigende Teil der deutschen Soldaten hat nicht für eine unmenschliche Diktatur, sondern in Erfüllung der Pflichten für Volk und Vaterland gekämpft. Unser Volk darf diese Soldaten nicht als imperialistische Faschisten-Horden beschimpfen lassen. Es ist aufgerufen, sich in Wahrung seiner Selbstachtung dagegen zu wehren.
Wir verschweigen kein Unrecht, das Deutsche begangen haben. Wir wehren uns aber dagegen, daß jede Erwähnung des schweren Unrechts, das an Deutschen begangen wurde, unterdrückt wird. Wir rechnen nichts auf, aber verwahren uns gegen jede Geschichtsklitterung und gegen jede einseitige Dokumentation“.
(Part of everyone’s dignity is a good reputation; it must not be jeopardized. This also applies to Germans.
The overwhelming majority of German soldiers did not fight to protect an inhuman regime, but considered it their duty to fight for their nation. Our people must not be allowed to defame those soldiers as imperialistic fascist hordes. We call upon them to defend them, so as to sustain their own dignity.
We are not interested in covering up injustices committed by Germans. We are however protesting against the cover up of the injustices committed against us Germans. We are not interested in finger pointing, but are against the distortion of history and the one-sided portrayal of history.)
The book was published based on documents and testimony supplied be members of that organization and because the German government refused to publish the material. And also because of the waves of propaganda emanating from the east about “German criminals” alongside portrayals of the Soviet army as the “most humane army in the world”, this according to a TASS release (p. 11). Novosti, a Russian daily, praised the immediate help provided by the Red Army, supplying necessary goods for civilians (Actually they stole everything they could get their hands on; I witnessed some of it. Wilf). The article continued to say that the treatment of German POWs was “beyond reproach” and in compliance with the Geneva Convention, which surprised the POWs (p. 10). Here’s a comment by the Organization, on the same page:
“Dies ist ein Hohn auf die 1,2 Millionen in sowjetischen Lagern umgekommenen deutschen Kriegsgefangenen und Hunderttausender von Heimkehrern, die nach ihrer Entlassung in der Heimat vor Entkräftung verstorben oder heute noch schwer gesundheitsgeschädigt sind“.
(This makes a mockery of the 1.2 million German POWs who died in Soviet captivity, as well as of the hundreds of thousands who died at home as a result of malnutrition or are still suffering from the effects of ill treatment.)
The “Voice of the GRD” (Stimme der DDR) on April 26, 1975 asked why German fathers and sons were killed. Their answer: they were part of a “fascist campaign of conquest” and it is therefore a fact “that every German soldier was a participant in the biggest crime in European history.” This is how every German soldier was branded a “war criminal,” a practice originating from propaganda at that time and now accepted as fact by “historians” and the public. The Czech news agency PAP stated on the same day that “German soldiers were kept a little longer in POW camps because of their dishonorable fighting practices.” This “little longer” meant ten years for many, violating all international agreements regarding treatment of POWs.
But, there appears to have been some concern in the East about the truth emerging. On March 20, 1975 – keep in mind that this hype was all about the 30th anniversary of the defeat of the “German Fascists” and the May 8th celebrations – Radio Moscow raised concerns about “curious news” coming from Bonn (the German capital then), of the pending release of “disreputable (berüchtigte) documents concerning crimes allegedly committed on German soldiers during the war,” and that the publication of this material would be considered a new “provocation.” Radio Moscow continued to say that in this document, “soldiers and partisans of the SU, Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, in fact the whole of the antifascist organizations, are defamed.” A comment by the authors: “Whoever experienced the malicious and devious tactics used by the partisans will have to agree that it is not a defamation, but fact.” (p. 11)
No effort was spared to prevent the publication of the 17 volume documentary, as well as the book under discussion: the eastern paranoia suggesting that details were known and publication was feared. “The intent was to exonerate the Germans and defame the Red Army”: that according to the eastern mass media. “Izvestia” on March 1, 1975 called the documentary “dirty rubbish” (diesen dreckigen Plunder); Radio Prague talked of a “neofascist provocation”; Radio Moscow informed its listeners that this was “in contrast…to the spirit and contents of the agreements signed with the socialist countries,” referring to the 1975 Helsinki accord then in preparation.
As expected, the German government, no doubt ‘encouraged’ by others, caved in. Government spokesman Bölling declared on February 4, 1975, even before the big push from the East, that although the facts cannot be denied and he has no reason to doubt any of it, he is against publication of the documents because it would nullify all efforts made by German governments. “By our policy we have for years tried to come to an understanding with other countries, to overcome the problems of crimes committed by Germans and on Germans.” And he considers it bad politics that this issue “is pushed to the fore and used by those not interested in conciliation.” (pp. 12, 13)
The authors protest against this interpretation, especially the last sentence. It is not them who are preventing conciliation, but the East that continues to distort facts, portraying German soldiers as criminals and the others as saints. It is not the Organization’s intention to shift the blame, but to present facts to prevent this subject from being used as a “political club.” Soldiers especially are interested in peace, but if one side continually sabotages every effort at coming to an understanding, by distorting facts, peace cannot be achieved.
Wilhelm Anders closed his deliberation by stating that, according to a poll, 55% of Germans are in favor of addressing this issue fairly. He asks, “Are they all “Neofascists, Revanchists or Enemies of Détente?” One has to wonder if 30 years plus later 55% of Germans would still welcome a fair reworking of history. I doubt it; it appears that most Germans today are satisfied with distorted history and are comfortable with their guilty role. This is a disturbing development: the intended “re-education,” or brainwashing, has taken effect.
To be continued….