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The Wehrmacht

The Wehrmacht

History, Myth, Reality

Wolfram Wette

Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider

ISBN 9780674025776

Publication date: 10/30/2007

This book is a profound reexamination of the role of the German army, the Wehrmacht, in World War II. Until very recently, the standard story avowed that the ordinary German soldier in World War II was a good soldier, distinct from Hitler's rapacious SS troops, and not an accomplice to the massacres of civilians. Wolfram Wette, a preeminent German military historian, explodes the myth of a "clean" Wehrmacht with devastating clarity.

This book reveals the Wehrmacht's long-standing prejudices against Jews, Slavs, and Bolsheviks, beliefs that predated the prophecies of Mein Kampf and the paranoia of National Socialism. Though the sixteen-million-member German army is often portrayed as a victim of Nazi mania, we come to see that from 1941 to 1944 these soldiers were thoroughly involved in the horrific cleansing of Russia and Eastern Europe. Wette compellingly documents Germany's long-term preparation of its army for a race war deemed necessary to safeguard the country's future; World War II was merely the fulfillment of these plans, on a previously unimaginable scale.

This sober indictment of millions of German soldiers reaches beyond the Wehrmacht's complicity to examine how German academics and ordinary citizens avoided confronting this difficult truth at war's end. Wette shows how atrocities against Jews and others were concealed and sanitized, and history rewritten. Only recently has the German public undertaken a reevaluation of this respected national institution--a painful but necessary process if we are to truly comprehend how the Holocaust was carried out and how we have come to understand it.


  • This is a powerful book, provocative, enlightening, disturbing. Based on three decades of solid research, Wette debunks the myth, created by former Wehrmacht officers and continued by their Allied counterparts, that the German military fought a "clean" war in the East 1941-45. He strips away the layers of obfuscation and cover-up to set the record straight: Wehrmacht and SS hand-in hand conducted a campaign of racial extermination in the USSR. The book is a must read.

    —Holger H. Herwig, University of Calgary


  • Wolfram Wette is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Freiburg, Germany.

Book Details

  • 400 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press