Penn44 wrote:Given the cumulative evidence available on the subject it is fairly evident that the German generals on the Eastern front as a group knew that the Einsatzgruppen were murdering Jews there.
Has any reliable historian ever claimed that German generals on the Eastern Front as a group did not know about the German murder of Jews there?
It's patently obvious from contemporary documents that the German officer corps (generals and staff officers) knew a considerable amount.
Lieutenant-Colonel Rudolf von Gersdorff filed this well known note in December 1941:
IV. Bei allen längeren Gesprächen mit Offizieren wurde ich, ohne darauf hingedeutet zu haben, nach den Judenerschiessungen gefragt. Ich habe den Eindruck gewonnen, dass die Erschiessungen der Juden, der Gefangenen und auch der Kommissare fast allgemein im Offizierskorps abgelehnt wird, die Erschiessung der Kommisare vor allem auch deswegen, weil dadurch der Feindwiderstand besonders gestärkt wird. Die Erschiessungen werden als eine Verletzung der Ehre der Deutschen Armee, in Sonderheit des Deutschen Offizierkorps betrachtet. Je nach Temperament und Veranlagung der Betreffenden wurde in mehr oder weniger starker Form die Frage der Verantwortung hierfür zur Sprache gebracht. Es ist hierzu festzustellen, dass die vorhandenen Tatsachen in vollem Umfang bekannt geworden sind und dass im Offizierkorps der Front weit mehr darüber gesprochen wird, als anzunehmen war.
There are dozens more examples from across the 12 armies on the Eastern Front.
Knowledge was widespread; I would say among divisions actually taking part in the Barbarossa attack it was fairly complete.
It is likely that some divisions transferred in late 1941 or early 1942, or subsequently did not have direct
knowledge of atrocities against _Jews_ because they were sent direct to sectors along the frontline in the RSFSR where the Jewish population was thinner, already dead, or had fled. That said, many would have passed back through rear-area towns where ghettos remained; Warsaw and Brest were among two of the largest railway transfer points for troop transports travelling in either direction.
The strawman that is being attacked in this thread by some of the posters is to equate the contemporary perception of 'the Holocaust' with the knowledge of atrocities that these men actually possessed.
The transcripts show a considerably *greater* knowledge of the maltreatment of Soviet POWs on the part of many of the generals; this the generals talked about much more because they knew that they were institutionally responsible for the care of Soviet POWs
. By contrast, the extermination of the Jews in the 'east' was the affair of the SS-Police, and some commanders could wash their hands of it, and erase the memory from their brains as a result.
These generals, as recorded in these transcripts, are often haunted by the extermination of the Jews, but they are just as if not more haunted by the mass starvation and death-marches of the Soviet POWs.
What these transcripts reconfirm is that any postwar protest of ignorance from a German general has to be regarded with scepticism
; the fact is that most of the senior commanders who claimed after 1945 not to have passed on the commissar order, not to have assisted the Einsatzgruppen, etc, are liars. Guderian lied in his memoirs about how Panzer Group 2 did not pass on the commissar order; Manstein lied in his memoirs too. Contemporary documents from their staffs show a very different story.
This is not to say that there were not some generals who resisted, protested, or were simply lucky enough to arrive on the Eastern Front at a time when the worst of the atrocities had ceased. I can well imagine also that the majority of regiments were lucky enough to avoid passing through certain towns at certain times, and did not 'see' anything.
Yet the fact is that over 20 frontline divisions were pulled out for rear-area duty in 1941-42, and all of them were forced to cooperate with the SS; many handed Jews over to the Einsatzgruppen; many executed Jews on their own initiative; they were garrisoned in the same towns as the ghettos; some were assigned to escort the masses of POWs back from Vyazma-Bryansk and Kiev and behaved little better than the SS on the 1945 death marches.
The postwar protest that "we didn't know" was near-universal, and it is that universal chorus that is a lie. A psychologically necessary lie, perhaps, but a lie nonetheless.