Module R: Criminal Behaviour within the Wehrmacht under the Nazis

Marco Kühnert


Target groups
This seminar is suitable for all kinds of groups, including groups of adults – especially members of the armed forces – as well as school classes from the 10th grade up and vocational school classes


Themes and goals
In this module, we offer an introductory overview of criminal behaviour within the Wehrmacht under the Nazis. If participants are interested, we can include a tour of the grounds and exhibitions of the Concentration Camp Memorial, but this seminar is also suitable for groups who are already familiar with the Memorial and wish to learn more about this particular subject. Our main focus lies on the role of the Wehrmacht as an active participant in Nazi mass crimes in the German war of aggression in Eastern and south-eastern Europe that was waged primarily against the Soviet Union. We also look at the role of the Wehrmacht in the concentration camp system. The war against the Soviet Union – and Poland and south-eastern Europe to some extent – was waged against large parts of the civil population and was meant to destroy existing social structures. The entire Jewish population was to be killed; the Slavs were to be decimated by hunger policies and measures of terror and used for forced labour; while other parts of the population were to be either “Germanified” or eradicated in the Nazi “euthanasia” programme, depending on their assessment based on race biology. These crimes were committed by the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) in collaboration with the SS, the police and civil administration. In this seminar, we provide an overview of these policies of war and extermination and look at who were the active participants and what room for manoeuvre was available to them. What structural conditions made these mass crimes possible in the first place – or, at any rate, what made it easier to commit them?


If this seminar is booked as a two-day course, we can enlarge upon this issue by looking at how criminal behaviour in the Wehrmacht was dealt with after the war. We thus concentrate on the following themes on the second day: how crimes were dealt with, how perpetrators were punished, what consequences this had for the international laws of war, the political debates in Germany, and how the Wehrmacht’s crimes were dealt with in German society, especially in the Bundeswehr (armed forces of West Germany). We discuss whether West Germany’s claim of setting an example regarding how it has dealt with its criminal past is justified or not. An alternative for day two would be the module Deportations, Selections, Mass Murder: The Treatment of Soviet POWs in the Concentration Camps (module S), which includes a tour of relevant parts of the grounds and exhibitions of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. Another alternative for the second day would be to focus on the module Internment, Re-Education and Punishment: The British Internment Camp at Neuengamme, 1945-1948 (module T), which also includes a tour of relevant parts of the grounds and exhibitions of the Concentration Camp Memorial.