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The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality
File:The Wehrmacht by Wolfram Wette.jpg
Author Wolfram Wette
Original title Die Wehrmacht. Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden [The Wehrmacht: Images of the Enemy, War of Extermination, Legends]
Translator Deborah Lucas Schneider
Country United States
Language English, German
Genre History; Historiography
Publisher S. Fischer Verlag (German edition)
Harvard University Press (English edition)
Publication date 2002
Published in English 2006
Media type Print
ISBN 978-0-674-02577-6

The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality is a 2002 book by German historian Wolfram Wette which dealt with the issue of Wehrmacht's criminality during World War II and the legend of its "clean hands". The original German-language book was translated into five languages; the English edition was published in 2006 by Harvard University Press. Building on Omer Bartov's 1985 study The Eastern Front, 1941–1945: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare, the book deconstructs the myth of the clean Wehrmacht.


The book was first published in German in 2002 as Die Wehrmacht. Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden [The Wehrmacht: Images of the Enemy, War of Extermination, Legends]. According to The Atlantic, it shows that "the Wehrmacht—and not, as postwar accounts by German generals would have it, merely the SS—freely and even eagerly joined in murder and genocide, which were central, rather than incidental, features of its effort".[1] The book complements the earlier studies that focused on the average Landser (soldier) and in turn discusses the complicity of the highest levels of the Wehrmacht:[2]

It is rather a study of the path trod by the commanding officers: the field marshals, generals, and colonels who formulated policy and created an environment in which mass murder could occur. Wette demonstrates that this level of command not only knew about and approved of mass murder but, after the war, successfully created the myth that the Wehrmacht had played no role in the crimes committed during the war.


Reviewing the work, Geoffrey Megargee notes that "until Wette's work, there was no concise, general survey on the Wehrmacht's crimes, at least for an English-speaking audience. Thus, his work fills a significant gap in the literature." The review goes on to criticize the book for omitting key areas, according to Megargee, for assessing the Wehrmacht's criminality:[3]

Wette's description of the "criminal orders" is too sketchy, considering their importance. The death of over three million Soviet prisoners of war receives hardly any attention. He entirely misses the interaction of German strategy and operational doctrine, on the one hand, with genocide, on the other. Of special importance in that regard, the book does not address the German approach to anti-partisan warfare that evolved from 1870 on, which usually emphasized the maximum application of brutality in order to cow the populace into submission.

See also

  • Hitler's War in the East 1941−1945: A Critical Assessment
  • The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture




External links

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