It must be said this is rather grim, depressing reading. It brings some of the latest international scholarship on the events on the Eastern Front to an English language audience. There are two main arguments. First, that there is a direct link between the front line fighting and the atrocities going on behind the front lines, second that a cycle of radicalization took place. Early setbacks encouraged a more radical approach. If the new radical measures failed, then even more radical ideas would be implemented. If the radial idea worked, then that was taken as approval for more radical ideas. In addition the impetus towards radicalization came from the top and the bottom, with Hitler always favouring the dramatic, extreme measure, which allowed lower ranked individuals to implement their own extreme ideas.
There is a slight tendency to overuse 'radicalization'. In most cases this is valid, but in the context of urban warfare it is used where 'got better at' would have been more accurate, to describe the way in which the German army developed a doctrine for city combat.
The individual articles each provide a different insight into the mechanism that lead to and accelerated the pace of atrocities on the Eastern Front. One provides damning evidence of enthusiastic collaboration with the genocide on the part of Hitler's allies. Another disproves the idea of the 'clean' Wehrmacht, looking at evidence that proves that every single army, every single corps and the vast majority of divisions implemented the 'Commissar Order', illegally killed captured Soviet soldiers.
The book finishes with a look at the connections between the fighting in the East and occupation policies in France. Here the argument is that that a lack of resources and the relatively pleasant experiences of most occupation troops, combined with a lack of resources and the need for French cooperation to prevent the most extreme measures being implemented, despite pressure from above and several changes of commander.
This is valuable reading for anyone with a serious interest in the Second World War, demonstrating the clear links between the progress of the war and the level of atrocities behind the front lines, and the complicity of every part of the German war machine in the killing.
1 - Radicalizing Warfare: The German Command and the Failure of Operation Barbarossa, David Stahel
2 - Urban Warfare Doctrine on the Eastern Front, Adrian E. Wettstein
3 - The Wehrmacht in the War of Ideologies: The Army and Hitler's Criminal Orders on the Eastern Front, Felix Römer
4 - 'The Purpose of the Russian Campaign Is the Decimation of the Slavic Population by Thirty Million': The Radicalization of German Food Policy in Early 1941, Alex J. Kay
5 - The Radicalization of German Occupation Policies: The Wirtschaftsstab Ost and the 121st Infantry Division in Pavlovsk, 1941, Jeff Rutherford
6 - The Exploitation of Foreign Territories and the Discussion of Ostland's Currency in 1941, Paolo Fonzi
7 - Axis Collaboration, Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust in Ukraine, Wendy Lower
8 - The Radicalization of Anti-Jewish Policies in Nazi-Occupied Belarus, Leonid Rein
9 - The Minsk Experience: German Occupiers and Everyday Life in the Capital of Belarus, Stephan Lehnstaedt
10 - Extending the Genocidal Program: Did Otto Ohlendorf Initiate the Systematic Extermination of Soviet 'Gypsies', Martin Holler
11 - The Development of German Policy in Occupied France, 1941, against the Backdrop of the War in the East, Thomas J. Laub
Conclusion: Total War, Genocide and Radicalization, Alex J. Kay, Jeff Rutherford and David Stahel
Editors: Alex J Kay, Jeff Rutherford and David Stahel
Publisher: University of Rochester Press