A German Field Marshal Instructs the Wehrmacht on Its Role in the Soviet Union

The document below is, with minor alterations for clarity's sake, the official English-language translation of the original German document as presented in evidence at the Nuremberg military tribunals assembled in order to try suspected war criminals. The original German document is also available. (source: John Mendelsohn, ed., The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes. Vol. 10: The Einsatzgruppen or Murder Commandos [New York: Garland, 1982], pp. 11-12])

In this document, Field Marshal Walter von Reichenau (1884-1942) of the German Sixth Army, in the southern sector of the German assault on the Soviet Union, reacts to reports of the softness of his troops by instilling them with particularly strong statements about their role in suppressing communism and Soviet Jewry. Reichenau was known as one of the most strongly Nazi of the leading German Wehrmacht (army) commanders. He died of a stroke only a few months after he issued this document to his troops. Other German commanders in the Soviet Union also used this document to instruct their troops. For further information, see Omer Bartov, Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 129-30.

Translation of Document No. NOKW-309 Continued Copy AOK 6

Sect. Ia-File No. 7

 Army H.Qu., 10 October 1941

 Subject: Conduct of Troops in Eastern Territories.

 Regarding the conduct of troops towards the bolshevistic system, vague ideas are still prevalent in many cases. The most essential aim of war against the Jewish-bolshevistic system is a complete destruction of their means of power and the elimination of Asiatic influence from the European culture. In this connection the troops are facing tasks which exceed the one-sided routine of soldiering. The soldier in the Eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war but also a bearer of ruthless national ideology and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations.

 Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i.e. the annihilation of revolts in hinterland, which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews.

 The combating of the enemy behind the front line is still not being taken seriously enough. Treacherous, cruel partisans and degenerate women are still being made prisoners-of-war and guerilla fighters dressed partly in uniform or plain clothes and vagabonds are still being treated as proper soldiers, and sent to prisoner-of-war camps. In fact, captured Russian officers talk even mockingly about Soviet agents moving openly about the roads and very often eating at German field kitchens. Such an attitude of the troops can only be explained by complete thoughtlessness, so it is now high time for the commanders to clarify the meaning of the pressing struggle.

 The feeding of the natives and of prisoners-of-war who are not working for the Armed forces from Army kitchens is an equally misunderstood humanitarian act as is the giving of cigarettes and bread. Things which the people at home can spare under great sacrifices and things which are being bought by the command to the front under great difficulties, should not be given to the enemy by the soldier even if they originate from booty. It is an important part of our supply.

 When retreating the Soviets have often set buildings on fire. The troops should be interested in extinguishing of fires only as far as it is necessary to secure sufficient numbers of billets. Otherwise the disappearance of symbols of the former bolshevistic rule even in the form of buildings is part of the struggle of destruction. Neither historic nor artistic considerations are of any importance in the Eastern territories. The command issues the necessary directives for the securing of raw material and plants, essential for war economy. The complete disarming of the civilian population in the rear of the fighting troops is imperative considering the long vulnerable lines of communications. Where possible, captured weapons and ammunition should be stored and guarded. Should this be impossible because of the situation of the battle, the weapons and ammunition will be rendered useless. If isolated partisans are found using firearms in the rear of the army drastic measures are to be taken. These measures will be extended to that part of the male population who were in a position to hinder or report the attacks. The indifference of numerous apparently anti-Soviet elements which originates from a "wait and see" attitude, must give way to a clear decision for active collaboration. If not, no one can complain about being judged and treated a member of the Soviet system.

 The fear of German counter-measures must be stronger than threats of the wandering bolshevistic remnants. Regardless of all future political considerations the soldier has to fulfill two tasks:

 1.) Complete annihilation of the false Bolshevist doctrine of the Soviet State and its armed forces.

 2.) The pitiless extermination of foreign treachery and cruelty and thus the protection of the lives of military personnel in Russia.

 This is the only way to fulfill our historic task to liberate the German people once and for all from the Asiatic-Jewish danger.


 (signed) von Reichenau

 Field Marshal