The continuum of brutality: Wehrmacht security divisions in Central Russia, 1942

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The complicity of the Wehrmacht as an institution in the crimes of the Third Reich, and its participation in that régime's war of extermination, are matters of historical record. Yet conduct and motivation amongst lower-level units are only recently receiving extensive attention. It is a picture which, whilst far from exculpatory, is nuanced and complex. This paper examines conduct and motivation, during 1942, within one of the Wehrmacht security divisions involved in one of the war of extermination's most destructive aspects, the anti-partisan campaign in the Soviet Union. This campaign was directed far more against civilians, through such measures as massive reprisals and largescale operations often immensely destructive of lives and property, than against actual partisans. That said, multiple influences, including ideological and military doctrine, physical conditions and officers' individual perceptions, shaped actual conduct, and conduct itself ranged from ruthless brutality to measures encouraging popular native support and partisan desertion. One of the paper's key points is that the physical pressures of anti-partisan warfare—inhospitable terrain, insufficient security forces and a ruthless, unseen enemy—did not always translate, as past research has often argued, into brutality. In certain circumstances, they compelled some units to pursue conciliatory policies even more rigorously.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGerman History
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


  • German history
  • Wehrmacht
  • Central Russia


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