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Section: Resistance, Responses and Collaboration

German collaboration and complicity

This photograph shows two young Jewish boys being used as examples in a German classroom in the 1930s. It demonstrates one way in which teachers in Germany collaborated with the Nazis – teaching their ideas about race.

This photograph shows two young Jewish boys being used as examples in a German classroom in the 1930s. It demonstrates one way in which teachers in Germany collaborated with the Nazis – teaching their ideas about race.

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

German citizens’ collaboration with the Nazis was widespread. The oppressive nature of the Nazi state meant that it was difficult not to be complicit in Nazi activities at some level – although some people played a much more active role in helping the Nazis to achieve their aims than others.

Different examples of collaboration in Nazi Germany include: informing on Jews, creating antisemitic legislation, taking part in Jewish boycotts, and being a Wehrmacht officer.

Informants

In Nazi Germany, some citizens passed on information about their neighbours, family, and friends to the Gestapo. This was called informing. Nazi propaganda presented the Gestapo as an omnipresent all-seeing, all-knowing group, but in reality there was just one secret police officer for approximately every 10,000 citizens of Nazi Germany. The Gestapo were therefore reliant on a network of thousands of informants.

The information passed on by informants typically accused someone of breaking the law or of being a criminal in some way. The information provided was not always based on fact and could often be rumour or suspicion. For example, if someone had stereotypical Jewish features they might be informed on to be a potential Jew, and would therefore have to prove that they were not a Jew to the Gestapo or face torture and imprisonment. Informants reported on a number of different undesirable activities, such as anti-Nazi sentiment, communist activity, Jews in hiding, people suspected to be Jews, and much more.

Informers had various motives including antisemitism, racism, a strong belief in Nazi ideology and governance, fear, personal gain, professional gain, and personal disagreements (e.g. informing the Gestapo that someone was a communist in response to a personal dislike or argument with that person). Most informers were aware of the consequences of their actions.

Civil Service

Following the Nazi rise to power, new textbooks were introduced to make sure that all content taught by teachers was in line with the Nazis’ beliefs. This page is taken from a Nazi racial science textbook published in 1934. In the bottom right corner, someone has added another side profile with stereotypical Jewish features and written ‘Jüden’, meaning Jews, next to it.

Following the Nazi rise to power, new textbooks were introduced to make sure that all content taught by teachers was in line with the Nazis’ beliefs. This page is taken from a Nazi racial science textbook published in 1934. In the bottom right corner, someone has added another side profile with stereotypical Jewish features and written ‘Jüden’, meaning Jews, next to it.

Courtesy of The Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

While the Nazi leadership led the way in creating their racist ideology, the anti-Jewish laws and propaganda were implemented and bound into law by those working for the Civil Service.. Those who continued to work in the Civil Service following the Nazi rise to power therefore directly contributed to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

For example, teachers in the Third Reich collaborated with the Nazis by teaching antisemitic propaganda, using antisemitic textbooks, participating in excluding Jewish students from normal schools, and helping to eliminate (or not standing up for) Jewish teachers from their jobs. The example of teachers’ collaboration shows how each act of collaboration contributed to the exclusion and persecution of Jews.

Wehrmacht

The Wehrmacht was the German Army in the Third Reich. The Wehrmacht collaborated with the Nazis throughout their time in power to help them achieve their ideological aims, such as Lebensraum and the extermination of Jews and others.

Generally, prior to the Second World War, soldiers and armies adhered to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 (and Geneva Protocol of 1925), which laid out the accepted international laws of war and war crimes. Under these conventions, civilians and civilian property were protected and there were regulations on the welfare of prisoners of war and chemical and biological warfare were banned.

In the Second World War, many of the Wehrmacht soldiers did not adhere to the Hague Convention and instead actively helped the Nazis to persecute and murder the Jews of Europe, as well as other racial victims such as eastern European civilians and Roma. Orders from the Nazi high command, such as the Guidelines for the Behaviour of the Troops in Russia (issued on 4 June 1941), which advocated ruthless action against communists, partisans, saboteurs and Jews and the total elimination of all who resisted the Nazi rule in any way, guided the Wehrmacht and their actions.

During the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht provided vital logistical support, in the form of supplies, organisation, transport, to the Einsatzgruppen. This support allowed the Einsatzgruppen to successfully and quickly carry out their orders across the Soviet Union. In some instances, the Wehrmacht also took part in or independently carried out mass killings, such as at the Babi Yar massacre.

The Wehrmacht were also complicit in the death of millions of Soviet Prisoners of War (POWs). As Soviets were thought of as racially inferior by the Nazis, the Wehrmacht intentionally did not provide them with shelter or medical care, and only allowed them inadequate amounts of food. Approximately 3.3 million Soviet Prisoners of War died under the care of the Wehrmacht.

Although some Wehrmacht soldiers resisted and refused to carry out murders of civilians or prisoners of war, they were a minority overall.

DID YOU KNOW...

'Clean Wehrmacht' myth

Immediately following the Second World War, a rumour was spread that the Wehrmacht were ‘clean’ and did not participate with the Nazis in any of their genocidal actions. The Wehrmacht, so the myth claimed, only took part in normal wartime activities and as such could not be found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis in the Holocaust.

This myth was relatively popular in Germany until an exhibition appeared in Hamburg in 1995 entitled War of Annihilation: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944. The exhibition showed the extent of the Wehrmacht complicity and collaboration.

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