London, November 1 (ANI): Ordinary German soldiers were likely to be complicit in acts of barbarity against the Jews during the Second World War, it has been revealed in a new book 'Soldaten'.
The conversations of the soldiers about raping Russian women, slaughtering Jews and wiping out inhabitants of Russian villages with grenades and petrol remained under lock and key, before they were sent to the National Archives, where they gathered dust.
It was not until 2001 that they were finally unearthed by a German historian called Sonke Neitzel, who quickly realised that the conversations constituted some of the most important testimony to have emerged from the war.
What emerges most strongly in the recordings is the fact that many German soldiers did not see their acts as crimes, no matter how horrific.
"The fact that we were soldiers was enough to justify any crimes and corruption, and was sufficient basis for an existence in hell," the Daily Mail quoted one soldier as saying.
Between them, the German Army, Navy and Air Force most successfully did create their own version of hell, and they created it all over Europe. A Luftwaffe corporal called Muller recalled how he had travelled around the Ukraine by lorry, from which he had observed women being forced to work.
"They were employed on road-making. Extraordinarily lovely girls; we drove past, simply pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!" he told his companion in his cell at Trent Park.
These women were fortunate as compared with those living in the Belgian village of Hilay, who found themselves at the receiving end of the anger of Private Franz Diekmann and his comrades. They had just lost one of their men to a "terrorist".
"We fired MGs [machine guns] into the midst of thirty Belgian women, They wanted to raid the German supply dump. But they were chased away in no uncertain manner," Diekmann said.
When Diekmann's cellmate asked whether the women managed to run away, Diekmann simply replied "No, they were all dead."
Even women in Britain were not safe from the murderous impulses of members of the Wehrmacht. The operators at Trent Park once heard two Luftwaffe officers sharing tales of how they had machine-gunned civilians in British towns.
"We once made a low-level attack near Eastbourne," a pilot called von Greim said.
"When we got there, we saw a large mansion where they seemed to be having a ball or something; in any case we saw a lot of women in fancy-dress, and an orchestra. We turned round and flew towards it. The first time, we flew past, and then we approached again and machine-gunned them. It was great fun!" Greim said.
Similar atrocities were carried out by other members of the Luftwaffe. First Lieutenant Hans Harting from Fighter Wing 26 recalled how he had raided southern England in 1943.
"We were ordered to fire at everything, except military targets," he said.
"We killed women and children with prams," Harting said.
Often during the conversations, the German prisoners justified their crimes by claiming that they were a reaction to the brutalities carried out by the Russians.
An army Lieutenant called Leichtfuss recalled how he had come across six dead German soldiers on the Eastern Front who had had their tongues nailed to a table, as well as another dozen who had been thrown down a well and stoned to death.
"These incidents were taken for a reason for repaying it tenfold, twenty and a hundredfold," Leichtfuss said.
"When a small detachment of about ten or 15 [enemy troops] was captured there, it was too difficult for the soldier to transport them back 100 or 120km. They were locked in a room and three or four hand grenades were flung in through the window," he said.
The idea that mass murder could be "fun" was also shared by some members of the Luftwaffe. Even in the very earliest days of the war, during the invasion of Poland, members of the German air force would take similar delight in mowing down people and horses from the air.
"On the first day, it seemed terrible to me but I said to myself, "Hell! Orders are orders". On the second and third days I felt it didn't matter a hoot, and on the fourth day I enjoyed it. But, as I said, the horses screamed. I hardly heard the plane, so loud did they scream. One of them lay there with its hind legs torn off," Lieutenant Pohl, a Luftwaffe airborne observer, said.
The most infamous crime to have occurred during the war was the Holocaust, and although much of it was carried out by units such as the SS, the Gestapo, and the SD - the SS Security Service - there were men and officers of the Wehrmacht who also participated.
When talking in their cells at Trent Park, German officers would often try to convince themselves it was only really the SS that carried out mass killings, but there were some, such as Colonel Eberhard Wildermuth, who knew better.
However, it appears that Nazi ideology was not the chief motivating factor that made "ordinary" members of the German armed forces commit atrocities.
Dr Neitzel argues they took part in such actions because they saw it as their job, and that war normalises violence and creates a context in which men can commit bloodthirsty acts with little or no conscience. (ANI)