Bachelor of Arts
Leonard V. Smith
German history, World War Two, Soldier, War atrocity
This thesis relies primarily on German soldiers’ diaries, letters, and post-war memoirs in order to present an detailed narrative from those soldiers. The selected soldiers all came from West Germany and Austria. Through scrutiny of their voices as case studies, this thesis argues that in their writings in different time periods during and after the war, German soldiers struggled not just to physically survive the war, but also to morally justify their roles in the war. Participating in arguably the world’s most destructive war in history, German soldiers of World War Two encountered an irreconcilable delima since they were on one hand both psychologically and physically unprepared for the magnitude of violence laying ahead. On the other hand, despite such unpreparedness, most German soldiers chose not waive the bloody business imposed by the regime even if knowing that sometimes rejection would not caused any serious punishment. To reconcile their personal abhorrence with war and their active participation during the war, German soldiers, during the heydays of slaughtering, found their relieves mainly by getting drunk, and seeking temporary refuges by exchanging letters with family members. While such methods enabled German soldiers to better cope with embattled frontline life, it also paved the ground for them to better fulfill the orders given by the Nazi authority, which included burning down villages and murdering enemy civilians. However, in soldiers’ post-war memoirs, they tended to emphasize the wounded and embattled sides of themselves and avoided discussing their own participations in war atrocities. Practices like denial, selective remembrance, and self-victimization enabled German veterans to not just integrated into the post-war democratic society, but also reinvented the historiography of the war and Europe. Appealing Cold-War political discourses, German soldiers’ historical narratives actually occupied the mainstream historiography in West Germany for decades. This thesis will explain that the prejudiced narratives were the products of “cognitive dissonance” that happened when soldiers experienced drastic psychological changes at a certain moment.
Cao, Jiahao, "Memoirs of Wehrmacht Soldiers —— From Survival to Victimhood" (2020). Honors Papers. 680.