on March 24, 2003
Rossino believes that the Wehrmacht committed numerous atrocities against civilians and POWs during the German invasion of Poland. Rossino disagrees with Bartov's thesis that the war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht was due to the stresses of combat on the Eastern Front instead Rossino states that even before they saw significant combat either in Poland or later Russia, the German army executed large numbers of civilians in Poland. Rossino states that the climate of brutality of the German army can be traced backed to the German officer corps taking Clausewitz's people's war theory to an extreme by massacaring the enemey's civilian population as seen in their actions in Southeastern Africa in the late nineteenth century and Belgum during the opening phases of the First World War. Also the ideological indoctrination of German soldiers greatly added to their hositilty to Slavs and Jews.Rossino mentions that oppostiion by some German generals to the activities by the SS and the Wehrmacht in Poland had to due with worries about keeping discipline in the army and not any great concern with innocent civilians. I would reccomend this book to anyone interested in the roots of the Holocaust and the massacre of millions of Slavs by the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.
Rossino's book, Hitler Strike's Poland, strikes a key note in understanding Germany political, military, and ideological objectives during the Second World War. For too long, histories of the war have tended to separate these three pillars of Hitler's national socialism, as if each were a distinctive "war" waged by separate armies. Students of Operation Barbarossa (The German attack on the Soviet Union) realize that this isn't the case, but for those who concentrate on the "clean" wars in the west and in the Mediterranean, the Wehrmacht carries a different reputation than it ought to.
Rossino's meticulous research brings the reader to the conclusion that ideological and racial considerations influenced German military operations and strategic aims. For example, German army units (not SS or secret police) deliberately encroached on the Soviet zone in order to evict Jews and prevent their entry into German occupied territory. Also, it is striking how many valuable resources -- transportation, manpower, fuel, and ammunition -- of which the Germans did not have an overabundance, the Germans committed to their extermination and suppression campaigns against Poland's non-Jewish civilians. From a strictly military standpoint, it was overkill, but from Hitler's perspective, military force was simply another, albeit more final, method to achieve political control over eastern Europe.
What I would have liked to have seen to make this a "five-star" book: A chapter on Polish resistance. The author only alludes to this facet of the campaign, which according to his German sources, played into Nazi propaganda and long-standing German animosity towards the Poles. It is unfortunate that the Poles, just as the Germans would have wished to view them, are "shadowy" characters in this tragic story. Second, some military terminology and concepts are either misrepresented or wrongly applied. For example, Poland was no "blitzkrieg," as we use the term. True, the Germans had tanks, but this campaign was won by hard marching and fighting infantry, artillery, and some aircraft. Tanks provided mobility, and they made some impressive gains, but of themselves were not decisive to the outcome (however, the 1st Panzer Division does have a more unsavory side to it in this campaign). Also, a "strategy of annihilation" as described by Karl v. Clausewitz was not a forerunner, doctrinal basis, or prescription for the "war of annihilation" as practiced by the Third Reich. The former refers to the destruction in battle or capture of an enemy's means to resist (his armies and navies); the latter seeks the eradication of racial and ideological enemies. Lastly, as reflected in the title of this review, I feel that it is more appropriate to emphasize that the wanton destruction inflicted on Poland's civilians, Jew and Gentile alike, was not the work of Hitler alone. In fact, Hitler was not much involved in the formation and employment of Einsatzgruppen or German army units. Other individuals -- Heydrich, Himmler, Halder, Brachitsch, and a host of other Generals and police functionaries -- had far more practical influence. Hitler certainly gave breath to anti-Polish and anti-Semetic attitudes, but he had other do the dirty work.
This book ought to become a classic in World War II literature. It shows that from the very start, German political and military objectives and means were thoroughly infused with racial, biological, and ideological motivations. It should prompt a reexamination of German army operations in the Balkans, Scandinavia, and western Europe.
on April 7, 2004
If you read the title you will see that this book is NOT a military history of the Polish Campaign. That in-depth history has yet to be written. Therefore let me warn any future readers looking for a detailed description of the campaigns and the sweep of the panzers, the gallant fighting of the Poles replete with maps, you shall have to look elsewhere.
The books central thesis could be summarised thus: historical interpretations of the Polish campaign have focused on it as the opening phase of a world war, where the harsh realities of battle on the Eastern Front and ideology of terror imbibed within Naziism did not give full vent. In fact as Rossino recounts, all the elements of Nazi Terror found expression from the first day of the war in Nazi occupied Poland.
- SS Order Police were fully integrated behind the line and were detailed to pick up political and Jewish leaders and members of the polish "intelligensia"
- Nazi ideology served as a well-spring to preciptate attrocities and aggravate encounters that turned into ferocious expressions of violence towards men, women and children --- without ideology some of these soldiers would have been controlled by their officers, or restrained by other men in their unit.
- the tendency to view Poles and Jews as inferior to Germans, and German Culture, gave full expression by the wanton and unprecipated killing of Polish civilians for no reason other than personal pleasure.
- in addition to SS and other terror elements, the Wehrmacht was equally responsible for the killing of civilians and POWs for no reason other than to terrorise the population or to "cleanse" it. And when reasons were lacking Poles were killed merely because they were viewed as members of a lesser race. Common sympathy were negated by ideology.
All of the above happened from Sept 01st. Although the mass factory killings are absent, it is clear that that is only a matter of time. The fact remains that Poland was the first test case of a terrific expression of volience of the average German Soldier towards civilians and POWs.
Besides the general attrocities commited in this book particular to Poland, I think that Rossino hits upon a grander issue. That is the issue of the corrosive influence of ideology on the mind of soldiers. In some cases commanders tried to stop the killings or discipline German troops or the SS. In most cases it was not because of a common human sympathy for the plight of Poles or Jews, it was merely for maintaining order in the rear and discipline within the army ranks. These few people found it immpossible to go through regular military authorities to discipline German soldiers guilty of attrocities. The system, conditioned by ideology thwarted them. In addition the German soldier also knew that he could kill with impugnity, and without compassion, as long as he was killing those of "lesser races."
This should serve as a chilling reminder or the importance of order in the ranks or any army during military operations, and the importance of dealing with any element that would think of the enemy as less than human. The German road to aggression in Poland is not a straight one to Auschwitz .... it is however, the start of the journey.
on August 6, 2004
This is a serious history book but easy to read. I read this book to better understand how people can come to do such evil things. I have a personal interest in this as I am of Polish descent and my wife is partially of German descent. The book mentions atrocities committed by both Germans and Poles prior to the Nazi invasion of 1939. In fact a relative (German) of my wife was murdered by members of the Polish Army (or at least wearing the uniform of the Polish Army).
The book gives a thorough picture of the brutal methods used by the SS and condoned by the German Army. It also explains the social conditions and attitudes that made these actions seem acceptable to Germans.
What I found most disturbing is that I have family members who are advocating using the same brutal methods used by the Nazis against the warlords in Afghanistan in order to find Bin Laden. Reading this book and seeing how good people today can go down that same path is disturbing.
This is a book everyone should read because it is a history lesson everyone should understand. If we do not learn the lessons of history, we will be forced to repeat them. This is, indeed, one of those lessons that should be learned from history not from experience.
on December 30, 2003
In a crowded field of study on World War II, Rossino has done an incredible job of finding new and important material about this topic. His research sheds new light on Nazi Policy in Poland during and after the invasion on 1 September 1939. He clearly shows that the "Final Solution" was not a systematic plan from the beginning of the war. Although the Nazis carried out operations of murder and oppression, they did not exclusively focus on Jewish citizens of that nation, but rather on all Poles in general. Anyone who is a student of World War II must have this book in order to understand the war in Poland and how Hitler began his conquest of Europe.
on July 7, 2007
Rossino recognizes the fact that German plans to destroy Poland went far beyond the "injustices" of Versailles, and had long preceded Hitler's rise to power (p. 6, 221-226). He also touches on Pilsudski's 1933 suggestion for a preventive Polish-French war against the infant Nazi state (p. 2).
The German invaders of 1939 saw the crushing poverty of Polish farmers as one that kept them 200 years culturally behind the poorest German farmer, and attributed this state of affairs to Jewish economic dominance (pp. 209-212). Ironic to the modern portrayal of Poles as eager anti-Semites, certain Germans chided Poles for their "stupidity" for letting the Jews cheat them and keep them in such poverty! (p. 210)
Rossino sees the 1939 German conquest of Poland as one exhibiting a level of viciousness unprecedented in European warfare up to that time, and not to be matched until Operation Barbarossa (p. 1). There was no love lost between the Pole and the Hun and, although atrocities occurred on both sides, German atrocities against Poles greatly dwarfed the reverse. Wehrmacht officers commonly opposed SS atrocities--not from ethical motives, but out of fear of adverse effects on military discipline (p. 115, 232). Still, the Wehrmacht was responsible for the massacres of 16,000-27,000 Polish civilians (p. 263). In addition, German forces murdered Polish POWs at hundreds of locations (p. 185). The SS alone murdered 43,000 Poles and 7,000 Jews through December 1939 (p. 234, 300). This is, of course, in addition to the colossal level of death and destruction resulting from German military operations.
Rossino elaborates on "Bloody Sunday" at Bydgoszcz (Bromberg). Some 1,000 Volksdeutsche were killed during their fifth-column actions against armed Poles prior to the Wehrmacht's entry (p. 62). This German propaganda embellished into a Polish massacre of 5,400 (p. 62) and then 50,000 (p. 258) implicitly-innocuous and defenseless German civilians. (I knew an eyewitness, Mr. Stefan Marcinkowski, who reported that there was no wholesale killing of unarmed German civilians by Poles at Bydgoszcz).
Rossino recognizes the fact that German atrocities continued even after Polish civilian resistance decreased (p. 153) and often had no relationship to the latter at all (p. 160, 178). He also recognizes the fact that the Nazis saw both Poles and Jews as enemies in a collective, racial sense: "According to the SS, the soldier was first and foremost a National Socialist Kampfer (fighter) who saw enemies in practical as well as in racial terms. SS personnel thus defined Polish soldiers and the civilian population (Jewish and non-Jewish) alike as legitimate targets of aggression." (p. 115).
Despite the foregoing, Rossino appears to be fixated on German anti-Polish actions as ends in themselves (crushing resistance), and fails to put them into proper genocidal context. In time, 3 million Polish gentiles were murdered by the Germans (p. 298). But, as pointed out by Raphael Lemkin (the Polish Jew who coined the term genocide), the killing off of the Polish intelligentsia (along with such things as the reduction of Poles' fertility, destruction of Polish cultural objects, etc.) was actually part of a multi-faceted, long-term plan to exterminate the Polish people.
Nowadays, Christianity is sometimes blamed for the Jewish Holocaust--never mind the fact that Nazism had been a secularist ideology. Furthermore, many leading Einsatzgruppe and Gestapo officials, later involved in the rape of Poland, are specifically identified by Rossino as having repudiated Christianity. These include: Bruno Streckenbach (p. 32), Bruno Mueller (p. 33), Karl-Heinz Rux (p. 40), Wilhelm Scharpwinkel (p. 42), Fritz Liphardt (p. 42), Lothar Beutel (p. 44), and Otto Hellwig (p. 51). (So, of course, did Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Frank, Kaltenbrunner, and other top Nazis.).
on September 29, 2013
The US in Southeast Asia was by no means the 20th century's only example of carnage unleashed by a conquering Western power upon a "backward," "Asiatic" population. As Alexander Rossino demonstrates throughout this monograph, a culturally-imbued racism combined with ideology and glorification of war on an (always) weaker opponent produces the same toxic brew of atrocity and inhumanity.
The Wehrmacht did not have American technology as it struck Poland, but this was more than compensated by the swiftness of the attack and the weakness of its foe. The true stalemate was reached not in Poland, but further east in Soviet territory. Warsaw served as the German Saigon as it attempted to pacify outlying regions. Yet as Rossino shows this relative quietude was deceptive and took rivers of blood to maintain.
Excellent photographs of German troops in action are included. One notable feature is the relative lack of gloating or sadism in the faces of German soldiers. One reads somberness, wistfulness, dismay, a grim determination to do one's "job" or even - as in the case of propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, caught breaking down at the execution of disobedient Jews - a realization of chickens coming home to roost. Facing the reality of inhumanity is so much different than cheap talk or jokes. But rather than a prong to conscience, blood on one's hands can in fact lead to a deadening of it and a mental justification for atrocity, as we recall also from SE Asia. And as with Americans back home, German civilians went about their daily lives mostly oblivious to what the boys at the front were doing; and even if aware, content that the Polish "gooks" only deserved this anyway for daring to fire upon "our troops defending our country."
There is no mention of a body count scoring system; thus German troops might even come off as relatively humane in their rollover of Poland - until one recalls Operation Tannenberg, the policy of deliberately targeting the intellectual and political elite of Poland in planned extermination, given even first priority over "settling with" the Jews. When Rossino talks of a "breakdown" in discipline, however, I feel he's on shaky ground. Brutality and atrocity do not just spring from prior attitudes and education alone: they result also from specific command indoctrination before troops are ever committed to action. Encouraging them to retaliate against threats, real or perceived, with maximum response requires the trained discipline to overcome humane impulses to the contrary.
All in all an excellent study of yet another brutal time and place. Americans can take very cold comfort that their forces do not stand out as exceptionally evil in the last century's litany of crimes against humanity.
on October 17, 2004
I was looking for a book about the polish campaign, in particular from the military point of view. I knew that talking about it means talking about Einsatzgruppen, SS and Wehrmacht atrocity against Jews and Polish 'Intelligentsia'.
In fact, the Rossino's study focuses only on these Killing Mobile Units, telling about the campaign main course only to place the testimonies of atrocities in a cronological context.
Beware, if you are searching a military point of view this is not the book for you. If you want an Einsatzgruppen story and a great study about Wehrmacht and SS collaboration (you'll discover that sometimes the Wehrmacht hindered the former tasks) for the Untermensch destruction, buy it. If you proudly display a WWII library, buy it anyway. But buy also Browning's Ordinary Men.
The 3 stars comes out not from the above statements but from the book boring attitude. The work is well researched and Mr. Rossino is a competent scholar. The goal was not to entertain us, but to teach a piece of history and he accomplished the task. The problem is that he didn't even try to make the reading more pleasant.
A study about an olocaust should not entertain you, but could possibly stimulate your attention.
Too much plain stats can drive you mad. I finished it only because I finish every book. I made it in two months and in the meantime I read 6 other books.
If you, too, will finish it, you'll get a deep comprehension of the matter. Then you'll proudly put it on the shelves and never take it again.
I'm an Assistant of a Law University Professor and I know that no subject is necessarily boring. The first and fundamental challenge is to teach well. The second is to maintain an high level of interest of the listeners (and readers).
Unfortunately, Mr. Rossino did not take care of the latter goal.
on July 7, 2004
This book goes into great detail of how Germany invaded Poland by employing its "blitzkrieg" tactics and the atrocities that accompanied the invasion. Some of the horrors inflicted on the Polish, particularly Polish Jews, are unthinkable. I really liked how Rossini describes the various factions within the SS and the major players involved throughout the entire process to create "Lebensraum" (living space) for the German peoples. I also find it quite ironic that the Polish are described by many of the SS barbarians as "violent." My only complaint was that the author could have described the military tactics from the Polish perspective a bit more. In other words, why was the German army able to steamroll the Polish military so easily. A few accounts from Polish officers would have helped, though we did get quite a few accounts from Polish civilians.
on March 17, 2004
I found the book extremely disappointing and insulting to the Poles. The author states that Polish civilians might have brought the German retaliation on themselves because they essentially tried to fight back. What a ridiculous conclusion! Thanks to their British and French allies who did not honor their comments to assist, the Poles had to fight back any way they could. Hitler made no secret of his desire to wipe out the Poles. The Poles had no intention of rolling over and capitulating to the Germans (as the French subsequently did). The author's portrayal of ethnic Germans in Poland also leaves a lot to be desired. Their treatment of their Polish nieghbors was also horrific. Better accounts can be found in Lucas' "Forgotten Holocaust" and Piotrowski's "Poland's Holocaust".