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War of annihilation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A war of annihilation (German: Vernichtungskrieg) or war of extermination is a type of war in which the goal is the complete annihilation of a state, a people or an ethnic minority through genocide or through the destruction of their livelihood. The goal can be outward-directed or inward, against elements of one's own population. The goal is not like other types of warfare, the recognition of limited political goals, such as recognition of a legal status (such as in a war of independence), control of disputed territory (as in war of aggression or defensive war), or the total military defeat of an enemy state.

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War of annihilation is defined as a radicalized form of warfare in which "all psycho-physical limits" are abolished.[1]

The Hamburg social scientist Jan Philipp Reemtsma sees a war, "which is led, in the worst case, to destroy or even decimate a population", as the heart of the war of annihilation.[2] The state organization of the enemy will be smashed. Another characteristic of a war of annihilation is its ideological character and the rejection of negotiations with the enemy, as the historian Andreas Hillgruber has shown in the example of the 1941 Operation Barbarossa against Jewish Bolshevism.[3] The legitimacy and trustworthiness of the opponent is negated, demoted to status of a total enemy, with whom there can be no understanding, but rather devotes the totality of one's own "Volk, Krieg und Politik [als] Triumph der Idee des Vernichtungskrieges" (people, war and politics [to the] triumph of the idea of the war of annihilation).[4]


Herero uprising

Social Democratic Party of Germany political communications had circulated the term Vernichtungskrieg in order to criticize the action against the insurgents during the Herero Wars.[5]

In January 1904 the Herero and Namaqua genocide began in the German colony German South West Africa. With a total of about 15,000 men under Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, this uprising was prostrated until August 1904. Most of the Herero fled to the almost waterless Omaheke, an offshoot of the Kalahari Desert. From Trotha had them locked down and the refugees chased away from the few water spots there, so that thousands of Herero along with their families and cattle herds died of thirst. The hunted in the desert, let Trotha in the so-called Vernichtungsbefehl, "Annihilation Command":

Die Herero sind nicht mehr Deutsche Untertanen. […] Innerhalb der Deutschen Grenze wird jeder Herero mit oder ohne Gewehr, mit oder ohne Vieh erschossen, ich nehme keine Weiber und keine Kinder mehr auf, treibe sie zu ihrem Volke zurück oder lasse auch auf sie schießen.

The Herero are no longer German subjects. ... Within the German border, every Herero is shot with or without a rifle, with or without cattle, I take no more wives and no children, I drive them back to their people or let them be shot.

Trotha's warfare aimed at the complete annihilation of the Herero ("I believe that the nation must be destroyed as such"[6]) and was supported in particular by Schlieffen and Kaiser Wilhelm II.[7] His approach is therefore considered to be the first genocide of the twentieth century. Trotha's action sparked outrage in Germany and abroad; at the instigation of chancellor Bernhard von Bülow, the Emperor lifted the order of annihilation two months after the events in the Omaheke. Trotha's policy remained largely unchanged until its revocation in November 1905.[7]

Ludendorff's conception

The war of annihilation was a further development of the concept of Total War, as 1935 the former imperial General Quartermaster Erich Ludendorff had designed. Thereafter, in a coming war, victory must be given unlimited priority over all other societal concerns: all resources would have to be harnessed, the will of the nation had to be made available before the outbreak of the hostilities are unified by propaganda and dictatorship violence, all available weapons would have to be used, and no consideration could be taken of International law. Even in its objectives, total war is unlimited, as the experience of First World War teaching:

They not only led the armed forces of the states involved in the war, who aspired to annihilate each other; the peoples themselves were put in the service of warfare; the war was also directed against them and pulled them into deepest passion ... Fighting against the enemy forces on huge fronts and wide seas, the struggle against the psyche and life force of the hostile peoples was joined with the purpose of depressing and paralyzing them.[a]

In this conceptual delimitation of the war, Ludendorff was able to draw from the German military-theoretical discourse, which had formed in the confrontation with the People's War, the "Guerre à outrance", which the newly created Third French Republic in the fall and winter of 1870 against the Prussian-German invaders of the Franco-Prussian War.[9]

Ludendorff also dealt with Carl von Clausewitz and his 1832 posthumously published work On War, in which he distinguished between 'absolute' and 'limited' wars. But even for Clausewitz absolute war was subject to restrictions, such as the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, between military and civil or between public and private. Ludendorff claimed now that in total war it is no longer a "petty political purpose", not even "big ... national interests", but the sheer Lebenserhaltung (life-support) of the nation, its identity. This existential threat also justifies the annihilation of the enemy, at least moral, if not physical.[10] Ludendorffs efforts to radicalize the war (for which he was responsible from 1916) met with social, political and military barriers. In the year 1935, his advice was then, as the historian Robert Foley writes, "on fertile ground"; the time seemed ripe for an even more radical delimitation of the war by the National Socialists.[9]

Nazi warfare

The best known example of a Vernichtungskrieg is the German-Soviet War, which began on June 22, 1941 with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Berlin historian Ernst Nolte called this 1963 in a much-quoted formulation as the "most egregious Versklavungs- und Vernichtungskrieg [war of enslavement and annihilation] known to modern history" and distinguished it from a "normal war", as the Nazi regime conducted against France.[11]

In his 1965 habilitation thesis Hitlers Strategie Andreas Hillgruber worked out the motifs of the Nazi state based on racial ideological basis for the war against the Soviet Union:

  1. The physical extinction of the "Judeo-Bolshevik" elite of the country and the Jews themselves as their supposed biological root
  2. The conquest of colonial and Lebensraum for the German Reich and
  3. The subjugation and decimation of the Slavic population.[12]

Later, Hillgruber explicitly described the character of the Eastern Front as "intended racial-ideological war of annihilation".[13] Operation Barbarossa has also found its way into the historical-political teaching of general education schools as a historical example of an extermination war.[14]

The concept of the war of annihilation was intensely discussed in the 1990s with reference to the Wehrmachtsausstellung of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, which carried the word "Vernichtungskrieg" in the title.[15] That Operation Barbarossa would be a war of annihilation, Adolf Hitler had pronounced openly on March 30, 1941 before the generals of the Wehrmacht:

Kampf zweier Weltanschauungen gegeneinander. Vernichtendes Urteil über Bolschewismus, ist gleich asoziales Verbrechertum. Kommunismus ungeheure Gefahr für die Zukunft. Wir müssen von dem Standpunkt des soldatischen Kameradentums abrücken. Der Kommunist ist vorher kein Kamerad und nachher kein Kamerad. Es handelt sich um einen Vernichtungskampf. Wenn wir es nicht so auffassen, dann werden wir zwar den Feind schlagen, aber in 30 Jahren wird uns wieder der kommunistische Feind gegenüberstehen. Wir führen nicht Krieg, um den Feind zu konservieren. […] Kampf gegen Rußland: Vernichtung der bolschewistischen Kommissare und der kommunistischen Intelligenz. […] Der Kampf wird sich sehr unterscheiden vom Kampf im Westen. Im Osten ist Härte mild für die Zukunft. Die Führer müssen von sich das Opfer verlangen, ihre Bedenken zu überwinden.

Fight two worldviews against each other. Devastating verdict on Bolshevism is equal to antisocial criminality. Communism immense danger for the future. We have to move away from the position comradeship between soldiers. The communist is not a comrade before and not a comrade afterwards. It is a battle of annihilation. If we do not take it that way, we will beat the enemy, but in 30 years the Communist enemy will be facing us again. We are not waging war to preserve the enemy. ... Fight against Russia: destruction of Bolshevik commissioners and Communist intelligence. ... The fight will be very different from the fight in the West. In the east, hardness is mild for the future. The leaders must ask the victim to overcome their concerns.

The orientation of Operation Barbarossa as a prior planned war of annihilation proves the commands prepared according to the general guidelines cited by Hitler on 30 March 1941 before the start of the campaign, such as the Barbarossa Decree of 13 May 1941, the Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia of 19 May 1941 and the Commissar Order of 6 June 1941.[16]

The German guidelines for agricultural policy in the Soviet territories to be conquered are one of the most extreme examples of a robbery and annihilation strategy. In a meeting of the secretaries of State on May 2, 1941, the Hunger Plan prepared:

Hierbei werden zweifellos zig Millionen Menschen verhungern, wenn von uns das für uns Notwendige aus dem Lande herausgeholt wird.

This will undoubtedly starve tens of millions of people if we get what we need pried out of the country.

The German historian Jochen Böhler regarded the Invasion of Poland as "prelude to the Vernichtungskrieg" against the Soviet Union 1941.[17]

Other examples

In journalism and research, many other conflicts are also known as Vernichtungskrieg.

In 1876, the German writer and historian Felix Dahn used the term for the first time in the modern sense: in his novel A struggle for Rome he let the Byzantine warlord Narses aim his campaign against Goths to Ethnic group in Italy completely utterly, i.e. lead a "war of annihilation against their entire folklore".[18]

Also for the Third Punic War 149 – 146 BC,[19] the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest[20] or the Indian Wars of the North American settlers[21] Find evidence that they call war of annihilation.

The ethnologist Otto Stoll wrote 1888 of a war of annihilation of the Spanish Conquistadores against the indigenous population.[22]

The former employee of the German Military History Research Office (Germany) Joachim Hoffmann described in his book Stalin's Annihilation War (1995) the Soviet warfare against Nazi Germany as a "War of Annihilation". He cites as the motto a speech made by Josef Stalin on 6 November 1941, in which this stated:

Well, if the Germans want a Vernichtungskrieg, they will get it (stormy, prolonged applause). From now on, it will be our task to be the task of all the peoples of the Soviet Union, the task of the fighters, the commanders and the political officials of our army and our fleet, to destroy all invading Germans occupying the territory of our homeland to the last man. No mercy to the German occupiers![b]

Other academics do not follow Hoffmann's interpretation of the speech, but refer to Stalin's further statements in the following months that an annihilation of Germany is by no means his goal of war.[24] Hoffmann's work as a whole was highly critically reviewed by a majority.[25]

There is talk of an "unbridled War of Annihilation" (Norbert Blüm),[26] or its English counterpart, "War of Extermination", when Israel's approach is described in Middle East conflict from various sides.[27] The "Nazi comparison" implied in this wording is an indication of secondary antisemitism.[28]

In a publication of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Potsdam from the year 1998, the action of Guatemalan military in Civil War is called the "relentless war of annihilation against one's own people."[29]

General James Mattis also described the war against ISIL as a war of annihilation, since the terrorist organization itself has also vowed in many of their propaganda publications to want to exterminate or enslave anyone who they consider as an enemy, and their actions evidently prove it. However it only refers to the complete destruction or unconditional surrender of the ISIL regime and leaders (see List of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant members), not of the populations they controlled.[30]


  1. ^ Ihn führten nicht nur die Wehrmächte der am Kriege beteiligten Staaten, die gegenseitig ihre Vernichtung erstrebten, die Völker selbst wurden in den Dienst der Kriegsführung gestellt, der Krieg richtete sich auch gegen sie selbst und zog sie selbst in tiefste Mitleidenschaft […] Zum Kampf gegen die feindlichen Streitkräfte auf gewaltigen Fronten und weiten Meeren gesellte sich das Ringen gegen die Psyche und Lebenskraft der feindlichen Völker zu dem Zweck, sie zu zersetzen und zu lähmen.[8]
  2. ^ Nun wohl, wenn die Deutschen einen Vernichtungskrieg wollen, so werden sie ihn bekommen (stürmischer, lang anhaltender Beifall). Von nun an wird es unsere Aufgabe, die Aufgabe aller Völker der Sowjetunion, die Aufgabe der Kämpfer, der Kommandeure und der politischen Funktionäre unserer Armee und unserer Flotte sein, alle Deutschen, die in das Gebiet unserer Heimat als Okkupanten eingedrungen sind, bis auf den letzten Mann zu vernichten. Keine Gnade den deutschen Okkupanten![23]


  1. ^ Sven Lindqvist: Durch das Herz der Finsternis. Ein Afrika-Reisender auf den Spuren des europäischen Völkermords, Unionsverlag, Zürich 1999, S. 62; Susanne Kuß, Bernd Martin: Das Deutsche Reich und der Boxeraufstand. Iudicium, München 2002, p. 62.
  2. ^ Jan Philipp Reemtsma: Die Idee des Vernichtungskrieges. Clausewitz – Ludendorff – Hitler. In: Hannes Heer, Klaus Naumann (Eds.): Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941–1944. Hamburg 1995, pp. 377–401, hier S. 377, vgl. auch 386–398.
  3. ^ Andreas Hillgruber: Die ideologisch-dogmatische Grundlage der nationalsozialistischen Politik der Ausrottung der Juden in den besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetunion und ihre Durchführung 1941–1944. In: German Studies Review 2 (1979), Bd. 3, p. 263–296.
  4. ^ Jan Philipp Reemtsma: Die Idee des Vernichtungskrieges. Clausewitz – Ludendorff – Hitler, pp. 386–398, Zitat p. 397.
  5. ^ Frank Oliver Sobich: "Schwarze Bestien, rote Gefahr". Rassismus und Antisozialismus im deutschen Kaiserreich. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2006, S. 301–305.
  6. ^ Brief an Generalstabschef Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, 5. Oktober 1904, in: Michael Behnen: Quellen zur deutschen Aussenpolitik im Zeitalter des Imperialismus 1890–1911. Darmstadt 1977, S. 292.
  7. ^ a b Dominik J. Schaller: »Ich glaube, dass die Nation als solche vernichtet werden muss: Kolonialkrieg und Völkermord in «Deutsch-Südwestafrika» 1904–1907«. In: Journal of Genocide Research. 6:3, S. 398.
  8. ^ Erich Ludendorff: Der totale Krieg. Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1935, S. 4 f.
  9. ^ a b Robert T. Foley: From Volkskrieg to Vernichtungskrieg. German Concepts of Warfare, 1871–1935. In: Anja Hartmann, Beatrice Heuser (Hrsg.): War, Peace, and World Orders in European History. Routledge, London/New York 2001, S. 215–220.
  10. ^ Wilhelm Janssen: "War". In: Reinhart Koselleck, Werner Conze, Otto Brunner (eds.): Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland. Historical lexicon on the political-social language in Germany. Vol. 3, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1982, pp. 613.
  11. ^ Ernst Nolte: Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche. Action francaise – Italienischer Faschismus – Nationalsozialismus. Taschenbuchausgabe, Piper, München 1984, S. 451.
  12. ^ Andreas Hillgruber: Hitlers Strategie. Politik und Kriegführung 1940–1941. Frankfurt a. M., 2. Auflage 1982, S. 519 f.
  13. ^ Andreas Hillgruber: Der Ostkrieg und die Judenvernichtung, in: Gerd R. Ueberschär u. Wolfram Wette (Hrsg.): Der deutsche Überfall auf die Sowjetunion. "Unternehmen Barbarossa" 1941. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt a. M. 1991, S. 185–206, Zitat S. 191.
  14. ^ Wigbert Benz: "Unternehmen Barbarossa" 1941. Vernichtungskrieg und historisch-politische Bildung. In: Informationen für den Geschichts- und Gemeinschaftskundeunterricht. Heft 60/2010, S. 5–33; siehe auch Online-Version.
  15. ^ Hannes Heer u. a. (Hrsg.): Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941–1944. Ausstellungskatalog. Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung. 1. Auflage, Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 1996. Johannes Klotz: Die Ausstellung "Vernichtungskrieg, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944". Zwischen Geschichtswissenschaft und Geschichtspolitik. In: Detlef Bald, Johannes Klotz, Wolfram Wette: Mythos Wehrmacht. Nachkriegsdebatten und Traditionspflege. Aufbau, Berlin 2001.
  16. ^ Rolf-Dieter Müller, Gerd R. Ueberschär: Hitlers Krieg im Osten 1941–1945. Ein Forschungsbericht. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2000, S. 226 f.
  17. ^ Jochen Böhler: Die Zerstörung der Nachbarschaft. Die Anfänge des Vernichtungskrieges gegen Polen 1939. In: Mike Schmeitzner, Katarzyna Stokłosa (Hrsg.): Partner oder Kontrahenten? Deutsch-polnische Nachbarschaft im Jahrhundert der Diktaturen. Berlin 2008, S. 77–92; Jochen Böhler: Intention oder Situation? Soldaten der Wehrmacht und die Anfänge des Vernichtungskrieges in Polen. In: Timm C. Richter (Hrsg.): Krieg und Verbrechen. Situation und Intention. Fallbeispiele. Martin Meidenbauer Verlagsbuchhandlung, München 2006, S. 165–172; Jochen Böhler: Auftakt zum Vernichtungskrieg. Die Wehrmacht in Polen 1939. 2. Auflage, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2006.
  18. ^ Felix Dahn: Ein Kampf um Rom , in: Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works), First Series, vol. 2, Leipzig O. J., pp. 249.
  19. ^ Werner Huss: Die Geschichte der Karthager (The History of Carthaginians), C.H. Beck, München 1985, S. 343.
  20. ^ Christian Pantle: Vernichtungskrieg in Germanien, in: Focus, 3. September 2009 (online, abgerufen am 5. August 2010).
  21. ^ Peter Farb: Die Indianer. Entwicklung und Vernichtung eines Volkes. Nymphenburger, München 1988.
  22. ^ Otto Stoll: Die Maya-Sprachen der Pokom-Gruppe. Erster Theil: Die Sprache der Pokonchí-Indianer (The Mayan languages of the Pokom group. Part One: the language of the Pokonchí Indians). Alfred Hölder, Wien 1888 ( online PDF-Datei S. 7; abgerufen am 18. Oktober 2017).
  23. ^ Joachim Hoffmann: Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941–1945. Verlag für Wehrwissenschaft, München 1995, S. 7.
  24. ^ Bernd Ulrich: Stalingrad, C.H. Beck, München 2005, S. 33 f.; Jochen Laufer: Pax Sovietica. Stalin, die Westmächte und die deutsche Frage 1941–1945, Böhlau, Köln/Weimar 2009, S. 205 ff. Vgl. auch Stalins viel zitiertes Diktum aus dem Jahr 1945: "Die Hitler kommen und gehen, aber das deutsche Volk, der deutsche Staat hat Bestand". Wolfgang Leonhard: Die Revolution entläßt ihre Kinder, S. 424.
  25. ^ For example Die Zeit Nr. 46, 1995 (online, abgerufen am 5. August 2010), die tageszeitung, 27. Dezember 1995, Historische Zeitschrift 263, 1996, S. 259 ff., Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen 56, 1997, S. 186–189.
  26. ^ Cited from Nahost-Konflikt entfacht in Deutschland heftige Diskussion, in: Die Welt vom 5. April 2002; Alan Posener: Wo die Freundschaft aufhört. "Nazi-Methoden", "hemmungsloser Vernichtungskrieg", "zionistische Lobby". Wie viel Kritik verträgt das Verhältnis zwischen Deutschland und Israel?, in: Die Welt, 15. Mai 2002, S. 8. Vgl. dazu Wolfgang Benz: Was ist Antisemitismus?, C.H. Beck, München 2004, ISBN 3-406-52212-2, S. 24.
  27. '^ See for example "Deutsche Soldaten in Israel nicht denkbar", in:, 26. Juli 2006 (Interview mit Norman Paech, online, abgerufen am 5. August 2010). "Der Vorwurf des Antisemitismus wird auch als Knüppel benutzt", in: Stern, 18. Juni 2002 (Interview mit Norbert Blüm); Ahdaf Soueif: The Palestinians say: 'This is a war of extermination, in: The Guardian, 17. Januar 2009 (online, abgerufen am 5. August 2010).
  28. ^ Lars Rensmann: Demokratie und Judenbild. Antisemitismus in der politischen Kultur der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2004, S. 215; Norbert Reck: Christliche Schuldgeschichte und Judenfeindschaft. Überlegungen zu alten und neuen Formen des Antisemitismus, in: Hansjörg Schmid/Britta Frede-Wenger (Hg.): Neuer Antisemitismus? Eine Herausforderung für den interreligiösen Dialog, Frank & Timme, Berlin 2006, S. 41–66, hier S. 50 ff.
  29. ^ Menschenrechtszentrums der Universität Potsdam: „Menschenrechte für alle“. 50 Jahre Allgemeine  Erklärung  der Menschenrechte. (Studien zu Grund- und Menschenrechten 2). Potsdam 1998, S. 46 (accessed 2017-10-18)
  30. ^

Further reading

This page was last edited on 6 September 2019, at 09:47
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