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The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Wolfram Wette , Deborah Lucas Schneider

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30. Oktober 2007
This book is a profound re-examination of the role of the German army, the Wehrmacht, in World War II. Until very recently, the standard story avowed that the ordinary German soldier in World War II was a good soldier, distinct from Hitler's rapacious SS troops, and not an accomplice to the massacres of civilians. Wolfram Wette, a pre-eminent German military historian, explodes the myth of a "clean" Wehrmacht with devastating clarity.

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The conventional wisdom that the German army in WWII fought a relatively clean fight, unsullied by the atrocities committed by the Nazi SS, has recently been challenged and largely demolished. This probing study explores the rise and fall of that myth in the light of scholarship debunking it...Wette's hard-hitting indictment also emphasizes the broad culpability of German society for the crimes of the Third Reich. Publisher's Weekly 20060313 This is one of those modestly sized books on a large subject that succeeds in being definitive...The Wehrmacht is an important contribution to current German historiography. It seeks an answer to the question that rages in German intellectual circles: Was Nazism an aberration in German history, a sickness that came upon a formerly healthy and civilized nation, or was it a natural outgrowth of traits well-entrenched in the national psyche? It is clear from the outset which side of this controversy Professor Wolfram Wette is on, but it is equally apparent what a thoughtful, well-informed historian he is...The Wehrmacht is as filled with all manner of details--surprising as well as predictable--as it is with passion and insight. Perhaps this is what makes it such a pleasure to read, for Wette never simply asserts, he always proves. Facts, statistics, instances are plentiful, but they never simply lie there on the page; you feel the author's outrage, sometimes his incredulity, even as you trust his veracity and integrity. -- Martin Rubin San Francisco Chronicle 20060619 In the history of WWII, the German army too often has been regarded as an unwilling tool of Adolf Hitler. Wette destroys that myth in his book, an indictment of the German army for its involvement in atrocities against Jews and people in eastern Europe. -- K. Eubank Choice 20070401 Over the last twenty years various scholars, from the pioneering work of Omer Bartov to the more recent work of Ben Shepherd and a host of American and German scholars, have demonstrated that the view of a Wehrmacht with "clean hands" is entirely mistaken. These studies have shown that "average" German soldiers were completely capable of and willing to commit the worst atrocities imaginable. This book is another contribution to that corpus. Thus far the focus has been on explaining how and why the typical Landser became capable of mass murder, but this book is not about the average soldier's descent into barbarism. It is rather a study of the path trod by the commanding officers: the field marshals, generals, and colonels who formulate policy and created an environment in which mass murder could occur. As such, this book complements earlier studies by focusing on the highest levels of the Wehrmacht. Wette demonstrates that this level of command not only knew about and approved of mass murder but, after the war, successfully created the myth that the Wehrmacht had played no role in the crimes committed during the war. -- Lee Baker Journal of Military History 20061001 [Wette's] arguments will provide a powerful corrective to the outdated view that Wehrmacht leaders were dragged unwillingly into complicity in Nazi-mandated crimes...Attacking the myth of the "clean" Wehrmacht, as Wette reminds us, has been neither easy nor particularly successful in changing popular perceptions. Only through continued research and the writing of critical histories will the complex reality emerge. Wette's monograph constitutes a key contribution to this effort. -- Stephen G. Fritz Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20080501 Wolfram Wette has synthesized a large body of scholarly studies written by critical military historians in the past thirty years and makes them accessible to a nonspecialist audience...This book is an important contribution to the recent historical literature that reveals the much resisted and painful process by which Germans learned to deal honestly with the unmasterable past. -- Derek S. Linton The Historian 20080601


This book is a profound re-examination of the role of the German army, the Wehrmacht, in World War II. Until very recently, the standard story avowed that the ordinary German soldier in World War II was a good soldier, distinct from Hitler's rapacious SS troops, and not an accomplice to the massacres of civilians. Wolfram Wette, a pre-eminent German military historian, explodes the myth of a "clean" Wehrmacht with devastating clarity.

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44 von 57 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen A Sweeping Condemnation of Crimes of the Wehrmacht 16. Juni 2007
Von Mr. Truthteller - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Wolfram Wette's book, "The Wehrmacht", is an attempt to take a simple question (Were all members of the Wehrmacht guilty of war crimes under international law?) and assert a simple answer (Yes. All but a dozen of the claimed 20 million members of the Wehrmacht were guilty of war crimes.).

The problem is sometimes there are no simple answers, only simple questions, as Mr. Wette uses too broad a brush to review and condemn equally the actions of each member of the Wehrmacht.

In one sense, all members of the Wehrmacht were equally responsible in that they were all engaged in wars of agression. But that does not take into account the individual actions, and responsiblities, of each member of the Wehrmacht. Nor does it take into account the fact that, beginning as early as 1935, Germany had universal conscription and most men had no choice but to serve in its armed forces in one capacity or another. Nor does it factor in that all members of the German population, including especially members of the Wehrmacht, were inundated daily with messages of hate and fear dissemininated by the first modern master of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Nor does it make any allowance for the fact that after the war started in 1939 it was a crime against the state to criticize Hitler or the war effort, and later it became a crime of treason, punishable by death, for anyone, including members of the Wehrmacht, to mention appeasement in any form. Nor does it even mention that direct threats against the regime were dealt with summarily, e.g., the murder of S.A. leader Ernst Roehm (who at the time led a personal army of 2-3 million men), his associates, and others on 30 June 1934 in the "Knight of the Long Knives." Nor does it mention that by 1939 the regime had the current U.S. equivalent (i.e., by proportion of the population) of 1,000,000 people held in concentration camps or in "protective custody" for political crimes. Nor does it mention that all political parties were banned by 1935. In other words, life in Hitler's Germany was not the bastion of freedom of expression and freedom of choice the author would lead you to believe.

The inherent problem with the author's conclusions is that they stem from his faulty premises: Over and again he cites an example of how one officer (or even several) believed or acted, which he supports with a citation, but presumptuously, and too generously, he goes on to apply it to each and every member of the Wehrmacht, which conclusion he does not support with any authority other than his own opinion.

The author also repeatedly misstates the facts he does cite. For example, he refers to Rommel's memoirs as a post-war attempt by him to whitewash the Wehrmacht. Unfortunately, Rommel died before the end of the war so it's a bit of a stretch to claim he wrote them after the war. He also constantly refers to an exhibition of war crimes put on by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. But what he does not tell you is that the entire exhibition was withdrawn under claims of fraud and forgery, then put on again in a redacted, less conclusory format. In addition, he claims there was really only one attempt to assassinate Hitler, the July 20, 1944 plot, when in fact there were at least three dozen documented plans to assassinate Hiter. Further, he claims the Soviets treated German prisoners of war well, i.e., much better than the Germans, but the figure he provides for the number of German soldiers who died as Soviet prisoners of war is off by a factor of ten and does not even equal the number of German prisoners who died after surrendering at Stalingrad. I could go on.

Admittedly, the Wehrmacht's policies were racist, and the Wehrmacht participated in, and at times initiated, horrible acts. In addition, there was of course a coverup after the war by everyone who participated in such atrocities. Moreover, there was a reluctance by Germany after the war to come to grips with its past. Nonetheless, the author does not present a convincing argument why the acts of several hundred thousand, or even a million, men in either orchestrating or participating in wartime atrocities, should ipso facto condemn by association 19 million others.

While this book is useful to further discussion about the extent of the participation of the Wehrmacht in heinous acts and to what extent the blame for it should lie, it should not be viewed as the last word. That awaits a more thorough and probative examination, which may very well demonstrate that all 20 million members of the Wehrmacht are equally guilty for the crimes of any one member or group of members.

(This is an extremly well-written book, for which the translator, an historian in her own right, deserves special mention.)
5 von 8 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen On the origins, evolution and cover-up of the Wehrmacht's anti-Semitism 15. Januar 2011
Von EndSieg - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Taschenbuch|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
The English title "History, Myth, Reality" is rather misleading since this book does not cover the military history of the Wehrmacht but that of its "purported" anti-Semitism. So if you're looking for a history of for example the campaigns of the Wehrmacht, this book will disappoint you. The German title is accurate but it was poorly translated. My own translation reads "Perceptions of the Enemy, War of Annihilation, and Legends" which better reflects the organization and contents of the book.

The crimes of the Wehrmacht were already publicized some 15 years before this book (Hillgruber in 1984, Omer Bartov in 1991 in his Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich, and the 1995 Wehrmacht exhibition "Vernichtungskrieg"). Wolfram Wette synthesizes those works but his better contribution centers on the cover-up of the Wehrmacht crimes after the war, and on the origins of, separately, anti-Semitism and anti-bolshevism, combined by the Nazis into their murderous "Judeo-Bolshevism" propaganda.

ORIGINS ("Perceptions of the Enemy"): Wette traces the origins of a more virulent anti-Semitism to the middle of WWI (the "Jewish head count" of 1916) when Germans needed a scapegoat for the economic hardships at home and the military stalemate at the front. Wette traces the origins of anti-bolshevism to the bolshevist revolution blamed for the retreat of a supposedly undefeated army which still occupied enemy territory (the "stab in the back" legend). Even before the Nazis, Ludendorff wrote that Germany must be made "judenfrei" before the next war.

EVOLUTION ("War of Annihilation"): Wette paints the canvas of exterminations conducted or at least assisted by the Wehrmacht using the examples of Serbia, Lithuania and especially the Ukraine. There some 30,000 Jews were murdered at Babi Yar in September 1941 with the assistance of the Wehrmacht.
Here, Wette's arguments are weak since he assigns the lack of Wehrmacht records to its official cover-up (rather than its innocence) supported by SS records documenting Wehrmacht participation. In other words Wette chooses which documents to trust based on the conclusion he wants to derive. The conclusion is valid (see for example the report "Bericht der Kommission zur Überprüfung der Ausstellung Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944") but the proof is not.

COVER-UP ("Legends"): The legend of the "clean hands" Wehrmacht lasted some fifty years. It began with Doenitz's final Wehrmacht report of May 9 1945 ("In the end the Wehrmacht succumbed honorably", etc). It was consolidated by the "Generals' Memorandum", the decision of the IMT not to try the OKW/ OKH as criminal organizations, the results of the "High Command Trial", and numerous Wehrmacht officers' memoirs. By 1949, historical truth was sacrificed to the Cold War in order to win the Germans over to a North Atlantic Defense. A new West German army had to be created with veteran Wehrmacht officers which led to two exculpatory declarations in 1951 (Eisenhower and Adenauer).
In the 70s and 80s scholarly research findings contradicted the legend. A touring Wehrmacht exhibition started in 1995 and was the catalyst for a revision of the legend.

Finally, although there are copious notes on 61 pages, surprisingly and annoyingly, there is no bibliography. The reader has to write its own from the sources used in the notes.
82 von 129 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
1.0 von 5 Sternen Cherry-picked facts leading to poor analysis & even poorer conclusions 17. Februar 2007
Von David M. Dougherty - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
The book is a polemic with carefully cherry-picked facts and contradictory evidence omitted to arrive at the author's conclusion that "... only those few resistance fighters in the Wehrmacht who protested against extermination (of the Jews) in one way or another deserve our respect." (page 296)

Many conclusions are drawn from very scanty evidence, and an indictment of all 17 million men in the German Wehrmacht as criminals in the whole is certainly not scholarship. The reader is confronted with many (untrue) editorial statements presented as fact: i.e. "They (the German military leaders) had failed to grasp the significance of the fact that the countries with democratic governments had been able to defeat Germany in World War I because they were better able to motivate and mobilize their populations." (p. 2); and "Hopes for a more democratic kind (of armed forces), once espoused by no less a figure than Friedrich Engels, proved again and again to be illusory." (p. 160) indicates both that the author looks favorably on Communism and that he understands that the German private soldier possessed little freedom for dissent (in contradiction to his arguments).

The Soviet Union is presented most sympathetically, and even the massacre of 14,000 Polish officers by the Soviets in 1940 at Katyn was reduced to a mere 4,000 (obviously an editorial mistake), and noted merely in passing. That upwards of 3 million German soldiers died in Russian captivity is not mentioned. Yes, the war on the Eastern Front was waged in an especially brutal and merciless fashion, but this book adds nothing to the literature on the subject.

This book is not recommended for the serious historian, and Harvard should be ashamed of publishing this title except as a table book at the holocaust center alleging that all Germans in the Wehrmacht were bad and guilty of crimes against the Jews and humanity.
29 von 47 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Great addition to WWII history 4. Mai 2006
Von T. Kunikov - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
At first I thought this book would be like previous others, mainly outlining what the Wehrmacht did, which SS or Einsatzgruppen they helped in the field, etc. But I was pleasantly surprised that this book is much more than that. It takes the history of the German Armed Forces and puts it into context with the development of the Weimar Republic and then through Hitler's rise to power from 1933-1939. The reader is presented with factual information from correspondences and speeches, etc, that show the anti-semitic attitude of the higher up echelons of the Armed Forces, eventually both the OKW and OKH. Men such as Manstein might have protested at some point against the fact that Jews (including half and quarter Jews) were being thrown out of the armed forces, but that was more so due to the fact that he had a Jew in his lineage rather than the idea that this was somehow wrong. All in all I was surprised to personally learn about Ludendorff's and Hindenburg's anti-semitism and how that helped with the 'stab in the back' myth after WWI which blamed the Jews, Communists, among others. Later on the book does dive into the criminal actions that the Wehrmacht perpetrated such as helping with the massacres at Belaya Tserkova and Babi Yar outside of Kiev. After the war itself has been gone over the author delves into the subject of how the myth and legend of the Wehrmacht's 'clean hands' came about. All in all a very useful addition to WWII history and it presents even more topics that at one point or another need to be covered, something to definitely think about. Well worth the money, the book definitely includes excellent research and well drawn out conclusions based on that research.
15 von 28 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen A very important piece of research 6. August 2006
Von Stefan Isaksson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I consider myself being a reasonably well-informed man, with good knowledge about European history and the Second World War. I have a university degree, and for a few years now I've read extensively about Hitler and his ideas and the global conflict that followed after the national socialists had risen to power. Throughout my studies I've read hundreds upon hundreds of pages discussing SS and their struggle to eliminate Jews and Judaism. That the German army, at the time known as Wehrmacht, never had such great dedication or more or less ignored this aspect of Nazi ideology was something that I took for granted. After all, this was what I'd been taught in school and learned from all the books now standing in my bookshelf.

But after having read Wolfram Wette's brilliant investigation of the history of the Wehrmacht I know must accept that I was wrong all along. And that my teachers either lied or chose not to tell the whole truth. Because what he succeeds in doing is showing how not only SS but the regular German army as well tried their best in eliminating everyone and everything that didn't fit into the Nazi worldview.

Which turns out to be a quite mindboggling realization, since my personal conviction (along with everyone else from my generation) has always been that it was "only" the SS and the most dedicated of the Nazis who found mass murder to be a necessity; something that simply had to be done. And with honor, too. But this was not the case, according to Wette, and after having read through his investigation it's very hard not to accept his ideas. It's not, however, the first time my views about the Second World War has changed drastically. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I learned how Nazi-friendly Sweden had truly been. Neutral? I don't think so.

And so it's easy to understand the public outcry in Germany in the 1990s over the revelations about the true face of the Wehrmacht. It's not a pleasant picture painted by Wette, not pleasant at all, but it's the picture of reality, and reality very rarely makes a beautiful canvas. The book is without a doubt one of the most important ones about the Second World War I've had the pleasure of reading the last few years, and it should definitely be required reading for any course about European history.

The only reason for it not receiving the highest grade is because of the demanding, yet brilliant and impressive, academic language it's written in. Readers not accustomed to this type of book might find it to be quite a difficult read.

But hopefully people will read it nonetheless. Because it's just too important to miss.
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