A Nazi in Prussian Clothing: Herr General Feldmarschal Gerd von Rundstedt

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Herr General Feldmarschal and devoted Nazi Gerd von Rundstedt in France, April 1944. He is carrying the standard issue field marshal’s baton for everyday use and not the ceremonial baton carried when in full dress uniform.

 

Let us first dismiss the myth that there was something honorable about Gerd von Rundstedt or that he represented in any way the hard working Protestant morality of Prussia. The only biography of him, The Last Prussian: A Biography of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt 1875-1953 by Charles Messenger is hagiography, not history, and isn’t worth reading.

That von Rundstedt is often described as ‘The Last Prussian’ makes a mockery of the values associated over the centuries with the Prussian aristocracy from whence came almost all Prussian Army officers. Were these officers often arrogant – particularly in the late 19th century after their thrashing by Napoleon earlier in the century had been forgotten? Yes. Dedicated to war – hoping for war? Yes. Narrowly educated? Yes. All those things. But they were not men who would permit wholesale murder of innocent civilians or genocide. And if someone under them had been doing it, they would put a stop to it. And if someone above them ordered such an action, they would have refused to carry out such an order.

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Left to Right: General Gerd von Rundstedt, General Werner von Fritsch (Commander-in-Chief of the German Army) and Colonel General Generaloberst Werner von Blomberg, Berlin, 1934. The Nazis had only recently come to power (1933).  Blomberg (right) had been appointed as Minister of Defence in Chancellor Hitler’s new government. Blomberg was a boot licking toady to Hitler to the point of revulsion.

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Gerd von Rundstedt in 1940 after being promotoed to Generalfeldmarschall. He had actually retired as the senior serving officer of the German Army in 1938 after being in the army for almost forty-six years. He was recalled when World War Two broke out.

 

Was their strong anti-Semitism in Prussia? Yes, there was. Yet long before other European countries took such actions, Frederick the Great of Prussia removed many restrictions against Jews in his kingdom and thus arose a flourishing German-Jewish culture in Berlin in the mid to late 1700s. One of the great intellectuals of the age, Moses Mendelssohn, was the leader of what many scholars refer to as the Jewish Renaissance, which created the school of thought and of specific belief we call Reform Judaism. As the leading intellectual of the age, Mendelssohn made Berlin the cultural capital of Europe.

I mention this great man to illustrate the complexity of the relationship between largely Christian Germany and its Jewish citizens. There was a great deal of intermarriage, far more than people realize, and this furthered the complexity of the German/Jewish relationship to the broader society. While a very strong feeling of anti-Semitism was present in Prussia and the other states which would eventually comprise the actual nation state of Germany, this anti-Semitism did not include the idea of murdering some, or all, of the Jews of Europe.

By the time the Nazis came to power, much of the Prussian aristocracy had become morally and financially bankrupt and most Prussian officers served Hitler zealously. Von Rundstedt was such a man. Like many high ranking officers, he had accepted large amounts of money, bribes, from Hitler, the first check coming in December of 1941 in the amount of 250,000 Reichsmarks. The yearly pay of a German Army captain was approximately 8,000 Reichsmarks which will give you a point of comparison.

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von Rundstedt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, Russia, 1941. Von Runstedt is carrying his everyday field marshal’s baton and not the gaudy ceremonial baton.

Says Anthony Beevor in his very good (I rate it four stars) history of D-Day: “The British regarded ‘the Last Prussian’ (that is, Rundstedt) as nothing more sinister than a reactionary (Prussian Imperial) Guards officer and failed to appreciate that he shared many of the Nazis’ murderous prejudices. Rundstedt had never objected to the mass murders of Jews by the SS Einsatzgruppen on the eastern front. He had spoken of the advantages of using the Russian slave labourer in France. ‘If he does not do as he is told,’ he said, ‘he can quite simply be shot.'”

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To those who defend von Rundstedt, and there are many, I recommend Beevor’s book on D-Day. Yet far more important as an indictment of von Rundstedt and what he knew about the Holocaust and the behavior of his troops on the Eastern Front, is the organization known as Fremde Heere Ost, which translates as Foreign Armies East. (It’s other unit was Fremde Heere West). While most students of German military history are familiar with the Abwehr, a sort of German CIA, and with RSHA, the SS controlled Reich Main Security Office which included the notorious Gestapo, not so many are familiar with Foreign Armies East and that is unfortunate.

This organization was directly subordinated to OKH, German Army High Command – not, I stress, OKW, German Armed Forces High Command. Thus the German general staff and high ranking German Army field officers received their own undiluted intelligence from an organization in their own chain of command. It beggars the imagination to suggest that Fremde Heere Ost failed to learn about the Holocaust, about the actions of SS murder squads, about the starvation of Russian POWs and the general horrendous treatment of Soviet civilians. It beggars the imagination even more to suggest this information was not reported to the highest levels of the German Army.

Russian Soldiers Dancing Like Crazy Ivans

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Russian soldiers in World War Two uniforms prepare to march through Red Square
(photo courtesy Financial Times)
“Must be drunk, Herr Oberleutnant. They’re dancing around like lunatics.”

While retreating through Rumania in World War Two, sentries for a German unit notice something very odd going on in a nearby village occupied by Russian troops. For reasons unknown, the Russian soldiers suddenly begin to dance around like fools. German troops, peeking out of their foxholes, start laughing as the Russian troops in the distance run around like they are mad, jump up and down, roll on the ground, swat themselves all over.

Most of the Russians begin shouting so loudly the sound carries as far as the German line and the German troops double up with laughter. Incredibly, the Russian soldiers manning the defense perimeter along the side of the village facing the Germans, jump out of their foxholes, shrieking, and waving their arms in the air. Are the Russians drunk the Germans wonder?

All of a sudden,

…a bunch of Russians are running directly toward us, as if they are being chased by the very devil. As they’re running they’re flapping their arms all about, as if trying to fly.

The German soldier witnessing this event is just about to open fire with his machine gun when his officer tells him to hold fire because the Russians are unarmed.

The Ivans run madly through the German lines, leaping over German foxholes while flapping their arms and shrieking. A swarm of mad bees had attacked the Russian soldiers and stung them so many times they would do anything to get away, even throwing down their firearms and running in the direction of the German line.

(Source: Blood Red Snow: the Memoirs of a German Soldier On the Eastern Front by Gunther K Koschorrek)

 

Russian soldiers dressed in Red Army World War II uniforms prepare to parade in Red Square in front of a backdrop of St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Thousands of Russian soldiers and military cadets marched across Red Square to mark the 72nd anniversary of a historic World War II parade. The show honored the participants of the Nov. 7, 1941 parade who headed directly to the front lines to defend Moscow from the Nazi forces. The parade Thursday involved about 6,000 people, many of them dressed in World War II-era uniforms. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian soldiers dressed in Red Army World War II uniforms prepare to parade in Red Square in front of a backdrop of St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Thousands of Russian soldiers and military cadets marched across Red Square to mark the 72nd anniversary of a historic World War II parade. The show honored the participants of the Nov. 7, 1941 parade who headed directly to the front lines to defend Moscow from the Nazi forces. The parade Thursday involved about 6,000 people, many of them dressed in World War II-era uniforms. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

(Courtesy of London Financial Times)

http://blogs.ft.com/photo-diary/tag/wwii/

German Army Elite Long Distance Special Surveillance and Reconnaissance Commandos

 

The New Motto of the German Armed Forces:

“Let the Americans Do It”

 

The Elite German Army Fernspählehrkompanie 200 or FSLK200, their long range Special Surveillance and Reconnaissance unit, is being disbanded in 2014.

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Jump training in Memphis

A soldier of the elite long-distance Fernspählehrkompanie 200 from exercises in Memphis, TN, USA. Pictured: A Fernspäher in free fall with scale navigation equipment.
© Bundeswehr

Unfortunately, this elite special forces unit is being disbanded by the German Government and the men will be absorbed into other units. Like most countries in Western Europe, the Germans have been unilaterally disarming since they know the USA will defend them if they need defending.

Maybe they Germans should look a map and see how close they are to Russia. They have a lot of experience fighting the Russians and they know it isn’t easy. So with Russia in turmoil what is the German Army doing? Shrinking itself to the size of the police force of Cleveland or some other mid-sized American city.

It is a terrible policy. Besides, I think most American voters would tell the Germans to bulk up their military and be prepared to defend themselves. We’re sick of paying taxes for American armed forces to protect the Germans.

 

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Jump training in Memphis

A soldier of the Fernspählehrkompanie 200 from Pfullendorf exercises the vertical movement in Memphis / USA.
© Bundeswehr

 

 

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Troopers from the elite special forces unit of Fernspählehrkompanie 200 or  FSLK200 (translates as: Special Surveillance and Reconnaissance Instruction Company 200) on practice jump outside of Memphis, TN.

Members of the German armed forces often train in the US because the air space in Europe is so crowded and the population density is so high. Finding places to practice jumping without disrupting air traffic or dropping onto buildings is impossible so they do it here.
The training base for the entire German Luftwaffe is located at the American Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico.

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A Luftwaffe (German Air Force), Panavia Tornado IDS aircraft (s/n 43+13) from the “German Air Force Flying Training Center (GAF/FTC)” at Holloman AFB, New Mexico (USA), heads to the fight after refueling during Red Flag 07-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (USA), on 31 August 2007. Red Flag tests aircrew’s war-fighting skills in realistic combat situations. (Official US Air Force photograph by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)