What was Hitler’s motive in attacking the Soviet Union?

The first of a few snippets from Stalin’s Wars (Roberts; Yale, 2006). What was Hitler’s agenda in attacking the Soviet Union? To protect Germany’s eastern border? To knock out a potential threat? Possibly, but crucial to the attack was the idea that Slavic peoples were Untermenschen, sub-humans only fit for exploitation and slavery. Even more, the USSR was seen as a Judaeo-Bolshevik state, a communist state under Jewish control. Hitler told his generals in March, 1941, as Operation Barbarossa was in its final stages of preparation: ‘the war against Russia will be such that it cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion; the struggle is one of ideological and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unrelenting and unmerciful harshness’. In that light, special Einzatsgruppen were formed, special action teams that followed the German army and eliminated communist officials, activists and intellectuals. And in May of that year Hitler issued a decree that exempted German soldiers from punishment should they commit any atrocities. Once the USSR was occupied, the city populations were to be starved to death and the cities repopulated from the German upper class.

At the same time the Wehrmacht issued its ‘Guidelines for the behaviour of the fighting forces in Russia’:

1. Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the National Socialist German people. Germany’s struggle is aimed at that disruptive ideology and its exponents (that pretty much sums up Churchill’s and Truman’s approach to the USSR after the war – in which ‘free world’ replaces ‘National Socialist German people’).

2. That struggle demands ruthless and energetic action against Bolshevik agitators, guerrillas, saboteurs, Jews and the complete liquidation of any active or passive resistance.

3. Extreme reserve and the most alert vigilance are called for towards all members of the Red Army – even prisoners – as treacherous methods of fighting are to be expected. The Asiatic soldiers of the Red Army in particular are inscrutable, unpredictable, insidious and unfeeling.

The key slogan used was: ‘A Jew is a Bolshevik is a partisan’.

The result: 8-9 million soldiers killed; 15-16 million civilians; tens of millions more with physical injury and psychological trauma. The total destruction of life was 14% of the USSR’s prewar population. Further: totally destroyed were 1710 towns and cities, 70,000 villages, 6 million buildings, 31850 industries, 98,000 collective farms. 25 million people were made homeless. In sum, about 25% of the USSR’s material structures were destroyed in the populous western region. Makes one wonder how the USSR recovered at all to beat the Wehrmacht.