THE GOAL: 30 MILLION PEOPLE
Thousands of books are devoted to the Great Patriotic War. Egor, why did you decide to write especially about this?
“This topic is interesting to me personally. During my childhood I did not doubt that the Nazis were going to conquer the Soviet Union. It was obvious. But during my period of growing up (it coincided with the dismantlement of the country) in society and the media new opinions emerged – the evil intentions of the Third Reich began to be denied: the concept of a pre-emptive strike emerged, according to which Hitler simply preempted the insidious Stalin. Also the existence of the plan for the mass extermination of Soviet citizens was called into question. The events familiar since school – the destruction of Khatyn and Krasukha, the tragedy of prisoners of war, the blockade of Leningrad – were called ‘random excesses’…
All of this differed in the memories that were kept by my family. My grandmother was a partisan in Pskov. She spoke about another thing: the Nazis were becoming enraged, burning during their retreat whole villages together with its residents! There were all the signs of genocide, not only against the citizens of the Jewish and Roma ethnic groups, but also against Slavs. In my book, I tried to establish the veritable plans of Germany.”
How did you decided on the title?
“‘War of extermination’ is a term from Hitler himself. The fascists wanted to destroy not only the Communist ideology, but also the Russian statehood as such, to inflict irreparable damage to our culture, and, most importantly, as the employee of the Ministry of Eastern territories Erhard Wetzel wrote, to weaken the Russian people to the extent that they already never are able to prevent German domination in Europe. According to the calculations of Nazi analysts, just during the winter of 1941-42 Germany should’ve condemned to death 30 million of our fellow citizens (we shall return to this figure). And the book is, in fact, about this.”
HITLER AND THE CHIEF WINNETOU
You affirm that the worldview of Hitler was formed in his youth. How can such a thing mature in the head of a young man?!
“It turns out that it can. Hitler from a young age was a supporter of the conquest of Eastern Europe ‘by the German sword for the German plough’. This meant the gradual cleansing of the ‘living space’ from the local population, its liberation for hard-working German farmers. Apparently, these ideas were given to him by the books of Karl May. Children’s books. May is a known writer, a kind of Fenimore Cooper. Only German. He wrote a series of exciting novels about the adventures of the Indian chief Winnetou and his friend old Shatterhand.”
Is it true that in his books there was something extremist?
“Absolutely nothing! They were read by the entire German youth in the early twentieth century. And Albert Einstein, and Hermann Hesse. But as the Russian writer Yuri Trifonov said, some people looking at the Venus de Milo see a work of art, and some – a woman without hands. Hitler learnt in these books not what Einstein did. It was the first source that in an entertaining way presented him the model of liberation of living space for the superior race. This story, about how Europeans drove the Indians from their ancestral lands, left a strong impression on the future Führer. ‘Do with them as with the Indians’ – in such a way Hitler later said about the indigenous population of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.”
So, it turns out that the roots of fascism grew out of children’s books?
“It would be more correct to say that they drew the attention of Hitler in the exciting colonial examples. Of course, the most impressive was the British Empire. According to the Führer, it did the unthinkable in the case of colonization, it destroyed the peoples who occupied the vast territory, and occupied its place under the sun. Hitler believed that this scenario must lead to a historic success for Germany too. The Anglo-Saxons populated North America and Australia. For the Germans, this territory should’ve become ‘Russia and border States that were subordinated to it’.”
“THE BLOCKADE WAS PLANNED BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR”
So, what exactly did the Third Reich want? In the global plan.
“To annex the entire European part of Russia up to the Urals, and gradually, over maybe hundreds of years, germanise it. But already in the course of the war of conquest against the USSR, the population of the ‘colony’ was supposed to decrease by thirty million people. It is the situation in the economy that lead the Nazi elite to this thought. The military-economic HQ ‘Oldenburg’, created for the exploration of the occupied territories, concluded that Germany will be able to continue the war against England only if the Wehrmacht will be supplied with food entirely at Russia’s expense. The food crisis threatened the Reich, because the British fleet significantly blocked German import. It was also planned to cover the loss by the export of resources from the occupied Soviet territories. The Nazi leadership clearly understood that this robbery will lead to the starvation of millions, and, nevertheless, without a doubt activated the so-called starvation plan.”
Who was the main architect of the starvation plan?
“The State Secretary of the Imperial Ministry of Food and Agriculture Herbert Backe. He divided the USSR into zones of affluence and consumption. The first included the chernozem territories of Ukraine and southern Russia, the second – forest areas with barren soil in North-Western and Central Russia. The plan was to block the arrival of food to zones of consumption and to starve primarily the urban population of these regions. Its implementation objectively would lead to the death of thirty million people. Hermann Göring, speaking about this to the Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, said: ‘There is a need a reduce certain nations’.”
How was it supposed to be implemented in practice?
“The city should be surrounded, the system of life-support destroyed by artillery and aircraft, access to food is blocked, the population is partly dying out, partly squeezed out to the East up to the Urals. I.e., two problems are solved at the same time. Firstly, resources are distributed in favor of Germany, and, secondly, the land is cleaned, on which it is possible to later settle German colonists. So it was like this that Backe and his co-author, the Wehrmacht General Georg Thomas, in 1941, imagined it.”
Are you hinting at the blockade of Leningrad?
“Also, yes. The blockade of Leningrad was part of this plan, it was an action planned in advance. It is openly stated in the ‘Oldenburg’ Memorandum dated 23rd May, 1941, to deprive the residents of the city on the Neva of food. Leningrad was the first in the plan of Backe. Moscow and other cities were supposed to be next. Here is one of the German directives: ‘…For all other cities there is a rule that before they are taken, they must be destroyed by artillery fire and aviation attacks, and the population must be forced to flee…’ The plan of Backe was not implemented in full because of the failure of the blitzkrieg, but it acted on the occupied territories of the Leningrad region, for example, in Pushkin. In the winter of 1941-42, there, almost half of the population died out due to the organized starvation, including the famous science fiction writer, author of ‘Amphibian man’ Aleksander Belyaev. The planned famine, when the population was ‘locked’ in the city without a supply of food, was also in the cities of the South of the country, in Kiev and Kharkov, where, in particular, the famous architect Beketov – the uncle of Aleksandr Blok – died from starvation.
The most large category of victims of the starvation plan became Soviet prisoners of war – in accordance with Backe’s practices, in the army the Directive on drastically reduced rations for them. In the winter of 1941-42 capture was equated to a death sentence. According to realistic data, during the years of war in German captivity, from 3.3 to 3.8 million soldiers of the red army died.”
Thirty million – to what extent is this figure objective?
“It was at different times stated by Backe, the head of the SS Heinrich Himmler, and by the head of the military-economic HQ ‘Oldenburg’ Hermann Goering. On 10th June, 1941, Backe, who was the first to voice this figure about ‘those who are unneeded for the German people’, met with Himmler, who immediately after the meeting went to a discussion with the highest ranks of the SS in Wewelsburg castle. According to the testimony of high-ranking Nazi Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, at that meeting, Himmler publicly stated that the purpose of war is to exterminate thirty million Slavs. Apparently, this statement is the result of their conversations with Backe. Himmler urged his subordinates to implement the ‘special tasks’ that were supposed to speed up the extermination of competitors to consumption. We are talking about the merciless punitive operations, for the slightest disobedience, the extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and the mentally and seriously ill.”
GENOCIDE OF SLAVS
One of the parts of your book is entirely devoted to the racial overtones during the Great Patriotic War. Why did you decide to reserve a whole chapter to this issue?
“I wanted to understand, at last, what place the Slavs occupied in the racial hierarchy of Nazism. Most likely the main hater of Slavs in the Reich was probably Heinrich Himmler: the German historian Heinz Höhne even called him an anti-Slav mystic. He called the Russian people on the basis of an inferior race, incapable of maintaining order and self-governance. Himmler was sure that harmful Slavic blood can ruin the Nordic blood of the Germans. Under his influence marriages of Germans with the residents of the occupied territories were strictly forbidden. It it precisely the Reichsfuhrer who introduced into German law amendments that officially ranked Slavs as people alien to the Germans. In the twisted logic of the Nazis the idea that the Slavs are biologically worse than the Germans removed their extermination from the category of a crime. I fully agree with my colleague, the British historian Alex Kay, who wrote that although the basis of the starvation plan was an economic motivation, it was precisely racial motivations that removed all doubt about the admissibility of such a step. A similar consensus between the military and political elite of the Reich concerning the French or Norwegians is impossible to imagine.
However, the Nazis recognized that due to the constant proximity to the Germanic peoples, particles of Nordic blood got into the veins of Slavs, and in the amorphous Eastern mass Aryans can sometimes be found. This reservation allowed to form SS units from the local population for the destruction of their compatriots. In addition, the old Russian aristocracy and immigrants in general loyal to the Nazis were proclaimed as Aryan. Hitler flirted with them when it was profitable, but he wasn’t going to share political power with them, of course.”
In addition to Gypsies, Jews, and Slavs, was somebody else supposed to be exterminated?
“The mentally ill and incurable. In Germany the ‘Program T-4’ worked, in which the Nazis killed about 70,000 of their compatriots.”
And they say that Stalin destroyed his own, and Hitler – only foreigners…
“This is not true. I studied the materials for the program T-4. I admit, to read them without shivering is impossible. The performers report that they saved for the Third Reich 880 million Reichsmarks, from the calculation that these poor patients would have lived another ten years, ‘sitting on the neck of the Reich’. Separately, proudly, it is stated how much was saved on bread, how much on butter, how much on jam. It is horrific to read.”
When did the Germans realize that the starvation plan is failing?
“When the blitzkrieg stalled, after the successful counteroffensive of the Red Army near Moscow. The Germans were obliged to suspend the program of extermination of prisoners of war – since the spring of 1942 the fascists began to behave better towards them, because there was a need for a workforce.
A radical change occurred after the battle of Stalingrad. Here it became clear that Germany can also lose. Then the Germans tried to find a common language with the population of the occupied territories, but it was too late. Soon the success of our troops forced the Germans to a scorched earth policy. In its framework Soviet citizens were massively herded to Germany or exterminated. This was especially true for men: it was important to exclude their mobilization in the Red Army, to weaken the biological strength of the enemy. The spiral of violence spun with renewed vigour.”
You mentioned that the Germans committed genocide.
“Of course! The classic definition of genocide formulated by the lawyer Raphael Lemkin is as follows: these are acts committed with the intent to destroy, as a whole or partially, any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or other historically formed cultural-ethnic group. The starvation plan, as was expressed in the documents of ‘Oldenburg’, firmly establishes the intention of the Nazis to partially exterminate the people of the Soviet Union already in the winter of 1941-42. This is clear genocide.”
“EVEN A TRACE OF US WOULDN’T REMAIN…”
What would have happened if Germany had won the war?
“The vector adopted by the Nazi elite prepared for us the fate of the North American Indians: a radical reduction in the number of people and displacement on the sidelines of history. After the victory of the Germans the ‘General plan EAST’ should’ve taken effect. Around this document there are a lot of myths. It is said that it’s wasn’t found. In reality, it just hadn’t been written: the victory of the Soviet troops in the battle of Kursk made the Nazi plan for the organization of the conquered territories senseless. But several drafts survived. The most known is the review of the EAST plan prepared by the 3rd department of the General Directorate of Imperial Security. It was written by an official of the Ministry of the Eastern territories, Erhard Wetzel. Here is a small excerpt from his program: ‘…In these regions we must consciously pursue policies to reduce the population. We should promote voluntary sterilization. Along with this the promotion of the use of contraceptives should be deployed. It is important to enlarge the network of abortion clinics and prevent the struggle for the reduction of infant mortality…’.”
It really is horrible.
“But that’s not all. In parallel, the Nazis were looking for tools for the mass sterilization of large masses of people. One of the projects belonged to Dr. Adolf Pokorny. He proposed to mix South American plant Dieffenbachia seguine in the food of Slavs, reducing the reproductive capacity of humans. However, this idea was rejected – to obtain such raw materials on an industrial scale was impossible. But the fascists nevertheless found a way to sterilize a mass of people. It was moderate irradiation with x-rays, which was tested at Auschwitz by the SS Professor Carl Clauberg. This method would be inevitably applied to the inhabitants of the Soviet Union in the event of a German victory in World War II.”
“OUR VICTORY HAS A HUGE SPIRITUAL MEANING”
How to ensure that the young people do not forget the feats of their ancestors?
“The current generation is completely normal. The main thing is not to prevent them from receiving accurate, non-distorted information. Not to mash their brain. The truth and only the truth. Because there is nothing disgraceful, reprehensible, and shameful in the events of the Great Patriotic War for us.
Ideas for which the Soviet people fought are completely the opposite to those that the Nazis fought for. The Germans fought for a world where there are Aryan masters and their slaves, while the USSR defended the principle of human equality. This principle – both Communist and deeply Christian – prevailed over the ideas of extermination and enslavement. I see in this the huge spiritual meaning of our victory.”
There is a lot of talk about the crimes of the Soviet soldiers against German civilians.
“There were crimes, and no one justifies them. But there is a fundamental difference with the practice of Nazism. The Wehrmacht entered Soviet territory, with the order on military jurisdiction in the area of operation ‘Barbarossa’, which actually freed the Germans from responsibility for crimes against civilians. The Nazi order on the fight against gangs permitted the killing of women and children, ‘if it leads to success’. The order ‘about the behavior of troops in the East’ strictly forbade the feeding of the starving population, calling it unnecessary humanism. Using these documents, the Nazi leadership deliberately corrupted its army, instilled in it the psychology of masters.
The Soviet command never issued such orders. It generally had to solve the directly opposite task. On the way to the West, liberating its territory, our soldiers saw and heard things that not every mind can support. For example, I cite the story of veteran Mikhail Lukinov, about a woman whose crying child woke up the germans, who were staying in her house. They stabbed the baby with a bayonet, and the distraught mother who was pushed out into the night’s frost, closed the door, and continued to sleep. It is not surprising that our army stepped on German territory being overwhelmed with hatred. There was no need for Ilya Ehrenburg in order to inflame it! Commanders and political workers made colossal efforts to stop this seething hatred in their soldiers. It wasn’t always possible, but I think the difference between the intentions and actions of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army is obvious. By the way, the command of the Western allies didn’t always manage to suppress this. Going into Dachau and having seen what was going on there, the American soldiers spontaneously killed the unarmed portion of the SS.”
IN THE MEANTIME
“The Russians never treated strangers like animals!”
According to Egor Yakovlev, the colonialist program of the fascists was designed one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ahead. Hitler thought in very long periods… It is curious to compare this with the approach to colonization in our country.
“The Russian model of colonization was based on the desire to incorporate other peoples into its culture, and not to reject them, as it was in the Anglo-Saxon model. Our people never treated strangers like animals or an inferior race. Remember Pushkin: ‘A word about me will over great Russia scatter, /Her innumerable tongues shall speak my name, /As well as the tongue of the Slavs’ proud grandson, the Finn, /and the wild Tungus and the steppes’ friend Kalmyk’. Pushkin asserts that his work is for all peoples of the Empire, and not only Russians. It is inconceivable that at the same time, Byron addressed with the same words the Indians or the Australian aborigines,” says the researcher.
The well-known translator of films and blogger Dmitry “Goblin” PUCHKOV (from the preface to the book):
“Recently (in the historical understanding of the term) I met with the historian Egor Yakovlev. Egor is a real historian: well-trained, deeply knowledgeable, and well-mannered in a St. Petersburg way. In a long conversation with him an integral picture of how Nazism rose and what it represents finally took shape. Moreover, the mass of the most important aspects opened itself from a side completely unexpected by me. It is clear, as time goes on, the archives are opened, new circumstances are investigated. But anyway, for me personally many things described by Egor are a real discovery.
Now it is assumed that we were bad and the Nazis good. That we are wild barbarians and the Nazis tried to bring us culture.
For all who share such views, I highly recommend to read the book of Egor Yakovlev. I don’t expect that the brain will suddenly start to work as it should, but at least an interest in the actual state of affairs will appear.
I recommend even more strongly to all those who don’t share love for the Nazis to read this book, because many things will appear for you in a different light. And when you will read it yourself – give it to grown-up children to read. They must know all this in the first place.”
REFERENCE OF “KP”
Egor Yakovlev is a popular St. Petersburg historian, writer, and journalist. Together with Dmitry Puchkov, they broadcast the programme ‘Razvedopros’, speaking on historical topics. Their videos have millions of views online.
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