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Plunder less and do more to preserve the one world

by Hans Steiger
It is downright absurd that in our latitudes, half a century after "Limits to Growth" and a cascade of catastrophic ecological reports, every dip in economic growth rates is perceived as negative, even dramatic. Immediately shore up, revive, that's what politicians and the media seem to agree on.
Plunder less, do more to preserve the one world: three non-fiction books on the topic © Oekom/Hirzel/Unrast
"Degrowth" in a limited, simpler, more just world

Hans Steiger
The anniversary of the well-known "Limits to Growth" is rather misshapen. A postscript to "degrowth" and justice.
[This article published on 6/21/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, «Degrowth» in einer begrenzten, einfacheren, gerechteren Welt - infosperber.]

With the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first report of the Club of Rome, the old growth debate briefly flared up again this spring. Mostly conducted in an opinionated manner, unproductive, without the overdue view on globally just "degrowth" alternatives. It is downright absurd that in our latitudes, half a century after "Limits to Growth" and a cascade of catastrophic ecological reports, every dip in economic growth rates is perceived as negative, even dramatic. Immediately shore up, revive, that's what politicians and the media seem to agree on. That is why we must continue this discussion, which is irrational to the core: Expansion without end does not work.

Away from capitalist coercion

Jason Hickel's "Less is More" is a well-constructed argument against the growth ideology. The fact that the title on the cover can also be read as "More is less" fits the subtitle: "Why capitalism is destroying the planet and we are happier without growth." Born in Swaziland in 1982, the anthropologist, who now teaches at the London School of Economics, focuses his research on ecological economics and global inequalities. The ideal basis for a socio-ecological perspective.

After three rather depressing crisis analyses, the gist of which I tried to convey in a previous review, this read was a boon. Although the situation is assessed in a similarly dramatic way, all central dangers are named here as well. This without any hope that "technology will save us". That is only a reassuring fantasy in which he himself believed for a long time. This makes his relativization of such aids all the more convincing: although they are important, they are not enough; in a capitalist economic system dominated by growth pressures, they can even increase the potential for destruction. The prerequisite for a "Green New Deal" worthy of the name is "degrowth," to be paraphrased as a reduction in growth through a reduction in consumption and production. And since the deal also has to be equitable, we in the global North and West have to adjust to a noticeable less. For most, the bottom line will not be a loss, but a gain in freedom and quality of life. Now that the green deal has become established as a term in the German-speaking world, the task is to fill it with degrowth as a meaningful content.

Secrets of the good life

Most people know that the current trend is wrong. Not only because of the bare facts, which are graphically presented in the book. The message of the limits to economic growth, quickly suppressed in the "euphoria in the face of the globalization of consumerism," still applies, despite the exponential dynamics in the decades since then. Added to this was ecological aggravation. Accumulating crises also shook the feeling of being on the safe side in our latitudes. Surveys confirm general unease. Worldwide, a majority seems to think that capitalism does more harm than good. If there were better things in sight somewhere ... So the analysis section leads into the question, "Then why not just design a completely different kind of economy?"

In his subsequent, simple and sensible-sounding sketch that establishes "less is more" as one of the central "secrets of the good life," the anthropologist also draws on his original area of expertise. People have lived differently in the past, but often not badly. Quite a few, albeit relatively small, increasingly hard-pressed communities around the world, for example, have preserved a more natural culture right up to our own time. In addition, new approaches and initiatives that test ways out of the impasse can be found everywhere. There are often astonishing cross-references: Findings of science, for example, allow insights into comprehensive ecological networks that make traditional wisdoms of "primitive" animism seem more and more reasonable. How will this change our worldview and attitudes?

This is a hint at how far and deep this encouragement goes. Idleness is not a sin and productivity is not a virtue, even if a church close to the ruling class taught it so. Political conclusions also often seem radical. All the more astonishing, then, the advertising notice on the back cover at the very bottom: "Financial Times Book of the Year." Of all things! Is there more going on even in the world of money than we think at the other end of the spectrum?

Prominence paired with pathos

The next book was emblazoned with one of those penetrating red stickers in the upper right-hand corner that have come to frighten rather than entice me: "SPIEGEL Bestseller Authors. Franz Alt and Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker want to take stock fifty years after the publication of the first Club of Rome report. "The planet is plundered. What we must do now." Anyone expecting new insights will be disappointed. Alt, now also over 80, as a publicist often actually a pioneer not only in terms of ecology, uses the occasion for a tour across everything that is currently occupying him, from the universal "human catastrophe" to German party politics. Little arouses contradiction in this discourse about the world and God, to whom he has always attached special importance with regard to the preservation of creation. Is that enough? The attached view into "the world in 2072" brings "spiritual tipping points" into play, but the "offers of survival" remain meager and the interspersed photos make the whole thing an embarrassing self-staging: Old with Merkel, Gorbi, the Dalai-Lama, posing on his solar roof, at the climate strike ...

And his co-author? Weizsäcker actually only contributes a long afterword, in which the know-it-all patronizingly states that the team around Donella and Dennis had delivered "The Limits to Growth" in 1972, the product of a "hard work" of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The "simple model for a very complex message" had attracted a lot of attention, but also justified criticism. I was particularly interested in what the zealous propagandist of a "Factor Four," which promised double prosperity and halved nature consumption with increased resource productivity, thinks of his "green" growth in retrospect. He concedes that efficiency gains were overwhelmed by additional consumption. Thus, the skeptics were proven right "in an indirect way," but "to the nations of the world and their citizens" the development seemed "like a gift from heaven." Insight sounds different.

Today's "honorary president" of the Club of Rome still presents his own anniversary book: "That's not enough!" In it I leafed only briefly digitally. He had been asked for a rather narrow "debate book" on the "major topic of climate". And yet, according to the subtitle, Weizsäcker delivers almost everything: "Foreign Policy, New Economics, New Enlightenment - What the Climate Crisis Really Needs Now." On the first page, the headline informs that "Putin's War of Aggression is Criminal," on the second: "The Climate Crisis is Really Dangerous." This on what is now the sixth IPCC Assessment Report. In the introductory interview among prominent friends, the author is hailed as a trailblazer, a "silverback" and "a source of inspiration for the environmental movement worldwide." He remains optimistic, he says. He relies on ideas that have a long-term impact: "I'm hopeful for a new generation that realizes it has been swindled. And a new kind of investor" ...

From a colorful other world

Yes, the wisdom of old white (hairy) men alone will certainly not get us anywhere. Therefore, at the end, a different kind of writing: "One World - One Climate", published as volume 10 of the studies on global justice by the Unrast publishing house, which has been selling left-oriented "books of criticism" in Münster since the 1990s and always remains pleasantly open to the pulse of the time with regard to social movements. "This little book is a big deal," writes Ari Lewis of the Canadian group "The Leap," from whose environment the illustrations by Molly Crabapple, which are not only colorful and joyful, originate. They fit to the contentwise multicolored collection of short texts from different world corners. If you want to see the pictures animated and thus gain a first impression of the vision conveyed here, you will find what you are looking for on Youtube with the search query "The Years of Repair".

The protest fueled by the global climate strike and the spirit of optimism associated with a Green New Deal do indeed open up new global perspectives, if the element of justice is strengthened and the slogan of "system change" is filled with content, the English editorial team emphasizes. But without the recognition of interdependence - in the climate crisis as well as in its mitigation - there is a danger of ending up "in green-washed colonialism. Analyses of this aspect are therefore central, and voices from the global South are heard that are otherwise little heard, especially in the German-speaking world. People from countries with a strong colonial past see more clearly the responsibility that arises from this. Investment agreements dictated by international corporations, which promise economic growth and development, turn out to be particularly dangerous instruments, but also nature conservation measures and climate compensation often mean above all destruction of living space for the local people and are land theft. In most cases, the authors deal with these issues either scientifically or as active members of a civil society group. And so what is stated in the introduction as one of the editorial goals is usually true: that "internationalism" and solidarity do not remain "abstract platitudes" here.

Corona and climate in connection

Repeatedly, the fresh experiences with Corona are incorporated. For example, in India: there, on March 24, 2020, more than 1.3 billion people were sent into lockdown. As elsewhere in the world, only those with savings or regular jobs could retreat to the safety of their homes. Those many millions who had to "live hand-to-mouth" with so-called migrant labor in big cities usually had to struggle along without support, often traveling hundreds of miles back to their home villages - the same villages that some had been forced to leave earlier due to the devastating effects of climate change. Many did not survive this journey home."

A chapter on "climate-induced migration" basically asks for visions to solve this problem, which is acute around the globe for many populations. The strong formula for this is that "the right to stay and the right to go" must be addressed simultaneously. It is true that the social, environmental and political safeguards to ensure a dignified life at home are the priority. But where this is not guaranteed, escape routes must also be opened. At present, for example, with reference to studies on the situation in Malawi, climate change seems more likely to reinforce existing barriers to migration. This also applies to the Pacific region. A consultant working for Oxfam in Fiji wants to "rethink development policy. Again, Corona measures are linked to the coming climate challenges. With every decision, every project, the question must be asked as to who earns from it, whether it serves the well-being of the entire population and its environment. For this reorientation, they would also have to "relearn their indigenous values and principles," get away from promoting competition, individualism, and materialistic prosperity thinking. Which brings us back to the wisdom of "less is more."

This article also appears in the "P.S." summer book supplement.

Jason Hickel: Less is more. Oekom, Munich 2022, 348 pages, Fr. 35.90

Franz Alt / Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker: The Planet is Plundered. Hirzel, Stuttgart 2022, 208 pages, Fr. 32.90

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker: That's not enough! Bonifatius, Paderborn 2022, 160 pages, Fr. 28.90

One World - One Climate. Global perspectives on a just Green New Deal. Unrast, Münster 2022, 184 pages, Fr. 23.90

Conservation still wants to benefit humans first
Threatened with extinction: the grizzly bear

Heather Alberro, Bron Taylor, and Helen Kopnina
Moving away from the still-dominant anthropocentrism, three researchers are calling for a fundamental shift in conservation.
[This article published on 6/18/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Der Naturschutz will immer noch zuerst dem Menschen nützen - infosperber.]

This is a guest post by researchers Heather Alberro (Nottingham Trent University), Bron Taylor (University of Florida) and Helen Kopnina (Newcastle Business School and Northumbria University, Newcastle). It first appeared in English at The Conversation on June 8, 2022.

The accelerating loss of species around the world is so extensive that many experts now call it a sixth mass extinction. The main cause is the unprecedented loss of vital ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, the result of a social and economic system focused on perpetual growth.

The latest UN biodiversity conference, COP15, whose second session will be held in October 2022, is expected to implement ambitious measures to halt biodiversity loss. The ultimate goal is to achieve harmony between humans and nature by 2050.

However, in a recent academic article, we show that key stakeholders, such as the panel of conservation scientists that produces biodiversity reports for the UN, continue to prioritize human well-being above all else.

This prioritization may be due to an anthropocentric culture that typically views humans as separate from and more valuable than other species.

To effectively address our extinction crisis, we need more than technological advances or policies that remain entrenched in anthropocentric assumptions. Rather, we need to fundamentally change the way we view and value nature and other species.

The supremacy of humans

Anthropocentrism leads to treating other species and nature as objects and resources for human purposes. This assumption still underlies the way many people approach conservation.

In environmental science and resource management, the terms "natural resources" and "ecosystem services" reflect the prevailing anthropocentric approach to assessing natural value, particularly through economic cost-benefit analyses.

Such approaches ask how much a particular natural unit, such as a forest or an animal species, is worth and then attempt to assign a monetary value to it. Policies based on trading carbon credits or paying countries not to clear their forests are examples.

Biodiversity science is still fixated on humans

COP15 will be shaped in part by the work of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the conservation scientists' counterpart to the IPCC group of climate scientists. IPBES's most recent global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services, published in 2019, promotes the notion of "nature's contributions to people" as a more comprehensive framework for capturing natural value beyond purely economic indicators.

The stated goal is to emphasize that nature and other species are "not just commodities" and to highlight nature's various tangible and intangible contributions to the "quality of life for people."

It is commendable that the report attempts to consider a broader range of ecological worldviews and values as a basis for biodiversity conservation. However, we believe that its approach remains human-centric. Non-human species continue to be valued only instrumentally, in terms of what they can do for us.

The relationship between humans and natural creatures still revolves around the perceived utility of other species for the "good life" of humans. There is no explicit reference to the good life of our earthly relatives, to what they might need to thrive.

The report also fails to make a case for the inherent value of all earthlings. We believe this is a serious flaw for any platform that seeks to promote the fundamental cultural shifts needed to achieve the UN's 2050 goal of "harmony with nature."

Toward ecocentric conservation

An alternative would be to broaden the focus of conservation science and policy from "ecosystem services" and "nature's contributions to people" to explicitly include people's moral obligations to nature. We posit that this would require a shift toward ecocentrism, a moral view in which every species and ecosystem is seen as valuable.

This kind of moral sentiment, based on much religious and philosophical work, essentially means that nonhuman organisms and environmental systems have value in their own right and are not merely means to human ends.

From this perspective, we would ask not only what nature can do for us, but also how we can contribute to the health and resilience of the entire biosphere and all the living things that animate it. With this approach, we would also ask how we can ensure that other species have what they need for a "good life."

From resources to kin

Motives matter. If we continue to value nature and other species based only on what they can provide, we will not be able to radically change our relationship with them. Their lives are priceless, and their loss cannot be quantified or recovered. Finally, extinction is forever. Their increasing absence not only threatens our existence, but also represents a grave ethical failure.

As the final session of COP15 approaches, it is critical to recognize that the innovative policy measures needed to prevent biological extinction cannot possibly be based on purely anthropocentric premises. An adequate response to the biodiversity crisis requires a fundamental shift in values in which we view other species as kin and all of Earth's diverse environmental systems as inherently valuable.

Protecting nature and the landscape

Only as far as the use of resources, economic interests or recreational sports allow?

Peter Langhammer, Lindberg
on 06/18/2022 at 3:41 pm

Thank you for posting this wonderful guest post. It possibly complements well the "Age of the Living" by Corine Pelluchon, which was introduced here by Hans Steiger these days.
It is the most enjoyable contribution I have read in a long time - even if we are probably far from realizing it. Precisely because it comes from researchers who have so far promoted the separation of humans from the "rest" of living things. I fully agree with the authors, and it is also drive of my own work in the "management" of used nature. I am fully convinced that only a fraternal / kinship (or whatever we want to call it) consideration of our fellow earthly beings and a recognition of their universal value can resolve all or at least very many difficulties of our civilization.
Also wars should then logically belong to the past, if we can internalize this.

Kurt Wolfgang Ringel, Brunswick
on 06/18/2022 at 10:19 pm

Nature is master, man is servant!
Headline is wrong. Nature and also nature conservation does not want to use anyone.
"Ecological balances - law of the preservation of mankind/The essential quantity for the preservation of mankind is the agreement between the conditions of nature and the requirements of culture. This says nothing more, that culture (man) can exist only if the conditions for it are present in nature" Own text.
/* "dtv-Atlas zur Philosophie" (plates and texts), Peter Kunzmann/Franz-Peter Burkard/Franz Wiedmann, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2nd edition 1991, ISBN 3-423-03229-4; page 231 */.
2. "Please let your words be followed by deeds!"
Documented: The moving speech of Severn Suzuki, then twelve years old, at the Earth Summit in Rio 1992.
See; Saving the World - Is it a Utopia (By Dr. Gunter Bleibohm, born 1947).

Kurt Wolfgang Ringel, Brunswick
on 06/19/2022 at 10:06 pm

That is much too little protection. The reason for it is the immoderateness in the human thinking and doing; whereby even the own downfall is accepted. The human being knows no borders and has no brakes! Why the protection of nature is not extended as far as it is necessary for the preservation of the human being/mankind? - The human being must adapt constantly to the nature, not vice versa. In dealing with nature, man can learn a lot from the Indians of North America, among others. Please take from nature only as much as it is absolutely necessary; but not as much as it would be possible! Therefore please a need-fair, but no no profit-fair economy! - Kurt Wolfgang Ringel, also in the name of my ancestor, Mr. Moses Mendelsohn.

"The Russian stomach is malleable, therefore no false pity".
Soviet soldiers are captured in Crimea in 1942. Over three million Soviet prisoners of war died of starvation, debilitation and epidemics.

by Leo Ensel
81 years ago, the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union. The planned war of extermination calculated millions of deaths by starvation.
[This article published on 6/17/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, «Der russische Magen ist dehnbar, darum kein falsches Mitleid» - infosperber.]

«Der russische Magen ist dehnbar, darum kein falsches Mitleid» - infospe...

Vor 81 Jahren überfiel die Wehrmacht die Sowjetunion. Der geplante Vernichtungskrieg kalkulierte Millionen von H...
In the last two months, it has been repeatedly declared in Kiev - and eagerly seized upon by various leading media - that Russia is currently waging a 'war of annihilation' against Ukraine. But if ever a war deserved to be called a 'war of extermination,' it was the one waged by the Wehrmacht on the territory of the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1944.

"Poverty, hunger and frugality have been endured by the Russian people for centuries. His stomach is malleable, so no false pity."

This was not written by Hitler, Himmler or Goebbels. The sentence was written by Herbert Backe, State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of Food and Agriculture. It is found in a paper known as the "Yellow Folder", which Goering's food commissioner sent to more than 10,000 agricultural leaders in the 'Reich' exactly three weeks before the invasion of the Soviet Union under the heading "Geheime Kommandosache". The entire future occupation policy of the huge area to be conquered in the East was to be based on the supreme principle "What good is it for Germany? Already a month earlier, on May 2, 1941, in a meeting of state secretaries and leading officers of the Wehrmacht, it had been said: "The war can only be fought if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia in the third year of the war. In this, tens of millions of people will undoubtedly starve to death if what is necessary for us is taken out of the country."

The invasion as a "necessity of war".

By the second year of the war they had unleashed, the German aggressors had maneuvered themselves into a dead end. Despite successful blitzkriegs against Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, Hitler's Wehrmacht had failed to bring England to its knees. The war-decisive victory on the Western Front was thus a distant prospect. The British battle fleet was still able to threaten Germany's existence by means of a naval blockade.

Even in peacetime, the German Reich had not been able to feed itself sufficiently from the yields of its own agriculture. As the historian Götz Aly pointed out in his widely acclaimed volume "Hitlers Volksstaat," "even with the utmost effort, the Nazi leadership succeeded at best in having 83 percent of its own necessary food produced domestically. In any case, imports - especially of vegetable fat and feed grain - remained necessary to supply the population adequately. The mobilization of the armed forces inevitably led to a shortage of artificial fertilizer, for which the same nitrogen was needed as for powder production; further, there was soon a shortage of men, horses, tractors, new machinery, and fuel." All these imported goods, and not least the petroleum necessary for the war, had become hard-to-reach scarce commodities under the conditions of the British naval blockade.

What Hitler had hinted at rather vaguely as a distant ideological goal in "Mein Kampf" under the heading "Lebensraum im Osten" - the conquest of the Soviet Union as far as the Urals as well as the expulsion, enslavement, and murder of the population there - and what he had still not yet announced on August 11, 1939, to the Swiss League of Nations, had become a reality. August 1939 to the Swiss League of Nations Commissioner Carl Jacob Burckhardt: "Everything I undertake is directed against Russia; if the West is too stupid and too blind to understand this, I will be forced to come to an understanding with the Russians, to defeat the West, and then, after its defeat, to turn against the Soviet Union with my assembled forces. I need Ukraine so that we cannot be starved out again as in the last war." - this now became an urgent "war necessity" from the perspective of the perpetrators in the spring of 1941.

"Decimation of the Soviet population by 30 million people".

Hitler's last sentence sums up the trauma of the Nazis: a revolution of their own population against the regime, born of hunger, malnutrition and war fatigue, as in November 1918, was to be prevented at all costs - read: at the expense of the Soviet population. Or in the later words of Göring on August 24, 1942: "Before the German people get into a famine catastrophe, the occupied territories and their population are to be handed over to starvation." On November 8 of the previous year, he had spoken of the "greatest deaths since the Thirty Years' War." His colleague, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, at a meeting with senior SS leaders at Wewelsburg Castle as early as mid-June 1941, a week before the invasion, gave as a plan target "decimation of the Soviet population by 30 million people."

On June 22, 1941, the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union with some three million soldiers and 625,000 horses, where it initially made wide ground gains against a tenaciously defending but poorly organized Red Army - Stalin had previously stripped it of most of its leaders - and took hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers prisoner in the great encirclement battles. To relieve the population in the 'Reich', the Wehrmacht's motto was to feed "from the land". Hitler's general instruction "The important thing is to carve up the giant pie handily so that we can first dominate it, second administer it, third exploit it. The huge area in the East must first be pacified as quickly as possible, ideally by shooting to death anyone who looks askance," had already been operationalized by the administration and the Wehrmacht into concrete plans for occupation policy.

The population and nutrition specialists from the administration divided the Soviet space west of the Urals into so-called "surplus" and "grant" areas. The plan was to hermetically seal off the fertile "surplus areas," which they identified in the black earth region of Ukraine and in the Caucasus, from the "grant areas" to the north and to abandon the population to starvation. In the "Economic Policy Guidelines for Economic Organization East, Agriculture Group" of May 23, 1941, it read as follows: "The population of these areas, especially the population of the cities, will have to face the greatest famine. Many 10 million of people will become superfluous in this area and will have to die or emigrate to Siberia [a euphemism for brutal expulsion; L.E.]."

In reality, however, this plan proved difficult to implement for long stretches, as the German occupation forces found themselves unable to stop the hunger-induced migratory movements. At certain points, however, it could certainly be implemented - and infernally successfully, in the sense of the German aggressors: This applies in particular, a clear violation of the then applicable international law of war, to the Soviet prisoners of war, of whom 3.3 million (i.e. 57.9%) died miserably in German custody of hunger, debilitation and epidemics. (The fact that the Soviet prisoners of war murdered in this way - their death was calculated from the outset "as a necessity of war" - represent the second largest group of victims of the National Socialists after the European Jews, is still not adequately present in the German consciousness).

The plan was also implemented in the 500-day systematic enclosure of Leningrad - which was later to be "razed to the ground" like Moscow and the other major cities - which claimed 900,000 to one million victims. Other cities, such as Kharkov, at times resembled a starvation ghetto due to the rigid requisitions by the occupiers and the sealing off of the city. In Ukraine and Crimea, entire regions became "barren zones," devoid of any food or other usable goods.

In short: The cynical epitaph of the "Völkischer Beobachter" of February 4, 1942 for the fallen German Stalingrad fighters "They died so that Germany might live" is one hundred percent true when applied to the millions of Soviet citizens who had to die of starvation for the benefit of the Germans in the Wehrmacht and the 'Reich'.

Criminal orders and mass murder

But also Hitler's instruction to shoot to death anyone "who only looks askance" had already been 'proactively' cast into criminal orders by the Wehrmacht.

The "War Jurisdiction Decree" decreed by the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKH) on 13 May 1941 abolished, among other things, the compulsion to prosecute for "acts committed by members of the Wehrmacht against enemy civilians." This was to apply even "if the act is a military crime or offense." This gave German soldiers de facto carte blanche and left the Soviet civilian population unprotected at the mercy of local commanders. Only a few weeks later, on June 6, 1941, the OKH issued the "Commissar Order." The political commissars were considered the ideological functionaries within the Red Army and were not recognized as soldiers. They were to be killed in combat or immediately "after being segregated."

With both orders, the Wehrmacht leadership - in full knowledge of the criminal consequences of its orders - overruled essential elements of the then applicable international law of war, which contained a number of internationally recognized principles, above all for the protection of the civilian population and prisoners of war. In this way, the leadership of the Wehrmacht created the essential preconditions for a hitherto unprecedented war of race and extermination, especially against the Jewish population.

The systematic mass murder of European Jews began on the territory of the Soviet Union. Initial isolated brutal anti-Jewish pogroms of the local population, especially in Lithuania, Latvia and Western Ukraine - called "self-purification actions" by the SS -, which the Wehrmacht, responsible as the occupying power, stood idly by, were quickly replaced by systematic shootings by the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service of the Reichführer SS (SD). In the beginning, they restricted themselves 'only' to Jewish men of military age, but from August 1941 at the latest, entire Jewish communities were exterminated by mass shootings. In every smaller Belorussian or Ukrainian village, the number of victims was at least in four figures. According to estimates, the German occupiers murdered between 2.5 and 2.6 million Soviet Jews. The Wehrmacht often provided logistical support.

The murderous cooperation between the Wehrmacht, the SS and the order police was similar in the context of the anti-Partisan struggle, where between 1942 and 1943, especially on the territory of Belarus, whole swaths of land were turned into "desert zones". Thousands of villages were burned to the ground, hundreds of them together with the population that had been previously locked up in the village barn or church. Estimates for Belarus alone range from 300,000 to 350,000 people killed. (Those who want to get an idea of the atrocities should visit the Belarusian memorial Khatyn, the "Cemetery of Villages" or, if they can bear it, watch the 1985 film "Come and See/ Иди и смотри" by Elen Klimov).

In their forced retreat, the German troops left a trail of devastation. The aim of the German leadership was now to leave behind only "scorched earth". Everything that was somehow vital was to be destroyed: Industrial plants, mines, water and electricity works, bridges, dams, locks, the rail network, agricultural machinery, mills, dairies, the harvest in the fields, as well as means of transport and supplies of all kinds, as far as they could not be removed. The civilian population capable of work was forcibly evacuated, often under horrible conditions. The rapid Soviet advance prevented this from happening everywhere to the extent intended.

If one draws a balance of this most barbaric of all wars and contrasts the number of dead Soviet citizens, almost 27 million, with the 30 million originally envisaged, one must cynically state that the occupiers came close to achieving their National Socialist planned goal.

All the greater the wonder - anyone who travels there will confirm this - that there is no hatred of the Germans in the populations of the worst affected countries, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. This is an unparalleled achievement of civilization, which is still not adequately appreciated in Germany, let alone taken note of.

Suppression in the post-war period

In the territory of the old Federal Republic, the emerging Cold War with the renewed enemy image of the "Soviet Union" prevented people for decades from dealing with the unprecedented crimes committed there by the German occupiers. Direct human contacts between the populations of both countries were prevented on the side of the West by the Iron Curtain. Some prisoners of war at least brought home the sentence "The Russian himself is good!". The responsible mass murderers, if they had survived, mostly retired inconspicuously into a bourgeois life, very few of them were prosecuted. In the fifties, a whole literature of justification by former Wehrmacht generals appeared under the motto: "Without Hitler's idiotic warfare, we would have won the war after all!" When the crimes of the SS Einsatzgruppen could no longer be denied, the image of the "clean Wehrmacht" was held on to all the more stubbornly. This was all the more necessary from a psycho-hygienic point of view, since the 18 million Wehrmacht soldiers were a representative cross-section of the German population. This legend was only fundamentally shaken by the two traveling exhibitions of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research "Crimes of the Wehrmacht" (1995-1999 as well as in revised form 2001-2004), which over a long period of time reaped massive - not only journalistic - headwind.

Even the fact that the war against the Soviet Union was not a war in the conventional sense, but a war of extermination in which the rules of the then applicable international law of war were arbitrarily suspended from the very beginning, was for decades not at all and is today at best rudimentarily anchored in the consciousness of the Germans. Accordingly, there is still little empathy for the suffering of the people in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine during the German occupation.

Markus Scheuring, Zurich
on 17.06.2022 at 12:05 pm

The current aggression of the Russian army and leadership is after all very reminiscent of the aforementioned war of annihilation. Albeit on a much smaller scale. But the behavior is nevertheless similarly unreal and without consideration for the people. The pendulum now seems to swing from East to West. Of course the behavior of the Nazis is and remains outrageous and unforgivable - but that is no reason for similar outrages of the former victim. But again and again we have these trauma consequences - the victim can become the perpetrator, with the corresponding repression of the experienced horrors, respectively lack of empathy for the new victims.
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