David A. Harrisville

Mar 10, 2022

The Virtuous Wehrmacht

Crafting the Myth of the German Soldier on the Eastern Front, 1941-1944

Battlegrounds: Cornell Studies 2021

When Nazi Germany launched the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, its leadership made clear to the Wehrmacht that it was waging a "war of extermination" against Germany's enemies. This meant that normal military conduct in war was to be dispensed with and soldiers would act more in accordance with the precepts of Nazi ideology. During the brutal fighting on the Eastern Front, how did average German soldiers interpret the war they were fighting? David A. Harrisville seeks to answer this question in his book The Virtuous Wehrmacht: Crafting the Myth of the German Soldier on the Eastern Front, 1941-1944 (Cornell University Press, 2021). Through letters, diaries, and other primary documents written during the war itself, German soldiers portrayed themselves as "noble" warriors undertaking a "righteous" mission to rid the world of the evils of Soviet Communism. This would later form the basis of the "clean Wehrmacht" myth that prevailed in postwar German society. 

David A. Harrisville is an independent scholar. He has held various academic positions, including, most recently, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Furman University.

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