Germany's WWII offensive against Russia, 70 years later: Interview with Wolfram Wette

Historians in the News

June 22 marks the 70th anniversary of the start of Germany's offensive against the Soviet Union in World War II. To examine the historical significance of this, Deutsche Welle spoke with Wolfram Wette, a professor of history at the University of Freiburg.

DW: What was the objective of the military offensive "Operation Barbarossa," which began on June 22, 1941?

Wolfram Wette: The objective was to conquer the Soviet Union, to decimate its population, to exploit the land - in order to colonize the country with Germans in the distant future. So it was a war for the capture of "Lebensraum," or "living space," in the East. They wanted to colonize the Soviet Union up to the Ural Mountains in order to create an self-sufficient, strongly protected Greater German Reich from the Atlantic to the Urals.

Was it then a racially motivated campaign of annihilation?

This aspect belongs directly to that aim, and is inseparably linked with the war in Russia. Hitler was convinced that Russia was dominated by "Jewish-Bolsheviks." And of course you could conquer this area and be able to use it for German purposes once you eliminate this establishment. The plans were made based on a speech by Hitler on March 30, 1941, given before 250 generals commanding the Eastern Army.

There he said very clearly that it was a war of annihilation in which no prisoners would be taken. Hitler said the Red Army soldier should not be considered a comrade protected by the rules of war. In practice, this meant that of the 5.7 million captured Red Army soldiers, more than 3 million perished in German camps....

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