Erich Ludendorff was a German general who gained renown during the First World War, primarily for his efforts on the eastern front. He and future German President Paul von Hindenburg built a military empire in the east that lasted until the Germany’s defeat in 1918. Ludendorff was deeply antisemitic, an early supporter of Hitler, and a high-profile supporter of the false “Stab-in-the-Back” theory.
World War I (1914–18) saw the first use of poison gas as a weapon of war. In this oil painting, John Singer Sargent depicted the aftermath of a mustard gas attack on British soldiers during a battle in August 1918. A line of soldiers, with bandaged eyes injured by the gas, hold on to one another as they are led to medical treatment. Around them are rows of other soldiers injured by the effects of the mustard gas, which could cause injuries such as burns and temporary blindness. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)
Adolf Hitler was the undisputed leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party—known as Nazis—since 1921. In 1923, he was arrested and imprisoned for trying to overthrow the German government. His trial brought him fame and followers. He used the subsequent jail time to dictate his political ideas in a book, Mein Kampf—My Struggle. Hitler’s ideological goals included territorial expansion, consolidation of a racially pure state, and elimination of the European Jews and other perceived enemies of Germany.
This timeline chronicles the relationship between the professional military elite and the Nazi state. It pays specific attention to the military leaders’ acceptance of Nazi ideology and their role in perpetrating crimes against Jews, prisoners of war, and unarmed civilians in the name of that ideology.
Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Germany had a thriving Jewish population with strong community organizations. Jews had lived in Germany since Roman times. They were well integrated into German society—they spoke the language, identified with the nationality, and worked alongside non-Jews.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany. He emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for his postwar words, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out…”
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they found tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners in deplorable conditions. Malnutrition and disease were rampant, and corpses lay unburied. The soldiers reacted in shock and disbelief to the evidence of Nazi atrocities. In addition to burying the dead, the Allied forces attempted to help and comfort the survivors with food, clothing and medical assistance.
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