Severity Order

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The Severity Order was the name given to an order promulgated within the German Sixth Army on the Eastern Front during World War II by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau on 10 October 1941.[1]

General Friedrich Paulus (left), and his aides Col. Wilhelm Adam (right) and Lt.-Gen. Arthur Schmidt (middle), after their surrender in Stalingrad

It said, in part:

...The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. ... In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. ... For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry. ...[2]

War crimes[edit]

Politically, Reichenau was an anti-Semite who equated Jewry with Bolshevism and the perceived Asian threat to Europe. The infamous "Reichenau Order" or Severity Order of October 1941 paved the way for mass murder by instructing the officers thus:

"In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war... For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry...".[3]

All Jews were henceforth to be treated as de facto partisans, and commanders were directed that they be either summarily shot or handed over to the Einsatzgruppen execution squads of the SS-Totenkopfverbände as the situation dictated.[3] Upon hearing of the Severity Order, Reichenau's superior Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt expressed "complete agreement" with it, and sent out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging them to send out their own versions of the Severity Order, which would impress upon the troops the need to exterminate Jews.[4] During the Nuremberg trials, however, Rundstedt denied any knowledge of that order before his capture by the Allies, although he acknowledged that Reichenau's orders "may have reached my army group and probably got into the office".[5] Some historians such as Walter Görlitz have sought to defend Reichenau, summarizing the above order as "demanding that the troops keep their distance from the Russian civilian population."[citation needed]

When Reichenau died, and command of the Sixth Army was taken over by General Friedrich Paulus, both the Severity Order and Hitler's Commissar Order were rescinded in his command sector.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Das Verhalten der Truppe im Ostraum
  2. ^ Craig, William. Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad. (1973)
  3. ^ a b von Reichenau, Walter (October 10, 1941). "Secret Field Marshal v.Reichenau Order Concerning Conduct of Troops in the Eastern Territories, 10 October 1941". Stuart D. Stein, The School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, University of the West of England. Retrieved 2009-12-18. "The soldier in the eastern territories is not merely a fighter according to the rules of the art of war but also a bearer of ruthless national ideology and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. Therefore the soldier must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just revenge on subhuman Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i.e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews" 
  4. ^ Mayer, Arno J. Why Did The Heavens Not Darken?, New York: Pantheon, 1988, 1990 page 250.
  5. ^ The Trial of German Major War Criminals, Nüremberg, 9 August to 21 August 1946, p. 102