Some weeks ago, I saw the German-language documentary film, “The Unknown Soldier” by German filmmaker Michael Verhoeven. It was about the emotional controversy triggered in Germany by the traveling exhibit documenting Wehrmacht (regular German army) atrocities in WW II – as opposed to those of the SS – especially the role of the German army in facilitating the Holocaust.
“Our parents [or grandparents] are not murderers,” declare the protestors. Yet others – both a couple of WW II Wehrmacht veterans and Germans of post-war generations – are shown to explain that the Wehrmacht was indeed guilty.
In one case, it is explained by guides to the exhibit that there was a range of reactions when field commanders were ordered to murder civilians: a specific incident of one regiment indicates that one battalion commander refused the order as illegal under the Wehrmacht’s legal code, another complied without protest, while a third argued but then obeyed. It is also explained that there was no documented case of punitive measures taken against soldiers who refused such orders.
The NPD neo-Nazi political party is revealed in the film as very prominently involved in mass demonstrations against the exhibit. Although the NPD recently lost its foothold in the national parliament, sociologist Werner Cohn examines the strength of this movement in his online analysis — a strength especially manifest in the legislatures of two states in the former East Germany.